Placing a dress on a display mannequin I look over finding a girl walk in with a backpack and tired expression under her long black hair.
“Miss?” She asked. “I’m here for the work study.”
Smiling I zip the dress up and place it in the window. “You must be Desimond.”
She nodded fidgeting with the strap of her backpack over her shoulder. “Yes Miss.”
Laughing I ruffle the dress to make sure it is positioned perfectly. Once I felt happy it looks secure and shows the best of the dress I turn walking over to Desimond.
“Please call me Stella, I’m your new boss I guess but we don’t need to be formal. Why don’t you put your backpack down? Do you want anything to drink or eat?”
Desimond shook her head taking off her jacket, placing it inside her backpack. My eyes took in the state of her tank top, two sizes too big with multiple holes that are kept together from safety pins. It isn’t to make a fashion statement, it is the only thing she has.
Giving her a smile, I tried to ease her out of the nervousness, her fingers twisting the multiple chains around her wrist. “What made you apply for ‘London Threads’?”
Desimond shrugged. “Heard you design.”
“You interested in designing dresses?”
She shrugged again. “I like sketching. I don’t know, sorta into drawing clothes, this place seems cool and is better than trig.”
So, either grumpy teenager or she needs time to warm up with me to say what she is actually interested in.
“Well,” I started moving around the store showing her the different dresses and sections, “here is where we put everything on display. The store is divided by events; prom dresses here, wedding over there, evening gowns and so on. The men’s section is in the back.”
Desimond followed behind me, her fingers going over the dresses we pass. “Did you make all of them?”
Shaking my head, we kept walking around the store. “Those are real designers but here is the section of one’s I’ve made myself. Usually if a client wants something handmade they come to me and schedule a meeting to talk about what they want. I still design dresses without a client in mind though.”
She nodded following me. “How many regular clients do you have?”
Counting in my head I lead us past the fitting rooms, men’s section and ended the tour at the sewing room. “Fifteen but orders come in for weddings and proms.”
“Doesn’t sound like many.” She mumbled walking over to my large sketch station where it has multiple designs laying around with fabric pin sets.
I shook my head. “May not sound like much but those are regular client’s I personal design, add walk ins, tailoring, shop running and getting ready for wedding season and there is plenty of work.”
She took a sketch pad I passed her along with a set of color pencils. “You are giving me this?”
“Of course. You are welcome to draw anything you want and if there is a design you want to make real, we can try to get that done.” She nodded slowly. “Working here will be relaxed, come in for your hours whenever works for you and help me keep the place running.”
Feeling a buzz in my back pocket I reach in to take my phone out. A flutter appeared in my stomach and warmth spread when I read who was calling. “Go ahead and look around the store or sketch, I have to take this.”
Walking away I go over to my work desk, sitting down in my chair I open the call. “Hey stranger.”
“Afternoon, how were you feeling this day after last night?” Maximus’s deep voice soothed over me the instant I heard it.
“Like death.” I muttered into the phone. “I never learn.”
He chuckled softly. “You are a light weight.”
Biting my lip, my body hummed remembering what we did at the club, my cheeks flushed at how direct I was for him to take me on that desk. “Well I won’t be drinking that much in a long time, thank you for getting me home.”
“Anytime mi Stella.” I shivered at the tone, as if he knew exactly what I didn’t thank him for. The dark predatory glint in his eyes when he took me in his office, the look he gave me on the dance floor as if he would take me in front of everyone made me shiver.
“What are you doing tonight?” I asked opening my sketch book to take a design break from the emotions he makes spin around in me. “I should make up my behavior.”
He laughed into the phone and for some reason it felt like a victory. “Oh, Stella you can get like that any night. You don’t always have to be polite and composed.”
Humming into the phone I pick up a pencil and begin to sketch. “Hard habit to break.”
“You can with me.” He husked making me cross my legs from the warmth between them. “Thank you for the invitation but I regrettably have some business to attended to tonight.”
Looking up at the clock my brows drew together. “What country are you dealing with so late? Wouldn’t most countries be in early morning with our time zone? Or is this for the club?”
“It’s complicated and boring.” He said making me tilt my head wondering what is confusing about international trading and club ownership. “Will you be going to any of the clubs tonight? I can have a table reserved in the back and make sure you get parking in case you want to get home early.”
My nose scrunched at how he dodged the real answer to my question. But I reminded myself that it was I who told him that whatever is going on with us, whatever it is that pulls me to him must be casual. “Nope, I have done my obligatory two club nights a month so I won’t be back there till next month or until Anthony drags me out by my hair.”
“You have a two night a month club obligation?”
Huffing at him laughing I erased a mistake on the sketch pad and began remaking the trail of a veil. “As people like to say I have no life and I enjoy that but Anthony makes me go twice a month to live as a young woman should. Clubs are fun every once in a while, but I feel like death after which I can live without.”
“I would say something on the lines, ‘I am glad no other man gets to see your sexy body in short dress’ but then you would wear that dress and go clubbing every night to spite me.” Maximus mused into the phone making me squirm on the chair imagining him unbutton his blazer and running a hand though his hair.
“That would be right, don’t try to tell me what to do.” I stated adding new details on the veil to keep myself from thinking of last night.
He chuckled into the line. “You weren’t complaining last night.” Shouts broke into the line as I heard him talking with a few other voices, everything said in Italian.
Blushing I knew he was right. “You know maybe I will go clubbing again soon, just designed a new dress, should test it out before putting it on the rack.”
I could hear his growl through the phone before Italian was yelled in the background again. “If you need to wear that dress I’ll take you to the club. Afraid I must go, goodnight Stella.”
With that he hung up, my lips letting a sigh escape as I put down the phone.
“What’s his name?” I jumped seeing Desimond looking at me, the sketch pad in her arms with a guilty look. “Sorry, you said I could try to sketch right?”
Chuckling I put the phone away. “Of course, sweetie. And his name is Max but he is only a friend.”
She scrunched up her nose. “I know I’m young but I know that when you have that kind of look, the man is more than a friend.”
Standing up from the desk I closed my sketch pad. “What look?”
Desimond rolled her eyes with teenage sass. At least that means she is coming out of her shell. “The walking on air look. Your face is all flushed, your eyes sparkle, voice is all soft. Plus, you specified that he was a friend so yeah, friend my ass.”
“Language.” I muttered pointing a pen at her. “Alright miss observant go stock or sketch me something before I decide I want a new worker.”
Her eye widened at my joke thinking I was serious about firing her but before I could put her at ease she began running around the store checking stock until she plunked down on a couch to sketch. Settling at my desk I went to work checking on any paperwork the store needs while making a list of dresses I could design for the next wedding season.
“Um Stella?” My head move from my laptop towards the young girl. “Is it okay if I stay till 6:30? The bus I use isn’t till 7, sorry.” Desimond stating twirling a piece of her long hair around her finger making me smile.
Waving my hand at her I dismissed her worry. “Don’t take the bus I can drive you home, where do you live?”
She winced. “On the East side.”
My city of San Francisco is pretty clean with crime but the East side, that’s where all the low lives and pieces of scum have residence. If she is from the East side it also makes sense why she tries to keep any emotion down and won’t say if she is into designing. She comes from an impoverished, crime area and depending on if her family takes part in the wrong activities, Desimond may feel like she has no real way out.
Looking at the girl I take it upon myself to make sure feels safe here to express herself and see a future. “That’s not problem sweetie. Let me know when you need to get home and I’ll take you. No need to waste money on a bus.”
And like hell I’m going to risk a young girl alone at night in the wrong side of the city.
Before she could say anything, a regular customer rushed in letting the bell above the door chime. “Ah thank the lord you are here and open Stella. My husband thought the night of a business event for his firm would be the best time to tell me about the event. Please tell me you have something done by you in my size and ready.”
Chuckling I look at the woman who has been a great patron to the store and my designs. “Mrs. Grey the moment you pick up a dress I start working on the next one for you. Let’s go see if anything I have will suit the event tonight.”
Bringing Mrs. Grey to my design section she sat down ranting about her forgetful husband while I took out a few dresses in her style and size.
Her eyes spotted one and she clapped. “The blue with layered skirt is the one. And who are you dear?”
Desimond came beside me as I passed her the dress Mrs. Grey chose. “This is Desimond, she is my work study and possible apprentice.”
The young girl fought a smile taking the dress and Mrs. Grey stood up. “Well about time you got yourself some help young lady. It’s nice to meet you Desimond, you pay good attention to Stella and you will learn a great many things.”
“Yes mam.” Desimond said still fighting that smile.
Knocking my hip into hers I winked, I have a good feeling about this girl.