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Alice Blue Gown

    by Derick Wilcox

Everything ruined, and all because of that bloody silly little dog!

It started at the staff dance. Harry didn't want to go, but senior management expected junior want-to-get-on managers to be there, so Harry went. At least there was a bar, so he could have a drink. Only the one, at least at first. Not a good idea to get sloshed anywhere near the bosses. It was when he returned his empty glass to the bar that he saw her. Slim, blonde hair cut stylishly short, looking absolutely stunning in her cornflower-blue ball gown.

Harry just stood for a moment, then realised he was staring. Not only that, but she was looking at him, and something that might have been amusement quirked her lips. Before he realised what he was doing, Harry had asked her to dance, almost amazed when she accepted. She moved fluidly, light on her feet, following his lead with easy grace and despite his normal dislike of dancing, Harry enjoyed himself.

Alice was her name, Alice Bennet, but from somewhere deep in his subconscious came the title of the old song. From then on, she was forever 'Alice Blue Gown' to him. They danced together much of the evening and afterwards Harry couldn't remember a single thing they'd talked about, except that he'd admitted to her his ambition to be a writer, something he'd never told anyone else. She was interested, encouraging, a good listener and before the evening ended he felt as if he'd known her forever.

She'd come with her parents. Harry had come by taxi. He screwed up his courage and asked if he could see her again, maybe go for a meal, exhilarated when she said yes, sorry to see her go as she left.

Two days later, alone with her in the quiet restaurant she seemed even more wonderful, still interested in him, his writing, asking if she could read some of his work. That weekend, when he called at her home to collect her, he nervously took some of his short stories along. She phoned him at home the following day, saying he must submit them, and soon. Caught up in her excitement, he sent off entries to a magazine competition, to an anthology publisher, to - well, everywhere he could think of.

Alice's mother had a dog, a little poodle dogged with the name of Precious. Precious, frankly, was a pain in the fundament but Harry made soothing noises as Precious tried to bite him, held her off as she tried to steal his glove and smiled politely at Mrs Bennet as she assured him that Precious was only playing games.

Alice was fighting a laugh as she and Harry set off to do some Christmas shopping, assuring him that Precious was indeed a pain, but that her mother doted on her, so bear up, Harry. Normally Harry hated Christmas shopping, buying conventional last-minute presents at exorbitant prices because he couldn't think of anything special, but with Alice it was a new experience. She didn't look for conventional presents. When she found out Harry's sister liked oriental food, and also liked to cook, Alice took Harry into a Chinese supermarket in a back street Harry didn't even know existed, emerging triumphant with a steamer and spices set that, when Christmas came, resulted in Harry's sister Barbara declaring that her brother had finally learned to shop, and thank you, Alice, for showing him how.

After they'd been going out together for almost a year, Harry plucked up his courage and asked Alice to marry him. She looked him in the eye and asked him why it had taken so long, then giggled and kissed him; then kissed him again, at length and with delicious enthusiasm.

They went out together that Saturday to buy the engagement ring, Alice insisting on one she thought he could afford, rather than the overly ostentatious one he looked at first. It was the staff dance again that evening, the anniversary of their meeting and this time Harry was collecting Alice. He called early, by invitation of Alice's parents, and the four of them shared a drink and a toast to the young couple's future. In a moment of inspiration, Harry had even coaxed his butcher cousin into donating a huge bone which he duly presented to Precious who, for the first time, didn't try to bite him, instead accepting the bone and disappearing with it.

After a while, Alice and her mother went off to change into their ball gowns and Harry was startled to hear Alice's voice loudly calling Precious a wicked dog. She came back into the sitting room where Harry was chatting to her father, with a piece of torn blue cloth in her hand, the beautiful cornflower blue of her gown, which she had promised to wear that evening.

Oh, no, thought Harry, not her lovely gown! Everything ruined, and all because of that bloody silly little dog!

"Look what that wicked Precious has done," said Alice.

"Not your beautiful gown," said Harry, forlorn, the vision of Alice, beautiful in her gown, fading from his mind.

"Oh, no," said Alice, laughing, "that's fine. I'll put it on in a moment. This was the sash it used to have. You would have hated it, sweetheart. It made me look like a badly-tied parcel."

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