Cuoio asked Chiara what she
wanted to do for a second date.
"Clothes shopping, please,"
Chiara said. "I have a type.
I want to see if you like it,
and if you can spot any of it."
Cuoio was pretty sure that
anything she wore would look
gorgeous on her, and equally sure
that all of it would look better on
his bedroom floor, if they ever got
as far as he hoped they would.
He didn't say any of that.
What he said was,
"Then let's go shopping."
"Have you ever been
boutique shopping before?"
Chiara asked as they strolled
down the street of colorful stores.
Cuoio shook his head.
"I couldn't afford it."
"Do you want to, now that you can?"
she said, purse swinging from her hand.
"I guess we'll find out," he said.
"Oh, this one looks fun!"
Chiara exclaimed, grabbing
his hand to tug him inside.
"First I tell the shopkeeper what I like.
Then she sends out her girls in
some samples. Then I try on
our favorites," Chiara explained.
"Go sit down, and try not to eat
all the treats before I get there."
So Cuoio took a chair and
laid his hat in his lap.
The 'treats' turned out to be
a whole platter of antipasti --
mortadella and capocollo,
fresh mozzarella and taleggio,
quince paste and orange marmalade
to go on the thin little crackers,
a dish of warmed olives beside
another of wine-poached figs --
ooo, ricotta pears drizzled in honey.
Cuoio kept his fingers meticulously
on his half of the platter.
When Chiara sat down, she
piled a quarter of the antipasti
onto her plate and held out a hand
for the glass of red wine brought
by a girl in a neat dark suit.
Following her lead, Cuoio accepted
a glass too -- and this time he caught
the signal that meant it was safe.
Oh. So this was a Family establishment,
or at least had enough working here
that he could really relax.
Cuoio leaned back in his chair
and enjoyed the excellent Chianti.
The girls who sauntered out
along the narrow carpet were
pretty, he supposed, if not
as pretty as Chiara.
The clothes looked interesting
enough that he wouldn't mind
buying something for her if
she found anything she liked.
Now and then Chiara murmured
comments or questions to
the shopkeeper standing nearby.
After the antipasti, the server
brought out tiny cups of lemon ice.
When the parade of girls ended,
Chiara stood up to stretch,
then said, "My turn!"
She trotted off to the ladies' room
before disappearing into
the changing area.
Chiara came back wearing
a clingy black dress that came
just below her knees, with
and a scoop neck.
It looked nice on her,
but it wasn't particularly
a comare sort of dress;
a teen could have worn it,
or an older woman.
"What do you think?"
Chiara asked him.
"It's okay," he said.
"Hm," she said, and left.
When she came back out,
Cuoio's brain slid out of his skull,
down his spine, and into his crotch.
The new dress wasn't much higher
at the hem, but it had shorter sleeves
and the bodice bared most of her chest,
ending in a graceful little heart-shape
below which the fabric clung and bunched
and flowed around her as she moved --
such little changes, really, to make
such an amazing difference.
Now that was a comare kind of dress,
sexy in an elegant way.
"I like it," he said firmly.
"The shoes -- eh."
She looked down at
the high-heeled sandals.
"I agree," she said.
The next outfit was --
Um. Well. Apparently
a white bra and short-shorts
underneath a sleeveless dress
of barely-translucent lace.
As Chiara walked toward him,
the white lace swished and flicked
against her strong thighs.
"That looks ... amazing ..." Cuoio said.
He had a hard time peeling his eyes off.
"I'll keep it in mind," said Chiara.
After that came a similar one
but with considerably thinner lace
over black undergarments.
Cuoio shook his head.
Clothes should be a hint,
not a hammer. "Not my style."
"I'm not too attached," said Chiara.
The next dress was made of fabric
so light that it billowed all around
her with every step, almost like
a scarf, if a scarf was white
and purple and covered in ...
"Eggplants? Really?" said Cuoio.
Chiara giggled. "I think so."
Then he added, "The shoes --
I like the sandals. They're black,
so they'd go with that other dress, right?"
"Yes, I like them too," she said.
The last dress had a tailored bodice
much like the second one, except
that it flowed into a full skirt and
was printed with tomatoes.
Cuoio wanted to take her
to the beach in it and put
a floppy straw hat over
her dark hair and find out
if she liked to wade barefoot
in the surf the same way he did.
Maybe it wasn't the clothes.
Maybe it was just Chiara
that left him so poleaxed.
"You look like a sunny day
in that dress," he said.
"I wasn't sure I'd like this one,
but I think I do," she said,
turning in place to make
the skirt flare out.
Presently Chiara came back
dressed in her own clothes.
"Oh, you're still sitting down,"
she said. "Most men can't wait
to get out of a dress shop."
Cuoio shifted his hat in his lap.
He wasn't about to explain why
he needed another ten minutes
before trying to stand up.
Chiara's smile grew wider.
"So what did you notice about
the clothes, rather than me
in the clothes?" she asked.
Fortunately Cuoio had
already cooled down
enough to sort that out.
"Nothing too long, and everything
had either a wide skirt or fabric that
was stretchy enough for you to move in
if you needed to run or to kick someone,"
he said thoughtfully. "You like things that
leave your arms and chest free, too, but
you want something to define your waist."
He shrugged. "That's all I got, sorry.
I'm not really an expert at this."
She kissed him on the cheek.
"You just tripled the average," she said.
"Nobody else has spotted more than two,
and most are lucky to get one."
"So, what are you getting?" he asked.
"I pick what I like. You pick what I get.
Those are the rules for shopping together,"
Chiara said. "If I want something else,
well, that's what my paycheck is for."
Cuoio was still new to the whole idea
of having a comare. The last Family
he worked for hadn't kept any.
Thank God this one was willing
to explain the customs to him.
So then he had to stop and
figure out what he could afford
from this lavish boutique with
his ridiculously generous salary.
He wasn't used to that either --
and none of the dresses had tags,
nor did he see any signs.
Cuoio drummed his fingers
on the arm of the chair, frowned,
and made himself stop.
An older woman appeared
as if conjured, her hair pinned up
with silver combs, her hands folded
neatly around a tablet computer.
When she passed it to him,
Cuoio found a wealth of information --
there were the prices, all right,
which made him catch his breath
out of habit despite his recent raise --
along with tabs for Friends, Family,
Courting, Getting Serious, Engaged,
Married, and Special Occasions.
Curious, he opened Courting and
got a summary of what people
often bought at that stage.
Evidently three dresses and
a pair of sandals was well
within the typical range.
He put in his account number,
and then hesitated, trying to hold
in his head all of the figures that
the man of business had explained.
The shop's clerk leaned over
and brought up another page,
Keeping Someone in Style.
That had a marvelous list of tips
on how to tell what your comare
liked and expected, plus a reprise
of the finance guide on how much
of your income to spend on what.
Apparently this kind of place was
right in the middle of his new budget.
So he could reasonably buy Chiara
a few things here, or an armload
somewhere cheaper, or just one
at an even more luxurious place.
Chiara had picked this one,
so he bought her three dresses
and a pair of sandals.
He really hoped that he'd get
to see them on his bedroom floor.
* * *
Comare -- a professional companion in organized crime. Because a boyfriend/girlfriend or spouse could easily be a spy or a target, many mobsters prefer to choose intimate company from a pool of candidates who are reliable and durable. Quality and details of mob companions vary across different Families. Some are just glorified prostitutes, more often called molls. The high end, among the Marionettes and their peers, are customarily called comares. They are sexy and sophisticated, more akin to geishas or hetaerae. While a majority of them do provide sexual services, it is not required nor may it be demanded. There are comares across the whole range of gender identities and sexual orientations, including asexual. Their primary role is social support and comfort for people working in stressful jobs who may not have the resources to cultivate a more conventional relationship. Training for comares includes information gathering, entertaining, general nurturing, and a diversity of erotic skills. They all get some first aid and self-defense education, and many of them take more; plus basic training in offense, and a few go farther. Around that core, many different types of cultural skills and beauty standards are represented to make it easy for people to find a satisfying match. At the upper levels of organized crime, comare is a highly trained, highly paid, and highly respected profession.
Shopping together is one way to build intimacy and create family ties, because it teaches each other's likes and dislikes while promoting compromise. There are tips for men shopping with their girlfriends from other men and from store clerks. Women aren't the only people who shop for a bunch of others. Bosses do it too, in this context, in providing work gear, and in giving rewards; both generosity and precision are valued traits in a good provider. It helps to know how to shop for a wife or girlfriend. Really it comes down to communication and paying attention. Cuoio may not know exactly what he's doing yet, but he sure is determined to learn. If you want someone to do an activity with you, make sure they know how.
In order to shop for clothes, you should think about your strategy. It helps to know how clothes should fit and how to buy ones that fit you. Also know how to dress for your body type. Chiara is basically a rectangle with lots of muscle and a little curve. She likes things that cling and show her muscles, things that help define her waist, and absolutely won't wear restrictive garments. These are all learned skills, not innate knowledge.
When discussing how clothes look, it helps to understand the different kinds of dress and parts of a dress with attention to important features such as the neckline, sleeves, and skirt. That way you can comment on specific details, which is much more useful than bare like/dislike feedback.
Antipasti are Italian nibblements which can be served as appetizers or snacks. Read about mortadella, capocollo, mozzarella, and taleggio. Know how to assemble an antipasto platter. Wrap up with some nice Italian ice.
The discussion of red wine vs. white wine concerns both the type of food and personality of drinkers. Chianti is a versatile red wine that goes well with most Italian cuisine and is popular throughout Italy.
Clothes span a spectrum from demure to sexy. More demure: concealing, dark or neutral colors, matte, smooth, draping, opaque, solid, stable. More sexy: revealing, bright colors, shiny, fuzzy, clingy, translucent, lacy, unstable. However, the most salient feature of sexy wear is that it intrigues the imagination by revealing some things while leaving the rest to the viewer's imagination. I was frustrated that I couldn't find a single reference collating this information, so there it is in a nutshell. The Marionettes are pretty serious about sending accurate signals with clothes, although there are always a few standouts who style themselves differently than their actual role.
Compare the two black dresses: one more concealing, and one more revealing. The first is more demure, the second more sexy, but both are good at highlighting a body's gentle curves.
Compare the two white dresses: one with denser lace and matching underwear, then one with looser lace and contrasting underwear. Same pattern of demure and sexy, but here they show off long lovely legs.
Compare the two colorful dresses: one more translucent with eggplants, and one more opaque with tomatoes. Pattern continues, this time based on how much you can see through. Notice that prints are tricky: the right one is fun and playful, while the wrong one just looks ridiculous. Large, bold prints like these are more difficult to carry well than smaller, subtler prints.
Budgeting is a basic life skill; Cuoio is trying to figure out his new resources and obligations. There are tips on making sure your girlfriend doesn't make you broke. Within a couple, there are different strategies for merging money. Cuoio and Chiara are actually using yet another strategy, itemizing, where they've divided household responsibilities across the two of them and their various personal and professional accounts. Figure out your ideals, then make your budget accordingly.