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Authors: Mariah Stewart

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Wonderful You (2 page)

BOOK: Wonderful You
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* * *


C
harming, Zoey.” Georgia l
aughed as she entered the shop through the back door and shook off the rain. “Absolutely charming.”

“Is this hat great with these amber beads around the
brim?” Zoey turned to greet her sister, grinning impishly as she pushed her long black curls behind her ears and plopped a wide-brimmed hat of brown felt upon her head.

Georgia dropped a heavy purse of dark green leather onto the floor.

“Ummm, I think it’s the red rose that makes it.” Georgia raised her hand to touch the huge red silk blossom pinned to the underside of the brim. “But there are probably only a handful of women on the planet who could get away with actually wearing such a thing. You just happen to be one of them.”

“Nonsense. Just about anyone with some imagination could wear this.” With a swoop, Zoey plunked the chocolate brown creation on her sister’s head.

“Zoey, I look ridiculous,” Georgia sought to remove the oversized hat from her undersized head.

“Silly.” Zoey readjusted the brim, tilting it slightly to one side. “It’s all in the attitude. There. See?”

“It’s
entirely
too
extreme
for me. Too

exotic.

“Well, it is an
extravagance
," Zoey grinned, trading e-words with Georgia as they had often done as children, a game encouraged by Delia, who hoped to improve their vocabularies, “but then again, it is an
exclusive.”

“It is an
excellent
hat,” Georgia concluded the banter, “but I look like a female impersonator doing Bette Midler. And doing her badly, I might add.”

Removing the hat with its glittering beads and huge floppy rose, Georgia replaced it on its stand.

“I’
ll
admit that the hat is a kick, Zoey, but it may be a bit avant-garde for the territory. It’s a shame there isn’t more traffic out here. You really have the most delightful things.”

Georgia picked the hat back off the stand and preened in front of a small mirror. “It does sort of grow on you after a while, doesn’t it?”

“It looks great on you, Georgy.”

“You know, you probably could sell ice to the Eskimos.” Georgia told her. “I’ll take the hat.”

“It’s yours.”

“Zoey, you cannot hope to establish a business by giving away your stock.”

“Consider it an early birthday. It looks too wonderful on you for you not to have it. And that hat won’t make or break this shop.” Zoey wrapped the hat in tissue before sliding it into a pale green plastic bag with My Favorite Things in purple script.

“The lack of traffic, as you noted, is the problem.” Zoey straitened a basket of colorful scarves, hand knitted by a woman from Chester Springs who loomed and dyed her own wool. “That strip mall down the road just in from the highway is killing me. It wasn’t supposed to be opened till this coming summer. When was the last time you heard about a construction project running six months
ahead
of schedule?”

“That was a tough break.” Georgia nodded.

“And having those outlet shops open up out on Route One sure helped a lot, too.” Zoey sat down on a little white wicker settee.

“Maybe you should consider taking some things on consignment for a while,” Georgia suggested, “and give your cash flow a chance to build.”

“The cash is flowing mighty slowly these days, “ Zoey admitted glumly.

“What does Mom say?”

“I haven’t had much of an opportunity to discuss it with her. She’s been sort of holed up with her computer. You know how
sh
e is when she starts a new book.” “Underground” was the term Delia’s children used to describe her single-minded drive to write.

“Well, if
you need a loan…”

“Thanks, Georgy, but Mom’s been pretty generous.”

“As always.”
Georgia smiled, knowing that Deli
a had always maintained an open checkbook where her children were concerned. She had, over the past few years, purchased and decorated a charming condo for Georgia outside of Baltimore when she had joined the
troupe. And two years ago, she
had completely renovated an old
crabber’s cabin that Nick had found and purchased on the Delaware Bay. “Well, you know that if you need anything at all, I’m here.”

“Thanks, Georgia.”

“Look, if we’re all going to have dinner together tonight, I’d better get back to the house and start now to blast Mom out of her office.” Georgia slipped into her dark green down jacket.

Zoey grabbed a plum-colored scarf from a nearby basket and draped it around her sister’s neck.

“Thanks, Zoey, but I think you’ve given away all the merchandise you can afford to for one day.”

“It goes great with that glorious mane of hair, and the purple plays up the green of your eyes.” Zoey hugged her sister in the doorway and straightened the scarf around her neck. “I’ll just take a few minutes to close up here, then I’ll meet you at the house.”

Zoey watched Georgia dodge the raindrops on the way to her car, then closed the door and locked the dead bolt with the key. On the floor beside the counter she spied the plastic bag that held the brown felt hat that Georgia had left behind. It
had
looked great on her sister, Zoey nodded to herself.

Turning to flick on the switch that would turn off the outside lights at the front of the shop, Zoey paused to
peer
through the windows at the cars flying past on their way to the newly reopened shopping center a half mile down the road, and she sighed. She grabbed the bag holding her sister’s hat and closed up shop for the night.

 

 

2

 

 

F
ingering the news article Georgia had so proudly sent from Maryland, Zoey rested her elbows on the glass counter and leaned forward to reread the feature that a local paper had run on Georgia’s dance troupe. That the reporter had chosen her little sister as the focus of the article had provided Zoey with an unexpected and unwanted twinge of envy. Zoey studied the photograph that accompanying the article. A frail but happy Georgia in light-colored leggings and a long knitted shirt, sleeves pushed to the elbows, leaned against the doorway of the d
ance studio, her golden hair fal
ling casually around her face, her legs crossed at the ankles. She looked pleased and sure of herself. Which she had, Zoey reminded herself, earned the right to be.

With a sigh, Zoey dropped the article onto the glass, where it fell upon the program from the ballet she and her mother had attended the previous Wednesday evening. While Georgia’s role had been minor, she had danced with the joy and energy of one who clearly loved every step she took. Delia had made no effort to hide the tears of pride that had begun the second her youngest
had stepped onto the stage and illuminated it with her presence. Georgia was a fairy princess come to life, with her thick blond hair and round pale green eyes set in that tiny angel’s face. Zoey recalled how hard Georgia had worked for so very long, giving up everything else for the sake of her dancing. Delia
should
be proud of her daughter.

For a moment Zoey wondered what it would feel like to find that kind of success in a job you loved, to earn that kind of pride from your family, to find your path and follow it to the stars. With each passing day, it was becoming more and more obvious that the path leading to My Favorite Things was veering farther and farther from success and happiness and closer and closer to one marked by a going-out-of-business sign.

“Damn,”
she whispered,
“it had seemed like such a good idea at the time
…”

Forcing herself to shake off a feeling of gloom, Zoey chucked another small piece of wood into the small woodstove, having decided early that morning that she’d need a little something extra to dispel the dampness that seemed to permeate the old structure. The new heating system installed during the renovations just didn’t seem to do the trick.

“Well, what we are lacking in heat, we make up for in
style,

Zoey said aloud to her shop, empty of customers but crammed to the rafters with an endless array of wonderful things. “Yup. No one can ever say that Zoey Enright lacks flair.”

“And
flair,
as we all know,”
she noted as she draped a small round table with a lace cloth, giving a saucy little flip to the edges before smoothing it gently, “is one of those things you just have to be bo
rn
with.” She pulled a small settee up close to the table on one side, then set a small wicker chair at the other.

“Now, what do you say, Miss Maude?” Zoey addressed a large handmade stuffed mouse dressed in a calico pinafore and a large garden hat from which all manner of blooms tumbled over a wide brim to partially
obscure the mouse’s carefully embroidered face. The tiny faces of an entire litter of mouse babies peeked over the sides of the basket which rested in the mouse lady’s arms. “Which tea set should we use today? Something painted at the turn of the century by someone’s great-aunt Hattie perhaps? Yes, I think so, too.”

Zoey lifted a stack of small, delicate plates, each decorated with spring flowers. “China painting, you know—now, Miss Felicity, I’m sure you will have a personal recollection of this”—Zoey turned and addressed an antique doll with a china head and a faded blue silk dress—“china painting having been such a popular pastime among genteel ladies when
you
were in your prime. So difficult to find acceptable outlets for one’s creativity a hundred years ago. And it would appear that great-aunt Hattie—see, here’s her name, Hattie Jerome, painted
right here beneath the flowers—
was fond of spring things. Or maybe it was the color purple, in all its shades and variations, that she loved. Look here at the plates

violets, hyacinths, lilac and pansies. Aren’t they just too lovely?”

Zoey set the table for three, rinsed out the teapot, then filled it with coffee, which she poured from a small coffee maker that sat on a table behind the cash register. Zoey had thought to keep the pot filled to have something to offer her customers. It occurred to her that lately she had been drinking a lot more coffee than she was accustomed to, and that the pot was seeing a lot more activity than the cash register.

“Oh, yes, of course, Miss Felicity, I
am
aware that tea was the beverage of choice among ladies, but one must, on occasion, make do. I myself prefer a nice cup of Lemon Zinger, but I left the box at home, so it’s coffee or nothing.” She plumped a variety of handmade pillows, some needlepoint, some velvet patchwork, on the settee, then propped up Miss Maude at one end and Miss Felicity at the other. Zoey herself perched on the wicker chair. Opening a box of Girl Scout cookies, she placed one on each painted plate, explaining, “I get to keep the
box because I’m the human and it’s my fantasy. What’s the matter, there, Maudie, cat got your tongue? Oops, sorry. How
totally
insensitive of me.”

Zoey sipped at her coffee and munched first her cookie, then those she had placed on the plates of her silent companions, noting, “Well, the mints are my favorite, too, but the kid selling these door-to-door was all out, so I opted for the Trefoils, okay? If you don’t like butter cookies, just say so.

“Okay, if you’re going to give me the cold shoulder


Reaching behind her, Zoey slid the morning paper from her tote bag. “I know it’s rude to read at the table, but you guys aren’t exactly holding up your end of the conversation, you know. Much as I love you all, this would be a lot more fun for me if one of y
o
u would
say something
once in a while, ’cause I love to talk, and not having anyone to talk
with
is making me crazy.” Leaning back in the chair, Zoey skimmed the headlines, occasionally reading aloud an entire item that snagged her attention. “Oh, listen to this.” She brightened as she read the headline on the front of the business section. “
‘Valentine, Inc. Finalizes Purchase of Shop-From-Home Network.’ Shop from home. Now,
that
is a concept I could get behind.” She read through the article twice, once to herself, the second time aloud. “ ‘Edward Bruce, spokesperson for Valentine, Inc., has announced the purchase of the station, which will be run by Val-Tech, the cable television company owned by Valentine. The station will be extending its broadcast hours from its present sixteen to twenty-four hours of continuous live broadcasting each day, and will mark a new venture for Valentine.
Th
e new c
hannel, dubbed the Home Market
Place, will continue to offer viewers the opportunity to purchase items that will be displayed and demonstrated on their television screen. The Home Marketplace will join several other shop from home stations already being broadcast, but will, Bruce promised, “bring ValTech’s own special touch to this still relatively new retail outlet.” The Home Marketplace plans to begin interviewing this week for new faces to add to its on-the-air sales
staff
…’ ”

Zoey sat silently staring across the table for a long moment, her eyes resting absently on the basket of baby mice.

“I know what you’re thinking,” she addressed her mute company. “You’re thinking that this has my name all over it. And you’re right. It does. I’m a natural. It’s everything I love. Everything I do best. Shopping. Selling. Talking.” She stood up, then slowly began to pace. “You know, when I had my brief run with the news, the only part of the job I really enjoyed was talking on camera.”

Zoey turned on the small television set that stood at one end of the counter, and flipped along the dial until she found a shopping channel. She sat down on the high wooden stool and watched for several long minutes as the woman on the screen described a bedspread in the most careful detail.

“I can do that,” Zoey announced. Picking up a pair of handmade copper earrings, she proceeded to sing their praises, mimicking the woman on the television screen. When she had finished her little sales pitch, she sat back on the stool and repeated, “I can do that,” with unquestioned conviction.

Lifting Miss Maude and her basket of babies from the settee, Zoey held them to her chest and crossed the wooden floor to the window, where sheets of water distorted the view outside the shop, and contemplated the facts. My Favorite Things was a screaming failure. There was no way around it. The longer the shop remained open, the more money Delia would sink into it, and the more money she would lose. Not that she had ever complained. Money had long ceased to be an issue to Delia. Her daughter’s happiness, on the other hand, meant everything. Zoey knew that she could keep the shop open forever, continue to lose money, and Delia would never chastise her for it, as long as Zoey was happy.

But Zoey was not happy, could not be happy, in a losing venture. The shop was perfect, its contents wonderful, but it had failed to thrive. Georgia had been right. It was, sadly, the wrong location for such upscale items. And isn’t that what the real estate people say is the most critical thing—location, location, location?

She lifted the newspaper and read through the article yet a third time. The new station would be located less than twenty miles from where she stood. There was even a number listed to call to arrange for an audition. Were the gods telling her something?

Well, then, perhaps we should hear what they have to say,
she mused as she lifted the receiver and punched in the numbers. The call was answered on the third ring by the light, pleasant voice of a young woman.

“Welcome to ValTech. How may I direct your call?”

BOOK: Wonderful You
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