Elle and Emmett are in the T station, waiting for the train to take them back to Harvard which, Emmett has just learned, will be Elle’s first ever experience of public transportation.
“Seriously?” Emmett had said, when Elle had pulled her phone out to call an Uber. “You know we’re like three minutes from a T stop.”
Elle pursed her lips. “I don’t do public transportation.”
There followed an argument about sanitation, noise, the potential broadening of one’s horizons and cost effectiveness which Emmett, rather to her own surprise, won. So here they are, waiting for the T.
“Hey,” Elle says, turning to Emmett and adjusting her lapels, which definitely doesn’t make Emmett feel like she’s going to faint, not even a bit. “You want to impress Callahan? I can help.”
Elle slings an arm around her and that really isn’t helping with the fainting thing, and continues. “I love your scruffy vibe, but casual Friday is so not in Callahan’s vocabulary.”
Emmett stiffens a little. She should have seen this coming, really, should have known that she couldn’t be friends with someone like Elle Woods for long without becoming a project, a thing to make more acceptably feminine. Stepping out of Elle’s side hug, she puts a hand through her hair. “Listen, I appreciate the gesture,” (through in fact she really, really doesn’t), “but I can’t dress like you. I mean I know you made the change from pink to navy which is big for you, I realize, but I can’t start wearing skirts and shirts that make my boobs look like -- that -- and heels and everything, I mean I know it’s how women are supposed to dress to look professional but that’s bullshit, I won’t do it. I’ve tried, and it makes me feel like I’m about to crawl out of my skin.”
“Oh, no no no,” Elle says, “that’s not what I meant. I don’t want to turn you into me. That would be silly. I want to turn you into a better version of yourself. Listen, this train thing, does it go by a mall? We can stop on the way back, get you a nice suit, a tie that doesn’t look like it’s from 1983,” she says, lifting Emmett’s tie and looking at it with suspicion. “I mean, where do you even get this stuff.”
“Thrift stores, mostly,” Emmett says. Thrift stores were the first places where, with her very own pocket money, she’d been able to buy the clothes she wanted to wear. Big t-shirts, baggy jeans, oversized jackets.
“Well, we’re going to take you to a real store, where we can get you a jacket and pants that actually match,” Elle says, here eyes looking back and forth between the jacket and pants that Emmett is currently wearing, which she has always thought are pretty much the same color. But then, if Elle couldn’t tell the difference between two nearly identical shades of brown, she wouldn’t be Elle.
Elle warms a little to the concept of the T when Emmett tells her that there’s a stop actually in a mall, and that’s where they get off and, in a sprawling department store, find their way to men’s formalwear. Elle starts flipping through shirts and jackets while Emmett hangs back, nervous without quite knowing why. It’s not like she’s not used to shopping in the men’s section -- that’s where she always goes in thrift stores -- but the the hovering saleswomen somehow make it different here.
“I can manage,” Emmett says, hands stuffed in her pockets. “I’m sure you’d rather be in the women’s section.”
Elle glances up at her and rolls her eyes. “Don’t be silly, we’re here to get you dressed up, not me. And besides, I love shopping for guys. I always picked out suits for my boyfriends.”
Somehow it doesn’t feel wrong to be classed by Elle as one of the guys, and being put in the same category as Elle’s boyfriends absolutely, totally does not make Emmett’s heart skip a beat. Because, Emmett thinks as Elle piles clothes into her arms and pushes her into a dressing room, she cannot possibly be falling for someone as unquestionably heterosexual as Elle Woods. She’s in her mid-twenties, for Christ’s sake, she’s done all the baby gay stuff. She’s been in love with her straight best friend before, she’s definitely not going to do it again. Except she’s already there. Outside her dressing room, Elle is keeping up a constant chatter about how she just knows that Emmett can look polished and professional without giving up that signature Emmett Forrest tomboy look -- which Emmett has to roll her eyes at a bit, has Elle really never encountered the word butch? -- and how Callahan is going to be so impressed when Emmett shows up tomorrow in a sharp as hell suit, and Emmett doesn’t want her ever to stop talking.
She opens the door of the dressing room. “What do you think?”
Elle covers her huge grin with both hands, and then, lowering her hands to her hips, says, “I think you look great.” She moves around Emmett, tugging and her jacket here, bending down to adjust the leg of the pants. “I knew you’d look so good if we just put you in the right clothes. And listen, I wouldn’t wear pants if you paid me five hundred bucks, but women in suits look seriously hot. Seriously, men can’t even compete.”
Don’t get ideas , Emmett tells herself. She’s just into that girl power stuff, she’s definitely, definitely not into women. But there’s Elle’s hand, lingering a second to long on her shoulder blade as she smoothes out the back of the jacket, and here’s Elle standing a little close as she ties Emmett’s tie.
She tries on a couple different colors and Elle agrees with her that she looks best in charcoal grey, but Emmett wants a plain white shirt and Elle thinks a light blue goes better with the suit. “You could just get both,” Elle says. “You need more than one good shirt, anyway.”
“I’m not sure I can afford it,” says Emmett, who has been trying to avoid mentioning how much of a dent the price of this will put in her food budget.
“Oh don’t be silly,” Elle says, without even looking up. “I’m paying.”
“Thank you,” Emmett says, softly, watching her. Probably her pride should be wounded, but right now the only feeling she can find in herself is gratitude. Gratitude that Elle is buying her something nice, not out of pity but because she really enjoys shopping for her friends, gratitude that she thought it the most natural thing in the world to take Emmett to the men’s section, gratitude that she’s praising Emmett with words like handsome .
With her new suit and shirts packed into a big paper shopping bag between her feet, Emmett sits on a bench in the train station next to Elle, waiting for the train home. She feels like she’s buzzing with a nervous energy that she can really only attribute to her proximity to this girl who she’s been trying to talk herself out of having a crush on for weeks. Elle leans her head on Emmett’s shoulder and Emmett takes a breath and closes her eyes, trying not to think too hard about and simultaneously to enjoy this brief intimacy while it lasts.
“This was fun,” Elle says. “We should go shopping again.” And then she reaches out and takes Emmett’s hands, linking their fingers together.
“Elle,” Emmett says, trying to keep the tremor out of her voice. This rising hope of hers is ridiculous, and she needs to kill it as quickly as possible. “I know you’re really into like, girls supporting each other and stuff, and I’m so glad that we’re friends and that you’re comfortable being so affectionate with me but. I just think maybe you shouldn’t.”
Elle takes her hand back and sits up straight, frowning. “Why?”
Emmett would give anything to have Elle’s head still on her shoulder, not least because then she wouldn’t be looking at her. She looks down at her hands, now folded together between her knees, and says, “Because it means more to me than it does to you.” She hopes Elle won’t make her spell it out any more than that.
“I don’t think you should assume things like that. I don’t think you know what it means to me. Or what you mean to me.”
Emmett doesn’t, can’t, look up for a long moment. When she finally does, Elle is biting her lip and looks very serious. The expression reminds Emmett of how she looks when they’re in the middle of a long study session and Elle is trying to remember the name of a Supreme Court case that’s just on the tip of her tongue.
“What do you mean?” Emmett asks.
“I mean that I really, really like you. I really like spending time with you, and talking to you, and I’ve just gotten so used to you being in my life but I don’t think I realized until today that --” She looks up at Emmett. “You looked so good in that suit, I just wanted to kiss you.”
Emmett’s mind goes absolutely, serenely blank. “Oh.”
As if from a great distance, she hears Elle say, “Is that okay?”
“Is it okay that I want to kiss you?”
Emmett blinks. This is not a difficult question. “Yeah. I mean, yes, definitely, that’s so much more than okay, that’s --”
Mercifully, Elle stops this jumble of words with a kiss, and Emmett doesn’t have to think or talk or do anything other than kiss her back, and for the first time in a long, long time, she is absolutely, uncomplicatedly happy to be touching Elle Woods, and she doesn’t stop until she hears the terrific noise of the train pulling into the station.