That night, I have my typical work dream. I’m sitting at my computer and I’ve got some big assignment due. I’m typing in code but it takes me forever just to type one line. And then as I type, the code is disappearing from the screen. I look at the clock, which keeps ticking forward, my deadline moving closer. I’m freaking out. And now the phone is ringing…
The phone is ringing.
I rub my eyes and sit up in bed. My vision is still blurry without my contacts in but I can just barely read the number on the clock: 8:17AM. Who the hell is waking me up this early on a Saturday morning?
“Hello,” I bark, ready to give whoever is calling a piece of my mind.
“Ellie?” It’s Luke. “Sorry, I didn’t interrupt anything, did I?”
“Just sleep,” I mumble, my anger subsiding slightly.
“You were sleeping?” He sounds amazed. “It’s after eight, isn’t it?”
Luke apparently leads a very different life than I do. “It’s all right,” I say. “Um, what is it?”
“Look,” he says. “There’s something I need to ask you but… you have to promise not to be insulted.”
What the hell does he want to ask me? Is he planning to lift me up in his Batmobile and he needs to know how much I weigh? “What is it?”
“What are you planning to wear tonight?”
“Oh.” I scratch my head. “Uh, I hadn’t really thought about it.”
“These art gallery things,” he says, “they’re ridiculously swanky. You need to really dress up. And I was just wondering if you have anything kind of… you know, flashy yet elegant.”
I stumble out of bed in the direction of my closet. I push a few suits jackets out of the way and gaze upon my small supply of dresses. They’re mostly black. I don’t think any of them cost more than $50. I don’t know if any of them qualify as “flashy yet elegant.”
“Not really,” I admit.
“Okay, no problem,” he says. “I’ll buy you something. Are you free this afternoon?”
“Um, yeah,” I say. “But you don’t have to buy me anything. I’ll just run over to the Gap and pick something up.”
“The Gap?” He sounds horrified. “No, Ellie. You’re not buying a dress at the Gap. Let me pick you up and I’ll take you somewhere decent.”
Somewhere decent. I can’t even imagine what sort of place he has in mind. Good thing he’s offered to pay.
“I’ll pick you up at three,” he says. “Why don’t you bring your make-up and stuff and you can change at my place. Then we’ll go straight from there.”
“Where do you live?” I ask.
“I’m sharing a studio apartment in South Boston,” Luke says.
I frown at the phone. “You… what?”
“Just kidding, Ellie. I’ve got a house out in Newton. You didn’t really think I’d live in a studio in South Boston, did you?”
Sometimes I kind of hate him.
Luke calls me from his cell phone so he doesn’t have to get out of his car. Brookline is not an easy place to park and isn’t terribly wheelchair accessible either. I come out dressed in jeans and a tank top, and immediately feel underdressed compared with Luke. He always looks a bit like he just came from the office. Actually, maybe he did.
“Were you at work today?” I ask him.
“Of course,” he says, as if anything else would be ridiculous.
Of course. “So where are we going?”
“Someplace expensive,” he says vaguely.
Luke pulls onto Harvard Street and I grab onto the edge of my seat as a guy practically leaps in front of the car and we come to a screeching halt. “Idiot,” he mumbles as he guns the engine again and we barely miss a woman with a baby carriage. This is why I hate driving in the Boston area. “Can you go slower?” I ask weakly.
“Slower?” Luke makes a face. “How long have you lived here? You gotta be aggressive, Ellie. Mow down the pedestrians. Kill or be killed.”
“Have you ever been in a car accident?” I ask him.
“Got rear-ended once in a traffic circle,” he says. “Total bullshit.”
Twenty minutes later, Luke’s Mercedes pulls up in front of a smallish boutique. Even as I’m getting out of the car, I can see how expensive this place looks. I’m worried if I walk inside, the air will cost like $10 per breath. I wait as Luke grabs his wheelchair out of the back seat and pops the wheels back into place. As soon as he wheels up beside me, I lean over and whisper, “Are you sure about this place?”
It’s not just that the place looks too expensive. It just looks too fancy. I’m worried that if I walk inside, they’ll ask me to leave now without making a scene. And although Luke does seem wealthy, I don’t know how the wheelchair will go over in a place like this.
“Calm down, Ellie,” he says. “I buy all my suits here. If they can make me look marginally good, I think you’re in very capable hands.”
Sure enough, the second we get inside, a pretty Asian girl in her late twenties rushes over to us with a warm expression on her face. “Luke!” she says. “You need a tux for the art gallery tonight?”
Luke shakes his head. “No, thanks, Irene, I’m good. Ellie here needs a dress.”
“Oh.” Irene looks me up and down with exactly the expression I’d expect to see from a person who worked in a swanky boutique like this. I know I shouldn’t let it get to me, but I feel my skin turning pink. On days like this, I’m glad I straighten my hair.
“I told her you’d make sure she’ll look gorgeous for tonight,” Luke says.
Irene turns back to Luke, who is obviously a favorite client, and nods enthusiastically. “Of course! What did you have in mind?”
“I don’t know,” he says thoughtfully. “What would you like, Ellie?”
“Um,” I say. Honestly, I’m not sure I’ve ever even been to an art gallery, much less been to an opening of some exhibit. I have no clue what I’m supposed to wear. “Whatever you think…”
Irene rolls her eyes a bit, but I don’t think Luke catches it. “Why don’t you browse a bit and I’ll see what I’ve got in the back.”
As Irene goes in the back, possibly to make fun of me while she pretends to search for clothes, I finger a simple white shirt that’s on display. I see the price tag hanging out and I gasp and jump back five feet.
“What’s wrong?” Luke asks, alarmed.
“That shirt is $350!”
“Oh.” He shrugs. “So?”
“So… it’s a white shirt! I could get that at Walmart for like $15. The same thing.”
“Well, what are we doing here then?” Luke says. “Lemme get the car and we’ll go to Walmart. We can pick up some donut holes for the party on the way.”
I stick out my tongue at him and he laughs. I guess he’s right though. If you’re going to go someplace fancy, you gotta dress fancy. But I really kind of have to wonder what sort of world we’re living in where there are people who would pay $350 for a white shirt.
Irene emerges from the back carrying what appears to be a simple black dress, but Irene announces is, in fact, “an Oscar de la Renta metallic floral lace gown.” It looks pretty unexciting, but Luke seems to like it, so I try to seem enthusiastic.
“It’s fab,” I say. Fab? Where did I come up with that word? Even Luke is looking at me with a bemused expression on his face and mouthing “fab?”
“You two can go in the back so she can try it on,” Irene suggests.
“Um,” Luke says. “Actually, we’re not… I mean, Ellie should just go herself…”
I can’t help but notice the twinge of a smile on Irene’s face on confirming that Luke and I aren’t actually a couple. Does she like him? And why does that thought fill me with…. I don’t know what… jealousy? Nah, not jealousy.
I go into the changing room, shrug off my jeans and sweater, and slide the dress onto my body. There’s a mirror in there, which is great for making sure I don’t look like an idiot before I go back outside.
Except I don’t look like an idiot at all. In fact, I look absolutely amazing. Like a movie star or something. I always made fun of people who shopped at expensive stores, and I said you could get the same clothes for a quarter of the price. But I was wrong. This dress is gorgeous. It transforms me from a dowdy software engineer into… well, someone beautiful. I can’t stop staring at myself.
My elbow brushes against something and I realize it’s the price tag. I look at it and my heart sinks. This dress costs over $5,000. How is that even possible?? I’ve never owned anything that cost that much, even a car. I can’t let Luke buy this dress for me. I can’t. It’s out of the question.
I emerge from the dressing room. Irene and Luke are chatting and he says something that Irene thinks is funny and she slugs him in the shoulder playfully. I have to admit, I’m still wearing the dress. I can’t seem to take it off. I figure, just a few minutes longer and I’ll say goodbye forever.
Luke’s jaw drops open when he sees me. “That’s the dress,” he says. “We’re taking it.”
“But Luke…” I get closer to him and lower my voice, hoping Irene won’t hear even though I know she will. “It costs $5,000.”
He doesn’t even flinch. “Yeah, so? That’s how much dresses cost.”
“That’s actually one of our cheaper dresses,” Irene adds haughtily. I’m really beginning to dislike this woman.
“I’m just not sure I feel comfortable…”
“Don’t worry about it,” Luke says. He glances at his watch. “Come on, we still need to get you shoes.”
I feel slightly ill as I think about how much money Luke just spent on me as we drive to his apartment. I didn’t know it was possible for shoes to cost that much money. We also had to buy a pair of black pantyhose, since mine all have rips. I generally just wear slacks to work.
Luke seems entirely unconcerned though, as he sends out an email on his Blackberry. I’m amazed he can still manage a Blackberry with such limited use of his hands, but I guess where there’s a will, there’s a way. I wonder what it must be like to have so much money that our little shopping spree is barely a drop in the bucket. Must be nice.
“I think Irene has a crush on you,” I say to him.
He sticks his Blackberry in his pocket and smirks at me. “I don’t think so.”
“She was totally flirting,” I insist.
“Of course she was flirting,” he says. “Do you know how much commission she makes off me each year? I probably single handedly pay her rent. There’s a difference between someone liking you for your money and liking you for yourself.”
“See, I don’t have that problem,” I say. “Anyone who likes me for my money is very deluded.”
“Well, it sucks,” Luke says. “Especially when it’s a woman and you don’t realize it right away.”
He looks kind of sad all of a sudden. I look at his hands and his body and wonder how many of his recent past relationships have been with women who were only interested in him for his money. I’m guessing it’s a lot.
Luke’s house is fucking amazing. Please excuse my language, but holy shit.
My parents live in a house in New Jersey, but this place is more like a mansion. It is huge. HUGE. The furniture all looks brand new and obscenely expensive. I feel like if I wander too far away, I’ll get lost. I’m glad I’ve got my cell phone.
“So what do you think?” Luke asks me, grinning at my expression.
“It’s…” I clear my throat. “Okay. Very nice.”
“Wasn’t cheap,” he says. “I don’t want to give numbers, but trust me, it cost a little more than your dress.”
I believe him. He lives in Newton, which is known for being a fairly rich neighborhood with expensive houses. I was considering living there way back when and changed my mind quickly when I saw the rents. I guess that isn’t much of an issue for Luke though.
God, how can I go back to my tiny apartment after seeing this house? It’s so unfair! This place is amazing.
The house is two stories and I notice a staircase in the living room with a seat attached to the banister. “What’s that?” I ask him.
“Oh,” he says. “That’s in case I want to get upstairs. I’ve got an old spare wheelchair up at the top. But I’ve got my bedroom, my office, and everything down here. Upstairs is just the guest rooms. I wanted a one story place but I didn’t see any I liked as much as this house.”
I gaze up the stairs. I guess there isn’t much need for one person to have a second story.
“Can I get you a drink?” Luke asks.
“Do you have Perrier?” I don’t know why I asked for Perrier. I don’t even want it. But it feels like the kind of thing you should be drinking in a house like this.
“Perrier?” Luke stares at me. “I’ve got… tap water? Or wine?”
“Yes, wine, please,” I say. Lord, I need a drink.
I follow Luke to his mini-bar (he has a mini-bar!) and he pours me a glass of wine as well as one for himself. I’m shaking a bit as I pick up the glass. “You okay, Ellie?” he asks me.
“Yes, I’m fine,” I swallow. I down the wine glass in about two gulps.
“Good,” he says. “Now go get dressed.”
Luke tells me to go upstairs to one of the fifty billion guest bedrooms he has up there. At the top of the stairs, I see his spare wheelchair leaning against the banister. Unlike the chair he usually sits in, this one looks more like the kind I sat in when I got my tonsils out at the hospital. It’s large and clunky with separate footrests. It’s the kind of wheelchair you might see someone’s elderly grandfather sitting in. I can see why Luke doesn’t like to come up here much.
I wander into one of the spare bedrooms and I put on the fantastic black dress. I do my make-up, making my eyes look dark and sexy, and I wear my hair loose and shiny. As I stare at myself in the bathroom mirror, I think this might be the best I’ve ever looked in my life. I feel so incredibly sexy.
When I come out of the bedroom, I see that Luke has dressed up in his tuxedo. If he got the tux at that boutique, that place is worth every penny. He looks… okay, I admit, he looks hot. Really hot. The jacket does a good job concealing his gut and the dark color makes his eyes look very intense. His face his clean shaven and the vague smell of his aftershave is tantalizing. He seems to even be sitting up a little straighter in his chair.
He turns his chair to look at me, and he seems to be rendered speechless. For like a full minute, we’re just kind of standing there, staring at each other stupidly.
He swallows hard. “Jesus, Ellie.”
“You like it?” I ask, feeling really shy all of a sudden for some reason.
“Are you joking?” He reaches his hand out as if he wants to grab me, then drops it back onto his lap. “I wish we weren’t going to this party. I wish…”
“What?” I squeeze my hands into fists. I don’t know what I’m hoping he’ll say. But suddenly I’m having thoughts about him that are very out of the ordinary for me. I’m thinking about what his lips would feel like, his hot breath against my skin.
He grabs the wheels of his chair and shifts his weight. “I, um… nothing. Nothing.” He smiles, although it looks forced. “We should probably get going, huh?”
I shake my head, trying to clear it. What the hell got into me?
I go to grab my purse from his couch, feeling very much like Cinderella going to the ball. “I really miss dressing up,” I say. “I shouldn’t tell you how long it’s been since I’ve had a date.”
“Hmm,” Luke says. “I’m sure I have you beat.”
I gasp. “You’re kidding, right?” I stare at Luke. He may be in a wheelchair, but he’s certainly not bad looking in his dark tux. It’s hard to believe he could be having such a long dry spell.
“No, but thanks for not making me feel weird about it.” He rolls his eyes. “It’s like I said, it’s pretty hard to tell if a woman likes you for your money or yourself. I mean, it’s one thing if they like you but also find the money a turn on. I could deal with that. But when they’re basically just tolerating you because of the money, well…”
I don’t know what to say to that.
“My most recent girlfriend, Rebecca, was the last straw,” he says. “We were going out for six months and I was being respectful and, you know, taking things slow. In retrospect, she didn’t even want to kiss me, but I really liked her so I was oblivious. One night things went to the bedroom, and…”
His face is a little red. He shakes his head. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this.”
“It’s okay,” I say, although actually, I’m sort of wishing he weren’t telling me this story.
“Well,” he says, “I guess you’ve already rejected me twice, so what’s the difference, huh?”
I don’t say anything.
“Anyway,” he shrugs. “Needless to say, there was no sex that night. As soon was I got undressed and was in the bed, Rebecca started crying and said she couldn’t go through with it. She actually cried. Apparently, even hundreds of millions of dollars didn’t make it worth it for her to sleep with me. That’s how much I disgusted my own girlfriend. None of them seemed enthusiastic, but she’s the only one who actually couldn’t make herself do it. That one really haunts me.”
He looks really upset telling the story and I can see how much this affected him. I guess I don’t blame him. If a guy saw me naked and told me he couldn’t go through with having sex with me, I’d probably have to join a convent. And it especially must have been rough for a guy like Luke, who was used to getting any girl he wanted in college. I suspect I was the only girl to turn him down through all of college. I never really thought he wanted me anyway, just that he wanted the challenge of someone who wasn’t going to fall for him the second he snapped his fingers. But that’s not the case anymore. I remember how much I resented him back in college, but I don’t feel that way anymore. “Luke…”
“It’s fine,” he says sharply. “It just… doesn’t make me want to jump out there into the dating pool.”
I remember what Lewis said about the rumor that Luke saw prostitutes. For a moment, I wonder if there’s truth in that. It’s probably easier to know you’re paying for it than to always be wondering.
“So how about you?” he says. “How come you don’t have a more active social life. I mean, I have a good excuse, but you’re gorgeous.”
“I’m not gorgeous,” I mumble. I’m really not. Really. Even in this fantastic dress, I’m not even close.
“Of course you are,” he says, as if debating the matter was ridiculous. He studies me for a second. “Oh shit, you’re not a lesbian, are you?”
“Well, I just can’t figure it out,” he says.
Hmph. I don’t think it’s quite so much of a mystery. Honestly, I don’t see how more people aren’t single. It seems amazing that so many people could find someone else that they’re compatible with and attracted to. I blame desperation for the number of marriages out there.
To be continued....