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.

Stronger Ever After

I’m excited to share with you, my Stronger Ever After novella in anticipation of the soon-to-be-released, Loving Vintage!  Woman holding bunch of garments in shop, closeup

Stronger Ever After is the story of vintage clothes stylist, Mimi Shepherd and her teen daughter, Willow before they discover the Loving Vintage upscale consignment shop.

Mimi Shepherd wants out of the contemporary fashion shop where her style savvy job is bullied, but financial need requires a stiff upper lip in order to stay put.

When daughter Willow experiences similar bullying and turns down an unlikely path, Mimi must confront the bullying issues and become stronger ever after.

Please enjoy Part I of five parts as I introduce these characters!

Stronger Ever After

Mimi Shepherd lingered with her customer while a colleague sales associate punched the purchase into the terminal of the upscale, contemporary designer-wear shop. The customer’s broad smile made her day. Mimi had styled the stunning outfit for the shopper who’d given her a quick thumbs up and a satisfied exhale when she’d emerged from the fitting room.

“Have a great weekend,” the customer chortled, directing her thanks to Mimi. She grasped her bagged purchase with one hand, and flipped her scarf an extra loop with the other.

The sales associate hadn’t flattered the customer on her selection, or shown enthusiasm for the garment that would add, what the store manager had emphasized during their last team meeting, a “spark of delight to every purchase.” In fact, the associate hadn’t said a word and dedicated herself fully to entering the transaction, casually folding the items and stuffing them into a shopping bag. It wasn’t for Mimi to say anything. She ran a hand through her auburn curls to loosen them from the tangle they’d made with her heavy  green malachite statement necklace and made her way back to Fine Knitwear.

The columns of folded cashmere cropped cardigans, displayed in soft stacks of Sangria, Aurora Red, and Radiant Orchid, produced a smile. And of course, the Misted Yellow, her favorite, produced the pop in the display. As visual merchandiser, she’d received corporate push-back when she first presented her display selections. Corporate couldn’t estimate how the cut of the quality cardigans in luxe fall colors was breathtakingly on-trend. She was right. The cardigans moved so fast, she needed to bring out more to keep the display temptingly full.

On the way to the stock room, her cell vibrated. Was it Willow? She walked with more purpose to cross accessories and make it into the back office area to take the call.

“Mom, I don’t feel so good.” Her daughter’s teen-age voice faltered.

Again? The second time this week. Mimi kept her voice low. Personal calls were discouraged, but there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do for her daughter. If it ever became an issue, she’d make that clear.

“What’s wrong honey, your head? Stomach, like Tuesday?”

Thirteen-year-old Willow didn’t answer.

“Honey? Tell me.” Another silence.

“Can you come get me?”

Mimi dropped her head and closed her eyes at her daughter’s tentative plea, then looked at her watch. Too early to bundle the time in with lunch, especially since she’d already done that earlier in the week. After returning her daughter home from school, Willow had gone straight to her room. There was no temperature, no other symptoms. When Mimi went to her daughter’s room to check in, Willow had to remove ear buds and Mimi heard the muffled percussion of a tune blasting away.

“I couldn’t get Daddy.”

A sudden coldness hit at her core.

“You called Dad?” When did Willow call Jeff first? They’d been separated for eight months that seemed like years if you added in the actual time they’d been drifting apart.

“I don’t feel good, Mom,” Willow whined. “Are you coming?”

Mimi let out a breath. There was no alternative. “I’ll be there.” She heard footsteps as she ended the call. Barb passed on her way to the break room fridge.

“Barb,” Mimi said, turning toward her. “Sorry, but I’ve got to run and take my daughter home from school.”

Barb turned from the fridge with an energy shake in her hand and tilted her head for an explanation.

“She says she’s not feeling well, maybe she’s not finished yet with whatever it was before.”

Barb nodded, closed the fridge, and pinched open the paper carton before sitting down at the table.

“Look, I’ll call you when I get her home. I’m pretty sure I can leave her and be back this afternoon.”

“Sure,” Barb replied. She gave her an indulgent smile before kicking her head back and taking a long swallow directly from the carton. “I want to talk schedule when you get back.”

Schedule? Steely cold and able to cut emotionally ragged wounds, Barb was appropriately named. Mimi nodded. She moved to her locker and entered its code. What now?

“Good, we’ll talk then. Thanks, Barb.” She removed her bag and keys before hurrying out to the car.

♥  ♥  ♥

Hope you enjoyed meeting these characters. Part 2 follows soon!

The wisdom of trees

Trees have always been a special adjunct to my inspiration. Sitting beneath an oak’s branches, a willow, a poplar, or the sparkling silver of long-leafed pines, I find writing a special joy. The gentle dappled sun making its way through the entwined tree tops, the fresh, clean smell of the leaves and pine needles covering the earth at their base all promote a feeling of well-being that’s healing and soothing and my writing muse. img_20161018_123950

From my debut novel, Nardi Point:

Leyla Jo stood dead still at the edge of an empty rectangle set in the middle of the woods. Their first unobstructed look at the freshly cut, denuded building site. Her distress, obvious. “The trees, the squirrels, turtles, rabbits, nesting birds, tree frogs, where do they go when their universe changes forever? Do the trees, old ones, medium-aged ones, saplings growing from pine cones, or the sweet gum sticky pods dropped by trees beside them, consider themselves a family? Are they sentient is what I guess I’m trying to say?”

I wonder if they know that they’ll be cut down when giant bulldozers or little men with super-sized chain saws arrive. Do they have alerts to transmit distress to other trees? Are they concerned about saplings? They have no way of knowing the extent of the damage, or which of them will remain, or which of them will die as the land is cleared.

I remember the day spent in a Tuscan hillside garden as my husband rested in the  Il Patriarca country villa hotel, slowly recovered from an unfortunate episode of vertigo. A garden well over 200 years old shaded where I sat that tranquil morning. Two giant pines most likely placed there in the garden from its beginning, captured my attention. I remember it being so quiet there on the gentle slope overlooking a vast spread of a vineyard and the sun gloriously shining through a canopy of leaves.

Because I’m interested in exploring, healing, and learning many things, I focused on the beautiful pines and asked them to tell me the story of this lovely historic property. Yes, this may sound woo, but after listening closely I heard a story about the original owners of the villa and their two daughters. One became pregnant as a young teen and shortly thereafter, died in an accident before she could give birth. It was a sad story. When we checked out, I asked about the origins of the villa. The lovely, poised woman at the desk began telling me about a prominent family who had owned the villa. “Did they have children?” I asked. “Yes, two daughters. One died young.” I hesitated. “Is it possible she may have been pregnant?” “Yes,” she answered. “That is what we know of the villa’s history. The family left the villa soon after. It was said the young man secretly met with the daughter in the garden.”

This story resounds with me especially today, as new neighbors of barely a year, have taken it upon themselves to remove every tree in the back of their home, almost an acre’s worth. A swathe of mixed forest trees that have stood for at least 80 years are gone on their callous whim and without any understanding and appreciation for the land that’s home to rabbits, fox, turtles, birds, deer, squirrels. Trees that absorb excess rainfall, trees that provide shade and a micro-climate and that form a community with the trees on my land. Barely there a year and the first action they take is to mass cut these trees. There’s no talking with those who don’t get it. Who haven’t developed an understanding about the ways of a natural environment, but who indulgently provide children under 10 years old with monstrous, unlicensed ATVs to roar about the small roads for fun. Ahhh, what can I say?

If there was any depth to their understanding, I’d recommend Max Adams’s The Wisdom of Trees. Or The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. But regretfully, they are deaf to explanations and so small in their viewpoint of “my property.” And the trees, they are all felled now….

Pansy time

As August wans,  cooler temperatures hint at fall and herald pansy season here in my garden. Soon, nurseries and big box home store garden centers will feature flat after flat after flat of these surprisingly hardy flowers that tolerate so well the mild winters typical of this region. so many yellow pansies

Yellow ones are my favorite, but there are plenty of white, blue, deep violet, and many mixes so everyone can select a favorite.

Pansies were the inspiration for my latest novel, Yellow Pansies in a Blue Cobalt Jar. And now, wherever I travel for plots and refreshment, I grab pics of yellow ones. Once I started looking for them, I found them everywhere.

According to the Language of Flowers popular during  Victorian days, Pansies symbolized loving thoughts and attraction. The main character of that story, Boomer Rhose Guerin, found encouragement and hope as she pushed through family crises to hold on to her marriage, yet pursue her own identity.

In a few short weeks, you’ll know where to find me—yes, busy in my garden and planters adding happy pansies!


Remembering a poem fondly

All is so clear in hindsight, isn’t it? I wrote short stories and poetry throughout grammar and high school without recognizing writing would be the constant joy of my life. While additional paths criss-crossed my journey, I’ve just uncovered some dog-eared, early published materials … and it’s like meeting my younger self.

Seeing the magazine cover from the issue that held my first poems, the small payment check received fifty years ago, the gracious letter from the Editor-in-Chief, Sylvie Schuman, acknowledging my contribution is like reviewing a standalone journal. Every word of that letter places me back exactly to the time I first opened the envelope and read her message. And she said magic words any author lives for: “I shall be happy to see more of your creative work in the future.” It took my breath away. Of course I sent another and it too was published. Yes, I was ecstatic. 0306161632~2_resized

There was even a fan letter from Beth Johnson written on the softest blue onion skin stationery so popular with girls of the ’60s:

You probably think this is very strange having me writing to you when you don’t even know me. But I just wanted to write a little note to tell you how much I love your poem, ‘Apart from love.’ It is really beautiful. 0306161634~2_resized

Wow! I’d love to meet up with Beth somehow after all this time. Beth, if you’re out there, please let me know. How I would have loved to have encouraged my younger self’s writing life and hint at the publishing adventures that awaited. Perhaps there’s a story-line here.

Feeling grateful for the perspective of time and sending encouragement to anyone who simply cannot resist putting words to paper!

Book Club selection

The thrill of the work, the writing, planning, drafting, revision … is in a reader’s reaction to the story. When my publisher releases it to the public I anxiously await feedback and reviews. Did the story move my readers; give them something to ponder, or wonder about; provide some new little piece of information my research enabled me to share?

Today I received affirmation of my work in the happy faces of a book club in Warrenton, North Carolina. To see their joy sharing the stories read over the course of a year moves me. This pic encourages me to wrestle through more plots and move forward with whatever work in progress piece I’m working on. It’s like a beautiful present that I can share with readers! And I’m so grateful! Ahhhh, the writing life.

 Thanks for reading! To return to the FICTION WRITERS BLOG HOP on Julie Valerie’s website, click here:

Researching vintage and loving it!

My current work in progress, Loving Vintage, has renewed my quest for exploring vintage articles and made me more appreciative of period clothing. Heroine Annie Savone knows all about vintage clothing and selects only the finest for the shop she manages. She had a lot to teach me. My research is rich with vintage shops here in the Raleigh, North Carolina area and I’m making a point of visiting each one. I’d love to share these shops as I come across them.

The most recent is Two Birds, a darling little shop in Neuse that’s packed with artfully, curated pieces of interest. There’s much to be said about how the items in a shop are arranged. If the articles are just thrown  Two birds shop together they appear like clutter. When items are thoughtfully assembled, you can definitely feel the pull of a grouping … and consequently find yourself wanting to take them all home! Self-discipline is an important ally when visiting the cutest shops for sure. Annie has on staff, a celebrity stylist who has an eye for display, and a vintage authenticator who is a clothes psychic. The clothes psychic can receive impressions about the clothing’s past owners. This trio is involved in quite the adventure right now!

Do you have favorite vintage shops where you are? Let me know!