Sweet feedback for Loving Vintage

After a story releases and an author gets to take that deep breath now that her book has started its journey to readers, the next truly joyful step is discovering the impact the story has on actual readers. Did they enjoy it? Were there thoughtful moments main characters Annie, Julie, and Mimi shared that may mirror those of readers’ experiences? Do readers reach out to contact me to share their take-aways, and ask questions about the story? I particularly love to share this sweet feedback.

One such reader, a talented artist in her own right, Mimi Goehringer, sent along fashion drawings she’d sketched of vintage outfits inspired by Loving Vintage.

mimi-1

Her own fashion sense is quirky and artistic. She has delightfully captured the joy of vintage.

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I love these sketches!

Another reader, Dori, offered a  review which she also shared to Goodreads:

In Loving Vintage, we meet an eclectic cast of women and men who’s lives converge at a downtown Raleigh vintage store who’s inventory and displays are as intriguing and colorful as its customers and staff. We follow Annie Savone and her colleagues through challenging passages that push them (and the reader) to look at their reputations and life directions. Annie finds herself alone, unexpectedly, with her life in as many pieces as a vintage ensemble and has to face tough choices to put things together in for her future.

Every path in front of her presents uncertain outcomes that requires leaving some part of the past behind yet dares her to dig deep to reclaim her personal and professional identity.

I felt like I had spent an afternoon in a great vintage store, imaging the history of the clothing and the characters, curious about would happen next! Treat yourself to this book, it’s worth the visit!

This is the fuel writers thrive on and the energy that builds their desire to create the next story! Thank you to all my readers. I appreciate your sweet feedback!

Author Event – January 24, 2017

Join me Tuesday evening, January 24, at 6:00pm for an Author Event evening at the Page 158 Independent Book Shop, a locally owned independent book shop in beautiful Downtown Wake Forest, North Carolina! vintage_cover

I’ll be talking about my latest release, Loving Vintage, and other writerly things with Page 158’s own Dori DeSantis. A little different from a book signing/book reading, we’ll focus more on getting to know each other, answering questions, and sipping and sharing glasses of wine. Copies of Loving Vintage are available at the shop if you wish to read the story prior to the event.

Loving Vintage is the first of a proposed three-book series about three women and their intersecting lives at the Loving Vintage upscale vintage consignment shop in the Five Points historic section in Raleigh, North Carolina. All my books are set locally in Raleigh.

Vintage clothing has history—Boomer Annie Savone does not. Her challenge, to heal and restore the confidence to once again believe in self after the marriage that never should have ended does, drives her attempt to purchase the shop she manages. She must have the support of her closest friends and sales associates, Julie and Mimi to make the dream reality. Once tucked away in favor of her long-term marriage, Annie now opts to confront and unwind her long-clouded adoption as well and face the questions that have lurked in her heart forever. When the sale of the shop falters in favor of a mysterious young man and family secrets that can jeopardize it all, Annie leans deeply on Realtor Camden Fredericks as she digs deep to discover the who am I that fuels her resolute gamble to become whole.

Page 158 is located at 158 S White Street, Wake Forest. You can sign up at their Upcoming Event Calendar here or call them at 914-741-9156. They also respond very quickly to Messages left at their Facebook page.

I look forward to seeing you all there!

Announcing the Loving Vintage Release

My interest in women’s back stories drives me to explore their situations and their worlds. And better yet if that back story includes archaeology, natural/alternative  healing methods,  metaphysical touches and some travel. In past stories you’ve met a software project developer (Nardi Point); a Nurse Practitioner (A Path through the Garden); and a bibliotherapist (Yellow Pansies in a Blue Cobalt Jar). vintage_cover

Today, I announce the release of the first book of my new series LOVING VINTAGE. In this story, you’ll meet Annie Savone, the boomer manager of the Loving Vintage consignment shop.

When Annie Savone enters her bid to purchase the upscale vintage clothing shop she manages, she designs a path to take her from a blindside divorce to the rest of her life.

With only a faded photo of a woman with toddlers—her only possible clue to a family of her own—Annie elects to brazen out the mystery of her adoption and grapples newly exposed family roots that lead her into a jeopardize-all risk.

You may enjoy reading the novella,  Stronger Ever After (presented in a five-part series on this blog) that introduces some of the main characters you’ll meet in Loving Vintage. Enjoy!

Stronger Ever After – Conclusion

Here is the final installment of my novella, Stronger Ever After. Enjoy! For the further adventures of these characters and others, be sure to explore my latest novel, Loving Vintage, to be released December 10, 2016!

The long Sunday hours killed her. Barb had projected the increase in shop traffic correctly. Mimi’s greatest struggle however, were her careening thoughts about Willow and how to guide and support her daughter through this challenge as Mimi restocked displays and helped customers. Her focus was Willow’s next confrontation surely to follow tomorrow, Monday morning at school. And the appointment Mimi had arranged with Willow’s teacher. She slipped away into the break room and rotated her shoulders to break the tightening knot. She scanned her cell. No messages. Her daughter hadn’t answered her texts all day.

She pressed Jeff’s number. The call went to voice message as she rubbed her neck. “Jeff, I’ll stop by for Willow on the way home from work. Save you a trip. Be leaving in about half an hour.” Her shoulders burned in spasm. She reached back and attempted to knead it loose then finished up the orders and inventory count before leaving.

Jeff’s townhouse windows were dark when Mimi parked in front. She grabbed her cell as the message indicator blinked on. It was Jeff.

“Look, Mimi. I messed up. Willow’s home. Safe. I’m at the precinct,” a pause, “Got picked up for DWI.”

What! Her hands shook. The message, listed from two in the morning, had posted only now.

Impossible reckless excuse for a husband. He’d sworn off drinking and why the judge had granted joint custody during divorce proceedings.

Her throat tightened, she crushed the car door handle open and ran to his front door, pressing Willow’s number again on her cell. Still nothing. She wanted to throw the cell, smash it. She rang the bell, then pounded the door.

No response. She called out, “Willow!”

Her fingers trembled as she jabbed Willow’s number one more time. Jeff in the drink tank all night, where was her daughter? The last time she saw her was yesterday afternoon. Anything could happen in that time span to a thirteen-year-old looking to be fierce—in a black leather jacket.

She fumbled the key ring for a duplicate key made from the one Jeff gave Willow for weekends. That’s what being a mom was all about. Grateful she’d taken the precaution, her shaky fingers eased the key into the lock. She was in, the door slamming behind her. Sprinting two steps at a time, she rushed the stairs to the bedrooms. The master was undisturbed. Willow’s room had been slept in, the rumpled bed unmade. She gulped a breath and raced downstairs to the kitchen. There was a bowl and spoon in the sink, a jar of chocolatey Nutella, Willow’s favorite, on the table.

Again she jabbed Willow’s number. Too soon to call police? They wouldn’t take the report yet, not enough time. What about an amber alert? Her mouth dried. Jeff wouldn’t have his phone in the drink tank and couldn’t help. Her legs weakened beneath her. She had to sit.

On the table beside the Nutella jar, a couple of fashion magazines caught her eye. Several loose pages of sketches were nested between them. Mimi recognized her daughter’s style. With the sketches, was a torn magazine page from a local vintage consignment shop. Did it connect in any way with Willow? She caught her breath and flashed-read the shop’s location. It wasn’t far.

Her heart took on a prayer-answered fervor that propelled her out of the chair, out of the townhouse and into the car. She almost passed the address, it was that nearby. Mimi checked her watch. It was late afternoon.

She could see the shop’s lights still on. As she ran to the door, a woman placed a Loving Vintage Closed sign in the door window. Mimi met her eyes and gestured she needed to come in, thinking she must absolutely look like a crazy person. Past the woman, and sitting at a low counter, she could make out a young girl, her head down, busy with something she couldn’t tell what. depositphotos_7711394_m-2015

“Willow!” A shout and gasp released from her chest as she recognized her daughter.

The door opened immediately. Mimi flew past the woman to her daughter.

Willow looked up. A radiant smile Mimi hadn’t seen on Willow’s face in a long time, changed in a split second to a flush that spread across her cheeks. “Mom!”

Mimi embraced her daughter as tears dropped from her eyes. “Thank, god!”

She pushed Willow’s shoulders back out of their embrace and placed her face close to her daughter’s. “No call, Willow! You know the ground rules. I’ve been so worried, you have no idea!”

Willow hung her head. “Sorry. Everything was such a mess.” She raised her gaze. “Then I met Annie, here.”

The woman stepped forward. She gave Mimi an understanding smile filled with compassion.

“I’m Annie Savone,” she clasped her hands in front of her. “I manage Loving Vintage.” Annie looked toward Willow and swept her hand at the designs Willow had drawn. “Your daughter has quite the eye for vintage.”

Mimi tilted her head and waited for more.

“Willow stopped by the shop the other day to look through our vintage wear and collectibles. She was interested in the stylist job I posted.”

Willow’s gaze hit the floor. She didn’t seem able to meet Mimi’s eyes.

Annie looked from Mimi to Willow and continued, “She drew a couple of sketches putting together some of the pieces we have for sale and I recognized her talent.” She paused, “If it would work with Willow’s school schedule, I’m looking for an intern, too. Flexible hours, only a few a week actually because this is a new position. And it comes with a small stipend.”

Willow’s head bounced up. “Could I, Mom? I’d love it.”

Mimi took a quick sweeping glance of the consignment shop. Over toward an area marked Consult, Willow’s black leather jacket slipped to the floor from where it had been tossed. The shop had a secure, established feel to it. No doubt business was good evidenced from the freshness of the tasteful displays, and orderliness. She returned to her daughter’s expectant face. The change she saw in the Willow before her was dramatic.

She looked at Annie who exchanged an almost telepathic message of understanding.  The warmth and kindness in the woman’s eyes were reassuring. Annie had somehow recognized Willow could benefit from having her talent recognized. A smile curled Mimi’s lip and the heaviness she carried lifted. She would back her daughter, formally support her talent, grow her confidence, and guide her along a path to wherever Willow’s talent would take her. Mean Elle would not have the last word.

Mimi nodded, “I think you’d enjoy that and learn a lot.”

Willow rushed a hug to Mimi, remaining in her arms longer than she had in quite a while. Mimi dropped her head to Willow’s and gave the softening hair-sprayed head a kiss before returning to meet Annie’s gaze.

“Thanks for this,” she sighed. Then she raised her chin and without hesitation, asked, “About that open stylist position—”

There would be no more mean girls for either of them.

Stronger Ever After – Part IV

Here is Part IV of my five-part novella. Hope you’re enjoying it!

Shoppers wandered and browsed the merchandise aisles as Mimi routinely refreshed displays. Willow was all she could think about. Her outburst last night only brought more questions as she pieced together at what point Willow started avoiding school.

After Jeff had collected Willow, Mimi entered an online teacher conference request. Willow was a good student, it wasn’t school work that intimidated her daughter. She had to determine what the teacher knew about the situation.

A shopper interrupted her thoughts by asking about sizing. The woman nodded her appreciation and carried the garment to checkout.

Mimi cruised the shop like a robotic carpet cleaner.

What was it about Willow that led this Elle to bully her with texts and name-calling? Willow had friends, but didn’t cultivate them, preferring to sketch fashion designs and examine style magazines over mani-pedi talk. She spent weekends sewing and more often reconstructing outfits from older clothing.  Willow wore a smile that glowed whenever she came across a vintage piece she could afford.

Fierce inside, that’s what Willow had said. What did she mean? Mimi scrubbed her face with a hand.

Checkout was busy. Not a word of feedback about how the hot date had gone. Maybe later. It didn’t matter. There was only one thing that mattered now.

At the front of the shop, Mimi recognized a particularly arrogant customer well-known to sales associates. The woman carried the ultimate designer Birkin handbag—always. No matter the outfit, weather, or appropriateness, the Birkin was the single accessory. Mimi well remembered the feel of that bag on her back as the woman pushed her out of the way on several past shopping visits.

The woman approached a sales associate who spun on her heel and paused before leading the woman directly toward her. Mimi steadied herself as they advanced.

“This is our stylist, Mimi,” the associate said, waving her hand at her as they neared. She had placed a funny little sarcastic emphasis on stylist.

“She can help you.”

The shopper, her mouth open, watched the associate walk off then pivoted back to face Mimi. She tucked the Birkin bag onto a pile of cardigans and scrounged the bag’s contents. Mimi doubted she even needed anything in the bag. It was merely a prop, like a calling card to announce her possession of a coveted designer accessory. The woman looked up from her bag with narrowed eyes.

“I don’t need a stylist,” she growled. “Never have.” There followed an arrogant tirade about her individual style sense.

Mimi held her tongue. It was a set-up. They had deliberately dumped Birkin-woman on her. The woman ended her stream of self-acclaim, made her way to the front of the shop, and trundled out.

Mimi shook her head and looked around gauging if others had viewed the scene. There were no bystanders. The shop was as hard as its decor, no heart, only chrome coldness.

Talk about Willow, I’m in the same situation–bullied for my style sense and bullied into working an unfair schedule because I need the money.

She squeezed both eyes hard to clear unwanted tears and caught another figure entering, a familiar figure. The hair looked purposely bedhead-ratty. Was that a black leather jacket punctured with studs worn over, oh no, a green bohemian skirt and black combat boots?

“Mom. How’s it going?”

Mimi gasped. “Never mind how it’s going, Miss Willow. What’s happened to you?” She pulled her daughter over to the side. She searched Willow’s face for a moment, then pushed back a clump of her hair, releasing an antiseptic smell. Five fresh ear piercings lined up along Willow’s outer ear. beautiful young girl with dreadlocks

Mimi sagged against the counter and leaned into the four-way chrome display fixture for support. The display wobbled and might have fallen under her weight had she not been able to recover her balance.

Willow tucked the hair defiantly behind her ear, fully displaying the piercings. “It’s the new me, Momma. I can be as tough as the others.”

“This is now you?” Mimi swallowed and forced her voice low. “Because some mean girl-come-lately can’t see the value, style, and heart that the Willow I know possesses?”

Mimi couldn’t chance the scene escalating into a drama, but her daughter’s so-called look was a hot mess. Any small display of so-called style fierceness was lost on Willow’s soft body. She reached for her daughter’s shoulder to guide her off the selling floor toward the breakroom. “Let’s talk.”

Willow shrugged Mimi’s hand from her shoulder, “No, Momma. I don’t care what you think.” She spun around and huffed toward the door.

Mimi could only follow with her eyes. The checkout associates stopped what they were doing, put their heads together and whispered as Willow stomped out of the shop.

Mimi’s chest ached, followed by a quickening pulse and pounding heartbeat. She’d love and defend Willow against Elle, against the separation pain, against any danger the world might serve up for her struggling daughter. And the intervention had to be soon.

Stronger Ever After – Part III

The continuing novella, Part III, featuring characters from my soon to be released novel, Loving Vintage. Mimi Shepherd is the clothes stylist at the Loving Vintage upscale vintage consignment shop, and Willow is her teen daughter. Teenage girl portrait

Mimi slammed the car keys on the entry table. Traffic had been worse than ever.

“Mom, you’re home.”

Willow, draped on the couch with a chenille throw around her shoulders, dipped into a bag of chips. The thick scent of licorice floated from an opened box of Allsorts candy tucked into a stack of teen fashion magazines on the coffee table.

Mimi’s chin dipped to her chest. Her daughter had an appetite which was good, but was eating junk food. Guilt overtook her—she hadn’t been there to prepare dinner.

“Sorry, Willow.” She took up the candy box and closed the flap. “Why don’t I make us a great salad? You’d like that?”

Willow looked interested, then said, “You could have called to let me know where you were.”

“Okay, Willow. Message received.” One rule Mimi enforced was that her daughter let her know where she was throughout the day. And the only reason for Willow’s cell phone.

Willow exhaled with the usual teen drama, got up from the couch and followed Mimi into the kitchen. Mimi searched the fridge for romaine lettuce then set to rinsing the dark green leaves in the sink. The sink hose splashed a water stream onto Willow’s skirt.

“Oh, no!” Willow whimpered.

Mimi grabbed a towel and sponged the wet areas of her daughter’s skirt. The faded agate green color had an artisanal look only vintage clothing possessed. Willow loved the skirt, but she overdid the boho look. It was like some stylist’s curse, having a daughter who couldn’t quite get the proportions of the blouse with the belt to pull the look together. However thoughtfully she coached Willow, the teen held on to how she wanted it done.

“There.” Mimi stepped back to check it out. “It’s fine.”

Willow’s face relaxed. “Yeah, it looks okay.” She smoothed down the volume into soft folds.

“Great skirt, Willow. So versatile. There are lots of things in your closet I bet it would work well with, too.”

Willow avoided her eyes. “Why, Mom. You’ve got something to say about my outfit, too?”

Mimi’s ears piqued. She managed a non-confrontational tone. “I guess for me it’s an occupational hazard being a stylist at the shop. You know.” She attempted a smile and placed the towel over the sink and attempted a nonchalant question, “Do others comment on your outfits?”

Her daughter pushed away. She met Mimi’s gaze from the safety of distance. Tears were ready to drop from puffy eyes rimmed with thick dark lashes.

“Two worlds, Momma.” Willow’s voice cracked. “Me fierce and me—not so fierce.” She turned and fled to her bedroom. The door slammed behind her.

Mimi’s forehead wrinkled as she cleared her throat. Nothing quite that succinct had ever come from Willow before. Fierce was a fashion attitude she’d never use for Willow. What was going on?

Her daughter’s cell ring tone sounded from the coffee table. Mimi waited a moment then went to retrieve the cell. An incoming text message. Though not wanting to snoop, she was Willow’s mom and the way her daughter was acting, something was up.

She pressed the view key.

Weeping Willow looks like a pillow. Pillow Willow.

That was all of it.

Stunned, Mimi could not take her eyes from the mean text. Weeping Willow? Could that explain the puffy eyes? Pleas to leave school? How long was this bullying going on?

She flexed her fingers, then jabbed the call list for sender info. Elle something. She couldn’t remember Willow mentioning any Elle. Elle was a fashion model’s name, not a real name. What was this Elle doing intimidating her daughter? She realized she was holding her breath and let it go. And she had to work this weekend. Her hands were tied.

Her call to Jeff connected after several beats.

“Yeah, Mimi, what do you want?” His voice sounded gravely. Had he been sleeping?

Her palms sweated.

“Jeff,” she pushed her message out, “listen, my work schedule’s been hijacked. I’ve got to work this weekend–they only told me today–and something’s going on with Willow. Could you take her this weekend? It’s especially important for one of us to be with her now.”

He said nothing.

“I hate doing this, really—”

“What’s going on with her?” he growled.

“Not sure. She’s moody, wants to come home from school because she says she’s sick, but she doesn’t have any symptoms.” How much should she share? His interest level in his daughter’s life wasn’t high. Father or not, she hated he was the only one she could turn to.

“So she’s not sick?”

“Not that I can tell. It doesn’t stop her from snacking. I think it’s something to do with bullying.”

“Bullying? What the hell’s that about?”

She rubbed the back of her neck. How to explain? “I found a mean text sent to her cell. Something about weeping willow, pillow willow.”

“Pillow willow? Come on, what’s that mean?”

“I think maybe something to do with her weight. Snacking’s put on some pounds.” Her muscles tightened. She waited for his response and shook her head. Willow, already short-changed by the separation and now this.

“I had something going, but okay. I’ll drop over and pick her up.”

It was the only available solution, thank god he agreed. She would break the change in weekend plans to Willow and help pack her up. “Thanks, Jeff.”

Mimi tapped on Willow’s closed door, waited a moment, then turned the knob and stuck her head through the open slice. Willow had folded herself on the bed, her back facing the door.

“Honey? Can I come in?” Mimi opened the door fully.

Willow turned slightly, but said nothing.

Mimi took that for an okay and walked to her daughter’s bed and sat down on its edge. She stroked Willow’s tousled hair. The pillow was damp. “Seems like a lot’s going on.”

Willow shook her head so that Mimi’s hand fell from her hair and turned away.

“I was late tonight because I found out my schedule’s been changed.” Mimi swallowed hard. “It affects this weekend.”

Willow sat up with her back against the headboard. “Changed?”

Mimi nodded. “I have to work, honey.”

Willow rolled her eyes.

“I have to sort it all out, but in the meantime, Dad said you could go with him. I’m sorry about the last minute change. He’s on his way.”

Willow stroked her eyebrow and looked away. “Well, I guess okay.”

“Thanks, Willow.” She needed to bring up the mean text and looked for an easy in. “By the way, I kind of intercepted a text message for you. Just before.”

Willow sat straight up and seemed startled. “Why?”

She reached for Willow’s hand. “Would you like to tell me about Elle?”

Willow pulled her hand from Mimi’s grasp, pushed her out of the way, and stood.

“Mom!” she shouted. “That’s private. Why’d you go and do that?”

“Who’s Elle, honey?” she asked softly.

“I hate her. Hate her, hate her.” Willow clenched both fists in the air and pumped them for emphasis. “She’s mean, says my clothes are old—says I’m fat,” Willow sobbed tears and gasped for breath. “Everything was fine until she came along.”

“Oh, honey,” Mimi stood and embraced her daughter who shook her off at first, then surrendered.

“What does your teacher say?”

Willow’s shoulders shuddered from weeping. “Don’t know.”

“Haven’t you said anything to her about Elle?”

“Don’t want to.” She ran the back of her hand against the side of her nose. “I’m strong, Mom.”

Mimi’s heart broke. It was time to step in.

Stronger Ever After – Part II

Part II of the Stronger Ever After novella presented here. Enjoy!

Mimi changed the designer display red cardigan to the orchid, added a chunky necklace and stepped back to view the effect. Styling outfits, mixing and matching items, engaged her. Seen by friends as a special gift, styling came naturally to her, maybe even something of a mixed blessing. In order to relax, to be content, colors and lines had to come together just so. If only she could do more styling and less corporate busy work.

Her hands patted down the finished coordinated outfit. Afternoon shoppers eyed the display and nodded approval.

“Wow,” one shopper said as she stopped to feel the softness of the cardigan, and fingered the necklace.

While Mimi acknowledged the satisfaction with a professional smile, her head continued to replay the home situation.

Once again, Willow couldn’t offer any exact complaints for her discomfort. She did look pale, though this could be physiological, her body chemistry moving toward becoming a woman. Earlier, when Willow walked toward her from the school nurse’s office, the box top sweater with the vintage-like bohemian skirt she wore all too often, seemed tight. Perhaps because of hormonal weight redistribution. Different too, was the emotional hesitation. Her brows gathered in. And there were her eyes, too. Puffy.

Mimi collected her fitting supplies, and surveyed the look she created. It worked. She shook herself from Willow for the moment. Barb wanted to see her.

She approached  Barb’s office door and tapped the door frame. Her boss sat at the keyboard with her back to the door, studying the monitor.

“You wanted to talk?”

Barb pivoted and nodded, pushed her desk chair back from the computer and turned her attention to her desk where she shuffled a paper stack.

“Take a seat.” Barb pulled a sheet from the pile. “The shop’s recovering nicely. I think we all see higher sales and increased traffic.”

Mimi nodded.

“The latest numbers for the quarter confirm it, I’m happy to report.” Barb bestowed on her an infrequent smile.

Mimi nodded again. This sounded better than anticipated. She worked hard on merchandise selection and maybe this was recognition for her contribution. Maybe a bonus? It was tight now with the financial arrangement struck with undependable, irresponsible Jeff. She leaned back more at ease than when she’d entered.

Barb cleared her throat. “Corporate wants an aggressive quarter to slam year-end profits.” Barb turned back to her monitor and pulled a complicated looking spreadsheet file to the screen. “To make that happen, we’ll stay open later on weekends starting now, and add additional staffing to the schedule. We want all hands available, not only sales associates. It’s got to be a broad-based effort.”

Mimi’s back straightened as she scanned the busy document displayed over Barb’s shoulder on the monitor. This wasn’t about recognition at all. It was the wrong direction. She worked alternating weekends, this upcoming one she was scheduled off. She rotated weekends with Jeff for Willow, and this one was hers. In recent weekends, Mimi had come in on her own time. She worked it out with a co-worker and successfully arranged time to be with her daughter. That was rough enough. This would be more complicated.

Her hands clutched and she shifted, unable to get comfortable. Barb’s back remained to her. What to say, what to do?

Barb had no kids. Should she chance a conversation about Willow and why she needed to spend more time with her?

Barb swung her chair back around and met Mimi’s gaze. “I’ll post the schedule in the usual folder.”

Mimi dropped her head. She pretended to lift a thread off her black leggings. The proposed schedule would take them through the holidays and into the new year. Right now there wasn’t an option to Barb’s surprise announcement. Better to see the actual schedule first, than to overreact.

She nodded slowly and met Barb’s gaze.

“Thanks, Mimi.” Barb returned to the monitor, their chat over.

Mimi marched from Barb’s office up the single aisle that formed a curved basic spine from the back of the shop to the front entrance. The aisle was cleverly color-coded, designed to transport shoppers through a collection of designer boutiques on either side and circulate customers throughout the expensive shop. Charcoal, cream, black, smoke, she counted the alternating color blocks that led up to the front purchase counter where two sales associates huddled over the terminal.

Their quiet conversation ended abruptly. Had they been talking about her? About the new schedule? She looked away, out past the front glass windows, then back.

The shop was empty. Few fashionistas ventured in just before closing time. No doubt that would change with the extended hours and alter the day’s sales flow. The chrome light pendants placed over the wrap desk reflected her mouth’s grim straight line. She bit her lip, took a breath. The shop’s contemporary interior seemed even colder than usual.

Both associates changed their casual postures, standing taller as they exchanged a glance and turned toward her. Their faces softened.

“So, Mimi, you’re the stylist. What do you know about a hot date outfit?”

What was that supposed to mean? She shared little about her life outside the shop and nothing about Jeff and the separation. They were work acquaintances, maybe a little younger, not friends. Did they know her situation? She took a deep breath and held it momentarily while she considered an answer.

“Hmmm, hot date.” She’d take the high road, but her stomach felt queasy. “For someone we know?”

“For me, an internet date,” she paused, “It’s possible I may have led him on to think I was well, more sophisticated than I actually am.” She laughed and the other associate joined in.

Mimi glanced at her watch. There wasn’t much time left and she wanted to get home for Willow, especially tonight. That’s why a good stylist kept three go-to outfits in mind at the ready. She always had a casual, office, and weekend look, curated from garments available in the shop for a quick on-demand look.

Okay. One hot date look coming up.

“I have something in mind, take a look over here.” She turned and they followed.

From one of the designer boutique racks, Mimi selected a sleek, sleeveless plunging V-neck gray jersey dress and placed it into the lavish fitting room.

“Your dark hair against this gray will be amazing. The cut can only flatter your curves and the fabric has the softest touch of sheen.”

The gal touched the ruching on the bodice and waist and stood back. She looked at the other associate who gave a soft I-agree-nod of her head.

Mimi continued, “Pair this with black stilettos and you ooze sophistication.”

The associate ran her hand through her hair. “I’d never even give this dress a second look, but I see what you mean.”

“Try it on,” Mimi said.

A moment later, the brunette stood before the three-way fitting mirror in the dress that could have been made for her.

“It’s perfect. I really didn’t know what I was going to do.” She turned to get the full effect.“ I can’t wait for the weekend to meet him.”

“The weekend?” Mimi asked. “This weekend?”

“Yep. Tomorrow.”

Mimi’s mouth went dry. “Won’t you be working. Tomorrow?” She had to add, “Here?”

The associate twirled in the dress, “No, not scheduled.” She took one more look, “This will do it.”

While the associate purchased the dress and applied employee discounts, Mimi flew to the Stressback office and pulled up the revised schedule. There it was, the next three weekends solid, one weekend after that free, followed by three more consecutive weekends. She ground her teeth. She followed the other names on the spreadsheet. They were scheduled in an every other weekend pattern.

Barb had already left. The shop was closed. Barb would put on that disgusting half smile and tell her how sales were driven by a good stylist and in-store marketer.

She rubbed her forehead. Right now, she needed the job.