Sure enough a pair of light gray suit pants and dark wingtips marched by. She squinted up at the man, trying to make out his features, but with the awkward angle all she could see was the edge of a chin, the tip of a nose and a fedora that shadowed it all.
The man turned his head side to side as he passed, as if he were scanning the crowd in search of someone. He never glanced down.
Pursing her lips Anne ascended into the light once more. She had let her imagination get carried away. It was just like the time she and Carol had been convinced there was a thief living down the street. It turned out he had been a very nice man who was opening an antiques shop, and had had some deliveries made to his home. The only difference was that this time Carol was dead.
Maybe the sense of loss had kicked her imagination into overdrive. Shaking her head at herself, Anne headed for work. Now she was going to be late.
The alley behind Ms. Marguerite’s was like most of the alleys in New York. Filthy and foul smelling. She pushed the door open, gritting her teeth against the ear numbing screech.
A hand reached out and grabbed her arm. Anne swallowed stifling a screech of her own. “Jillian, you scared me out of my wits!” she hissed.
“You’re late. Hurry. I’ve got your gown laid out, but they will start any moment.”
Jillian hustled her down the hallway and into the common dressing room shared by all the girls. Anne needed no further encouragement. She stripped and tossed her clothes to Jilly who deftly caught them and placed them on hangers.
Anne shimmied into the evening gown that she would parade around in for the afternoon. Layers of emerald silk chiffon floated around her ankles, while the rest of the gown hugged the body more closely.
She ran a brush through her hair and turned to Jilly for inspection. “Am I presentable?”
“You better powder your nose.”
Anne picked up the powder puff and brushed it across her nose.
Together she and Jilly darted for the queue of girls at the far end of the room. They were waved to their place, with conspiratorial grins and flapping hands. Anne had barely time to paste on a smile before it was her turn to sashay through the pair of stiff green and gold damask curtains that opened onto the stage.
Several well-dressed women sat around the room on white velvet couches. Most had a champagne flute in their hands. Sales women stood discreetly near each customer ready to write down colors and orders.
Ms. Marguerite herself narrated the movement of the mannequins as they glided in procession across the stage each one taking her turn at the front of the stage, turning and posing to show the clothes they wore to best advantage.
Anne took her turn at the front. As Ms. Marguerite described the fabric and cut of the gown in exquisite detail, she realized she had not traded her work-a-day pumps for the elegant stiletto sandals made to match the gown. Swallowing, she strove to keep her breathing even and her smile plastered in place.
“I don’t know. You would think they would have more imagination than to put the redhead always in a green dress. And what are those shoes?” The catty snipe from one of the customers could be heard throughout the elegant salon.
Anne ground her heel into the plush white carpet, but kept her smile in place as she twirled away into the back line. The instant she was off stage the plastic smile was discarded and she rubbed her temples. Could anything else go wrong today?
She had no time to mope. she wriggled from the evening gown and into a gorgeous sundress with the wide bell like skirt of Dior’s New Look. She double-checked herself in one of the full-length mirrors. Shoes. She could not forget the dainty little ballerina flats.
Once more she joined the other girls in line and traipsed out onto the stage. This time at least she had a prop in the form of a pair of sunglasses, which she would put on and take off at least six times during her slow peregrinations across the stage.
She was in front and had just removed the sunglasses when a tall gray-suited man wearing a fedora entered the salon. His masculine presence was immediately noticeable among the bastion of femininity. Her heart pummeled against her rib cage, trying to make a break for it.
Even her smile faltered until she remembered to shore it up. Ms. Marguerite’s voice faded and Anne faltered. She could not take her eyes off the man, nor it seemed could he take his eyes off her.
Ms. Marguerite’s voice rose as she repeated some bit of the script. Anne blinked and slapped the sunglasses into place. She whirled and found her place. Though she felt exposed, surely the stage was the safest place she could be right now. He could hardly get to her with so many witnesses in the room.
At last it was her turn to slip behind the curtain. She hovered there, out of sight of the showroom, and watched the man. He eyes the other mannequins as they moved across the stage, but he seemed to show none of the same intensity with which he had watched her.Was it the same man?