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.
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.