Waking Sleeping Beauty

By: Laurie Leclair

Chapter 1

“Wake up, will ya!”

Francine King bolted upright in the tiny enclosure. She blinked several times, trying to recall where she was. Looking down at the satin and lace dress with hundreds of tiny crystals sparkling under the lights, she landed back to earth with a dull thud. “Rico?”

“Of course, it’s me, silly. Who else would it be?”

She sighed with relief. “Sorry. I’m just jumpy.”

“And sleepy,” he muttered. “No rest for the new independent woman, now is there?”

“Did you get them?” She stood, sweeping layers of fabric in a neater array. “I’m decent. You can come in now.”

He shoved aside the curtain to the dressing room and produced the two-carat, tear-drop diamond earrings. “Voila!” He swung the sparkling pair under her nose. “Do I deliver or do I de—”He stopped in midstream, his mouth hanging open. “Shut up!”

Heat crawled into her cheeks. Pressing her hands to her face, she asked, “Is that a good shut up or a bad shut up?”

“O-M-G, you look fab-u-loicous, girl.” His eyes nearly popped out of his head.

“I take that as good.” She smiled now, fingering the delicate lace bodice on the wedding dress. “It’s not too much. Or should I say too little?” she asked, splaying her hand over the deep V neckline.

“You have bubbies.”

Another sweep of heat seared her cheeks. “You sound like that’s a question, not a statement.” Looking down, she noted the miraculous way the dress pushed her together to create a definite cleavage.

“Come out, come out, let me see more.”

Poking her head out of the dressing room, she looked down the aisle. “Is the coast clear?”

“Everyone’s gone for the night or we wouldn’t be here, you know that.”

“No one followed you? No guards? No manager? You know she doesn’t like me.”

He sighed heavily. “Now who does?”

A stab of hurt lanced through her. “Rico!”

Pursing his lips together, he murmured, “It’s true.”

This time she was the one to sigh. She marched out of the cubicle, down the hallway and into the display room. Her so-called new friend didn’t mince words and she’d be forever grateful for that. But the truth did hurt. She stepped up onto the pedestal and gazed unseeingly into her reflection in the full-length mirror opposite her.

“Here, let me do the back up all the way,” he clucked, delicately handing over the precious jewelry. He tugged at the satin strings, pulling the wedding dress even tighter.

“I didn’t do anything…” she whispered, slipping on the earrings. “I’m not my mother. I’m not mean or vain or pushy—”

”Well…” He coughed a few times. “You can be pushy, but, like me, it’s for a good cause. You’re just trying to help out around the store,” he waved a hand, “helping the salespeople with their customers. I swear some people don’t have a lick of common sense when dealing with the public.”

She forced herself to grin. “Not like us, right?” Being a hairdresser in King’s Department Store salon allowed Rico to judge the wisdom of his clients’ choices. He expressed his opinion on more than just hair and makeup and clothes. Nine times out of ten, he nailed it on the head.

And she, the stepdaughter to the late, great Charles King, enjoyed the breath of fresh air Rico brought to the legendary store. Taking a cue from him, she didn’t hold back on her suggestions for the brides who shopped there. After all, if anyone knew about weddings, she did. Francine lived and breathed weddings. She considered herself an amateur expert on the subject; she pored through bridal magazines and collected pictures in her three-ring wedding binder for decades now. Her heart skipped a beat at the thought of her dream wedding.

Only there were a few things wrong with the picture.

Even after all these years, she still couldn’t decide on a dress. She couldn’t have a perfect wedding without the perfect wedding dress, now could she?

She’d never be able to afford her picturesque day now that her mother had cut off her trust fund. How long would it take to save for the lavish affair? Two years? Three? More?