Saturday, April 19, 2008

Charlotte's Secret by Marc Nobbs

David walked past Charlotte's Secret several times before he plucked up the courage to enter. The lingerie store was supposed to be man-friendly, yet he was apprehensive when he passed over the threshold. The last time he'd bought lingerie was just before his marriage, almost year ago. He got his bride-to-be a wedding-night outfit—an outfit she'd never worn.

The garments in the window were conservative. Simple designs, pastel colours and traditional cuts. David tried not to stare, convinced that the other customers would think he was a deranged knicker-sniffing pervert. He picked up a pair of lacy white French knickers and viewed them from all angles. He tried to imagine how they would look on his wife then put them back on the rack. The garment was part of a costly set by a designer he'd never heard of. The most expensive item was the thong. He picked one up and examined it.

"Can I help you, sir?"

David jumped and turned to face the assistant. Her handwritten name badge read 'Jakki' and she'd drawn a tiny heart above the 'i'. She was young—she might even have been a schoolgirl with a weekend job. She was also attractive—far too attractive if she was a schoolgirl with a weekend job. The top few buttons of her blouse were undone. David assumed a bra they sold in the shop enhanced her cleavage. He forced his gaze upwards. She had pretty eyes too.

"I was just wondering why the price seems to go up as the amount of material used goes down."

Jakki giggled. "No, sir. The thong is expensive because of the diamonds."


Jakki took it from him and turned it over. Five tiny diamonds formed a "T" shape in the centre of the waistband. "They're for wearing with hipsters."

David's brow furrowed. "Sorry, you've lost me."

"Low-slung jeans," she explained. "They sit on your hips and show off your thong. Look…" She turned around and wiggled her bottom. David noticed her thong didn't have any diamonds.

"Oh, I see."

"Were you looking for something in particular, sir? Or just browsing?" She made it sound as if men regularly came into the shop to browse.

"Yes. Actually, I'm here to see Charlotte."

She opened her mouth to answer, but a woman put her hand on her shoulder. "Jakki, there's a lady in cubicle three who needs help squeezing into a corset. Pop along and help her, there's a good girl."

Jakki rolled her eyes and muttered, "Again?" She turned to face the woman. "Can't Ruth do it?"

"Ruth's busy with someone else. Off you pop."

The newcomer smiled at David. She wasn't wearing a name badge. Her long dark brown hair shimmered under the bright spot-lights. Her eyes matched her hair and twinkled when she spoke. She offered her hand. "Long time no see, David."

"It's been a while, Charlie." He shook her hand. She gently pulled him towards her and leaned forward to kiss his cheek.

"It's been too long. Far too long. How have you been?"

"I'm fine. Fine. I like what you've done with this place. I was expecting something a bit more risqué after the newspaper reports. You looked good in the photo, by the way. You know, I can't believe there are people so small-minded as to kick up a fuss about expensive knickers."

"David." She shook her head. "I'm surprised you haven't realised just how small-minded this town can be. How long have you lived here now?"

"Five years, as you well know. Have things calmed down?"

"It took a few weeks, but the busybodies got used to us. Business really picked up after the protests stopped. There's no such thing as bad publicity—isn't that what they say?" Charlotte laughed. Her brown eyes danced. "I heard you had a bit of trouble yourself."

"The break-in?"

Charlotte nodded. "Mother told me about it. It must have been awful, having your home violated like that. Was anything taken?"

"Nothing that can't be replaced. I didn't even bother the insurance company with it."

"Still, I'm sorry it happened. Horrible thing to have to go through. So, are you here to buy Susie something nice? Finally decided to get her out of those god-awful cheap knickers and into something decent?"

"That's unfair, Charlie. Her underwear isn't that bad."

"'Isn't that bad?' I took her to London once to look at some new ranges and I was utterly shocked at what she found sexy." She shook her head. "She has no taste, that girl. Sometimes, I wonder if she really is my sister. Maybe there was a mix-up at the hospital."

"You're more alike than either of you realise."

"Well, I suppose you'd know that better than anyone."

David ignored her remark. "We missed you at the wedding. Both of us. I can understand you not wanting to be Susie's maid of honour, but why didn't you come?"

Charlotte huffed. "Hardly appropriate, was it? The man I loved marring the sister I hated."

"Hate is a strong word, Charlie."

"You didn't grow up with her."

"True, but nevertheless, I've never seen the evil Susie you talk about. She's always been good to me."

"Too good, once. Sorry, I didn't mean that. I don't blame you for what happened, David. I blame her. You were drunk. She wasn't. I trusted her. Although God knows why—guess I was drunk too. You let me down but she betrayed me. Betrayed my trust. Still, it's in the past. You've got your family now. And I have mine."

David couldn't hide his surprise or confusion.

"This place," said Charlotte, gesturing to the shop. "Jakki, Ruth and the other girls that work for me. They're my family."

David shuffled his feet. "Well, er… How's business?"

Charlotte stared into his eyes for a moment, making him feel uncomfortable. She folded an arm under her bust, held her elbow in her hand and tapped her chin with her finger. David tried not to stare at her breasts.

"Oh, you know—steady. We had the usual rush at Christmas and Valentine's. Men can be so unoriginal when it comes to gifts. Still, that's what I'm banking on. This set that you were looking at has been very popular. I guess that's because of who models them."

He thought for a moment. "I knew I'd seen the design somewhere. It's that footballer's wife, isn't it? She's gorgeous."

She nodded. "The footballer is pretty gorgeous too."

"Those adverts leave little to the imagination—especially that one in the cinema."

"Did you know they can only show that ad with '18' certificate films? I always wonder if it's aimed at women or their partners. Anyway, this diamond-studded thong is well worth the money. Susie's got some thongs hasn't she? Cheap ones."

"She has. I don't know. I think thongs are a bit tacky. I prefer something with class, I suppose. The sort of thing you used to wear."

"I still do, sweetie. I still do." She winked.

"Charlie, is there somewhere we could talk in private?"

"Sure. Follow me."