I turned my head and groaned. Normally, I would never have minded seeing a pair of dazzling emerald eyes coming my way, but I could hear in Selphie's tone of voice that she wanted me to do something for her. The last time she wanted me to do something for her, Zell had ended up with a shaved head and I had a lot of explaining to do to Ma Dincht. Don't ask. It's a long story.
"Oh Irvy!" she sang my name as she skipped to my side.
"I can't, Selph."
"Can't what?" she asked, her petite face gathering into a frown. "I didn't even say anything yet!"
I laughed at her and playfully touched her nose with my finger. "I can just tell."
"Am I that obvious?"
"You're transparent," I confirmed.
"Come on, hear me out," she begged. "I didn't mean for the Esthar government to be brought in last time. And I did write the formal apology you had to give Sir Laguna for you!"
"It wasn't even my chocobo!" I said thinking back on the "incident" from several months before. How embarassing all that had been. That's a long story too. I'm not even going there right now.
"Look, all this involves is shopping."
"Shopping?" I narrowed my eyes skeptically.
"Yep," she nodded. "See, Cid asked if Quistis and I could pick out a Christmas present for Matron from him. He's rather busy with organizing vacation leave for everyone and well," she shifted from foot to foot, "Quistis and I are already pretty busy with the Poinsetta Ball. Not many people signed up to help, so our hands are full!"
"Why not ask Rinoa? I haven't the foggiest idea what to get Matron."
"You don't have to worry!" Selphie said excitedly. "We have a list and everything. You just need to go out and buy. You'll get the Balamb Garden Gold Card and everything. I would have asked Rinoa, but she's been studying for her SeeD exam, so I hate to ask her."
"I don't know, Selphie," I shook my head. There was a lot I was willing to do for the girl, but I was no shopper.
"Just think about it, ok?"
"Alright," I conceded. "I'll think about it."
Yep, think about it, she told me. What she didn't tell me was that she was having Xu draft me up some orders. If I was commanded to participate in a mission, of course I'd have no choice. So needless to say, I was kind of surprised sitting in the cafeteria with Squall and Seifer the next day when Nida walked up waving an envelope in his hands. He snickered as he handed it to me.
"What's this?" I asked.
"Your new mission."
"Ah," I commented and took the envelope, ripping it open with my finger. I was excited at the prospect of seeing some action, but as I read the sheet of paper, my face fell.
"What's the mission?" Squall asked.
Sullenly, I threw the piece of paper on the table. Seifer snatched it up and read aloud, "You, Irvine Kinneas, and two other people of your choice have been ordered to head to Deling City for the next day. Your mission is to seek out the following items on this list and bring them promptly back to Balamb Garden where you will wrap them and give them to Cid in time for him to present them to Edea at the Poinsetta Ball. Enclosed you will find the list as well as the Balamb Garden Gold Card." Squall bit his lip, trying to keep from laughing, but Seifer made no pretense. He guffawed and wiped an imaginary tear from his eye. "I don't think they could have picked a braver man to take on such a dangerous mission."
Selphie owed me big time.
"What's on the list anyhow?" Squall asked, picking it up. He read, "A necklace preferably made of silver, perfume, a bath puff--"
"What the hell's a bath puff?" Seifer asked.
Squall shrugged and continued, "a new dress, and a kitten." His efforts to keep a straight face failed as he laughed at me. "Sorry, Irv, you're on your own with this one."
"You take care of that wittle kitten, ok?" Seifer used the same babyish voice he often used when making fun of Zell.
"Au contrare," I said. "My orders say to take two people of my choice."
"Oh no you don't!" Seifer protested. Nida shook his head and dashed away. Squall's laughter died.
"Oh yes I do. I pick you two. I can't think of two braver men." With that thought, I smiled and stood up. "Be ready to go in two hours. And Seifer, I'll let you be in charge of the wittle kitten." I left them at the table, staring after me in surprise.
"OK, item one on the list is a silver necklace. Come on, this should be easy, don't you think?" We were walking down the main street in Deling City. There were a lot of holiday shoppers out trying to buy stuff off their own Christmas lists.
"I think puberty boy's the best bet for this one," Seifer slapped Squall on the shoulder.
"What?" Squall looked perturbed.
"You know how to accessorize," Seifer pointed to the chain Squall wore around his neck.
"I don't think that's what we need to get Matron. I was thinking something a little more...feminine," I suggested and Seifer rolled his eyes. He opened his mouth to say something, but thought better of it and shut it again.
"There's a store," Squall pointed to the sign above the door. We walked in and were immediately greeted by a cheerful voice.
"Hello there! How can I help you gentlemen today?" A smiling young blonde woman approached us.
"How can you help us?" Seifer raised one eyebrow and I could tell he was thinking something naughty. I could tell because I knew I made that look whenever those thoughts crossed my mind. I guess Squall did too because he quickly pushed Seifer out of the way.
"Um, we're looking for a necklace. Preferrably a silver one," he said.
"Do you have anything in mind?" she asked.
We looked at each other blankly and shook our heads. "Something more feminine than that," I pointed to Squall's necklace and he held it out for her to see.
She looked amused and led us to the back of the store where a large glass case was filled with necklaces, all silver. Seifer bent over and was studying them. Squall pointed at one and said, "What do you guys think?" It had a small tear-shaped pendant on it.
"Nah," Seifer shook his head. "It looks so...dinky."
"Yeah," I agreed with him. "Women like things to be bigger. The bigger, the better."
"I don't know," Squall said skeptically.
"Too bad, we veto what you think. Two against one," I said. "That one's big." I pointed to the necklace on the end. It had large silver beads and a huge pendant of what looked like a Marlboro.
"That's not very feminine," Seifer commented. "I like this one." He motioned to the blonde girl and requested she take the necklace out. She nodded and lifted it up for us to see. It was a nice compromise between mine and Squall's choices. It was a long silver chain with a large flower pendant. Yeah, that was perfect. Women like flowery things. Satisfied, we had the blonde woman charge it to the Gold Card and wrap it up nicely so we wouldn't have to.
We left the shop and found ourselves back in the street. "What's next?" Seifer asked.
"Perfume," Squall answered. He had memorized the list so we wouldn't have to keep pulling it out.
"Did anyone ever find out what a bath puff was?"
I shrugged. "I asked Quistis and she told me it was a puff you used in the bath. Real helpful, wasn't she?"
"Well, if it's something bath-related, surely we can find it the same place we get the perfume, right? I mean, it's all related, isn't it? Stuff that smells," Squall said, scanning the shops, looking for a good place to go into.
"I suppose you're right," I said. "Bingo." I pointed to a sign that said, 'Elly's Bathworks and Perfumery.' Resolutely, we walked to our next destination.
This mission was a piece of cake!
"Can I help you?" a woman with a nasal voice asked, handing us a shopping basket as we stepped through the door.
"Um, can we speak to Elly?" I asked.
The woman looked puzzled for a minute and then smiled apologetically. "Elly doesn't actually work here. The store's a chain. It's based out of Esthar. But I can help you."
Seifer looked at her suspiciously and asked, "Have you ever met Elly?"
"Once," the woman said, not really understanding what that had to do with anything.
Seifer relaxed. "It's ok, guys. She can help us. What the hell's a bath puff?"
The woman didn't know how to react. I could tell she was ever regretting asking if she could lend us aid. She pointed her finger towards a bin full of...well, full of puffs. Now I knew why Quistis couldn't have gone into any more detail about what they were. Squall reached in and picked up a pale blue one. He smiled as he gave it a squeeze. "Blue ok?"
"How about pink instead? Women like the color pink," Seifer said picking up a puff of his own. A look crossed his face and he said, "How much are these anyhow?"
"You can get three for 1 gil," the woman answered.
"That's pretty cheap," Squall commented. "Do you think they'd mind if we..." his voice trailed off.
"You're serious?" I raised an eyebrow and looked at them.
Seifer threw his bath puff in the shopping basket with a scowl. "Breathe a word to anyone about this, cowboy, and you're dead." Squall threw one in for himself along with the blue one he had picked up for Matron. I shrugged. Why not? I selected a yellow one (it reminded me of Selphie) and tossed it in.
"Anything else?" the woman asked.
I snapped my fingers. "Perfume!" I wouldn't want to leave the shop without picking that up!
"Right this way," she said and gestured for us to follow. An entire wall was lined with different bottles of perfume, all different colors, shapes, and sizes.
"What now?" Squall asked.
"Start smelling," Seifer said, an awed expression on his face at the enormous amount of perfume bottles on the wall..
So we popped every stopped off every bottle and began to sniff. It only took us a little over an hour to narrow it down to three bottles. Since we couldn't agree on the scent, we played rock-paper-scissors and Squall won, so we walked out with the bath puffs and a large violet-colored crystal bottle of a perfume named Paradisio.
"This is great," I commented. "Only two things left on the list! A new dress and the wittle kitten. We can get the kitten in Timber on the way back to Balamb Garden. Now to just decide where to get the dress." We looked up the street and found that every other shop was women's clothing. So we did the logical thing - we walked into the shop that had the prettiest girls shopping in it.
Stepping inside, Squall's eyes widened. "How are we supposed to pick a dress? How do we know what size? How are we going to--"
"Get ahold of yourself!" I exclaimed, putting a hand on each of Squall's shoulders and shaking him. He gave me an annoyed look and pushed me away, muttering "Whatever..."
"Just pick one," Seifer said, thumbing through the racks of clothing. He selected a dress and held it up to Squall who swatted it away, embarassed.
"Look, I'm tired of shopping. Can we just buy something and go? This dress looks fine," Seifer said. It was true. We had been at this all day and I admitted I was getting a little tired too. And hey, if nothing else, it was pink. All women liked pink.
"Yeah," I nodded. "Let's get going. If we leave now, we'll make it to the Timber Pet Shop just before it closes. We can get the kitten and we'll be done."
Squall shrugged. "Whatever..."
Selphie had really outdone herself with Quistis's help. The ballroom was decorated beautifully with candles and poinsettas everywhere. It was a somewhat formal event so everyone had shed their casual clothes for tuxedos and fancy dresses. As soon as I walked into the room, Selphie spotted me and ran to my side. "Did you get them?"
"Get what?" I asked, playing dumb.
"The presents for Matron!"
"Umm...Selphie, I'm drawing a blank here," I cocked my head and watched as her face paled and she looked queasy. "Just kidding there, Butterfly. Let me guess. You were supposed to get Edea's presents and Cid doesn't know you passed on the task to us." The guilty look on her face confirmed it. I laughed and said, "Don't you worry. I think you'll be pretty impressed. We did good."
"Me, Squall, and Seifer."
Her eyes widened. "Oh boy," she muttered under her breath and jumped when Cid tapped her on the shoulder. "Sir!"
"Did you get the presents?" Cid asked, his eyes twinkling.
"Yes sir," she said cautiously, giving me a look. I nodded in confirmation and she repeated a little more surely, "Yes sir!"
"Can't wait to see them!" he exclaimed with a wink.
"Me neither," I heard Selphie mumble.
They didn't have to wait long. In fact, less than ten minutes later, we all found ourselves standing around as Cid presented Edea with the kitten, first of all. She clapped in delight as she hugged the tiny mewing craeture to her body. Seifer had meticulously tied a red ribbon around the little guy's neck. Cid beamed in pleasure.
Next, she pulled the bath puff out of a bag and smiled, "I've been wanting one of these. And look! Blue! My favorite color." She reached into the bag again and pulled out the perfume. Behind me, I heard Nida snicker.
"Kind of gaudy-looking, isn't it?"
"Shut up, Nida," Seifer growled.
"That's Paradisio," Squall said. "It's the latest scent straight from Esthar."
Edea popped the top off the perfume bottle to take a whiff and immediately tears came to her eyes and she fell back in her seat, her hand fluttering to her chest. "Oh my!" she said, promptly putting the stopper back in the bottle. "I'll definitely...umm...save this for a special occasion."
From the corner of my eye, I saw Selphie slap her hand to her forehead and shake her head. Squall leaned over and said, "She loves it!" I nodded in agreement. Oh yes, she definitely loved it.
She reached for the tiny box the woman from the jewelry shop had wrapped the necklace in. Edea smiled in anticipation and gently ripped the paper. She opened the box and her eyes widened, her mouth forming into an "O."
"Look! She's speechless!" Seifer whispered proudly.
Edea lifted the necklace up and laughed. "It's...very...big. Thank you."
I gave Selphie a thumbs up, but the strange thing was, she didn't seem too happy. I couldn't figure out why! Cid handed Edea the last package. The dress! I could tell that Squall and Seifer were as eager to see her response as I was. She opened the package and pulled out the dress. I had read the tag before the man at the shop had packed it up. 100% Taffeta. And it was pink. Very feminine. She pulled out the dress and held it to her body, nodding in wonder. I looked at her standing there, her body surrounded by all the ruffles and bows and gave Seifer and Squall a proud look. We had done it.
Selphie came up to me and exclaimed, "What were you thinking?"
"What do you mean?" I asked, puzzled.
"Look at all the...the..." she gestured towards the dress, "The ruffles! The bows! It's so...pink!"
"Women love pink," I informed her. "Look at her. She--" I stopped. She was walking towards me. I nodded politely as she approached me. "Matron."
"Irvine, Squall, Seifer," she acknowledged all three of us. "Thank you for the presents."
"What?" Squall said. "But how did--"
"It wasn't hard to tell. I know Cid always leaves the task to someone else. He's never known how to shop for me. And I've seen him talking to you a lot lately, Selphie. But let's face it, Selphie, this isn't your taste. If it were, well then," she laid one hand on Selphie's shoulder, "we'd need to have a little talk about fashion, dear."
"Matron, I--" Selphie started to say.
"Don't worry, I won't tell him," she winked and returned back to where Cid was sitting, talking and laughing with the people around him.
"See? She loves it!" I told Selphie.