Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9, Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12, Chapter 13, Chapter 14
When Viv got back to Sabrina’s condo that night, she noticed that the lights were on in her friend’s room and the door was ajar. Viv tapped on it with her fingernails.
“Sabrina, are you alone?” she called.
Viv walked inside and found Sabrina sitting up in bed with her computer balanced on her knees. “Just trying to finish some work for tomorrow,” her friend said.
“How was your weekend with Rick?”
“Not great. We broke up.” Sabrina kept her eyes on the screen, but they were suspiciously pink.
“You’re kidding! I’m so sorry.” Viv perched on the edge of the bed as Sabrina shrugged. “What happened?”
“Rick said I was too engrossed in work to invest enough time in our relationship. That was what this weekend was about, finding more time to spend together. I guess it was too little, too late.”
“That’s sad.” Viv patted Sabrina’s leg beneath the covers. “Rick seemed like a good guy.”
“He is, but any man who gets involved with me has to appreciate how important my career is. I’m never going to be a mommy or a housewife. Rick’s in banking, too. He knows that you have to make an extra effort to get noticed. He must think that only men want to succeed.”
“Is there anything I can do?”
“No. I’ll be fine.” Sabrina glanced up. “What’s been happening with you?”
“Big news. I found a house to rent, and I’m moving in on Saturday.”
Viv told Sabrina all about Fred Shiner and his urgent need to find a tenant. “The house is gorgeous, if a little fussy with all his antique furniture. But it’s big and cheap and close to work, and the neighbourhood is great. You’ve been really generous, letting me stay here all this time and helping me to get over Kyle, but it’s time I moved on. I just wish I wasn’t leaving right when you and Rick have broken up.”
“Don’t worry about me. I don’t have anywhere near the emotional investment that you had with Kyle. But how did your date with Drew go on Saturday night?”
“It started well. I told him about my mother and how I’m having dinner with her tomorrow night, and Drew seemed so understanding. We were getting pretty cozy on the couch after dinner when he got a business call. Someone rescheduled a meeting from Monday to Sunday without telling Drew first. He had to run to the airport to pick up the client. Otherwise, we might have ‒ you know.”
Sabrina put down the computer and belly-flopped onto the mattress beside Viv. “So, you have chemistry with Drew that you didn’t have with Josh?”
“For sure! But I have to admit that I felt a little sluttish leaving his apartment. An elderly lady in the hallway looked at me as if I had been making a booty call.”
“What’s wrong with that? We’ve all done it. By the way, I made those phone calls to check up on Drew. His dating history looks fine. He’s away on business a lot, but he still managed to hook up with three women in the past four years. The last one he dated for six months before they broke up. Things seemed pretty amiable on both sides.”
“That’s good to hear.”
Sabrina grinned. “So, are you going to sleep with him?”
Viv hesitated. She normally didn’t get intimate with men she didn’t love, but Drew had a charisma that was hard to resist.
“I think so, but didn’t you say I was moving too fast?”
“Yes, but now that I’ve checked him out thoroughly, we know that you’re not wasting your time with him. If you want a husband and a family, Drew seems like a safe bet.”
“He is big on family. He’s flying out to Chicago this weekend to see his parents for Father’s Day.”
“If you find him attractive, I say go for it.”
Viv grinned. “Well, thank you for your blessing.”
“You’re welcome. Are you going to see each other this week?”
“I’m not sure, but he did tell me to call him tomorrow after I see Mother. He wants to know how our meeting goes.”
“Good. Are your ready for that, by the way?”
“As ready as I’m ever going to be.”
Sabrina frowned. “Don’t be too quick to write Véronique off. Remember, a woman doesn’t have the same opportunities to get ahead in this world that a man has. Sometimes you have to make compromises.”
“But you mom runs a bar, and she still managed to keep you around when you were a kid.”
“Sure. I knew how to pull a beer by the time I was eight. But remember, my mom didn’t have a choice. There was no one else to look after me after my dad died.”
Viv shook her head. “No, I’m not falling for that. My mom could have taken me to New York if she had wanted to.”
“Your dad would never have let you go.”
“Of course not, but she didn’t even try. She could have worked out a visitation schedule with him. I could have stayed with her in the summer and with Daddy during the school year.”
Sabrina shrugged. “I don’t know. There are always two sides to a story. Make sure you hear her out before you cut her out.”
Viv sighed. “That’s what everyone keeps telling me. Look, I promise to listen. I just don’t believe she has anything to say that will validate ignoring me for all those years.” Viv kept her eyes lowered as she traced the floral pattern in Sabrina’s duvet with her finger. “I just don’t.”
“Poor Viv,” Sabrina said, rubbing her friend’s shoulder.
When Viv swept through the double doors of the Castle Crest Hotel the following night, she was ready for battle. She looked cool and regal in her cream and gold dress with a silk shawl draped over her shoulders and her hair in a braided updo. She paused to look around the lobby. It was two stories high with Corinthian columns, a glittering crystal chandelier over the armchairs, potted ferns, and a tinkling marble fountain. Véronique was not waiting for her in one of the chairs, however, so where was she? Viv strode to the reception desk to find out.
The concierge glanced up at her. “Good evening, madam.”
“Good evening. I’m looking for Véronique Roux.”
“Would you care to have a seat? I’ll ring her room.”
But the elevator bell dinged, and Viv turned to look. A woman emerged. Slim ‒ not as tall as her white-columned dress would have her seem, but taller than Viv ‒ with black hair capping a fine-boned face and grey, doe eyes. She wore her trademark red shoes: four-inch stilettos with snakeskin on the heel, toe, and ankle strap. Her eyes found Viv and lit up with pleasure.
“Mother.” Viv waited for Véronique to come to her. Which Véronique did like a model strutting down a runway.
“You look beautiful,” her mother said. She took Viv’s hands and kissed both cheeks. Viv caught the scent of white jasmine as she felt her mother’s cool skin against hers.
“You look well, Mother.” In fact, Véronique looked extraordinarily well, without a misplaced hair or a wrinkle on her youthful face. Viv had seen photographs of her mother over the years in magazines. A wrinkle would never mar the face of the creator of Rouge Shoes. On the other hand, there was a hint of her mother’s sixty-plus years at her jawline and throat.
“I’ve made a reservation for us in the Wedgwood Room. I thought it would be nice to stay in tonight.”
“Good. It’s this way.” Véronique slipped a manicured hand through her daughter’s arm. Feeling that it would be churlish to pull away, Viv allowed it to remain. Her mother guided her across the lobby to a pair of opaque glass doors so perfectly balanced that they opened at the mere touch of her hand.
“Good evening,” the maître d’ said with a bow.
“Reservation for Roux,” her mother murmured.
The maître d’ checked his list and nodded.
“Follow me.” He led them to a table for two with comfortably-upholstered armchairs. Viv slipped into her seat and glanced around the room. It was painted Wedgwood blue with delicate china plates mounted decoratively on the walls. Sunlight slanted through the mullioned windows, creating a diamond pattern on the blue-and-green tiled floor. The maître d’ fussed with napkins and menus before retreating to his station.
“Such a feminine room,” Véronique said. She turned to her daughter. “It’s wonderful to see you again. Thank you for agreeing to come.”
Viv nodded and picked up her menu, glancing through it distractedly. She had imagined this encounter so many times without considering that there would be a meal to eat first.
Their waitress appeared and introduced herself. “May I get you something to drink?”
“I’ll have a Vodka Gimlet. Viviane?”
“I’ll have the same.” Viv didn’t care what she drank. The waitress nodded and disappeared.
“Tell me, dear, how is your father?”
Viv glanced up and saw real concern on her mother’s face.
“He’s fine. The angioplasty was preventative. He needs to rest for a couple of weeks and watch his diet.”
“That’s what Gabe said in his e-mail, but you know how your father is at making light of situations. It’s good to hear you confirm it.”
“You e-mailed Daddy after the angioplasty?”
“Of course. As soon as you told me it had happened. I’ve been concerned about his health since he started renovating houses. He’s not a young man anymore.”
“I know. That’s what I tell him.”
The waitress returned with their cocktails and asked if they were ready to order.
“I’ll have the pear and walnut salad, and the mushroom ravioli,” Véronique said.
Viv glanced down at the menu and chose the first items she saw. “I’ll have the gazpacho, and an eight ounce sirloin, please. Medium rare.”
“Excellent choices.” The waitress left.
Viv fiddled with the bread basket, choosing a multi-grain roll before offering the rest to her mother.
“No thank you. I never eat bread.”
Viv refrained from rolling her eyes as she dropped the basket on the table. She sawed her roll in half and slathered it with butter. “I never have to worry about carbs.”
Her mother smiled. “You’re blessed with my mother’s constitution. It kept her slender all her life, despite those heavy sauces she liked to cook.”
“I never met my grandparents.” Viv tore off a mouthful of bread and popped it into her mouth.
“No. They returned to France after Papa retired. They’re both gone now.”
Viv nodded, chewing. Another missed opportunity.
“Your father told me you had a major disappointment recently. I’m sorry that Kyle turned out to be a thoroughly unreliable young man.”
Viv opened her mouth to protest, but her mother’s assessment of Kyle was spot on. Funny, he had seemed so trustworthy and responsible when they were together. Up until the end, that is.
The waitress served them their appetizers, and Viv swallowed a spoonful of the cold soup without tasting it. Her mother tried her salad.
“So, how are you, Viviane?”
As if you care, Viv thought, the spoon halted mid-way to her mouth. It slipped from her fingers and fell into her bowl. Viv grimaced when a few drops of soup splashed onto the serving plate. She wanted to appear cool and deadly that evening, not gauche.
Taking a deep breath, she replied, “I’m fine. I’m dating again ‒ a businessman.”
“What kind of business is he in?”
Her mother paused, one sculpted eyebrow raised, but returned to her salad without comment. Viv felt as if Drew had been slighted.
“He’s in information technology and energy,” Viv added. “Two very important sectors, you know.”
Viv was not satisfied that her mother was sufficiently impressed, however, and began to feel perturbed. “How is your business doing?” she asked.
“Very well. After concentrating on the North American market for more than a decade, we’re making significant inroads into Europe. We even have a shop on Avenue Montaigne in Paris.”
Viv was impressed in spite of herself. She knew that some of the greatest fashion designers had shops on that street. She forced herself to say, “Congratulations. You must be very proud.”
Véronique smiled and reclined back against her chair. “Thank you. It took years of hard work, but the business has never been more successful.”
The waitress returned with their entrées. A steak, still sizzling, with an assortment of tiny roasted potatoes and grilled vegetables, was set before her. Viv severed a piece of meat with her knife and fork and ate it. Her mother cut a square of ravioli in half and speared it with her fork.
“Which brings me to one of the reasons I asked to see you tonight.” Véronique popped the pasta into her mouth and chewed before continuing. “I plan to retire in five years, and I would like you to take over Rouge Shoes.”
Viv’s mouth dropped open as she stared at Véronique.
“I want you to move to New York this summer to begin learning the business. In two years’ time, you should be sufficiently trained to handle the day-to-day operations. I will remain in an advisory position for another three years to assist you with the design decisions. Then I would be prepared to hand the business to you. I’m looking forward to retirement, although I haven’t decided where I’m going to live yet. Perhaps half of the year in New York ‒ I have so many friends there ‒ and half in Italy.” She paused, waiting for her daughter’s response.
Viv found her voice at last. “But, Mother, I’m a school teacher, not a business woman or a shoe designer.”
Véronique waved a dismissive hand. “Teaching a group of six-year-olds is hardly a profession, dear. It’s glorified baby-sitting. And after this break-up of yours, I’m sure you see the importance of having a real career to provide financial security. As for not being a business woman, neither was I, when I began. I learned as I went, and I can teach you. Having the design talent is more difficult, of course. I hope that you’ve inherited my artistic flair, but even if you haven’t, I can teach you to recognize it in others. There’s a talented young woman working with me right now who could do the designing, if you’re incapable. We’ll just have to see how you do.”
Viv was insulted by her mother’s assessment of her profession, and got more and more riled as the speech continued. With great restraint, she placed her utensils on her plate and leaned toward Véronique.
“Mother, you can’t be serious. I already have a career, one that I love. Someday I hope to be blessed with a family, and then I’ll stay home to raise my children. That’s what I plan to do with my life. I don’t want to peddle shoes.”
“Peddle shoes!” Véronique hissed. Two pink patches appeared on her cheeks. “Rouge is so much more than that. It’s about a lifestyle of elegance and grace. I sacrificed everything for the success I have, Viviane, and now I’m handing it to you on a golden platter. Don’t be so foolish as to dismiss it so easily.”
“Yes, I know you sacrificed everything for your business, Mother.” The fire blazing within Viv had turned icy cold, and her face appeared taut and white. “You sacrificed Daddy and me for your success. I would never do the same to my children, and I would never accept the business that caused me so much unhappiness. I don’t want it, and I don’t want you. Never contact me again.”
She rose from the table to lean over her mother. “And I don’t like to be called ‘Viviane.’ It’s pretentious. My name is Viv. Goodnight.”
Véronique sat very straight and still, only her eyes betraying her anger. Viv strode triumphantly from the restaurant, thrilled that she would never have to see her mother again.
Viv may not want to celebrate Mother's Day with a mother like Véronique. Has she really heard the last of her, or will Véronique give up that easily?
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