Authors: Susan Gloss
“Do you want anything? A glass of white wine? Water? Frozen breast milk?” Karen asked.
Violet recoiled. “Wine sounds good, thanks. Where’s Tom?”
“Work trip, as usual. I’m like a single parent these days. Come on, let’s go sit in the kitchen.”
Still carrying the baby, Violet followed her friend into the massive kitchen with its Restoration Hardware fixtures and faux-weathered, farmhouse-style cabinets. It perplexed Violet, the way people tried to make the insides of new homes look old. She sat down at the table. Karen grabbed a half-full wine bottle out of the fridge. She poured a glass and set it down in front of Violet.
“I opened it a couple of days ago,” she said. “Sorry if it tastes a little off. Wine doesn’t disappear as quickly as it used to around here.”
“It’s fine,” Violet said after taking a sip. She noticed a picture of a seahorse etched on the base of the glass. “Hey, we have some Waterford goblets just like this in the store. My friend Betsy brought them in. Since when are you so fancy?”
“We got them for a wedding gift. I figure we might as well use them.”
“Aren’t you gonna have any?” Violet asked.
“Maybe in a little while. I need to nurse Edith soon.” Karen sat down in a chair opposite Violet and put her elbows on the table. “So, what are we dealing with here?”
Violet dug in her purse to retrieve the papers she’d brought. She pushed them toward Karen. “This is what the process server gave me. And there’s a copy of my lease in there, too.”
Karen bent her head and paged through the document while Violet rocked Edith in her arms.
When she was finished reading, Karen asked, “So it looks like you either need to move out or act on your right of first refusal. Are you in a position to buy the building?”
“They’re listing it for almost a million.”
“So I’m gonna guess the answer is no, unless you’ve been hoarding a big pile of money somewhere that I don’t know about,” Karen said. “Have you had a chance to talk to your landlord?”
“Yeah, but . . .”
“Spit it out,” Karen said. “It’s never a good idea to keep secrets from your lawyer.”
“Okay, yes. They made some sort of offer.”
Karen leaned forward. “What do you mean ‘offer’? What were the terms, exactly?”
Violet repeated what Ted had told her, and was surprised to see Karen nodding.
“Wait, do you think I should take the deal?” Violet asked when she’d finished explaining.
Karen shrugged. “Look, I know it seems counterintuitive, but the deal they’re offering might actually be a decent option.”
“I don’t see how. The money they’re offering me as an ‘incentive’ is a joke.”
“We could negotiate and try to get them to offer more.”
Violet shook her head. “Even if they double the amount they’re offering me, it won’t be enough to cover my costs of moving, plus the increase in rent I’ll surely have to pay if I can even find another location in the neighborhood. I’ve done some searching already in the classifieds, and the couple of places that are available are much more than I can afford to pay and still keep the lights on. I don’t see how what they’re offering could possibly be a good option.”
“Taking the deal is less of a risk,” Karen said. “See, if you aren’t able to buy the building and you don’t move out on their terms, you can pretty much bet Mortensen & Son will take you to court over it. And if they win, they can go after you for their attorneys’ fees and court costs. I can see from the name of their lawyer on the last page of the lease that it was drafted by a very expensive firm in town. It could end up costing you thousands if you fight them and lose. And, unfortunately, from what I see here, the terms are in your landlord’s favor.”
“That doesn’t seem fair,” Violet said. “It seems sneaky.”
“Sneaky, yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s not legal.”
Violet shook her head. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“You asked me for legal advice, Violet, not for me to be your cheerleader.”
As if to break the tension, Edith reached a tiny hand toward Violet’s face and touched her lips. Then the baby started to fuss and writhe around, so Karen took the warm little body out of Violet’s arms in order to feed her. Although it was a hot evening, Violet felt a chill, a sense of loss.
“I’m not taking the offer,” she said. “I refuse to just hand over the keys to my place, and meanwhile get priced out of the neighborhood and having access to my customer base.”
Karen pushed her shirt up and put the baby to her breast. Edith cooed and began to make smacking noises. Karen looked at Violet. “You don’t mind, do you?”
“Of course not,” Violet said. “Come on, we’ve been to strip clubs together. You think I’m gonna be offended by a little bit of breastfeeding?”
“Well, if you’re not interested in their offer, then I think our best bet is stalling,” Karen said.
“Seriously? That’s the best option I’ve got?”
“It’s the only option you’ve got, if you’re not willing to take the deal and if you’re not willing to move. We need to buy you as much time as possible so that you can try to figure out a way to raise some funds and get yourself in a better position for a mortgage, or to be able to afford a higher rent elsewhere in the neighborhood.”
“So how do I do that?” Violet asked.
“What, raise funds? Hell if I know. If I knew how to come up with money out of nowhere, you can bet I wouldn’t be working for a bunch of white-haired men at the law firm.”
“No, how do we stall?”
“Oh,” said Karen. “That. Now
I know how to do. No one graduates law school without knowing how to drag out a legal conflict.”
hat night, Violet sat on the couch with a notebook while Miles snoozed with his wrinkly face in her lap. She listened to his raspy breathing while she brainstormed as to how she might make more money, and quickly. She could raise prices, but she feared that might have the undesired effect of driving her already-loyal customers away. She could auction some of her more expensive items online, but she hated the idea of taking people’s treasured items and shipping them off to strangers.
When the phone rang at ten thirty, Miles leaped off the couch and growled.
Violet patted the bulldog’s head. “It’s okay, buddy,” she said, even though she almost never got calls this late. She picked up the phone. “Hello?”
“Violet, I’m sorry to bother you,” said a familiar voice.
“Betsy? Is everything okay?” Violet sat up straight. She had once told Betsy that she could call anytime if she needed help. She worried about her friend alone in her big house. Betsy was healthy and boisterous, but still . . . at her age, a slip on the travertine floor or the varnished staircase could be disastrous.
“Yes, yes, I’m fine,” Betsy said. “You can put the ambulance on hold.”
Violet tried to laugh, but it came out as a dry cough. It was too close to the truth to be funny. “What’s going on?” she asked.
“After I left your shop the other day, I thought about what you said about not being able to afford to hire our scholarship recipient.”
Violet’s pulse quickened, and she wondered if Betsy had somehow found out that she was in danger of losing her apartment and store space. If Betsy knew, God love her, the whole city would know, from the governor to the man with the orange-dyed beard who played the piccolo on State Street.
“Uh-huh,” Violet said, not sure what else to say.
“I suppose I could have just called somebody else to find her a job, but I had my heart set on her working with
specifically. She lost her mother recently, and if that weren’t enough to handle, she’s also pregnant.”
thought Violet. She felt sorry for the girl but had the feeling that whatever Betsy had in mind could be a real disaster. Violet had too many problems of her own at the moment to be confident in her ability to mentor anyone.
“I was thinking an internship would be the answer,” Betsy said.
“You mean she would work for free? I don’t know how I feel about that,” Violet said. “I think I’d feel like I was taking advantage of a teenage mother.”
“Not for free. She’d get college credit, which would help her out a lot since she might have to miss some classes in the fall when the baby is born. I already made some calls to my contacts over at the university—Walt was on the board of trustees, you know, before he died—and it will take some paperwork before we can finalize it, but I think it would be a wonderful opportunity for both you and April.”
“I’m sorry, did you say April?” asked Violet.
“Yes, April Morgan. She was a senior at East High this year. She stopped attending, though, and got her equivalency diploma instead. Do you know her?”
Violet pictured the blond girl who’d stood outside the store with the wedding dress swirling around her in the wind.
“I’m not sure. How old did you say she was?” Violet asked.
Violet thought about herself at that age. Her life had been defined by two loves: fashion and Jed Cline. In her one-stoplight hometown, she’d had little access to one and all too much access to the other. Jed had singled Violet out when she was a sophomore and he was a junior at Bent Creek High. He’d plucked her from the ranks of farm kids and metalheads who sat at the peripheral lunch tables and elevated her to the status of “Jed’s girlfriend.” Being Jed’s girlfriend meant a lot of things. It meant Violet sat next to him every day in the center of the cafeteria, surrounded by his contact-sport-playing friends with their orthodontically corrected smiles and car keys. It meant losing her virginity in the middle of a cornfield, in the bed of Jed’s Ford truck under an endless June sky. And it meant accepting a proposal from him at her high school graduation party and enrolling in community college rather than the out-of-state schools many of her classmates had chosen.
None of it had mattered, though, at the time. Violet hadn’t seen sacrifice in any of her choices. Jed had been the goal, a goal she had achieved without really trying, and when something everyone else deemed as desirable came so easily, it hadn’t occurred to her to question it. Not at the wedding reception in the grade-school gym, where she’d danced in a blissful fog of tulle and tap beer, wearing Grandma Lou’s satin gown from the 1940s. And not in the rented duplex behind the gas station where she and Jed had lived out the decade and a half of their married life—or at least, not until the very end.
Grandma Lou hadn’t wanted Violet to get married so young. She’d said so when Violet and Jed first got engaged, and again in the tiny room in the back of the church, just minutes before Violet walked down the aisle.
“You’re sure about this, honey?” Grandma Lou had asked while Violet’s mother pinned a long veil to her daughter’s dark hair.
Violet had looked in the mirror and traced her lips with another coat of gloss. “Uh-huh.”
“’Cause if you’re not, you just say the word,” Grandma Lou had said. “You and I will pile into my Buick and keep driving ’til you say when.”
“Mom, don’t make trouble,” Violet’s mother had said. “We’ve got half of Bent Creek out there in the pews. Violet’s father is already standing at the foot of the aisle, waiting to walk her down.”
“All I’m saying is that you’re not stuck.” Grandma Lou had leaned over and whispered into Violet’s ear, “You never are, and don’t you forget it.”
Grandma Lou had never promised that getting unstuck would be easy or quick, though. It had taken Violet a long time to untether herself from the choices she’d made in those critical years of early adulthood. Betsy knew it, too. She’d listened to Violet’s whole story when she’d interviewed her for the start-up grant for Hourglass Vintage. Betsy had told Violet she was a “sucker for second chances” and had rallied the other board members to award her the grant funds.
And now Betsy was asking her to help give someone else a similar chance.
Violet couldn’t say no.
: good, no scratches or scuffs
: Yellow Samsonite suitcase with ivory, quilted lining.
: Lucille Rollins. Not for sale.
THE BELLS ABOVE THE
door jingled and Violet caught a glimpse of her new intern through the glass. Violet hadn’t been expecting her for another half an hour, and she’d been counting on that time to finish reading through the packet of legal information Karen had printed for her to better help her understand what was going on with her lease. She opened a drawer underneath the counter and put the papers away.
April made her way to the register. She had on a navy dress with gathered sleeves and a Peter Pan collar (1950s, Violet guessed), paired with tan cowboy boots and a chunky turquoise bracelet. Although April’s dress fell loose from an empire waist, Violet noticed with a twinge of envy that her belly looked rounder than the last time she’d seen her, just a couple of weeks earlier.
“Hi,” April said. “I’m a little bit early. I hope that’s all right. I didn’t want to be late on my first day.”
“It’s all right,” Violet said. “If you ever drive here, you can park in back of the store. The street parking on Johnson has a two-hour limit, and the police are pretty vigilant about handing out tickets.”
“I won’t need a parking spot. I live just down the street. And anyway, I don’t drive.” April clutched the strap of her brown satchel.
“You mean, like, you don’t have a license?”
“No, I just don’t like to.”
Violet noticed a defensive edge in April’s voice and decided to drop the topic. So what if the girl didn’t like to drive? Violet certainly had some neuroses of her own.
“Do you remember me?” April asked.
“Of course,” Violet said.
It’s not every day that someone comes in to buy a wedding dress, let alone return it a few weeks later,
she thought. She wasn’t sure what she should do. On one hand, she wanted to give April her money back because she regretted not doing it in the first place. On the other hand, she feared bringing up the dress would remind April of whatever had made her want to return the dress in the first place, and Violet didn’t want to upset her.