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Article: EXCLUSIVE! The Lucky Black Dress by Jane Costello

EXCLUSIVE! The Lucky Black Dress by Jane Costello
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EXCLUSIVE! The Lucky Black Dress by Jane Costello

As part of our wonderful partnership with bestselling author Jane Costello, but Jane has written Team LBD an exclusive short story about one woman, and her lucky little black dress. Take it away Jane...

My mother means well. That's what I remind myself on those occasions when she does something I haven't asked for, don't want and end up spending an inordinate amount of time trying to fix.

‘I was only trying to help!' she hoots, running her fingertip over my kitchen worktop before peering at, then grabbing a dishcloth to annihilate a non-existent blemish. ‘I know,' I say, trying to keep my voice level. ‘But you can't dry clean that dress.' ‘It looked like you could,' she huffs, turning to the dust on my windowsill with forensic attention to detail. ‘I have several little black dresses and they can all be dry cleaned.' ‘I know. But this one can't.' I remove the cloth from her hand and chuck it defiantly in the sink. ‘I'm sure you can't be right.' I grit my teeth. ‘I am right.' ‘You can dry clean most things.' ‘Not this.' ‘I'm sure you're wrong.' ‘Nope.' She purses her lips. ‘I'd be very surprised.' ‘Well, you'd better sit down then because I'm about to shock you. IT. CANNOT. BE. DRY. CLEANED.' My sentence is delivered like an exploding fire hydrant, unable to take any more pressure. She sniffs and focuses her gaze on me. I suddenly feel twelve again. ‘Satire is the lowest form of wit, Imogen.' I frown. ‘You mean sarcasm, Mum.' ‘Oh, and you weren't being sarcastic?' I decide to end this conversation before my head heats up so much it ignites my eyebrows. ‘Mum, it's lovely that you tried to help – and thank you. But you don't need to come in here, clean up and take my clothes to the dry cleaners.' ‘Because I've supposedly ruined your dress?' ‘Look, it's not a problem,' I lie. Because it is really. It is a veritable Rubik's Cube of problems. First, there's the fact that I've asked her not to let herself in my flat when I'm not here – but after giving her a key to water the plants while I was in the Greek Islands, the temptation to break and enter is apparently overwhelming. Then, there's the fact that I've asked her not to re-organise, de-clutter or clean the place – when I'm here or otherwise – but she still finds it impossible to step in the door without blasting everything so enthusiastically with Cif so it looks like Val d'Isere after a heavy snowfall. I'm largely resigned to these issues – but my dress is a different matter. My Lucky Black Dress. Whose fate I can only imagine. I fell in love with the dress the moment I saw it and, although it wasn't expensive, it looks it. It's everything a little black dress should be – flattering, stylish, perfect for every occasion; hell, it's even practical, with a little pocket in the side. It became lucky when I attended the regional Law Society Awards and, despite my conviction that I was about as likely to win something there as Ronnie Biggs, I ended up scooping Young Lawyer of the Year. Its soubriquet was cemented on the night I was mistaken for someone in Hollyoaks and made it into a VIP section of a bar, then got home to discover I'd won ¬£67 on the lottery. But it was only this weekend that it felt truly deserving of the term. That, of course, was before I found out it might have been shredded by a dry cleaning machine. ‘How about you just give me the ticket so I can go and rescue it?' ‘Of course!' She stands there, not moving. ‘It's at home.' My blood pressure rises several notches. ‘Let's go and get it then. In the meantime I'll phone the dry cleaners. Which one was it?' ‘That one on Allerton Road.' She looks at her watch. ‘You'd better be quick. They shut at six.' ‘Should be plenty of time.' My confidence disintegrates after my sixth phone call to the dry cleaners goes unanswered. ‘I'm sure you're fussing over nothing,' Mum mutters as I usher her into the passenger seat of my car. ‘I have several little black dresses and—' ‘You can dry clean all of them – yes, I know. Humour me, Mum. This one's different.' She breathes in skeptically. It's a long, drawn-out breath, like the Dyson when it gets caught on the curtains. Ideally, I'd get the ticket first, but with so little time, my immediate priority is getting to the dry cleaners before disaster strikes. I know at this point I'm supposed to drive like the Dukes of Hazzard, whizzing through traffic lights and darting between other cars. But speed and I are not what you'd call friends. We haven't been for a while. Not since the accident. Since then, my driving can only be compared with that of a partially sighted pensioner, leaning forward at an excruciating angle as I grip the steering wheel neurotically. I wasn't always like this. I drove like everyone else does before 29 June, 2008 – the day the love of my life was sitting in the passenger seat of my car one minute and being crushed to death by a stolen 4x4 the next. He died instantly. The fact that I survived with only a couple of broken bones and ugly (but temporary) bruising gave me no comfort at the time, and hasn't since.... There hasn't been a man in my life since James, despite the efforts of friends, family and colleagues to force me into the arms of another, to ‘get myself back on my feet'. At first, I didn't want to get back on my feet. I only wanted James, and he wasn't coming back. I can't remember when things changed exactly, except to say that at some point last year, an awareness started growing in me. I realized I was lonely. It wasn't that I was ever by myself; far from it – I'm rarely not surrounded by people, whether at work or with friends and family. But I was still alone. So I opened myself up to a possibility. One day, there might be someone else. Not a replacement for James – that would be impossible. But someone I could laugh with, share my life with. Someone (unlikely as it seemed) that I could love. That was the theory. It sounded simple enough. Only, having been on an interminable number of blind dates, set-ups by friends and having spent three months on a dating website emailing people who struggled to spell their own name, I learnt that it was far from simple. So, with nine years having passed since the last time I gave a guy my number, I resigned myself to being alone again. Which really isn't that bad, by the way. ‘You'll never get parked near here,' Mum says, ever the optimist. ‘It's three minutes to six. You're just never going to make this happen, Imogen. Besides, I've got plenty of little black dresses and all of them can be . . .' I internally soundproof my head from the shrill of her voice and slow the car down outside the shop. Someone behind beeps impatiently, making my heart skip and my foot slam on the gas. ‘Maybe you could leap out,' I suggest, panicking. ‘Who'd you think I am? Indiana Jones?' she shrieks. ‘I meant I'll stop first,' I hiss. Only, I can kind of see what she means – the traffic is nose-to-nose and there really isn't anywhere to pull in. ‘THERE!' she yells, out of nowhere, and – as well as nearly jumping out of my skin – I spin the steering wheel so the car darts down a side street. ‘Get your flashy things on!' she instructs, presumably not referring to a sparkly pair of heels and a gold dress. I yank up the handbrake and turn on the hazard lights. I just might get away with this. ‘I'll be a minute. Wait here,' I tell her, leaping out and sprinting round the corner in the direction of the dry cleaners. I run as fast as I can, weaving through pedestrians as the events of last night flash through my brain. When Nick first introduced himself, I was convinced he'd be the same as every other pick-up artist I'd encountered in the last couple of years. Too sure of his own attractiveness, too confident of success. He turned out to be different. Funny but self-deprecating. Good-looking but apparently unaware of it. He made me smile. Actually, he made me laugh. And for the first time in as long as I can remember I found myself gazing into those animated blue eyes and longing for him to ask me out. If only I'd been bold enough to take matters into my own hands and give him my number. I arrive at the dry cleaners, breathless and perspiring, at the exact moment that the ‘Closed' sign is turned around. ‘STOP!' The middle-aged woman behind the glass glares at me, wide-eyed, as if trying to work out if I'm armed. ‘Sorry! Can you open up a minute?' I plead. ‘It's an emergency.' She frowns, hesitates, then reluctantly opens the door a couple of inches. ‘I'm sorry – I know you're trying to close. But my mum brought a dress in this afternoon and it can't be dry cleaned.' ‘Have you got the ticket?' ‘Erm . . . no.' ‘I can't find it now without a ticket. The system won't let me.' ‘How about if I give you her name and address? Mum says she gave it to you when you took the dress.' ‘We do that as back-up but I'd have to turn the system on again to do that. And I can't do that. That's not how the system works.' She says ‘the system' as if referring to some omnipotent sci-fi-style demigod. ‘Please? I'll pay extra. It's really important. It's not just that the dress can't be dry cleaned – it's something else. I really need to get my hands on it so that—' ‘Come in,' she tuts, opening the door. She spends the next ten minutes huffing and puffing about the system – and given that it takes that entire time to fire up her computer, which appears to be gas-powered, I can understand her frustration. She finally locates the relevant reference number, before scribbling it on a piece of paper and heading into the back – as the door bursts open. Mum is in what you might call a heightened state of disquiet. ‘Imogen! I've just experienced two consecutive road-rage incidents and been threatened with a washing-up bowl. WILL YOU HURRY UP!' ‘I'll be one minute.' ‘That's one minute too long! COME ON!' She storms out of the shop, leaving the bell to chime like it's been detonated by a nuclear warhead. The wait continues. And continues. When the shop assistant finally reappears, she looks uncomfortable. ‘I'm sorry about this – I can't find a label on your dress that says ‘Do Not Dry Clean'. We always check, but there's nothing here. So we dry cleaned it.' My mouth drops. She's hardly to blame – I cut the label off myself after it had been scratching the back of my neck. ‘The damage could be worse but I'm afraid . . . it doesn't look like it should.' She holds out the hem anxiously and shows me a section where the fabric has puckered. ‘It's fine,' I reassure her, thrusting a ten pound note in her direction. ‘Honestly. Thanks for letting me in after you'd closed.' I grab the dress, ignoring the damaged hem, and turn it over to feel in the pocket. The paper is still there, but whether the ink will have survived is another question. ‘Is everything all right?' My heartbeat triples in speed as I open the note. And I smile. In fact I almost cartwheel across the shop. ‘NICK – 07743576233. Give me a call, Imogen – you'd make my day! Xxx' ‘Everything's great,' I say. Then I tuck the note into the safety of my purse and step into the street with my dress in my arms. This LBD may have a puckered hem. But it's still lucky. Let us know what you thought of Jane Costello's exclusive story for Team LBD on our Facebook page here.

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