“How much is that one?” She checked the tag on the back of the dress. The third among the prom possibilities.
“I like the purple one,” her daughter said.
“I can hem this one.” She examined the seams. The difference saved would cover the week’s groceries.
People in line for the thrift store changerooms fidgeted impatiently.
Leroy looked at the work shirts he was waiting to try on.
“I’ll try the purple one again.”
“You haven’t tried this one yet.” Her mother draped the last dress over the changeroom door. The tag made it her favorite.
“I don’t really like that one,” her daughter said carefully.
“Try it anyway. You never know until you try.” She ran another mental tally of expenses for the month. There would have to be shoes to go with the dress. She felt a migraine coming on. She went over to the rack of items to be returned to the floor and hesitated before hanging the purple dress. Back at the changerooms she called, “Choose between the red and pink.” She spared her daughter that dreaded last one. “Then we’ll look at shoes, okay?”
Leroy walked to the far wall and hung the work shirts on the same return rack. Then he folded the purple prom dress over his arm.
A few minutes later, he found the mother at the magazine stacks.
“Here.” He held out the shopping bag.
She looked startled.
“For you,” he said. “Both of you.” He nodded in the direction of the changerooms.
She saw the purple fabric. “We don’t need anything,” she said, standing a little straighter.
“I do,” he thought, and waited with his arm outstretched.
She didn’t move.
Leroy noticed the hard lines of her face. Attractive–no doubt about it–but the world hadn’t done her any favors.
“Look,” he said. “You take this. I leave and get a beer. That’s it.”
Her eyes narrowed at this stranger. “Why?”
He shifted his weight. “Balancing the scales.” He shrugged then sighed. “Too little too late but there it is.”
After a moment she slowly took the bag.
He turned and strode out of the store.
She blinked back tears as she headed for the changerooms.
Leroy lit his emergency cigarette and unrolled his truck window. “Damned things always sting my eyes.”