That when someone says ‘the man you’ve always dreamed of’, I think of Jack O’Mara.
She’s standing looking into a shop window when I see her. I’m not here by coincidence, I’ve been hanging around close to where she works for a while now hoping to catch her coming out for lunch, and there she is, her black-and-pink-striped brolly sheltering her from the rain. I move quickly in case I lose sight of her on the bustling street. She turns up a side street and I hurry after, nearly bumping into her as I round the corner.
She turns, frowning at the unexpectedness of my being here, then smiles and half laughs.
‘Jack,’ she says, bobbing up on tiptoe to kiss my cheek. ‘What are you …?’ She trails off, looking at me. Belatedly, I realize that we’re standing in front of a vintage clothes shop, and the dressmaker’s dummy in the middle of the window is being used to display a wedding dress.
‘Were you …’ I nod towards it, aware that for some reason we’re only able to talk in half-finished sentences.
‘No,’ she says, shaking her head as she looks back at the dress again. ‘Well, yes, kind of. It caught my eye.’
‘You’re going to need one,’ I say. ‘Have you set a date yet?’
She nods as she looks back at the window. ‘December.’
‘Wow, this Christmas,’ I say softly. ‘That’s great, Lu. It’s really … great.’ Where are my words when I need them? Great? How come I can talk for hours on my show, but find myself dumb-struck now? ‘Have you got time to grab a coffee somewhere, get out of the rain for a bit?’
As we stand there, someone inside the shop leans into the window and turns over the price tag on the wedding dress to get a look at it. I see Laurie flinch and I realize she wasn’t idly gazing in the shop window; she really loves that dress. I’m no expert on these things, but even I can see that it’s very Laurie. There’s something unique about it; it’s nothing like the Disney princess dresses most girls seem to go for.
‘Unless you were going inside?’ I nod towards the shop door. She looks at it too, her teeth sunk into her bottom lip, undecided. ‘I can wait for you, if you like?’
She looks from me to the dress again, a tiny frown tugging her brows together. ‘It’s stupid really. I’ve tried loads on already and none of them look right. This one just seems different somehow.’ As she speaks, the customer looking at the dress gets her phone out and takes a photo of it.
‘I think I will just go and have a quick look,’ Laurie decides. ‘Have you got time to hang around?’
Because the most pressing thing on my list today is to speak with her, I say yes. I loiter, unsure what to do as she folds her umbrella down and pushes the shop door open. She looks back at me and then up at the dark skies.
‘You should come inside. This rain isn’t going to stop.’
She’s right, of course. It just seems an odd thing for me of all people to be doing with her. I hold the door open for the woman who’d been looking at the wedding dress, and relief flashes through Laurie’s eyes as she steps into the shop. I follow her gingerly. It’s not what I expected. Forties swing music plays unobtrusively in the background, as if someone has their wireless on. Wireless? I’ve slipped back in time too, it would seem. The yesteryear clothes are arranged in huge old open wardrobes, and jewellery spills carelessly from drawers tugged open on dressing-table tops. It’s like walking into a wartime dressing room abandoned mid air-raid.
Laurie is over by the dress now, her fingers turning the label over to read it. I hang back as the assistant approaches her, and after a moment lifts the dummy carefully out of the window and sets it down for Laurie to take a better look. She circles slowly round it, a tiny, wistful smile on her lips. I don’t have a shred of doubt in my mind; she’s going to buy that dress. The assistant must have asked if she’d like to try it on, because she looks suddenly nervous and turns to me.
‘Are you okay for time?’ she asks when I make my way over.
This isn’t the kind of shop where anything is hurried, but we’re the only customers in here on this grey, wet afternoon, so I nod. ‘Go for it. You can hardly buy a wedding dress without trying it on, can you?’
The assistant directs Laurie towards the changing room at the back of the shop while she cautiously removes the dress from the dummy, and I wander away to look around. Italian suits fill one mahogany wardrobe, sombre colours and sharp, old-school cuts. They shout Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. I turn from them and look through the hat collection, trying on a Fedora for size in the mirror.
‘You should probably head outside now,’ the assistant smiles, slowing to straighten a gleaming pair of patent brogues. ‘It’s bad luck for the groom to see the bride in her dress before the big day.’
I’m reminded of Laurie’s birthday years ago when the Ferris wheel attendant made the assumption that we were together. ‘I’m not the groom,’ I say. ‘We’re just friends.’
‘Ah.’ Her expression clears, although her eyes linger on me. She’s pretty, in a bold kind of way. ‘She’s lucky to have a male friend willing to go dress shopping with her. Most men would run a mile.’
I shrug. ‘It’s not just any dress, though, is it?’
‘I guess not. That one is lovely, from the twenties I think.’
‘Cool.’ I get the feeling she’d like to chat, but I’m well out of my depth with wedding dresses.
‘You should take the hat. It looks good on you.’
I laugh and touch the brim of the Fedora. ‘You reckon?’
She nods. ‘It says “man about town”.’
‘You’re selling it well.’ I grin.
‘Sorry.’ She smiles. ‘Pushy sales women annoy me. I’ll stop.’
‘You weren’t pushy,’ I say. ‘I think I’ll take the hat.’
‘Good choice.’ She moves to refold shirts, then looks up at me, hesitant. ‘Look, I honestly don’t do this kind of thing usually, but would you … I mean, do you fancy meeting for a drink sometime?’
I could say yes. She’s definitely attractive, and I’m single. ‘That’s an offer only a madman would say no to … or one who’s moving out of town tomorrow.’ I smile ruefully.
She smiles too, and I hope that she’s not offended. ‘Pity,’ she says, moving away.
Laurie’s voice is quiet behind me, and I turn slowly towards her, taking the Fedora off. She’s standing in front of me in the wedding dress, wide-eyed and beautiful. More beautiful than I’ve ever seen her, or anyone else. The dress has come to life around her, turning her into a barefoot wood-nymph bride. But her eyes are glistening, and I’m not sure if it’s happiness or sadness.
‘You don’t look that bad, Lu.’ I try for humour, because no one should cry in their wedding dress.
‘You said you’re moving away.’
I am. I’m leaving for Edinburgh on the overnight train tomorrow.
I glance over my shoulder to make sure the assistant is out of earshot, the Fedora in my hands in front of me like a prop. ‘Let’s talk later, Lu, it’s not that big a deal, honestly. For now, you have to get this dress. You look like the fucking fairy queen,’ I say.
She’s watching me with those big, vulnerable eyes of hers. ‘Are you lying to me, Jack?’
I shake my head. ‘No. If all brides looked like you, there’d be no single men left in the world.’ I know that wasn’t what she was asking.
She shakes her head and turns away from me to look at the dress in the full-length mirror. I’m glad of the chance to compose myself, and perhaps she’s doing the same thing. I watch as she turns to consider it from all angles.
‘It’s your dress, Laurie. It looks as if it’s been waiting for you to find it.’
She nods, because she knows it too. As she steps back inside the changing room, I resolve that I won’t ruin this day for her. I want her to have only happy memories of the day she found that dress.