The clothier's was a tiny shop, almost hidden among the larger, more ornate stores downtown. A small gold-lettered wooden sign over the door just said, "Johann's." The window was dark, but the little hand-lettered sign said "Open", so Mark tried the door, then escorted Kristen inside. It was rather dimly lit and smelled of fabric. The place looked deserted, but there was an old-fashioned bell on the counter.
Mark hit the bell, and was answered by a thick German accent. "Ja? I am coming, hold on one moment, please!" An older man, a bit too spry to be called "elderly" ducked from behind the curtain. "I do not recall any appointments today... ah? What is this?" He smiled, bright blue eyes sparkling over the rims of small wire-frame spectacles. "Hello, how may I help you!"
"Hi." Mark returned the smile. "I'd like to get some good clothing for my niece, here, and you were recommended to me."
A silver eyebrow arched slightly at the word niece', but he nodded. "I see. Quite a lovely young lady, most extraordinary coloring." He smiled fondly at Kristen. "I have only recently begun to cater to young ladies, you understand, but I doubt I would have a problem finding something flattering for such a subject. What are you interested in? A dress for a formal occasion? A vacation ensemble? Something for the holiday season?"
"Actually," Mark said, "she needs something for everyday wear, for school. She doesn't need the clothing to make her beautiful, but if it can bring it out, accent it... Ah, 'elegant' I think, is what I'm looking for."
"Ah, indeed," the old man said. "I see what you mean. Yes, I can do this, but... it will not be cheap, you understand. However..." He pulled off his glasses and turned them over and over in his hands, looking speculative while Mark waited. Finally, he continued, "If the young lady would agree to wear the clothes I make for her and pose for the... ah... 'website'... my ambitious young nephew is making for my humble shop, I could perhaps offer you a discount, of say, fifty percent?"
Mark looked at Kristen. "What do you think?"
She bit her lip. "I guess that's okay. I don't mind, anyway."
Mark nodded. "How long will it be until the clothes are ready? She's got a birthday party for a friend tomorrow, and I think she'd like to look her best. It's not formal, however."
"Hmm..." Johann eyed her calculatingly. "I have something that may fit her made up, actually. Some minor alterations should be all it needs. For the rest, I will have half ready in a week, and the other half two weeks hence. That is assuming a full 18 piece wardrobe."
"How much are we looking at for that?" Mark asked.
"Normally, it would be about $7500. However, with the discount, and the fact that I just got the most amazing deal on a shipment of fabric, I think we can come in under $3000. Not including footwear, of course. I can order that for you, but do not do it myself."
Mark turned to Kristen. "What do you think? I suspect your father would be delighted to see you in tailor-made clothing."
Kristen grimaced. "Um... that's a lot of money. I mean, I can grab a whole weeks worth of clothes for $50 at Wal Mart."
Johann flinched. "Oh, that awful place!"
"Love, how much do you think your father's suits cost him?" Mark asked.
"I have no idea," she said. "$100 or so, I guess."
The tailor snorted. "Only if they're made of plastic, dear child."
Mark grinned. "Probably a thousand, or more."
Kristen paled. "Eep! But he has dozens of them!"
He nodded. "Yep."
"Wow." She looked stunned. "A thousand dollars for one suit. That's ridiculous. I guess $3000 for a whole wardrobe isn't that bad. I guess."
She still didn't sound completely convinced, but Mark smiled. "Wonderful. We'll take it, then."
"Excellent!" Johann clapped his hands together excitedly. If you'll come with me, darling, I'll get you measured and fitted. Your... uncle... will be fine without you for half an hour or so."
The slight hesitation let Mark know that the old tailor had caught his slight slip. He wasn't sure what he should say, or if he should say anything, though, so he let it go, and just nodded. "I can wait here."
Kristen hesitated, looking at him uncertainly, and the man smiled at her. "Come, come child," he urged. "Don't mind old Johann, dear. The young man would have much more to worry about than you from me. Though I'd not let my nephew do your fitting, that's for sure!"
"Oh. Um. Okay," she said, and followed him shyly behind the curtain.
Mark watched them go, then pulled out his phone, calling Steven.
"Steven, I just wanted to let you know I've talked Kristen into getting some decent clothing. She's being measured right now."
"Yes," Mark said, "I've taken her to a tailor. I felt you would consider that an appropriate use of the money you gave her; if not, I'll repay you for it."
"Hell yes it's an appropriate use of the money!" Steven said. "I don't give a damn about the money, you know that."
"I didn't think you would. Though she's getting the clothing at a reduced price, in exchange for appearing on his website wearing her now clothes. You realize she had no idea how much a suit costs?"
Steven laughed. "Well, that's not surprising. She never went shopping with me. Waiting for hours at a tailor's is boring as hell. And most men in Prudence wear $50 off-the-rack polyester."
"Johann is getting her a complete wardrobe for three thousand," Mark said. "He'll have one piece ready for today -- apparently he had a cancellation -- and the rest in a couple of weeks."
"I wish you'd told me you were going, though," Steven said. "I would have sent you to my tailor and you could have just put it on my account. Wait... Johann? Johann Svengeld?"
Mark looked around and found a business card on the desk. "Yes, that's his name."
"Well I will be damned," Steven said. "I'll give him a call after you leave."
Mark blinked. "You know him?"
"My tailor. For years and years now. I didn't know he did women's clothes, though."
"Ah! He's just started, apparently," Mark said. "Er... I think he's figured out that Kristen's not my niece, though. I think I slipped when convincing her that the price was fair."
"I honestly can't see that that's a problem so far from Prudence," Steven said, "though you need to be more careful. You're legally married with papers to prove it, son."
"Good point." Mark smiled ruefully. The idea of his relationship with Kristen not being an illicit secret... outside of Prudence, of course... just never occurred to him. "Very good point."
"Anyway, I'll call him," Steven said, "have him make up more than the basic stuff. I doubt she'll even notice. She'd look pretty in a green velvet riding habit, wouldn't she?"
"Well..." Mark smiled. "She'd look good in a burlap bag, but I know what you mean."
"Mark... I've been meaning to talk to you about this for a while. Look, y'all don't worry about money. It's not a big deal. Until she's 18, or until you can live together openly and have the benefits of marriage, at least, I still feel quite obligated, ethically, to support her. And would, even if I didn't. And I owe her for the years that little bitch sniped at her. I'm a good lawyer, son, even if I am a lousy parent. Money's not an issue."
"Steven... I don't want to take advantage of you. That's not why I married her. I can take care of her," Mark protested.
"It wouldn't be. I know you didn't marry her for money, Mark. But you married her before I got a chance to spoil my only child. I haven't got anything else I want to spend it on."
"Well..." Mark said, "I can't blame you for wanting to spoil her."
"So let me."
He sighed. "Very well, Steven. I'll let you."
"Are you in Prudence or Dallas today?" Mark asked.
"Ah," Mark said. "I think I'm going to take her out for dinner, and I thought I'd invite you along if you were here in Dallas."
Steven laughed. "Take her out. Enjoy some time to yourselves. I'll get caught up on this damned paperwork and see you later this weekend."
"Okay, see you."
Half an hour or so later, Kristen emerged in a simple, clinging, black silk jumpsuit with a high, flared collar and long, flowing sleeves that were gathered at the wrist. It covered every inch of her body quite thoroughly, while hiding absolutely nothing. Modest enough even a nun could wear it, it was nevertheless a walking enticement to rape. Mark smiled. "See? Aren't tailored clothes nice?"
She smiled. "Yeah. I kinda like it. It's neat. Feels all slippery, though."
Johann sniffed. "She's hard to impress," he grumbled, smiling.
Mark nodded. "By the way, Johann, Steven Davis will be calling you. This is his daughter. I hadn't realized he was already a customer of yours."
He blinked, surprised. "Steven Davis' daughter? No! He never said his daughter was so lovely. Hmf. Ah, he knows you... brought her shopping?"
Mark nodded again. "Since you've been his tailor for as long as you have, I suppose it's safe enough to let you know. Kristen's not actually my niece; she's my wife. We have to keep it a secret for now for a few reasons, one of them being that I'm one of her teachers this year."
Johann's eyebrows rose so high they almost disappeared into his hairline. "Well aren't you the lucky man? Ah, poor old Johann, lost in love again," he said theatrically, blinking in soulful flirtation at Mark.
Chuckling, Mark said, "Oh yes, quite lucky. Especially with you as her tailor." A sudden thought hit him, and he turned and smiled at Kristen, "Everyone at school knows your dad has money, don't they?" he asked.
She nodded. "Yes. I mean, our house wasn't cheap, you know?"
"So they wouldn't be that surprised if you gave a friend an expensive present, would they?"
"Um... not really," she said. "What are you thinking?"
He inclined his head towards the tailor. "Kayla."
"Oh... what a neat idea!" She smiled delightedly. "Maybe one of those weekend field trips, yeah."
"More business is always good," Johann assured them. "Bring your friend, and we will see what we can do."
She curled as close to him as the seat-belt would allow as they drove home, late that night. He smiled down at her. "I figure your new outfit can be part of Kayla's present," he said.
"Hmmm?" She looked up at him, confused. "It wouldn't fit her, love."
He laughed. "No, I mean getting to see you in it."
She giggled. "It's not that... um... whatever."
"No, but it makes you look damned good," he said.
"I'm glad you like it. It cost $400!" She still sounded rather scandalized at the price.
He nodded. "Not bad at all."
"You have got to be kidding!" she said, staring at him.
"I don't think you realize just how damned good it makes you look," he said, shaking his head.
"Love, for $400 it ought to make me Helen of Troy," she laughed.
He raised an eyebrow. "Love, it does. Kayla's eyeballs are going to fall out. And if you take care of it, it'll last you a long time, too."
"Yeah, right," she said, snorting. "It's tissue paper thin."
"It's silk. Silk is tough, if you take care of it." He ran his eyes over her trim form, outlined perfectly by the tight silk. "Are you wearing underwear under that?"
She blushed. "Um. Johann said it would spoil the line of the jumpsuit if I did." She leaned close to him, rubbing her cheek against his shoulder.
"Didn't think so," he said, licking his lips. "Not a bra, either, are you?"
"Nuh-uh. It would show in back." She arched her back, her nipples pressing against the silk. "See?"
"Ow wow. Kayla's going to love seeing you in that." He was having trouble keeping his eyes on the road.
She ran a hand along his thigh. "Um... let's pull over somewhere," she suggested, a touch breathlessly. "I... um... I should take the jumpsuit off so it doesn't get too dirty before the party."
It wasn't much of an excuse, but then, he didn't need much of an excuse. Wasting no time, he pulled into the next hidden, unused little side road and, purely for the sake of preserving the suit, of course, helped his wife undress. Any frolicking that ensued after that was completely coincidental.
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