Prompt: costumier; perpetual beta
“This would,” Caroline said, the corner of her mouth tight around a couple of head pins, “go a lot faster if you helped.” She threaded another one into the hem she had partially pinned. “If you have nothing better to do, of course.”
Daisy sat on her sewing table and stared at the dress on the wall. “I just–I can almost see what I need to change.” Caroline could tell, from the tone of Daisy’s voice, that she had that squinty expression, like her brain was threatening to overheat.
Caroline knew she shouldn’t, but she gave in and turned to look at the dress. “It looks fine to me.” Just like the last five versions, she did not add. “Really, I could use some help getting these pieces hemmed.” Through the window in the shop’s back door, she could see that the sun had set. She didn’t know how the owner expected her to get the costumes done in time for the Shakespeare Festival, when she could only have time to work on them after the shop closed for the day.
Daisy fussed with the folds of the skirt. It was a full ensemble – slip, blouse, dress, bustle, underbust corset, and cape. Whoever wore it – assuming Daisy did finish it one day – would have to hope for freezing weather to wear all of it. “Do you think it’s the sleeves? Should I have gone with the leg of mutton ones?” Without waiting for an answer, Daisy grabbed a seam ripper from the table.
“Daisy! Not again!” Caroline rose out of her chair. Her back twinged with the familiar pain of too much time spent hunched behind a sewing machine. “You can’t keep doing this. Just finish the dress and move on.”
Daisy stood with the seam ripper poised like a surgeon’s scalpel. “But it’s not perfect. It has to be perfect.”
Behind them, glass broke with a clatter. They both turned just as a hand reached through the broken window to unlock the door. Caroline snatched a nearby pair of thread shears from the table and brandished them at the intruder as he came in.
The man was so occupied with closing the door behind himself and nervously checking out the window, he did not notice that anyone else occupied the room with him. He spun around when Caroline said, “Get out or you’re going to be carrying your balls home in your pockets.” She snipped the shears at him a couple times for emphasis. She hoped that her tone came across as confidently bad-ass, rather than strained and terrified.
The man froze in a half stoop, looking out the window, then slowly craned his head around. Caroline felt disappointed when he looked relieved by what he saw. “Oh, thank the Stones. I thought they had gotten here before me.” The man had a slightly pretentious goatee and mustache and when he smiled, like they were all in on some joke, he looked like a Robin Hood-esque rogue. He cast his eyes around the workroom. “I required a dress.”
He started forward into the room, but stopped when Caroline waved the shears at him. “Go away and I’ll call the cops.”
“Don’t you mean ‘or?’ Or you’ll call the cops?” He asked. He kept checking over his shoulder.
“No,” Caroline said flatly. “I really, really don’t.”
Daisy, hiding behind Caroline, whispered, “Could we possibly run away now?”
Caroline shook her head. The door to the shop was locked, as was the front door beyond that. The man stood between them and the only available exit. “Daisy, get out your cell phone.”
The man held his hands up. “Please, I’ll pay. I’ll pay for the window as well. I have money. But I must have a dress.” He held his hands out in surrender and moved farther into the room.
“The merchandise is all locked up. We are, in case you hadn’t noticed, closed.”
Before his eyes even moved, Caroline knew he had seen Daisy’s project. “That one will do. How much?” Again, he looked over his shoulder.
“Oh, no,” Daisy said with a little self-deprecating laugh. “That’s not for sale.”
“I will pay any price,” the man insisted.
“It’s not even finished,” Daisy squeaked.
The man made a suppressed scream of frustration. “Blood and bones, woman, I am in haste!” Then, before Caroline could even process that he had moved, he had a dagger in his hand. It looked like one of prop weapons carried at the Renaissance festivals and reenactments, but Caroline had a feeling he had opted for the additional cost of putting an edge on his. He held it with a natural ease that made it clear he would have no trouble getting past Caroline and her shears.
“Daisy, sell the man a dress. Now.”
“I don’t–” Daisy gulped. “All right.” She took the dress down from the wall and began to separate the pieces.
The man actually clamped his teeth on the dagger like some kind of damn pirate and used his free hands to start stripping. Caroline resisted the urge to look away and kept her shears aimed at him while Daisy handed over one layer of the dress after another. Caroline kept her eyes trained on his face as the last of his clothes came off.
If she’d been looking elsewhere, she might have missed what happened next. As the man dressed, he stopped being a man. His facial hair shed out like a cat in spring and the hair on his head lengthened at impossible speeds. He got shorter and the distribution of fat and muscle rearranged. By the time she swung the cape around her shoulders, she looked as typically female as a person could look. The change was so complete and swift that Caroline almost didn’t notice that the color of her hair and her whole face were completely different. She did not even look related to the man who had walked in.
The intruder cast another frantic look at the door. This time Caroline thought she heard something as well. “No time,” the woman yelped and, though her voice sounded higher, she still spoke the same. She ran for the door.
“Hey,” Caroline shouted, “what about–”
“I will return,” the woman said. “By the Stones, I swear.” Then she disappeared from view.
Daisy sighed. “I’m never getting paid, am I?” Caroline wasn’t so sure.