Sydney was never the type to care too much about her wardrobe. As long as it looked professional, that was good enough for her. She was an alchemist, and aside from the occasional formal function that her job required, she was never miffed about not owning a dress or even a blouse that paid homage to any colors of the rainbow. Bright colors were just never really her thing, since she preferred to blend in and be seen as part of the crowd, not to stand out.
But as she drove back to Palm Springs Academy from Clarence's place, she couldn't stop dwelling on what Adrian had said. Granted, it was only a little thing that he told in that joking way of his; but nevertheless, it struck a small chord in Sydney because it was, well, kind of true.
Flashback to ten minutes ago:
"I thought Alchemists avoided alcohol the same way they do primary colors," Adrian said to Keith.
I glanced down. I was wearing gray. Keith was wearing brown.
There was no way in hell Sydney would consent to looking similar in any way to Keith. Nobody in their right mind would. It was bad enough she was forced to work under him; the least she could do was make it clear to people that she and Keith Darnell weren't anything alike. So as she drove, she thought of maybe wearing something a little more colorful than her standard garb tomorrow, so she could show Adrian that no, alchemists liked their primary colors just fine.
Sydney rummaged through her closet with increasing frustration, seeing all that it contained: Grays. Blacks. Browns. More browns. Jesus, did she have something against actual colors? Maybe Adrian did have a point. When she came here, she could have sworn there was a blue shirt in here of Zoey's that she had packed by accident, and just where were those red shoes that her mom had given her over a year ago but she had never worn? Why did her articles of clothing choose today to be difficult, of all days?
"What are you looking for?" asked Jill, a little concerned by the fact that Sydney seemed this close to tearing her hair out.
Sydney looked at her. "You haven't seen a blue shirt and some red shoes lying around, have you?"
"Nope," she replied easily. "What do you need them for, anyway?"
"Nothing… I just wanted a little splash of color in my wardrobe, that's all. It's a little… bland." That was an understatement.
"You want to borrow something of mine?"
Sydney glanced at her again. There was no denying that Jill had style, but there was also no escaping the fact that any article of clothing she would be willing to lend would look ridiculous on Sydney's relatively smaller frame.
"No, it's okay," she sighed. "I think… I'll have to go shopping tomorrow."
"Ooh, you should call Adrian!" Jill exclaimed.
Sydney faltered. "Um, why?"
"Because he's been complaining for days now that he doesn't have anything else to wear. And no money to buy new ones." She rolled her eyes. "And apparently, designer brands aren't part of what Adrian's dad called 'necessary' in his allowance."
"Well, I guess I could." But she didn't really want to. Who knows what she and Adrian would get up to when alone for long periods of time? And shopping, of all things? She shuddered to think. Sure, she liked Adrian, but not that much to willingly allow him to witness her make a fool out of herself, because she really didn't have a clue on what styles, cuts and more importantly, colors suited her. She could live without hearing a running commentary from him.
"C'mon, please?" she begged. "For me? It would be a big relief to not hear him grumble about this in my head anymore."
Sydney relented. After all, it was her job to make sure Jill was as comfortable as she could be in this place.
"Thank you, thank you!" Jill said, sounding a bit too pleased for such a little thing. Surely Adrian wasn't that agitated just from a lack of new clothes, was he?
"It's no problem, I'll call him right now," Sydney said, already dialing his number on her phone.
He answered on the first ring. "Hey, Sage, what's up?"
"Hi Adrian, I just wanted to know if you wanted to come with me tomorrow for a little retail therapy."
"A little what?"
"Shopping," she reiterated.
"Sage, it's like you've read my mind. Count me in," he said cheerfully. "When are you going to pick me up?"
"Two o'clock sounds okay to you?"
"Two it is. I'll see you tomorrow, Sage. Try not to miss me too much until then."
"I'll try." Sydney then hung up, feeling an amused little smile playing on her lips. Maybe spending a day with Adrian wouldn't be all that bad.
She suddenly caught sight of Jill grinning at her, seeming strangely satisfied about something. "What?" Sydney asked self-consciously.
"Nothing," she said, still smiling. "Have fun with Adrian tomorrow."
Sydney shrugged and let it go. "Sure. If we don't end up killing each other."
At precisely two o'clock the next day, Sydney drove her way over to Clarence's house, to find that Adrian was already waiting for her outside. He was leaning against the wall near the front entrance, smoking one of his clove cigarettes. Of course.
Sydney rolled down her window. "I would invite you to get in, but unfortunately, there's a no-smoking rule in my car."
Adrian puffed a few more times. "I didn't know I'd get a lecture from the anti-smoking committee along with my free ride."
"You could always walk to the mall," she suggested.
"Fair enough," Adrian said, and proceeded to take one last drag before dropping the cigarette to the ground and crushing it under his feet.
When he got in the car, Sydney immediately noticed that as always, he was dressed impeccably. He had on a green long-sleeved shirt that was almost the same shade as his remarkable eyes, and dark, expensive-looking jeans. She wondered what in the world he was complaining about.
Adrian caught her staring at him. "What?"
"Nothing," she said, giving herself a little shake.
"So, about this shopping trip…"
"What about it?"
"This has absolutely nothing to do with what I said about your clothes yesterday, right?"
Sydney snorted, trying not to let on that his assumption was correct, in order to save face. "Right, because your opinion matters so much to me. You certainly have a high opinion of yourself, don't you?"
Adrian held up his hands in a placating gesture. "Okay, I just wanted to make sure." But he had that annoying smile on his face, so she knew he didn't entirely believe her. Great. They passed the rest of the ride in silence, until they finally arrived at the huge Palm Springs mall.
It was full of people strolling about, since it was the weekend, and apparently people in Palm Springs had nothing better to do than shop all day long.
"Ugh," Sydney groaned. "I hate crowds."
Adrian glanced at her as they went inside. "Really? With your closet tendencies and social ineptitude? I would have never guessed."
They headed straight for the department store, since it offered the most variety.
"Mind if we start at men's wear first?" Adrian asked.
She agreed, more so that she could have the first opportunity to make fun of him if he picked something horrendous. She hoped. Based on the way he was usually dressed, it was probably highly unlikely.
As they wandered through the store, Sydney couldn't help but notice that Adrian drew a lot of admiring looks from the majority of women there, and even some from the men. As they approached the men's section, a large group of twittering salesladies converged upon them, asking Adrian what exactly he was looking for, if he needed any help, if he had any idea on how devastatingly handsome he was, etcetera, etcetera.
Adrian took it all in good humor, looking positively smug about all the attention. One particular saleslady attending them, or more specifically the one attending to Adrian, was unabashedly smitten. Her eyes roamed over his face and lingered over his body, where she made an appreciative sound. Sydney was slightly exasperated; couldn't the saleslady twice his age at least pretend she wasn't checking him out so blatantly?
Sure, she could see that Adrian had a nice form; at about six feet, he was slightly shorter than most Moroi men grew up to be and thus avoided the way they looked too lanky at times. He was a confident man who knew he was good-looking and wasn't afraid to show it. He had that devil-may-care quality about him that made him undeniably attractive. Too bad that whenever he deigned to open his mouth and share his blunt opinions, that near-perfect façade broke away to reveal someone not so perfect.
After a long while and after politely refusing the help of the salesladies surrounding him after he realized they were more than he could handle, he finally picked (all very expensive) one red polo shirt and a pair of khakis.
"That's all you're going to get?" Sydney asked, a little curious why he would only buy those two items when according to Jill, he had been bitching about his lack of new clothes for days now.
"Yep, they're the only ones here that measure up to my distinguished tastes," he said with an impressive nod.
"Right," she said. "Well, you better go try them on, distinguished one."
"Will do," he said as he went to find a vacant stall in the changing room. After assuring the many salesladies that no, he didn't need any help changing, but thank you for the offer, he went inside.
Sydney lounged around on the small couch directly outside the changing rooms, waiting for Adrian to come out. She was getting bored and just as she was about to ask Adrian how much longer he would be, he finally emerged from the changing rooms, wearing the red shirt and the khakis.
And good god, did it look fabulous on him. Once again, Sydney was struck by the artistry of his face; the way his perfectly tousled brown hair stood in contrast to his pale skin, and those eyes, which were possibly the greenest she had ever seen in a person. No, not a person, she silently amended. A vampire, and she would do well not to forget that.
"Does this make my ass look fat?" Adrian asked, turning around to stare at said ass in the mirror.
Sydney gave him a bemused look. "Did you seriously just ask me that?"
"What? It's a perfectly reasonable question."
"For you, maybe. But I think the vast majority of heterosexual males would beg to differ."
"Then let them beg to differ. I'm not where I am now by following the leader, Sage. I set my own rules."
"I'm sure you do," she replied wryly. "But seriously, you're fussier than half the girls I know. I really think you should start re-evaluating your sexual orientation."
Adrian's eyes gleamed. "Oh, believe me, I like girls."
"I believe you," she deadpanned, thinking about all his sexual exploits that unfortunately, Jill was now privy to. They never did say having a spirit connection was not without its drawbacks.
Adrian did not catch her double meaning and continued, "Anyway, there's nothing wrong with wanting to look nice. I might as well make use of what the good Lord gave me."
Sydney shrugged, while Adrian pretended to look outraged. "How dare you, Sage-"
"Oh, shut up," she laughed. "Well, I guess I can admit that you are cute."
He gave me a suggestive wink. "Admit it, Sage. You want me."
"I do not."
"But you just said I was cute," he pointed out.
"Yes, key word: cute. Not handsome, not sexy, and certainly not –"
"Jesus, Sage, it was a joke. Relax."
He raised his eyebrows at her, a little puzzled that she reacted so strongly to his teasing. Little did he know his light-hearted joking hit a little too close to home for her to be entirely comfortable with. Yes, Sydney could fully admit to herself that she had a weakness for aesthetics, which extended to everything from structures to boys. However, she was not attracted to Adrian; she just happened to admire his beauty from a purely professional standpoint, the way you might admire a statue or a painting.
She took a deep breath. "You ready to pay for those?" she asked, indicating the clothes he was wearing.
"Yeah, just give me a minute to change."
After a minute or two, he emerged and she accompanied him to the cash register to pay for his
purchases. The adoring salesladies fell over themselves with offering him discounts for his two items,
which he accepted graciously with a self-satisfied grin.
Sydney tried to refrain from rolling her eyes. "Honestly," she thought. "Did they have no shame?"
When Adrian finally rejoined her, she said "Let's head to the women's section now."
Sydney took a little more time than Adrian to choose the clothes she wanted to try on. After hemming and hawing for nearly thirty minutes, she finally decided on a non-descript light blue shirt, a green blouse and a pink sweater.
She took all three to the dressing room, and immediately discovered that the first one, the blue shirt, was entirely too tight on her. "And this was the biggest size they had," she quietly lamented.
The second one proved to be more of a success, though not a rousing one. Sydney contemplated the way the green blouse clung to her body, and she sighed, put out. Why, oh why couldn't she have been blessed with a waist like Jill's and a chest like Rose's? This was one of the many reasons why she hated shopping.
The third attempt was by far the best in her opinion; the pink sweater was loose enough to hide all her (imaginary) flaws and the color wasn't so disgusting that she wanted to puke if she caught sight of it. "Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner," Sydney thought, a little morosely.
"You almost done in there?" Adrian suddenly called out. "I'm about to pass out from sheer boredom over here, I just wanted to let you know."
"Hey, I didn't complain how long you took to pick your clothes, the least you can do is extend me the same courtesy," she shot back.
"Okay, okay, sorry. But seriously, let me see how it looks."
Sydney poked her head out of the dressing room. "Why?" she asked, a little suspiciously. She didn't think it was above Adrian to criticize her on her fashion choices just for the hell of it.
"So I can see whether the past hour has been spent productively, what else?"
"Fine," Sydney reluctantly sighed. She guessed it wouldn't hurt to at least get an opinion. She slowly emerged from the dressing room and turned to face Adrian, prepared for the worst. What she wasn't prepared for was for him to take one look at her and promptly say, "Pink really isn't your color."
"And why is that?" she huffed. She couldn't see what was wrong; the sweater looked fine to her. She was also seriously getting tired with trying to meet Adrian's high fashion standards. Not for the first time, she wondered if he was just delaying this shopping expedition for a lack of anything to do.
"Well, for one thing, it's totally wrong for your skin tone."
"Oh my god," she said, rolling her eyes.
"I'm serious. What's the point of shopping when you won't even look for clothes that'll compliment you? Trust me, Sage, I know these things."
"Can I ask why? Do you have credentials from the fashion police that I never knew about?"
"No, but I think being forced into helping previous girlfriends choose clothes for hours on end because they wanted a 'second opinion' is a good a credential as any."
Well, she couldn't argue with that kind of logic. Also, not that it was any of her business; she wondered exactly how many ex-girlfriends Adrian had, for him to have acquired such extensive knowledge on the art of picking the right clothes for the female figure.
She watched him as he walked up and down the display, scanning the rack of clothes with the utmost look of concentration on his face. Sydney tried to hide a snort of amusement; trust Adrian to treat choosing clothes as some sort of vital decision that could affect one's life forever.
After a little while, his eyes finally alighted on a particular piece. "Ah, here we go." He reached out his hand and came back with a summer dress in muted gold with little white flowers scattered around it. Sydney eyed it doubtfully; would that cut really work to camouflage all her body's flaws? The neckline was also a little too low-cut for her taste, and that color! There were only a few people Sydney knew who could pull that color off, and she was certain she wasn't one of them.
Adrian noticed her hesitation and gave her knowing smirk. "I know you probably don't like dresses, but this one's a keeper. Try it on."
Sydney debated for a little while, and then shrugged. She guessed she could try to trust Adrian's judgment on this one. As she went back to the changing room and tried the gold dress on, she noted that it felt and fit exceptionally well. Then she turned to look at herself in the mirror, and her jaw nearly dropped. "Well, I'll be damned," she thought.
The dress looked great, no, fantastic, on her. The cut and style looked like it was made for her, and the color, dear god, the color was absolutely stunning. It did wonders for her skin that the other three
attempts had failed to bring out and for the first time, Sydney noticed that the color had an almost uncanny resemblance to her own gold eyes.
She grinned at her reflection and went out to see if Adrian would approve. She found him leaning against the cushions on the couch, looking utterly bored. He straightened almost immediately when he caught sight of her, his eyes widening a little. He didn't say anything for a few moments; he just continued to stare at her. Sydney started to feel a little self-conscious under his intense scrutiny, lowering her eyes and fidgeting a little.
Adrian snapped out of it and said in a hushed tone, "Sage, wow. Just…wow."
It was probably the best compliment she'd ever heard.
"You think so?" she asked.
"Absolutely. My god, your eyes- they look really awesome with that color."
She gave him a grateful grin, which he returned, and there they stood grinning at each other like a couple of idiots.
Adrian went on to pick two more dresses and three blouses for her, each in colors Sydney wouldn't normally have considered trying on, let alone buying. But she had to concede that he had excellent taste, so who was she to argue? They all looked great when she tried them on in the dressing room, but they had nothing on that first dress.
As they left the mall and headed straight for their car, Adrian tried to engage her in some playful banter about the events of the day. Sydney tried to respond with some quick remarks of her own, but it was kind of hard to focus, what with Adrian's hand nonchalantly resting at the small of her back, as if it belonged there. And strangely enough, Sydney didn't really mind.
As they drove, Sydney was surprised to find that she had honestly enjoyed the day with Adrian.
True, he could be abrasive and immature at times, but beneath all that, she was beginning to discover that he was capable of great charm, kindness and love for those people important in his life. Some people usually never took the time or have the inclination to truly get to know Adrian, often dismissing him as just another spoiled royal Moroi. She was beginning to see that she had once been like those people and from now on, she resolved to view Adrian in another, more positive light, because he deserved that chance.
He may be hurting now and at times had the tendency to lash out at people for no apparent reason, but in time he would find the strength to heal from his pain and grow to be a remarkable man in his own right. She could understand why she was so hesitant at first, what with his moments of dark sarcasm and usage and consumption of questionable amounts of cigarettes and alcohol, but she was glad she had agreed with Jill to invite Adrian along. And speaking of Jill…
"Well, at least now you can stop complaining to Jill about how you're running out of clothes," Sydney said.
Adrian blinked. "What? I never told her that."
She looked at him, thoroughly confused now. "But yesterday, she told me about your griping and that it was annoying the hell out of her. Well, not in those terms exactly," she amended. "But you get the gist of it."
"Sage, what are you talking about? I don't need new clothes. I have a lot of them, more than I need, actually. I just went with you today because I wanted to offer my expertise since you oh so wisely decided to take my advice yesterday-"
"I did not."
"- and so, out of the goodness of my heart, I decided to help you. Oh, and also because I like pissing my father off by spending his money."
"That's weird," Sydney mused. "Why would Jill say that, then?" Although, she was starting to have a small inkling why.
"Beats me. But at least you got some great new clothes out of it."
"Yeah… Oh, Adrian, I never even thanked you for helping me choose these-"
He waved a hand. "It's no problem. Anything to help a damsel in distress," he said as he tipped her a wink.
They finally arrived at Clarence's residence, and Adrian turned in his seat to look at her. "Thanks for the entertainment, Sage."
Sydney smiled. "The pleasure was all mine. I guess I'll see you again tomorrow; Jill's scheduled to have another feeding then." She tried her best to say the word feeding like she might say gardening or cooking.
"Okay," Adrian said. Then he leaned in a little closer. "Oh, and Sage?"
She had a feeling on what he was about to say, but she decided to humor him. "Yes, Adrian?"
"Try not to miss me too much until then."
Back at their dorm in the academy, Jill beamed with delight. She had just finished listening to their conversation in the car and was mighty proud of herself for thinking of this sneaky little plan for them to spend a little more time together. Thank god Adrian didn't catch on, but she had a feeling Sydney knew just why she said those things. "She'll thank me later," she thought, while putting the blue shirt and red shoes she had hid that morning back into Sydney's closet.
A/N: I'd really appreciate a review! :)