Basically it started because she was trying to impress Zach.
Penny was on the hunt for an ah-moh-zing dress to wear for their third date, and had exhausted her usual spots with no results. On a whim, she went into one of the stores in the mall that she absolutely knew was way out of her price range, but hey, maybe she could nab a deal.
The sales lady was chirpy and pleasant (name-tagged Charlene), showing Penny to a number of lovely items, before Penny found the one. And it was actually perfect: the right shade of red, and a fantastic slightly-but-not-too-slightly stretchy texture, with a deep V in the front, and a just a hint of shimmer in the fabric. Penny snapped it up giddily at first, but then, of course, because the universe was determined to keep her single…
“Oh, hon, I’m sorry, we don’t have it in your size,” Charlene apologized. Her Southern twang was adorable, but didn’t really make Penny feel better. “We could order it, but it’ll be four to six weeks.”
Penny made a noise that was sort of a whine or a half-sob and clutched the dress tight to her body. “But it’s the one! And I need it for tonight, so ordering won’t do me any good.” She pouted.
Charlene was no stranger to these sorts of displays of angst over a clothing item, and she nodded understandingly. “Maybe we could try to find something similar…?”
They tried. And failed. And Penny couldn’t stop pining for the red dress that would not fit. And then, because she was Penny, and the saleslady got busy helping someone who would actually buy something, Penny returned to the dress and decided that of the ones on the rack, this one she could maybe, just maybe, squeeze into. She could totally just suck it in, and make the two-sizes-smaller-than-usual one fit, she was sure. She’d done it before, probably, and frankly, there was no one here to stop her from trying (Charlene was pulling blouses out for some glossy-looking fifty-something).
In the change room, getting the thing on was a trial. Penny wiggled and shimmied and squeezed and hopped. At one point she was laying on the floor, flopping and twisting, but somehow by the grace of Jay-Z and Beyonce, she got in. She looked pretty fab, too, if she did say so herself. Because of the material it was made from and because it was insanely tight, it held all the pouchy bits in and amplified her cleavage (in a classy way, duh). It was maybe a titch too short, but meh, she’d worn shorter.
She decided she was going to buy it, even though moving was a little difficult and so was breathing (there was no stool to test sitting, but they were going to a club, so she wouldn’t need to sit anyways), because it looked that good. Beauty is pain and all that. Zach wouldn’t know what hit him. Then she saw the price tag and had a minor heart attack because –
“Four hundred and sixty-eight dollars?!” Penny screeched, at a decibel-level that probably made dogs for a good mile twitch.
That was a joke. It had to be a joke. No one in their right mind would pay that much for a little dress like this – there was no way on God’s green earth it was worth that. No Roosevelting way.
Cursing, Penny took the dress off. Or, more correctly, Penny spent several minutes wriggling and shimmying and hopping and trying not to completely panic because she couldn’t get the dress off. There was no way she was calling Charlene in for help and embarrassing herself.
“Hon? You doing okay in there?” Charlene, being way too timely, called through the door.
“Oh, tots!” Penny chirped. “Just admiring the view!” She fake laughed way too loud. “So many pretty dresses you have here! What lovely, pretty dresses you have!” God, she sounded like the Big Bad Wolf. “Gotta try ‘em, gotta try ‘em all!” What was that? Pokémon?
Okay, the dress was probably cutting off her oxygen.
With an angry growl, she dove into her purse and retrieved her cell phone. She tried Max, but forgot until it went straight to voicemail that he was at his grandma’s and therefore out of cell range. Brad and Jane were on a couples retreat or something and Alex wasn’t answering, so she tried Dave, who thank God, answered his phone.
“I’m stuck in a four hundred dollar dress and I can’t breathe, Dave help me!” Penny explained in a big rush without even bothering to say ‘hello’.
“That… is new,” said Dave, not sounding surprised, and that irked her, but she let it slide. “I’m kind of in the middle of the afternoon rush here, can you try Alex or something?”
Penny huffed. “I did. I need you.” She attempted her best sad, convincing voice.
There was a long pause. “I’m your last choice, aren’t I,” he said flatly.
“Whaaat…” Penny drew out the a’s too long and she knew it, but once she started, she was kinda committed.
Dave chuckled anyways, despite being the last on her emergency list. “Hold on, I’m coming.”
He was there not twelve minutes later (and she totally wasn’t counting every minute or making Charlene toss her dress after dress over the change room door to “try on” so she didn’t suspect Penny was still stuffed in the red one that did not fit). Penny heard Dave stage whispering outside her change room door and nearly collapsed in relief (or again, possibly oxygen deprivation, she really wasn’t sure at this point. There may or may not have been fireflies floating by the light fixture).
“Get in here,” she hissed, throwing open the door and gesturing frantically.
Dave stopped, staring at her with wide, startled eyes. It was almost cute, with his jaw hanging open and what not – that was the reaction she was hoping to get from Zach later. If there was a later. If she ever got out of this death-trap of a dress.
“Dave!” Penny snapped, and snapped her fingers, which snapped him out of his daze.
“Sorry, I just – you just –” he mumbled. “You were – and I’m – you – it’s very tight and very red.”
Penny rolled her eyes and shut the change room door. “I know, but now I can’t get out of it and it’s five-hundred dollars! I cannot buy this dress!”
His eyes went wide. “I thought you said it was four hundred!”
“It’s closer to five. Let’s not discuss it. I feel like I might pass out.”
Dave looked her up and down. “What do you need me to do?”
Penny would’ve said that the next few minutes were some of the most awkward of her life, but truly, she’d had so many awkward minutes, it was pretty hard to compare any of them anymore. Suffice to say, it was pretty freakin’ awkward. Her and Dave fumbled around the change room, trying different methods and positions and practically working up a sweat (and ew, stop it, he’s like a brother, get your mind out of the gutter!) until finally Dave collapsed against the wall shaking his head.
“We’re going to have to cut you out.”
Penny levelled her most threatening glare at him and jabbed a finger at his chest. “Don’t you dare. What part of I cannot afford a stupid five hundred dollar dress are you not understanding, Dah-veed Alastair Rose?”
“That’s not my – ”
“Look, what if you like, peel me like a banana?”
“Or orange. Or whatever kind of fruit that metaphorically applies in the situation.”
“C’mere – start at the bottom, and just… peel up. Roll it. Slide. Whatever.” She gestured impatiently.
God, this was a disaster. This was such a disaster. Maybe if she sold her car then she could use the money to pay for the dress. But she’d have to pay for the dress first and wear it out and then go sell the car, and either wear the dress for eternity or get cut out of it as Dave suggested.
Dave stepped forward and curled his fingers under the edge of the dress, which was roughly mid-thigh. He wriggled the fabric up her thigh with difficulty and Penny put her hands on his shoulders for stability. His head was close to her boobs and she turned her eyes to the ceiling, trying really, really hard not to think about Dave being close to her boobs because he was like a brother and it was awkward and she was trying really, really, really damn hard to make that true and not picture the sex dreams starring him that she’d had in the past.
“I think…” Dave grunted and yanked at the dress. “This is working.” The dress was almost to her hips.
Penny gulped, thinking about the blue polka dot underwear she’d worn today. Could’ve been worse, she supposed, and it wasn’t like this many years later, Dave hadn’t seen her in her underwear (or naked) before (or vice versa). Her eyes darted back to Dave of their own volition and his face was nearly as red as her perfect, evil dress, though whether his features were that particular shade from the effort of getting the dress over her hips or because he was staring at her in her underwear, she couldn’t be sure.
There was a distinctive rip noise when he was inching it over her derriere, and Penny gasped loud in terror.
“Did it rip!? Oh my God, it ripped didn’t it?” she wailed in panic.
“No, no,” Dave hastily assured her. “It’s not bad – a couple threads snapped, it’s okay. You can’t even tell.”
Penny exhaled – well, she tried to exhale. Her stomach and lungs still had virtually nowhere to go, so it was more of short, weird huff.
The treacherous clothing slid up a lot easier over her stomach, thankfully, but then her breasts presented a new challenge, as the fabric was certainly the tightest there. Dave got real close, and wrapped his arms around her to pull from the back (and no her breath did not stutter, how dare you, it was just the dress), then he slid his hands around her ribs to pull from the front (and she was not staring at his lips, gawwwsh). She ignored her raised heartbeat and she was so not thinking about Dave taking off her clothes in any other situation because he was totally seriously like a… brother… and it was… she was… she… he…
His hands had stopped. When had his hands stopped? Why was he looking at her like that? Oh God, oh God, oh God he was with Alex, they were living together he needed to stop looking at her like that she couldn’t breathe – no it was the dress, the dress was stuck on her boobs and compressing her chest and she was potentially delirious or else this was just another dream –
“Dave,” said Penny, and then cleared her throat because that had come out way sexier than she’d intended. “Dave, kind of exposed here?” she said perkily, trying to break the spell or the tension or whatever the hell was happening.
“Right, sorry,” said Dave, and shook his head and returned to the task at hand with a weird sort of determined vigor.
Penny tried not to feel disappointed, and then started working on convincing herself she’d imagined the whole thing – that look, his hands lingering… Yep, it never happened. She would go to her grave swearing it didn’t.
Finally, finally, finally, praise heaven and earth, she was free. She could have cried and kissed Dave – no, not kissed Dave, where did that come from, shut up.
“Oh God, thank you,” she gushed, and gulped in big breaths.
“You’re welcome.” Dave stepped back, rubbing his neck with his hand, and not really looking her in the eye. He wasn’t looking at her at all, in fact, and seemed to be fighting not to, his face going that weird red shade again. She was very, very aware of standing in front of Dave in her plain white bra and polka dot panties.
“Okay, now get out of here before the saleslady shows up and thinks we did something naughty in her precious change room.” Penny shooed Dave out, as quickly as she could, and used those minutes of getting dressed in her own clothes to bring her heart rate way the hell back down. And she did not, absolutely did not, picture what it might be like to do naughty things with Dave in the change room.
When Penny finally emerged from her dress trauma-drama, she passed the pile of un-tried-on dresses to Charlene, who apologized sweetly about being unable to find the right dress today. Penny thanked her for her help and caught sight of Dave at the register, putting his wallet away.
“Hey, what’re you getting?” she inquired, coming up beside him.
“Hmm? Oh, a, uh, necklace. For Alex. For her birthday.”
Penny raised her eyebrows in surprise. “Wow, you’re shopping early – her birthday is like six months away.”
“Well, yeah, sure, but… when you see the right… necklace…” Dave shrugged, trailing off awkwardly. “Hey I want ice cream let’s go somewhere else,” he added in a one-breath-rush.
Penny shrugged and the pair headed out of the store. She happily linked her arm with Dave and chattered on about her failure to find a proper dress for Zach, and maybe she could just use one of her old stunning dresses or maybe she should try one more store or maybe cancel with Zach and reschedule because she was tired anyways (because rambling was how Penny avoided internal drama and she was good at it, and even better at distracting herself from the fact that she probably definitely had feelings for Dave, again, still, for years, whatever, no she didn’t).
Dave listened and he laughed in all the right places, and they met up with Alex and Max (fresh from Grandma’s) at Rosalita’s for drinks.
(Dave tossed the receipt for the ripped dress in the first garbage can he saw when Penny was distracted and never explained why, for the next month, he was suddenly very tight on cash.)