Dressed for Success
by Judith Freudenthal
Natalie was removing the heart from her latest client when she heard a familiar voice. It wasn't one she expected to hear in this setting.
"Natalie, could you please...." the French accented voice said as a gloved hand motioned towards the forensic pathologists actions.
"Sorry. I'll be done in about 20 minutes."
"I'll wait outside."
Twenty minutes later Natalie stripped off her bloody gloves and tossed them into the waste bin. As soon as she did that she stuck her head out the door.
"You can come in now, Janette."
Janette entered, peering around to make sure there was nothing objectionable in sight.
"I didn't think your kind had problems with blood?"
"Blood I can usually handle. I'm not used to seeing the insides of people."
"Oh," Natalie said, once again realizing that vampires weren't immune to the sight of an autopsy. "That can be rough if you're not used to it."
"Natalie, does it bother you?" Janette asked, curiously.
"Sometimes, when the victim is a child or when it's a burn victim."
"I suppose you're curious as to why I'm here."
"I need some advice from you." Janette noted the surprised look on Nat's face, before being quickly hidden.
"How can I help?"
"I have some business meetings coming up and I need to look more business-like. If you will help me, I will help you capture Nicola's attention."
"Okay. This could be fun. When would you like to do it?"
"How about tomorrow night?"
"I happen to have tomorrow night off. What time would you like to meet, and where?"
"How about right after sunset at your apartment as it is closer to the shops."
The next evening Janette arrived at Natalie's apartment a short time after sunset. Natalie locked her apartment and headed for the garage.
"Where's the first stop?" Natalie asked, curiously.
"A little boutique on Bay Street." Janette gave Natalie the shop name and address.
"Natalie, what made you go into forensics?"
"I'm not sure. I've always liked challenges. I wanted to be a doctor, but wasn't sure what kind. It was my first rotation, which happened to be in the morgue. It was full of challenges. And I didn't need a great bedside manner."
"Cutting open corpses doesn't bother you?"
"You sorta get used to it. You learn to distance yourself from it. The first time I saw a dead body in med school I turned green. The first time I did an autopsy I was sick for three days," Natalie said remembering her med school days. She changed the subject. "How did you learn about vampires?"
"LaCroix had been watching me and approached at a time when I was quite vulnerable. He didn't tell me everything, just what he thought I wanted to hear. He told me that I could live forever and that no man would ever touch me again without my permission and live. I had been sold to a brothel. It was a brutal existence. I took his way out, not knowing of the dark side.... until it was too late." Janette saw the question in Natalie's eyes. "No, I don't regret what I am. I like being a vampire. I think that you would make a good one, if you should ever choose to come across."
"I've been thinking about that. I haven't yet decided."
"Natalie, what is the worst thing you've seen?"
"When I was little, I saw a car crash and the family inside burn to death." Natalie saw Janette shudder.
"What is the most painful thing you ever experienced?"
"Being abused by my grandmother when I was five. What was your most painful experience?"
"Other than my mortal past, I would have to say the first time I left Nicola. We had been married for 97 years and I felt like I was being smothered. I wasn't used to being loved like that. I left him. I could see how much pain it caused him. It hurt but I had to do it."
Natalie noticed that they had arrived at their destination and parked. The two ladies entered the boutique. One look around told Natalie that she was well out of her price range. Janette noticed this and whispered in her ear, "don't worry about it."
"Madame DuCharme, it is a pleasure to see you again. Who is the beautiful Madam with you?"
"Natalie, this is Pierre du Maurier. Pierre, this is Dr. Natalie Lambert. Pierre is one of the finest designers in Toronto."
"I have admired your work," Nat said. She loved his designs.
"Madam DuCharme, we have a whole new line for your examination."
"Thanks, Pierre, but I'm looking for something a bit different this time. Something more business like. Why don't you show Dr. Lambert some of your creations?" Janette saw the curiosity in her friend's eyes.
Janette watched amused as Natalie was shown various dresses. Natalie turned down most of them, picking the few she liked. Janette was pleased that her friend had such good tastes, for a mortal.
"Cherie, any of those will be sure to get Nicola's attention, especially that black one."
"What's between Nick and you?" Natalie asked curiously, and without any hint of accusation.
"A deep love, but one that has had it's time. We will always be close, but his heart belongs to you. It has almost since the night you met. I haven't seen him this much in love in a very long time."
"I don't know what to do. I can see that he has feelings for me and that he doesn't act on them out of the fear of hurting me. I love him so much it hurts." Natalie watched with amusement as Janette picked out some suits that didn't quite match what she needed them for. "I think something like this would be a bit more appropriate," she said as she held up a black business suit.
Janette looked over the elegant suit, liking the cut of it. "It is nice, and in my color as well. As for Nicola, you have to let him know how you feel. You have to tell him exactly how far you're willing to go for him."
"I've tried. He won't listen. All he says is that he can't or he won't."
"Have you tried smacking him with a large blunt object?" Janette said with a wickedly mischievous grin. Natalie quickly caught on and found herself grinning equally mischievously.
"Does that work?"
"Sometimes. Have you tried ignoring him? Making him come to you?"
"Yes. It sometimes works, but other times he starts saying things about moving on, about letting me live a normal life. Does he really think that would be possible after the last few years?"
"He can be such an eternal boy. He can also be incredibly romantic."
"I've seen both those sides. If only....."
"What?" Janette asked as she finished selecting the suits she would be trying on momentarily.
"If only LaCroix wouldn't keep interfering, we might make some progress."
Janette looked at Natalie curiously. Did she remember?
"I remember. It took me a few strange dreams, but I remembered. I was glad to remember why I felt like I had been drugged."
"What if I could convince LaCroix to give the two of you some time to discover what you truly want?"
"I would," Natalie corrected herself, "we both would be grateful."
Janette knew the questions Natalie had not asked but wished to, "I don't ask him for much, so when I do he generally hears me out."
"What if he won't....."
"We'll worry about that then. If all else fails, you could always smack Nick upside the head with a blunt object. If nothing else, it should get his attention." Janette grinned. She would like to be there if that happened, just to see the stunned look on Nicola's face.
"Sometime, maybe later, will you tell me what it's truly like?" Natalie said curious and a little hesitant.
"We can talk in the dressing room. They know not to disturb me in there."
Natalie and Janette headed for the dressing room. Two of the employees were right behind them, selections in tow. Inside the dressing room there were two good sized changing rooms, each containing a full length mirror. Outside the changing rooms was an area with several angled mirrors lined up making a half circle, allowing the client to see 360 degrees around herself.
As soon as the sales ladies had hung up the selections in the proper changing room they left.
"It is hard at first, but with time and experience it grows easier." Janette said as she slipped out of her clothing and chose what to try on first. "The temptations are the worst part, also the hardest part to control."
"Did you have trouble with them?" Natalie asked as she slipped into the first dress, a silky royal blue knee length cocktail dress.
"I didn't have to worry as much about control back then, but I've seen a lot of the fledglings struggle with it. A lot more control is needed now, but I think that with the right teacher and some time you would do fine."
"Nick says the temptations are always there."
"That is true, but if you eat properly and don't deny what you are then they are much easier to handle. Look at the differences between Nicola and I."
Natalie considered this, knowing how different they seemed. Every time Natalie had seen Janette she had been perfectly in control, yet Nick seemed to be fighting for control constantly.
Natalie and Janette both stepped out of the changing room at the same time. Natalie motioned for Janette to have the first turn with the mirror.
"That looks good on you," Natalie said, noticing Janette's black business suit.
Janette turned around in the mirror, examining the way the suit fit from every possible angle. She couldn't argue with the doctor. Not bad, even if it was picked by a mortal.
"Natalie, that looks quite elegant. You might consider wearing your hair up, with a few tendrils framing your face. Plenty of easy neck access that way." Janette grinned. "Maybe a single strand of pearls or a simple gold necklace to highlight the design, matching earrings of course."
Natalie took her turn in front of the multiple mirrors. As she examined the dress she found herself agreeing with Janette's suggestions. Janette stepped up behind her to demonstrate how it would look with her hair swept up off her shoulders.
"Isn't it a little revealing?"
"Yes, but not too revealing. Perfect for catching a certain someone's attention."
"Very nice indeed," Janette said. "Don't worry about the money. This is my treat. My way of saying thank you. Besides, there are so few with beauty, brains and good taste out there."
Janette loved the surprised look on her friend's face.
"Thank you, Janette."
"Things have to change between Nick and you, and for the better. If none of these outfits do it, then the dear boy is hopeless."
Both women disappeared back into their changing rooms.
"Was Nick always like he is now?" Natalie asked curious.
"No. He had to be coaxed into his first meal. He seemed to want to go back almost as soon as LaCroix had brought him across. He accepted what he was, and almost seemed to thrive for a while. He was never truly happy." Janette said as she headed for the mirror, having slipped into another suit.
"Please, tell me more."
"Much earlier this decade," Janette said with a special accent on decade to let Natalie know she meant century. Janette saw that Natalie had picked up on the clue and continued. "Nicola fell in love with a ballerina. He would watch her perform night after night, yet he would not accept any offers to meet her. He said something about his evil not being worthy of being in the same room with her purity."
"Something happened, didn't it?"
"Yes. LaCroix's plan backfired on him, driving Nick away."
"I wasn't there when it happened but I have heard enough bits of the story... LaCroix arranged for two men to be seen leaving Sylvane's dressing room. Nick would think she was impure and take her. Well, it worked."
"So what went wrong?" Natalie asked confused.
"LaCroix. He had to enter, gloating about how he'd tricked Nick. How Sylvane had been pure and Nick had still taken her. Nick had been taking only the guilty. Nick was devastated and left. He withdrew from our Community and vowed not to take anyone again, and for the most part he hasn't." Janette said. "The only time or two he has, has been in self defense. And only when there was absolutely no other way."
Natalie was learning a lot about her Knight. She now understood him more, thanks to his ex-lover. She couldn't believe she and Janette were here as friends.
Janette had finished examining her navy blue suit in the mirror.
"I think you should take it. That color's considered a power color among us," Natalie said.
"Then I will have to take it, won't I." Janette's tone held a touch of teasing.
Natalie grinned slightly as she stepped up to the mirror in her blood red floor length evening dress. The grin quickly turning into a frown as she looked into the mirror. She didn't like the color or the way the dress fit. It was too fitted, showing off every figure flaw. The color did not go well with her natural hair and skin tone.
"I agree. That color or cut isn't your style. How about trying the black one next?"
They went back into their changing rooms and soon came out in another outfit. Janette had on a royal blue business suit with a white silk blouse underneath while Natalie had on a stunning black cocktail dress.
"I don't know about this," Janette said as she examined the suit.
"I don't think it's you."
Natalie stepped up the mirrors, the dress flowing naturally as she moved. It was cut just below the knee, strapless, with a middle plunge that didn't reveal too much. A black elaborately embroidered jacket highlighted the outfit.
"Much better," Janette said. She saw the smile on Natalie's face as she saw her reflection in the mirror.
"What do you think? A string of pearls or a gold necklace?"
"Pearls." Janette stepped behind Nat and swept her hair up off her shoulders.
Both women considered it and decided that this outfit called for her brown hair to cascade down over her shoulders.
"May I?" Janette asked. When she saw her friend nod, she slipped the jacket off her shoulders, and laid it on the step. Once again she swept Nat's hair off her shoulders. "That would work. But I think I like it loose. Make him work a little for his reward."
Natalie's grin mirrored the mischievous one Janette wore.
"If I were to decide that I wanted to .... and Nick wouldn't....." Natalie said, unsure how to phrase it in case someone else accidentally walked in.
"If he would not bring you across then I will. He probably would not like it at first and would blame me, but that's okay. He might also blame you for it, but his love for you is too strong for any resentment to last more than a decade or two."
They had again slipped into their last outfits. Janette had on another black suit, and Natalie another black dress.
"Do you think he could?"
"Yes, it would take control on both your parts." Janette noticed Natalie's silence. "You would have to remind him to stop. It would have to be a way other than vocally as he would probably be so completely caught up in you that he probably could not hear you."
Natalie was silent, taking in what Janette had said.
"You'll know what to do when the time's right," Janette said. "I'm not sure about this one."
"I like it. I think it fits you nicely," Natalie said sincerely.
"You really think so?" Janette asked unsure.
"Then I'll take it." Janette said, having made up her mind. "Has our discussion helped?"
"Yes. Quite a bit," Natalie said. "Other than the youthful aspect of it, what's the best feature of being one of your kind?"
"I don't think anyone's ever asked that before," Janette said as she gave the question a moment's serious thought. "As long as you take proper care of yourself there's nothing you can't do. No more sunbathing." Janette said as another thought hit her. "You cannot have children, at least not the normal way."
Natalie understood what Janette meant. She allowed the information to sink in. "I don't get out in the sun much anyway. I was working many nights before I met Nick."
"Just think about all the things you could learn. All the discoveries you could make."
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