The Red Checkered Dress

Elizabeth purchased the red checkered dress while on a shopping trip in the summer of 1988. She was tired of wearing scrubs and lab coats and wanted to buy something that would signal to the world that she wasn’t just a doctor – she was a woman, too.

Well, it worked. The first time she wore the red checkered dress to run some errands the following weekend in Jasper, it seemed like every man in town turned their head for a second look, and some sneaked a third, much to the consternation of their wives.

That afternoon, she stopped at Red’s auto parts store to bring him a club sandwich from the diner. He smiled his sad smile as he saw his niece and reckoned that she was the prettiest thing to come through the door in at least a year, if not ever. She smiled back at the compliment and was about to reply when the bell above the door rang again.

Brad Wesley and one of his minions strolled in as if they owned the place. Elizabeth supposed they sort of did. “Red,” he nodded at her uncle, then turned his attention to her, his eyes taking in the dress. “Elizabeth,” he greeted warmly. “That’s a lovely dress. Is it new?”

Elizabeth tried to maintain a cool and professional demeanor with Wesley at all times so as not to encourage him, but it never quite seemed to discourage him either. She could feel her uncle’s irritation with Wesley radiating across the counter as she replied. “Thanks, Mr. Wesley. I just picked it up at the J.C. Penney in Kansas City.”

His eyes widened. “All the way up there?” He glanced at his associate, a rumpled looking man who looked like a disbarred lawyer. “It’s a pity that a fine looking woman should have to travel so far to find a dress.” He frowned, then his eyes brightened as he appeared to have an idea. “Let me make some calls,” he decided. “I bet I can interest them in opening a location here.”

Red started to make a sarcastic remark in reply but Elizabeth cut him off, hoping to prevent any further antipathy between the two men. “That’s really not necessary,” she said, trying to sound grateful but not indebted. “It’s nice to get away for the occasional weekend to visit old friends from med school and do a little shopping.”

Wesley waved it away, smiling broadly. “Of course, a woman like you should see the world. You should have whatever you want in life, Elizabeth. But you choose to practise here in Jasper, and speaking on behalf of the town, we appreciate it. Don’t we, Red?”

Her uncle’s expression darkened, but he had to grudgingly agree. “And besides,” Wesley continued, “you represent the kind of young professional people that we want to attract to this town. It’s not always convenient to travel for hours to do your shopping – you ought to be able to find whatever you need right here.” Wesley was no longer looking at her, lost in his vision of the town he would build up, but then he remembered himself and focused his cold blue eyes on hers again. “I guess you could say you’re our target market, Elizabeth” he said with a flourish of his hands. She knew he intended to be charming, but the statement chilled her as she thought of the dozens of firearms and hunting trophies in his home.

Elizabeth muttered an excuse about needing to check on something at the hospital and said goodbye to Red. Wesley tipped his hat to her as she passed and his henchman leered at the neckline of the dress. She climbed into her Jeep and drove home, where she changed into some shorts and a tank top to wear around the house. She put the red checkered dress away, and decided not to wear it again unless it was a special occasion.

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