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This was the biggest day in Taylor’s life, in recent memory that was.
And the morning called for coffee. She crossed the street, fighting heavy winds, one hand clutching her oversized design briefcase, the other reaching for Coffee Corner’s doorknob. New York never did anything on a small scale so when a gigantic gust pushed her inside the coffee house she hung on for dear life and came to a quick stop when the door closed behind her. It was warm inside and homey, the aroma of freshly brewed coffee helping to calm her nerves.
“Look what the wind blew in,” Melanie said from behind the counter, her smile wide.
“Literally, right? I thought it was supposed to be spring.”
“Apparently, the Big Apple didn’t get the memo. So, today’s the day, Taylor. Are you excited?”
“Jittery is a better word.” Taylor removed her coat, set down her briefcase and shook out her hair. This morning she’d spiral curled it and spent extra time with her makeup, hoping to make a good impression with the design executives at Boutique Bridal. Too bad downtown weather wasn’t cooperating. The wind had gobbled up her curls and spit the strands out into an unruly mess.
“Well, I’ve got your sustenance ready. Two hot vanilla lattes and sweet treats.”
“The cinnamon rolls look amazing, but I think I’m too nervous to eat.” She grabbed one of the lattes and wrapped her hand around the cup. Soothing heat seeped into her fingers as she blew away steam and took a sip.
“Take them to Simone along with her latte,” Mel said. “And your other coworkers. On me. To celebrate your new designs.”
“That’s sweet of you, Mel. But I can’t—”
“Tut, tut, tut,” Mel said, her polite way of shutting her up. “You can. And you will.” She shrugged. “That’s what you get for being my best customer and friend. You didn’t abandon me when they built that giant-sized coffeehouse that shall remain nameless across the street.”
“I promised you, didn’t I? Besides your coffee is better and so are your pastries.”
“Your promise goes a long way. Don’t think I don’t know that you’ve sent customers my way. I really appreciate it, Taylor. More than you know.”
Melanie’s business had dropped off by fifty percent when the competition opened its doors.
Taylor had given her a promise and she’d been supporting her coffee shop ever since. “You deserve it.”
“And you deserve to have your new line of bridal gowns approved. Your talent needs to be recognized.”
One could only hope. She’d gone to design college for four years, studied in Italy for two summers and had worked in retail bridal shops until she’d landed this job. Her first line of bridal gowns had made a decent showing, but that was when Eric Banning Junior, the son of the owner, had been her boss. He’d loved her edgy designs. Now, Eric Senior was at the helm again and he’d told her to do what she did best. And she had. She’d developed a new line of gowns, putting her heart and soul in her work. Now, all her eggs were in one basket. And she hoped it was enough.
“Thanks for your support,” she told Mel.
Mel nodded. “Hey, why don’t you have a seat and drink your coffee. I’ll package all this up for you. Maybe you’ll get your appetite back when the execs gush all over your designs.” Mel gave her a friendly wink, and Taylor smiled.
“Sounds good, Mel.”
She sat at a café table finishing off her coffee and glanced at the clock. She had half an hour until her meeting. The butterflies in her stomach took flight again. She squeezed her eyes closed and her mama’s image flashed in her mind. Tall and pretty, with a quirky sense of humor and a gift of always saying the right thing, her mama’s wise words were always close, always a part of her. “Go after your dreams, Taylor. If you want to design gowns, then do it and be happy in your decision.”
And she’d vowed to her mama she would. “I’ll be successful, Mama. I promise you.”
Her mother had smiled then. Because she knew Taylor never broke her promises.
Taylor stepped into the conference room at precisely nine a.m. and held her breath as she stared into Mr. Banning’s unreadable eyes. He stood up as she walked in, a lost art for many men, but Banning Senior, as they called him at the office, was always a gentleman.
“Good morning, Taylor. Have a seat.”
She hesitated a second, scanning the empty room. Where were all the associates? Were they running late? She took a seat adjacent to the boss at the long conference table. She gulped quietly. It was daunting seeing her beloved designs displayed on the overhead screen. She was proud of her work, had spent months and months on these designs, trying to come up with something unique and true to her own vision, while also keeping with the Boutique Bridal brand.
“How are you this morning, Taylor?” he asked.
“I’m fine. A bit nervous.”
“Would you like some coffee?”
“Thank you, but I’ve already had a cup.” Melanie’s coffee was churning in her stomach now.
Something was off, way off.
“Well then, let’s get right to the point. Your work is very well done. You have talent, Miss Preston, and we’ve enjoyed having you as part of our team, but—”
There was always a but and she was afraid this one would change her life, no…it would destroy her life.
She mustered up the courage to ask, “But?”
“I’m sorry to say, it’s not for us, Taylor. The work is, well, too unconventional for our brand. We have to meet client expectations, and though your designs are valuable and well done, they don’t scream Boutique Bridal. In fact, just the opposite. We were looking for something…”
“Unique, was what I was told. The line should reflect something a bit different. That’s what I brought you.”
“Ah, yes. I can see how you might think that. But I’m afraid we’ve decided to take a more traditional route. We like soft curves and detailed lines and what you’ve given us here are sharp points and jagged edges.”
“I can make adjustments to the line if—”
“I don’t think so, Taylor. We’ve already given you two chances at this. And I don’t want to stifle your creative talent.”
“But Eric Junior liked the first line I presented and the sales were good.”
“Yes, that’s true. But my son took some liberties with our brand and I had to return to the company get us back on track. I’m afraid your creative input is not part of the equation.”
“So, you’re…firing me?” The words trailed off, her heart totally shattered.
“We’re letting you go, to pursue your talent elsewhere.” He rose from his seat. “Take as much time as you need to get your things in order. It was a pleasure having you at Boutique and I wish you the best of luck. Goodbye, Taylor.” He put out his hand and gave her a look that said no hard feelings.
Only she had them. In a major way. Her feelings were hurt. She hadn’t given him jagged edges or sharp points. She’d given him contemporary style, designs that appealed to the current day bride.
She shook his hand. “Thank you, Mr. Banning.”
He gave her a final nod and walked out of the room, leaving her and her nine new designs behind.
She sat there numb. Minutes rolled by and then there was a knock at the door and Simone walked in. She didn’t say a word. She sat down next to her and grabbed her hand. Simone was the best; they’d been immediate friends from day one. She worked in human resources.
“I’m sorry. Mr. Banning came in to tell me. For what it’s worth, he feels badly.”
“Yet, he still let me go. I was told they wanted something different. Something unique. And they had faith in me to deliver. But they really didn’t want different. They wanted different, but the same. I guess I was a fool for not understanding the code.”
“You’re no fool, Taylor. You’re a major talent. Those designs are amazing. And I’m not just saying it to make you feel better. If I ever get married, I’d wear any one of your gowns with pride.”
She stacked her hand over Simone’s, a layer of friendship that she needed right now. “Thanks.”
“What can I do to help?” she asked.
“You’re doing it.” She gave Simone a wobbly smile. It was all she could manage. “I’ll be…okay. I guess.”
“Why don’t I come over with dinner tonight? We’ll have pizza and watch an old movie.”
“Thanks, Simone. But I’ll take a rain check. I have to figure out…my life.”
“Well, yes you do. And you will. But you don’t have to do it tonight. And you don’t have to do it alone.”
“I guess not. But, suddenly, I’m feeling closed in. Like I need to run. Like I need to get away from New York.” The feeling shocked her.
She’d always thought of the city as her home, her haven and her sanctuary, but right now, claws of indecision, confusion and injury were pawing at her. She’d failed before, but not like this. Not enough to lose her job.
Simone’s dark eyes went soft, not with pity but with understanding. She’d had a romance go bad, and the breakup had been devastating. Rejection was rejection and it damn well hurt. Simone had left town, needing a change of pace, needing to recharge her batteries and gain perspective. She’d visited her folks in Atlanta, her hometown, and she’d come back with a better attitude, ready to take on the world again. The only problem for Taylor was that she was home. New York was where she lived and, up until an hour ago, where she worked. She’d grown up here.
“Didn’t you just finish designing your cousin’s wedding dress?” she asked.
Taylor nodded, not seeing the relevance to the conversation.
“Isn’t that wedding coming up?”
“Not until next month.”
“So, why not visit your cousin Julie a little early? She lives in that small town, doesn’t she? And you’re always saying how much you miss her. She’s been like a sister to you and you’re the same age and—”
“Simone, you’re on a roll, but I can’t just barge in on Julie’s life. I was planning to go one week before the wedding.”
“So, now you go a few weeks early. I’m sure your cousin would love to have your help with the wedding plans.”
“I don’t know. I’d be lousy company. I wouldn’t want to bring Julie down.”
“Well, I’m no expert, but if you give yourself a few days to grieve over your designs, then head out, I can almost guarantee you, you’ll have a good time and come back in a much better frame of mind.”
Simone nodded. “I think.”
Taylor let out a deep breath. The idea had merit and she did have wonderful times in Last Stand when she was younger. She’d love to spend extra time with Julie and get to know her fiancé a little better. Miguel wasn’t originally from Last Stand, but he’d fallen hard for Julie and picked up stakes, figuring he could move his online tech support business anywhere.
That kind of love was hard to find. An image flashed of Coop, the seventeen-year-old boy she’d left behind in Last Stand to pursue her dreams. They’d grown up being childhood friends, but on that last summer together, they’d fallen head over heels in love. It had been the best summer of her life, one that she’d tucked way back in her memory. Puppy love was how her mother had defined it and Taylor knew that to be true. She had lofty dreams that no one guy could keep down, but Ryan “Coop” Cooper wasn’t easily forgotten. Even after twelve years, she still thought of him and hoped he was happy.
“You know, your idea is growing on me,” she told Simone.
“Like a weed or a fresh blooming flower?”
She chuckled, something she didn’t think she’d do after being fired by one of the most prestigious bridal corporations in the country. “Maybe a little bit of both. Sort of an unwanted wildflower that is pretty enough to catch the eye.”
“I’ll take that. So, dinner is on, right? Pizza, M&Ms and popcorn. We’ll rent your favorite movie.” Which was The Devil Wears Prada. No, that wouldn’t do. She didn’t need reminders of her failure in life. She’d find something to watch that didn’t involve fashion. Maybe a movie about a dog or something.
“Right. Okay.” Taylor turned to hug her best bud, squeezing her extra tight. “I don’t know what I’d do without you, Simone.”
Her friend didn’t know it yet, but she’d just saved Taylor from having a soul-searching, heart-wrenching, tears-flowing, pity-party horrible night. Correction, Simone did so know it. Taylor saw the truth on her expression. Simone wanted to come to her rescue, the way Taylor had when Simone’s jerk-face boyfriend had dumped her.
“Right back at ya,” Simone said.
And Taylor was grateful for the rescue.
Even if it was for just one night.
They settled on The Notebook. So not a dog movie, but it was a far cry from fashion and just what Taylor needed. She loved the time period and flashbacks and, honestly, she could look at Ryan Gosling for hours. She ate three pieces of pepperoni pizza and half a giant-sized bag of M&Ms. Her stomach was a battlefield now, acid fighting against sugar and the warfare was grueling. But at least for the last three hours since Simone showed up with the goodies, she hadn’t thought too much about losing her job, or her next career move.
She’d called Julie this afternoon and they’d spoken for over an hour, her cousin a good listener and before Taylor could even broach the subject of showing up in Last Stand early, Julie had invited her. “You have to come. I’d love to have your help and it would do you a world of good to get out of the city. Please promise me that you’ll come as soon as possible.”
And Taylor had promised. Just like that, her immediate future was planned out. She’d be leaving on a flight for Texas day after tomorrow and luckily, she was able to change her reservation without it costing a major fortune.
The movie ended and Simone was crying. Taylor’s eyes had misted up too. She rose to grab a box of tissues and handed her friend one.
“It gets me every time.”
“And yet, we keep watching it.”
“Yeah, it’s that good,” Simone said. After she dried her eyes, she glanced up. “How’re you doing? You’ve been quiet.”
“Busy eating away my grief. I did major damage on the M&Ms. The sugar is bouncing off the walls inside giving me tummy rolls.”
“Tummy rolls? Is that a thing?”
“You know, when you’re doing dips on a rollercoaster, or when you’re driving and speed up on the down side of a hill and your stomach rolls. That’s what mine feels like right now.”
“O-kay,” she said, her brows gathering. “Sorry.”
“It’s my own fault. I ate too much and I’m paying the price right now.”
“You don’t want to get sick before your trip,” Simone said.
“I won’t. But you have to admit, this day has been kind of horrendous. You know what I mean?”
“Of course I do, but I have to tell ya, you’re handling it pretty well.”
“That’s because you’re here with me. Otherwise, I’d be falling apart.”
Simone rose, grabbing the empty pizza box and paper plates. “Then I’m glad I’m here.”
She walked the stuff over to the trash and dumped it in. “Before I go,” she said, “I’d love to see your cousin’s dress.”
“And I’d love to show it to you. Follow me,” she said. She led Simone into her bedroom, where the gossamer wedding dress—well, the bare bones of the dress—was hanging high up on the wall. “It’s definitely a work in progress.”
“I’m just amazed you can work on it from across the country.”
“I lucked out. Julie and I are the same size. When she sent me her measurements, they were almost identical to mine. So, it’s been easier than I thought it would be. I’ve been putting it on and checking my work firsthand.”
“Now, I’m more impressed.”
“There’s more beading to do.”
“All hand stitched.”
“Yes, and the hideaway zipper’s going to be a challenge, but it’s the detailing that’s going to make this gown come to life.”
“Julie’s a lucky girl.”
Simone gave her a don’t-go-there look. “She’s going to love it, because you’re great at what you do. Don’t doubt yourself, Taylor. Ever.”
Simone was not only a loyal friend, she was a big fan of her work, which warmed her inside, but Taylor still couldn’t believe she was out of a job. She’d worked so hard to get to this position in life and now, it all seemed to have blown away on a frivolous gust. She felt like the star of a terrible dream. She wanted to wake up and have it all go away. She wanted her old reality, not this new one that totally sucked.
She said goodbye to Simone, giving her a long, loving embrace. It was late and her friend had to get up early for work the next morning. Whereas tomorrow, Taylor had only to pack her bags and lament her future.
She donned her blue polka dot pajamas, which were much too cheery for her mood, and slipped into bed after midnight. Oddly, as her eyes closed, the first image filling her head was of a seventeen-year-old Ryan Cooper, kissing her goodbye for the final time behind Julie’s gazebo in Last Stand.
End of Excerpt