#48 Dreams within reach
Right when I put Khiêm’s pancakes on his plate, the doorbell rings. We’re still in our pajamas since it’s only 8 am, so for a second we panic. It’s Khiêm who pulls it together first.
“He wanted to see a normal day,” he says, getting up and bracing himself for whatever is coming. “This is a normal day for us.”
“But I’m in sweatpants and one of your shirts!” I protest, looking down at my bare feet.
“You look beautiful, as always,” he assures me with a kiss. “Okay, I should open the door.”
I contemplate rushing into the bedroom to get dressed, but Khiêm is right. If his dad chose to show up a full hour before Khiêm starts working, he must want to see what our life together is truly like. Well, Nia is pajamas in the kitchen making pancakes is a regular occurrence in this apartment.
“Morning,” Quang greets me as he walks in, looking a little surprised to see me dressed so casual.
“Pancakes?” I ask.
“I already had breakfast,” he replies, but I see the way he’s eyeing Khiêm’s pancakes, so I make him a plate anyway and add some extra crispy bacon. He smiles when I slide it in front of him and digs in, shaking his head at how much syrup Khiêm is piling on.
I join them five minutes later with my own plate with eggs and veggies, and I pour all of us some coffee. We eat in silence, but it’s not as uncomfortable as it was yesterday. I clean up after us and head to the bathroom to shower. When I’m dressed and looking way better than I did when Quang arrived, the living room is empty. I fill up their cups of coffee again and take them over to Khiêm’s studio like I do every morning I’m home. Quang is in the extra chair Khiêm has in his studio for when he’s got guests for his podcast, and he’s looking at the many screens like he’s not sure where to direct his attention.
“I’m headed out to the boutique to finish some dresses. I’m stopping by the post office and the grocery store on the way back.” I put down their mugs. “Any requests for lunch or dinner?”
“Anything you make is perfect,” Khiêm assures me, tugging at my hand so I lean down to kiss him. It feels a little weird with his father right there, but it’s just a peck, so I guess it’s okay.
I leave the guys to it and take off to finish and box up the last three dresses. Somehow, I made it. With a few days to spare, I managed to complete all 50 orders. As I walk out of the post office, and jump into my car to drive to the grocery store, I decide to swing by the flower shop first. I get nice big bouquets for Aimee, Sonia, Valerie and Mom. Without them, I’d have been lost. I know Mom is working, so I stop by the house and let myself in to put them in a vase for her on the coffee table, scribbling a quick note for her.
Creed walks in right when I’m about to leave, and I stay for ten more minutes, catching up with my younger brother. When his phone rings, he excuses himself, and I leave to deliver Aimee’s flowers. She’s at work at the hair salon, and when I see Monique through the window, I grab another bouquet. She deserves them too.
“Hey!” Aimee just finished up with a woman with a bright pink bob, and she rushes over to hug me. “Are those for me?”
“I want to thank you for everything the past month,” I tell her, feeling a little emotional. “You’ve been my rock, and you did so much for me. You’re the best friend a girl could have.”
“Oh God, you’re going to make me ruin my make-up,” she sniffles, carefully patting at her tears. “Right back at you, bitch.”
We both grin, and then I turn to Monique, who walked over to see what all the fuss was about. “For you,” I say, handing her the flowers. “You gave me a chance when I was fresh out of high school, and even though I wasn’t the best employee ever, you never made me feel like shit, not even when you fired me.”
“Nia…” Monique says, smiling. “You shouldn’t have.”
“You told me to find something I love and apply myself,” I remind her. “I did. It’s still early days, but I’m finally doing good. I have an internship at a bridal boutique, my own web shop, and I live with my amazing boyfriend. None of that would have happened if you hadn’t fired me.”
Monique laughs. “Well, then I’m glad I did. I’m so happy to see you. Do you have time for a cup of tea?”
The three of us catch up, but then it’s time for me to go back to the flower store because I just gave away Valerie’s bouquet. When I walk into the store I’ve come to love so much, my good mood evaporates the second I see Sonia and Valerie. They’re crying.
“What’s going on?” I ask, rushing over and putting down the flowers.
“Oh hey, Nia,” Valerie greets me, wiping her eyes. “I was going to tell you tomorrow, but I guess now is good too. I’m leaving.”
“What?” I ask, sinking down onto my usual chair. “Why?”
“She got a better job,” Sonia explains, sniffling. “With better pay and way better hours.”
“I’m going to miss you so much,” Valerie whimpers, hugging her boss again.
When Sonia started this business over two years ago, Valerie started working for her on the third day. From what they’ve told me, her interview was very much like mine. She was put to work right away, and she loved it. Valerie has kids, and while Sonia’s business is doing alright, and sales have been up since I’ve been helping her with marketing, Valerie needs to work more hours or get a raise, and Sonia can’t pay for either of those things. It’s obvious both of them are heartbroken about her leaving. They’re not just colleagues, they’re friends.
“Hey, you brought flowers,” Valerie realizes, looking at me with a smile. “Did you already know that I was leaving?”
“Oh God, tell me that this is not you saying goodbye as well!” Sonia exclaims, her eyes wide.
“No no, I bought these to say thank you for helping me so much the past month. I just shipped the last orders, and all the money came through. The girls who received their dresses last week have been posting on social media like crazy, and orders are flowing in right now – not just for fantasy stuff, but normal clothes as well. With Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up, I’ll be making lots of fancy dresses.”
“Oh Nia, that’s great.” Sonia hugs me tightly. “Or wait – no, that sucks, actually.”
“Erm… why?” I ask, surprised at the sudden change in her mood.
“Obviously I want you to replace Valerie as my seamstress,” Sonia explains. “But if you’ll be too busy with your own store…”
“I’d love that!” I exclaim, unable to believe this is happening. “I can still use your equipment during my days off and after hours, right?” I’ll be crazy busy for sure, but I love working here, and getting a real paycheck will be amazing. I can finally start getting stuff to set up a real workshop at home. Khiêm has offered more than once to pay for it, but I won’t let him. He’s already paying for rent. I want to do this on my own.
“Of course, honey,” Sonia assures me. “Are you up for working five days a week and finally getting a normal paycheck?”
“Hell yeah!” I do a little happy dance, but then I realize that I’m being inconsiderate. “Oh God, Valerie, I’m such a bitch.”
She laughs through her tears. “No, you’re not. I’m happy for you, honey. You deserve this. And I feel better about leaving here knowing Sonia has someone sane around to keep her grounded.”
“Hey!” Sonia exclaims, looking offended.
“We all know it’s true,” I agree with Valerie. “God, I’m so sad and happy at the same time.”
“Be happy,” Valerie orders, drying her tears. “I’m moving on, as we always knew I would, and you’re getting your first real job in fashion. The flowers are perfect. This is a celebration, after all.”
“Khiêm!” I shout when I walk into the apartment and see he’s not in his studio. It’s a little past our normal lunchtime, so he must already be in the kitchen, looking for something to eat. “I’ve got news! And I don’t give a shit that it’s only 1 pm. We’re having champagne! Or well, some cheap sparkly shit that resembles it – I didn’t win the lottery or anything. But I do have fucking great news!”
The door swings open, but it’s not Khiêm who takes one of the grocery bags from me. It’s Quang.
Oh shit. I forgot he was here. He just heard me curse. And yell that I want to drink alcohol at lunchtime. Kill me now.
“Hey lovely,” Khiêm says, grinning at my discomfort. He looks way more relaxed than he did this morning, and so does his father. “What’s your big news?”
It takes me a moment to remember what I was going to tell him, thrown off by Quang opening the bottle of cheap sparkly wine I bought and pouring three glasses. “I erm… oh, right, I got a job!” I explain what happened today, each word a little louder until I’m pretty much jumping up and down with excitement as I squeal. “I’m gonna get properly paid! Five days a week! And I got 6 more orders for Christmas dresses, but I need some money upfront to buy the more expensive materials, and now I can totally spring for that, because I’ve got a real job!”
“I’m so proud of you,” Khiêm says, pulling me into his arms. “I knew you could do it. And who knows – in a year or so, you might have your very own store, just like Sonia. You could be neighbors.”
“Oh, that would be epic,” I agree, smiling into our kiss. “Oh my God, I’m so happy!”
“To Nia,” Quang’s voice sounds from behind you. “And her new job.”
I break away from Khiêm, feeling silly, but Quang doesn’t seem put-off by my loud weirdness at all. He hands me a glass of wine and the three of us clink our glasses together. I can’t keep in my excitement over this whole thing, so I keep on rambling as I make us lunch, not stopping even as I fire up the stove for our grilled cheeses and start making fresh orange juice with the electric press.
Finally, when I put down our plates and we’ve all got a glass full of juice, Khiêm puts his hand on the side of my face. “Breathe, sunshine,” he murmurs, his eyes full of love.
I do as he says, gulping in air, and I calm down a little. “Sorry. I’m just so…”
“Excited,” Khiêm finishes for me. “I know, lovely. But I know you, and you’re about to crash and become a hangry monster in about ten minutes, so please eat something.”
I roll my eyes, but I know he’s right. “How was your morning?” I ask between bites, eyeing the silent and serious Quang curiously.
“Good,” he says with a tight-lipped smile. “Hard.”
Khiêm chuckles. “Dad has a headache from all the screens. He’s not used to editing and watching back clips at twice the normal speed. He’s not a fan of the sound effects on my vlogs either.”
“Oh yeah, those are awful when you have to hear them more than ten times in less than a minute,” I say with a shudder.
Quang nods. “Exactly.” He sips his wine and lets out a sigh. “Your job… it’s hard work.”
“Yes,” Khiêm agrees, looking a little surprised. “It is, but it’s also a lot of fun.”
“I thought…” His dad shakes his head, not finishing his thought.
“What did you think?” I press when Khiêm doesn’t.
“I thought you just played videogames all day long,” Quang admits. “It all looks much… easier on the screen. I didn’t know how much times went into what people see at home.”
“Did he show you his daily email hour yet?” I ask, laughing when Quang shakes his head. “It’s intense. Fans, sponsors, companies trying to get him to promote stuff… He answers them faster than the speed of light, usually while he listens to the news or watches other vloggers to stay up to speed. It’s intense.”
“Can I see?” Quang asks, looking at his son in wonder.
“Sure,” Khiêm agrees. “I need to get in at least an hour of audio narrating too, though. You can sit that one out, if you want. It’s just me reading a book into a mic.”
His dad shakes his head. “I want to see everything.”
The guys take off to the studio after lunch while I do the dishes and marinate the pork for tonight’s dinner. When I’m done, I change into some comfier clothes and call Aimee and my mother to tell them about getting a job. They both tell me they always knew I could do it, but the best part is that Mom tells me that I should still invest time and effort into my web shop.
“That’s what you love most,” she says in that motherly tone of hers. “Don’t give up on your dreams, honey.”
And fuck me, she’s right. I’m gonna use this job to save up some money. If my own online store truly takes off, I can use that money to get my own workshop and hire some people to help me. I’ll be Sonia, with a whole bunch of Valeries and Nias to help me. It might take years for me to get there, but that’s okay. Finally, I have a dream and I’d be stupid to give up on it.