"You never talk about your mother," Summer stated out of the blue.
The question caught Em by surprise. She froze with her sandwich wedge halfway to her mouth. It'd seemed like a brilliant idea to have the impromptu picnic on the park bench. The day was unusually clear, if cold, and they hadn't had lunch together in a long time.
But she was going to regret suggesting the outing if Summer was going to bring things up like this. "My mother?" she said finally.
Summer nodded, picking a carrot out of her salad and eating it. "You never mention her. Aren't you very close?"
"Close is a relative term, isn't it?" She took a big bite of her sandwich so she'd have an excuse not to talk, but it turned to mealy paste the more she chewed.
Her friend picked at her salad. "How often do you speak to her?"
Never, if she had anything to say about it. She pointed to her mouth and shook her head, not even trying to swallow.
"I used to talk to my mother every day." Summer set her salad aside and looked up at the sky, tears glistening in her eyes. "Last night, I got home from the office and caught myself picking up the phone to call her."
Em wilted, feeling awful for her friend. She forced the last mouthful down and took a sip of her water. "I'm sure it'll get easier," she said, feeling out of her depths.
Summer gave her a watery smile.
"You know what you need?" Em brushed the crumbs off her skirt and stood up. "You need to go shopping for something pretty."
"Lingerie?" her friend asked hopefully.
She chuckled. "Sure, if that's what you want."
"I know the perfect store." Summer threw away the rest of her salad and stood up.
Em looked at the sandwich wedge in her hand and tossed that, too. She'd lost her appetite. She wrapped the uneaten half carefully and took it along. "Do you mind if I make a quick stop before?"
Summer glanced at the food in Em's hand. "The shoe man?"
She shrugged, not wanting her friend to make a fuss about it. They turned the corner back onto Regent Street and walked toward the corner where he usually sat.
His smile brightened when he saw her, but he was chatting merrily to the man whose shoes he shined. Not wanting to interrupt, Em set the half sandwich discreetly to one side, winked at him, and rejoined Summer.
"You're a sweet girl, Em Shepherd," Summer said, twining her arm through hers.
"He goes hungry to make sure his family eats," she admitted hoarsely. His children were lucky they had such a great father. She couldn't count the number of times she'd gone to school hungry because her father had taken the milk money for his drugs.
Summer patted her arm. "One day, you're going to make a great mother."
"You think so?" She'd always worried about following in her mother's footsteps. The apple never fell far from the tree. She'd always controlled her urges tightly.
"I really do. Here we are." Summer opened the door and ushered her in. "I feel better already."
"This is lovely," she said, picking up a pink demi bra. "It'll look gorgeous on you."
"I don't own anything pink, but there's always a first time." Summer looked for her size in the bra and the matching thong and then looked around the store. "And now for you."
"You need to try something on, too."
She shook her head. "No, I don't need new underwear."
"It's not about needing it." Summer held up a red satin bra. "This would look fabulous against your skin."
She looked at it longingly. She loved red, but she never wore it because it'd been her mother's favorite color. "I don't know, Summer."
"Just try it on." She pushed it at Em, forcing her to take it. "Shall we?"
She followed reluctantly, feeling like she held a viper in her hands.
It was okay. She'd try it on, tell Summer it didn't fit, and that'd be that. She wouldn't even look in the mirror, so she wouldn't get tempted by it. She went into the dressing room, resolute.
"Do you have it on?" Summer asked a few minutes later. She poked her head into Em's dressing room.
"Eep." Em startled, crossing her arms in front of her chest.
"Let me see." Her friend pushed her arms away. "Em, you look amazing. Look at yourself."
She grudgingly faced the mirror. The red satin cupped and propped her up, offering her breasts like they were a luscious dessert. It made her look ripe and tempting.
She hated it.
"You have to get it," Summer insisted. "I can't believe you hide that under your boxy clothes, Em. Most women would kill for a figure like yours."
She shrugged, turning away from the mirror.
"I'll let you change." Summer backed out.
Em quickly took the red off and carefully rehung it on its hanger. She buttoned her blouse all the way to the top and left the bra hanging in the dressing room when she left.
Her friend frowned at her. "You aren't getting it?"
"It didn't suit me."
"I like this one though." She picked up a white bra from the table in front of her. It was cotton, plain, without even a tiny bow to give it any excitement.
"But that's so-" Summer shook her head, seemingly at a loss for words.
"It's perfect." She forced a bright smile and marched to the register to pay for the ugly bra.