Zoey Enright leaned against the window and watched as, for the third day in a row, fat drops of water smacked and spattered against the wooden steps leading to the entrance of My Favorite Things, the shop she had opened but seven months earlier. April showers were one thing, she grumbled as she let the lace curtain fall back against the glass, but this was ridiculous.
Unconsciously she straightened a stack of hand-knit sweaters for the fifth time in half as many hours. Like all of the merchandise in her shop, the sweaters were exquisite things, made of hand-woven wool, one of a kind, and pricey.
Maybe a bit too pricey for this rural Pennsylvania two-mule town, her sister, Georgia, had ventured to suggest.
At the time, Zoey had brushed off Georgia's comment with a wave of her hand. What did she know, anyway? She's a dancer, Zoey had pointed out, not a shopkeeper, and Georgia had shrugged that she'd only been voicing concern.
Zoey had been convinced that her unique little shop would be the talk of Chester County, located as it was in a honey of a tiny renovated barn midway between Wilmington, Delaware, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, just a pleasant drive from the country-chic of Chadds Ford and all those new upscale housing developments. The nearest shopping was a strip mall that was under renovation and had not been scheduled for completion until next year. By that time, Zoey had hoped to have her clientele all firmly locked up, and there would be a steady stream of repeat shoppers beating a path to her door to find all those very special goodies they could not find elsewhere.
Shelves laden with baskets of sweaters, wooden toys and dolls, pottery and jewelry, hats and afghans, painted boxes of papier-mâché and stained glass windows lined the shop and competed for the attention of the customer's eye. From old-fashioned clothes racks, satin hangers displayed dresses and capes, the styles of which dated from the turn of the century, some antiques, some reproductions. Authentic Victorian boots of softest black leather trimmed with jet beads sat next to nineties' style granny boots. Marcasite bracelets from the twenties and thirties shared case space with new pieces crafted by up-and-coming contemporary jewelry designers.
A glance at the calendar reminded Zoey that she had been open for business for exactly seven months today. With backing from her mother, Zoey had spent the entire summer preparing for her grand opening back in September. Georgia had driven up from Baltimore, where as a member of the famed Inner Harbor Dance Troupe, she worked hard to make a name for herself in the world of professional ballet. Early in the morning on opening day, Georgia had knocked on the front door and waited patiently for Zoey to admit her as My Favorite Things' very first customer.
"So," Zoey had ushered her sister into the shop, "what do you think of my little venture?"
Georgia had stood drop-jawed in the middle of the colorful, handmade rag rug that covered the center of the floor.
"Zoey, it's awesome. It's like..." Georgia had sought to do justice to Zoey's displays. "Like a tiny mall full of perfect little boutiques."
"Exactly." Looking pleased and somewhat smug, Zoey folded her arms across her chest, watching with pleasure as her sister lifted item after item and marveled at the variety.
"Where did all this stuff come from?" Georgia held aloft a small hand-blown glass perfume bottle to admire the workmanship.
"Here, there, and everywhere." Zoey grinned.
"Well, it's all wonderful." Georgia had lifted a black beaded shawl and draped it over her shoulders to cover the river of thick, straight blond hair that ran the length of her back.
"That's the real thing." Zoey's blue eyes sparkled with pride as she straightened out the back of the shawl. "Circa nineteen twenty. Those are real glass beads, by the way, hand sewn on silk."
Georgia glanced at the price tag.
"Ouch!" she exclaimed. "Are you kidding?"
"Nope." Zoey leaned back against the counter.
"Zoey, this is one pricey item."
"Georgia, that shawl is handmade, it's eighty years old, and it's in mint condition. I don't know where you're likely to find another like it, if in fact another exists. And the price, I might add, is barely marked up over what I had to pay to get it."
"It is gorgeous, there's no question that anyone would love to have it. I just hope that you'll be able to find a buyer for it. I'd feel a little more confident if you were a little closer to Philadelphia, or Wilmington -- even closer in toward West Chester would help -- but as far out as you are into the country, well, I just hope that you haven't priced yourself out of a sale."
"I'd be lying if I said that the thought hadn't occurred to me," Zoey admitted, "but that shawl was so perfect that I had to have it. It's like these sweaters." She held up a dark green woolen tunic. "The lady who makes them wanted an arm and a leg for them, but they're clearly worth it."
"Zoey, I'm not the financial whiz in the family, but I don't think you'll make much money if you don't mark up what you buy."
"I know, but I thought that in the beginning at least, it would be a good idea to have some really eye-catching things."
"Well, you've certainly accomplished that." Georgia removed the shawl gently and carefully refolded it, placing it back on the shelf. "I just hope that the locals appreciate your style and that they shop here frequently enough to keep you in business. I'd buy this" -- she patted the shawl -- "in a heartbeat if I had a few extra hundred dollars I didn't know what to do with. You must have spent a bloody fortune on your inventory."
"Actually, the bloody fortune was Mom's," Zoey admitted. "She was as excited about this venture as I was, and you know how Mom is when she gets excited about something. Besides putting up the cash, she really got into scouting out the most unusual, the most exquisite things. That collection of Victorian mourning pins, for example..."
Zoey opened the case and removed a tray of pins, which looked, Georgia noted, strangely like hair.
"They are made out of hair" -- Zoey grinned -- "and yes, it's human hair. A hundred or so years ago, it was a popular custom to cut off some of the locks of a deceased loved one, and have them woven into rings or bracelets or pins, depending, I guess, on how long the hair was. There were people who actually did this professionally."
"Oh, yuck." Georgia made a face. "None for me, thanks."
"They're not exactly to my taste, either, but they are kind of interesting. Look at this brooch, Georgy. Look at how intricate the gold weaving is, and how the woven hair mimics the gold -- "
"I don't care how intricate the workmanship is." Georgia groaned. "The mere thought of wearing a dead person's hair gives me the creeps."
"Well, actually, not all hair jewelry was made from dead people's hair. Some people had the hair from a loved one -- a spouse, a child-made into a pin or a bracelet or a -- "
"Enough already with the hair jewelry, Zoey. I think it's creepy." Georgia handed the tray back to her sister.
"Mom was kind of drawn to the concept. She's probably thinking about how to use it in her next book. And besides, she thought that if we were aiming for an eclectic stock of merchandise, we should really go all out and find some things that probably wouldn't be available anywhere else locally."
Delia Enright had totally backed the efforts of her daughter. Zoey was her middle child and the only one of the three who hadn't -- as Delia delicately put itlanded yet. Nick, her oldest child and only son, was a doctoral candidate who had found a contented life studying marine life on the Delaware Bay. He had met a wonderful young woman and before another year had passed, India Devlin would become his bride. Georgia, Delia's youngest, had never wanted to do anything but dance. Pursuing her goal with single -- minded drive, Georgia had, at sixteen, been invited to join the prestigious Berwyn Troupe. Three years later, she had been asked to become a charter member of the newly formed Inner Harbor Dancers, where she had, for the past six years, worked hard and performed with blissful zeal. Only Zoey had yet to find her place.
It wasn't for lack of effort or desire on her part. Over the past several years, Zoey had tried her hand at any number of occupations, all of which she had mastered, none of which had fed her soul and promised her the kind of long-term gratification she craved. The joy that Georgia had found in dance, the satisfaction her brother had found in identifying and studying marine life, the pleasure experienced by her mother in crafting her novels, had eluded Zoey all her life. Many are called, few are chosen, aptly described Zoey's quest for a career she could sink her teeth into.
As a child, when asked what she would be when she grew up, Zoey would answer, "A teacher. And an astronaut. And a news lady on TV. And a fashion designer..."
And so on, and so on. There were few things that hadn't caught Zoey's imagination at one time or another. Over the years, she had, in fact, tried her hand at a goodly number of those things -- except for being an astronaut, and there were times when she wasn't completely certain that she'd given up on that.
The problem was that for all the things that caught her fancy, and all the things she did well, nothing had sustained her for long.
"Zoey is a bit of a late bloomer," Delia would explain matter-of-factly when questioned about her middle child's current status. "One of these days, she will find her place, and she'll be an outrageous success and live happily ever after."
Delia would then pause and add, "It's just taking her a little longer to get there, that's all."
Zoey had on many occasions offered silent thanks that she had been blessed with a mother who understood perfectly. It had been Delia who, recognizing her daughter's sense of style, encouraged her to open the shop and fill it with all manner of wonderful things. Delia had had every bit as much fun as Zoey, shopping for all of those one-of-a-kind items that overflowed from every nook and cranny of My Favorite Things. All of those wonderful things that were not beating a path out of the store under the arms of the droves of happy shoppers who were all, alas, happily shopping elsewhere.
"Charming, Zoey." Georgia laughed as she entered the shop through the back door and shook off the rain. "Absolutely charming."
"Is this hat great with these amber beads around the brim?" Zoey turned to greet her sister, grinning impishly as she pushed her long black curls behind her ears and plopped a wide-brimmed hat of brown felt upon her head.
Georgia dropped a heavy purse of dark green leather onto the floor.
"Ummm, I think it's the red rose that makes it." Georgia raised her hand to touch the huge red silk blossom pinned to the underside of the brim. "But there are probably only a handful of women on the planet who could get away with actually wearing such a thing. You just happen to be one of them."
"Nonsense. Just about anyone with some imagination could wear this." With a swoop, Zoey plunked the chocolate brown creation on her sister's head.
"Zoey, I look ridiculous," Georgia sought to remove the oversized hat from her undersized head.
"Silly." Zoey readjusted the brim, tilting it slightly to one side. "It's all in the attitude. There. See?"
"It's entirely too extreme for me. Too...exotic."
"Well, it is an extravagance," Zoey grinned, trading e-words with Georgia as they had often done as children, a game encouraged by Delia, who hoped to improve their vocabularies, "but then again, it is an exclusive."
"It is an excellent hat," Georgia concluded the banter, "but I look like a female impersonator doing Bette Midler. And doing her badly, I might add."
Removing the hat with its glittering beads and huge floppy rose, Georgia replaced it on its stand.
"I'll admit that the hat is a kick, Zoey, but it may be a bit avant-garde for the territory. It's a shame there isn't more traffic out here. You really have the most delightful things."
Georgia picked the hat back off the stand and preened in front of a small mirror. "It does sort of grow on you after a while, doesn't it?"
"It looks great on you, Georgy."
"You know, you probably could sell ice to the Eskimos." Georgia told her. "I'll take the hat."
"Zoey, you cannot hope to establish a business by giving away your stock."
"Consider it an early birthday. It looks too wonderful on you for you not to have it. And that hat won't make or break this shop." Zoey wrapped the hat in tissue before sliding it into a pale green plastic bag with My Favorite Things in purple script.
"The lack of traffic, as you noted, is the problem." Zoey straightened a basket of colorful scarves, hand knitted by a woman from Chester Springs who loomed and dyed her own wool. "That strip mall down the road just in from the highway is killing me. It wasn't supposed to be opened till this coming summer. When was the last time you heard about a construction project running six months ahead of schedule?"
"That was a tough break." Georgia nodded.
"And having those outlet shops open up out on Route One sure helped a lot, too." Zoey sat down on a little white wicker settee.
"Maybe you should consider taking some things on consignment for a while," Georgia suggested, "and give your cash flow a chance to build."
"The cash is flowing mighty slowly these days," Zoey admitted glumly.
"What does Mom say?"
"I haven't had much of an opportunity to discuss it with her. She's been sort of holed up with her computer. You know how she is when she starts a new book."
"Underground" was the term Delia's children used to describe her single-minded drive to write.
"Well, if you need a loan..."
"Thanks, Georgy, but Mom's been pretty generous."
"As always." Georgia smiled, knowing that Delia had always maintained an open checkbook where her children were concerned. She had, over the past few years, purchased and decorated a charming condo for Georgia outside of Baltimore when she had joined the troupe. And two years ago, she had completely renovated an old crabber's cabin that Nick had found and purchased on the Delaware Bay. "Well, you know that if you need anything at all, I'm here."
"Look, if we're all going to have dinner together tonight, I'd better get back to the house and start now to blast Mom out of her office." Georgia slipped into her dark green down jacket.
Zoey grabbed a plum-colored scarf from a nearby basket and draped it around her sister's neck.
"Thanks, Zoey, but I think you've given away all the merchandise you can afford to for one day."
"It goes great with that glorious mane of hair, and the purple plays up the green of your eyes." Zoey hugged her sister in the doorway and straightened the scarf around her neck. "I'll just take a few minutes to close up here, then I'll meet you at the house."
Zoey watched Georgia dodge the raindrops on the way to her car, then closed the door and locked the dead bolt with the key. On the floor beside the counter she spied the plastic bag that held the brown felt hat that Georgia had left behind. It had looked great on her sister, Zoey nodded to herself.
Turning to flick on the switch that would turn off the outside lights at the front of the shop, Zoey paused to peer through the windows at the cars flying past on their way to the newly reopened shopping center a half mile down the road, and she sighed. She grabbed the bag holding her sister's hat and closed up shop for the night.
Copyright © 1998 by Marti Robb
Ben's one true passion was Grand Prix racing -- until he laid eyes on Zoey again, all grown up and more beautiful than ever. But he also must face his haunted past and the near-fatal accident that brought his driving career to a screeching halt. Confronting painful emotions he crossed an ocean to forget, Ben must barter his old dreams for new ones if he and Zoey are to claim the wonderful future they are meant to share.
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