They met for dinner in a fish restaurant in one of those new open-air specialty shopping areas. Several hundred other people seemed to have the same idea because the parking lot was packed. After circling the parking lot twice, she was lucky to find someone leaving and ended up with a spot that was virtually at the front door.
She’d noticed his car parked across the lot in front of a women’s shoe store and a Pier 1.
He was already seated at a table and she joined him, smiling. She was happy to see him. She slid into the booth across from him. "Hello."
"Hello. It’s nice to see you." His eyes took their time taking her in.
"You, too. Have you been here long?"
"Not really. I had to make a stop in the area, and I was a little early." He sipped his drink and she gave her drink order to the waiter. She was feeling a little anxious and knew the wine would soothe her. She chatted about her day, about traffic, about the dream she had last night. Actually she babbled like a brook. She knew she was going on and on but finally got a handle on it when the glass of wine appeared before her.
"I have something for you," he said.
She raised an eyebrow in surprise. "You do?"
She waited. Curiosity paraded a list of things through her mind that she categorically dismissed one after another. He’d given her things before and she knew they came with multiple "uses." Her cheeks flushed a deep pink and she took another sip of wine.
"Walk across the parking lot to the shoe store. Go in and ask for Marleigh. Tell her your name."
She listened, wide-eyed. While she was still processing his words, replaying them to make sure she’d heard correctly, he spoke in a low, firm tone that made the hair on her neck stand up. "Go."
She rose and with a feeling of curiosity mixed with excitement, walked out of the restaurant, past her car, across the parking lot. She loved shopping for shoes and had been meaning to come into this shop, but hadn’t yet made it.
The windows displayed a wide variety of colors, styles and heels. She stopped momentarily to examine a colorful pair of beaded mules with a matching bag. But only briefly; she knew she was probably being watched and didn’t want to seem like she was stalling. Which she was.
Taking a deep breath, she opened the door.
A petite, dark-haired, older-looking woman sat behind the counter. When she walked in, the woman stood up and came around to greet her. "Hello. Is there something I can help you find?" The woman’s smile was somewhat maternal and very comforting.
"Yes. Are you Marleigh?"
"Yes I am."
She introduced herself and said that she understood there was something here for her to pick up.
Marleigh’s expression didn’t change at all. She said, "Oh, right. Have a seat, dear, and let me get them." She disappeared into the back. After a short pause, the woman reappeared with a box.
She sat down. As Marleigh approached, she knelt in front of her with the box, opening it and removing the paper and other protective materials. The shoes were black with just a few thin straps. And quite a heel. She was a tall woman so she’d not worn heels with too much height. She’d always felt awkward being taller than everyone around her, and that’s what heels did to her. These heels looked to be about 4 inches.
She kicked her slides off and slid her foot into the shoe that Marleigh held in place for her. One thin strap crossed her foot just above her toes. She watched as one of the straps was wrapped around her ankle. It was attached to a strap that rose from the shoe at the back of her heel.
The ankle strap was held in place by a second strap. This one was nearer to the front, but it met the ankle strap near the inside of her foot. It crossed over the top of her foot diagonally and joined the shoe on the outside of her foot.
The ankle strap had a small clasp. It was shiny and silver and kind of looked like chrome. Marleigh clasped it shut and reached for the other shoe.
She admired the shoe and it did occur to her that she might have a problem walking in these. But they were so dainty and so understated and sophisticated at the same time. She loved the look.
When Marleigh closed the clasp on the second ankle strap, she heard a small click and looked down to examine the clasp more closely. It was odd… not like any other shoe buckle she’d seen. The two metal pieces appeared to slide together. It reminded her of the locks on the diaries she’d had as a child. There was a small hole in one of the halves of the clasp and she felt around, trying to see how it worked.
Marleigh stood up and looked down at the shoes, smiling. "They look great on you."
She stood up and carefully walked to a nearby mirror. They did look great on her, she had to admit. She flexed her feet and turned, watching in the mirror to see how they moved.
"Oh, they are nice… really nice. I’ll have to practice walking in them though. It’s been a while since I’ve worn heels."
She walked unsteadily back to the seat and sat down. She bent and reached down to remove them.
"I think you’ll have a chance to practice sooner than you think. They’re locked." Marleigh smiled at her as if this was the sort of thing she did every day… locking shoes on women’s feet.
"That’s right dear. I think you know where the keys are."
Heat rose on her face and she turned to look across the parking lot to the restaurant where the man waited.
"Let me just put these in a bag for you." Marleigh picked up her slides and arranged them in the shoebox as if they were brand new and very expensive. She went behind the counter and slipped the box into a bag. She handed it to her and walked her to the door.
"I hope you enjoy them, dear." Marleigh smiled up at her.
"Thank you," she stammered as she awkwardly moved out the door. As she took her first few steps, she noticed the parking lot seemed to have grown since she’d gone into the store.
She took another breath, and with determination, stepped off the sidewalk.