Feeling Blue

"Feeling Blue" was posted some time ago written in third person. This revised version changed it to first person. For some reason it helped me understand the main characters better. I've always wondered if the title scares people away. There is nothing blue about this story, neither in a foul-mouthed way nor anything that might depress you. Remember -- "Moby Dick" is about the compulsive hunting of a whale.

Feeling Blue
by Angela Rasch

“Would you like to sample ‘Blue’ by Ralph Lauren?”

Had I not been so self-absorbed thinking about my upcoming annual review I would have heard the question and responded properly. I looked in her crystal-clear blue eyes and smiled, unsure how to react when someone as beautiful as her -- talked to me.

Holiday shoppers bustled by us on both sides; some carried three or four of the distinctive O’Donnell Department Store shopping bags. I was running late and had taken a shortcut through their women’s department.

“It’s a hypnotic blend of soft florals, with watery freshness to top it off,” she chimed. “We have it on special today in a two and one half-ounce spray for forty dollars.”

I needed to get back to see my supervisor, Mr. Gordon, for my annual review, but couldn’t tear myself away from her face. I decided to ask for more information. “Yes?” I asked softly, to make sure she had meant me.

The next thing I knew she misted the air around my head.

“Wh - what the heck?” I stammered.

“I’m so sorry,” she said in tones that left little doubt she regretted her error.

The anguished look on her face made me feel horrible. “Don’t worry about it, sometimes people see my hair and think. . .girl.” I wore my thick, long, blond hair pulled back into a ponytail.

She grazed my arm lightly with her hand. “It just -- you have such a nice, sweet face and we’re about the same height -- and ohhhh -- and women wear men’s clothing so much these days.” She talked rapidly in that anxious way people do when they’ve made a mistake and want to make amends.

It embarrassed me to be the same size as her, because she was about average for a girl. . .in weight and height, but way above the norm in being attractive.

She wrung her hands as she spoke. “I’m so sorry. I wasn’t really paying much attention to anything beyond your eyes, I guess. You really have gorgeous eyes. I was wondering how you did your eyes to make them. . . . Do people ever tell you your eyes are stunning?”

I shook my head lightly and tried to decide if I should tell her about her fantastic eyes.

No, don’t be an idiot. I thought.

She held me lightly by the arm; evidently she had no problem touching people. “Let me make it up to you. Please, I feel so bad. Do you have a girlfriend?”

“I beg your pardon?” I lived in a world of absolutes where subordinates are meant to be deferential. She seemed to be about my age, but she sold perfume, which certainly held an inferior social stratum to my station at Utopia Insurance.

“Would you like a free bottle of ‘Blue’ perfume for your girlfriend? I would like to make it up to you for being such a klutz.” She had already put a blue bottle with a silver cap into a gift bag. She had dropped my arm, but held me with her smile and overall attractiveness.

“I don’t know who I would give it to. I’m not seeing anyone special -- and,” I sniffed the air around me, “I would be embarrassed to give it to my mother. It’s too sexy.” I could feel my face burn. Talking about such intimate matters had made me blush.

“I insist you take this and accept my apologies as well as the store’s.” She tried to hand a small purple bag to me, to which she had attached a silk, golden bow, which I suppose dressed it up for Christmas.

“No, please don’t,” I said. “You needn’t get into trouble over this.”

“Trouble?” She giggled. “Don’t worry; the boss loves me.” She pressed the bag into my hands. “You seem anxious. Do you have to hurry back to work?”

“Uhmmm.” My lunch hour would be over in twenty minutes and I still needed to make the four-block journey to Utopia Insurance. I sniffed again and realized I now carried an inappropriate aroma. “Oh geez! How long will it be before this stuff wears off? I have my job performance review this afternoon with my supervisor.”

“Ahhhh,” she said quietly. “The good news is ‘Blue’ is a quality perfume that won’t smell cheap as it fades. The bad news is . . . ‘Blue’ is a quality perfume that is formulated to last.”

“No!” I did everything I could to please the Vice President in charge of my department, Mr. Gordon. I had spent hours selecting just the right tie for our meeting from my collection of four; none of which had cost more than ten dollars. I considered ties to be frivolous, and I despised wasting money on “frivolous” things and stayed completely away from flippant people.

“Would it help if I wrote a note explaining what happened?” she asked.

“You’ve done enough already.” My tone could have been friendlier, even though I wanted so badly to be nice to her. . .maybe even be a little appealing, if I could be.

“I’m so sorry — really.” Her face again matched her words. “Where do you work?”

“On Fourth and Hampton in the Miller Building.” I involuntarily tensed. It was wrong to tell a stranger so much about myself. She seemed trustworthy, but what did I really know about her?

“I’ll go with you. Please let me explain to your boss that it was all my fault. I’ll beg him to understand.”

Mr. Gordon didn’t like excuses. He had no time for the young office girls with their idle prattle about “American Idol” and other huge time wasters. Despite her beauty, she would not make a favorable impression on him. “That’s okay. I better get going or I’ll be late on top of everything else.”

“At least take my card,” she said. “If I can help you with anything. . . .”

I looked at her card. “Nicole O’Donnell. Nice name.”

“Thank you. I can help you with your Christmas shopping. Do you have a business card?”

I reached in my wallet. Something about Nicole made me want to please her. Something? How about a million things?

She studied my card. “Hmmm. Scott Tremel -- Senior Underwriter -- Commercial Lines. That sounds impressive.” She extended her hand to me. “Scott, it’s been very nice meeting you.”

The softness of her hand shocked me, so much so I held on to it for several seconds, while I memorized every inch of her stunning face.

My stomach contracted as I suddenly realized the time. “If I don’t get back right now I’ll have a new card that says ‘Scott Tremel, Unemployed.’ Thanks for the offer, but no thanks. I can do my own shopping.” I had almost no one to buy for other than my mother and father, who didn’t have much interest in me, or any gifts I had ever given them.

“Here’s what you do,” she said, obviously meaning to help. “You look your boss right in the eye and tell him what you want. If you can establish at least an equal footing, he will probably give you everything you want. Believe me, I majored in psychology in college; and I know what works in one-on-one personal relationships.”

My knees sagged a bit when she said “relationships” until I remembered how girls like her had treated me all my life.

“Good luck, Scott,” she called after me, while I walked away.

I turned toward her voice and saw her stick my card into her purse. I’ll bet she dates a body-builder or a professional athlete. I hurried off toward my meeting.

***

“Scott,” Mr. Gordon said, “I’ve had a lot of complaints about your work.”

“Complaints?” What! I made every effort to be meticulous. I had expected him to compliment me on being industrious and hardworking. I need that raise.

“You’re dragging us down, Scott. Production is at an all-time low in your area.”

“I haven’t had too many good insurance prospects offered to me by our agents.” I shifted in my chair and straightened my tie, which he hadn’t seemed to notice. “Every application for insurance I see seems to fall outside of our underwriting guidelines.”

He sighed. “That’s the trouble with you, Scott. You’ve been with us over five years. We hired you right out of college and put you through our trainee program. After all that training and all those years, you still don’t seem to comprehend the difference between a guideline and a rule.”

“Sir?” A guideline is a rule!

“Take the William’s Chemical property account. If you hadn’t been so eager to turn it down, you might have used a little imagination to make it into something we could profitably underwrite.”

“Sir, they had all those small losses. The guidelines state that we should avoid risks that have frequency problems, because they might lead to larger claims.” Try as I might, I couldn’t help but sound a little smug. I knew the guidelines better than anyone else at the company. Guidelines kept me from feeling uncertain. When I got into areas where rules didn’t apply, I was often plagued by self-doubt.

“I reviewed their losses,” Mr. Gordon said. “Had you used a larger deductible and loss control engineering I think the account would have been very attractive.”

I could feel my ears burn. Mr. Gordon hadn’t been in the habit of looking over my shoulder -- that I knew of. That was one of the reasons I liked my job so much. I loved being in control. The precision I applied to underwriting complex accounts gave me immense satisfaction. The indication that, 1.) My work wasn’t perfect, and 2.) Mr. Gordon was so dissatisfied with my work that he was second-guessing me -- combined to make me quite nervous.

“Scott, it appears to me that you review a file until you can find something wrong with it -- so you can decline the risk.”

I coughed. “No, sir. It’s just that I’m thorough.”

“No Scott — it goes far beyond that.” Mr. Gordon shook his head. “Scott, I like you. Despite what others around the company think, I’m betting you can be a valuable employee.”

“Sir? Are there others who don’t think I’m valuable?” I was shattered. I had always been a top student in school and wasn’t at all prepared to hear what he was saying.

“It’s not that you’re not intelligent, logical, and levelheaded; everyone agrees that you’re all of those. It’s just that you’re so damn rigid. You need to loosen up. You’re demanding perfection in everyone around you. They’re human beings, Scott. You need to change -- your future with this company is in jeopardy.”

I’ll do anything to change their minds. If there’s one thing I’m certain about; no one can be more stubborn than me. If they want me to change — I will, and no one is going to stop me. “Change how, Mr. Gordon?”

His face brightened. “Let’s start with your tie.”

“My tie?” Damn, I had been sure it was the right one.

“Scott, how does your tie compare to mine?”

I wrinkled my forehead. “You don’t wear a tie, sir.”

“Precisely, and neither does anyone else in this department. You need to change your wardrobe.” He frowned and knitted his brows to communicate the seriousness of his directive. “I don’t know how you expect to think outside the box dressed in pin-stripes and wingtips?”

“How. . . . Wha. . . . Sir, I’m at a loss. I don’t. . . .”

“Get some help. Ask a friend, your mother, or sister. Any woman could help you find clothes that would be more in style and less oppressive.”

I shrugged. “I’m not very stylish and my family lives hundreds of miles from here.”

“Scott, are you using a new aftershave?”

“Ahhh. . . .”

“You see, there is hope for you,” Mr. Gordon said. “That aftershave is unique. I don’t think I’ve ever before smelled anything like it. . .on a man.” He smiled for the first time in the interview. “Scott, I want you to get clothes that match that aftershave. Be more of a free spirit. Surprise me.”

I blinked several times. “Yes sir, Mr. Gordon.”

“Scott, the personnel department has informed me that because I didn’t recommend you for a raise, I have to place you on probation.”

Probation? My eyes began to tear. They’re unfairly penalizing me for being too good at what I do. “How do I get off probation and back in the good graces of the company?”

Mr. Gordon’s face softened; and he dropped his voice. “I want you to astonish me and become a totally new person. The holiday season is always slow around the office. Take two weeks off, paid leave, to get your mind straight. When you come back I want to see visible proof that you’ve broken out of your rigid mold.”

“If not?” As soon as the words shot out of my mouth I wanted to take them back. I didn’t want to know.

Mr. Gordon bit his lip and shook his head. “Scott, the company will only keep you on probation for three months. If you don’t improve, you won’t have a job here.”

I went back to my desk in a haze, to clean up loose ends. My “vacation” would start at the end of the day. I spent the afternoon turning files over to my assistant, who seemed to already know I wouldn’t be around for a while. Mr. Gordon must have told him.

My thoughts were an anxious jumble of uncertainty. I couldn’t quite grasp what it was the company wanted. They were being jerks. Don’t I always make sure my files are as perfect as possible? I even go so far as to buy my own pens, so that I get the kind that don’t smear or fade; and they’re just the right shade of blue to make my notes seem important to anyone who audits the file.

Just before the close of the day my phone rang.

“Scott Tremel?”

I immediately recognized her enchanting voice. “Is this Nicole, from the perfume counter?”

“Yes, it is.”

Nicole! Her face floated in my mind causing me the first warm, positive thoughts of the afternoon.

“I’m calling to apologize again. What I did was awful, and after I thought about it, giving you the perfume was like pouring gasoline on a fire.”

“Actually, my boss liked it.” Actually, so did I. Several of the women that worked around me had also given me compliments. I rarely wore aftershave, and when I did, I used Old Spice, which they all detested.

“That’s good.”

Her voice is sexy. Now that I think about it, she’s awfully good-looking. A lot of girls have been my friends, but very few have been actual girlfriends. Love is too heavy an obligation to even consider. “My boss liked the perfume so much he wants me to revamp my entire personality and wardrobe to fit it.” My voice cracked. “He’s put me on probation. . .starting today.” Despite myself I almost started to cry. Why had I told her? I hadn’t told anyone else of my circumstances, not even my assistant.

“That’s terrible. Scott, are you okay?” Her voice sounded tremendously compassionate.

“Not really,” I answered truthfully.

“When do you get off work?”

“Why?”

“I want to talk to you in person. I’ve made a mess of things and want to. . . .”

“You didn’t do anything,” I interjected.

“Scott, please. I’m going to leave right now, and I’ll be in your lobby in five minutes.” She hung up before I could refuse to meet her.

It was already fifteen minutes past the time when everyone else normally quit. I had been putting off leaving. In truth, I procrastinated quite a bit on the job. I spent five more minutes writing a detailed memo to my assistant; so that I could be sure he would do things my way in my absence. Finally I shut down my terminal, clicked my attaché closed, and left.

“Scott,” she called to me as I stepped out of the elevator. “I’m such an idiot. Let’s both go back up that elevator and I’ll explain things to your boss.”

“About what?” I surveyed her again and confirmed how truly lovely a woman she appeared to be.

“About what? About ‘Blue’ and about why you smell like a girl.”

I looked around quickly to see if anyone had heard her, but apparently no one had. “I told you, he liked it.”

“He did? I thought you were just being sarcastic.” Her face beamed with relief.

Now that she realizes she hasn’t caused me a problem, she’ll quickly leave. But, I have to be honest. “No — he liked it a lot. He wants me to change to match the perfume.”

“And you — are you okay with that?” Her face looked pleased, but puzzled.

I shook my head showing the bewilderment I felt. “I’ve got to do something. If I don’t change, I’m going to lose my job.”

She bit her lip and nodded. “Where are you going now?”

Her interest in me felt good. “Home -- probably. I have to take the next two weeks off to figure things out. I’ve got three months to become someone different, or I’ll have to find a new job. I guess when I get home I’ll check the newspaper for jobs and tomorrow I’ll call a few employment agencies.”

Her face clouded as she clearly felt my pain. “Before you do that, please allow me at least to buy you dinner? I put you under stress with my silly mistake, and you obviously didn’t need that today.”

I agreed, trying to push out of my mind the puzzle of how I would ever match myself to a perfume. Besides, I had already locked my soul into her eyes.

For the next several hours we got to know each other. Nicole’s life had been less than idyllic. Her mother had died when she was two, leaving her the only child of a corporate-minded father. They apparently were in constant conflict, because Nicole rejected his authority.

It wasn’t that she didn’t love and respect her father; she just couldn’t bring herself to stay in the boxes that he made for her. When she was five, he recognized her innate artistic ability; he supplied crayons, finger paints, colored markers, construction paper, round-edge scissors, and glue, to fuel her growth. He left her in her room for forty-five minutes with instructions to do something creative -- something that would knock his eyes out.

When he came back, she was well into the completion of a mural that covered most of one wall. She had drawn all of the memorable things they had seen on their two-week summer vacation: Mount Rushmore, the Rockies, a mountain lake, buffalo, and a Holiday Inn. To his credit, her father didn’t paint over the picture until she asked him to, although he clearly wanted to return order to her room.

I had been raised in a born-again Christian family. There was a place for everything and everything had to be kept in its place. My father had strict rules. . .not guidelines. Giggling and laughter were okay, in moderation, but a small smile was preferred. I had been naturally rambunctious, so my nature had run directly counter to my childhood household. Often, as a child, I had felt awful about myself. Since my parents were so good, I had been unable to vent the frustration I had felt. Instead I bottled it all up and had become muted in order to fit in.

“Do you like your job?” Nicole asked, her eyes sparkling.

“Very much. I wish I had more time to work on each file. I never seem to be able to do a complete job.”

“Oh, are you a perfectionist?”

“I just like to get it right.” I had become completely comfortable with Nicole. For the first time in a long time, I felt at ease. There always seemed to be something to worry about. The more relaxed I got, the more I enjoyed the fragrance of my perfume, aligning myself with “Blue” seemed inviting. Nicole had given me a bottle of it, so I could wear it again if I wanted. Since the women in the office and my boss thought it seemed okay, I would be more than happy to wear it every day, once I returned to work. Something about its bouquet made me feel much better about myself; and I had “Blue” to thank for bringing Nicole into my life.

“There’s a lot to like about you, Scott. You’re obviously compulsive, but compared to my father. . . hey, nobody’s as compulsive as my father. Do you have any idea how you’re going to change to satisfy your boss?”

“Not at all,” I answered feeling dejected. “I’m not good at trying new things. He doesn’t like my tie. I suppose a change in wardrobe is the place to start.”

“What a coincidence,” Nicole said. “I happen to own more clothing than anyone else in town.”

“You mean your dad’s store?” I grinned. I’ll play along with her little joke about being part of the O’Donnell family that owns those stores.

“Actually, I own one-fourth of the stock,” she said. “In two years, Dad’s going to roll over controlling interest to me, and then he is going to retire to a tropical island that he can rule.”

“Okay.” I grinned. She’s really good at spinning a story. “I promise to buy my new wardrobe from your store. I’ll go in -- first thing tomorrow morning.”

“Scott,” she said. “I like you. I’m normally quite withdrawn. I have a real hard time talking to strangers, but it has been easy talking to you. I think it would be fun to go over to my Ridgedale store tonight and find you some completely new and different things to wear. By the time we get there, they’ll be closed. We’ll have the place to ourselves. Believe me, I’ve been shopping after hours for years, it’s much better without the crowds and the salespeople.”

I want to spend more time with her, but I’m losing control of this situation. I don’t want to embarrass Nicole by forcing her to admit her little white lies. I have an idea that will let her off the hook. “I don’t think so. I can’t allow you to give me anything. If the cash registers aren’t running, how would I pay for what we pick out?”

Nicole seemed a little surprised. “Scott, I’m going to level with you. From what you’ve told me and from what I’ve seen tonight, there are some things about you that do need changing -- but there are many, many more that I find utterly delightful.” She touched my hand in a way that showed strong interest.

“What is it about me you think I should change?” I had already made up my mind to do whatever she wanted. I had found “many, many things” about Nicole to be “utterly delightful.” Even if she is an outrageous liar.

Nicole paused for a minute, bit her lip, and then began to speak. “You’re stingy with your money. That much I can tell from your tie. Even though I’m wearing a to-die-for outfit you haven’t said a word about it, so I assume you’re also stingy with your compliments. Furthermore, although you’ve told me a considerable amount about yourself, you’ve been very tight-lipped about your ideas.”

“Guilty as charged,” I agreed. “I need to work on being more generous and sharing.”

She nodded. “You’re so anxious about relationships that you’re afraid to commit, for fear of losing personal control.”

I scoffed. “That’s not true.”

“Isn’t it?”

“No. . . . I just haven’t found the right girl.”

“Let me ask you something quite personal and a little touchy. Do you fear losing bowel control in public?”

“What?”

She grinned. “Remember, I have a psych degree, give me a little break and cooperate. When compulsive behavior becomes extreme, the needs often focus on body, food, safety, or cleanliness. One of the irrational concerns that manifests itself is a fear of bowel accidents.”

“I thought I was just experiencing a nervous problem,” I admitted.

She smiled. “It is, it is. . .and it’s nothing to be overly concerned about.”

We had left the restaurant and were walking in a small park next to the old Guthrie Theatre. It was chilly, but not at all uncomfortable. Nicole slipped her arm into mine and gently pressed her warmth into my side. My perfume smelled more pronounced in the fresh air, which I liked. The fragrance seemed much nicer than Old Spice.

I noticed with surprise that Nicole wore a different fragrance. “How is it that you work around ‘Blue’ all day and you don’t smell like me?”

“Smell? Am I odiferous?” Her impish smile grew.

We found a small bench and sat huddled together for warmth. Her hand grazed my excited lap, accidentally, I think.

“You’re fragrance isn’t ‘Blue,’ is it?” I asked.

“No, but I was careful today at work; and I had picked a scent to wear that doesn’t fight with ‘Blue.’ ”

I looked her in the eyes. “Do you really think I’m compulsive?”

“I know you are,” she said, without equivocation. “Let me ask you, what is it about taking this forced vacation that bothers you the most?”

I reached down to pick up a candy wrapper, and stuck it in my pocket to throw in a garbage can later. “I’m going to be lost without a schedule to follow, and then there’s the thought of how messed up things are going to be in the office when I get back.”

“Bingo.”

“That’s all pop psychology,” I said, slightly offended that she had analyzed me.

“No, it’s not.” Her hair bounced as she shook her head. “That one part is ‘poop’ psychology, to be scatologically precise.”

We laughed; hers sounded like the happiness a mother feels when she watches her child open that special present at Christmas.

“I’m not all that compulsive,” I said, defending myself against her mild slight.

“Prove it. Put yourself in my hands, entirely. If you can do that, you will have taken a huge step toward becoming a new person. Come to my store and do exactly what I tell you to do for the next six to seven hours.”

My store? Which one of us needs a few hours on a psychiatrist’s couch? “What are the rules?”

“Rule numero uno — no compulsive questions allowed.” She smirked.

Despite practically calling me anal retentive, she made me feel worthwhile — and maybe a little desirable.

“Say I go through with this,” I asked with a raised eyebrow. “What’s in it for me?”

“You just might find that ‘new you’ you’re looking for -- just what your boss ordered.”

***

Forty minutes later we had completed the trip from downtown Minneapolis to the O’Donnell’s store in Ridgedale. The actual driving time had been less than the time it took to walk to our car, and then let it warm up enough to defrost the windows.

“Evening, Frank,” Nicole said to the night security guard who let us in through the door on the shipping/receiving dock. “Frank, my friend and I will be in the store most of the night. We’ll be in just about every department, so please don’t shoot us.”

Frank grunted and nodded.

There are nuts all over the place willing to play her game.

“No ma’am. Your dad and I go back too many years for me to shoot his daughter.”

Nice touch. She’s good at this and so is he.

“Is that the only reason you won’t shoot me, Frank?” Nicole teased.

“That and it might mean a little smaller Christmas bonus.” Frank left the room chuckling.

She turned toward me. “Frank’s been with the family store for longer than I’ve been alive.”

I smacked my forehead with the heel of my hand. “Oh geez, you really are the owner’s daughter.”

“Yep. Who did you think I was?” She looked at me curiously.

My face burned again. “Judging by the fact that you were the perfume-spraying girl, I thought you were an employee, who was having a little fun with me.”

“And, I’m that too.” She pulled me close and kissed me lightly on the lips. “All the executives take a turn at the perfume counter every holiday season to keep us in touch with our guests. Does the fact that I’m worth gazillions bother you?”

Ga-ga-gazillions! “Not if the fact that I might be out-of-work and broke doesn’t bother you.”

“Not a bit,” she said, “and you’re not going to be out-of-work. We’re going to change you. Where do you want to start looking for your new wardrobe?”

“I don’t have any idea. My boss said to get a wardrobe that matches the perfume you sprayed on me.”

“Okay, that’s a big clue,” Nicole said with a giggle. “ ‘Blue’ by Ralph Lauren is sophisticated.”

“Uh huh.”

“It has a clean aroma.”

We walked as we talked, with her subtly leading the way.

“Cleanliness is very important to me,” I said.

“That goes without question for a compulsive person like you.” She smiled in a teasing way.

Our relationship had already reached a point where her honest assessment was not only acceptable but almost needed.

She leaned into me and sniffed. “Your perfume has a crisp edge to it that keeps it interesting.”

“Why did you say ‘your perfume,’ you sprayed it on me.”

“Didn’t you tell me you thought you’d wear it every day?”

“I’m thinking about it,” I admitted.

“That makes it ‘your perfume.’ But let’s not argue over semantics. More salient to our purpose tonight is what you think of ‘Blue.’ First I have to know . . .” she ducked her head a little before finishing her question, “does it make you feel feminine?”

I blushed for the umpteenth time since meeting her. “I’m not sure what to say.” We were surrounded by bras, panties, and other lingerie -- and moving toward the purses.

She shook a warning finger, chastising me. “I think you know exactly what you think of it. I’ll bet you can pick two words that describe ‘Blue’ perfectly -- just two words.”

After a brief moment, I cleared my throat and decided to come clean. “The first word would be ‘sexy.’ “

“That’s fair. Your perfume is sexy, all right.” She circled my waist with her arm and pulled me to her to kiss me on the ear. “And, the other word?” She whispered her question into my neck, as she nuzzled me.

“Feminine,” I whispered, taking a bigger risk with her than I had with anyone in my life.

“Exactly,” she said while smiling widely. “Your wardrobe needs to be sexy and feminine.”

“Huh?” I knew she was right, but couldn’t quite bring myself to agree.

“Look around you. Which department are we in?”

“Isn’t this about the same department where I met you, in the downtown store?”

“That’s right. We’re in Fashion Fragrances.” She picked up a small square bottle and spritzed the air around me. “Even ‘Blue’ eventually wears off.”

I didn’t dive away from the mist — instead I welcomed its fresh aroma. “Thank you.”

“I thought you would like it.” She turned and beckoned for me to follow her. After we walked about fifty steps, she stopped. “Let’s start with a blouse.”

Nicole has a wonderful sense of humor, but she doesn’t appear to be joking at the moment. “Are you kidding me?”

“Not at all,” Nicole said. “You agreed to follow my instructions for the next seven hours. No one is going to see you; or will be judgmental, except maybe Frank, and he’s sworn to keep secret anything he sees me do.”

“But, you’ll see me. Are you making fun of me, because I told you I like wearing this scent?”

“Not at all. Close your eyes and inhale your perfume. Keep your eyes closed.”

I decided to trust her explicitly, and then closed my eyes tight.

“I’ll be gone for about a minute, just keep your eyes closed and concentrate on your scent.”

I heard her approach before she started talking. “I’m going to ask you questions. Before you answer, I want you to concentrate on your perfume and answer my question using ‘Blue’ to filter how you feel.”

“Okay, I think I understand.” I accidentally brushed my chest, much to my surprise my nipples were stiff.

“Cotton or silk? Be honest.”

I thought about blouses; and much to my surprise I did have a preference. “Silk.”

“Good. White or Ivory?”

“Hmmm. Ivory — if you have ivory, otherwise white would do.” Once again I had thought about how my perfume was making me feel before I answered. Ivory is much better than white.

“Uh huh. Tucked or mid-hip”

I couldn’t really picture in my mind what she meant. “I’m not sure.”

“Do you want the length of your blouse to be long enough to tuck in your skirt or pants, or should the hem come to mid-hip?”

“Oh.” It didn’t take long to make a decision. “Mid-hip.” I felt quite turned on by the mystery and the intrigue — or something. Skirt?

“Okay. Should the blouse be fitted, or full? Let your perfume have its way.”

“Definitely, I think. . .ahhhh. . .fitted would be nice.”

“When you open your eyes I will be holding the blouse I selected for you. Remember, I picked it out before you told me what you wanted -- even before you gave me your first answer. Now open your eyes.”

The blouse was an ivory and silk with a faux-button front. It featured allover darting for a fitted shape, with rounded shirttails that fell to mid-hip.

It’s marvelous. I was amazed. “How did you possibly know?”

“Call it experience.” She shrugged. “You said your boss wanted your wardrobe to match your perfume. Did you allow your perfume to talk through you?”

Once again I blushed, which probably told Nicole all she needed to know.

She touched my hand. “Scott, have you ever dressed in women’s clothing before?”

“No.” Why would she even think that?

She grinned. “I think you’re going to like it.”

Like it? “Why are you doing this to me?”

“I’m not doing anything that you don’t want. You love the perfume and the perfume demands that you match its aura. Your boss was right about that.”

“But men don’t wear women’s clothing,” I wailed. If only we could.

She grinned. “Oh really. I’ve worked in our stores too long to believe that. I’ve sold plenty of clothing to men as ‘presents’ for their wives -- in sizes that would -- oh so coincidentally -- fit the gentlemen buying them.”

“Oh.” I need to find a way out of what she’s doing. Things are too confusing. “That blouse will never fit me.”

“It will. I’ve been around retail all my life. It will be tight around your waist and loose through the chest, but we’ll take care of that right now.”

Nicole led me to the lingerie department. “Scott, let’s try it again with your eyes closed. Good. Do you have a mental image of a bra that you’d like to wear?”

I snorted. “That’s ridiculous.”

“Try harder,” she demanded. “You know what to do. Let your perfume guide your mind. Keep your eyes closed.” Again she left my side for a few minutes before coming back and asking the first question. “Colored or white?”

“Colored.”

“Pink or Aqua?”

I shrugged for her benefit, but I knew exactly what I wanted. “Aqua, but don’t go out of your way for me.” Aqua will look nice with my blonde hair.

“A, B, or C cup?”

“B.”

“Why did you say ‘B’?”

“I didn’t, it was the perfume talking.” I smiled, realizing I had spoken the truth.

“Should it be sheer?” She used the congenial tone a salesperson might assume with me while selling me a suit.

“Yes, sheer,” I said, trying to focus completely. I was intrigued now and wanted to see if she had predicted right again.

“Underwire?”

I had no idea what she meant, but took a whiff of my perfume and answered. “Yes.”

“Open your eyes. Is this the bra you want?”

I gasped. It was a sheer-nylon, aqua, embroidered, mesh, underwire demi-bra. And, surprisingly it looked perfect — for me. It was like looking through a rack of shirts and finding just the right one, except I hardly ever had found the right one. “How did you ever do that?”

She laughed. “I know clothes. I know perfume. It seems that you do, too.”

“It’s uncanny,” I remarked. “I’ve never ever thought about wearing a bra, but if I ever did, I’m certain this would be it.”

“Uh huh.” She grinned, again. “Thank you for being so honest.” She leaned toward me and kissed me lightly on my lips. “Mmmm. Let’s get at this before we both get distracted.”

Part of me had already been distracted, but I managed to nod my agreement.

She moved several yards down the aisle, with me following her. “Let’s try it with your eyes open. First close them. I’ll pick five panties that match this bra. I’ll take the sale tag off the one that I know you’ll pick and will fold them so you won’t be able to tell which one doesn’t have a tag. Then you’ll open your eyes and chose.” After she had been gone for two or three minutes, she asked me to open my eyes.

“I’ve been concentrating on my perfume,” I said. I had been and was extremely sexually excited by everything, including her kiss.

“Good. Are you ready to decide?”

“I already have.” I pointed to the aqua, silk, satin thong. Of course, its sales tag was missing. A thong? I’ve always been a white brief kind of guy.

Nicole opened her hand to show me the tag she was holding. It said, “La Perla satin thong.”

“Is it a trick?” I asked.

“In a way,” Nicole said. “You have strong feminine instincts. You’re allowing all the vibes coming from your perfume to lead you. Women do it subconsciously every day. I congratulate you on being able to block out your machismo.”

“Is that really a good thing? I’m not a homosexual, you know.”

“No — I’m fairly certain that you were attracted to me earlier this evening.” Her eyes fell to my crotch. “And now.”

“I thought you might’ve been checking me out in the park.” I laughed through yet another blush.

“I think you’re still attracted to me.” Her hand brushed my pants. “We’ll check out the bedroom furniture department later, if you like. Perhaps you’ll find something you want to take home.”

“Uhmmmm.”

“You’re going to need a waist reducer.” Nicole became all business again, eager to complete her mission and get on to other things. “I’ll find one, no need to overtax your new-found fashion sense. I’ll also find some breast-forms and padding for your backside.”

After she located the necessary undergarments, she took me -- and everything we had acquired so far -- to an area displaying women’s pants.

“What kind of slacks would you wear with that blouse?” she asked.

“Pin-stripe.” I answered quickly.

“Is that you or your perfume making that decision?”

“Both, I think.”

“Good -- the more you blend with your perfume -- the happier you’ll be with the result. Gray or charcoal?”

“Charcoal.” I loved charcoal, although I had never realized it before.

“How are these?” She held up a pair of Theory charcoal, pinstripe, wool, “Tara” pants.

“Perfect, I think.”

She grinned evilly. “You should know about perfection.”

“There should be laws about how many students they allow to take psychology.” We laughed, as I fingered the women’s pants noting the lightweight, stretch fabric. The wide bottoms and hip-hugging design were foreign to me, but yet they looked so absolutely right.

“This last item will be a bit more challenging,” Nicole said. “I’ve got some ideas, but shoes are so very, very personal. I’ll tell you what. How about if I find ten pairs of shoes that go with your outfit? Do you trust me?”

“How could I not?”

From the array of shoes that Nicole assembled, I selected a pair of what she said were Bruno Magli, black satin “Flaviana” pumps. She also said they had satin uppers, with velvet trim around the opening, a bowtie, and one-inch, satin-covered kitten heels.

“All I know is -- they’re simply darling.” Although I would have really liked to try on all of them.

“Nice choice,” Nicole said. “They’re Italian.” She measured my foot, and then went into a backroom, and found a pair in my size. “You’re lucky to have such a small foot. Let’s get you to the changing room.”

“I don’t know. Picking out clothes is one thing, but. . . .”

“Close your eyes and take a deep breath. You decide, do you want to try on the clothes, or not?”

After I did what she told me to do, I opened my eyes and grinned. The perfume had commanded me to take a walk on the wild side. On the way to the changing room, Nicole found nylon stockings and a shopping bag for my boy clothes. She directed me to change into the thong, and then left the room. Once I was wearing the thong, she proceeded to help me get fully dressed. Ready at last, she allowed me to look in the mirror.

“Do you look sophisticated, crisp, clean, sexy, and feminine?” She asked.

I cast an appraising eye over the image in the mirror. I sucked in my stomach and turned from side to side. “I don’t know. Do you think this blouse makes my waist look thick?”

She laughed. “Welcome to the club.”

Almost pleased with what I saw staring back out of the mirror, I ached for perfection.

Nicole sensed my discontent. “We need to change your image. . .to find the new you. Are you still willing to do what I tell you?”

“So far, so good. Lead on.”

On the way through Fine Jewelry, we found a pearl necklace and matching clip-on pearl-drop earrings.

Nicole took me to the makeover chair by the Revlon cosmetics counter. For the next fifteen minutes, she worked on my face, giving me what she called “the makeover of all times.” She followed with a quick manicure and nail polish to match my lips. When she was satisfied with my look, she took the elastic scrunchie out of my ponytail and allowed my hair to hang down. Working with a pair of scissors, a brush, several clips, and hair spray, she managed to create a style that pleased her. “It flatters your face.”

Not another blush!

“Do you know something, Scott?” she asked, as she danced around my chair checking every angle -- looking for the flawlessness she knew I wanted. “I’ve never had a girlfriend named Cassie. What do you think of that?” She removed the scarf she had used to cover the mirror in front of me while applying the make-up and doing my hair.

I stood up in shock, unable to take my eyes off the new person I had become. “Cassie? Hmmm.” I closed my eyes and took in the essence of my “Blue” perfume — only this time I also felt the fabric and cut of my new clothes, the feel of the cosmetics, the tug of the earrings, and the soft tickle of my hair against my neck. “I’d say you have a girlfriend named ‘Cassie’ for as long as you’ll have me.”

***

I never went back to my underwriter’s desk; instead I took a position with O’Donnell’s as their risk manager.

The next Christmas, O’Donnell’s ran another sale on “Blue.” As a junior executive stationed at the perfume counter I offered a spray to each passing guest. My shimmering long blonde hair, Ann Taylor two-button jacket over a skirt that might have been just a little too short for work, and a sleeveless v-neck sweater. . .topped off by a pleased smile -- spoke to my deep personal satisfaction.

While each customer walked by I chimed, “Would you like to sample Blue by Ralph Lauren? It’s a hypnotic blend of soft florals, with watery freshness to top it off.”

I smiled to myself, knowing that I had told the absolute truth. “Blue” was definitely hypnotic. I was much more careful who I spritzed than a certain someone who had recently given birth to our daughter.

As Cassie, I had transferred my compulsion for being a perfect underwriter to becoming a perfect mate for my perfectly wonderful wife.

Being obsessive in and of itself is not a bad thing. It is only regretful when that compulsion interferes with normal functioning. I had reached the point in my compulsive disorder where I had been in danger of losing my career. By transferring my impulse to something positive I had created a new life overflowing with opportunity.

The End



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