Do You Wanna Party
Jas was up to something.
Amethyst sat at her worktable foiling glass for a commission, an Art Deco stained glass entry door depicting aspens in full golden fall glory. Songs from one of her playlists bopped in the background. Foiling didn’t require a lot of mental horsepower, so she had plenty of opportunity to chew over events since The Kiss. Not that she hadn’t already been chewing them over…and over.
Two weeks, and nothing more than a couple of casual lunches like she and Jas had shared occasionally in the past. He did drop by her office once while Amethyst did her consultant gig at Magus. It wasn’t like she kept regular hours, so it meant he was keeping an eye on when she checked in and out of the building.
“So what the hell?” she asked Caramela, who lay at her feet chewing on an Extreme Kong. “First he’s all, ‘Marry me, marry me,’ now he’s like, ‘Hey, what’ve you been up to lately? Haven’t talked to you in a while.’” She finished running a piece of white glass through the foiling machine and picked up the next one. “He should make up his damned mind.”
Skronk skronk went Caramela’s Kong in counterpoint to the funk tune playing over the speakers.
Amethyst foiled a few more pieces, tapping her foot half to the music, half in irritation.
“He was probably disappointed in that kiss,” she said. “Or maybe he’s decided I’m not worth the trouble. Let me down easy, go back to the friendly professional collaboration.” She set the glass on the pile with a clink. “That’s what I wanted all along, anyway,” she muttered. “He could’ve just let things be. Everything was fine. No, he has to go and make me feel like a loser.”
I’m hot! boasted the singer in the song that was playing.
“Well, maybe you are,” she told him. “Because I’m clearly not.”
Caramela got up, shook and went to the door, asking to go out. Amethyst followed her to the back door. Wagging her tail, Caramela waited by the glass door smeared with dog nose prints, then trotted out when Amethyst slid it open. Amethyst went outside too.
It had snowed a little last night. The Sandia Mountains, looming huge over the Griegos’ rooftop on the left, were frosted white on the top, like a wedding cake. Even here in Albuquerque, a layer of snow lingered in the shadow of the concrete block wall that surrounded her backyard. She folded her arms against the chill.
Caramela made quick work of her business. Pit bulls weren’t designed to be outdoors in cold weather. Besides having short coats, their undercarriage was mostly naked. Amethyst let both of them back inside, then wandered into the kitchen for a snack.
Her phone rang—that techno beat buzzing in her pocket. Something in her middle leapt up. “Shut up,” she told it and pulled out her phone.
“Hey, Jas. Whatup?”
“’Whatup?’” he repeated.
Her lips wanted to pull up in a smile. She pursed them to keep them down. “It’s the music I’ve been listening to. Sorry. Can I help you?”
“That’s even worse,” he said.
“Since we’re back on a professional footing, it seemed appropriate.”
“We are? I’m sorry to hear that. I was planning on inviting you to a party.”
“A party.” A burst of happiness bubbled through her. She scowled at it to chase it off, but it kept bouncing around.
“At the home of a business associate,” he said. “I suppose you’d call it a cocktail party. Jacket and tie for men, dresses for women.”
The bubble popped. “I don’t know, Jas. That doesn’t sound quite like my kind of thing.”
“I understand. I can always get someone else.”
“Can I think about it?” her mouth said without her deciding to. She squeezed her eyes shut and caught her tongue between her teeth.
“Not too long,” he said. “It’s this weekend.”
“I’ll let you know by tonight. Okay?”
“I’ll look forward to hearing from you.” She could hear the smile in his voice.
She ended the call before she could say anything else stupid.
Amethyst rested her elbows on the counter, trying to catch her breath. When she was pretty sure her voice would stay even, she picked up her phone again and tapped the icon with Melodie’s picture.
“I’ve got an emergency,” she said when Melodie answered. Her voice wasn’t steady at all. “I need your help.”
“What?” Melodie said, alarmed. “What happened, Wiz?”
“I’m invited to a cocktail party, and I don’t have a clue what to wear.”
* * *
“What happened to ‘he’s dialed it way back’?” Melodie said.
They were in Melodie’s merlot-red Insight, purring down Menaul. A series of small businesses lined the road on the left; low-slung, Seventies-vintage ranch houses along the frontage road to the right.
Amethyst drummed her fingers on the armrest. “I’ve been thinking about that. I bet Jas left me hanging for a while on purpose. Then when he dropped this bomb on me, I’d be less likely to say no.”
“Huh.” Melodie cocked her head as if thinking. “That’s pretty baroque, even for Jas.”
“You don’t know him like I do,” Amethyst said darkly.
“If he did plan it, he knows you damn well, too.”
Amethyst gave a theatric shudder.
“But I think it’s more likely he’s been busy,” Melodie said. “He is CEO of a large company. Or he decided to give you some breathing space.”
“Do you hear yourself? You’re defending him!”
Melodie snorted. “Hardly. It’s Ockham’s Razor. The simplest explanation is the most likely.”
“Unless you’re talking about Jas Harker.”
“You could always foil his evil plot and tell him no anyway.”
“Not after I already told him yes. I refuse to look like a flake while foiling evil plots.”
Melodie slid her a sidelong glance. “Uh-huh. You’d better gird your loins, then. I know how much you love clothes shopping, and this won’t be a simple project.”
Amethyst slouched down in the seat. “That’s what I was afraid of.”
The problem with clothes shopping was finding something she liked in her size. Then once she found something she liked, it usually didn’t like her.
Amethyst came out of another dressing room with another armful of dresses. Melodie raised her brows in a question. Amethyst shook her head.
“Don’t despair, Wiz,” Melodie said. “The right one is out there.”
“You know what the trouble with dresses is?” Amethyst said. “They’re made for people with, you know, boobs.”
“And the trouble with sweaters, and lingerie. You say that every time we go shopping.”
“Well, it’s true. The sizes might get smaller, but they’re still designed for a certain shape.” Amethyst traced an hourglass with her hands. “You try putting on a frilly teddy only to discover that the top edge leaves your nipples exposed.”
Melodie made a T with her hands. “Too much information, Wiz.”
“And sweaters. Let’s not even talk about sweaters.”
“I know, I know.” Melodie waved a hand. “They’re always lower in the front than in the back.”
“Do you have any idea how sloppy that looks?”
“So we’ll find something close and take it to a tailor. They’ll take up the straps and put a couple of darts in the hips and you’ll be fine. Okay?”
“We don’t have time for a tailor,” Amethyst glared at the endless racks of dresses and tops, slacks and sweaters surrounding them. “I know he did this on purpose, damn him. I should just wear that sky-blue thing my cousin forced me into for her wedding.”
“I’m pretty sure Jas doesn’t want his date looking like an escaped cake decoration.”
Amethyst snorted a laugh. That bridesmaid’s dress was all frilly petticoats and tulle.
“I did look like that, didn’t I?” She thought a moment, an evil grin pulling up one side of her mouth. “You know, now that I think about it, maybe I should wear that dress.”
“Remember, Jas isn’t the only one who’ll be looking at you.”
“Thanks a lot, Mel. You had to go and remind me, didn’t you?”
Melodie took her arm. “Okay, we’re not having any luck at the mall. I know a couple of boutiques we can try.”
“Great,” Amethyst said. “I already had to drop a couple hundred bucks on one dress I’ll never wear again, no matter how long I live. Now I’m supposed to do it again.”
“So we’ll get you one you do want to wear again. Besides.” She jiggled Amethyst’s arm. “If all else fails, you can magic one up, right?”
Amethyst gave her a sour look. “Right. And while I’m at it, I’ll spin a few plates and balance a bowling pin on my nose. My poor little introverted self is going to have enough trouble navigating a roomful of strangers without also having to keep an illusion running.”
The heavens smiled on Amethyst at a little boutique tucked into one of the strip malls along Menaul.
The dress was deepest violet just a few shades short of black. A strap went over one shoulder, leaving the other bare. The material was gathered at the breasts to fall in an asymmetrical skirt, a fluttery triangle of chiffon flowing to her right knee while the hem on the left came mid-thigh.
Amethyst came out of the dressing room, half pleased, half self-conscious.
Melodie’s eyes went round. “Holy crap, Wiz.”
“I know, huh?” She pulled out the skirt, feeling an unaccustomed girly pleasure.
“No high heels with that,” Melodie said, studying her. “The silhouette is already slim enough, even with the full skirt. Maybe a pair of low-heeled sandals. You know what this means, don’t you?” She nodded solemnly. “Pedicure.”
Actually, the pedicure got bumped to the end. First it was back to the mall for shoes and makeup. Fortunately, Melodie knew better than to try to make her buy a basketful of cosmetics.
“I don’t know why Spanish women wear so much makeup, anyway,” she said, comparing two cases of eyeshadow. “If I had a complexion like yours, I wouldn’t cover it up.” She settled on a dusky violet one. “What do you think? Almost the same color as your eyes. They’ll look huge when you put it on. Now let’s look at lipstick.”
“Not too dark,” Amethyst warned.
Melodie’s lips quirked. Amethyst knew that look. It never boded well.
“So,” Melodie said. “Do you want to look at lingerie? For…” One brow rose suggestively. “…after the party?”
Amethyst gave her a sweet smile. “You do know I can curse you, don’t you? A few words, a little magic, and for the rest of your life, your produce will rot in the crisper and your bananas will turn black after two days.”
“O-o-o-kay,” Melodie said, holding up her hands. “No lingerie, then.” She trailed her fingers along tubes of lipstick and smirked. “You can always just wear stockings. You won’t be wearing a bra under that dress, anyway.”
“Okay, that’s it,” Amethyst said. “I’m wearing that puffy bridesmaid’s dress.”