Author & Master Storyteller
Giselle Delacroix rubbed a saturated paper towel over the filthy window so she could gaze out at Green Earth’s quaint town square—a painted white gazebo, lovingly kept, an extensive playground for children, a VFW war memorial, and a rose garden she suspected would bloom profusely and gloriously come spring.
The old clapboard storefront stood proudly across from the town square, a definite plus in the location column for retail. Too bad the building was practically falling down. She turned in a tight circle to scrutinize the main room. Her business acumen screamed, “Run for your life,” but Giselle’s love of the small Minnesota town had developed over several years of visiting her college roommate’s family during summers and holidays. And while she and Melissa McQuada hadn’t seen each other since graduation, their reunion last week felt like they’d never lost touch.
With one hand on her hip, she eyed the space critically. Her rain boots had left footprints in the dust on the scarred hardwood floor. Dirty windows, squeaky doors, broken wooden counters, and a leak in the roof—under which she’d stuck a rusted old bucket—were only several of the myriad problems. But when had she ever run from a challenge? Hard work and long hours were part of her wheelhouse. She glanced at her sports watch. Mel would be here soon, and hopefully George and Clem of McGrady Brothers Construction would show up promptly for their one o’clock appointment.
She grabbed an old straw broom leaned against the wall and started sweeping. When the job seems overwhelming, just start it. Wasn’t that what her beautiful, sophisticated French grandmère always advised? The woman’s words of wisdom had proven correct many times over the years.
An hour later, Melissa arrived. “Holy cow, Gee,” she said, using Giselle’s college nickname. “When I suggested the Old Sweet Shoppe as a possible location for your shop, I didn’t think it would be this bad. It’s only been closed for about a year. How could it have gotten into such bad shape?”“Squirrels, a leaky roof, a window left open after the season ended, and I think a family of raccoons relocated to the attic.” Giselle’s laugh echoed in the empty space. “But you know what they say: location, location, location.”
“I guess,” Melissa said with a concerned lift of her eyebrows. “Is the landlord willing to repair anything? I bet it’ll cost a fortune to turn this place around.” She ran a finger along the counter and wrinkled her nose at the accumulated dust. “I don’t know where to start.”
Giselle phffted. “You’re the most organized woman I know. I’m counting on you to be another pair of eyes and ears. You could run circles around my extremely efficient personal assistant at Urban Choice.”
“Do you miss it?” Melissa ventured. “I mean the big time, the two enormously popular lines of women’s clothing you created. Green Earth must seem tame compared to New York and Paris. Whatever you build here won’t be anything remotely like Regis, or even Edge or Urban Choice.”
Giselle bristled at the mention of Regis, the famous Parisian fashion line her parents had built, and the two spinoffs she herself had created for the American market. “Green Earth is a blessing, Mel. You don’t know how lucky you are to have grown up here.” She pulled out a legal pad and a pencil from her large satchel. “The McGrady brothers are due to arrive in about an hour and a half. Help me make a quick list of necessary repairs, and then we’ll run over to Nola’s
for lunch—my treat—unless…since you’re not waitressing today, you’d rather go elsewhere.”
“No, Nola’s is fine. Cleo and Jillie might be there, too. They usually head to Nola’s on Fridays during their lunch period from school.” Melissa sighed, but at least her brows had evened out. She waved an arm about. “Do you think the owner might be willing to knock the
Old Sweet Shoppe down and rebuild? Could be cheaper.”
“I can ask…but since I’m the landlord and owner of this lovely establishment now, I’ll have to make do.”
Melissa slapped a hand over her mouth. “Oh, no. What have I done? I’m so sorry. I should have minded my own business. I guess I got caught up in having my best friend from college back in my life.”
“Don’t worry, honey. The shop has good bones, and I have Grandmère’s blessing and a small loan. I’ll be in the black in six months. How’s that for a plan?” Giselle laughed again and pulled a manila file from her bag and opened it on the counter. “Take a look at these
drawings,” she said proudly. “This is how White Balloon will look by Halloween. What do you think?”
Giselle scooted into a red leather booth in a quiet corner of Nola’s Diner while Mel waved at her boss and walked over to say a few words. Mel’s workplace delivered a nostalgic vibe. The old diner was the real McCoy, Nola’s parents being the original owners some
seventy years ago. The décor hadn’t changed much over the years, not that it appeared shabby. Just the opposite. Nola was a conscientious owner and kept her establishment pristine.
Giselle and Mel had spent many summer afternoons in the same booths passionately discussing, in the ways of young college students, their plans for their futures. That was until three semesters from graduation, when Melissa had met the love of her life and left school to marry Brad before he was deployed overseas.
Not that she didn’t envy her friend. Brad was a great guy, a hands-on father, and easy on the eyes, to be sure. Though Giselle had dated her share of boyfriends, she hadn’t met someone who flipped her switches. She’d tried sex once, a huge mistake that left her wondering what the fuss was all about. Mel had clued her in after she married Brad, but Giselle figured the
couple must be the exception to the rule.
Just look at her parents. They lived separate lives—her father ran the world-renowned European fashion line Regis, and her mother, a former acclaimed runway model who liked the East Coast of America better, oversaw Urban Choice and Edge now. After Giselle decided to hand back to the family the day-to-day operations, her mother hadn’t been a happy camper.
Her parents hadn’t had much in the way of advice. She got the impression that if she failed, she shouldn’t call home, but she didn’t mind. She wanted to start White Balloon without the help of family. No, she needed to do this without family money.
Oh, sure, she spoke to her parents on the phone, and they had the occasional short visit in the Bahamas or St. Croix or the French Riviera, but her only real support had come from her cherished grandmother, who always stood behind Giselle’s endeavors and insisted on the small loan after hearing about the condition of the building.
“Hey! Hi, there,” a voice chirped, and its owner plopped down on the bench across the table. Jillie Solano was followed by Cleo Hollister, both teachers at Sheridan Intermediate School and friends of Melissa. Giselle had met the women before and liked both.
“Mel said you were in town,” Jillian said. She unwound her cross-chest purse from around her neck and eased out of her thick sweater. “Where’s Melissa?” she asked.
Giselle pointed behind the counter. “Catching up with Nola.”
“Jeez. You’d think she got enough of this place, working four days a week.” Cleo slid in next to Jillie and picked up the menu, her many rings and bracelets jingling. A colorful patterned skirt flowed around her ankles with a white blousy top completing the outfit.
“Why are you checking out the menu?” Jillie chided. “You know you’re going to order the Santa Fe burger.” She turned back to Giselle. “Sorry, I know we joined you uninvited.”
Giselle laughed. “No problem. I always enjoy the company. Mel and I were just over at the Old Sweet Shoppe. Did Mel mention I plan to open a children’s clothing line there?”
Jillie perked up. “No kidding? Will it be anything like Edge? My sixth graders love the clothes, though they’re a little pricey for us.”
Cleo snorted. “Did you forget you’re married to the richest man in town?”
“You know our outlook on life, Cleo. Tristán keeps his celebrity on the down low. We don’t want Sadie or Joshua to grow up in the public eye.”
Giselle could relate. “Edge appeals to a slightly older crowd. My designs will be geared for twelve and under. I wanted to do something a little different, more fun. We’ll not only sell clothes, we’ll sell various costumes—my own designs, fancy one-of-a-kind dresses—host birthday parties where we handle everything and celebrate the holidays in a big way.”
“Costumes, you say?” Cleo perked up at the words and raised her brows.
Jillie poked her elbow in Cleo’s ribs. “Don’t ask for a favor. The woman just got to town and has a lot on her plate. Give her a couple of months to settle in.”
Giselle watched the comfortable banter between the good friends and hoped she’d find the same for herself in her new home. “What do you need, Cleo? Maybe I can help.”
“We have a holiday Christmas pageant every year at Sheridan. We’re always in the market for costumes— nice ones, preferably not made from sheets. Not many women know how to sew anymore. Our principal gives me a generous budget. Maybe we could get special
pricing—seeing how we’re almost friends and all.”
Giselle couldn’t keep from smiling. “I’ll see what I can do. I’m not promising, mind you, but if White Balloon is up and running by then, I’ll help, okay?”
Jillie clapped her hands. “Great name. We’ll have the best pageant ever! And, oh! Do you have a baker for the birthday parties? Because if you don’t, I’ll introduce you to Maisie Quinn from Blissful Bites Bakery. She makes the most wonderful creations. You could work out an arrangement to benefit both your businesses.”
“Perfect. I’ll be sure to look her up. Where’s her bakery located?”
“North corner of Main Street and First Ave, just down the street.”
“I think I’ve seen the sign. Cute place. Who did her outside work? I’m meeting the McGrady brothers in an hour for a bid on renovations to the storefront.”
Cleo shook her head. “George and Clem? Let me tell you a little story…”
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