Having firmly decided to take on a new persona in her life and in her writing, Liz walks through an upscale suburban mall in search of her favourite store. Far away from where anyone in South Dakota can find her, the blonde girl temporarily resumes her long-lost ideal of a normal every day existence.
First comes breakfast and a shower, followed by a quick trip to Starbucks. In the morning, she goes to get a wax and then to have her nails done. She goes to Panera for lunch and heads over to the hair salon to get her roots touched up. In the afternoon, she gets her makeup done and shops around for an outfit to wear out for dinner that evening.
Lost deep in the racks of her favourite clothing store, she finally finds her true self again. As she digs through the piles and piles of cheap, discount clothing made in a sweatshop in godknowswherever, she finds true peace and solace. Just as she hits that sweet, sweet high that can only come with finding the perfect discount shoes to match her perfect discount dress, a very loud, rude voice suddenly speaks behind her.
“So this is what you’re planning on spending all of my money on, eh?”
Liz stops what she’s doing and freezes up. She stares down at the perfect $5 skirt in front of her and reaches out to grasp it in vain. It seems to shrivel up and disappear right in front of her. It’s as if all the false promises of fulfillment it once held had suddenly vanished into thin air. In a single deep, sad, empty moment, the only joy she knew in life was gone.
“No,” she whispers to herself. “Not here. Not now. This my moment. This is the only joy I know. Please don’t take it away from me.”
Liz turns around slowly, only to discover her worst fear has come to life. Andrew Darling is standing right behind her in the middle of the clothing store, looking around in bewilderment at all the racks surrounding them. She looks back down at the skirt as if in mourning a recently-deceased friend.
“I can’t believe you still shop at a place called Forever 21,” the intrusively masculine voice continues. “Is this your great secret to eternally looking young?”
“I’m the Writer Extraordinaire,” Liz snaps with a glare. “I can wear whatever the hell I want. Besides, this store always has good dresses. It’s easy to find something here I can keep in my closet and maintain as a wardrobe staple for several years.”
“Is that all you care about?” Andrew asks with a yawn. “Looking good to entertain me?”
“I don’t do it for you, I do it for me. And you’re not exactly my main audience at this point, so I don’t even know why you would even take that into consideration in the first place. Wait a minute. Just what are you doing here anyway?”
“I’ve never been to this part of the country before,” Andrew replies, taking a few steps away from Liz to peruse the racks. “So I came here because I wanted to see you.”
“You wanted to see me?” Liz asks. “Why on earth would you want to see me?”
“I wanted to know what you’re really like,” Andrew says simply, pulling out a few items from the racks. “Besides, it’s my money you’re planning on spending. I thought I might as well have a say in it.”
He holds up one of the glittering items he carefully selected with a wink in his eye.
“How about this one?” he offers helpfully.
“Andrew, that’s a see-through dress.”
“I can’t just wear a see-through dress.”
“You can if you’re with me,” he says with a sneaky grin. “I’ll be the only one who is looking at it. Don’t worry. I won’t tell anybody what you look like underneath.”
“I think not,” he says firmly, draping the dress back over his arm. “As I said, it’s my money, so therefore I get a say in it.”
Andrew winks at Liz again and wanders around the store. He picks out a few more items before shoving her through the dressing room doors. He sits back on the couch with an arrogant smirk on his face.
“You may commence with the fashion show whenever you see fit,” he says with some authority in his voice. Liz glares at him and slams the door shut.
“I had one thing,” she mutters to herself, clinging to the nearest sparkling gold sequin dress. “One thing that no man could touch. One thing that brought me back to a state of utter sanity. One thing that made me feel like a real human being again. And now he’s here to ruin it all!”
Liz leaks out at where Andrew is sitting nervously. He catches her looking at him and motions to his watch.
“I haven’t got all day, baby,” he says impatiently, tapping his foot against the tile. “I want to watch you play fashion show. It’s fun for me. Do you understand?”
“All right, fine.”
Liz closes the door again and takes off all her clothes. She puts on the blatantly transparent dress and walks out into the dressing room again. Andrew gives her the once-over before making a face and shaking his head.
“I don’t like that as much as I thought I would,” he says, getting up out of his chair. “There’s just no mystery behind it. How am I supposed to remain intrigued when you’re putting all of it out there right in front of me?”
“Funny you say that about my clothing when I’m essentially doing the same thing in my writing.”
“Yeah, but that’s work,” Andrew says, rolling his eyes. He pushes Liz back into the dressing room and picks out a short black lacy romper. “It’s different. Here, try this one instead.”
Liz looks at the tiny scrap of fabric in front of her judgmentally.
“Should I even bother wearing this anywhere outside the bedroom?” she asks in dismay.
“Of course you should,” Andrew replies as he turns to leave the stall. “it would look good worn in my kitchen as well.”
He chuckles to himself as he starts closing the door behind him. Liz pushes it shut firmly and scoffs as him disapprovingly. She puts on the little black number anyway and walks out to show it off. Andrew takes one look at her before placing his hands over his lap and clearing his throat.
“We’ll take it,” he says to the attendant politely. She rolls her eyes at him and nods without responding.
Liz goes back into the stall and looks through her the choices she has left. She tries on one or two more rejects before selecting a short, long-sleeved wrap dress with a dangerously low-cut V. As soon as she steps out of the stall, Andrew jumps up from his seat.
“That one,” he says. “That’s the one I’m taking you to dinner in. It’s decided. Now let’s hurry up and buy it or we’ll miss our reservation.”
Andrew turns to the dressing room attendant.
“Can she just wear this out of the store?” he asks, waving a small amount of cash in her face. The attendant shrugs and points the front counter. Andrew rips off the tag for the cashier to scan as third store associate brings forward a pair of matching shoes to complete the ensemble. Liz takes a look in the mirror at her perfectly, properly done-up self and smiles at Andrew gratefully. Making herself look beautiful was one thing, but to have someone else to do it for… that was another dream entirely.
Suddenly everything fades away to black. Betsey wakes up to find herself standing all alone in the middle of the store, surrounded by nothing but the clothing on the racks. She stares down at the $5 discount skirt before her. No one else is there. Not even a bored sales associate to pick up the piles of clothes on the floor beneath her. She glances around the room nervously before pulling the skirt off the rack and shuffling off to the dressing room. She gives a half-hearted smile to the ridiculous see-through dress clinging to the mannequin nearby. Once she is alone in the dressing room, she sinks to the floor as the tears stream down her face.
“He’s not real,” she says to herself, clinging to the skirt desperately. “He’s not there. This is what’s real. This is what’s there.”
Betsey stares down at the skirt longingly but ultimately feels nothing. All she can see is the ugly, distorted reflection of herself in the mirror. When she comes to again, she is pleasantly surprised to find that she has once again made it back to her hotel room safely with her limbs, possessions, and virginity fully intact. The time on the clock is approximately 12 hours later.