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.
“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.