were advisable for me to fit in with the general dress code of women in Patrus, though I could wear fitted pants and shirts occasionally (and obviously I would wear whatever I wanted when I was in the house).
I knew a lot of women adored shopping—in Matrus, too—but I wasn’t one of them. The first hour was a novelty, but after that it became rather dull to me, like watching someone poking at my nails had.
I hadn't been paying attention to the prices, since Lee hadn't, but I suspected it would've cost him a lot of gold. The materials were all organic and high quality, unlike what I was used to wearing.
Since we weren't having a proper ceremony, Lee told me that a traditional wedding dress was not required, but that I still needed something elegant. We ended up choosing a well-tailored long indigo-blue dress that, according to the attendant, made my eyes "pop". Whether they did or not, I couldn't deny that it looked nice. Not me, but nice.
By the time we left the shops, it was nearing one o'clock. We headed back to Lee's motorcycle, where we offloaded the bags. Then he turned to me. "So, we don't have time to return home before the appointment. You can change into the dress and shoes we picked out for the marriage now."
We dug into the bags and retrieved the items before he led me to a building of public restrooms nearby. As I moved into one of the shiny, steel-gray stalls to change, my throat went dry and I started perspiring more than I should have on a day of such a moderate temperature. I had to remind myself that there was no need to feel nervous. This marriage is fake. It won't mean anything.
After pulling on the dress and slipping into the shoes, I stepped out of the cubicle and stared at myself in the mirror. My hair hanging down my shoulders in soft waves, the blue dress hugging my frame at the most flattering of places, I didn't remember the last time I'd felt so feminine. Perhaps when I'd tried on my mother's makeup as a kid.
Drawing in a deep breath, I tore my eyes away from the mirror and rejoined Lee outside.
I kept my gaze on the ground as he offered his arm to me, though I could feel his eyes pass over me in polite admiration.
"You look perfect," he said quietly.
An odd feeling swirled inside me. That was the first time I'd been complimented by a man. I wasn't sure whether I liked the attention or not.
Lee cleared his throat. "Right, so, uh… we're not far away. About five to ten minutes' walk. It'll be easier to go by foot from here."
I held his arm a little harder than I had intended as I focused on keeping my walk steady in my new shoes. We first returned to the motorcycle to drop off the clothes I’d changed out of, and then, leaving the street of women's boutiques, we wandered down another narrow alleyway. We passed several more streets after that—streets with barber shops, men's clothing stores, as well as other shops retailing furniture and food. We didn't exchange a word as we walked for the next ten minutes, until we finally arrived outside a tall, red-brick building with a sharp, protruding spire.
"Central Matrimony Registration Office."
We stopped outside the entrance. Finally, Lee and I met each other's eyes as he straightened his jacket.
"Okay." His Adam's apple bobbed. "In we go."
He pushed open the door and held it for me as we stepped into a sterile reception room. The lighting was white and bleak, the carpets a dull shade of green. A wide desk lined the wall opposite us, behind which sat three men in black suits. The man in the middle—a middle-aged bald guy with a heavy goatee—stood as we approached. A perfunctory smile spread across his lips.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Banks," Lee said, holding out a hand for him to shake.
"Afternoon, Mr., and soon-to-be Mrs., Bertrand," he replied.
My hand instinctively moved to shake his, but I caught myself and instead gave him a brief nod, which he returned.
"Do follow me."
Mr. Banks led us through a door to our left and guided us