The Absolutely Amazing Milka Gown

Note: Couldn't help it ... * big grin* You might want to google "Milka chocolate" ...

"This isn't going to work."

Francine stepped back and gave Amanda a thorough look, the head-to-toes kind that made the back of her neck tingle. Amanda tried to ignore how her gaze seemed to linger on every little imperfection of her figure. She was probably doing it without realizing.

Francine shook her head.
"It's a great fit on me but on you, it looks like you shrunk it in the wash or something."

Amanda glanced at herself in the mirror. There was no denying it – Francine was right. The gown was a gorgeous hue of cream and made from a wonderfully soft and silky fabric that shimmered in the light. It was also of a much simpler style than Amanda would have expected with an item of clothing owned by Francine Desmond. No bows or frills or ruffles – just a simply cut beautiful dress that, unfortunately, was too loose around the chest, too tight around the hips and at least an inch too short. She hadn't realized until now that she actually was taller than Francine. Francine always seemed so tall. Almost overbearing at times and certainly a little intimidating.

Francine took another step back and frowned.
"Maybe …"

She crossed the room to dig around the wardrobe until she found what she was looking for: a broad bronze-coloured belt. She returned to Amanda and started to gather the gown's skirt up and around Amanda's waist underneath the belt so that the hem of the skirt now only came down to just below her knees.

"Isn't that a bit short for the occasion?" Amanda asked.

Francine raised her eyebrows.
"There's certainly no reason why you would have to hide your legs", she said. "But it still doesn't look any better and that colour doesn't work for you."
She unclasped the bet again and let the gown's skirt fall back down.
"I should have packed the other one", she murmured, "it's shorter and a looser fit."

Amanda didn't reply. She was still trying to figure out whether Francine really just had complimented her on her legs. She probably hadn't fully realized what she was saying.

Francine again was studying her, with her arms folded across her chest and chewing her lower lip.

"Maybe you should go instead of me", Amanda suggested. "I mean –"
She gestured at herself.

Francine blinked and shook her head.
"No, Billy wants you to go so we'll see to it that you get appropriate clothes. I'm just trying to figure out whether there's any way we can just buy you a gown and write it off as expenses. You do need it for work, after all. Unfortunately, you're only civilian auxiliary so you don't have an expense contingent. Mine's already spent for this month, and I think so is Lee's. And I better not touch Billy's. He'd only assume I was trying to avoid lending you my gown."

"But if we show him it doesn't fit me –" Amanda said.

Francine waved it off.
"Billy's a great guy and boss but his sense of fashion isn't exactly up to date. He'd probably say it's fine and send you off to the baron like this."

"Then what do we do?"

"Give me a few minutes. I'm thinking."

Francine turned away and slowly crossed the room to stand by the window. Amanda seized the opportunity to change back into her own clothes and carefully draped the gown across the bed. Just when she was done Francine spun round with a triumphant smile on her face and snapped her fingers.

"I think I have an idea that might work."

She strode over to the phone and dialed a number. Amanda didn't understand anything of the ensuing conversation since Francine was talking in German. Impeccable and as far as Amanda could tell accent-free German. Her tone changed from cheerful to persuasive to excited and in a matter of minutes the conversation was concluded. Francine turned round to Amanda.

"I just found you something you can wear tonight", she said, "but you'll have to return it tomorrow, undamaged and clean."

"Well, there shouldn't be any problem with that", Amanda said and smiled. "I only need it tonight and it's just a reception. I mean – what can possibly happen?"
She laughed.

Francine scowled at her.
"Don't jinx it."

Amanda followed Francine through the subway system to a stop called Odeonsplatz – she remembered the area, she had been here before. From there, they continued to Maximilianstraße, a broad street lined with luxury boutiques on both sides. Amanda only caught glimpses of all the clothes and jewelry and accessories that were forever out of her reach because they were much too expensive. Not that she would have craved any of that overpriced stuff – but she would have loved to take a closer look. Francine, though, sped along the sidewalk without sparing a single glimpse for any of the shop windows. She seemed to know her way around Munich quite well and Amanda couldn't stop herself from commenting on it.

Francine shrugged.
"It really hasn't changed all that much since 1977, when I last spent some time here. And I've been here a few times since. – There we are."

They had stopped before one of the boutiques. "Petit Milan" the sign above the entrance read.

"Josef Meinburger", Francine said. "His fashion's absolutely in and not just here in Germany."

Amanda took a closer look at the outfits displayed in the boutique's windows and frowned.
"It looks all a little – eccentric …"

Francine laughed.
"Yes, that's why it's in. Come on."

Amanda followed her into the boutique. Upon seeing them one of the sales girls immediately approached them. She was about Francine's age, dark-haired and dark-eyed and almost a head taller. She and Francine embraced and exchanged greetings in German. Francine seemed genuinely pleased to see her. She turned to Amanda.

"Amanda, this is Katharina, an old friend of mine. She's going to help us out."

Katharina stepped forward and shook Amanda's hand.
"I'm pleased to meet you", she said.

Amanda detected a slight German accent in her English.

"Please, come with me."
Katharina gestured at them to follow them to the changing rooms that were located at the back of the boutique.
"There are two outfits that I found for you", she said and lowered her voice. "No one seems to be interested in buying them so I can give you one for tonight. But you have to bring it back tomorrow."

"That's – very nice", Amanda said, "but won't you be in trouble if someone notices one of the outfits is missing?"

Katharina just waved it off.
"I will just tell them that someone spilled something on it and that I took it out for cleaning. That's why I need it back tomorrow. Besides –"
She smiled and looked at Francine.
"I still owe Franziska."

"Franziska?" Amanda asked.

Francine nodded.
"Yes, that's what they're calling me here. It's the German version of my name."
She didn't seem to mind.

Katharina stopped before one of the changing rooms.
"I put them in here. Why don't you try them on and see which one you like?"

She smiled at Amanda and then, stepped away to start talking with Francine. Amanda entered the changing room.

Of course, neither of the two outfits was her style. The first one was a crimson red evening gown that she dismissed almost at once. It looked like someone had stuffed a dress with explosives and blown it up. No matter how "in" it might be Amanda certainly would not be seen wearing something like that. The other outfit consisted of purple pants and a top and long jacket in purple and white. The pattern reminded her of a cow – just a little. She wondered what was supposed to be so great about it or who would ever wear something like that but it was better than the dress so she decided to try it on. She didn't particularly care for the look when she looked at herself in the mirror but the fit was good enough. She stepped out of the changing room.

"What do you think?" she asked.

Francine and Katharina interrupted their conversation and both turned to her. Francine stepped forward and regarded her with the same look she had given her back at the hotel when Amanda had tried on her gown. She sighed.

"Well, it's not exactly your style but it's fine for tonight."

Katharina tried to suppress a smile but failed. Actually, it was more of a grin than a smile, Amanda thought. Katharina lifted her hand to hide it.
"Sorry", she said. "But every time I see that jacket I want to go out and buy chocolate."

Francine's eyes widened.
"Oh my gosh, you're right!"
She laughed and immediately stopped herself again.
"Now that you mention it …"

Amanda looked at her, then Katharina, then back at Francine. Whatever those two were laughing at, she didn't get it. Katharina turned to her.

"If you give me the outfit, I'll wrap it up for you", she said.

Things didn't go as expected with the baron but at least the outfit got through it all undamaged and Amanda took it back to the boutique the next day just as she had promised. She spent another few uneventful days in Munich with her family and of course they went to see the Glockenspiel every day, though Amanda eventually took away Jamie's camera. They really didn't need several dozen photos of one and the same thing. By the time they were back home in Arlington, Amanda's annoyance at the Agency for not outright telling her they wanted her in Munich to work had almost faded. Almost, because she knew the Agency probably would do the exact same thing again another time.

Billy called her to his office and commended her for her good work again. When she returned to the desk she was working at that day she found a small, flat, rectangular object on it, wrapped in gift paper and adorned with a small purple bow. She frowned and looked around. Who would leave a gift on her desk? Lee? But he was nowhere to be seen. Well, maybe the contents of the small parcel would tell her who had deposited it on her desk.

So she unwrapped it – and knew beyond a doubt it had to be from Francine. The gift in the parcel was a bar of chocolate, obviously a German brand called Milka. At least that was the name printed on the wrapper. And there was something else on it: a white and purple cow. Amanda shook her head.

"A cow", she murmured. "Very sweet, thanks, Francine."

Then it occurred to her that, for once, Francine actually might not have been aiming to offend her but rather might be trying to let her in on the private little laugh she had been sharing with Katharina about that outfit. Like giving her a wink. And besides – it was German chocolate. That stuff was good. So she put the chocolate in her purse and decided to enjoy it later, back home. If she was careful not to be caught with it she might not even have to share it …