‘Hi, Bev, too busy to sit down today?’
‘Just a bit, but what’s up with you? You look as if something’s happened.’
Cleo only hesitated for a moment. ‘I’ve been invited to the opening atThe Bay Gallerytomorrow night.’
‘I’ll see you there, then. Martin has some photos in the exhibition and twisted my arm to attend. It should be a good turn.’ She peered at Cleo. ‘Something bothering you?’
Cleo bit her lip. ‘I don’t know what to wear,’ she confessed. ‘I’ve never been to a gallery opening before. What’s the dress code?’
‘You can wear pretty much anything here in Bellbird Bay. It’s not like in the city where…’ Bev seemed to understand Cleo’s concern. ‘Let me guess. You haven’t bought anything new to wear since you came here, and you don’t want to look stupid.’ Bev didn’t mince her words.
‘Is it stupid of me to be worried about it? I don’t want to let anyone down.’ She blushed.
‘Will Rankin wouldn’t care what you wore,’ Bev said, revealing she knew all about the subterfuge. She looked at Cleo again, seeming to sense her words hadn’t helped. ‘Tell you what. Why don’t you duck off early? The girls can handle closing up, and I can do a quick check before I leave. Talk to Greta atBirds of a Feather. You know who I mean?’
Cleo nodded. ‘I know Greta from the book club I belong to.’
‘Good. She’ll see you right, and it won’t cost you the earth. Ailsa shopped there when she first arrived.’
‘Thanks.’ Although Cleo knew Greta from her book club, she’d always been too afraid to enter the classy boutique. Greta was always so smartly dressed and elegant, it hadn’t occurred to Cleo to patronise her boutique, though now she couldn’t understand why. Nor could she understand why she was so bothered about how she might appear in Will Rankin’s eyes.
Feeling dowdy in her black capris and white Pandanus tee-shirt, Cleo pushed open the glass door ofBirds of a Feather. A glance in the window before entering had done nothing to change her opinion this shop wasn’t for her.
‘Cleo, how lovely to see you here,’ Greta greeted her. ‘Looking for something special?’
‘I’m not sure.’ Cleo glanced around, confused by the myriad racks of clothes. Where should she start? Maybe she should have waited and asked Hannah to come with her – or Ailsa. Taking a deep breath, she decided to put herself in Greta’s hands.
‘I’m afraid I haven’t bought any clothes for ages, and I’ve been invited to the gallery opening on Saturday,’ she said in a rush. ‘Can you help me, Greta? I have no idea what would be appropriate.’
‘You’ve come to the right place. Let me see.’ Greta studied her for a few moments, then ushered her into a fitting room.
Cleo stood indecisively in the small cubicle, wondering if she should just leave and wear one of the dresses that had stood her in good stead for years. But something held her back, forced her to wait. After what seemed like for ever, Greta pushed back the curtain, her arms filled with outfits.
‘I think we can find something to suit you here,’ she said. ‘Nothing too fancy or garish, and I can see you in this yellow. It doesn’t suit everyone.’ She tilted her head to one side as she held up a smart lemon, linen dress with white trim.
Cleo was relieved. She couldn’t imagine herself in one of the gaudy outfits she’d seen in the window, but this one – and several of the others which Greta was now hanging on the wall of the fitting room, were more conservative. ‘Thanks,’ she said.
‘I’ll leave you to try these. Give me a shout if you need any help.’ And she was gone leaving Cleo with a cubicle full of new garments.
It took Cleo only five minutes to decide. She quickly discarded three patterned dresses in favour of the lemon dress, and a pale blue one with short sleeves.
‘I’ll take these two,’ she said emerging carrying both outfits.
‘Good choice. You’ll look lovely in those with your dark hair. Can I tempt you with one of the new tops I’ve just unpacked?’ Greta held up a hanger from which hung a white blouse patterned in a delicate shade of pink.
‘Not today, thanks.’ But Cleo knew she’d be back. Now she’d taken the first step, she intended to completely revamp her wardrobe. Hannah would be pleased. She was always nagging her mother to spruce herself up. But, till now, Cleo had had no reason to do so.
Cleo examined herself nervously in the mirror, wondering if the lemon dress had been a mistake. She almost didn’t recognise the smart woman staring back at her, her dark hair a cloud on her shoulders, her eyes filled with an expression she hadn’t seen there for some time. Could it be that she was actually looking forward to this date with Will?
Unlike last time, when they’d met at the club, tonight Will was picking her up and, before she had time to change her mind about her outfit, there was a loud knock at the door. Taking a deep breath – she seemed to be doing that a lot these days – she went to answer it.
‘Hi, Cleo. Wow, you’re looking lovely, like a burst of sunshine in that dress.’
‘Thanks.’ Cleo blushed.
Will was looking pretty good tonight, too. If she thought he brushed up well last time, tonight he’d outdone himself. His hair was very neat, he was wearing a striped shirt with a cute grandfather collar and a pair of cream pants. As he passed her in the doorway, she could smell the faint aroma of something spicy. A sudden flutter in her stomach took her by surprise, causing her to catch her breath.