Author: elizabethann.west.7 PM
Melanie Stone, a single mother clothing designer, manages her meddling mother as she enters a national design competition, keeps her small-town alterations shop afloat, and takes her first date in years with a dashing older man she met at a concert. As Easter dresses and prom fittings pile up, Stone loses control over her carefully scheduled existence.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Spiritual - Chapters: 2 - Words: 8,022 - Updated: 02-16-13 - Published: 02-14-13 - id: 3100910
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Electric blue siren lights swiveled outside the front of Stone's Alterations and Designs on Main Street. An abbreviated chirp of the siren's call signaled Melanie to unlock the front door. The shop didn't officially open to customers for another hour at noon.
Stone held open the door for Deputy Sheriff Troy Stone as he ducked low under her right arm. Her 5'4" frame contrasted starkly with his 6'1" lankiness, but other than that, the two could have been fraternal twins in looks, just born six years apart.
Troy carried the special delivery to the small table in the back used for everything from eating to cutting fabric.
"How did you get those sandwiches so fast? I saw you drive past here not five minutes ago and the Subway's drive-thru is jammed full."
Troy gave the same handsome smile that had carried him through most of his life. "I might have said it was important police business."
Stone crossed her arms in front of her after re-locking the front door. After taking Chandler to school, her mornings were set aside for any hemming work or actual garment construction before her high-school intern, Bonnie, came in at three.
"Jim know you're abusing your power?"
Troy's smile faltered, replaced by a grim sigh. "Nah, he's back down at Mayo with Joanie."
Stone's stomach wrestled into knots. Joanie Metzer, the Sheriff's wife, was only thirty-nine and fighting for her life with cervical cancer. All those years she couldn't have kids turned into everyone's worst fears.
"Then you really shouldn't be misbehavin' now should you?" Stone pulled a pitcher of sweet tea from a small refrigerator and poured the tea into two small Styrofoam cups. Her shop was practically her second home, lacking only a bed. "Alright, how many pairs of pants do you and Junior need me to hem?"
"I didn't say anything about pants."
Stone rolled her eyes and unrolled her Italian BMT on whole-wheat bread. "You bought me lunch, so you must have new uniform pants you need me to hem."
Troy chuckled and took a large bite out of his meatball marinara sub. "Only because you're the best. Why else do I drive two towns over? We only have three pair, each."
"And because I'm the cheapest." Stone wiped her mouth with her napkin as her cell phone began singing a popular country music tune. She jumped up, took one look at the name, and silenced the phone.
"Who do you hate now?"
"Hate? I don't hate anyone."
"Bull. You only use that ring tone for Momma and people you don't want to talk to."
Stone looked down at her hands and chewed her words carefully. "It's a guy I met at the concert, okay?"
Troy took another large bite of his sandwich and washed it down with a big gulp of tea.
"Well come on, give it your best shot." Stone challenged her older brother with an icy glare.
"Me? I didn't say anything."
"Yeah, but you're gonna."
Troy paused for a moment and his face lost the brightness his smile and good-nature usually gave. No one would mistake him for the thirty-four-year-old deputy sheriff that he was for the happy-go-lucky young man he often portrayed. "You deserve to be happy. We all do."
Stone shifted in her chair and then stood up put the sweet tea pitcher she had left out back into the refrigerator.
"So why aren't you talking to him?" Troy asked.
Stone shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know. I just, I don't want to hurt Chandler, you know?"
Troy frowned. "Say that one more time?"
"I don't want to hurt Chand—"
"Melanie," Troy interrupted.
Stone narrowed her eyes at her brother as she sat back down in the folding chair. "You date all the time, try going years without one."
Troy laughed. "I do not date all the time, but thanks. Believe it or not, the badge is a turn off." He finished off the last of his sandwich and crumpled up the wrapper. "Give this guy a shot. No one says you have to run off with him after the first date."
Stone shrugged her shoulders and remained non-committal. "Oh just go get the pants."
Ten minutes after Troy drove off, Mrs. Margaret Eloise Bishop arrived promptly at noon for her first appointment. Stone greeted her and offered her fresh coffee. The consultation was going about as well as Stone expected, nothing pleased her, entirely.
"But with a touch of lace, of course." Margaret Eloise Bishop's thin, perfectly rose-lined lips pressed into a disapproving line. Her latest criticism still dripped with authority smotherered in Southern honey.
"It is a church dress after all." Stone kept her voice light, but turned away to pull another fabric sample for the grand-matriarch to consider. A print was probably the only concession Mrs. Bishop would give. Hell would indeed freeze over before she attended Easter services without lace on her collar.
"How's your little son doing? Chandler?" Mrs. Bishop perused once more through the sketches. Her eloquent right hand, marred only by the age spots belying decades of sun exposure, pointed to the last drawing. She traced the model's mid-driff where a magenta, wide belt cinched the waist. "You can make this belt?"
Stone continued rummaging through her samples in the back corner of her small sewing shop. "Ma'am?"
"Please stand up and speak properly," Mrs. Bishop said as if manners were as vital to life as breathing.
Melanie shot up immediately, a reflex of a lifetime full of instruction to mind her elders. Only after making the instinctive response did she begrudge being spoken to like a child. But Mrs. Bishop was a grand dame who'd earned it. Outliving both of her husbands, she was a wealthy widow with very few expenses. Extravagance wasn't in Mrs. Bishop's vocabulary, but charity was.
"I asked if you could make this belt."
Stone smiled. "Yes, ma'am."
"Do you have a sample?"
Stone grabbed the navy blue belt she had made for Chelle and held the much longer belt around Mrs. Bishop's waist as she stood in front of the six-foot mirror in the front of the store. "Hmm, yes, that will do nicely, I believe."
"Well, to go with navy—"
"I want the pink one."
Stone sucked in a breath to hide her surprise. "Did you want a different fabric than the sketch?"
Mrs. Bishop fingered the delicate black cotton with fine white polka dots. "No, this pattern will do lovely."
Stone beamed. Three years of dressing Mrs. Bishop, she was finally getting somewhere in predicting the woman's tastes. She snatched her shopping list off of her list and added six yards of the polka dotted fabric for when she next drove into the city [reference day]...
"I'll pick up a little extra and make you a matching clutch..." Stone glanced up to see Mrs. Bishop's expression. Decades evaporated as the memory of the young woman who probably wore polka-dots when they first came into vogue sparkled behind Mrs. Bishop's eyes. Age never mattered, a woman was always excited to put her best foot forward. Those were the moments that made Stone's aching neck and fingers worth every stitch.
"Please don't forget a touch of lace on the collar."
Hours later, just before closing up shop for the night, Stone's cell phone sang out the same country music song for the third time. This guy was just not going to give up, which made Stone intrigued. Finally, she hit the TALK button.
"Hello? Is someone there?" Ron's voice sounded unsteady.
"Hi. It's Stone."
"Melanie, right? We met at the concert and you were an angel to my daughter's friend?"
Stone chuckled at the poor guy's lame over-flattery.
"Yeah, listen, I don't have a ton of time. I just answered to let you know—"
"Wait. You going to turn me down when I haven't even asked you out yet?"
Stone smiled. She couldn't help it. "Um, yeah. I was."
"But you haven't even heard my offer yet."
Standing in the shop alone, she shifted her weight from one foot to the other. Something about this man brought out a response in her body that her brain was pissed off it couldn't override. "Alright. Give it your best shot."
"Miss Melanie Stone, it was a pleasure to meet you the other night. I am a divorcée with a teenaged daughter. I'm not what you'd call a player. You are beautiful, keep a cool head in an emergency, and I suspect great company to keep. Would you please join me for just one dinner? We don't even have to call it a date, just getting to know each other better." Ron stopped, but the tremor of his voice was back to a confident suitor.
He was good. He was very good. Stone didn't want to say yes, but at the same she didn't want to say no. How had the years gone by so fast since Marcus went to jail?
"Tell you what. I promised your daughter a custom-designed prom dress. You bring her in one Saturday, I'll do a few free sketches, and we can get to know each other a little better. I'll give you my answer then." There. He wouldn't want to drive all the way out to podunk-ville to get his daughter a dress. She was telling him "No," without hurting his feelings.
"How's this Saturday?"
Stone gulped. "This Saturday?"
"I have Christie again this weekend. Her mother is on a spa trip. Do you have any openings?"
Dangit, Stone didn't want to lie to the man. Besides, she felt certain telling him not this Saturday would just mean he'd ask for the next one, and the one after that. Better to just face the music and see what happens.
"We'll be there."
Hanging up the phone, Stone grabbed her bag and killed the lights. Two hours of teaching Bonnie how to properly hem a man's pant plus three prom consultations left just enough energy to drive the twenty minutes home.
Stone felt exhausted all the way down to her toenails. The three prom clients all had to be talked out of a trashy, mermaid hooker dress and into a cut that flattered their figures. Prom season forced Stone to walk a tough tightrope between both clients, the daughter and the mother.
She parked her late model Acura as usual next to Chelle's car. Chelle or Mama Rose drove Chandler home after supper to get him ready for bed the four nights of the school week that Stone met with clients. On weekends, Chandler stayed at the shop with her.
Before taking more than two steps out of her car, the front door opened wide. A voluptuous black figure blocked the incandescent light pouring out into the crisp spring night. It wasn't like Chelle to pounce on her the second she came home. She grabbed her artist's bag and purse, dreading the excitement waiting for her.
"Girl, they want to see you!" Chelle squealed with excitement.
Stone sighed and dropped her bags onto the well-worn kitchen table, raising her eyebrows at the six-pack of beer on the table.
"Who?" she asked, with very little desire to know the answer.
"Hold up." Chelle thundered to the back of the double-wide and leaned out of the screened back door. She shouted to two small red glows at the edge of the property. "Troy, Junior, get in here. Melanie's home!"
Stone cringed. Troy and Junior were here too? She must have been too tired to notice their cars. Unwilling to wait for the grand announcement, Stone helped herself to a beer before the cavalry burst in.
A long swig of her her beer immediately began erasing the day's stress. Her mail sat in a pile on the kitchen table, with one envelope already opened and a letter resting on top. Stone snatched the evidence of Chelle's snooping and unfolded the thin letter.
Congratulations designer Melanie Stone. Your portfolio has earned a semi-final interview for DRAMA IN THE DESIGN Season 6. Based on your location, you are scheduled for your interview at 1 PM at the OMNI HOTEL CNN CENTER in Atlanta, GA April 28th, 2011. Remember, travel costs will not be reimbursed and you must call the number provided to secure your place in double occupancy hotel rooms at our expense. The producers will reimburse the cost of material up to ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS ($100) for the three garments you are to present...
"RACHELLE MALIKA WATSON GET YOUR BUTT BACK IN HERE!" Stone yelled holding the piece of paper with shaking hands.
"Would you hush? Chandler's out like a light." Chelle returned to the kitchen with the two deputies behind her.
"Great, isn't it?" Troy beamed at his sister. Junior was the first to step forward and give Stone a perfunctory hug.
"Great news, Melanie. Knew you'd make it to the big time." Junior shied away before the stunned Stone could respond.
"Well, I don't hear a thank you." Chelle put her hands on her hips, mocking her best friend.
Stone opened her mouth, then closed it. She took another gulp of her beer. "Do they know that I didn't enter this contest? Isn't that fraud or something? What about the video? Who played me?"
Junior turned red. "That, that was me. I just interviewed some of your clients for the show. Seemed to work though, didn't it?"
"And my portfolio? How'd they get that?" Stone kept her sketchbook with her almost 24/7 as she never knew when a design would hit her or she'd meet a potential client.
Troy took a seat at the table. Stone mirrored his movement, returning to her own seat. "That's my fault. I had Chandler thief it for me so I could make copies. You grounded him for a weekend remember for taking your sketch book?"
Stone groaned. This couldn't be happening. Drama in the Design was a national show that even non-winning designers saw massive exposure from, but how could she leave Chandler for six weeks to go to New York? She'd never spent more than an overnight away from him. No, she pushed those thoughts out of her mind. She hadn't made the show, yet. There was an easy solution. She just wouldn't go to the interview.
"It was MY idea, though." Chelle took credit for the overall project. "I sent everything off and wrote out your application."
Stone swallowed another mouthful of beer. Both Troy and Junior grabbed a can of their own to join the celebration. Before drinking, they raised the cans to clink with Melanie's. She defiantly left them hanging and put her own beer down.
"I'm not going."
"What?" Chelle spit out.
"No way, Mel. You have to go." Troy gave her a sympathetic look, but had a slight authoritative ring to his voice.
"No. I don't. I don't have the money to travel to Atlanta for three days, and I can't leave Chandler. Or the shop."
The three friends looked at each other and shared a conspiratorial smile.
Chelle reached over and refolded the letter, sliding it carefully back into the envelope and placing it on top of the refrigerator.
"I already told my Mama."
The next morning saw both Stone and Chandler dragging butt. Hitting the snooze button left Melanie twenty minutes behind schedule.
"Chandler! Grab a Poptart, we're running late!" Stone called as she pulled on a pair of skinny jeans and a tunic styled blouse of her own design in a magenta, geometric print. Large silver hoop earring completed her ensemble, and she refreshed her lipstick one last time. She would skip breakfast this morning and rummage through the fridge at work. "Front door, five minutes!"
That familiar country twang sang from the cell phone on her dresser. Stone grabbed the phone as she pulled on a pair of black, calf-high boots with a slink to the top.
"Momma, I'm late."
"I need you on Saturday."
"Can't, I have clients." Stone trudged down the hallway to check on Chandler in the kitchen. She mimed for him to get up from the table and bring the Poptart with him.
"Brunch then. I'll see you at ten."
Stone juggled to grab her artist bag, keys, and her water bottle from the counter. She sighed into the phone, both at her mother's refusal to take a no and seeing the rest of yesterday's mail still sitting on the kitchen table, unopened. "Fine. Chandler and I will be there." She stormed over and snatched the mail off the table, shoving the letters into her bag.
"No, no, no. I need to talk to you alone. Chandler can go to Troy's. I've already arranged it."
Stone lightly bit the inside of her lip and pursed her lips. "How kind of you to tell me in advance." She couldn't keep the sarcasm out of her voice, but it was a nicer response than what she wanted to give.
"It's your birthday. Did you forget it's next week?"
Of course Stone didn't forget her own birthday, she just hadn't considered doing anything for twenty-nine.
"No. Fine, Saturday, I'll drop him off at Troy's." Stone hurried Chandler out the front door and locked up behind her. Dashing down the wooden steps to her dirt driveway, she decided a little payback was in order. "And he can keep him all day since I'll be busy at the shop. Getting in the car, gotta go."
"I don't have to go the shop on Saturday? I can play at Uncle Troy's?"
Stone grinned as she yanked the driver's side door open. "Yep, now get in the car. We're late."
Dropping her son off just barely before the tardy bell, Stone's first priority today would be figuring out what materials she had to make those three designs for the show interview.
There weren't two swatches to stitch together. Each scrap of fabric was a fourth of a yard here, a third of a yard there. To pay land taxes last month, Stone had economized on restocking fabric. She planned on making do with what she had until the busy prom and Easter season when she'd have to go into town and buy custom fabric anyway. But the season had just started and the deposits wouldn't cover a bunch of extra fabric.
She wouldn't see more income for another few weeks. She had dared to dream of making it on Drama in the Design but without a penny to pinch, all she could submit at the moment was a patchwork quilt.
Finding a stale blueberry muffin in a plastic case a the back of the fridge, she put it on a napkin and sat at her small desk to mope. It wasn't fair of them to dangle the show in front of her. They knew her money was tight, and Chelle had talked her into splurging on that stupid concert! A fleeting thought of putting fabric on credit crossed her mind, but she wouldn't make that mistake again. It took her too long to dig out of that pit, and she wasn't getting back in it for a stupid show.
Feeling plenty angry, Stone tackled the stack of mail she brought from home. There'd be a few bills and she might as well deal with the stress at the same time. A bright green envelope finished off the pack, a birthday card from her father. She threw it into the trash, without opening it.
Tuning in New Life Radio, Stone pushed her thoughts away from the temptation of greed. With green garden tape in hand, a cheap alternative to marking tape for a mannequin, she marked a dress form for Mrs. Bishop's gown. She sang her heart out about redemption, about God's amazing powers to fill her needs, and trading her sorrows.
Stone returned to her desk to calculate the yardage she needed for Mrs. Bishop's size 6 frame, feeling a million times better about her situation. The radio announcer broke her concentration.
"We're getting a ton of requests for this song from Point of Grace. Remember you heard it first, on New Life Radio."
Lyrics about a father dancing with his daughter and taking her for ice cream caught Stone unprepared. Betrayed by her ears, angry tears poured down her cheeks. One of the few memories she had of her father that didn't include learning to mind was a trip to Dairy Queen. She had feared his wrath as a Dilly Bar melted all over her hands. Instead he had laughed, handed her a napkin, and told her not to tell her mother. The song faded to simply random guitar chords as she lost herself in her thoughts.
Swallowing to clear mucus at the back of her throat, she wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. The lime green envelope sat on top of the nearly full waste basket. Gingerly, she opened the envelope to a generic card and five crisp hundred dollar bills slid out. The message read "A little birdie told me you might need this. Happy Birthday."
Stone glared at her radio and tried to squash the sheer joy bubbling up inside. Too quickly, her mouth opened and the relief came out through a fit of laughter.
"That's not funny, Jesus." But her smiles and laughter didn't stop. Stone counted the money again which just renewed her giggles. She was going to Atlanta!