A crack of thunder spooks Livy and sends her flying into the back of the twenty-something guy in front of her. “Oh gosh! I’m so sorry,” she says and pulls herself off of him, with an embarrassed grin. “Heavy rainstorms have always creeped me out.”
He turns, a large smile spreading over his face. “No problem.” Something in his smirk makes Livy flush harder. He’s so young, just like every other student standing in this registrar line. She’s relieved when he turns his back to her again. Twelve years ago she’d been in this same line to register for her last semester of classes, for an advertising degree she’d never wanted. Her father had convinced her she didn’t have the skills to become an interior designer.
“Thank you,” she tells the clerk as he hands her the transcripts. Seemingly so insignificant, picking these up, but Livy knows it’s a big deal. It means she’s finally enrolling in her first design class, at the community college near her neighborhood. Not exactly big time acadamia, but for her, the perfect step. Outside, droplets of lingering moisture fall from tree branches and splash against her jacket as she makes her way to the car. Layers of colorful, soggy fragrant leaves mush into the soles of her boots as she passes the university library, a place she’d spent hours meeting with student government or numerous other clubs. Attempts, she realizes now, to become anything other than mediocre. Well, look how that turned out. I have the picket fence, husband and two kids. All I need is a dog, and I’ll be spectacularly average. On second thought, give me a cat.
She used to live in this neighborhood with the large Victorian homes, many of them divided into apartments for college students. A twinge of familiar longing twists inside her for those creative, spur of the moment jaunts to the art museum and the hustle and bustle of downtown city life. Now her best friend, Jess, lives in this neighborhood, in a high rise condo with her second husband of ten years, Jack. They made the move last fall, after Jess’s only daughter, Jordan, went to college.
Livy dials her friend and prepares to add a high-glossed peppy sheen to her voice. The fact she doesn’t feel close to Jess these days isn’t lost on her, but still, it was nice of Jess to offer to watch Livy’s six-year-old, Donovan, while she picked up transcripts.
“Thanks again for watching him,” Livy says. “Did he behave for you?”
“He won’t eat. I tried chicken strips and frozen pizza. Any other suggestions?” Jess sounds hopeful - more like delusional - as if she can instantaneously concoct something from her cupboards.
“Thanks for trying, but I’ll take him somewhere.”
“I should have something he likes. PB&J?”
“What kid doesn’t like PB&J?”
Livy suppresses a sigh, stretches her back from side to side, staving off a shot of defensiveness.
Jess rattles on. “It’s probably just a stage. Most kids are picky eaters. Jordan went through that, too.”
It’s more than just a stage, but Livy’s already told her about Donovan’s excruciatingly picky eating, mostly stemming from his texture issues. Apparently she doesn’t remember. Why is it parents think other kids’ problems can be solved with their solutions?
When Livy doesn’t respond, Jess folds. “Well, I give up. How about a quick lunch at La Hacienda before you have to get back?”
“The La Hacienda?” Livy grins slightly, remembering when she and Jess were both waitresses there over sixteen years ago. They were teenagers with very different lives, even then. While Livy was a freshman in college and still living with Mom, Jess was a single parent of a toddler, working tirelessly to keep food on the table. Now the tables have turned. Livy’s a stay-at-home mom and Jess is an empty nester and lawyer.
“Unbelievable it’s managed to stay around, isn’t it?” Jess asks.
“It is. But Donovan won’t eat there.”
“Are you sure?”
Livy’s back stiffens. “Positive.”
Well, I should go into the office anyway. I’ll just make myself a PBJ,” she says, a smile in her voice.
“Okay,” Livy answers, wishing she could lunch with Jess. But Donovan’s probably starving by now, and finding him food will be a priority, to avoid a meltdown.
“Where should I meet you?”
“At my car? I’m parked at fifteenth and Cedar.”
“I’ll call you when I’m near.”
They hang up and Livy pulls the transcripts from her packet for a quick perusing. Good grades, but it took years just to get her advertising degree, at an age when it seemed she had nothing but time. Now trying to take one class feels monumental. She takes a deep breath and breathes in the crisp fall air. She’s doing it. Finally. She’s on her way out of what she can only admit is a mid-life crisis, something not just reserved for men.
Despite her pep talk, she pushes away a wave of doubt and throws the transcripts in the car. The spicy aroma from a nearby pizzeria invites a slow rumble of hunger, but she needs to ignore her appetite until Donovan arrives. A bit of window shopping should do the trick.
Perfect! she thinks, when she spots Blue Mediterranean, a design store she’s wanted to visit for months. It didn’t exist when she lived in the area. The window displays a sign:
Mediterranean/Italian Kitchen Design
A poster in the window showcases a kitchen designed in shades of red and burnt orange with dark granite counter tops and copper containers.
During her two-week honeymoon with her husband, Collin, they’d stayed in a charming bed and breakfast, in the rustic Village of Radda, in Italy. The room they loved the most was a kitchen that looked almost exactly like this one. Wrought iron candle holders and pot racks, red canisters and warm brown shades of tile on the walls exude a warm, romantic, Tuscan feel. So old world. And so what her kitchen isn’t.
An employee places a help wanted sign in the window and notices Livy. “You’re awfully drawn to that,” she says, brushing a strand of shoulder length salt and pepper hair from her eyes.
“I am,” Livy answers, flushing. She’s not just thinking of the kitchen but the ladder leading to the honeymoon room above. The solid rustic door had creaked boorishly, like a giant snoring, shutting the rest of the world out. The passion she and Collin shared in that room has been impossible to duplicate since.
The woman puckers her lips a moment. “We have that image in a brochure, too, if you’re interested.”
“Very much,” Livy answers, with such feeling it’s as if she’s shopping for a diamond ring or Mercedes. This is why I want to design. To recreate spaces that make me and others feel so alive. It’s a far cry from her soiled linoleum flooring, stained laminate countertops and tired cabinets at the house.
The woman sets her pen behind her ear, and walks with an easy confidence Livy wishes was hers. “Here you go.” She hands Livy the brochure. Her v-cut sheer crème blouse has an elegant neck line and a small sapphire dangles from a thin gold chain, exuding the same grace as her mannerisms.
“Thanks so much.” Maybe she can recreate some of this pizazz in her kitchen at home.
Who is she kidding? Maybe it will jumpstart passion in the bedroom too.
“Do you need a designer?” The woman bats her eyelashes twice then grins.
“Well, no.” Livy diverts her eyes to the brochure. “I’m a design student.”
“Oh, darn.” She extends her hand. “I’m Meredith. A designer.” They share a chuckle at the obvious.
“Olivia. Nice to meet you,” she says, offering her hand, relaxing some.
“What is it about this kitchen you like?” Meredith nods toward her brochure.
“Oh.” Livy flushes from the attention. “I— love this stone hood, how it arches over the stove— but there isn’t room in my kitchen for that size, instead I’m going with a 38” copper range hood. And the wood beams— love them, but my house isn’t rustic enough to implement, so I’m thinking the cabinets themselves will have a more rustic quality, not quite sure what wood yet.” Meredith’s eyes are glistening with interest and the two of them exchange a smile. Livy relaxes even more. She feels they’re of kindred spirit. The same tribe, as they say. “The countertops here are granite but I prefer a quartz concrete. Still working on the color. And the farmhouse sink— I love— but want a white one— ”
“Excuse me, Meredith,” a co-worker interrupts, his voice sharp with irritation. “I can’t handle both customers at the counter.” He halts just a couple inches from Meredith, his nose turned up.
“What makes you think she isn’t one?” Meredith answers, nodding toward Livy.
“Well, you’re both jabbering so much,” he says.
“Jabbering?” Meredith’s shoulders square as color rushes her cheeks.
He stammers, flushing, “I thought you were friends…”
“I’ll be there in a minute.” They watch as he walks away and Meredith whispers, “Drives me crazy. Always trying to tell me how to run things and I’ve been here much longer than him.” She shakes her head. “Guess we probably do look like a couple of old friends, I was so wrapped up in your vision.” She gives Livy’s arm a light squeeze. “But excuse me.”
“No problem,” Livy answers, with a smile. Her mind races as she continues to browse brochures. To think just yesterday, I wasn’t officially pursuing school. Another brochure pulls her
into a completely different kitchen: modern, with stainless steel appliances, cool color tones and clean lines. Gorgeous, but too modern for her taste. She moves on to dining accessories and falls in love with a set of table napkins.
Meredith rings her up then says, “I was just thinking. Maybe you’d want a job here? We’re looking for someone.”
“Oh gosh. Really?”
“We usually hire university kids, but they keep quitting on us.” She grabs her tote from beneath the register, opens it for lipgloss, and applies the shimmer to her lips. “It’s only part-time,” she adds then whispers, “but it would help ease the pressure of me leaving. I have my second interview tomorrow with Sophisticate Designs. Heard of them?”
“Of course! They’ve been featured in Modern Mode many times,” Livy answers, pushing down an unanticipated pang of jealousy.
Meredith lowers her voice. “We’d need references, work history, and that sort of thing before actually hiring— if you think you could actually work with Bentley.” She nods toward her co-worker, who is standing out of earshot. He locks eyes with Meredith and opens his mouth, about to bark another order at her, probably, but he notices the tote on her arm, indication she’s going on break. His mouth closes, just like her tote when she drop the lipgloss in and clasps it shut. “Honestly,” she whispers, “even though I’ve learned a lot from him, he’s driving me out of here. But other than Bentley, this job is stimulating. Retail with perks. The store owner, Chris, and I sometimes bring a trusted employee along on our outside consulting jobs.” Her voice is singsongy, placing the cherry on top.
Shivers tickle Livy’s arms. Now she’s talking. Going to the sites? That would be perfect. Maybe it won’t take her ten years to get somewhere, if she can get hands on experience early. “I’d love that,” she says, the appeal of it winning her over.“What would the hours be?”
Meredith gives her lips a good puckering. “Chris would know that. Have a minute?”
“I do,” she says, despite her stomach tightening. Interviewing isn’t Livy’s strongpoint and she’s probably just about out of time before Jess arrives.
“I’ll tell Chris you’re here.”
Livy rummages her bag for her cell phone. Like she suspected, there’s a voicemail from Jess. It’s taking longer than she thought it would, to get out the door, thankfully. Livy clicks the phone shut, relieved to have more time. The more she thinks about it, the more she realizes this job is exactly what she needs. Downtown again, where her creative juices can flow, where she can truly contribute something to this world, not waste away inside the house. Meredith reappears, slips on a trench coat and shakes Livy’s hand. “Nice to meet you, Olivia. She’ll be out any minute. Just be yourself,” she adds with a wink.
Myself? That hasn’t been good enough so far, to get me where I want to be. But that’s changing. School is her first step back. A charge of energy zings the back of her neck. And this job.
Find me on Facebook (Rene' Collier) or Twitter @renecollierwriter and send me a message and I'll let you know when the book is available! Thanks for reading!