“This dress is perfect,” she said. “What are you looking so miserable about?”
“The cut is perfect for your figure, it’s true,” he said. “But I’m not certain that cerulean goes with the sound.”
“What sound?” Sarah felt that a couturier as fashionable as Ralph had earned the right to have the occasional eccentricity indulged. “A dress doesn’t make a sound.”
“That sound. Your voice,” said Ralph.
“My voice? What’s not cerulean enough about my voice, Ralph?”
“Rafe, my dear, it is pronounced Rafe. Rhyming with safe. Which I, of course, am not.”
The frown had gone from Ralph’s face, replaced by an expression that belonged on the face of a boy who was last to be picked for a team. It made Sarah want to comfort him.
She squeezed his arm. “Now you’re being silly, you’re the perfect gentleman. You didn’t even peek while I was changing into it, did you?”
Ralph looked as if she’d slapped him. “I did indeed peek. Of course I did.”
His features hardened in a visible attempt to rally himself. “But to return to the matter of your voice, my dear, your voice. To wear this colour requires the velvet tones of a contralto. Your voice…”
Ralph waved his arm in an upward motion, indicating octaves higher than Sarah could aspire to.
“But my hazel eyes? My dark hair? The colour matches them perfectly. And I’ve been on a diet since you measured me to make sure I’d fit it perfectly.”
“Hmm…” Ralph’s expression did not change.
“What’s wrong with my voice, then?” asked Sarah.
“It’s hard to say,” said Ralph. “How can a man with pitch as perfect as mine describe a sound that is so chronically off-key.”
“Off-key, dear girl, off-key. To wear that dress – not merely to put it on but to wear it, you understand – requires the mellifluous tones of the skylark. Not the screech of a parakeet with laryngitis. No, no, no, it won’t do.” Ralph opened a wardrobe and rifled through the dresses hanging in it. “I have the perfect dress for you here. A lady of very similar proportions who sadly passed away the day before she collected it.”
He turned with a flourish, holding up a grey long-sleeved gown.
Sarah waited for him to notice he’d chosen the wrong dress, but he held it out to her.
“It’s perfect for you, my dear. It requires but a few minor adjustments.”
Sarah looked down and ran her hands over the dress she was wearing. “I think this is perfect.”
“Then you are sadly mistaken.” Ralph shook his head, conveying his sadness was not a figure of speech. “My conscience will not allow you to leave this building with that dress. It was my mistake to ever think you could wear it.”
“And my name, dear girl, is Rafe.”