“Natalie” screeched Amy down the phone. “You’ll never guess what! I’ve been invited to the Richardson’s Christmas party. I can’t believe it. They never invite office staff. The girls are all saying they must have me ear-marked for bigger things. I’ll have to buy something swish to wear. You will come shopping with me on Saturday won’t you?”
“Course I will Babes” replied Natalie warmly. She and Amy had been friends since junior school. Natalie knew better than anyone, how much this invitation meant to Amy.
From childhood, Amy had been obsessed with detective stories, devouring Enid Blyton’s ‘Famous Five’ series, moving on to Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, and more recently, Robert Galbraith’s pragmatic private eye, Cormoran Strike, always trying to guess ‘Whodunnit’ often succeeding long before reaching the end of the book. When she landed a job in the offices of London’s biggest private detective agency she was excited beyond belief, but still she yearned to be part of the team that actually investigated.
Saturday morning, early, saw the girls on the top deck of a red London bus heading towards Oxford Street, not to the big stores, Amy made that clear; she was going to look in the exclusive little boutiques in the side streets, shops they had never visited before, knowing they were way out of their league. The prices were eye-watering and not necessarily value for money. Remove the fancy label and many of the dresses would have been at home on the High Street. After a couple of hours trailing disconsolately from shop to shop, she was about to give up and suggest lunch before a visit to John Lewis, when she saw it - The Dress. Determined not to look at the cost, she slipped it on in the generously sized changing room, mirrors placed so that she could view herself from all angles. Never vain about the olive skinned, dark haired, good looks, inherited from her Italian father, she had to admit she looked stunning in the kingfisher blue dress with floaty skirt, high neck and plunging back, a throwback to Audrey Hepburn.
“We never stock more than two of any of our styles. This was made for you” assured the assistant.
“I’ll take it” she determined, fingers crossed that it wouldn’t take her credit card over the limit. Imagine the embarrassment if it were to be declined in such a posh location, but all was well, and she sailed out of the shop clutching her dress in its luxurious cardboard carrier.
Party night. Amy had spent hours on her preparation, visiting the hairdressers first thing, for an upswept hairstyle, then the afternoon buffing, moisturising and manicuring before slipping into her beautiful creation. She took a cab to her boss’s home in Knightsbridge. The dress deserved to be treated with style. A mixture of nervousness and anticipation fluttered in her tummy as she mounted the steps of the grand town house, where she was met at the door by a maid and led through to the drawing room, towards Mr and Mrs Richardson, who greeted her with charming smiles. Amy’s own smile froze. Mrs Richardson was wearing an identical dress! What were the odds when only two were ever stocked! It was a disaster. Amy still had her coat fastened around her, but she couldn’t possibly keep it on all night.
“Janet” Mrs Richardson addressed the maid, “would you show Amy to the bedroom to leave her coat, then Amy, come back down and we’ll introduce you to a few people.”
“In here, dear” said Janet, ushering her into a luxurious bedroom. No coats piled on the bed, but a clothes rail, already laden with a dozen ladies’ coats. The bathroom’s through there if you’d like to use it. Come down as soon as you’re ready.”
Amy sat, trembling on the bed. Could she climb out of the window and escape, or maybe return downstairs, telling them she’d just had a phone call to say her mother had been taken ill. But she’d so been looking forward to this night, not to mention the future it promised. Her hands nervously clutched the bed covering, a rich ruby red velvet. Suddenly she had an idea. Slipping off her dress and folding it carefully under a pillow, she draped the velvet throw around her, toga style, using the heavy brooch from her coat to fasten it over one shoulder. She then unclipped the chain from her bag and fastened it around her waist as a belt. Thank goodness she hadn’t been able to afford the kingfisher blue shoes she would have loved. That would have looked odd. A glance in the mirror, a deep breath, and she descended into the party.
There were gasps as she entered the room and she felt herself blush. Everyone could see she was dressed in a bed cover! How did she ever think she’d get away with it. Then she realised, as a young man appeared at her elbow with a glass of champagne, that they were gasps of admiration, not derision.
She had a surprisingly good time, with many compliments on her ‘beautiful gown’ but shortly before midnight, like Cinderella, made her excuses to leave. She had to replace the bed throw and retrieve her dress before other guests began to depart.
With her coat firmly wrapped round her once more, she thanked her hosts for a wonderful evening. Mrs Richardson escorted her to the door. “Did you really think I wouldn’t recognise my own soft furnishings?” she snapped. Amy blanched, then Mrs Richardson began to chuckle. “What a hoot! We were wearing identical dresses weren’t we? I spotted that kingfisher blue beneath your coat as you entered! Well done my dear. That showed great enterprise and saved me a deal of embarrassment, not least because I’m sure the dress looked much better on you. I’m most certainly going to recommend my husband signs you up for training in private investigation in the New Year.
©Sue Lawlor 2020