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Authors: Mariah Stewart

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BOOK: Wonderful You
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* * *

F
ive days later, armed with written directions and high hopes, Zoey drove through the stone gates of her mother’s home and headed toward Lancaster. With all the construction on Route 30, Zoey had missed the turn and driven almost as far as Soudersburg before she figured out where she had gone wrong, turned around, and headed in the right direction once again. Having successfully located the correct cross road, she had driven through one small town after another, past Amish farms generations old, as well as new housing developments, and fields that waited for the spring plows to turn over the earth. Zoey followed the directions she’d been given over the phone, taking what appeared to be one small backcountry road after another to a place called Lanning’s Co
rn
er, which turned out to be every bit the one-horse town that its name implied.

Finally, she sighed with relief as she approached the drive announced by a sign: “ValTech—Home of the Home Marketplace.” Following its winding trail to the low-slung two-story brick and glass building, she parked in a visitors’ spot and glanced at her watch. She was forty minutes late. Damn.

Zoey pulled the mi
rrored visor down and quickly
studied her reflection. She touched up the blush on her cheeks and refreshed he
r lipstick. With her hands she
fluffed up her hair, then took a deep br
eath and swung
her legs out of the little sport
s car and stretched to get the kinks out.

Biting her lip as she s
moothed the short skirt of her
poppy red silk suit, Zo
ey straightened up to her full
height of live feet six inches tall—in two-inch
heels, that
is
—and gave the car door a slam.

She was here. She looked great
. She would knock them dead.

Assuming, of course, t
hat she hadn’t missed her appointment.

 

 


Y
ou do realize that
you are forty-two minutes late
?

the young receptionist said by way of a greeting. “I’m not certain that there is anyone here
now who can speak with you.”

“I understand.” Zoey forced a smile onto her face and raised her chin just a tad. “I got lost
…”

“Well, that is unfortunate, but I think Mr. Pressman has left the building—”

A gi
rlish giggle from around the corn
er of the hall drew the attention of Zoey and the receptionist.

A shapely blonde bearing a startling resemblance to Marilyn Monroe rounded the corner, followed closely by a tall, lean, middle-aged man in a dark gray suit.

“Oh, Mr. Pressman,” the receptionist addressed the man, “I wasn’t sure if you were still here. Miss”—she looked down at Zoey’s resume—“Enright has arrived for her interview.”

He looked across the hall and focused on Zoey momentarily, then smiled—a bit foolishly, Zoey thought, like a little boy who is trying to sneak out of the house to play baseball when he knows he is supposed to be practicing his piano scales.

“Ah… yes. Miss…

“Enright. Zoey Enright.”

“Ah, perhaps, Kelly,” he addressed the receptionist, “ah, possibly
Brian
could interview Miss Enright. I was just on my wa
y to… lunch, you see…

“I’ll see if he is in.” The receptionist’s wary eyes followed Pressman and the giggly blonde as they passed through the front doors. She and Zoey exchanged a glance of having just seen the same ghost. “Have a seat, Miss Enright. I’ll see what I can do.”

Several moments passed before the elevator doors opened and a young man stepped into the lobby.

“Zoey Enright,” the receptionist told him, pointing a ballpoint pen in Zoey’s direction.

“Brian Lansky.” He crossed the lobby in three strides. “You’re here for
an interview. Right this way…”

Thirty feet down the hall he turned to the right and led her through a doorway and flicked on the lights to reveal a set, which consisted of little more than a desk and a solid pale yellow painted backdrop.

“Tell me about yourself,” he said to Zoey, “while I
try to locate a cameraman…

“Well, I’m twenty-eight. I live in Westboro, Pennsylvania. I have a degree in English from Villanova, I am currently in sales—actually
, I have my own business…
” She rambled on, despite the distinct feeling that no one was paying the least bit of attention to her.

Brian sat on the edge of the desk, punching numbers
into
a telephone, nodding and murmuring “Uh-h
m
” every few minutes or so.

He put the phone down and said, “The cameraman must have left for lunch. I would hate to make you come back, so let’s see if I can operate this myself.”

He fiddled with the camera, then stepped out from behind it and took a quick glance around the room. He crossed the room and lifted an item from the windowsill and handed it to her before stepping back behind the camera. “What can you tell me about this?”

“It’s a can opener
…”
a confused Zoey ventured.

“Right,” Lansky said from behind the camera. “Sell it to me.”

“Excuse me?”

“The camera is rolling, Miss Enright. Sell me the can opener.”

And sell she did.

Flashing her best smile, she looked directly into the lens. Filled with the same sense of being
on
that she recalled from her news reporting days, Zoey launched into a sales pitch that would become the standard by which future auditions would be judged.

“When I was six years old, we had a snowstorm to beat all storms. All of the electrical lines in our neighborhood went down. We had to build a big fire in the living room fireplace to keep warm. We did have a gas stove, but everything else in that house ran on electricity. To keep us busy, Mom let us help bake bread in the afternoon and we ate dinner that night all huddled around the fire—this wonderful crusty homemade bread and chicken noodle soup. Even though the soup came out of a can, I remember that as one of the best meals
ever.
My brother and sister and I
still
talk about that day.” Zoey held up the manual can opener. “It just goes to show that you can own all the latest equipment—God knows I like my gadgets as well as the next person—but you simply cannot do without the basics.”

“Cut.” Brian rose from his stool.

“How’d I do?” Zoey grinned.

“Would you mind waiting right there for a minute?”

“Sure.”

Within minutes, Brian returned with an executive type—Ken Powers—and a cameraman.

“If you wouldn’t mind


Brian handed her a letter opener. “We’d like to run one more tape


“Sure.” And Zoey proceeded to sing the virtues of the letter opener, convincing all who listened that without that little piece of polished brass, everything from Christmas cards to wedding invitations to letters from a
favorite grandchild would forever be locked away. She had just launched into a discourse on paper cuts when Brian stopped her.

“Miss Enright, if you’re not in a hurry, we’d like to take another look at the first tape.
Perhaps just a short wait…
?”

“Not a problem,” she assured him, inwardly raising a fist in triumph and shouting YES!, knowing it was in the bag.

“Let’s see if I can find someone to bring you a cup of coffee.”

“So, has there been a big response to the ad?” Zoey nonchalantly inquired of the young assistant who brought her a cup of dark and terrible brew.

“You wouldn’t believe it.” Eddie rolled his eyes to the heavens, and proceeded to tell her about the hordes who had come in to tape an audition.

He was interrupted by the ringing of the phone.

“They want you in Ken’s office,”
Eddie told her. “This way…

Zoey followed him out of the studio and to the bank of elevators. “Second floor. First door to the left off the lobby. Good luck.” He winked and punched the 2 button.

“Ah, here she is.” Ken stepped from behind his desk to greet her as she knocked softly on the partially opened door. “Miss Enright, this is Ted Higgins, vice president in charge of hiring our hosts and hostesses. We think that sounds more in keeping with the image we want to create. Now,
salespeople
can be found in any retail outlet, but
hosts
invite you in, hopefully, to shop. Miss Enright, we’ve all seen your tapes, and there’s no question that you have a most inviting way about you.”

A chair was held out for her and she sat in it.

“We think you have exactly that right combination of professionalism, charm, intelligence, poise—not to mention your natural gift of gab, if you don’t mind my saying so. The camera loves you, and you have a great look—sort of a cross between Miss America and the girl
next door

We think you’d be very appealing.” Ted Higgins all but beamed.

“We all agree that you’re a natural,” Ken added.

“Well, I do love to shop…
” Zoey nodded modestly.

“We’re hoping you can convince millions of TV viewers that they will love to shop with you.” Higgins smiled. “And from the looks of those tapes, I’d say you could probably sell just about anything to anyone. Relax, Miss Enright, and let’s talk about your future
with the Home Marketplace…

 

 

3

 

 

I
t was almost midnight when Zoey unlocked the front door to the apartment she had rented in Lannings Corner to give her a place to hang her hat while she went through the three months of training classes required by the Home Marketplace. Had anyone suggested that the sessions would be downright rigorous, she’d have thought them deranged. The sales sessions were only the tip of the iceberg; selling techniques were important, but there were, in addition, hours of memory enhancement training and mock broadcasting situations. Zoey could not remember the last time she’d been so tired, or worked so hard. Why had she so blithely assumed that this new job would be
easy?

Flipping through the mail just quickly enough to see that nothing but bills had been delivered that day, she tossed the stack of envelopes onto the glass-topped table in the hallway and headed toward the kitchen, turning lights on as she passed through the living room and small dining area, stepping around the moving boxes, which held her clothes and a few books and personal items she had brought with her. Zoey hated living alone, had
always dreaded that feeling of solitude encountered upon entering an empty house. Perhaps because her mother had spent so many weeks over so many years away from home on book tours, Zoey had never quite gotten used to the hush, the slight echo of her footsteps on the hardwood floors, the ticking of a clock, the hiss of the heater. Even running water in the kitchen sink sounded like a waterfall to her ears. She was never comfortable with the silence.

She drew a glass of tap water and sipped at it slowly while she listened to the messages on her answering machine. Georgia had called to say hi and to let her know that she had seen Zoey’s photograph in an article about the network that had run in the Philadelphia newspaper (‘You looked gorgeous! I was so proud, I showed everyone at the studio! And Mom said you rented an apartment! Way to go, Zoe!’), and Delia called to ask her to think about what furniture she might want from the attic and to let her know that a retailer from Wilmington was interested in buying the contents of the shop and if there was anything in particular that Zoey wished to keep she should let Delia know before the following Tuesday.

Zoey saved all the messages, knowing that in her exhausted state she’d have forgotten anything important by morning. Flicking off the lights, she traveled the short hallway to her bedroom.

Stripping off her blue suit and pitching it toward the nearest chair, Zoey unceremoniously dropped facedown on the bed, shoving aside Miss Felicity, Miss Maude, and her assorted young ones, and immediately fell into a dead sleep.

 

 


I
t’s perfectly darling, Zoey,” Delia had exclaimed when she had seen Zoey’s apartment for the first time. “And you have a lovely deck,” she added, having pushed aside the dining room curtains.

“Zoey, I want to take you shopping for some furniture,” Delia announced from the kitchen doorway.

“Mom, that’s very generous of you, but you don’t have to do that. This time I’m actually being
paid
to shop.” Zoey grinned.

“I know I don’t have to, but I want to,” Delia insisted.

“Mom, I’m not even going to be here all that long. It’s a month-to-month lease. As soon as things settle down, I plan on looking for a little house.”

“Hmmm. A little house will be fun. But, Zoey, just a sofa. Let me just buy a sofa so I’ll have a comfortable place to catnap when I visit. I saw just the right thing at Bloomingdale’s in King of Prussia last weekend.”

“Just a sofa” had turned into “and just this one cozy chair and just this great-looking table and just this fabulous lamp.” As Delia had intended all along. As Zoey had suspected she might do.

“Mom, did it ever occur to you that you spoil us too much?” Zoey had asked on the way home from shopping.

“Not for a second.” Delia dismissed the thought with a wave of her hand.

“You don’t think you’re overly generous?” Mildly amused at the denial, Zoey leaned back into the luxury of the plush leather seat of her mother’s big Mercedes sedan.

“Not a bit.” Delia shook her head adamantly. “If I can make it possible for my children to pursue their dreams without having to worry about whether or not they can pay the rent, whether or not they can afford to live in a safe place, whether or not they are comfortable, why shouldn’t I do that? Not a one of you been spoiled by it. And besides, it makes me happy to be able to help you along.”

“We are all grateful for your help, Mom, but—”

“Please.” Delia held up a hand. “I know you are grateful, darling. And
I
am grateful that you have all grown into such lovely, wonderful young people. I’d be happy to know and spend time with any one of you under any circumstances. It’s just the icing on the cake that the three of you happen to be my children. And
besides, now that you are safely settled in that darling little apartment, I know I’ll have a place to leave Gra
ci
e when I leave for the Midwest next week.”

“My home is Gracie’s home.” Zoey laughed as they pulled into her driveway, knowing how Delia’s muchloved old lump of an orange tabby cat had hated the kennel the few times she had been left there.

“And speaking of which, let me give you my itinerary, in case you need to get in touch.” Delia dug in her purse for the carefully typed list of dates and hotels and bookstores and phone numbers for each.

Zoey smiled as she got out of the car and closed the door, knowing her mother would call her—and Nick, and Georgia—every other day until she arrived home.

“So, are you looking forward to this book tour?” Zoey leaned into the open window of the driver’s side door and watched her mother sort through several pieces of paper until she found what she was looking for.

“Ah. Here we are.” Delia handed the typed copy of her itinerary to her daughter, who gave it a quick glance before folding it and sliding it into her jacket pocket. “You know that I always look forward to my book tours. Always. I never get tired of it, Zoey. It rejuvenates me. And I’ve made friends in so many cities and towns over the years. Every time I go back, so many of the same people are there, at the same bookstores where I first met them when I toured that first time.” Delia smiled at her daughter. “Like old friends, so many of them, the booksellers and the readers. I know a lot of writers don’t like to tour, but when you’ve done it for as long as I have, it becomes an important part of your life. I like to hear what people think of my books. You know, there’s a lady in Peoria who has been writing to me for almost twenty years now, another in Idaho about the same. They matter to me, Zoey. I look forward to seeing them, even if it’s only for a brief time, once a year. It’s always important to me to go back.”

“Someday you’ll get tired of all that traveling around and then your fans will have to come to you.” Zoey
leaned through the window to give her mother a fond kiss on the cheek.

“Not while I breathe,” Delia grinned. “You just never know what you’ll find out there, Zoey. You just never know.”

“Hopefully, a lot of book sales.”

“From your lips to God’s ears.”

“As if you need divine intervention.” Zoey laughed as Delia backed out of the parking spot.

“My darling, we all need a little of that.” Delia blew her daughter a kiss. “And may you have all that you need for your debut next Saturday. I’ll be watching from my hotel room in Kansas City. I mad
e certain that they had cable TV
when I made the reservation. And don’t forget to pick up Gracie on Tuesday morning. You know how she hat
es to be alone for too long…”

 

 

I
t had been a week of changes and firsts, Zoey was thinking as she blow-dried her hair, the fourth time since she had gotten out of bed at 5
a
.
m
.
Her first real show was scheduled from 4 to 7
p
.
m
.,
and she was a nervous wreck. She fussed with her hair until it swirled around her head in loose, shiny black ringlets, then turned her attention to her nails. Again. She stared at the polish. Too red.

With a sigh she plunked herself down on the stool in front of the dressing table she had brought from her room in Delia’s house and unscrewed the top of the nail polish remover. Saturating yet another little cotton square, she attacked the offending color and wiped it away. She studied the row of small jars of polish that marched in a precise line across one side of the dressing table. Was there any color she had not tried and rejected at least once? Mayb
e this peachy shade of pink…

Choosing her clothes had been even worse. She had gone through seven outfits before only the ticking away of the afternoon forced her to settle on a dress of nubby peach silk and cotton knit with rolled-up sleeves and a slightly dropped rounded neckline, perfect to show off the gold necklaces she was scheduled to present in her
first hour. At 2:30 she packed her makeup into a plastic pouch and turned off the bedroom lights.

“Wish me luck, you guys,” she said aloud to Maudie and Felicity, who sat on the window seat at one end of the room. “And for heaven’s sake, would you try to show a little enthusiasm? Sheesh, guys, this is a really big day for me.”

She paused and looked at herself in the mirror from across the room.

“This is what it’s come to. I’m talking to stuffed animals. To dolls. Out loud. I hope it’s not a bad sign.”

On her way out, she stopped in the little sunroom off the kitchen to scratch old Gracie behind the ears. The cat had made an uneasy adjustment. Clearly, she preferred Delia’s big rambling house to the smaller confines of Zoey’s apartment.

“Look, Gracie, it could be worse,” Zoey reminded her feline houseguest. “It could be a K-E-N-N-E-L. Got that? So stop your sulking and be a good little guard cat. And cross your paws that I don’t make a complete and utter fool out of myself today.”

And with that, Zoey Enright set off to make her debut on national television.

The entry into the building that housed the Home Marketplace was strictly utilitarian, a few large green plants near the doorway and a few outdated magazines the only effort made toward accommodating visitors. A sofa of bright green vinyl—not particularly uncomfortable, not particularly cushy—sat against one short wall, the only seating available.

You would have thought that someone would have made a little more effort to put a happy face on the reception area,
Zoey thought as she checked in with the security guard at the desk.

That Zoey would make her debut was the very least of what was taking place that day. The Home Marketplace was kicking off its new look, its new format, introducing its new program hosts in three-hour segments. There was a bustle, a heady electricity that surged throughout the
building. From the valet hired for the day to park the visitors’ cars, to the caterers setting up for the cocktail party in the CEO’s suite, to the producers and product coordinators and lighting engineers—all seemed to move a little more briskly, with greater purpose and determination, to perform their tasks with a little more certainty than they had in the trial runs that had dominated every day and night of the past two weeks. Now, it was showtime.

“How’s it going?” Zoey asked one of the technicians she passed in the hall.

“All things considered, we’re doing pretty well.” He nodded, his graying ponytail flopping silently against the back of his neck. “Your buddy”—he nodded toward the monitor—“got off to a little bit of a rocky start, but she’s doing real well now.”

Zoey crept to the co
rn
er of the stage where her new friend, Cecelia—CeCe—Hollister, a former Miss Montana, sat on a dark green velvet chair and exhibited the pantaloons of a porcelain doll. Sensing Zoey’s presence, she glanced over and winked, made a face, and continued her on-air conversation with the woman who had called in to buy the doll. CeCe looked as if she was doing just fine.

Nervous energy propelled Zoey down the corridor and into the lounge where she could sit and fix her hair and makeup without interruption.

“There you are,” Cara, one of the young production assistants, huffed and puffed as she poked her head in the door. “I’ve been looking all over for you. You have about twenty minutes before you go on. Do you feel that you need to come in the back and take one last look at the products you’re selling?”

“Yes.” Zoey nodded. “I want to make sure I’m as prepared as I can be. And
there’s so much to remember…”

She rose on shaking legs and packed her makeup bag into her tote.

“You’ll be great, Zoey. Everyone said you were the
best in the trial runs all week.” Cara held the door open for her and allowed Zoey to pass through. The hallway was crawling with activity, florists and caterers, people moving furniture and people pushing carts of fine stemware and ice sculptures, preparing for the arrival of the CEO within the hour.

“That was then and this is now,” she muttered under her breath. And
now
is when it counts. There was, she sensed, more riding on her airtime than how many items she would sell. She needed to feel sure of herself, needed to know that she had, after all these years, found her place. She suspected that, by the end of the next three hours, she might know.

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