Lotus crouched at the foot of Rose's bed, twitching her tail.
She laid her
ears flat against her round head as her whiskers moved slightly. Her
shoulders began to shift as she concentrated her sharp blue eyes on the
unprotected feet sticking out from under the covers. With a graceful leap,
Lotus went in for the attack. She grabbed onto Rose's foot and bit her big
Rose awoke with a start and a scream. She saw the Siamese clinging onto her
foot. Rose moved around a bit, and Lotus let down her grip. Now that you're
awake, the cat said with her actions, why don't you get me some breakfast?
"All right, all right," Rose said, as if she knew what Lotus was trying to
say. She threw off the covers and checked the clock. It was six. Rose had
exactly forty-five minutes to get ready for work at Needlebaum's Department
Store. As she walked to the kitchen, Lotus circled around her feet and leaped
when Rose's foot came near, crying meow, meow very loudly for her breakfast
like all Siamese do. When Rose poured the dry food into the bowl and filled
another with water, Lotus was silenced and satisfied. She went to her morning
meal, and afterwards she would nap and roam her territory, searching about
for mice or bugs to chase.
Rose only wished she had it so easy. Lotus didn't have to squeeze into the
tight clerk uniform with the uncomfortably short skirt ("Most of our
customers are men, and most men like seeing pretty ladies dressed a little
dangerously," said Mr. Needlebaum), stand in the main entrance with a painful
grin and a cheery "May I help you?" ("Service with a smile, service with a
smile"), model the clothes if the customers asked ("The customer is always
right"), go home an hour after closing time ("My girls are devoted to one
thing- their job"), and virtually lead no other existence than the one of the
perky, pretty "Needlebaum girls". All Lotus had to do was what she wanted to
do. Heaven forbid if that cat ever did any work!
Stretching uncomfortably until her back and neck popped, Rose put on her
robe. She had to get the paper. Opening the door, Rose saw that it had snowed
again last night. The cold December air chilled her right down to her bones
as she quickly got the paper and went back inside.
Chilly though it was, winter was Rose's favorite season- if she enjoyed it
in a warm sweater or in a heated house. Seeing it leave always made her sad,
even though everyone was supposed to be happy when spring came again, because
it meant rebirth. It also meant the sleeves were to be shorter and the skirts
even higher on the Needlebaum uniforms. It meant rain, and Rose hated rain.
Then again, it always rained in England. After nineteen- almost twenty-
years, she thought she'd be used to it. But she never was.
What a grand time winter was! It seemed as if a glow were set upon
everything. It began when the leaves had turned and most of them had fallen,
leaving a colorful carpet spread out on the ground- a carpet spread for all
feet to walk on, even sometimes on the busiest streets there were small
stretches of this particular carpet. The air became crisp and cold, putting a
red blush into Rose's cheeks, the blush which made her feel more content with
the name Rose than any other thing in any other season. Not even the
temptation of the the vivid bold blossoms and greenery of spring nor the
friendly summer sun and talk of vacations to various places would turn her
away from the later part of autumn that melded into winter, the eternal
season, the one that began and ended every year.
Be that as it may, Christmas was a horrible time if you were working at
Needlebaum's. It was always harried and rushed, with hardly any time to even
catch your breath. Lunch time was cut to a half hour (instead of the standard
sixty minutes) so Rose and Sandra and Abby barely had time to get to a decent
cafe and back. Abby especially lost it at Christmastime, because she never
got the time to smoke. Rose and Sandra always tried not to get on her bad
side around then.
Quickly gulping down a cup of coffee and wishing she had more time to enjoy
the winter morning, Rose went back upstairs to change into the traditional
Needlebaum winter uniform- pearl white blouse, gray vest, the standard
gray-and-white tie, and gray skirt that wasn't as short as the
spring-and-summer skirt, but not very modest either. After that, she pulled
on her hose and black high heels that made her at least three inches taller.
She hated Mr. Needlebaum for designing the uniforms to his own taste, but she
dared not voice her opinion. Rose wondered why he stayed in business with a
reputation like his. Maybe it was because he never really showed his
reputation, which he carefully tucked away under a sweet, fatherly facade for
public appearances. Rose stopped her train of thought to remind herself that
he'd throw a fit if she wasn't there by six-forty-five.
Anyone who saw J. D. Needlebaum wouldn't dare to think he was
money-grubbing overspending playboy that he really was. He looked quite
dignified, actually, and proper. Needlebaum was of tall stature- over six
feet- and rigid posture. He was in his fifties, his late fifties, most people
guessed. His hair was thinning on top, showing two or three ridges on his
long forehead. He had a burning stare that could silence the noisiest crowd,
and a certain pompous air that enshrouded his real self. Needlebaum kept
himself in ideal condition. There was never dirt on his fingernails, his
hair- or what was left of it- was always combed, his posture always straight
(slouching, he said, was the Eighth Deadly Sin), but all his "girls" knew
better. They had all been propositioned by him one time or another. Of
course, they always turned him down. At least Needlebaum didn't have the
cruelty to fire them for it- he just kept on trying. Anyway, if he fired
them, there wouldn't be many applicants, since this was the 1960's- 1964, to
be exact- and interest was growing in feminism.
"Morning, Sweetcheeks." Needlebaum's large hand took a firm hold of Rose's
cheek. Rose was used to it, sadly enough. The man had a pet name for each of
his girls. There were actually six of them, but Abby and Sandra were the only
ones Rose really was friends with. The other three were Christine, Alexa, and
June. There were rumors that Christine was the only one who had consented to
Mr. Needlebaum, which explained his favoring her over the others. What
"favoring" meant was to actually show her a little respect.
"Hey there, Baby Doll." J. D. tugged on Sandra's hair. Sandra's pace
quickened as a result. She always walked faster and talked less when
Needlebaum was around.
"Nice to see you, Dovey." He pinched June on the bottom. June jerked away
and shot him a cold look, the look he never caught because June always gave
them so discreetly.
"Bonjour, mon cherie." He took Alexa's hand and kissed it. Alexa made a face
at this, not only because he was cheapening her, but her lineage- Alexa's
parents were both French.
"Hello, hello, Gorgeous." J. D. didn't do anything physical to Abby, because
he knew she would blow her top if he did. Abby's temper was not to be tested,
especially at Christmastime.
"Lovely morning, Christine." He nodded politely as the cute little blonde
walked into the store, always last. Christine beamed back up at him.
Sometimes that girl made Rose sick to her stomach.
Christine was the kind of girl the "lesser beauties" loved to hate. She was
perfect. She had a 36-24-36 figure, legs that would make even the most proper
gentleman raise an eyebrow at the least, big blue eyes framed by long, thick
lashes, a cute little upturned nose, a flirty little smile, and golden blonde
hair. She was flawless and she knew it. People could tell she knew it. They
could tell by the way she tossed her hair. The way she swung her hips when
she walked. The way she smiled and laughed and played dumb when talking to
men. Most of the men didn't mind, either. It was a sad state of affairs. Rose
liked to think that Christine had some horrible secret- maybe she was a
criminal, or a psychopath- and she liked to hide it by seeming so sweet and
gorgeous. One day, Rose thought, she'd be found out.
Needlebaum had a policy with his customers. He told them they could choose
whichever of his "girls" they wished to help them, unless she was already
with someone. Of course, the first customer in went straight up to Christine.
She beamed at him with that sickly sweet smile she only saved for men and led
him to where the men's shoes were. Soon, June, Alexa, and Sandra became
occupied with other customers as well. Abby and Rose were always the ones
left standing. Needlebaum said it was because Abby hardly smiled and Rose
always stood by Abby. But Rose had seen Abby smile plenty of times- she just
never smiled in front of J. D. And she had reason to.
The door swung open, and in walked a handsome young man. He seemed very
tall, over six feet. His hair was brown with just a hint of blond, so when
the lights of the store shone on it, it looked golden. His eyes were
grayish-blue, and mysterious. Although he looked rather dignified, Rose could
tell he was the kind that would not be afraid of a kiss. His jawline was
strong and proud, and his high cheekbones stuck out a bit. The man's eyes
locked onto hers for a moment, and Rose's heart fluttered at the thought that
he might choose her, but- he walked straight towards Abby.
"Excuse me, miss," he said politely in a deep, smooth voice, "could you show
me the aftershave?"
"Certainly." Abby suddenly smiled. "Right this way." She walked off with
him, shooting an empathic look back at Rose, a look that said, Maybe he has a
twin brother that's going to come in next. Rose tried to smile, but it would
not happen. The store wasn't very busy, since most people were at work. Rose
stood there for a good while, and nobody approached her. She fidgeted and
looked down at the floor, then up at the ceiling, shifted her position on her
feet, and swung back and forth. Christine was on her fourth customer by now.
"Chin up, Sweetcheeks, you'll get your turn yet." Needlebaum passed her with
a pinch on the cheek and a wink. Rose wanted to vomit, but she knew she'd
never get a customer then. She examined her nails and looked at the clock.
The second hand crawled slowly. It seemed to be mocking her. Rose began to
worry that she'd start biting her nails if nobody came soon. And that was a
habit she was trying to break. She was almost as bad as an alcoholic when it
came to biting her nails. The slightest nagging worry brought her hand to her
mouth. She hadn't bitten her nails for the past week or so, and they were
recovering nicely. Rose had decided to keep them polished so that she'd be
discouraged. But sometimes even that didn't work. A Beatle song was running
through Rose's head. It was "Till There Was You", again.
How many times that song had gone through Rose's head, she didn't know. What
she did know was that she was in love with the one who sang it. John was
charming, Ringo was endearing, and George was...well...George, but none of
them would ever take the place Paul had in her heart. How she had admired
that face and that voice! How she had sat through "A Hard Day's Night" so
many times just to hear him sing "And I Love Her" and watch his beautiful
face as the camera went around it! The very thought of Paul McCartney made
her lightheaded. She was so busy thinking about Paul that she almost didn't
hear the voice:
"Excuse me, miss?"
"Hmm?" Rose snapped out of her trance and looked at who was standing in
front of her. She gasped, mind reeling, and took a few steps back. Those few
steps were one too many- she walked into a mannequin and they both came
crashing to the floor. Rose stumbled her way up and tried to find her voice.
Her mind was swimming, her heart palpitating, her breath shallow and short.
She quivered as she tried to compose herself. The man in front of her waited
patiently, with an apologetic smile. His hand reached to help her up. Rose
took it, bewildered. She hesitated to help herself up, because she wanted to
hold onto that hand as long as she could. After a few seconds, she realized
she'd faint if she held on any longer because of the electricity it seemed to
send through her, so she finally stood up.
"I'm sorry- I'm so very very very sorry." She finally managed to squeak
"That's all right," Paul said with a smile. "Maybe I should have warned the
manager first." The look on his face told her it was a joke.
Rose laughed- or tried to laugh- and took another deep breath. "Well," she
said, attempting to forget who he was and turn on the 'Needlebaum spark' that
came with the meeting of strangers, "how may I help you...sir?"
Paul's smile hadn't faded. "Well, I'm in a bit of a bind. I'm sure you know
about that big Christmas party that's happening at the Gordon place?"
"Oh, yes," Rose said, trying not to sound shallow or like Christine or both.
"I hear about it all the time. Social event of the year, so I'm told."
"It is," Paul said. "And one of the customs of this party is that every man
goes out and buys the outfit that the lady is to wear. I'm looking around for
something for the one I'm escorting. She looks a lot like you, you know- same
build, pretty much the same hair and eyes. I bet she has the same tastes,
too. What do you suggest in the way of a dress?"
"Well-" Rose began, fumbling for her courage- "I rather like Chinese
patterns." She spoke softly, so softly that Paul had to lean over a bit to
hear her. He smelled very nice, and Rose wished he'd stay there a bit longer.
"Well, show me what you've got in mind." Paul seemed friendly enough.
"Sure, sure. Walk this way." Keep your head, Rose, keep your head! she
thought to herself. He's just any other customer. He's just any other
customer. He's just any other customer...She walked to a rack, Paul close
behind, and picked out a red dress she had been admiring ever since it came
in October. It was a red velvet dress, with a Chinese pattern woven into it
with gold threads. Rose felt a little reluctant to sell it, even if it was to
"This dress would probably be good for the party," Rose began, her strength
returning- "and it comes with-"
A loud shriek and a crash rang out from the main floor. Mr. Needlebaum's
voice came: "What's all this? What's wrong with you? Have you lost your
senses?" The next thing Rose knew, Christine was at Paul's back, clinging on
"HE'S MINE! HE'S MINE!" she wailed. "I'M THE ONE WORKING ON COMMISSION! HE'S
MINE, ROSE, HE'S MINE! LEAVE HIM WITH ME!!! HE'S MINE!"
Never before had Christine ever done something like this. Paul was jerking
and trying to get away from Christine, and Rose was tugging on Paul's arm,
trying to help him. The other clerks and customers came running to see what
was the matter. Soon, Abby, June, Sandra, and Alexa had all joined Christine
in a mad battle. Rose held firmly onto Paul's arms to try and bring him out
of the fracas. She felt powerless, but something made her strong enough to
not let go.
Then, along came Mr. Needlebaum:
"WHAT IN GOD'S NAME DO YOU GIRLS THINK YOU'RE DOING?!?!?" He helped Rose
drag Paul away from the five clinging clerks. The customers watched, thinking
it was some sort of floor show.
"You girls," Mr. Needlebaum said, when the air was quiet, "come with me. All
except you, Rose. You go right ahead helping this man." He walked over to his
office, the other five following meekly- some even sobbing a little- behind.
Rose stood there, stunned. She was standing next to Paul McCartney, she had
seen Christine lose it, and she had been called "Rose" instead of
"Sweetcheeks" by Mr. Needlebaum.
She finally turned to Paul. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah," Paul said, "a little shaken, but all right. Now, you were saying?"
"This dress-" Rose tried to remember what had happened before- "this dress
comes with a lot of matching accessories at no extra cost. It's part of a
whole ensemble with a purse, shoes, scarf, and headband." She went behind the
counter and brought out the items. Paul looked them over.
"Y'know," he began, "I think this would be great on her. Why don't you try
it on to sort of give me an idea about how it looks? You are a lot like her,
looks-wise. Probably personality-wise as well." Paul sat down on the bench.
"If you don't mind trying it on, that is."
"Oh, no, no, no, I don't mind. I'll be out in just a moment." Rose caught
her breath again and went to the dressing room. The uncomfortably small room
seemed to close in on her, and it barely gave her enough room to change.
Still, the customer was always right, especially when that customer was
someone like Paul McCartney. She finally managed to put on everything and
walked out of the room. "This is- this is what it looks like."
Paul came up to Rose and walked around her a few times, nodding. Sometimes
he would take a fold of the fabric in his hands and feel it, and once his
hand brushed Rose's shoulder. Rose felt a strange shiver rush through her
when it did.
"I hope I'm not making you nervous," Paul replied, because Rose was not only
shivering on the inside, but on the outside as well.
"Hmm?" Rose was oblivious to that.
"You're trembling, poor thing, like a little leaf you are." Paul gave a
smile. "I rather like the dress, and the things along with it. You can change
now if you want."
"Why, er, certainly, sir." Rose changed and came out of the dressing room,
but she hadn't stopped shivering. "Is there anything else I can help you
"Yes, actually," Paul replied. "I was wondering if I could also purchase
some perfume for her."
Rose became a little more relaxed. Usually, June and Sandra were the ones
that dealt with clothes, while her own expertise was in fragrances and
cosmetics. "Of course. This way, please." She walked over to the ladies'
perfume counter. "This is our newest one. It's selling quite well. Its name
is Cassandra." Rose sprayed a little bit of it on her wrist. Paul brought her
hand close to his face, so close that Rose actually expected him to kiss it,
and she knew she would pass out if he did.
"Hmm," he said, after a moment. "Is this the one you use yourself?"
"No," Rose replied, wondering why he asked. "The one I use is called Echo,
but I rather like this, too. I'd use it, if I could."
"Hmm," he repeated. "I guess I'll take it."
"Certainly." She put the tester back and took an unopened package, which she
placed in the box with the dress and the other accessories. As Paul paid for
everything, Rose said, "I'm sorry about the way the others acted."
Paul shrugged. "It's all right. At least you had the decency to try to hide
that you knew who I was. If there were more gals like you, I swear, my job
wouldn't be as hard- what's your name?"
"Rose," she said. "Rose Cadbury."
"Well, Rose, it's been nice. Maybe I'll see you around again." Paul took the
box, smiled at her again, and then left. Before he left, though, he stepped
aside and asked something of Mr. Needlebaum. Mr. Needlebaum, in reply,
glanced at Rose, took out his notebook which he used for information on his
employees, looked something up in it, and then said something. Paul nodded in
gratitude, turned toward Rose, smiled once more, and was gone.
By the time Paul left, it was time to close for lunch. Needlebaum decided
that since today was a little slow, they could take an hour instead of thirty
minutes. Abby was happy with this, of course. Right when she and Rose and
Sandra had gotten into Sandra's car- the only car between the three of them-
she turned to Rose.
"Tell us," she said. "Tell us everything. Tell us what he smelled like, what
he talked like, how he acted towards you, what he bought, what he touched,
"I'll tell you when we get there," Rose said.
"Then go to the closest place, Sandy! I can't stand the suspense." Abby sat
back. "Well, Mister Dreamy wasn't too polite."
"Oh?" Sandra asked.
"Yeah." Abby looked disgusted. "He was picky, rude, snooty- a flat out
"I'm sorry." Rose felt obliged to apologize, since Paul had been so nice.
Abby waved her hand as if to say, No problem. She apparently wanted to hear
all the tales Rose had to tell, since Sandra had already pulled up at a small
The three walked in, took their table, and ordered. Sandra, who was always
dieting, wanted a small salad and a glass of water. Abby remarked that she'd
be faint from hunger by the end of the day and ordered fish and chips and a
Coke for herself. Rose didn't have anything to remark about, so she ordered a
soup and sandwich and a Coke.
As soon as the waitress was out of earshot, Abby and Sandra leaned forward.
"Tell us now," Sandra said. "What did he buy?"
"He bought that Chinese dress that has those accessories. The one I'd been
saving for," Rose replied.
"Well, for who? Not for himself, I hope!" Abby said. "Who?"
"It's for his escort to the Gordon Christmas Party. I don't know who she is,
but he said she was a lot like me." Rose smiled. "He had me model the outfit
and he was admiring me. I think he thought I was cute, but I'm not one to
jump to those kinds of conclusions."
"Look," Sandra said, "about the commotion-"
"I'm sure you couldn't have helped it," Rose said with an apologetic smile.
"I was on the verge of nervous breakdown myself."
"So you're not mad?" Abby asked.
"I'm not mad at you. Or June, or Alexa. But I'm not about to forgive
Christine, the little… brat." Rose was careful not to curse in front of
Sandra, who looked shocked for a moment before Rose changed her vocabulary.
Sandra breathed a sigh of relief. "What was he like?" she asked.
"Well..." Rose tried to remember. "He was a real sweetie. He smiled a lot, was
polite, and didn't seem to mind when I crashed into that mannequin." She
stopped as the waitress set down the food and walked off. "He smelled really
nice, too. I don't know what it was, but he did smell nice."
"Was it a musky smell, a nature-type smell, or a spicy smell?" Sandra wanted
"I think it was sort of...neither. It smelled very clean, maybe a slight
spicy smell to it, but it was very clean. I think it was probably some kind
of soap." Rose took a bite of her sandwich. "He held out his hand to me when
I fell down. It was warm, and soft, like a baby's hand. The fingertips felt a
little rough, but I think that comes from playing guitar for a long time."
She sighed and took another bite. "I probably won't see him again, though.
Maybe I should write down the whole experience so I won't forget. It's as
close to The Beatles as I'll probably ever be."
Six o'clock at last! Rose felt like she had been released from
a cage when
the doors to Needlebaum's shut behind her. She didn't care that she'd have to
go again tomorrow, and the day after that. Her brush with Paul had almost
made her drunk with some kind of odd giddiness which lightened her heart and
made her feel like she was walking in the clouds. Rose sang in her head as
she walked home, because if she sang out loud people would think she was
crazy and she might even get arrested if it got bad enough.
When she approached her door, there was a box propped up against it.
Strangely enough, it was a box from Needlebaum's. Rose wondered what it could
be as she put the key in the door, rattled it a few times before it worked,
and flung the door open. She closed the door, set the box down, and
replenished Lotus's food supply. After that, she fixed herself some hot
chocolate, changed into something a little more comfortable, and sat down on
the couch, looking at the box, turning it this way and that in her hands.
She was no mystic, however. She couldn't just feel the box and tell what was
in it. Lifting the cover, Rose saw a small envelope flutter to the floor that
had been taped to the bottom of it. Picking up the envelope, Rose read on the
front of it: "DO NOT LOOK IN THE BOX UNTIL YOU READ THIS."
Rose was not one to go against someone's wishes, whatever they may have
been, so she opened the envelope. There was a small card inside that said:
You are cordially invited to a Christmas Party
at the Gordon House
2432 Brighton Street
Friday, December the 17th, from 7 P. M. to 11 P. M.
The Gordon's Christmas party! The event of the year! But how...Rose's
traveled to the box. She wondered if her suspicions were correct, and there
was only one way to find out. She pulled away the tissue paper that covered
the box's contents. The breath escaped her and a small cry of surprise came
out of her mouth. It was true!
She lifted from the box first a red scarf... then a red drawstring purse
embroidered with gold... a pair of matching shoes and a headband... and the red
velvet dress that Paul had purchased earlier on. Her hands trembled, and Rose
clutched the items to her so she wouldn't drop them. A tear slowly escaped
from her eye, and she quickly wiped it away. She had no idea why she was
crying. There was only one thing left to do now. Walking over to the
telephone, Rose dialed Abby's number.
"Hello, Abby? I just remembered. Paul actually did tell me who he was going
to the Christmas party with...