Hello, my name is Jack.  As a kid I spent the summers wearing swimming trunks.  No shoes, no shirt, no problem as the old saying goes.  And during winter, I wore enough furs to make an Eskimo jealous.  They don’t call us the Icebox of the Nation for nothing after all.  But I had some girlfriends that thought they could teach me how to dress good.  I generally let them have their way since I couldn’t tell the difference anyways.  A shirt was as a shirt, right?  Oh silly me.





Jack fingered the tag on the inside of the dress jacket and sighed.  Sorenson Styles.  He usually didn’t think about brands.  A shirt was a shirt after all.  But this was a special case.  He’d worn their stuff before The War, back when it wasn’t even a brand.  Just a certain girl who had been trying out new things to see if she could make people look good.  Or at least make him look like less of a total slacker.

He snorted and shook his head, examining the full suit he wore.  This had been her second business, her escape from the pressures of her real job.  It was turning into a nice little business empire in its own rights if the fact that she was selling it in this store of all places was an indication.  And he’d spent about as much time dithering as he could.

Jack slipped the left sleeve up his arm, carefully.  The shoulder was still tender and he didn’t want to hurt it.  He pulled it up, and then slipped his right arm into the right sleeve, the motion far more difficult than it would normally have been.  His left shoulder screamed as he moved wrong, a body-freezing complaint that brought tears to the eyes.  It faded quickly though, and he pulled the jacket up the rest of the way without copying that particular motion again.  The dress jacket finally resting on his shoulders, he breathed a sigh of relief and flicked its collars into position.

Then he pulled the sleeves down and walked out of the dressing room into the massive store, eyes scanning for Taylor and Jennifer.  He saw them sitting where he’d told them he could still dress himself, and he had to wonder if maybe he’d been a little quick on that point.  He still felt the dull ache in the left shoulder, but he smiled at the girls.  Taylor’s eyes opened wide as she came to her feet and walked over with an appraising look.

“It’s a bit…white,” Jack muttered in what he figured was one of his better understatements.  The Western-style trousers were white.  The western shirt, with actual snaps, was white.  The tie and jacket practically shone white under the store’s bright lights.  And the white cowboy boots and cowboy hat just filled out the overpowering color choice that even he never would have picked.  But she’d been adamant.

“You look good in white,” Taylor said with a smile and stepped close, bringing hands up to grab his tie and tighten it up against his neck.

Jack cleared his throat and glared down at her.  “That’s tight.”

She just raised an eyebrow at him, and gave the tie a firm pat.

“It looks better that way,” Jennifer smiled from her seat, her legs crossed as if she didn’t have a care in the world.

Jack tilted his head back and forth, working his jaw against the constricting noose.  “I can’t breath.”

Taylor gave him a very unladylike snort and shook her head.  “Lots of people breath in something just like this.  They even sing,” she added with a smile.

Jack sniffed, showing his distain for said singers.  “Stuffy old songs that nobody listens to on account that they’re boring.”

“High class performances that command lots of money,” Jennifer corrected with a smirk.  “But don’t worry.  We aren’t making you go black tie.”

Jack lifted the white tie over Taylor’s shoulder so Jennifer could see it and raised an eyebrow at her.  “I think I figured that one out already.”

Taylor laughed.  “Oh, Jack.”  She leaned her head against him to keep from falling over in her mirth, and he felt his determination to resist the suit melt away at her touch.  “You really are a Neanderthal, aren’t you?”  And that brought it right back up.

“Excuse me?” Jack growled with a glare she couldn’t see.

“You’re excused,” Jennifer answered and he turned his glare to her.

“You know, the more you make fun of me, the more you make me want to throw this out, right?” he asked with a wave of his good arm.  He couldn’t really properly point out the suit with Taylor leaning against him though, and Jennifer just smirked at him.

Taylor patted his good shoulder and shook her head as she leaned back to look up at him.  “You’re not gonna want to do that until you take it out for a spin and kick the tires.”

Jack snorted.  “And what makes you so sure about that?”

Jennifer actually laughed at him.  Laughed.  “Because we know you.”

Jack frowned at her and reached between him and Taylor to grab the tie with his good hand, ready to pull it off.  “Look I think we need to try something else out.”

Taylor grabbed the hand with a firm grip and stopped him.  “Jack, I forbid you to take those clothes off until after you’ve taken us for a walk,” she ordered in a tone that left no question as to whether or not she was willing to budge a centimeter on the subject.

“Taylor,” he whispered in a mollifying tone and tried to extricate his hand.

She slapped it and glared at him.

“I think she’s serious,” Jennifer piped in and jumped to her feet with a broad smile.  “You don’t have any choice in the matter.”

“Oh, I have a lot of choice,” Jack answered her in a wry tone and tried to back away from Taylor.

She held onto him and he looked down to see her glare intensifying.  He noticed the flaring in her eyes and gulped.  “No,” Taylor whispered uncompromisingly.  “You don’t.”

Jack swallowed again, recognizing the steel in her expression.  She wasn’t asking him for anything.  She was demanding that he respect her expertise and experience.  She set her jaw, and a silent plea filled her eyes.  She knew she knew what she was talking about, and if he wasn’t willing to give her a chance…

Jack blinked away from that thought and let out a long breath.  She really had spread her wings in the last twenty years.  He was more proud of that than he could say.  Now he had the choice of respecting those wings or cutting them himself.

And he could never do that.

“Yes, Ma’am,” he whispered with a slow smile of defeat.

“That’s better,” Jennifer said with a mocking smile.  “You’re learning.”

“Now don’t be getting ahead of yourself,” Jack answered in a self-deprecating tone.  “You might still be needing a clue-by-four.”

“Well, it’s a good thing we keep those in stock,” Taylor whispered with another slap on his good shoulder and stepped away.  She ran her eyes up and down his tall white-clad frame and nodded in approval.  “You’re ready for the big reveal I think.”

Jack sighed and shook his head in doubt.  “Are you sure?”

Taylor smiled at the question in his voice that replaced the defiance of before.  “Absolutely,” she intoned and turned to the man who had been helping them.  “Please place this on my account and burn what he walked in with.”

The department manager gave her an approving smile, but Jack grunted in protest.  “Hey now.  Those are perfectly good clothes!”

Taylor sniffed dismissively.  “Twenty years ago, maybe.”  The stress she gave that final word suggested that she wasn’t convinced that they’d ever really been perfectly good, but that she didn’t want to argue about it.  She met Jack’s eyes again and pursed her lips in thought.  “I know you, Jack,” she said, her voice serious again.  “And I know clothes.  The clothes don’t make the man any more than the man makes the clothes, but clothes and men complement each other if you do it right.  Please trust that I know how to do it right.”

Jack returned her gaze, and this time saw far more simple confidence than any fear that he would ignore her.  She wasn’t demanding anything now.  And this time, he didn’t surrender out of a wish to refrain from hurting her.  “Yes, Ma’am,” he said because, in the end, he really did know her.  And he trusted her.

“Good,” Taylor whispered and turned back to the man at the counter.  “Burn them.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” the manager answered without hesitation.

“And if he likes this, he might want to buy some more,” she added with a smile, and the manager matched her expression, obviously recognizing how much money that could mean in the future.  “Now let’s go,” Taylor ordered, slipped her arm inside his left, and began moving him towards the exit with a gentle pull that only slightly aggravated the shoulder.  And he wasn’t about to admit even that much to her.

Jennifer came to her feet and met them short of the door, slipping an arm inside his right, and Jack had the undeniable feeling of being a prize bull on parade.  They led him out of the largest store in the Empire State without hesitation, and walked onto Fashion Avenue like they owned it.

The noises of people moving and talking washed over him.  Bright colors clashed from hundreds of fashions walking back, and beyond them vehicles hovered down the street, keeping well below the skyways linking buildings up and down the street.  They moved silently, only their horns calling out to warn pedestrians not to step in front of them.  Above them all, lanes of more traffic crisscrossed each other in the skies of Old New York, climbing up to the very tops of the tallest towers and beyond.

Jack cleared his throat as he worried about just how public this was.  Someone had already tried to kill them and he hated the idea of being out in the open.  Of them being out in the open.  They shouldn’t be risking themselves like this.  He hesitated and Jennifer’s grip tightened.

“Don’t even think about running,” she murmured under the noises of the city that never slept.  “Charles is right.  They won’t try anything here.”

“It’s too public,” Taylor added with a pleasant smile, but her eyes demanded that he keep up his part of the plan.

Jack pulled in a deep breath, let it out, and just barely stopped himself from shrugging.  On the one hand, his left shoulder still wouldn’t like that.  And on the other hand, they’d already told him not to shrug, or else.  He really didn’t want to find out what “or else” really meant.  So he suppressed the shrug and gave them a joyful smile that betrayed none of his worry.  “Yes, Ma’ams,” he whispered, too quietly for them to hear, but rallied himself and led them into the midst of all the busy people rushing on their way to work, or shopping, or whatever it was they were doing in the middle of Old New York.

One person stopped in her tracks, eyes wide, and Jack smiled at her shocked reaction.  Another young lady slammed into her, catapulting the first one into a stuttering run to keep her feet under her.  The second woman rocked back in surprise, one foot reaching back to keep her from falling, and her eyes flicked around in alarm, hoping nobody saw her stumble.  And then her gaze landed on Jack and the girls and she froze too.  Only her lips mouthed silent words as her brain tried to catch up with her eyes, and she swung an arm up to point at them.

Just in time to nearly take the head off a man walking between them.  The man stopped as her hand flashed in his face, and turned what had to be an annoyed look at her.  But Jack saw the anger in his shoulders droop at the look of shock on her face, and the man slowly turned to follow the course of her hand.  Jack smiled as the man saw them, and the man’s eyes went wide in shock.  In a handful of seconds filled with minor collisions like those, the entire crowd stumbled to a halt and just looked at them.

Not at him of course.  Oh, he was a Cowboy, which made him at least moderately famous.  But he wasn’t in uniform, and he didn’t think anybody recognized him for who he was.  The girls were another matter.  Not everybody liked their music of course.  Nobody could write music that everybody liked.  But anybody who listened to music, anybody who spent any time on the nets at all, at least knew of T&J.  Their pictures had been featured on the front pages of more magazines than Jack could count, and here in Old New York many had actually seen them in concert.

After a long moment of frozen shock, the crowd began to take pictures of the celebrities in their midst as they parted like the Red Sea.  They weren’t looking for pictures of him of course.  Or at least not only him, though he supposed he was in most of the pictures.  He was after all the lucky bastard sandwiched between one of the richest singing duos out there.  As he scanned the crowd, he saw the looks of jealousy in male and female eyes in almost equal measure.  Jack smiled at them all.  He’d be happy to let them just keep on feeling jealous.

Jack sucked in a satisfied breath and guided the girls down the sidewalk with a confident gait.  It wouldn’t be fair to say he strutted like a rooster, but if he were being honest with himself it wouldn’t be far off.  He’d never been a suit and tie person, but as some of the very nice looking young ladies began to notice him, his smile grew.  Taylor’s arm tightened and she looked to the side.  Jack followed her gaze to see a couple women talking amongst themselves, and they flushed as they noticed him watching.

Jack smiled at the reaction and kept moving, eyes flashing across the crowd.  He spotted numerous others doing the same, and he focused on them, listening through the noise.  He couldn’t understand most of them, but many of the words he picked out suggested they thought he looked real good.

They made good time down Fashion Avenue, only a few clumps of people slowing them down.  “I’m impressed,” Jack said as they cut out of another one, which had sported more than its fair share of people looking to touch their idols.  It wouldn’t be proper to accuse them of groping after all.  Jack let a sigh out as he realized he wasn’t actually being fair there.  No one had actually groped any of them, but his northern Minnesota upbringing still told him they were being way too familiar with girls they didn’t know.  “I expected Empire State hedonists to find an excuse to do a bit more crowding around you.”  He frowned as he considered that it might not be a compliment to say that, but Taylor and Jennifer laughed.

“This is Old New York,” Taylor answered with a pat on his wrist.

“They see lots of celebrities here,” Jennifer added with a shrug.

Taylor winked at him.  “We’re sorta part of the landscape.”

Jack snorted.  “Well, obviously some parts of the landscape are better than others then.”

The girls smiled and patted his arms.  Jack smiled as if he’d said nothing but the truth.  And he had been truthful, so he didn’t even need to act.

Taylor glanced at three young ladies whispering about them.  “So what do you think?”

He smiled at the three girls and waggled his eyebrows at them.  “Well, you just might be right about me being able to find a use for this suit after all.”

“Yes, I can see it now,” Jennifer said in a sweet voice.  “They whisper sweet nothings in your ears, whisk you off to somewhere private, and sneak a knife in your back,” she finished in a dark tone.

Jack blinked at the twisted end of the story and looked down at her.  Her eyes were serious and he sucked in a deep breath as a chill ran down his spine.  She was right.  That would be a good tactic for whoever had tried to kill him.  “Ah, like I’d actually let anyone I don’t even know whisk me off to somewhere private,” he returned in a jocular tone.  Then he looked over at Taylor as he squeezed both of their arms for a second.  “Now, somebody I do know and trust is a totally different matter,” he finished with a wink.

They slapped his arms for that comment, but it was totally worth it.