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Authors: Jane L. Rosen

Nine Women, One Dress

BOOK: Nine Women, One Dress
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Also by Jane L. Rosen

The Thread

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2016 by Jane L. Rosen

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Doubleday, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Limited, Toronto.

and the portrayal of an anchor with a dolphin are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

Cover design by Emily Mahon

Cover art by Don Oehl

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Rosen, Jane L., author.

Title: Nine women, one dress : a novel / Jane L. Rosen.

Description: New York : Doubleday, 2016.

Identifiers: LCCN 2016003804 (print) LCCN 2016012667 (ebook) ISBN 9780385541404 (hardcover) ISBN 9780385541435 (ebook) ISBN 9780385541718 (open market)

Subjects: LCSH: Single women—Fiction. Dresses—Fiction. Man-woman relationships—Fiction. New York (N.Y.)—Fiction. BISAC: FICTION / Contemporary Women. FICTION / Humorous. GSAFD: Love stories.

Classification: LCC PS3618.O83145 N56 2016 (print) LCC PS3618.O83145 (ebook) DDC 813/.6—dc23

LC record available at​2016003804

ebook ISBN 9780385541435




Dedicated to the beautiful memory of Ruthellen Levenbaum Holtz

“What is important in a dress is the woman who is wearing it.”


The Runway
By Sally Ann Fennely, Runway Model
Age: Just 18

“Pin it!” The dressers were all riled up.

Pin what?
I thought. “Ow!” There was my answer: pin me.

It was madness. I had been measured at least five times at casting. I thought that would be the worst part, fifty eager models lined up in black slips, dreaming of cheeseburgers. It was a different kind of cattle call from what I was used to back home in Alabama.

I barely uttered my first words of the day: “It's big on me. Maybe you should put it on a bigger girl.”

“There are no bigger girls,” the pin-happy dresser mumbled.

I looked around. He was right. Last week I was skinny, the skinniest girl south of the Mason-Dixon Line. They called me String Bean Sally, asked if I had to dance around in the shower to get wet. Now I'm the big girl.

“Get in line!” he yelled. I got in line.

I concentrated on the mantra in my head: breathe, breathe, one foot, the other. Breathe. Breathe. The girl behind me broke my concentration with the strongest New Yawk accent I'd ever heard.

“I think you may have on
the dress
,” she said. It sounded more like a warning than a statement.

“The dress?” I didn't understand what she was talking about. I was having a hard time just breathing. We were getting closer to the runway.

“Every year there's one dress,” she explained. “The front-row people out there, they choose it. See 'em?” She pointed to where two cavernous curtains met. As they rippled and settled I got a quick glimpse of the crowd. I wished I hadn't.

She continued, “Come fall, those front-row people are gonna put that dress on the covers of magazines, on red carpets, and in store windows. And it's usually little and black, like yours.”

Her voice near 'bout erased her beauty. She was like one of those silent film stars my grandma used to go on about who went bust the day talkies came out. She sounded so foreign to me. I reckon if I spoke with my southern drawl she would feel the same way about me. I'd hardly spoken since I'd been in New York for that very reason. When I do speak, it's real short and careful. I can fake my way through a sentence or two, but it's not easy. I try and triple my usual talking speed or people look like they want to wring the words out of me like I'm a wet rag. And my thinking has to keep up with my speaking, which ain't easy either. It's clear that they don't understand me just as much as I don't understand them. You would think that would make us all equal, but it doesn't. Not here.

It's not just talking the talk that throws me; walking the walk is equally hopeless. On my first day here I made the mistake of stopping midstride to look up at a building when
, a man crashed right into me. He yelled, “You crazy mama?” Like I had slammed on my brakes dead in the middle of Interstate 10. I pictured the domino effect—a whole city toppling over on account of little old me.

The next day it rained. The city was hard enough to navigate dry, let alone in a downpour. I was so intimidated by the natives dodging puddles and raising and lowering their umbrellas in perfect synchronicity that I never made it past the overhang of my building. It was as if everyone but me had been taught the day's choreography in advance. I stayed put till the sun came out.

The girl with the voice was still going on about the dress. There were about a dozen girls between the runway and us.

“There was another possibility from a show yesterday that my friend Adeline wore. That may have been
the dress
. Adeline said the flashbulbs went crazy, especially when she was at the end of the runway. She's hoping it's hers. I want to be the kind of friend that hopes it's hers too. But I'm not. Honestly, I couldn't bear seeing her on the cover of
Women's Wear Daily
The dress
is always on the cover of
Women's Wear Daily
, right before it embarks on a sort of whirlwind tour of who wore what where.
The dress
can actually become famous, and its model too. I heard the girl from two years ago got a part in a Woody Allen movie. That girl was a brand-new face too, like you. You know, you only get to be a brand-new face once. They usually put
the dress
on either a brand-new face or a famous face. Now Woody Allen made her brand-new face famous! Do you think he's a pedophile? I don't like to think that.”

She didn't seem concerned at all with breathing, while that was all I could think about. Now there were just eight girls between the runway and us.

Still she kept going. “Some things I wish I didn't have to think about. Like last week someone told me those lemon wedges they put on your water glass are deadly. Covered in germs, even poop—that's what the girl said, on account of the waiters not washing their hands. Literally, that lemon wedge in my water is the closest I have gotten to a slice of cake in three years. Now what am I supposed to do? I wish I could unhear that thing about the lemons and Woody Allen.”

A lemon,
I thought. All I had seen any of these girls have for dessert was a cigarette. They were all exactly the same—birds of a feather, we'd call 'em back home. They all walked the same, in a light, airy kind of way. I was sure they would flutter across the runway, while I imagined I would resemble a schoolgirl wearing mud kickers. And they all spoke the same language. They added words to their sentences that made no sense to me at all. Like
. Honestly this and honestly that. It made you wonder if everything else that came out of their mouths was a lie. Also, many of their stories began with “Don't judge me.” As if it were a get-out-of-jail-free card. “Don't judge me, I slept with your boyfriend,” or “Don't judge me, I ate an entire pecan pie last night.” Honestly, the second one would literally never happen. Seriously, it's literally catching.

Six girls in front of me. I don't even know how I got here. Well, that's not really true. I got here on a Greyhound bus. When you're born with a face like mine and legs that keep going and going like mine, you stop considering any other way out. I used to do well in school, but there was almost no point. When my barely younger sister Carly and I would bring home our report cards, my mother would study hers and barely look at mine. My sister is short, like my mother's side of the family. An early bloomer, she was the tallest one in elementary school and the shortest by high school. She is okay smart, not a genius or anything. I'm just as smart as she is. But my mama barely looked at my report cards. “With legs like that,” she'd say, “you just need to find a rich man to wrap them around. Carly has to learn to fend for herself.” It was somewhere around then that I stopped trying.

It wasn't just my legs. I had the face, the skin, the hair, the whole package. That kind of beautiful that makes people stop and stare as if they're looking at a painting. A very tall painting. I was flawless. On the outside, that is. On the inside I was jealous of Carly. She would speak, and people would like her or not. Not me—I just needed to walk into a room and the boys all liked me. Never heard a word I said. It was so lonely that I finally left and came to New York, where I could stand in a line of perfect specimens like me and be ordinary. That part had felt wonderful—until now. Just four girls ahead of me, all with the face, the skin, and the legs…Wait, three. I pressed my hands against my sides to stop them from shaking.

Her nasal voice briefly broke my nervous trance. “It's not just lemons, you know. Those mints in the bowls at the register—those have been tested too, and…”

I hoped this wasn't
the dress
. It seemed so simple. I would think
the dress
would be something spectacular and loud, like the girl who was talking my ear off. The dress I was wearing was quiet. Not that I know diddly-squat about fashion. I know nothing more than what I've seen in the fashion magazines, and I only ever looked at those the few times that my mom drove Carly and me into Batesville to get mani-pedis. That's in fact how I ended up coming to New York. There was an article in one of the magazines—“Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Runway Model?” I went down the list: Height, 5
9 to 5
11. Check. Bust 31–34
. Check. Waist 22–24
. Check. Hips 31–35
. Check. They measured me right there at the salon. In the time it took for two coats of Cherry on Top nail polish to dry, my fate was sealed. There was enough money saved for only one of us to go to college anyway, and “Carly had the brains.”

“Go!” With a push I was gone. It was like skydiving. Not that I know diddly-squat about skydiving either. As I stepped out onto the runway, bulbs flashed like mad, just like the girl had said they would. I near 'bout fainted right there. Honestly, literally, and seriously.

BOOK: Nine Women, One Dress
3.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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