"Good afternoon, ladies," Howl murmured, as he bowed with a flourish. The shop girls giggled and converged on him immediately.
"Mr. Jenkins! How nice of you to stop by!"
"How could I go for a day without seeing your lovely faces?"
"We've been awfully nervous about stepping out of the shop on our own these days. Have you heard the rumors about him? The Wizard?"
"Oh Howl," he said darkly, raising a hand to his chin and striking a pensive pose. "That monster who devours young girls' hearts. Yes, I've heard he's been in the neighborhood lately."
One of the girls gave a little scream. "Oh, how positively terrifying!"
"But fear not, my friends. Howl only preys on the unattended, after all. I am always at your service, as an escort," he said with his most charming smile.
The girls laughed delightedly and shook their heads. "Oh, Mr. Jenkins! We know you don't mean half of what you say."
As he began protesting his innocence, a red-haired girl dressed in a plain blue frock swept into the shop with a pile of new hats in her arms. She arranged them on the hooks and shelves, ignoring the laughter and the chatter. He noticed, out of the corner of his eye, her straight back, her no-nonsense expression. When he maneuvered closer to the counter, passing by her along the way, he heard her mutter to herself, "And you, my handsome bonnet, ought to go here, away from that pink lace confection, so someone can properly appreciate your sensible character."
He half-turned to get a better look at her face, but all he glimpsed was a wistful smile and long elegant fingers before the girl brushed off her skirts and whirled back into the back of the shop.
He almost asked, "Who was that girl?" but stopped himself in the end. After all, a girl like that--he was sure to see her again. He picked up the bonnet with a sensible character, and told the shop girls, "I'll take this."