The following is an excerpt from PICTURE ME by Ryann Murphy. Don’t steal it or she’ll put a hex on your ability to find pants that fit. It’s really not worth the risk.
The walls of the small room closed in as panic sprouted in Savannah’s chest. Her arms were trapped above her head and it was difficult to breath through the fabric covering her face.
She struggled against the Houdini-inspired sheath dress, imagining the headline if she were to die in this department store dressing room: Debut Author Is Chicago’s Latest Fashion Victim.
Savannah sagged against the wall to catch her breath. Today had been one disaster after the next. It had started with the wake-up robocall announcing their tenant association meeting in the morning. The call confirmed rumors she’d been hearing about her building being turned into senior housing. She was all for it—as long as the process didn’t start for about forty-five years.
Otherwise, she’d be pushed out of her childhood home.
Next had been the call from her agent, giving her the “good news” that a photographer was free today to take her author photo. Even when Savannah revealed why she hadn’t gone in front of a camera for over a decade, Monique had been sympathetic, but unfazed.
“Ma’am, how are those dresses working for you?” The pixie-sized fitting room attendant called over the door.
“Fine, thank you,” Savannah lied. “Just deciding.”
She was deciding how to escape the dress without flashing her Muppet-of-the-Day underwear. At least today’s Muppet de jour was Animal, unlike yesterday when she’d had Miss Piggy emblazoned across her butt.
Now that would have been embarrassing.
She didn’t need to look at her watch to know that she was running late. She’d had just enough time to try on the dress and head home to change for the appointment. For a moment, Savannah regretted not accepting her agent’s offer to help her shop, until a vision of Monique’s neon colored suits flashed in her mind.
There weren’t many other options for a shopping companion. Her best friend, Eric, would have distracted the female employees since his bone structure made even mannequins jealous.
And while Savannah had promised herself to soon tell Eric she wanted to be more than just friends, a dingy dressing room filled with elevator music wasn’t the romantic setting she envisioned.
So, here she was, alone and having her will to shop squeezed out by Satan’s spring collection.
“Excuse me, ma’am?” Pixie dropped her voice to a whisper that carried farther than a scream. “We received a call from security and they said you might need some, um, assistance in there.”
“What?” Savannah whispered back through the curtain as she pressed her Animal-clad backside against the wall. She squinted through the fabric covering her face towards the full-length mirror, imagining a room full of men watching her, popcorn and scorecards in hand. “I thought two way mirrors were just urban legends like refundable airline tickets and comfortable high heels.”
“Those things are real too, ma’am.”
“Really, I am happy to help you.” She paused. “And, there are a lot of shoppers out here waiting for dressing rooms.”
“Fine, come in. You might want to bring a crowbar. Or the jaws of life.” She moved as far away from the opening as she could while still keeping her backside against the wall. There was nothing like a twenty-eight year-old woman who needed help getting dressed.
Pixie twittered as she entered the room and then grew silent once she pulled the curtain shut. “Oh, dear.”
“Why don’t you turn around and I’ll see if the zipper is snagged on anything.” Savannah turned and her stomach sank when Pixie sucked in a breath. “Oooh. Oh, dear.” The curtain slid open again and Pixie called out. “I’ve got a Code 77 in here. Bring the shears, stat.”
“No!” Savannah stood on her tiptoes and called over the thin walls. “Cancel the shears. It can’t be a Code 77. It’s only a 70, or 75 tops.”
The other dressing rooms were silent now, no more chatter or the noise of hangers clanging together as everyone pretended not to listen to the drama playing out in her stall. The curtain rustled again and Savannah was jostled as Pixie’s partner entered, bracelets jangling. She tugged at the dress, which only seemed to anger the garment and tighten its hold on her.
“Oh, no. And this dress was going on sale next week, too,” Bracelets said.
Both women stilled and Savannah felt the tension rise in the small space.
“Hello? What’s happening back there?” Savannah asked, her voice pitched an octave higher than normal.
“I’m sorry ma’am, we’re trying decide how to get you out of this dress,” Pixie said.
“Maybe we should call the store manager,” Bracelets suggested. “Or the fire department.”
The last thing Savannah needed was to have this little crisis turn into a real-live reality show on the evening news. She swung towards the women, pointing with the one index finger she could move. “I don’t care what you have to do, just get me out of this dress. Now.”
She heard the unmistakable sound of scissors cutting through fabric and the dress relaxed its grip enough to allow Savannah to take in a deep breath. Within seconds the women had swept away the dress and left her alone. Savannah pulled on her white t-shirt and khaki pants, which had never before felt so good.
She rushed out of the dressing room, but not before glaring at the security guards she pictured behind the mirror. She passed the other stalls, keeping her eyes focused straight ahead. The taste of freedom was on her lips as she turned a corner and ran smack into a mannequin.
A very lifelike mannequin. With killer blue eyes. And strong hands that steadied her.
She squeezed her eyes shut. “Please tell me you are a mannequin.” She opened one eye as she heard him laugh as he released her. “Or a robot?”
“Today, I’m more of a butler.” He glanced to the shopping bags surrounding him on the floor.
Fire flamed across her cheeks as she realized he had been waiting for his girlfriend at the entryway to the dressing rooms. Surely he had been close enough to hear the commotion.
There was only one thing to do—bluff.
“Sorry, I’m running late and wasn’t watching where I was going.” She conjured up a fake smile. “Can you believe the chaos in there? Some woman got stuck in her dress and everything.” Savannah forced a laugh. “Wow! I would not want to be her. How embarrassing. I mean, really, who gets stuck in a dress? Come on.”
“Yep. It isn’t everyday you hear a Code 77. Cross that one off the bucket list, I guess.” His twinkling eyes shifted from her to someone behind her. Savannah tore herself away from watching how his dark hair curled against the collar of his shirt, and braced herself to see Blue Eyes’ girlfriend. Instead, Pixie was making a beeline in her direction.
Savannah longed to push the man aside and make a run for it.
“Ma’am, goodness, you are quick. I’m glad I caught you. Here’s a certificate for a complimentary visit to our salon on the third floor. I just called and they have an opening right now.”
Savannah pasted on a smile. “A free visit to the salon? Oh, too bad. I just had my hair cut.” Sure, she had done it herself but there was no reason they needed to know that.
The man cleared his throat as if to hide a laugh.
“What?” She demanded.
“Ma’am, to free you from the dress, we had to cut your hair. It was caught in the zipper.” Pixie wrung her hands as she looked to the man and back to Savannah. “We thought you knew when you said to do whatever we had to.”
Savannah’s throat went dry. She wanted to find a mirror to take a look at the damage, but no way was she returning to the dressing room. Her hand shook as she ran her fingers over her head. She nearly sighed from relief until she traced a jagged section of blunt ends just touching her neckline instead of hanging down her back like it had just an hour ago.
Pixie put a hand on Savannah’s arm. “I’m sure it will be easy to fix. A quick trim and no one will know the difference.”
Savannah stepped back away, relieved when the woman removed her hand.
Hey, it’s not that bad,” a deep voice broke in.
How had she forgotten Blue Eyes? He watched her, taking in everything from her mutilated brown hair down to her dingy white sneakers. She recognized his look, because if there was one thing in this world she knew, it was pity. And the sight of it made her manners shrivel up and blow away.
“Oh, really? You have a lot of experience with looking like a preschooler cut your hair?” His eyes grew wide and she hiked her bag up higher on her shoulder. “Yeah. I didn’t think so. So, excuse me, if I do think it is that bad.”
The minute the words were out, she wanted to call them back. She lived her life under the radar, yet here she was yelling at a total stranger—a totally hot stranger—in the middle of a department store.
She dropped her eyes to the floor and mumbled a quick apology, not even able meet his gaze. She brushed by and headed towards the escalator, her face burning.
As she settled into the salon chair for her haircut a few minutes later, she comforted herself with the idea that at least this day could not get any worse.
“Brian, what do you think? It’s on sale. I could wear it to Bunco.”
The sight of his grandmother modeling a purple tracksuit brought him back from the woman with the caramel eyes and to reality, since reality for him was giving Grammy fashion advice on their Friday morning shopping sprees.
“Well, it is nice,” he said, treading carefully as her cloudy eyes narrowed. “But don’t you already have one that color?”
“Not this color, Brian, dear. Really, I’d think a successful photographer would be able to tell eggplant from plum. Kids today. If you can’t Photoshop it, it doesn’t exist.”