Three excerpts follow . . .
She begged Clay to look at the view. Why wouldn’t he look? A server came by with a bottle of wine. Her concerns for Clay were temporarily interrupted as she watched the man fill their glasses. When he left, she leaned forward and whispered to Clay, “I’m not twenty-one. What if he asks for my ID?”
Clay remained on edge throughout dinner, refusing to enjoy the view of the night sky and the city below. His behavior was baffling. Winn patted his hand, attempted to engage him in conversation, offered tastes of her entrée, but all efforts to comfort him failed. He barely touched his food. When the dessert menu was given to them, he said, “No thanks, the check please.” He signed the bill to his room, and said, “Let’s go.”
Once in the elevator, his color improved. By the time they were at street level, he’d returned to his wonderful self.
“Next stop, The Neon Disco, the hottest spot in Denver. We’ll need to take a taxi.”
In fifteen minutes they were inside the disco, surrounded by multicolor flashing lights and loud, thumping music. The gorgeous, well-dressed people looked more like movie stars than Denver locals. Winn felt twinges of intimidation and was certain she was the one with a greenish-looking face now.
They found a high-top table for two. Clay ordered a Coors for himself and a Coke for Winn. “Do you feel like dancing?” he asked.
She shook her head. “Maybe later,” she lied. “I’m fascinated watching everyone.” The school dances back in Yuma were nothing like this. She’d look like a fool trying to emulate these sophisticated partiers with their slick, high-energy dance steps. Sitting on the barstool was more her speed.
After an hour of people watching, she was ready to leave. Clay was, too. But then the DJ played a slow song, and suddenly she was in Clay’s arms swaying to the music. No fancy steps required. None performed. I may be a plain, small town girl, but right now, I’d lay odds that I am happier than any other woman in this place.
# # #
“What’s on today’s itinerary?”
“Shopping.” He’d be glad when this day was over. He’d never shopped with a woman for clothing before. Never! He felt awkward even before their excursion began.
“What are you shopping for?” she asked, a confused look on her face.
“It seems someone has already shopped for me.” He caught himself before elaborating on his clothing situation. “This is your day to shop for a complete up- town wardrobe.”
“I wouldn’t know were to start, where to go, what to get—”
“No problem. I know exactly where to start. Go throw some clothes on. Anything will do. You won’t be wearing your Yuma clothing after our first stop. You’re a city girl this week, remember?”
By lunchtime they’d visited one boutique shop and one high-end department store. Winn left the first shop wearing tan designer wool slacks matched with a luscious rust-colored sweater that brought out the green in her eyes. Deciding between two silk blouses that looked exactly the same to Clay, she chose a cream-colored one. Their next stop was Nordstrom.
The Christmas windows at Nordstrom were unbelievable. Winn seemed mesmerized by the elaborate decorations. She stared at them until Clay prodded her to enter the store. Christmas music played and a huge Christmas tree rose up in front of her. She craned her neck to see to the top that held the most beautiful gold star, with twinkling lights. She clapped her hands in delight, causing Clay to laugh out loud at her excitement.
Clay paced within close proximity to the dressing room. Each time Winn tried on something, she’d come out, do a pirouette and ask whether he approved. By the time they left the casual wear department, they were carrying huge bags of clothing plus a few things on hangers.
Choosing shoes was next on the agenda. They purchased one pair of flat shoes for walking, a pair of low-heeled boots to look stylish, plus one pair of black leather high-heeled shoes for dress-up.
Clay didn’t know if he’d make it through the day and was relieved when Winn mentioned she had far more clothing than she needed for her week in the city. He wished it were that simple.
“Are we done yet?” Winn asked, worn out.
They’d purchased more than they could carry. Before answering her, Clay took out his cell phone. He’d been given a phone number to call anytime they needed transportation above and beyond the travel mentioned in their itinerary. They didn’t need a ride, but their packages did. Five minutes later, they waved good-bye to the limo driver transporting Winn’s new wardrobe to the hotel.
“To answer your question, we’re not done. We’ve only just begun. Now that your bags are on their way to the hotel, we can grab lunch and continue shopping.” He laughed when he saw her eyes widen with amazement. But he had a job to do and he needed to do it well.
# # #
Continuing their self-guided tour of Denver, they saw a multi-breed, dog rescue group set up at the far end of City Park. Without speaking a word, they veered from the sidewalk toward the dogs. Some dogs slept, others yapped. A few were high-spirited, while others looked forlorn. Clay looked at the dogs longingly. He spoke to each one, telling Winn he’d never had a dog, but always wanted one. Anytime the subject came up, his father was adamant that wasn’t going to happen. Winn’s family fed the feral cats that hung around their home. That seemed to satisfy her family’s slight need for an animal.
They petted several dogs and held a few fluffy puppies. Who could resist a puppy? A woman from the group, named Lala, did her best to convince them to adopt one of the dogs. “A nice couple like you would be perfect parents for one of our dogs. Today, the fees have been lowered so much, these dogs are practically free.” Her green eyes sparkled, her red lips smiled, her whole face glowed.
Winn’s nurturing side wanted to help a dog, but her practical side won out. “I’m from out of state and will fly home in a couple of days. Sorry. There is no way I can take any of these dogs.” Then she looked at Clay. “But this guy can. He lives in the Denver area.” The panicked look on his face put a smile on hers. Hadn’t he just said that he’d always wanted a dog?
Clay struggled with his answer. “Uh, my high-rise apartment is small and I’m never home. It wouldn’t work.” He looked at Winn, then at Lala, as if wanting their approval.
Lala said, “I understand. We’re often here if things change for you.”
Reaching into her bag, Winn removed fifty dollars from her wallet. She hadn’t spent any of the cash provided by The Fantasy Maker. A donation to the dog rescue would feed some dogs and it made her feel good to do something to help. Clay matched her donation.
Satisfied by their actions, they agreed it was time to head back to the hotel. They said their good-byes to the dog rescue staff who thanked them again for their generosity. Before they left the outer edge of the display of homeless animals, they noticed a cage housing one sad-looking black dog with floppy ears. Attached to that cage was a hand-written sign with the words, LAST CHANCE. They were drawn to this lonely creature. There was something special about it. Clay and Winn felt a connection to the dog.
Winn waved and called out, “Lala, what does Last Chance mean?”
# # #