"Give me some credit here, all right? I understand the situation's gravity. I'll help you."
His roguish smile lit up his face, or rather, Mitch's face, which was kind of weird. "While you're at it, maybe you can brush up on your female bonding."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Do a count of all your closest friends someday. I don't think you like female competition."
I made a face at him just as Jody and Dana showed up. They took me to some astonishing shopping nexus a couple of miles away. I couldn't believe that much retail space could be crammed indoors. We had a few enclosed shopping centers in Seattle, but nothing like this.
Browsing stores with Dana was about as horrible as I could have imagined. She eyed scantily dressed teenagers askance and spoke to a black saleswoman like an underling. Still, despite my distaste, I remembered my duty and attempted friendliness. Over and over, I tried to bolster Bastien's reputation.
"He's so into what your group's doing. He'd like to get more involved. Maybe you could come talk to him about it sometime."
Fortunately for "Mitch," these comments did elicit a warm response from her. Yes, she'd be happy to give Mitch some one-on-one time. Anything for the cause. How nice that he cared. Truly, he was a smart and compassionate man. Blah, blah, blah. She always enjoyed spending time with him.
Yet, despite this fleeting progress, her demeanor remained stiff, and her attention always shifted back to me. She peppered me with all sorts of questions, as if she were specifically probing for some key piece of information. She wanted to know what I did for a living. How close Bastien and I were. Where my "relationship" with Seth was going. What my take on the CPFV was. What my values - race, sexual orientation, etc. - were. I felt like I was being grilled, but she pushed on in that honeyed voice of hers. Despite her aloofness, she always managed to sound friendly and nonthreatening. I could see why she so enthralled her fans.
This isn't just curiosity, I realized. She doesn't trust me. Dana knew something was going on with Bastien and me, and now she was trying to figure it out. That was probably why he wasn't really getting anywhere; she was on to him. True, she probably didn't suspect a covert plan featuring an incubus, but I'm sure she had her share of more mundane enemies. She was on guard for such things, hence her skepticism about our cover stories. Bastien had no idea what he'd gotten us into.
So, I worked hard to maintain our innocence, answering her queries as best I could. My usual charm still wasn't working on her here, but I performed better than in previous encounters - except for the questions about Seth. The reality with him was weird enough without having to live another version of it via Tabitha Hunter, and I found myself stuttering and blushing when she brought him up.
When Dana left us at the Christian Dior counter of Nordstrom to go look for slips, I nearly sagged in relief.
"What about this one?" Jody held out a tester of pale pink lip gloss that would look great on Tabitha, less so on Georgina.
I opened it and studied the color. "Too light. Besides, it'd probably come off with one sip of something."
She gave me a mischievous grin. "Or in other activities."
I rewarded her with a look of mock astonishment. It wasn't hard to do; she was full of surprises, it seemed. Fun ones. "Why, Jody. Here I thought you were a respectable married woman."
"Are you kidding? Marriage only makes you less respectable. Gives you a lot of time to invent new things."
Grinning back, I swapped the pink lip gloss for a red one. "Better not let Dana hear you talking like that. I got the third degree about my boyfriend, as it is."
Jody's mirth dimmed a bit, though she held her smile. "It may feel like the third degree, but she's just curious about you, that's all."
"Yeah, I guess. No other reason, I suppose." Best not to mention my theory that Dana suspected Bastien and me of duplicity.
To my surprise, Jody looked back down at the eye shadow display, pointedly avoiding my eyes. I was reminded of that day in the yard when I'd had the sense she wanted to tell me something about Dana. Something bad.
"Jody," I murmured, setting down the lip gloss, "what is it? What's wrong?"
She shook her head. "Nothing. Forget about it."
Dana returned just then, and the moment was gone.
"They don't have what I need. Let's check Victoria's Secret."
I perked up. That was the best thing I'd heard ail day, aside from another possible insight from Jody. We entered what had to be one of my top five favorite stores. We split up, Jody going to pajamas and Dana looking for some slip that would undoubtedly match that god-awful underwear of hers.
As for me, I promptly sought outrisquelingerie sets - once I'd ascertained the other two women were occupied. No way was I having a repeat of the swimsuit incident. Unfortunately, the store had a more outstanding selection than usual, and what I'd intended to be a mere browse turned into a full-fledged mission when I found a few sets I simply had to try on.
Dana and Jody were still deeply engrossed with their own wares, so I inconspicuously slipped into the dressing-room line, hoping to be in and out before either of them could investigate what sweet, innocent Tabitha was into. I had just made it to the head of the line when both of them squeezed in next to me.
"What a crowd," Jody said. "Mind if we just share your room? They're huge here."
I felt the blood drain from my face as I tried to think up some reason to decline. An idea for a contagious, flesh-eating disease was forming in my mind when the sales associate ushered us into a room that was indeed more than big enough to hold the three of us.
Dana only had two skirt slips to try on, and she pulled off her slacks with unconcerned efficiency. I winced upon seeing the granny panties again. Meanwhile, Jody tried on a set of cute flannel pajamas.
When I made no moves of any kind, Dana asked me if I was all right. Swallowing, I slowly began removing my clothing. She watched with narrowed eyes. The first bra and panty set I tried on was made of ivory lace decorated with black bows. The second consisted of deep magenta satin and was cut so racily it was barely a few scraps of fabric. When I got to the third one - sheer black mesh decorated with embroidered pink flowers - I wanted to die.
Jody and Dana had finished and were waiting for me. Jody's face was pleasant and casual. Dana maintained a look of neutrality, but still radiated disapproval. Great. I could feel myself blushing furiously. Bastien would kill me if he found out I'd not only damaged the wholesome image, I'd completely destroyed it.
While Dana stayed stone-faced, Jody cocked her head at me curiously. "I think you have the wrong bra size, Tabitha. They all look too big."
Of course they were too big. Tabitha Hunter didn't wear a 34C. Georgina Kincaid did. I'd intended to shape-shift to my preferred body when I was alone in here.
"Oh," I said stupidly, feeling like the whore Dana thought I was. Make that a dumb whore. "Well. I lost some weight recently."
I tried on the last one - red with glittering silver flowers - and even in the wrong size, it was stunning.
"That looks great," Jody said, echoing my thoughts. "I wish I was brave enough to wear something like that."
Dana studied me thoroughly. "That bra offers no support whatsoever. It has no purpose."
"She doesn't need the support. Besides, that's the point. It doesn't have to be functional. She just wants to be pretty."
"Pretty for who? And why? She isn't married."
"So what? It's none of our business."
Dana glared daggers at the other woman. "None of our business? Humanity is our business." She must have read Dickens recently.
Icy silence filled our little room. I felt invisible, regardless of the fact that I was half naked. "Hey guys? Maybe we should go. I'll just take this off."
"No," said Jody sternly, eyes locked with Dana's in a battle of wills. "It's beautiful, Tabitha. You have nothing to be ashamed of."
"She is beautiful," concurred Dana smoothly, "but that outfit would be better suited to a married woman." Her tone suggested that even that was questionable.
I was on the verge of just leaving the room as is, but seeing Jody defy Dana like that kindled something warm and fuzzy inside of me. Bastien would kill me, but I couldn't keep myself from joining the fight.
"You know," I remarked to Dana, making sure she noticed my blatant examination of my backside, "if that's the case, then maybe you should try this one on. It's just your color. Kind of Christmasy too. I'd love to see it on you. And I bet Bill would really dig it. "