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"James! James! You got a letter!" Shelle bounded through the house happily, clutching an envelope in her hand. Her foot was healing nicely, but she still needed the crutches sometimes, though now she was hopping about nimbly without them. "James! It came by special post!"

"Hold on a sec!" James emerged from the bathroom at the top of the stairs garbed in a bathrobe with shaving cream on his face. Shelle giggled. She placed the letter on the counter and went up to her room. When she came back down to the kitchen and living room, she was holding a lot of papers, which she spread out all over the counter, hiding the letter. She sat down and wrote some things on the papers. They were some of her stories and she was correcting, adding things, and editing them. When James finally came out, clean-shaven with the bathrobe still on, he was rubbing his wet head with a towel.

"Where's the letter?" he asked the starry-eyed young writer.

"Right here!" Shelle picked up a piece of paper, but when James reached out for it, she happened to take a quick glance at it and hid it, blushing. On that paper was a humorous made-up little tale about James and his sheep and horses and the rude lady photographer they'd met.

He looked at her, amused, as she tore through all her papers. She threw them everywhere until the letter was uncovered and then she handed it to James jokingly proud.

He tore it open and read it, his face turning sober, though his eyes still danced, and then said quietly:
"I forgot about this. Shelle, today we are going to London. I'm going to get my suit cleaned. There's something going on tomorrow that I need to be at, but I'm not going to leave you here alone. Get ready and pick up your papers."

He stalked off to the bathroom and she could hear the blow dryer. She picked up the letter he had dropped and read it.

"Dear Sir James Mac (the Queen had knighted him one year ago almost exactly),
This is just a reminder. Your presence is requested at the Banqueting Hall
on Baker Street. It is very important that you attend. You may bring a guest.
Tomorrow, at seven o' clock.

American/British Cancer Association

Shelle folded it and put it on the counter, thinking, Not much of a letter. I can write better. Whoa, girl, watch yourself. Don't get big-headed now.

She picked up all of her papers and went to her room and readied herself to go to London. She was dressed very nicely in a red-wine-coloured "soft corduroy" jacket in peacoat-style with new dark blue jeans on with a smart brown belt across her middle. She wore rather scruffy black shoes, but they were decent enough.
James came out wearing a tan suit-jacket and a small-checked blue and white shirt with the top couple buttons undone like in his younger days. He wore brown shoes, a little like Shelle's. He took a look at Shelle's shoes and then at her lovely face and nice clothes. He smiled and went through a cupboard and found her some shoe-polish. She grinned sheepishly and set about to fix her shoes. When she was finished, he held the front door open for her and they drove off to London. They parked in front of a store and James stood, almost stiffly, observing it.

"It's a black-tie affair," he said in Shelle's ear as he joined her.

"So what?" Shelle replied.

James suddenly smiled at her and took her arm.

"James," Shelle started, "where are we going?"

James led her into the shop, full of gowns and fancy dinner-party clothes. Mostly for women. Shelle understood James's stiffness now. He wasn't actually stiff, no, no; he was just extremely uncomfortable.
Shelle's eyes took in the rich atmosphere. Oh, here was a place to describe! The air of the place oozed with expense, but the place-imitation candle-lamps were bright, the carpet was softly worn, decorations of plant and wreath hung everywhere with graceful ease. Shelle felt like curling up under one of the lamps to dream. She told James all of this in a quick glance and he nodded.

"But-" she said after mulling over the coziness of the place, "-James? You're not going to buy me a-"
James smiled lovingly at her. Really, he had become quite fond of the child.

"Yes, love, I'm going to get you a dress. You haven't got one with you, so..."

Shelle hugged him tightly. "I love you, James," she said in his clothes, voice muffled.

James held the form, ruffling her hair. He hadn't known before how much Shelle meant to him. He had known he had liked her very much, but love?

He did.

He loved this child.

"I love you too, you know that," he told her softly. She nodded, her face still buried in the folds of his shirt.

"James-James-I'm going home soon-come with me-please-I can't just go-I need you-" Vaguely, Shelle wondered how all of this had come out. But she didn't care. Now he knew.

"Shhh, shhh," he soothed her. "I'll come. I'll go with you."

Tears threatened to appear, but Shelle brushed them away and took James's hand.

They looked at all the different dresses, making humorous observations about them to each other. James burst out in laughter more than once at Shelle's descriptions of a couple gaudy dresses. Shelle was shining-eyed and red-cheeked with mirth and pranced around the store with a grinning James.

And then she saw it.

The dress of her dreams.

The dress she'd always dreamed about. The dress she always drew.

It was a very soft purple; so soft that there seemed to be a hint of blue in it. The collar was straight, meeting two medium-sized straps with rhinestone-studded star buckles. Shelle's hand flew to her hair. The buckles looked exactly like her star pins! At the waist of the dress was another star pin, exactly in the middle, holding two long, flowing, see-through, gauzy ribbons that fell to the hem. They were just a little darker than the dress, but not noticeably. The back of the dress had another star pin/buckle at the exact same place on the waist as in the front. This time, though, it held no ribbon. Instead, it sat at the peak of a wide middle slit in the dress. The slit allowed the skirt to be full, but also, the slit was covered with the same fine material as used for the ribbons, making a little train, layered and silken.

James saw her eyes light up when she saw the dress and he was pleased. That drawing of a dress he'd taken from her things when he collected the laundry was pinned to the hanger. He'd secretly gotten it done for her, as a gift. It was a strange coincidence that she'd actually get to use it.

Shelle saw the paper and had it in her hand in an instant. Frankly, she didn't know whether to be mad or glad. He'd gone through her things! How else would he have known about her dream dress? He'd read...Oh, God, she thought, he read the Account! But then she remembered being in the attic and going through his things. Hot shame rushed over her. This is what I get, she was thinking. Why shouldn't he read my things? I deserved it. The Account...what's he going to say about that? What do I do now?

She was happy about the dress, but her writing? Her secret papers alien eyes. She shuddered. He wasn't someone else! He was a part of her now and...well...she shrugged inwardly. What did it matter? He was family and the Account wasn't so private anyway. But she still squirmed at the thought of him mentioning it.

James felt her discomfort and knelt down and took her hand.

"Shelle," he began earnestly, looking into her face, "I'm sorry I went through your things. You're right, I read the Account, but there's nothing wrong with it. I thought it...beautiful. I saw the drawing and I thought I'd like to get your dress made for you. A know."

He was right. She did know. And she wasn't mad anymore. In fact, she hadn't been mad to begin with!...just confused.

She bobbed her head to James and kissed him appreciatively on the cheek. She then took the dress off the hanger, ran off to a dressing room and waltzed out a few minutes later, beaming with pride and happiness.

"Oh, Shelle," James breathed, "you look fabulous!"

"Do I? Vell, vell, Mither Mac, I think I look right pretty, if it ain't conceited to say so!" She swept a low bow. He laughed.

She came out again, dressed in her red-wine-coloured jacket and newly-polished, slightly-worn black shoes. She had obviously fixed her hair in there because now it was pinned with stars on either side of her head. She held the silken dream in her hands and walked with James to the cashier. He paid for it and they walked out, the dress tucked away safely in a dry-cleaning bag.

They rode down the street to the cleaners, people staring into the car as the pair sped by, surprised to see James-and with a young girl, at that. The press couldn't identify her except for one lady reporter on the most unreliable paper in London who said the girl was James's niece. James's niece? Believable, but the public suspected more to the "niece story."

James parked and pulled his suit out of the car. It was his dark Tommy Nutter suit, Shelle noticed. It was very famous, having been worn by James on the last album of his first band. He went in and got them to clean for him in an hour. Shelle passed the time sleeping in the car. He finally got back in with the newly-cleaned suit and they drove off "for a bite."

"Let's try Parkes on Beauchamp Place," James said on impulse. "I think you'll like it."

"Sure," replied Shelle, only half-paying attention as she watched, with big eyes, the people gathering on the curbs, lining the streets. Flashbulbs went off. She couldn't help herself. Giddy and happy because of the dress and spending a day "about the town" with James triggered something within her. She was grinning and laughing at all the people just stupidly gawking. She rolled down the window and stuck her head out and yelled, "Hello, ev'rybody!"

James was cracking up on the other side of her as she grinned for all the cameras as they whizzed by. The next day, James purchased every paper with Shelle's picture on it and brought them to her, making her laugh anew.

They arrived at Parkes, effectively ditching the fans, both young and old, and the pestering photographers behind in their wake.

Shelle observed the place. There were about five tables, decorated with bent-back flowers on the plates, and they were all full.

James didn't even blink. He stuck his head in the kitchen and started yelling, "Tim! Tim!"

"Well, blow me down! If that isn't James Mac, then I'm Santee Claus!" came a friendly voice. "I'll get your usual table, don't you worry. Just have a seat."

James turned to Shelle and smiled.

Within a few minutes, the people occupying the table by the kitchen decamped and the table was cleaned and reset. James seated Shelle and then sat down himself. The mysterious Tim, owner of the restaurant, waited on them. After they ordered, James and Tim chatted briefly and then the attention was back on Shelle.

"And who's this lovely girl?" Tim asked, not being nosy, just mildly curious.

"Shelle Stanley." She extended her hand. "I'm James's second-cousin."

"But she calls me Uncle and I refer to her as my niece," James added.

"Pleased to meet you, Miss. My name's Tim Jensen." They shook hands again. He disappeared into the kitchen.

"A week and two days left. Are you excited to go home?" James started the conversation.

"Yeah. I miss my family and my friends. I miss just being home. And even though my parents will probably yell at me when they find out where I've been, I'm ready to walk into it. I love them." Shelle looked thoughtful. "Though I'll miss you, James. I really will. I love you and you're a part of my family now. I wish I could be with you still. I've had a wonderful time and I know you've had one, too."

"You've helped me beyond words, Shelle," James replied softly, eyes moist.

"And you've helped me, though I can't explain it. I don't think Allen Peters needs to come back, either. We know about the two gifts and lineage, and that's fine."

"I'll call him and check if he's got anything, just in case."

The food came at that moment. They ate and talked about life, school, work, Shelle's life at home and James's younger days when he hit it big with his band.

They left, full and satisfied. Content with life-except for the wistful wish for Lindy to be there. The pain thumped in both their hearts-just one quick painful beat. And then they got back in and drove back to Sussex, the radio on, happening to play a couple of James's songs.

Shelle turned to James and sang:

"Give me your hand
I'd like to shake it.
I want to show you I'm your friend."
She took his hand in hers and shook it.

© Lissa Michelle Supler

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