Fashion and Friction
The weak light of a cloudy London afternoon illuminated the room through my window. I sat in the middle of the floor of my room, watching Chester survey his new territory. He would waddle over to the bed and sniff it, then over to the dresser or vanity, then along the many shelves that lined the room, leftover from Dr. Watson's office. My petticoats lay splayed out around me. I needed a bath, and soon. The fishy smell from the mornings' adventure still lingered on my dress lying piled on the floor near the door, waiting to go down with the wash. I looked down at my modest corset; it had been white once, now it was a dingy grey. My three petticoats, all that I owned, needed replacing. They were old leftovers from my childhood my mother had re-hemmed, as I grew taller. The colorful mismatched patterns were an odd juxtaposition to the plainness of the dress usually worn over them.
I stood up and wandered over to my trunk, opening it up to survey my modest wardrobe. I pulled out my nicest dress, a printed pink calico, and frowned. None of my dresses even remotely resembled women's' clothing here in London. For over a month, I had stuck out like a sore thumb. I had absolutely nothing to wear to dinner tonight. Holmes had said we would go somewhere special to celebrate my promotion to his assistant. Dr. and Mrs. Watson were to accompany us.
The four five pound notes lay on the bed where I had emptied them from my reticule. I had never owned so much money in my life. But what to do with it? If it were in American bills, I would not think twice about sending it to my family. I really had everything I needed here; a few pieces of furniture, my most beloved possessions from home, and room and board courtesy of Mrs. Hudson as a favor to my Uncle Ian with the agreement that I would work and clean up after Holmes.
One thing I learned quickly was that Holmes usually took dinner late, after 8 o'clock. It was only now just after lunchtime. Maybe I could find a new dress before dinner tonight. It would be worth a try, especially since I now had my own money to spend. I swayed on my feet as sleep threatened to wash over me. Waking up so early without much sleep the night before had taken a toll on my body. If I wanted to be presentable for dinner, I needed to get cleaned up and begin my search for a dress.
Chester chose a corner of the room to curl up in, his tongue hanging out of his short snout. Once he looked sufficiently comfortable, I shrugged on my robe and headed to the bathroom to wash myself up. On my way out into the hallway, I heard another explosion as Watson yelled out, "For God sake Holmes! I want to survive to see my wife again!"
At that moment, Watson opened the door to Holmes' room in a rush, startling me on my way down to the bathroom. I clutched at my robe, blushing to my toes. He stopped, covered in blue powder this time, and looked at me with wide eyes, "Oh, excuse me Miss Keaton. I am terribly sorry." His eyes darted anywhere but at my robe.
"It's quite alright doctor. I do not blame you for trying to escape." I nodded with my eyes downcast. How embarrassing! What would Mary think?
An idea occurred to me once I thought about Mary, and I hurriedly asked Watson as he turned to leave, "Would I be alright if I paid Mary a visit today? I would like her advice about where to locate a new dress."
He glanced back at me in mild surprise answering, "I am sure she would be more than happy to help." He turned to descend the stairs, his cane in his hand.
"Be on your guard," he said cryptically as he trotted down the stairs. "We'll see you at dinner this evening," were his final words shouted in my direction.
I hoped he meant to be on guard against whatever madness Holmes was up to in his room. What else could he mean? There was really no telling, not where Holmes was involved.
I scooted my way on down to the bathroom as I heard another small explosion echo from within the detective's room.
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Upon arriving at the Watson residence, I rang the bell. A young blonde maidservant answered the door, and I asked for Mrs. Watson. Mary smiled at me as she reached the door, inviting me in.
"Why hello Catherine, John said you would come by. I have not seen you for a couple of weeks. How are you surviving rooming with Mr. Holmes?" Her beautiful red hair was drawn up in intricate curls, and her grey eyes matched perfectly with the dove grey suit she wore. She was the picture of an elegant, fashionable London woman.
"Hello Mary," I said as I took her hand in both of mine. "It's so wonderful to see you again. I am making do with Holmes, but at the moment I have more pressing matters. Where can I find a new dinner dress? I'd like to have something by this evening, and nothing that I own seems nice enough. Since I am not on a ranch anymore, every dress I have always looks too casual to be worn around London. Do you have any suggestions for stores I might visit?"
Her eyes lit up, "Shopping? Oh, that sounds like fun. Do you mind if I accompany you? I've been cooped up in the house all day, and we may have a nice girl's afternoon and catch up." My heart felt light at the thought of not having to face the strange city alone.
"Oh course you may accompany me! I would like nothing better." I smiled at her.
"Just allow me to let John know and then we'll leave." She patted my hand and then rose to tell Watson where we were going. I sat and waited for her in the parlor.
As she climbed the stairs, I heard her soft voice calling "John." Her voice was always so soothing; it reminded me of my own mother's.
She came back downstairs looking smart in her velvet hat with blue ribbon.
"John's just cleaning up. He was quite a mess when he returned from visiting Mr. Holmes. I'm not sure if we'll ever be able to get that blue dye out of his suit." At this, she allowed herself a brief pout, then turning to me asked, "Shall we be off?"
"Certainly." And I followed her out the door.
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I saw Holmes and Watson sitting at the table as Mary and I approached. The two gentlemen appeared to be arguing good naturedly about something. Watson leaned his head back and laughed, just as Holmes took out his pocket watch to check the time. My knees felt weak as the two of us neared the table. Holmes just looked so good, so handsome in his coat and tails. The man should really dress up more often.
The maître d' led us toward the men, and I noticed many eyes in the restaurant on me. Did I really look that odd? They must know I do not belong. These and other negative thoughts racked my anxious mind.
I looked down at my midnight blue silk taffeta dinner dress. I had insisted on a higher neckline, the dipping V-necked dresses that were in fashion for evening wear made me feel distinctly naked. I had never shown this much skin in my life. The rounded neckline of the gown showed off my shoulders and scooped seductively toward my bust, barely indicating the swell of pale flesh nestled there. The fabric hugged my hips, as was the protocol of the day, and I was stunned at the way my hips swayed when I moved. A brand new corset creaked beneath my new dress, molding my figure and synching in my waist more than I was accustomed. My arms were totally bare except for the cap sleeves of the dress. Gloves! Curses! I had forgotten about the gloves!
The dress was, without question, the most expensive piece of clothing I had ever purchased or worn. But, in that moment, it more than made up for its cost when Holmes looked at me.
His dark eyes darted from my face to the exposed flesh of my neck and shoulders, then back again. His eyes lingered at my waist and hips as I approached the table, and my knees almost buckled beneath my dress. Warmth pooled in my stomach and I felt blood rush to my face. He looked at me so quickly that I felt his gaze more than saw it. I was beaming on the inside. I had attracted the attention of the world's greatest detective, the man who was thought to be impossible to impress. My heart fluttered in my chest with excitement. As soon as I made eye contact with him, he looked away and I sensed some apprehension coming from him though he looked as composed as ever.
Both Holmes and Watson rose from their seats when Mary and I reached the table. They bowed to us, and then pulled out our respective chairs. I awkwardly shuffled my ample skirts into my seat. Once we were seated, Holmes seemed determined to look at absolutely everything in the restaurant but me.
"So, you ladies finally decided to grace us with your presence." Even if he was not pretending to be upset, I could not care less.
"We were a whole total of ten minutes late Holmes. For women, that's not bad at all, is it?" I glanced at Mary as I attempted to make light of the situation even though my heart was hammering in my chest, flushing my cheeks.
"John, don't you think Cathy looks lovely in her new dress?" Mary was busy prying a compliment from Watson for my sake.
"Quite lovely." Watson's blue eyes twinkled as he smiled at me. I blushed; even if he was just being nice, it did not happen every day that a handsome man complimented me.
"Shall we get on with dinner?" Holmes bristled next to me, opening up his menu and shielding himself from our sight. Watson restrained himself from rolling his eyes.
I glanced down and did not recognize a single item on the menu. What was filet minion? Maybe I could ask for grilled chicken or beef. Anxiety flooded through my system and beads of sweat formed on my upper lip. I wiped them away as discreetly as I could.
I finally took a look around and noticed all the finely dressed people surrounding us. Upstanding men in white ties and women wearing their best jewels populated the restaurant. Most of the women's dresses seemed to be brighter in color than mine. Yellow and pink were the most celebrated shades. Darker hues of black and green also dotted the crowd. Finally, looking down at my plate, I saw the most intimidating set of silverware ever imagined. I had only ever used one knife, fork, and spoon. What was I supposed to do with all these superfluous utensils?
My wide eyes must have caught the attention of Mary because she comforted me by saying, "It's fairly simple, you just start using the ones on the outside, and work your way inward with each course." Her kind smile reassured me so I felt comfortable asking her about the questionable menu choices.
"What is filet minion? Is it a kind of steak?" At my words I heard Holmes snort behind his shield, and the three of us turned to him simultaneously. However, he did not lower his menu, so Mary answered my question, "Yes dear. It's a small piece of beef surrounded by bacon. I think you would like it."
"Bacon makes anything better," was my comment. Holmes took the liberty of snorting again, and this time I had had enough.
"Is there a problem?" I asked his menu.
"Of course not," he said in a superior tone, snapping his menu shut. "I simply find your rural ignorance of proper dinner etiquette amusing."
I was taken aback. Was he calling me stupid? What on earth was he on about?
"Excuse me?" I asked in disbelief. Was he being mean on purpose? My suddenly raised voice attracted the attention of the table next to us, and I lowered it saying, "I don't know what you are up to Holmes, but you seem determined to ruin a lovely outing. You've reached your quota of insults for the evening. Let's get on with dinner, shall we?"
"There's no need to be emotional." That struck a nerve. How did he know exactly what to say to anger me?
Watson saw the look on my face and interjected, "Now Holmes, do try and be a gentleman. We are celebrating here, or do you not remember?" Watson sounded like he was trying to lighten the situation while warning Holmes that he had gone too far. The trouble was, Holmes never thought he had gone too far.
The tense moment was avoided when the waiter arrived, taking our orders. I stuck with the filet minion and a glass of red wine recommended by the waiter. Though I drank only once a month due to my cycle and the pain involved, I looked forward to having some wine. It was bound to relax me. I needed all the help I could get to put up with Holmes at the moment.
Watson, Mary, and I made small talk until the food arrived. Mary asked about the case I had solved, and Watson added encouraging compliments when called for. All the while, Holmes looked bored and swung his pocket watch around by the chain, his eyes surveying everyone in the room except the people he sat with. I simply could not concentrate on my conversation with Mary and Watson when Holmes was acting the way he was. I absentmindedly drew shapes on the white tablecloth and turned my water class around in circles. I had moved on to twisting my napkin in my lap to displace my unease when dinner finally arrived.
My food was wonderful, Mary was right about the filet minion. The silence that fell among people eating was broken by Holmes announcing, "I suppose you should tell her Watson, all the trials that come with being my assistant."
Watson sighed and put down his knife and fork, "I was never your assistant." He briefly turned to me, "Not that there is anything wrong with that," he added quickly. "I simply aided in your investigations. And, I think you have made a wonderful choice in a partner, if I do say so myself."
"Do you think she can handle it? We did get into a tight spot now and then." Holmes folded his hands in front of his stomach.
"I think she is more than capable of handling whatever you may throw at her." Watson smiled at me and Mary moved to place her hand over his.
"Thank you Dr. Watson. It's nice to know someone has faith in my potential." I felt very grateful indeed.
"How do you plan to go about training for your position?" Holmes turned to me and finally looked me in the eye.
"I should think my employer would do his job and train me."
"I must first know what skills you possess."
"I was not aware this was an interview. I was under the impression that we were celebrating my success. Don't you think you should have mentioned something important such as knowing whether or not I could handle being your assistant before you promised me the job?"
"I never remember promising you anything."
"If you don't want me to work for you just say so."
Watson and Mary watched our verbal sparring as if it were a tennis game, their eyes looking at him, then me, and back again. I was growing angrier by the second. What on earth was he doing?
I was on the verge of telling him exactly where he could go and what he could to with himself once he got there, when a woman's scream echoed across the dining hall. A matronly woman of about sixty was standing up at her table, shrieking, her hands flapping all about. The feathers in her hair bobbed around as she turned this way and that, obtaining the attention of everyone in the restaurant.
Watson asked rhetorically glancing in her direction, "What the devil is going on?"
Holmes dabbed his mouth with his napkin, then added calmly, "The game is afoot."
Turning to me, his eyes much brighter than I had seen them all evening, he asked, "How do you feel about finding a jewel thief as your first case?"
Author's note: Well, here it is. I'm not totally happy with it, but it will get better, just stick with me. Finally, a tiny bit of romance, huh? How do you feel about Watson and Mary?
Thank you to all of you who follow me or have favorited me or have left me reviews. I truly appreciate it. Even more reviews would be lovely For those of you who have left reviews but are not registered with the site, I can't message you personally to thank you but I want you to know how grateful I am. Stay tuned for the beginning of a new case next week!