THE DRESS (STORY)
“It’s not as if Sheila will ever find out,” thought Tom, as he drove their 4 x 4 gingerly down the muddy track that led out of the farm one day in September. “Every marriage has its secrets. And it’s not as if she ever even asks about the seed-buying trips,” he reassured himself.
Tom remembered overhearing Sheila on the phone to her sister the day after he’d announced his decision to switch from dairy to arable farming.
“But, of course, Tom’s been going to seed for years,” she’d giggled down the phone, only to straighten up suddenly when Tom had entered the room.
But he had been proved right in the long run. Thanks to a huge contract for his organic produce with a large supermarket chain, the farm had managed to turn itself around and was actually running quite nicely now compared to those of some of his former dairy farmer colleagues.
So when old Jack at the pub had asked if he wanted in on a share in a racehorse, he didn’t think twice. “Best not tell the old gal,” he said to Jack, “She’ll only raise some objection or other.”
And so it was agreed, the papers were secretly drawn up and Tom found himself co-owner of Silver Star, a charming grey horse from an excellent lineage. “Don’t let us down,” whispered Tom that first race day, stroking the white blazon of his horse’s nose.
And Silver Star must have listened because a few meetings later, he started living up to his name, coming in second in several races at Newmarket and even first on one glorious occasion. Tom was delighted to find his new investment so lucrative and started thinking of ways of how to spend the money……
Sheila, he knew, would have had the winnings off him straightaway, She was always jabbering on about wanting some fancy new gadget for the kitchen, or flowery curtains for the guest bedroom or some such frivolity.
But Tom had plans for that money. Very different plans indeed …….
Not many people would have had Tom Hastings down as a patron of the arts. There was never really enough time or money for luxuries like classical music, opera and theatre. Especially with working such long hours on the farm all those years.
So it was a great surprise when Tom suddenly announced his desire to be on the committee of the local amateur dramatic society.
“You, Tom, getting involved with am-dram?” Sheila had laughed.
But Tom was insistent. “Be nice to put something back into the community,” he had responded tersely. And that was that.
Of course, it could have had something to do with the announcement of the new honorary patron of the society, the well-known actress Sophie Walsh.
Sophie, whose career, legs and long blonde hair Tom had admired on TV for years, had often appeared in programmes ranging from historical dramas to situation comedies. Recently she had even been seen appearing as a contestant in the TV show Dancing Shoes where celebrities battled it out to learn a new dance with a professional dance partner and win votes from the television viewers.
And if Sophie hadn’t actually won the contest, it had surely been no fault of Tom’s. Following her progress keenly every week, while Sheila was out at her sculpture class, Tom had racked up an expensive phone bill voting for her.
It was true. Tom couldn’t take his eyes off Sophie when she appeared on the show. He took in every detail: the way she walked, the way she carried herself, her figure, her long legs and those outfits. Week after week saw her wearing a range of stunning ballgowns in a variety of glorious shades: blazing red, bright fuchsia, burnt orange …..
So no wonder, that as soon as he read the announcement in the evening paper that Sophie, who apparently had grown up in Woodbridge, had accepted the role of patron at the Woodbridge Amateur Dramatic Society (WADS), Tom immediately started looking for ways to become involved.
And it was not too long before a cheque for a sizeable donation was handed in to WADS one morning, followed by an invitation for a certain gentleman farmer to join their committee……
And Sophie had delighted Tom as much at the meetings as she did on the screen. She was charming and friendly and only too happy to answer any questions he had about the TV dance show. Her only regret was that the series had now finished and they hadn’t even let her keep any of the dresses …………..
“Ah,” sympathised Tom at a dress rehearsal of the WADS’ forthcoming production of “The Boyfriend.” “My favourite one was when you wore that long flowing pink dress with the sequins when you danced the foxtrot. That was breathtaking.”
“Ah, yes,” said Sophie, “It was exquisite. It actually came from a little dress shop in Bury St Edmonds. Very exclusive. It quite broke my heart to give it back.”
Tom paused and mentally totted up his accruing racehorse winnings. Silver Star was having a good season and Bury was only an hour away. ….
“Fancy a trip to Bury?” Tom said suddenly. “I have some business to attend to over that way and it would be great to have you along for the ride.”
Sophie turned up for the day out looking every inch a star with her cream two-piece suit with matching stilettoes. She couldn’t help but draw admiring glances from the fellow diners at the Angel Hotel where they stopped for a pub lunch.
Afterwards, they headed for the Cornhill shopping area and turned down a tiny, crooked lane into a small boutique called the Stars ‘n’ Bows.
Madame Clara, a tall, slim, auburn-haired woman who managed the shop made a huge fuss of Sophie as soon as the pair walked in. “Ah yes, you wore this dress so beautifully on the show,” she reminisced, fingering the flowing pastel pink dress. You really dazzled the judges that night. I have another dress that’s just come in from the same designer. Let me just get it for you to have a look at”
She returned beaming, carrying a long, glittering, silver satin ballgown. It had long sleeves, a plunging neckline, a decorative fantail and was set off by a sparkling, sapphire rhinestone necklace.
While Sophie gazed lovingly at the dress, Tom took a discreet glance at the price tag, looked at Madame Clara and cleared his throat. “About the dress, it’s quite a sum. I was just wondering …..”
Sophie looked at him wide-eyed.
“I’m sure we could come to some arrangement,” Madame Clara soothed. “In the meantime, perhaps I could show you to the changing room.”
Tom looked enquiringly at Sophie. She lowered her eyes and nodded. Carefully carrying the dress, Tom followed her nervously along the narrow corridor to the back of the shop.
Madame Clara led the way to the small curtained off area and waited expectantly.
“Do you know it really does suit you?” she said, a few minutes later. “The rhinestones really bring out the blue in your eyes. And as for the tiara…..”
Sophie smiled and nodded shyly.
“There’s just one thing,” whispered Madame Clara to Tom at last, “I think it might just look better on you without the gumboots.”