It was only the second shoe shop, and already he was complaining.
“I don’t understand what was wrong with the last ones.”
“They were the wrong size.”
“I could wear extra socks.”
“The wedding is on top of a very large hill. Are you telling me you would make a twenty-minute walk, in a suit, in January, in shoes that don’t fit?”
He pouted and started playing with a shoehorn on the counter. He muttered to himself “I could have. At least I’d be home by now.”
Chelsea sighed and grit her teeth, trying to ignore him and catch the eye of the saleswoman. She suceeeded.
“Hi, I’m Tanya, how can I help you today?”
Chelsea could feel James checked out the girl from behind her. He thought he was subtle. He never was. She smiled a little too broadly.
“Hi, Tanya! This is James. He needs some new shoes for a wedding. Preferably in his size.”
James shook his head at her condescending introduction.
“James. Nice to meet you, Tanya. Ignore her, she hates shopping.”
Chelsea punched him and he chuckled.
Tanya was confused, but kept smiling and nodding.
“Ok! Well, what type of shoes are you looking at today?”
“It’s a gray suit, I’m wearing it with an aqua shirt and a white tie, so I want something to match – perhaps a white lace-up?”
“Oh, I’ve got the perfect thing. What size?”
“Give me a moment.” She raced out to the back.
Chelsea stared at him. “I thought you were going with the light gray shirt and black tie.”
James smiled. “Yeah, but that’s just so… drab.”
“I thought we’d talked about this? You’re not a seventeen-year-old going to the races for the first time, you’re an adult, and you should dress like an adult. It is my sister’s wedding.”
“Oh, come on, babe, it’ll be great. I’ll look great, your mum will fall in love with me, the whole family will love me.”
“Unlike the engagement?”
“You said you wouldn’t bring that up.”
“Fine. Get black shoes.”
“It won’t suit my shirt!”
“The bridesmaids are in aqua.”
Chelsea rolled her eyes.
“So? So you can’t be in aqua. You’ll look like an idiot. And Meagan will kill me if you match her bridesmaids.”
“Fine. I’ll wear the pink shirt.”
“I can’t believe we’re talking about this again.”
“Babe. Relax. It will be fine!”
“Fine? What part of this will be fine? I’m wearing an orange dress, if you turn up in pink, we’ll look awful together. Look, just get black shoes, and wear the gray shirt and the black tie, just for this one thing, and then you can wear whatever else whenever you want. I promise. Please.”
Tanya saved the moment by returning with a pair of long, pointy, white lace-up shoes made of very, very shiny white vinyl. “These are next seasons, haven’t even been put on the shelf yet, everyone’s talking about them. Here, try them on!”
James and Chelsea looked at each other, the ridiculousness of the shoes bringing a private, shared smile to their eyes.
“Go on, honey. Try them on.”
James shook his head as he sat to swap his shoes for the white creations. He was wearing his skinny black jeans, with his underpanted bum hanging over the top, a retro-Cheap Trick t-shirt under an un-zipped black hoodie. He stood, and walked up and down in the shoes. “What do you think, honey?”
“Hmmm… I think they may be a little too good. Like, it may really take away from the bride and groom.”
“Perhaps… how much are they?”
Tanya looked at the end of the shoebox. “Well, like I say, they are new season. They’re $299.”
Chelsea coughed loudly. James stood still for a moment, and then gingerly stepped back to the seat. “I’m going to have to say no for the moment.”
Tanya looked disappointed.
“Can I interested you in something else, perhaps?”
Chelsea looked around the store. She spotted the end-of-season table. “Do you have those in all sizes?”
Tanya looked at the table and sneered. “Just what is there. There’s not really a range of sizes because they’re from last season.
James looked up awkwardly. “Um, excuse me… I seem to be having some trouble getting this shoelace untied.”
Tanya looked at him, rolled her eyes and knelt on the floor in front of him. She started to pick at the knot. Chelsea looked through the shoes on the table. She held a pair to James.
“What do you think?”
He looked at them and shook his head. She held up another. He shook his head again. His phone rang. He looked at the screen – it was Rob, Chelsea’s sister’s fiancé. He and James played football together, and Rob had little time for James. James looked at Tanya, still struggling with the lace. “Do you mind?”
She looked up, annoyed. “No, it’s fine.”
James flicked open the phone. “Gudday mate.”
“Hi James. Are you with Chels?”
James nodded into the phone, and looked up. Chelsea had just answered her phone.
“Well, are you?”
“Did she just get a phone call?”
“Yep. Wha… how did you… what’s going on?”
“Right. It’s probably B.” B was Chelsea’s other sister. “Look, mate, here’s the low-down. B just found out that Felix was cheating on her.”
“What, did you know something?”
“Nah! I thought he was straight-up, a good guy.”
Jason looked up. Chelsea was looking shocked. She pointed to the phone and to the door, Jason nodded. She left.
“Yeah, well we all did. Six years they’ve been together, and it turns out this isn’t the first time either.”
“I’ve got to get a promise from you, mate.”
“I’d never do that!”
“You’d bloody better not, but that wasn’t what I’m talking about. No, it’s about the wedding.”
Tanya triumphantly got the knot undone. She picked up the shoes and looked at James. He put his hand over the mouthpiece and whispered, “I’m sorry, I just need a minute.” She nodded and took the shoes away.
“Look, this is going to be really tough. It’s only a fortnight away; it’s going to be really hard. But, we can’t afford to postpone it, and so we’re just going to have to get through.”
“Right… so, what? You want me to…?”
“Be normal. Don’t be a wanker. Don’t upset Chels, don’t upset B, don’t upset their mother or father and, most of all, don’t upset Meagan.”
“What? As if I would…?”
“Do I need to remind you of the engagement party? The drunkenness, the speech, the vomit, the…”
“Ok, ok. I’d rather forget that. I’ll be perfect.”
“And don’t upset anyone before the wedding either. If you are thirsty, drink water. If you want to say something, think it three times in your head first.”
“ALL RIGHT, mate. I get the picture. I’ve stuffed up before, I won’t stuff up again.”
There was a pause.
“Good. I’m glad we’re clear. Now, can you get Chels to B’s as soon as possible? “
“Thanks, James. I know you can do it.”
James got off the phone, pissed being treated like a child. He’d show Rob. The wanker. He pulled on his shoes and stood to leave, then spotted Chelsea. She was sitting on one of the shopping centre benches, listening intently to the phone, tears streaming down her face. He paused for a moment, and then grabbed a pair of black lace-ups from the end-of-season table.