Dress-Up Doll

He cocked his head as he leaned on the counter. “Well? Hand it over, I don’t have all day.”

Calypso frowned, confused. “Hand what over? We doing have any packages to go to Z Corp.”

She glanced at Aaliyah, who nodded agreement.

Hermes gave a long-suffering sigh. “Your overnight bag. You know, whatever boring outfit you’re planning on wearing for the day after the wedding.”

Calypso stared. “The wedding that’s still two weeks away? The one where we’re getting ready at the hotel, so I can arrive there that morning, carrying my own bag?”

Hermes rolled his eyes. “Why do you always make things so complicated? You’re not going to be walking into London’s top hotel carrying your tatty gym bag. This is Z Corp’s biggest social media event of the year. You need to be on brand.”

He pointedly ignored Eos and Aaliyah’s snorts of laughter as he pulled out his phone and made a call. “Jason, why is your precious pain in the posterior flatmate refusing to hand over her weekend bag?”

He listened for a while, expression turning darker by the moment. “And you made these chummy little arrangements without mentioning it to me? Just so you know, I’m charging my wasted time to your department.”

He ended the call and glared at Calylpso. “Apparently Narcissus owes you for something-or-other and has decided to oufit you for the weekend.”

Calypso replied. “It’s the first I’ve heard it. It’s also unecessary, I can bring my own clothes.”

Hermes looked her up and down. “No, actually, you can’t. They’re right. You’ve been wearing that blouse and skirt combination since the day you started at Z Corp. You are so far off trend it’s an embarassment. Just leave it to the experts, Princess.”

With that, he turned and stomped out.

Aaliyah said. “How long ago did you start working for Z Corp?”

Calypso blew out a breath. “About two and half years.”

Aaliyah and Eos both stared at her. Aaliyah said. “How often does he expect you to get a new set of office clothes?”

Calypso tried to look indifferent. “Most of the people there will switch out elements in line with each season at least, and probably rotate through an entire wardrobe, except for a couple of key pieces, every year.”

Eos crossed her arms. “Have they never heard of global warming?”

Aaliyah leaned an elbow on the desk. “Have they never heard of saving money?”

Calypso spread her hands. “They honestly do have very good sustainability and recycling programmes, it’s just…”

She sighed. “Fashion.”

The two women shook their heads, faces sympathetic and Eos headed back to the coffee truck. “Make sure you send photos. I want to see what’s ‘on brand’ for a fashion company wedding.”

She was tempted to spend the evening at Dragon House, but Maria-Philippa had mentioned the imminent arrival of Madam Quin Luong in a message about the studio. Calypso decided she wasn’t brave enough to make polite conversation with Amy and David’s grandmother and took the train home instead.

She raised the issue of wedding weekend outfits over dinner, Jason grimaced apologetically. “I kept meaning to mention it to you, then getting distracted. It came up at the pub on Friday and Narcissus insisted on getting you outfits as an apology for that thing with Herne.”

Hercules put in. “I think he wants to prove he isn’t clueless about women’s fashion.”

Jason rolled his eyes. “I’m sure it’ll be fine, but I asked Clio to run through his selections before he sent them.”

Calypso frowned. “Outfits, plural?”

Hercules nodded. “One for Saturday, that’ll get delivered here, then one for Sunday, plus pyjamas. They’re being sent straight to the hotel.”

Jason leaned forward. “You won’t even need to bring make-up or hair stuff. Dionysus has booked the hotel’s salon, so he’ll probably be in touch during the week for your appointment time. And of course, Arachne has your outfit and accessories on the rack with the others, ready to go.”

“So I just open the package from Narcissus on Saturday morning, put on whatever’s inside, then arrive at the hotel with nothing?”

Jason grinned at her. “It’s it brilliant? So decadent and you don’t even have to worry whether your outfit is going to fit in with everyone else.”

Calypso raised a brow. Hercules smiled and shook his head. “You know what the place is like, the outfit themes change by the hour. Let Narcissus deal with it for you.”

She smiled and dropped the subject. They wouldn’t understand her dislike of being used as a dress-up doll. She wasn’t even sure she understood. It had never grated in the past, when others decided what she wore, but it set her teeth on edge now. What had changed? Or was it simply that she didn’t trust Narcissus?

It was two days. Two days and only Z Corp people. It didn’t matter and the clothes may even be the type of thing she’d choose herself.

Jason gently bumped shoulders with her. “What’s got you off into deep thoughts? You look like some particularly disapproving anime sage.”

Calypso spluttered and laughed. “I’m trying to remember the last time I chose my own clothes, other than the weekend things from when I started at Z Corp.”

He went to answer, then stopped. She could almost see his mind ticking over.

Finally, he said. “You’re right, you really don’t do the shopping thing at all, do you.”

He stood and gathered her empty plate. “Just as well you’ve got friends who are into shopping to do it for you.”

Calypso smiled, it felt plastic, but neither of them commented.

As they cleared up, conversation moved to the honeymoon, and how many social media updates a day would be too many.

The rest of the week went quickly, when Calypso wasn’t thinking about her submission form, and before she knew it, she was at the pub, taking a seat between Adonis and Thalia.

That evening, they were full of news about the latest restructure and how Orpheus was putting in an official complaint to HR about his assistant, Eurydice, being transferred to Finance. Calypso wondered what Eurydice felt about her move to Hades’ area but apparently no one had asked.

No one had caught up with Ryan either, after hearing he’d settled in to Bristol, both flat and office, and was having fun.

Thalia shrugged. “He’s off having a good time there, we’re having a good time here. If he comes back, he’ll join us again.”

She bounced in her seat and asked. “Do you have your outfits planned? Did Jason tell you I need pics of them so I can group people right in the photos?”

Calypso looked at Narcissus, who smirked. “It’s all under control.”

Thalia looked slightly sick. “You’re trusting him with your clothes for before and after?”

Narcissus looked offended, and Calypso said. “Jason trusts him, although I’m told Clio is checking them first, and it’s Jason’s wedding.”

Her bubbly friend breathed out. “That’s true, and Clio will get me perfect photo layouts. Plus, it means you’re definitely wearing Z Corp, so I’ll be able to tag the webstore in your pictures.”

Calypso looked down the table to where Jason and Hercules were laughing with Calliope. Their wedding had been turned into a marketing campaign. They didn’t seem to mind, though, so who was she to fuss.

It was a relief to make her excuses early and head home to pack for the weekend. Both Jason and Hercules stayed out, so she had the place to herself.

The weekend at Wildwood was comfortable and happy and full of sawdust and paint. Everything was wonderful until Sunday morning.

The day was cool, the sky was blue above the wildwood, and the clouds looked like scattered sheep.

Calypso turned from the view, to admire the view inside the house. Herne was making coffee, which was apparently more important than finding a shirt.

He handed her a mug with the smile that made her heart skip. “There’s a farmers market over in Middle Melting next Saturday. If you get the Friday train down, we can spend the morning there.”

Calypso studied her mug, she felt him tense beside her. “What?”

She wanted to take a big swig of coffee, delay the start of this conversation but that wasn’t fair. She tucked her head down further. “I can’t come down next weekend. It’s Jason and Hercules’s wedding.”

She heard his mug being put on the counter, carefully, oh dear. His hands appeared around her mug, gently pulling it from her grasp and leaving her with nothing to hide her gaze in.

He tipped her chin up. “I thought I was meant to go to that with you.”

She tried to be casual. “It’s going to be so tedious. And I thought you’d probably be on call.”

He was frowning. “Weddings have tedious moments and fun moments, it’s what they are. And I can always re-jig call schedules if I have a bit of warning.”

He stepped away. “Except you’re not giving me any warning are you. When would you have even mentioned this if I hadn’t brought it up?”

She squirmed. “I don’t know.”

“So would you like to explain why I’m not good enough to come to your friends’ wedding?”

That shot her gaze to his. “That’s not it!”

She stepped forward, placing a hand on the arms he had tightly crossed over his chest. “It’s not you. It’s them. They think it’s funny to be cruel, and expect you to fire back with equal venom.”

“You don’t think I can handle it?”

She fought tears. “Of course you could handle it.”

She ducked down and mumbled. “I don’t think I could.”

He moved, ducking further to see her face. “What was that?”

The tears were ignoring her, she swiped at them. “I don’t think I could. I don’t want to stand there and watch people so much less than you are sneer and smirk because you have more important things to do than know the most fashionable way to tie a business shoelace.”

Herne turned away, leaning on the counter. “Remind me why you’re friends with these people?”

How could she explain it to him when she was wondering the same thing herself? Her stumbled mess of an explanation just made things worse. She spent the rest of the morning working on a chair in the Little Barn while Herne cleared a couple of the vegetable beds in the kitchen garden.

She tried to explain again during the drive to the station but in the end he just looked hurt and waved her off after an awkward hug on the platform. She cried the whole way back to London.

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