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.

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