Buying underwear went better than Owen could have hoped. In fact, Bran was entirely uninterested and allowed him to make the choices quickly and unanimously. Bran wandered off and Owen emerged from the socks and underwear isle in a state of slight panic, which didn’t lessen much when he found Bran in the women’s lingerie aisle fingering lace underwear while rubbing his cheek against a fluffy, pink dressing gown. The embarrassment was even more acute as he had an audience of two employees, a couple of teens and a family with a young child who was demanding to be able to do the same, reaching sticky fingers toward a nightdress with bears on.
“Owen, look what I found. This is so pretty. Can I have some. And this is so soft. Do you have one. Please can I have it. If you haven’t got one, you can have one too. They’ve got different colours. Then I can snuggle you, and you can snuggle me.”
Owen’s face flamed. For a moment he considered pretending not to know Bran and walking away, but that was impossible, so he grabbed some of the knickers Bran was stroking and the dressing gown and threw them in the basket.
“Have one too. They’ve got some with little hearts on. Look.”
One of the sales assistants sniggered, and Owen glared at her. She stifled a grin and walked away.
“Is there anything else I can help you with, sir?” the other assistant said, not even trying to hide her smile.
“No thank you,” Owen replied stiffly. “We can manage.”
Slowly, the little crowd dispersed, and Bran noticed Owen’s expression.
“What’s the matter?”
“This is the women’s aisle,” Owen mumbled. “These are women’s clothes.”
“I don’t understand. Are we not allowed to buy them?” He gazed longingly at the red satin panties.
“No, we can but they… It’s just…usually, only women wear them.”
Bran stopped and stared at Owen. “I…see,” he said slowly. “But we can buy them. I can wear them but it will be different to everyone else.”
“Yes,” Owen said, relieved. His relief didn’t last.
“Wonderful,” Bran said. “I think I’ll have some of these in pink, too. What are those?”
They bought seven pairs of assorted lace underwear, two pairs of pyjamas—one with an unicorn on the front, and one with a dancing fairy, which Bran thought was hilarious, two dressing gowns and a pair of high heels, before Owen finally dragged Bran away from the women’s clothes.
They fared better in the men’s aisles, generally. Bran was all about the sense—if it felt good, smelled good, or crinkled when he scrunched it, he wanted to buy it, as he did with anything that was brightly coloured or had pictures on the front.
Owen had chosen quite an upmarket shop, at Aggie’s insistence, and the sales staff became very involved, much to Owen’s chagrin. They seemed to love Bran, though, and Bran basked in the attention. The basket turned to two, then three, then more assistants were called to help carry them. Bran danced through the middle of it all, darting to something that caught his eye and tossing it into the basket carelessly.
“You should try some of these on,” Owen said, trying desperately to halt Bran’s crazy spree. “You won’t know if they fit you properly if you don’t try them on.”
Bran gazed at him thoughtfully then grinned. “You’re right. Can I try the underwear first?”
“You can’t try on underwear,” Owen said. “It’s not allowed.”
“Because if you don’t buy it, no one else is going to.”
Bran thought about it then nodded sagely. “I see. But I can try the rest?”
“As long as you keep your underwear on.”
“I will,” he sang and disappeared into the changing rooms with a handful of clothes that made him look like a bird of paradise, its wings made up of colourful rags.
When Bran came out of the changing room, Owen completely changed his opinion of the trip so far. It changed abruptly from the worst day of his life to the best, with one outfit.
Bran wore faded jeans, with artful tears across the knees, so tight they could have been painted on. Over the top was a long, black t-shirt with a gold dragon motif and a long, tailored coat with a vintage Victorian vibe in black and grey shot silk. The outfit was finished by a pair of heeled ankle book and Bran’s hair, which he’d pulled free of its band, and hung like a gleaming silver shawl over his shoulder. Owen had never seen anything so beautiful in his life—apart from Bran naked.
“Do you like it?” Bran asked, apparently uncomfortable with Owen’s intense scrutiny. He shuffled his feet looking coy, and Owen melted.
He got to his feet like an automaton and glided across the floor. Taking Bran into his arms, he breathed into his ear, “You’re beautiful.”
“Will you get some, too. Clothes like this. Yours are…” Bran bit his lip.
“Shabby and worn,” Owen said, laughing.
“Okay, I’ll get a few things but I’d rather things that are a little less…formal.”
“Okay, I’ll get not formal things too, he said with a grin. You can choose.”
From that moment, the whole thing was a game, which Owen immersed himself in wholly and it was the most fun he’d had in his life.