Links to: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4
I'm uploading Chapter 5 a day early because I'll be away from my computer on Easter Sunday. Enjoy, and have a wonderful weekend!
Viv was stretched out on Sabrina’s couch flipping through a Vogue magazine on a Saturday night two weeks later. Sabrina bustled into the condo, tossed her jacket into the closet in the foyer, and sat down on the bench to unzip her knee-high leather boots.
Viv turned a page and called out, “How was dinner?”
“Great.” Sabrina dropped her boots onto the floor and padded past the kitchen into the living room. She paused with her hands on her hips to study her friend. Viv was dressed in grey sweat pants, a nubby blue cardigan, and sweat socks. Again. Sabrina shook her head in disgust.
Viv looked up. “Who did you eat with tonight?”
“Trina and Barb from the office.”
“I thought you were going to a club afterward?”
“I am. Trina told me about a great new cocktail bar called The Shoe Horn. It’s part bar, part shoe store. She tried it last night and loved it so much that she asked us to go back with her tonight.
“Where is it?”
“At College and Ossington.”
“Why’d you come all the way back here? Did you forget something?”
“Yeah ‒ you.”
“What?” Viv was paying attention now.
Sabrina stomped into the room and leaned over her. “I’m giving you just fifteen minutes to get your ass off my couch, put on something that doesn’t make you look like a bag lady, and brush your hair. I called Julie, and she’s going to meet us at the bar in an hour.”
Viv sat up, her eyes narrowing and her face red. “I do not look like a bag lady!”
“You do, and it’s got to stop. It’s time for the Sabrina O’Sullivan two-step program to restart the human heart. Step one is to go out with women friends. Step two is to go out with a man.” She brushed a strand of hair away from Viv’s face. “Believe me, hon, I’ve felt low on more than one occasion, but I’ve never given up the way you have.”
Viv glared at Sabrina. “I have not given up. I’m just going through a grieving period. Everyone knows that you have to grieve after a major break-up.”
Sabrina glared back. “For two months, every minute you haven’t been at work, you’ve been on that couch. Your butt has even left an imprint.”
“Where?” Viv stood up and turned around to look. Sabrina locked her arm through Viv’s.
“Look, you’ve got to start going out again, and tonight’s the night. You’ll like the Shoe Horn. It’s just a bunch of women getting together for pretty cocktails and fabulous shoes. No men. It’ll be easy.”
Viv’s shoulders drooped. She felt guilty, having imposed on Sabrina for two months already. She didn’t want to be a drain on their friendship, but she still felt so vulnerable.
“I know you and Julie are worried about me.”
“Your dad’s worried, too. I promised him I’d get you back on your feet, and I will.”
“Just not tonight, okay? I’m really not up to it.”
“Nothing doing,” Sabrina said, marching her toward the guest bathroom. “We’re going to start with make-up and hair.”
“I’m not going!” Viv protested.
“Shut up.” Sabrina pushed her into the bathroom. “So much to do, so little time.”
An hour later, Sabrina and Viv were inside the Shoe Horn. ““What do you think? Isn’t this fabulous?” Sabrina shouted. “Oh, wait. There’s Julie. Over here!” she bellowed, waving her hand over her head.
Viv stared around the room; she was suffering from sensory overload. A live jazz trio played in a corner while waiters ferried colourful cocktails from the white leather bar to the chattering women sitting on tufted couches. Shoes were displayed on the white, silk-lined shelves fastened to all four walls. Glittering mirrors slanted up from the floor, allowing the customers to check out their trendy footwear as they strutted up and down the red carpet running the length of the room. A two-tiered, circular chandelier with white and pink crystals was suspended from the ceiling, adding to the glamour. Viv searched her purse for her bottle of headache tablets, and downed two.
Julie pushed through a group of women bottlenecked in the entrance to catch up with her friends. The pixie cut that emphasized her dark, liquid eyes was spiked, giving her an edgier than normal look.
“Wow, you look fabulous,” Sabrina shouted into her ear.
“I thought I’d dress up for a change,” Julie hollered back. She was wearing a cropped jacket, a magenta silk blouse, black jeans, and studded ankle boots. “You look pretty good yourself. Love your dress, too, Viv.”
Viv nodded. Fortunately, Sabrina had forced her to wear something nice, or else she would have felt underdressed as well as overwhelmed. The trio’s set came to an end, and she relaxed as the noise level decreased enough to allow conversation.
Sabrina pointed to a couch on the other side of the room. “I think we can squeeze in over there.” Viv and Julie nodded, and the three friends threaded through the crowd of chattering women. When they arrived at the couch, its two occupants smiled and shoved over to make room for them.
Viv sighed as she sat down and dropped her purse on the floor. It had taken a lot of arguing and arm-twisting to convince her to come tonight. Maybe Sabrina had been right to call her a wimp. Maybe it was taking her too long to stop grieving and get on with her life. Not that she was ready to start dating again, but at least she was sitting on a different couch. And this wasn’t such a bad place. Better to be stuck in a shoe store with alcohol than endure another round in the bathroom with Sabrina.
“Now that you two are settled, I’m going to say ‘hi’ to Trina and Barb,” Sabrina said. “Be back soon.” Viv was staring after her when a gorgeous young waiter suddenly materialized right before her.
“Hi. What can I get you?” Viv stared at him. He was adorable with long, blond bangs falling into his eyes and an endearing smile. She couldn’t help returning it.
“I’ll have Sex on the Beach.” She winced, colouring. Would he think she was coming onto him? It was a Freudian slip, but her id had better just pipe down. She peeked up at the waiter, who seemed unfazed.
“Mojito for me,” Julie said. She grinned knowingly at Viv.
“Great. I’ll be right back with those.” He produced a pad from his shirt pocket and tore off two sheets. “Have a browse through the shoes, and if you see anything you like, write down the tag number on these. Your shoe server, Kelly, will be happy to help you.” He nodded at a frazzled-looking young woman kneeling beside a stack of boxes on the far side of the couch. She glanced up, and Viv smiled at her. When Viv turned back to the waiter, he was gone.
“What a cutie patootie!” Julie nodded at the young man’s retreating back.
“Yeah.” Viv frowned as Julie wiggled her eyebrows. “Don’t be so obvious. And stop worrying. I’m depressed, not dead.”
“Good to know you still have a libido. I was beginning to wonder.”
“Very funny. Come on, as long as we’re here, let’s check out the shoes.” Viv grabbed Julie’s elbow and tugged her to her feet. Together they studied the display behind the couch, a brand name collection of chic summer sandals.
“Check out that pale green crocodile wedge with the ankle ribbon,” Julie said.
“I don’t know. I’m not convinced that I can get away with wedges. If I wear three-inch-thick soles, I end up clomping around like Frankenstein’s monster. I’d have to be as tall as you to carry them off.” Viv pointed at the shoes next to the wedges. “How about those pink-and-white striped kitten slingbacks?”
“They’re nice.” Julie leaned closer to study the price tag. “Whoa, $900!”
“I’m not saying that I can afford them, but they are Manolos. They’re worth it.”
“Maybe, but my car needs a new battery.” Julia glanced over Viv’s shoulder. “Here comes the waiter with our drinks.”
“My treat.” Viv pulled out her credit card. As a single parent with mortgage payments, Julie didn’t have much disposable income. And Toronto was the most expensive Canadian city to live in, next to Vancouver. Vancouver, she thought with pain. Kyle.
Taking a gulp of her drink, Viv rejoined Julie on the couch. Kelly, their shoe server, hurried out with another armful of boxes for the two women sitting beside them. Julie glanced at the woman next to her.
The sturdy blond frowned, her pant legs rolled halfway up for a better look at the shoes she was trying on. “You don’t think the ankle strap makes my calves look fat, do you?” Her voice was unexpectedly deep.
“Hardly. You’ve got great calves. Strong and defined. I bet you’re a dancer.”
The blond perked up. “I am, one of the stars at Dora’s Divas.”
“Hey, didn’t I see you on their float at the Pride Parade last year?”
“You did. I was Madonna.”
Julie did a double-take. “I remember you. You were lip-synching to ‘Material Girl.’ You were terrific!”
The blond nudged her friend, who was trying on a pair of last season’s boots. “Hey, Vanessa. We’ve got a fan here.”
Julie offered her hand and introduced herself. Soon all three were talking about the shows at Dora’s Divas until Vanessa changed the topic to an upcoming gall bladder operation. Viv got bored and wandered off to see what had happened to Sabrina. A really attractive red-plaid purse distracted her, however, and, veering toward the table, she came face-to-face with a display of Rouge shoes.
Of course. A designer store like this was bound to carry them. Pursing her lips, Viv took a step closer to study this season’s specimens.
She had to admit, the old woman hadn’t lost her touch. The summer collection was a confection of pastels featuring floral cut-outs and charming bows. They looked so delicate that it was hard to believe they were crafted from leather, but that was part of the magic. The shoes were the height of feminine indulgence, and priced accordingly.
Viv felt a hand on her shoulder and turned to see Sabrina gazing down at the collection. They exchanged an awed glance, and turned back to stare at the shoes.
“They are beautiful,” Sabrina said, daring Viv to contradict her. Viv remained silent and sipped from her drink. Sabrina picked up a blue pump with a pearl-grey toe. “How long has it been since you’ve seen Véronique, by the way?”
“Not since I graduated from teacher’s college six years ago.”
“Hmm. You know, this collection is a real departure for your mother. Her shoes are usually so bold, so dynamic, but these are girly and pretty. If I didn’t know better, I’d say she designed them with you in mind. They’re perfect for someone with your looks.”
“Yes, Mother has that effect on people. You think she’s doing something special just for you when, all along, it’s all for her.” Viv turned her back on the display. “Come on, let’s go find Julie and have another drink.”
The music started up again as Viv linked arms with Sabrina, making civilized conversation impossible. Sabrina frowned, but allowed Viv to tow her away.
Two hours later, Viv snuggled under the futon covers while Sabrina turned off the living room lights. Viv felt pleasantly tipsy and drowsy, as if she were floating on a pink, fluffy cloud from one of her old Slumberland picture books. She giggled. It had been a long time since Daddy had read her a bedtime story.
Sabrina stopped to lean against the wall outside the office. The space was just large enough to hold a computer table and the futon. Viv used the table to stack her clothes and a few books.
“I heard you laugh,” Sabrina said. “I haven’t heard that in a long time. It sounded good. Did you have fun tonight?”
“I did. You were right about the Shoe Horn.”
“I’m glad, Vivvie. Maybe next weekend we’ll go out to dinner with a few friends. Night,” she said as she walked away.
Talking about going out with friends reminded Viv of Sabrina’s plan to forget Kyle. Her pink cloud turned grey, and she felt morose. Before Sabrina could disappear, Viv called, “Why did Kyle leave me?” It was a question she had asked herself many times over the past weeks, usually with tears in her eyes. She wasn’t crying now, and maybe Sabrina could provide some insight.
Sabrina hesitated before turning around. She said, “Men like him are always on the lookout for the next best thing.”
Viv sat up and put her arms around her knees. “What do you mean?” she asked in a small voice.
Sabrina sighed and walked back to perch on the mattress beside Viv. “I’ve got some friends in Vancouver, hon. I heard that Kyle is seeing one of the partners at his new agency.”
Viv gasped. “It can’t be true.” She paused to think. “Wait a minute ‒ I thought all of the partners were men.”
“There’s a Grace Chan.”
“Oh.” A few more seconds passed before she asked, “When did they start dating?”
“When he flew out for the second interview. My friend saw them together at a restaurant one night.”
“Maybe it was just part of the interview process? Maybe they were . . .”
“No, hon. They were holding hands.”
“I can’t believe it. Kyle would have told me if there was someone else. He was always honest with me.”
“No, Viv, he wasn’t honest. Isn’t it time you pulled off those rose-coloured glasses you’ve been wearing all these years?” Viv shrank away, and Sabrina reached for her hand. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that. I’m just tired of hearing how perfect Kyle was, and how lucky you were to have been with him.”
“What else do you know?” Viv’s voice sounded flat.
“For one thing, your father had to help Kyle get his first job.”
“I knew that. Why shouldn’t Daddy have pulled a few strings for Kyle? Daddy always said he wished someone had given him a leg-up.”
“Yeah, but did you know that Kyle would have been fired his first year if it hadn’t been for your father?”
“Because Kyle almost lost the firm one of their authors. He made a rookie mistake with a new contract that would have cost the client tens of thousands in royalties. If one of the partners hadn’t stepped in to fix it, the firm would have lost the author for sure. Your father had to do some serious wining and dining to stop them from throwing Kyle out on his ear. Gabe convinced them that everyone is entitled to a second chance. Then he sweetened the deal by making a sizable donation to the author’s pet charity. But I’m not surprised that Kyle didn’t tell you.”
“No, he didn’t. Neither did Daddy. But why did Daddy tell you?”
Sabrina shifted uneasily on the futon. “Because your father didn’t trust Kyle. He thought he was a wheeler-dealer, and that he was using your name to advance his career. Between your father and your mother, you have some pretty sweet contacts, you know.”
“I know. If I had gotten an MBA instead of a teaching degree, I’d probably be a millionaire by now.” Viv twirled the pearl ring on her right hand. “I know Mother was disappointed when I didn’t go into the design business. Maybe Daddy is disappointed in me, too.”
“Don’t say that.”
“Daddy didn’t trust me enough to tell me about Kyle. Maybe he thinks I’m too gullible, too soft to deal with the truth.” Viv started to tremble, and Sabrina pulled her into her arms.
“That’s not true. You are the centre of that man’s universe. He thinks you’re the sweetest, kindest, most loving person in the whole world, and he wouldn’t want you any other way. He knew how much Kyle meant to you, and he didn’t want to upset you by talking against him.” She stroked Viv’s hair. “Cynical old me, I always think someone’s trying to cheat me. Your father just wanted someone watching out for you, that’s all.”
Viv pulled away and fumbled on the floor for the box of tissues. She blew her nose and moaned, “I’ve been such an idiot. I spent all that money helping Kyle pay off his student loans.”
Viv paused to calculate. “Around eighteen thousand, I’d guess.”
Sabrina winced, but patted her friend’s shoulder. “It’s all water under the bridge. You’re better off without him, no matter how much it cost. The sooner you start realizing that, the better.” She kissed Viv’s cheek. “Come on.” Viv lay down while Sabrina drew the covers to her chin. “We’ll talk some more tomorrow. Have a good sleep.”
Viv nodded and closed her eyes, but it took her hours to fall asleep that night.
Poor Viv, the truth hurts. But how did you like the idea of a combined bar and designer shoe store? I made that up myself, and I think it would be a terrific idea. If you think so too, please leave a comment.
Check back on Wednesday, April 8 for Chapter 6!
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