Holly, wrapped in her maroon, silk bathrobe, padded out of her bathroom through a cloud of steam that was thick enough to match the fog in the airport scene in Casablanca. She walked across the oak floor of her bedroom and stopped in front of the cottage style, ivory vanity she’d found at an estate sale and collapsed onto the matching padded stool.
Holly dug her hairbrush out of the top right drawer and began coaxing the tangles out of her hair. She stopped when her brush got caught in a large knot.
Holly struggled with the brush, muttering under her breath about sadistic hairbrushes and her curly hair.
Letting go of the brush handle, she pulled on the ornate filigree handle of the bottom drawer. The drawer slid out half an inch, then stuck on the loose screw in the middle of the track. “Oh, come on. Not again.”
Jiggling the drawer and pulling on the handle at the same time, Holly muttered curses under her breath. The screw was too far into the cavity for her to get at it with a screwdriver. So, whenever it got too loose, she had to pull the drawer out completely and tighten the screw by hand.
Which was only a temporary fix.
Ten minutes, a great deal of shaking, and several colorful curses later, the drawer popped free of the loose screw. “Finally.” Holly said gratefully, emphasizing the single word. She dove into the drawer, digging through loose rollers, hair elastics, bobby pins; and a random tube of pink lipstick that was obviously not in the right place. Her rat-tail comb was somewhere in the mess.
Holly wasn’t sure how the drawer had managed to become such a mess, but she added ‘organize drawers’ and “fix drawer, again’ to her extensive to-do list.
“Aha!” She exclaimed in triumph when her hand brushed the point of her comb. Pulling the black comb from the tangle of attempted to shove it back into place. Only to have the wood snag on the same screw in the track. “Really? Got any other issues you’d like to discuss?” She said sarcastically to the wooden box.
Holly knew the drawer was an inanimate object, but the thing got stuck every time she opened or closed it. Until she found a shorter screwdriver that was the same size as the screw head, she had to make do with tightening the screw by hand.
“I’ll fix it in a minute.” She said to herself. Turning back to the mirror, Holly slipped the pick of the comb into the edge of the tangle of hair and gently started pulling and picking at pieces to free her hairbrush and undo the knot.
She freed the last few pieces of hair from the knot and pulled the brush from her hair when her cellphone sang the ringtone she’d assigned to Lachlan. Holly turned and lunged for her bed where she’d left her phone.
“Hey, Lachlan.” She said breathlessly.
“Hey, Holl. Are you alright?” Lachlan asked.
“Huh? Yeah, I’m fine. Just had to run across the room to get to my phone.”
“O-Kay.” Lachlan said. “Hey, I was wondering. Are you free on Friday?”
Holly’s eyes widened. “Yeah. Why?”
“I was wondering if you wanted to go out.”
“I’d love to.”
“Great! I’ll pick you up at eight.” Lachlan said cheerfully. “Oh, don’t dress up.”
“It’s a surprise.”
“Lachlan!” Holly said, exasperated. “Why won’t you tell me?”
“Because I want to surprise you. Just trust me, Holl.”
Holly huffed. “Fine.”
“I’ll see you on Friday at eight.”
“Sure. See you on Friday.” Holly said, then pulled the phone away from her ear and tapped the red button to disconnect the call. She set her phone back on her bed and walked back to the vanity to finish brushing her hair, so she could put on her makeup and dress for work.
Holly gently guided the sewing machine needle through the layers of sea foam green chiffon and silk, taking extra care not to snag the delicate fabrics.
She had been inspired by the layered knot in Lachlan’s tie on one of their dates. Now she was working on a gown with crisp folds that mimicked the folds of the tie. The bodice consisted of an asymmetrical neck that wrapped around the left shoulder. From there, the bodice was folded crisply in a woven V pattern down the right side of the mannequin to match the folds of the tie. The hem copied the neckline with the left side higher than the right.
Most of the dress was still pinned onto the mannequin behind her, parts of it sewn and other parts merely pinned together. Holly had had Lachlan recreate the tie on a necklace stand so she would have something to look at while she worked.
Holly’s assistant manager, Faith Jones, knocked on the open door. “Holly, there’s a man here looking for you.” She said over the whirring of the machine.
Holly released the pedal and flipped the switch to turn off the sewing machine. “Did you get a name?”
Faith shook her head. “He just asked to see you.”
Holly twisted the swivel stool and stood. “Lead the way.” She said, following Faith to the sales floor. Stopping dead in her tracks when she saw the man waiting for her at the counter. “No. No, no, no, no.” She said under her breath. “Faith. That’s Carson Cross. Why did you tell him I was here?”
“I didn’t know who he was.” Faith whispered. “I’m sorry. I’ll just, uh, go re-organize the skirt section.”
“You do that.” Holly said through tight lips.
Carson turned and saw them. “Holly.” He said cheerfully. “How are you?”
“Carson.” Holly said through tight lips. “What are you doing here?”
“I need to talk to you.” Carson said earnestly.
Holly folded her arms across her chest. “What could you possibly need to talk to me about?” She said sarcastically.
“You can’t keep seeing Lachlan Jacoby.”
Holly glared daggers at him. “How dare you try to tell me what I can and can’t do? As I recall, you left me for a Navy whore. Sound about right?”
“Holl –” Carson started, before she interrupted him.
“You had your head turned by a pair of goddamn boobs bigger than mine, which were attached to a cry baby slut who didn’t have a backbone. Or brains. Sound right?”
“Holly –” Carson started again.
“And now, you think you have the right to tell me who I should be dating? Uh uh. You don’t get a say anymore.”
“Holly I made a mistake.” Carson said in a rush.
Holly scoffed. “Yeah. Sure. And I suppose that when you said you loved me the year and a half we were together, you weren’t sleeping with everything that wore a skirt.” Her voice rose a few octaves.
Carson’s face took on the classic expression of deer-caught-in-headlights. “I didn’t –”
“Don’t bother denying it.” Holly said angrily. “I trusted you, Carson. And you dumped me the moment your head was turned by a pair of huge boobs and no brain.” She held up her hand when he opened his mouth to retort. “Save it. I don’t give a damn rat’s shit about your lies. Now get out of my boutique and never come back.” She pointed at the door, glaring at Carson, killing him with her eyes.
Carson stepped forward. “Holly,” he said in a pleading voice.
“Out!” Holly yelled. “Now!”
Carson sighed dejectedly. “Alright. Bye, Holly.” He turned and trudged to the door.
Holly breathed an angry huff. “Good riddance.”
One of the boutique’s regular’s, Amey Freagan, bounced up to Holly, a green dress over her arm. “Wow, Holly. That was fantastic! I wish I had your guts.”
Holly smiled at the young woman. “How do you mean, Amey?”
“Well, my boyfriend, Chris, has been really distant lately. And I think he might be cheating on me.” She looked at her hands, where a huge sapphire ring sparkled. “He gave me this promise ring a month into our relationship. But I don’t believe he’s keeping his promise.”
Holly took Amey’s hands. “Amey, if he’s cheating on you, he’ll slip up. They always do. Just keep your eyes and ears open for any hint or detail that could indicate he’s being unfaithful.”
“You really think that will work?” Amey asked, quietly.
“I’m positive it will.” Holly smiled.
Amey returned the smile. “Thanks, Holly.” Her face turned serious. “Did that guy really cheat on you with a whole bunch of women and then dump you for a whore?”
“Navy whore.” Holly corrected. “And yeah, he did. And he did cheat on me repeatedly. I just didn’t find out until it was too late.”
“Wow. What a jackass.” Amey exclaimed, and then slapped her hand over her mouth. “Oops. I never swear.”
Holly laughed and gently took Amey’s wrist, pulling her hand away from her mouth. “It’s okay. Swearing isn’t a crime.”
“It is to my mom.” Amey said dolefully. “How did he dump you for that Navy whore?”
“I was at a fashion show for a friend of mine who’s also a designer. He showed up with Navy Whore on his arm and told me, in front of my friends, that he was dumping me for her. I found out he’d been cheating a few days later.”
“How did you find out that you were being cheated on?”
Holly made a face that was half grimace, half smirk. “He still had a key to my apartment, because we’d been living together. I came home early from the shop because I wasn’t feeling well and when I opened the front door I heard loud moaning and the bed springs in the bedroom creaking. The bed in the apartment we used to live in was old and outdated. Anyhow, I went to see what was going on and found Carson, balls deep, in a woman who was moaning and crying out loud enough to shake the walls.”
Amey was staring at her, dumbfounded. “What did you do?”
“I turned around, went to the kitchen, filled a huge bucket with ice water, then went back to the bedroom and dumped the whole thing on their heads.” Holly said proudly as she remembered the looks on Carson’s and the woman’s faces when she’d dumped the water on them.
Amey snorted a laugh, “What happened next?”
Holly grinned mischievously. “They separated, and I started screaming at Carson to get the hell out of my apartment or I was calling the police.” She leaned in conspiratorially. “When they wouldn’t get out, I pushed him and her out into the hall and locked the door. Carson was in his boxers and she was in her lingerie.”
Amey stared at her. “Really? What happened to their clothes?”
“I trashed them. I found out about the other women a few days later from a couple of friends.”
“Wow. What a jerk to cheat on a great person like you. Was he at least good in bed?”
“Not even close. We’d known each other since grade school. And the spark we had in high school died out as soon as we each started college. Carson is two years older than me. And he went to NYU instead of a college here in Cali.”
Faith appeared at Amey’s side. “Hey Holl, it’s almost closing time.”
Holly checked her watch. “Alright. You can start closing the boutique. Make sure the triplets are doing their closing work too.”
“On it.” Faith said. She pointed at the slinky green dress Amey had draped over her arm. “Need help with that?” The dress was made of forest green silk that would cling to Amey’s curves, with a thigh-high slit up the right leg and a plunging draped neckline.
Amey looked down at the dress she held. “I forgot I was holding this. Shows how lost in our conversation I was.”
Holly held out her hand for the dress. “I’ll put it in the back, so you can come any time tomorrow and try it on.”
“I’m not sure I’ll buy it. My mom kind of still runs my wardrobe. If she found out I bought a dress like this, she’d have it ripped to shreds and the pieces thrown in an incinerator.”
Holly looked at the young girl sympathetically. “Tell you what, come back tomorrow and try it on, and I’ll personally assist you. Then you can tell me what your mother would approve of and I’ll draw up an altered design for it.”
Amey stared at the dress longingly. “I do love that dress. Okay. I’ll come back tomorrow.”
Faith took the dress from Holly and carried it through the maze of clothing racks to the private dressing room they used for high class customers. “Holly, it’s five o’clock.” She called over her shoulder.
“Okay, Faith. Thanks for the reminder.” Holly yelled back. “But I’m the boss, so I get the final say.”
Amey smiled at Holly. “I should be heading home. My mom’s probably wondering what’s taking me so long. Daddy had his first therapy session for his knee today, and it’s my night to cook dinner.”
“Oh, tell Mark I said good luck with the therapy. And tell Delilah I said hello.” Holly said, wrapping Amey in a hug.
“I will. See you tomorrow, Holly.” Amey said over her shoulder as she turned for the door.
“Drive safe, Amey.” Holly unclipped the set of display case keys from the belt loop at her side. She walked to the back of the sales floor, locking the jewelry cases along the walls.
The triplets, Addie, Allie, and Arrie, appeared from their respective sections of the floor. “You ladies finished?” Holly asked.
“Yup.” The triplets chorused.
“Good.” Holly made a shooing motion with her hands. “Now go home. I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”
“See you tomorrow,” Arrie said.
“Bright and early,” Allie added.
“Night, Holly,” Addie said.
The triplets filed out of the boutique, going to their respective vehicles. Leaving Holly standing by the register counter. Holly walked up and down the aisles, checking for customers. After she’d checked the last aisle, Holly walked back to the register counter to wait for Faith to return from the back of the boutique. All she wanted to do after the encounter with Carson was go home, pour herself a glass of the Pinot Noir in her fridge, and just forget the whole thing.
Faith walked back through the boutique to the counter. “Everything’s closed up.”
“Great. Let’s head out.” Holly locked the front door and flipped the sign to Closed, then led her friend out the back door, locking that one on their way out. The two parted ways after a quick, friendly hug, and Holly watched Faith climb into her car before getting into her own and driving away from her boutique.
Holly maneuvered her red VW beetle up the driveway of her powder blue townhouse, past the flowerbeds she religiously maintained. The fragrance of the baby-blue eyes and yellow bush snapdragons floated on the breeze, filling the air with the sweet smell of summer, combined with white California mock orange flowers.
Parking in front the small, square garage, Holly slipped out of the car, rounded the front fender and opened the passenger door to retrieve her purse from the floorboards. Slamming the car door, Holly slipped her purse over her shoulder and strolled down the driveway to the mailbox on the curb, the stiletto heels of her black satin pumps clicking along the pavement.
Holly opened the door of the powder blue wooden mailbox and was pulling the stack of mail from the box when a white van pulled up to the curb. The logo emblazoned on the side proclaimed that the van belonged to the local florist. The driver’s door opened and a woman, in a black button-down shirt with the florist logo on the breast pocket, stepped out. “Holly Fletcher?”
“Yes?” Holly asked the woman, tucking the stack of letters and bills into her purse. “That’s me.”
“We have a delivery for you.” She turned and removed a touchpad tablet from the top of the dashboard. She glanced at the screen, “A floral arrangement from Mr. Lachlan Jacoby.”
Holly watched as a man appeared from around the corner of the van carrying a crystal vase bursting with the most beautiful, fragrant pink roses Holly had ever seen. The arrangement looked like it should be decorating a wedding in Paris, not a modest home in L.A. She stared at the flowers, blushing at the knowledge that no man had ever bought her flowers this beautiful.
The woman with the tablet cleared her throat. “Miss Fletcher?”
Holly snapped out of her reverie. “Yes?”
The woman tapped a stylus against the screen of her tablet. “I need your signature.”
“Oh, of course.” Holly took the stylus the woman held out to her and quickly signed her name. She passed the stylus back to the woman and held out her hands for the vase.
The man handed her the vase, surprising Holly by how heavy it was. Holly struggled to keep her balance with the vase’s weight, and then the man said. “Would you like me to carry that for you?”
“Yes, please.” Holly gladly returned the flowers to him and led the way up the walkway to her front door. She pulled her house keys out of her purse and quickly unlocked the door. There was a round stained-glass end table to the right of the pocket doors leading into the living room. “You can set them down on that table,” Holly instructed the man, sweeping her hand in the direction of the table.
“Alright.” The man said. He walked to the table, craning his head around the edge of the mass of flowers sprouting from the vase. Bending at the knees, he gently placed the vase on the glass table. There was a series of faint clicking noises as crystal contacted the glass. “There you go, ma’am.”
“Thank you.” She smiled at the man. The man smiled back then turned and strode out the front door. Holly followed him and stood in the doorway, watching the van drive away.
Once the van was out of sight, Holly deposited her purse on the hook next to the front door and turned to the vase of flowers. She leaned toward the nearest red rose and inhaled the sweet scent.
Her phone rang church bells.
“Alright. Alright.” Holly said to her phone, tapping the stop button on the screen of her phone to turn off the alarm.
She had a date with a gorgeous man tonight. Even if she didn’t know what he had planned. She took the stairs to the second floor with a spring in her step, feeling rejuvenated as her mind ran through the possibilities of the date. Holly knew it was a special show, and that she was supposed to dress casually.
She closed the door of her bedroom, locking it out of habit, and practically bounced across to the stereo mounted on the wall. Holly turned the stereo on then plugged her phone into the auxiliary port on the side of the player, then turned the volume all the way up. Holly looked down at her phone and swiped her thumb across the screen until she found the music app and selected her ‘dance’ playlist.
Upbeat music blasted through the two speakers mounted on the wall, and Holly danced to the pocket doors of her closet and flipped the light switch, illuminating the large room she called her closet. Holly sang along with the music as she pulled out shirt after shirt, holding them up and returning each to the rack. She finally settled on a black T-shirt with a silk-screened gold and silver rose on the front. She pulled the hanger free of the shirt and returned it to the bar holding the rest of her T-shirts and turned to the pairs of jeans folded and stacked neatly on the shelves of a white organizer.
Holly dug through the jeans in search of the stone-washed pair she’d embellished with curling gold vines down the outside seams of the legs. The jeans were wedged tightly between several other pairs on a full shelf at the top of the organizer. With a series of wiggles and tugs, Holly managed to dislodge the jeans from the rest of the stack. She turned and left the closet, turning off the light at the door.
Depositing the clothes on her bed, Holly went to the dresser and pulled out fresh underwear and a black bra that would blend with her shirt, and then glanced at the digital clock on the nightstand next to her bed. Six thirty-eight. She had to get moving if she was going to be ready before Lachlan arrived. She turned and speed-walked to the bathroom, pulling the pins out of her hair and collecting them in her fist as she walked.
Closing the door to the bathroom, she pulled the last four pins from her hair, and then deposited the fistful of metal pins on the counter next to the sink faucet. The music from the stereo pulsed through the bathroom door and Holly sang along to the music as she stripped and clambered over the edge of the white porcelain bathtub. She didn’t have time for her usual after work bath. So, she turned the hot water on full blast and took the world’s fastest shower.
Lachlan pulled his freshly washed truck up to the curb in front of Holly’s house, pushing the stick shift into park, and pulled the keys from the ignition. Unbuckling his seatbelt, he opened the door and stepped down from the cab to the pavement. He pushed the door closed and slipped his keys into his pocket. Lachlan rounded the front fender of the truck and strode casually up the walkway between the two halves of Holly’s front yard to the porch.
Taking the four steps two at a time, Lachlan stopped in front of the cheerful yellow door and jabbed the oval doorbell button with his fingertip.
“Coming,” Holly said from inside the house.
Lachlan took the moments before she opened the door to breathe deeply and compose himself. He’d begun to feel a unique affection for Holly in the two months they’d known each other. The idea that they were expected to get married soon still scared him, but he wasn’t really worrying about that fact now.
The door opened and Holly appeared. She was wearing stone-wash jeans with gold vines snaking up the sides of the legs and a black T-shirt with a giant gold and silver rose across the front. “Hey.” Her green eyes glowed with an inner fire that lit her entire face.
Lachlan smiled broadly at her. “Hey, Holl. Ready to go?”
Holly pulled a small purse with a long strap off a hook on the inside wall by the door. “I’m ready to find out what show you’re taking me to.” She stepped over the threshold and pulled the door closed, then turned to lock the doorknob and deadbolt. She turned back to Lachlan and he swept his hand in the direction of the truck in the classic ‘after you’ gesture. Holly smiled and walked across the porch and down the steps with Lachlan on her heels. He stopped behind her and reached out to pull open the door. “You’re carriage, milady.” He held out his hand for her to hold.
Holly giggled. “Thank you, sir.” She placed her hand in his and stepped up into the seat.
Lachlan closed the door and jogged around the front fender and climbed into the driver’s seat, closing the door sharply. “Seatbelt on?” He asked, slipping his own belt on.
Holly pulled the strap out from where it was across her torso. “Yup.”
Lachlan flipped through his keys for the truck key, then slipped the key into the ignition. The engine turned over with a soft purr. “This truck is my favorite out of all the cars I own.” He said as he moved the stick shift into drive and eased the mechanical beast out into the street.
“That’s strange,” Holly said.
“How so?” Lachlan asked, glancing at her.
“It’s just that on our first date, you said you have four cars and a motorcycle.”
“Yeah.” Lachlan didn’t know where she was heading with the train of thought. “What about them?”
“You told me that you had them all for different reasons. If this truck is your favorite, then the story or reason you have it must be really important.”
“It is,” Lachlan said, slowing and flipping on his turn signal.
“What’s the reason?”
Lachlan drove around the corner and didn’t answer. He didn’t know how to answer without freaking her out.
Holly spoke up before he could answer her. “Don’t answer that.”
Lachlan looked across the quickly darkening cab. The only illumination was the buttons and square touchscreen on the dashboard. He released his right hand from the steering wheel and reached across the console. His fingertips brushed the back of her hand, clasped together with the other hand in her lap. Holly slowly relaxed her hand and Lachlan wove his fingers through hers, moving their joined hands to rest on top of the console between the seats.
Holly looked out the window. “Lachlan, where are we going?”
“Just for a drive.” Lachlan replied.
“Yeah. Don’t you ever just take a drive?” Lachlan asked.
Holly looked down at her hands. “Not really. I’ve never seen a reason.”
Lachlan smiled in the darkness. “Well, now you can say you’ve “taken a drive.”