Authors: Melissa Bourbon
Lindy gave a faint smile. “Friends forever, eh? And you came to be here for the shoot?”
“That, and for her mother’s wedding.”
Lindy nodded as Quinton pointed his camera toward the workroom, focusing on something in the distance, depressing a button with his index finger. “We’ll get some test shots,” he said, “do the photo shoot when everyone else settles in and the models are ready, and we’ll be on our way.”
Lindy waved to Orphie and said, “Nice meeting you,” before following me and Quinton, who apparently only went by the one name, around as I showed them my little farmhouse. It didn’t take long. We ended in the kitchen, where I poured them each a glass of lemonade from the pitcher my mother had made, stepping aside as Mama carried the tray with the rest of the glasses out to the front room. To Mama, Southern hospitality meant lemonade all around, whether a person wanted it or not.
We followed her back to the front room. A moment later, just as she set her tray on the repurposed coffee table in the sitting area, a thin Japanese woman wearing a color-blocked dress in black, red, and white came in. She carried a long bolt of fabric wrapped around a heavy cardboard cylinder. It was a Japanese print, and beautiful. Just like her. Midori. Before I could step forward and greet her, Michel Ralph Beaulieu blew through the door looking as though he owned the place—and with a disdainful puckered upper lip. The very beginnings of crow’s-feet around his eyes and a slight wearing of his skin put him well into his thirties. His bright yellow scarf, a black rhinestone-adorned vest over a white shirt, unbuttoned halfway down his front, skinny forest green pants, and pointy-toed brown leather shoes made him look more suited for Project Runway than a little Podunk town in Texas. He tossed a white disposable coffee cup into the trash and then lowered his chin, raising his eyes at us for the briefest of glances around the room. “Fashion takes place here?” he said.
From his tone, Michel Ralph Beaulieu might as well have asked if he was going to be made to lick the floor. I bit back the response teetering on the edge of my tongue—just barely. I’d been nothing but respectful when visiting his showroom. I’d hoped for the same from him. I kept a clean house and shop, and fashion could be defined in a lot of different ways, and it could be created anywhere. Including Bliss, Texas.
The air in the room grew tense. Nana bristled. Mama threw her shoulders back. A whirl of agitated air circled around me. Even Meemaw was fighting her anger. The V of Orphie’s eyebrows and her deep frown showed her disappointment in this well-known designer. I’d lost a lot of my starry-eyed perspective working in Manhattan, and after she’d shown me Maximilian’s prized book last night, I knew that she had, too. But despite her lapse in judgment in taking Maximilian’s book—and his designs—she was still a dreamer and I knew she wanted to believe the best of people. Herself and Beaulieu included.
I could see in her eyes that she was realizing the truth. The tales about Beaulieu hadn’t been exaggerated. One more dream dashed.
Quinton continued to peer through the viewfinder of his camera, snapping more test shots. Lindy Reece, and
, had insisted on getting both the Dallas Design District version of fashion, as well as my small-town perspective. “It will show dichotomy in fashion,” Lindy had said, “and make it accessible for everyone, not just the models, the runway crowd, and the rich and famous.”
I hoped she was right, or I might come off looking like a homespun hick compared to the Midori and Beaulieu side of high fashion.
“Good light. Good color,” Quinton said to no one in particular. “No clutter. This’ll work just fine.”
Midori leaned her fabric against the wall and strode forward, her arm outstretched. “It is nice to see you once again, Harlow. What a quaint shop.” She offered up a smile before flashing a glance back at Beaulieu.
“Nice to see you, too. And thank you,” I said, my accent thickening instantly, as if it were a barrier against any disdain that might be launched my way. I met her smile, but Beaulieu didn’t look convinced by either of us.
“It’s so . . . bourgeois,” he said, not bothering to hide the sneer curling his lips. He sucked in a deep breath through his nose, swallowing heavily as he adjusted the front of his shirt under the waistband of his pants. “Even more so than that chain coffee shop we stopped at outside Dallas.”
Mama and Nana looked at him, at each other, then at me. I just shrugged. Bourgeois wasn’t a bad thing in my opinion. The high life wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. But I was beginning to doubt Lindy Reece’s stipulation that Midori—and especially Beaulieu—do the photo shoot with the models here in Bliss. From Beaulieu’s reaction, it just seemed like a bad idea. But I pasted a smile on my face and buried my building frustration.
His grimace deepened as he looked around, taking in every last detail. “Does this place have a decent loo?” he finally asked.
I ignored his tone and his affected British vocabulary and directed him to the half bath off the kitchen. He hurried past Orphie as she zippered up her suitcase, frowning at her as she started to drag it. It was as if he couldn’t get away from my pedestrian sewing space quickly enough. Lord almighty, it was going to be a long day. The models were due to arrive after lunch for the fashion shoot, and who knew how long that would take? I got the feeling nothing went smoothly with Beaulieu.
Midori disappeared outside, returning a minute later with a second bolt of fabric. She smiled sheepishly as we watched her haul it into the shop. “I bring this with me everywhere,” she said, her fingers lightly brushing the fabric. It was a reprint of what looked to be a girls’ kimono fabric from half a century ago. “It’s hand-printed,” she said. “There is a Yuzen factory in Kyoto that hand-prints all of these fabrics with stencils. I have them ship to me occasionally and usually I see the pattern and know just what I’m going to design. But not this one. It stumps me, so I bring it with me hoping inspiration will strike.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” I said. The chirimen crepe was rayon and looked almost wrinkle free. Different flowers, all stenciled, lay on top of one another on the rose-colored background. “Lovely.” I looked more closely, noticing something I hadn’t at the first quick glance. Hummingbirds hid behind the flowers, playing peekaboo, lending a playfulness to the pattern.
“I will figure it out,” she said, nodding. She set it aside as Orphie returned from depositing her suitcase upstairs and Beaulieu returned from the bathroom. Another woman, who I immediately recognized as Beaulieu’s assistant, stumbled inside, an overloaded garment bag in her arms. She headed for the love seat, ready to drop her heavy load.
“No, Jeanette,” Beaulieu snapped, and pointed. “Over there.” He paused and his eyes strayed to the kitchen. Then he said to her, “Water. Get me some water.”
From under her burden, Jeanette nodded. She detoured around the love seat and set the bag on the red settee and headed to the kitchen, but Mama beat her to it, pouring a glass of water and handing it to Beaulieu.
She and Nana disappeared again into the kitchen, leaving the chaos behind. I wanted to go with them, but this was my shop, my photo shoot, and my chance to show off Buttons & Bows. I wasn’t going anywhere.
Beaulieu stood off to one side, tapping his foot, his arms crossed over his chest, while Jeanette lifted garments from the bags and Midori carried in a modern-looking dress form and arranged a strapless tiered ruffled dress in a floral print. They’d each brought samples for their models to wear. Quinton had said he wanted to do a series of outside shots, again, to show the dichotomy of fashion in the country, and he wanted his photographs to represent each of us and the Texas perspective.
I still had to bring out my collection, but I’d seen both Beaulieu and Midori shoot wayward glances at my mother’s wedding dress. Next to their upscale designs, the quirky lacy white dress looked like a throwback from
The Beverly Hillbillies
I quickly grabbed the dress form with the wedding dress on it and hauled it from the front room through the French doors and into the workroom. I pushed it against the wall, out of sight, and took a quick moment to stand still and breathe. “Don’t let them get to you,” I muttered to myself. I could hold my own against Midori and Michel Ralph Beaulieu. I was proud of my designs, and that was all that mattered
The hemline of Mama’s dress fluttered and from somewhere in the house, pipes suddenly creaked, sounding an awful lot to my mind like someone saying, “It’s all good, it’s all good, it’s all good.”
Meemaw. My great-grandmother always knew how to make me feel a little better, even from the hereafter.
I grabbed the three garment bags that stored my new collection, bringing them into the front room and draping them over the back of the green paisley couch, trying to block out the annoying chatter. Michel muttered to the still shell-shocked Jeanette. His gaze darted around my shop. “The whole town is straight out of an old western movie. All that’s missing is John Wayne.”
Hoss McClaine was more Sam Shepard than the Duke, but he was as country as a country sheriff could get. Somehow I didn’t think mentioning any of this would ease Beaulieu’s mind.
I turned to Midori, but she was intent on setting up her headless mannequins, draping silk red, black, and cream-colored scarves around the stubbed necks, straightening the bust of the first dress, standing back to survey the look, then moving forward again to make another adjustment.
Her designs had a sleek, polished look to them, plus unusual design elements like enormously wide hems and exceptional closures, and I wanted to get a better look. “It’s good to see you again,” I said, coming up beside her. “I studied your work when I was in school.” She’d been held up as a designer with a unique perspective, and with a singular compassion for the ordinary person. She sold her runway designs to everyday people for pennies on the dollar.
Everyone should have a chance to experience high fashion,
she’d been known to say.
She looked up at me. “I guess I have been around too long to be an up-and-comer, then,” she said. A twinge of self-doubt flitted over me. Did that mean that I was too young? Too green? Too country?
No, I was being overly dramatic. I was good at what I did, and what I did was fashion for the everyday woman.
Orphie seemed to sense my doubt. “Soon everyone will know Harlow’s name,” she crooned, gliding up beside me and slinging her arm around my shoulders. “We were both on Maximilian’s premiere design team.”
Beaulieu’s head snapped up, his stare burning holes right through us both. Looked as though there was no love lost between him and Maximilian. “Maybe so. We should talk,” he said. Or more accurately, he ordered. “We have some things to discuss.”
Orphie continued, looking right at Beaulieu as she said, “She learned from the best, but developed her
style. Harlow’s designs are unique. No one has an aesthetic like hers. She has a special gift.”
head snapped up. There it was again. Orphie’s reference to my gift made my heart stutter. Only a handful of people knew—and that’s how I planned to keep it.
I laughed, waving away Orphie’s praise—and my suspicion that she might know more about my charm than she was letting on. “I work hard, that’s all,” I said.
Beaulieu scoffed as he plucked an issue of
from the magazine rack and absently flipped through it, flashing a look at each of us in turn, ending with Midori and then with me. “We all work hard, sweetheart. There’s nothing new about that.”
“Some more than others,” I said, not letting his dismissive comment get to me. “I’ve built my shop from the ground up—”
“In Bliss. Go to New York. Better yet, go to Europe. At least you’ll do something more than . . . than that,” he said, gesturing toward my work room.
“I’m right where I belong,” I said. “Bliss is my home.”
“You’ll never amount to anything if you stay here,” he said.
“I’m doing what I want to do.” I hadn’t thought about it in such clear terms before this moment. I’d chosen to leave Manhattan, I’d set up shop in Meemaw’s house, I knew she’d brought me here for a reason, but I hadn’t questioned it too hard. I’d fallen into life in Bliss just as surely as my little teacup pig, Earl Grey, rooted in the mud outside when I let him. We sought out what felt good and right, and Bliss fit the bill for me.
Lindy Reece stepped between us, looking as if she were ready to break up a fight. “Like I said, it’ll make for a great story.”
“Every Texas tale needs a hillbilly element,” he said, not even bothering to play off his comment like a joke.
The journalist looked tongue-tied. She clearly didn’t want to offend me, but Beaulieu was a bigger name. More important to keep him happy. “You each have something different to offer our readership,” she said.
“If you say so,” he said, but his snide smile made it pretty clear he didn’t agree. Jeanette dropped one of the garments she’d been unpacking from her boss’s collection. Like a predator tracking its prey, Beaulieu seemed to sense the disturbance. He whipped around, zeroing in on his assistant. “Be careful with that,” he snapped. He shoved the copy of
back into my magazine rack, and he moved to her in three long strides. “How many times have I told you to never . . .
. . . crumple the garments in your sweaty little hands? It needs to be pressed. Now.”
Red splotches appeared on Jeanette’s cheeks, and the same color crept up her neck. Poor girl. From where I stood, it hadn’t looked as though she’d done anything to the fabric, but she seemed to know how to handle her boss. She drew in a bolstering breath, gently took the dress back—which, I realized, looked familiar—and turned to me. “Do you have a steamer?”
Did I have a steamer? That was akin to asking a cowboy if he had Skoal in his back pocket and packed in his cheeks. I smiled widely at her. “I sure do. Follow me.”
Jeanette and I went into the workroom. I spread my arm as if I were selling a product on an infomercial, grinning at the steamer in the far corner. It had been my first major purchase, after my commercial-grade sewing machine, since being back in Bliss.