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Authors: Melody Carlson

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BOOK: Hidden History
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Louise shook her head. “I agree that Alice needs help with her wardrobe, but I am afraid I would only muddy the waters, Jane. I would be trying to force her into cashmere, and you would be trying to get her into something from Bangladesh or Timbuktu. I think I had better just stick around here and mind the fort.”

“So should I,” said Alice.

Jane narrowed her eyes. “No more arguing from you, Alice Christine Howard. Your closet is so dated that you could probably sell your clothes as collectibles.”

“I thought you liked vintage clothing,” said Alice.

Jane rolled her eyes. “Yes, when it has style. Unfortunately that doesn’t describe your closet.”

Louise chuckled. “I am afraid I must agree with Jane on that account, Alice.”

“Betrayed by my own flesh and blood,” said Alice as Jane shoved her cardigan at her.

“Come on, let’s get going, sis. Nellie’s had some new fall clothes come in last week. Maybe we’ll get lucky there. Otherwise we’ll have to head over to Potterston.” Jane was literally pushing Alice out the door now. “Anyway, there’s no time to waste.”

“Have fun,” said Louise.

To Alice’s surprise, it was not nearly as painful as she had imagined. First they stopped at the Coffee Shop where she and Jane each ordered the special of the day, BLTs with a cup of vegetable soup. Then they headed over to Nellie’s. In no time, Jane had an armload of items and was gently leading Alice toward the dressing room.

“She’s not much of a shopper,” Jane explained to an amused Nellie.

“I’ve noticed,” said Nellie.

Alice waited for Jane to hang the clothing items on the brass hooks.

“That’s good for starters,” said Jane.

“Are you going to stay in here and dress me too?” asked Alice.

“No, I’m going to go look for a few other things.” Jane pulled the curtain closed. “But holler if you need a different size. And don’t you dare take anything off before you let me see it.”

“What if I hate it?” asked Alice.

“I’ll be the judge of that,” retorted Jane, only half joking.

Alice could hear Jane and Nellie laughing, and despite her pretense of chagrin, she found herself giggling too. Really, this was not so bad. And Alice admitted to herself that she probably could use something new for church.

The first outfit was hideous. “I look like an overgrown
ANGEL,” said Alice as she stepped out for Jane to see the top and skirt.

Jane nodded. “Yes, that is a bit young, but it was worth a try.”

The next one was better, a long-sleeved dress in a becoming shade of blue. “How about this?” asked Alice hopefully.

Jane added a scarf and belt, but still just frowned. “Too boring,” she finally said. “What was I thinking?”

Finally, after about a dozen outfits, or so it seemed to Alice, they both agreed on one. “I’m sure this jacket is much too expensive,” said Alice as she fingered the buttery suede. “And it’s not very practical.”

“Forget practical,” insisted Jane. “Don’t even look at the price. It’s going to be my gift.”

“But you can’t—”

“It’s an early birthday present,” said Jane. “You can’t refuse a gift, Alice.”

“But—”

“No but’s.” Jane smiled. “That butterscotch color looks so perfect with your hair and complexion, Alice. That jacket is just screaming for you to take it home.”

Alice turned and admired the jacket in the mirror again. “It is very pretty.”

“And it’s so nice with that tweed skirt,” said Nellie with approval. “I never thought of putting the two
together, but honestly they look like they were made for each other.”

“I really don’t need to get this sweater,” protested Alice as she opened the jacket to reveal a moss-green turtleneck. “I have a perfectly good brown turtleneck at home that I could wear—”

“No way,” said Jane. “That color is perfect on you.”

Alice studied her reflection in the mirror then frowned. “What sort of shoes do you wear with an outfit like this, Jane? Are my loafers okay?”

Jane looked down at her feet. “Good question. No, your loafers are not okay.” She glanced over at Nellie. “I think this outfit calls for boots, don’t you agree, Nellie?”

Nellie grinned. “And I just happen to have some that would be perfect.”

“Boots?” Alice made a face. “I only wear boots when it snows.”

“I’m not talking about snow boots,” said Jane.

Before Alice knew what had happened, Nellie was helping her into a pair of smart russet-colored boots. “How do they feel?” asked Nellie.

“Actually, they’re comfortable.” Alice walked around a bit. “I don’t know why I’ve never considered boots before.”

“You look wonderful, Alice,” said Nellie as she went to assist a customer who had just entered the store.

“Go look in the mirror,” Jane said.

Alice did not know what to think when she saw her reflection this time—the stylish jacket, the flowing skirt and boots. Maybe it was just too much. “Oh, I don’t know, Jane. This really isn’t me.”

“Just who are you, Alice Howard?” demanded Jane as she crossed her arms in defiance. “You wear your nurse’s uniform to work every day. Then you come home and put on jeans and a shirt. For Sundays you wear skirts and dresses straight out of the seventies. Is that the kind of fashion statement you really want to make?”

Alice laughed. “I’m not sure I want to make any sort of fashion statement.”

“Do you like the outfit?” asked Jane.

“Of course,” said Alice. “It’s beautiful, but for someone else.”

“Why for someone else?” asked Jane. “Are you saying you’re not good enough to wear an outfit like this?”

“Oh, I don’t know….” Alice considered Jane’s challenge. Perhaps it was true.

“That’s it, isn’t it?” Jane stepped closer now, peering into Alice’s eyes. “You don’t think you’re good enough to dress like this, do you? Sure, it’s okay for Louise to wear pearls and cashmere, and you like seeing me in my vintage clothes and funky jewelry. But, you think that you’re some kind of Cinderella.”

“And that would make you …”

“Alice!
I’m serious. For some reason you don’t think that you’re worthy of wearing nice clothes. I don’t agree. Your clothes should express what a truly wonderful person you are inside.”

Alice could not think of a word to say in her own defense. Perhaps she had no defense. Maybe Jane was right.

“Now, please, take off those new clothes,” insisted Jane. “Hand them over to me, and Nellie can start ringing them up.”

Alice smiled at Jane’s bossiness. Her little sister could really take over if Alice let her. Fortunately, Alice did not mind letting her, at least not this time.

“Don’t look at the total.” Jane winked at Alice as she emerged from the dressing room. “I’ve checked the bill and it’s right.” She handed Alice the bag that contained the boots. “I added another skirt. It’s a green A-line that goes with that sweater. It’ll look great with the jacket, and I think Louise will want to give it to you for your birthday.”

“Jane!”

“Trust me, Alice.” Jane smiled and gave her sister a squeeze.

“It’s a good thing you had me drive,” said Alice as they heaped the packages into the back of her car.

“Are you angry with    me?” asked Jane as Alice drove toward home. “I know I was being really bossy.”

Alice started laughing. “No, of course I’m not angry with you. I should thank you, Jane. This is probably something I should’ve done years ago. I just never knew how.”

Jane sighed and leaned back into the seat. “As I’ve told you before, that’s what sisters are for.”

Louise heartily approved of their choices and insisted that Jane was exactly right in picking out the skirt for an early birthday present. “It is perfect,” said Louise as they showed her their purchases.

“Believe me, it wasn’t easy,” said Jane.

“I can imagine,” said Louise. “Did she kick and scream much?”

“Yoo-hoo,”
called Ethel from the back door. “Anyone home?”

“Come in, Auntie,” said Alice.

“Looks like someone’s been shopping,” said Ethel. “Jane out spending money again?”

“I know you think I’m the clotheshorse of the family,” said Jane, “but these are actually for Alice.”

Ethel blinked. “For Alice?”

“Yes,” said Jane. “You know it’s okay for Alice to look nice too.”

“Well, of course. It’s just that Alice has never been one to put much into her appearance.”

“I had no idea everyone thought that I was such a mess,” said Alice as she went to the sink to fill the teakettle.

“Not a mess, dear,” said Ethel. “But not exactly a fashion plate either.”

“Well, you should see her in this,” said Jane as she held up the suede jacket. “We’re talking chic.”

It was only a matter of minutes before Ethel heard the news that Alice had a date with Mark Graves.

“Not a date,” protested Alice.

“Call it what you like,” said Jane, winking at Ethel. “Mark is picking her up at six to take her to dinner.”

“Sounds like a date to me,” said Ethel. “That reminds me, I have a date with Lloyd tonight.” She poked Alice in the arm. “See, you don’t hear me going around and acting as if it’s not a date. Call a spade a spade, Alice.”

Alice just shook her head.

“So, if you girls will excuse me.” Ethel stood. “I thank you for the tea, but I need to get home and get started on my primping routine.” She turned to Alice with a slight scowl. “It wouldn’t be a moment too soon for you to start on your own primping, Alice Christine.” Then she left.

Alice frowned and Jane giggled. “Oh, don’t take our comments to heart, Alice.”

“That is right,” said Louise. “You are a very nice-looking woman who could look even nicer if you put your mind to it.”

Alice shrugged. “Beauty is only skin deep, you know.”

“And, believe me, the older I get the better I know it,” said Jane.

“I just never wanted to be superficial,” said Alice. “I never wanted to be one of those women who think that her outer appearance is more important than what’s on the inside.”

“Yes,” said Louise. “That is an admirable trait, Alice. We could learn from you.”

Alice sighed. “And
I
could learn from you two as well. But I’m not ready to spend two hours primping.”

Jane laughed. “Maybe if you looked like Aunt Ethel, you would.”

“Jane!” scolded Louise. “Shame on you!”

Instead of primping, Alice took a quick shower, then settled down in her easy chair with a book, but it was not long before she fell asleep. She jumped to hear someone tapping on her door.

“Alice,” called Jane as she opened the door and peeked in. “I thought it sounded awfully quiet in here.” She came into Alice’s room. “And here I find you snoozing away when Mark Graves will be here in less than fifteen minutes.”

Alice yawned sleepily. “Fifteen minutes? No problem, I usually get ready for work in less than ten.”

Jane grabbed her by the hand and pulled her up. “But that’s work, this is a—” she stopped herself. “Uh, this is dinner with an old friend. Besides, Louise wants to see you in your new duds before Mark gets here.”

Jane flopped down in the easy chair and flipped through a magazine while Alice dressed. Then Jane handed Alice a gold chain with a large, moss-green agate pendant attached. “Try this, Alice. I think it’ll look great against that sweater.”

“Thanks, Jane,” said Alice as she admired the necklace in the mirror. “That looks really pretty.”

Then Jane started going through Alice’s scant selection of makeup until she found a tube of coral lipstick. “I think you should wear this shade,” she told her.

It was nearly six when Jane gave her final approval to Alice. “Come and see her,” she called to Louise.

Louise smiled and nodded and indicated for Alice to turn around. “Very nice, Alice,” she finally said. “I do not think I have ever seen you looking so well.”

“Thank you,” said Jane with a mock bow.

Louise patted Jane’s back. “Jane, you do excellent work.”

“Good grief,” said Alice. “You two make me feel like I’m about six years old.”

“I’m sorry, Alice,” said Jane as she brushed a piece of lint from her jacket. “You just look so gorgeous that I can’t help taking some of the credit.”

“I think I hear someone at the door,” said Louise.

Alice felt the fluttering of butterflies in her stomach, but she took a deep breath and reminded herself that she was sixty-two years old and simply going to dinner with an old friend.

“You’ll be fine,” Jane whispered to her as the three sisters walked downstairs together.

Alice took another deep breath and prepared herself for what she hoped would be a pleasant and blessedly uneventful evening.

Chapter Eighteen
BOOK: Hidden History
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