The next morning Gabriel stared at the money, feeling slightly sick. He couldn’t decide whether it was nerves or the three beers and scotch and soda his dad had forced him to drink, In the end he concluded it was a tie.
It was 8.30 am and his plan was to get to Crease when it opened, in the hope that none of his classmates would be up that early. They all seemed to hang out at the Queens Center Mall, which is precisely why Gabriel never went there. He stood and looked in his full length mirror, trying to make a judgement on whether he looked normal or like an alien trying to disguise himself as normal. His first instinct had been jeans and a tshirt, but the only jeans he owned were about three inches too short and were much too tight around the crotch, making him look like a pervert. He finally opted for the black pants he had been bought for his grandmother’s funeral six months ago, and the only normal piece of clothing he had, a blue check shirt which he had borrowed from Naz’s brother one time and never got round to giving back. His coat was much too embarrassing to wear to the mall so he just pulled on a blue sweater.
He took one last glance in the mirror, trying to ignore the ever present brogues. He looked okay and okay was good enough for Wes’s sister to see. After all, he was there to get new clothes, right? He could always lie and say it was a wash day. He folded the money and the flyer into his wallet and took a deep breath.
His dad was already up making eggs, and wandering over to the kitchen table intermittently to read the paper in between shakes of the frying pan. “Hey, you’re not going out without breakfast are you?” He said as he caught Gabriel darting to the door.
“Gotta run Dad, I’ll eat there. Back by lunch!” he called back over his shoulder as he stepped out into the hallway and pulled the apartment door behind him. Martin Gray smiled to himself as he went back to his eggs.
It was close to nine when Gabriel got to the mall and there were a few people around but they were thankfully not teenagers. He sought out the store map and found Crease on the second floor. Propelled by curiosity and just a little excitement he jogged up the escalator, seeing phantom classmates everywhere and trying to look nonchalant.
He stood in front of the huge plate glass window, trying to look inside past the empty gold picture frames which were hung on wires alongside the shop window dummies. There were no customers in the store, clearly its clientele were still sleeping off last night’s parties, but there was someone moving around behind the cash register. He pushed the door open and tried to move out of sight of the register before anyone saw him.
The interior of the store was light and spacious. On top of the floor-racks were stacked strange artefacts, one just had a pile of vintage tin lunchboxes, another had what looked like gold-sprayed car parts. There were mirrors and spotlights everywhere, the polished wood floor bounced the light around making every surface shine. Gabriel stood in what he thought was a blind spot for the register, by a rack of shirts which all looked the same. He turned 360 degrees, baffled at what he saw before him. It dawned on him that he couldn’t just buy things he thought looked okay. This had to be an outfit. Even the word sounded foreign to him.
He picked up two black shirts and tried to work out the differences between them. One had ‘Vinyl Slut’ embroidered on the sleeve and the other had epaulettes. Neither of them particularly appealed. He replaced them and sighed heavily.
“Can I help you with something?”
Gabriel jumped a little and turned to the source of a warm English accent.
“I er..” Gabriel blinked as he saw the shop assistant, wide eyed and expectant. He had skin just a shade lighter than Naz’s, framed with shining black curls which were held back with a thin elastic alice band. His fine bone structure made him look like he might have stepped off the cover of a magazine and Gabriel couldn’t help but stare at him.
“Do you like those?” The man nodded towards the black shirts.
“Erm, yes, they’re erm….” Gabriel gave up. What was the point in lying about it? He was out of his depth already and he’d only been in the store five minutes. “Actually, no I don’t.” He looked apologetic and felt the heat rising to his cheeks.
“No, they’re hideous aren’t they? You clearly have an eye. Did you have anything in mind?”
Gabriel averted his gaze, aware that was just going to keep staring at this gorgeous creature until he threw him out or called the police. He knew he liked men, had known for a long time, but he had never felt his heart pound like this. “I have to go to a party and I guess I need er, an outfit?” He felt as uncomfortable as if he’d just asked for condoms or pantyshields.
The assistant smiled widely. “Thank goodness. It’s so rare to find a customer who knows the importance of buying an ensemble. Formal or informal?”
“Informal. And I really appreciate the help, I don’t know where to start.” Gabriel felt more comfortable than he had expected. There was a definite warmth in this man’s demeanour and he had that radiant smile which made Gabriel feel like everything he said was some beautiful poem.
“Well, let’s start with what style and colours you like.” The assistant glanced down at what Gabriel was wearing. “Smart casual, love what you’ve done with prepping up the grunge look by the way..”
Gabriel had no idea what that meant but he loved it.
“Oh my God! Those shoes!” The assistant stood back and gaped.
Gabriel’s face fell. He’d hoped it would take longer for the guy to realise how utterly clueless he was. He looked at the assistant, who was grinning.
“They are fantastic! Where did you get them?”
“Erm, they were my dads, in the seventies. He never wore them.” Gabriel looked at his shoes with new eyes and they seemed almost cool.
“Original? They’re amazing, I am so jealous. I’m Mohinder by the way. Mohinder Suresh.” He put out his hand and Gabriel grasped it, holding it but forgetting to shake.
“Gabriel Gray. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Well Gabriel, let’s get you that outfit.” Mohinder smiled and their hands parted reluctantly. “What shoes will you be wearing – please say those.”
Gabriel blushed again. “Yes, these.”
“And what look are you going for?” Mohinder bit his lip and looked on expectantly.
“Well, I…” Gabriel didn’t know how he had managed to fool this man but his nerves were beginning to jangle. He relented, letting the smile drop from his face. “Listen, I don’t know the first thing about clothes. I’ve been invited to this party and the guy made out like I shouldn’t even bother turning up unless I looked cool, and I will never look cool because, well look at me!” He took a deep breath and gave up the last of his defences by looking Mohinder straight in the eye.
“I’m looking at you.” Mohinder said gently. “And really, I think you could wear anything.”
Gabriel thought that sounded like a compliment. “So you’ll help me find something?”
“After you’ve been measured. Those pants are the wrong size, they bury you.” He wandered off towards the register and came back with a tape measure. “Stand with your legs a little apart please.”
Gabriel swallowed. “Erm…”
Mohinder gave him a withering look. “Please, I’m studying fashion design, I’m like a doctor.”
Gabriel reluctantly straightened his back and shuffled to give Mohinder some room. He looked dead ahead as Mohinder disappeared from sight and felt firm fingertips on the inside of his thigh, edging upwards as he measured. He gulped as he felt himself harden and prayed that Mohinder wouldn’t notice.
“All done! Now, arms up, please.” Mohinder threaded the tape around Gabriel’s back and measured at the fullest part of his chest, before snapping it back and holding it across from shoulder to shoulder. “I need to do your waist, do you want to step into the changing room? I can’t do it over your clothes, it would be inaccurate.” To Gabriel he really did sound like a doctor, calm and methodical with no hint of embarrassment. He nodded and walked through to the changing room, tensing slightly as Mohinder pulled the thick, brown curtain behind them. “Can you lift up your clothes please?” he asked, with too warm a tone for the situation.
Gabriel pulled up his sweater and shirt revealing his flat, taut stomach. He couldn’t remember the last time anyone had seen his stomach except him, it seemed eerily intimate that he was allowing this complete stranger to actually measure his physicality when he spent most of his time trying to cover it up. He twitched as he felt Mohinder’s breath on his skin, the tape measure around the slimmest part of his natural waist. The tape met just above his navel and Mohinder ghosted his fingers around the circumference, looking for any kinks in the fabric which would give an inaccurate measurement. At least that’s what Gabriel assumed he was doing.
“Okay, that’s great. Now we can start looking for some clothes.” Mohinder swept the curtain back and Gabriel could have sworn he saw him fan himself with his hand as he walked back into the store. He pulled his shirt and sweater back down and followed, wondering what he had let himself in for.
The next hour was a blur as Mohinder stalked the store, waxing lyrical about collars and cuts and fits. Gabriel loved the sound of his voice, the way he pronounced ‘shirt’ and the dazzling smiles he shot him when he thought he had understood his quips about fabric. He had a pile of clothes in his arms which Mohinder had sorted into outfits. They were all browns, blues and greens, colours which Gabriel wouldn’t normally wear, but he thought he might wear a clown suit if Mohinder told him it looked good. Eventually Mohinder looked like he was finished and turned to Gabriel hesitantly.
“So are you ready to try on?”
Gabriel glanced at the clock. It was 10.30 am and the mall was starting to get busier. He knew it was only a matter of time before someone from school came in to burst his bubble, tell Mohinder that he was wasting his time trying to dress this freak like a normal person. He would have to be quick…
“Sure. I’ll just erm….”
There was a soft shushing sound as the door pushed open and a pink haired girl bustled in with an equally pink smoothie. “Oh my God, sorry I’m late Suresh, I am having the worst day.” She looked up for the first time and saw the clothes laden Gabriel. “Oh! Sorry!”
Mohinder smiled at her and rolled his eyes at Gabriel. “Lizzy, I’ve got a private styling, I’ll be in the back, okay?” He nodded towards a door marked ‘Staff Only’ and wandered towards it with a relieved Gabriel in tow.
“Okay honey, oh and listen, my brother said that his friend might stop by today and that he’s completely fashion backward and needs all the help you can give him…His name’s er…”
“He’s not been in yet Lizzy, Mr Gray’s been the only customer.”
With Mohinder dead in front of him Gabriel didn’t see the silent exchange which must have taken place to tell Lizzy to shut her mouth because the clueless idiot was right here.
“Oh! Okay! Well, have fun then Suresh!” She said, lifting her smoothie with wide eyes before flipping open a magazine.
Gabriel followed Mohinder through to the back room. Mohinder switched the lights on to reveal a small but plush dressing room with a fat white armchair, mirrors on three walls and a large gold painted screen in the corner. Mohinder took the clothes from him and started to sort them onto a long rack. “What would you like to start with….How about this?” He held up a beige sweater and some faux tweed pants.
Gabriel nodded and took them behind the screen, not entirely confident that the positioning of the mirrors wasn’t giving Mohinder a perfect view of his body from the comfort of the armchair. He hung the new clothes on pegs behind the screen, took off his glasses and placed them on the small side table. He tugged off his sweater, transferring it carefully to an empty hanger on the wall and nervously untied his shoes, slipping them off and deciding to pull off his pants as fast as possible just in case Mohinder could see in. Minutes later he was tying his shoes back up and preparing to be ridiculed when Mohinder saw what he looked like. As he stood he felt dizzy and sick.
Mohinder could see the top of Gabriel’s head over the screen and wondered what he was waiting for. “Are you ready?” he said. When there was no answer he went closer to the screen and peeped round. “Gabriel? Are you alright?”
Gabriel hung his head. “It’s no use Mohinder, I can’t do this.”
“You’re just trying on clothes.”
“No, I’m not. I’m trying to be something I’ll never be. It doesn’t matter what clothes I have on, I still look like me, I still talk like me, I’m still just…Gabriel.”
Mohinder, not knowing what to say to that, just looked at him. Suddenly a smile spread across his face. “Stay right there, I want to show you something.” He disappeared out of the room and seconds late came back with a magazine, flicking urgently through the pages before holding a fashion spread up to Gabriel. “Look at this, who does this remind you of?”
Gabriel looked at the picture. It was a tall, dark haired man, with slicked back side parted hair and thick rimmed black glasses, wearing just a tank top and black pants with tied black brogues similar to his own. “Well,” he conceded, “I guess it looks a little like me.”
“Exactly, and do you know what this magazine is?” He turned the cover to Gabriel.
“Vogue!?” Gabriel blinked. Even he knew what Vogue was.
“So now do you see? You’re not pretending Gabriel, look at yourself! You’re tall and handsome and you could wear anything you wanted. You just have to have the confidence.” Mohinder set down the magazine and went back to the clothes rack. “That beige washes you out, don’t you think? The pants are nice though. Not sure if they’re too heavy on your legs.” He pulled out some gray wool pants and a green shirt with some white embroidery and handed them to Gabriel. “Put these on. I’m going to show you what you really look like.”
Mohinder pulled the curtains over the mirrors in the room and sat in the armchair, listening to the sounds of fabric moving over Gabriel’s body. When he emerged tentatively from behind the screen, Mohinder felt his breath freeze in his lungs. He stood and allowed his eyes to run shamelessly over the man’s body, taking advantage of the mask of professionalism. “Do you need these for close up?” he asked, pointing at Gabriel’s glasses.
“No, just for distance, they’re not that strong.” He said, taking them off as if to demonstrate. Mohinder took them from him and reached into his pocket, bringing out a comb and running it through Gabriel’s soft hair, breaking his side parting and leaving a tuft in the front. He put the glasses and the comb on the armchair and rummaged through a black zip bag he had brought in with the magazine, pulling out a tub of what looked like Gabriel’s father’s Brylcreem.
As if answering his unasked question Mohinder opened the tub and showed him the contents. “It’s hair wax.” He said, scooping out a little and rubbing it his hands before sweeping it through the longer tresses. The sensation of Mohinder’s fingers in his hair sent warmth flooding through Gabriel and he bit on his lip, seeing the concentration in that perfect face. Mohinder stepped away and looked at him and Gabriel felt like folding his arms across his chest, making a barrier against this scrutiny.
Mohinder stood by the curtained mirror and gripped the fabric. “Are you ready?” Gabriel gave the slightest nod, and Mohinder pulled back the curtain in one quick sweep.
Gabriel’s lips parted as he stared at his own reflection. He found himself touching his own face, even though he’d previously thought that was something people only did in movies. He started to smile, and then remembered that Mohinder was there. He looked at him guiltily, as if he’d been caught admiring himself, and saw that the other man was smiling too.
“It’s okay, you can look happy!” Mohinder grinned. When he was smiling like this Gabriel looked even more gorgeous. He knew he was staring but he didn’t care. He switched his gaze to the reflection, not wanting to make Gabriel uncomfortable.
“It’s the clothes right? I mean, man, I look completely different.” Gabriel was turning and watching himself like he’d seen his reflection for the first time. His eyes met Mohinder’s in the glass and just for a second he imagined grabbing at him, lustfully forcing him against the wall and letting him run his fingers through his hair again.
He felt like a new person. He felt, for want of a better word, sexy. Turning back to Mohinder he gave what he assumed was a dazzling smile. “Thankyou. I mean it, I’m so grateful to you.”
Mohinder smiled back. “Not at all, it’s my job.”
Gabriel felt instantly stupid. Of course it was just his job, a man like him would never have any interest in…
“I mean, actually, I wouldn’t normally do all this….” Mohinder looked at the floor. “I just couldn’t let you leave here thinking that you were somehow…” He searched for the words. “Not gorgeous.”
Gabriel knew he was blushing, even his eyes felt hot. Mohinder coughed and suddenly didn’t look so cool and confident. “I erm…I know we’ve only just met, but I was wondering..”
Gabriel braced himself. He was going to ask him on a date. Oh my God, he was going to ask him on a date.
“Have you ever done any modelling?” Mohinder raised his eyebrows.
Gabriel was thrown back to Monica Grant and her idiot friends and wondered whether this whole thing had been an elaborate joke. Almost instinctively his head dipped and his shoulders hunched in defence against being laughed at.
“It’s just that I have a final project coming up and I really need a model for my designs and you would be perfect.”
“Me?” Gabriel looked for any sign of deception or humour in Mohinder’s face and saw none.
“Yes, you’re the perfect height, you’re really well proportioned, you’re…” Mohinder couldn’t bring himself to say gorgeous for a second time, Gabriel would think he was about to jump his bones. “You’d be ideal. It would just involve wearing my designs and being photographed in them.”
Gabriel looked at the ceiling and took a deep breath. He could say yes and risk being humiliated, or he could say no and have no excuse to see Mohinder again. He looked at his reflection again. It wasn’t ridiculous to say he was handsome. He did look a little like that model in the magazine, he couldn’t deny it. “Okay. Sure.”
Mohinder beamed. “Fantastic, I’m so glad. Are you free tomorrow afternoon?”
“To…tomorrow? Er, okay.”
“Great, it’s going to be at a warehouse downtown. Hang on, I’ll write the address down.” Mohinder scurried off and Gabriel wandered back behind the screen to change. This was all moving so fast, two hours ago he was terrified to even come into the store and now he was going to be a fashion model? He carefully took off the new clothes, gulping when he saw the price tags, and returned them to the hangers. When he was dressed he looked at himself in the mirror again. He still looked okay, it was if he’d gotten taller but all of a sudden he didn’t mind. He put his glasses back on and still didn’t look like he did before. Gabriel wondered what had changed about him.
Mohinder returned with a folded slip of paper and handed it to Gabriel. “Thankyou so much for agreeing to do this, I thought I was never going to find someone good enough.” He started bagging up the clothes and Gabriel allowed himself a small grin. Someone good enough. And that was him.
At the register Gabriel’s heart quickened as he watched Mohinder ringing up the totals. “It’s $219.00 but I’m putting my staff discount on for you, to thank for you helping me out.” He punched a few more keys. “$174.60.”
Gabriel handed over the money as if it were nothing and smiled softly as Mohinder returned his change. “So I guess I’ll see you tomorrow, what time?”
“Can you make 1pm? It won’t take long, a couple of hours at the most.”
“Sure. Thank you again Mohinder.” Gabriel picked up the bag and headed for the door. He wanted to turn around again and get another look at him to last him the night, but fought the temptation. On the way out of the Mall he made one more purchase, and hid it inside the paper boutique bag from Crease.
Chapter 3 Teaser
“Okay, tilt your head to your right and part your lips for me. Now let’s have your head right back, keeps those lips parted. Nice. Put your hand over your heart. I know it sounds stupid but do it. Lovely.”
Gabriel couldn’t see how this was showing off the clothes but he noticed that Mohinder was back, and that he was smiling. He grinned back and the photographer went into overdrive.