Tor was listening to Hailee belt out the tune playing on the store’s radio as she folded some shirts on a merchandise table that had gone astray during the lunch rush. It was early afternoon, and as usual for this time of day, there wasn’t a customer in sight. Hailee, who moonlighted as a Jazz singer, was accustomed to practicing during this time of the day while she updated some inventory issues on the register. Her smile lit up her rosy cheeks as she sang along with the current love song, no doubt thinking about her recent engagement to Jonathan Cullard.
Shaking her head at the girl, Tor hollered, “Sing it!” and laughed with her.
When the song finally ended, Hailee chuckled and shook her brunette bob. “Miss Torie, don’t you go making no fun of me!”
“Shuga’, you are laughing too!” With the store straightened up, Tor walked back over to the cash wrap, the top of her teased blonde hair bouncing lightly with each step. “Just you wait until the honeymoon’s over and you got two babies crying all night. Enjoy that smile for now, because one day it’s gonna seem like you don’t even know how to smile. It’ll get better after that, but there’ll be a definite lull where you’ll miss this giddiness.” She propped her elbows on the counter, and her belt buckle hit the glass on the front of the counter making a soft clink.
“Well, you sure know how to put a bee in my bonnet!” Hailee teased her.
A bark of laughter erupted from Tor. “Seriously? Who even says that anymore?”
Hailee, well known for her unusual communication, pouted and diverted her attention to her ring again. She thought of all the effort John must’ve put into choosing it and working to pay it off. The white gold ring held a whole carat of sparkle.
Just then, the door chimed and in walked a customer. She looked to be about Hailee and Tor’s age, as most customers were, and full of curves. The girls greeted her with cheerful chorus of , “Hi. How are you?” She offered the generic response, “Just fine. And you?” Tor’s shoulders slumped a little as she watched this solo customer walk right over to the merchandise table that she had just finished reorganizing the shirts on. Glancing over the clothes there, she rested her hand on the edge of the table, but didn’t see anything she liked well enough to redisturb the piles.
Exchanging smiles- Tor’s being from relief and Hailee’s from the humor at the everyday battle of recovery in the store- Tor stepped away from the cash wrap. “What can I help you with today?”
Glare from the track lighting bounced off the girl’s strawberry blonde hair. “My boss is having a cookout tonight and I just thought I might come look for a new outfit. Something for going out, but still somewhat casual, you know.” An aqua, one shouldered top on the two-way next to the table caught her eye. “This is cute! I’m not sure if it’s appropriate for tonight but…”
“Well,” Tor started, “what’s the occasion?
“Just a get together with everyone from the shop and our families and friends… Does it matter if I say it’s on Crestview Drive?”
Lifting her eyebrows, Tor nodded. “Yeah, that makes a difference.” The street ran right along the ocean front and was often associated with the wealthiest part of the docks and beaches in town. “Where do you work?”
“Oh, just Ringwald Interiors.”
Tor nodded again, conjuring up images of the display rooms in “the shop.” It had a relatively steady traffic flow, enough to keep it in business for the last forty years as one of the most popular businesses in a town of just under 50,000 people. “I’d say the top is probably appropriate enough. Did you want to do a skirt with it or shorts or capris? Because, we actually have this super cute flowing, white, maxi skirt over here that would go great with it.”
Upon seeing the skirt Tor was now holding out to her, the customer’s eyes grew large. “That is absolutely perfect! Ooh! What about with these sandals?” She picked up the bejeweled brown gladiator sandals from the wall display. “I am sold. All done.”
“Well, that was easy!” Tor chuckled and lead the young lady over to the register to hand Hailee her items.
“Yeah, just trying to keep it simple.”
Hailee put aside what she was doing and picked up the customer’s things to take off the security tags and ring ‘em up. “Yeah, that’s always. Less is supposed to be more, right?”
Watching Hailee, the girl’s eyes grew wide. “Whoa! Less like that diamond of yours?” She exclaimed eyeing Hailee’s ring. “Nice! That is so vintage. What a man! Can I see that?”
Laughter bubbled out of Hailee in glee. “Sure! Can you believe he’s even planning our honeymoon trip to Europe?!”” She reached over and let the girl examine it like everyone else who dared to mention it. Something caused the girl to frown though and cock her head to the side. She drew her face a little closer to Hailee’s hand before tossing it back and standing up straighter.
“Wow, that looks a lot like a ring from my ex.” Again, she cocked her head to the side with a smile and seemed to drift off, seeing something Tor and Hailee couldn’t. A quiet chuckle escaped her as a memory came to her. “He was my first love, and we hadn’t even told anybody that we were engaged yet when we went to a family reunion of his. It happened that there were a lot of familiar faces there- I hadn’t really met much of his family before that though. Found out we were cousins- distant ones, but it still creeped me out too much. Gave him back the ring that night. His name was Cullard. Jonathan Cullard. Boy, I haven’t heard from him in years.”
The poor girl was so lost in her memories that she didn’t see the twitch that started in Hailee’s right eye, from behind her glasses. Tor saw it, though. “You kept the ring, right? Or pawned it?”
“Huh?” The girl looked up again. “Oh, no. I couldn’t stand to think about keeping it after all the money he had to spend on it. It was a whole carat after all, and I know how much care he had to take in picking it out. I couldn’t carry that with me.”
Hailee’s face was frozen in a forced smile as she handed the girl the receipt and bag. “Have a nice day,” Tor chimed.
“Thanks! You too!” The girl replied and left unknowing how she had just altered the lives of the other girls. The moment the door shut Hailee glared at Tor who was slightly concerned for her friend’s sanity.
“Girl! We are closing this boutique! Grab your Louisville Slugger!” Hailee demanded as she threw open the cash drawer and began counting the cash and checks.
Tor threw her hands over Hailee’s which stilled them for a few moments. “Let’s be calm about this. No need to go crazy.” Although she was pretty sure her friend had already cracked. Hailee stared back wide-eyed and red in the face, even her hair seemed to be getting frizzled. Who could Tor call?
“No need to go crazy?! He regifted an engagement ring! Who does that?” Hailee’s voice cracked. “Rings are a symbol of a relationship that never ends with the person you pick it out for!” She ripped the ring off her finger and shoved it in Tor’s face. “He wasn’t thinking about me when he picked this out!”
Tor grabbed the ring. “Take a deep breath. This is unfortunate. People make mistakes. It’s best to think calmly and rationally before making any decisions.”
“Tor,” Hailee grabbed the ring back and leveled her gaze. “You can go with me or keep the store open.” She turned back to counting the money drawer. “Tor,” she paused, “do you have any rope in your truck?”
“Oh, no!” Tor exclaimed, “I’m not aiding a criminal act! Don’t pull me into your craziness.”
Shrugging, Hailee simply commented, “Suit yourself.” She shut the drawer and filled out the paper work. “Have you locked the door yet?”
Standing her ground, Tor mulled over the unfolding events. Should she just let the girl go crazy by herself or keep an eye on her? Walking towards the door, she made up her mind, and if cops ended up in the mix, hopefully she’d be caught trying to stop Hailee from doing anything regrettable. Once the girls loaded themselves into Hailee’s 1968 Mustang, they were off to the bank. After safely dropping the store’s deposit off, Hailee floored it through town.
“Tell me, Suga’, what are you thinking?” Tor demanded watching the town fly by her window- Millie’s bakery, which had the best peach pie in the world, along with Anita’s Bridal Shop, Jack’s Frame and Collison, and the Caston’s Drug Mart all passed by in a blur.
Hailee was silent for a few moments while she still seemed to be coming up with a plan. “Did you bring your rope?”
Tor glared at her. “Of course not.”
A few more seconds passed by. “Lousiville Slugger?”
“Nope…. I’m telling you, you really don’t want to do anything that’s going to hold you back in the long run.”
Throwing up her hands, Hailee exclaimed, “Then what do you suggest?” before having to swerve back into the correct lane.
Glancing at passing billboard somethings popped into Tor’s head. “Turn this puppy around, let’s go to Lowe’s.”
After a trip to the home improvement store, the girls were in John’s front yard, hunched over a piece of plywood and a few two-by-fours. Sweat ran down their backs and faces beneath the sun. With the passing of a couple hours now, Hailee had calmed down and quieted. What worried Tor now was letting the girl mull over too many endless scenarios of her and John’s happy memories while she tried to pinpoint any falsehood in her fiancée. Tor found herself mulling over her own memories of dependable John, a history buff, hardworking, always reliable for a laugh, and worked at the local university. Everybody has a past, Tor supposed.
“Well.” Hailee sat back on her heals after putting the first coat of paint done.
“That’s a deep subject,” Tor responded and was delighted to hear Hailee laugh.
Shaking the spray can, Hailee looked at her best friend. “What should we write?”
“Well, he’s going to need to pay for that trip to Europe somehow and all the money he’s put down. How about ‘Used Diamond Salesman’?”
With a smile Hailee nodded and went to work spraying the sign until she paused. “He might need to just sell that trip too.”
“What are you going to do when he gets home and sees this?” Tor gestured at the sign and looked up at the brown two-story house.
“Not answer the phone,” Hailee replied dryly.
“Come on seriously.
Sitting back on her heals again, she scrunched up her faced. “I don’t know. This is our first real big fight in like three years. What if he’s hiding more things?”
“The trust factor is a big deal.”
“What if there’s a good explanation? She did say they found out they were cousins. Maybe he didn’t want to look like a moron. And she said it was before they even told anyone. Maybe they were only engaged for a few hours? How long can a girl go without telling anyone?”
Laughter erupted out of Tor which pulled some giggles out of Hailee also. “Ain’t that the truth? Girl, you weren’t engaged for 30 minutes before you were blowing up my phone with pictures of that ring and you two.”
A few moments passed by as Hailee calmed back down from laughing. There was still a smile on her face as she leaned forward and finished the sign. “Yeah. I’ll answer my phone when he calls. He’s going to have a lot of explaining to do.”
“You’re going to forgive him?”
“We have three great years of memories, and until now he’s been a real winner.”
“What if you’re related to him too?”
More laughter bubbled out of Hailee, “Well, it’d make for a good story at least.”
Standing up, they stepped back to survey their handiwork on John’s front lawn, the girls both sighed and giggled. The sign finally read, “Used Diamond Salesman and Traveling Agent. Contact John Cullard.”
It was something, but still innocent. After riding an ocean of emotions, relief registered in Tor’s heart that Hailee was able to laugh while they’d been carrying this shenanigan out. They should be going. It was getting to be supper time and John would be home soon.
“Call me after you talk to him,” Tor urged her friend as they walked back to Hailee’s car and climbed in.
“For sure.” Cranking up the radio, Hailee put the car into drive and sped out onto the road. Her voice mixed with the Judd’s song playing as Tor listened again. Once she finally got home, supper made, stalls cleaned, and the two toddlers around, she was still listening. Listening to hear her phone ring with Hailee’s update on the whole fiasco.
After hours of waiting, and nearly giving up and just going to bed, there was a little chime signaling a text message. Tor unlocked her screen to see a picture message from Hailee. It was in black and white and showed a close up of a young couple from the turn of the previous century. Scrolling below the picture, Tor found the short message: “You know why this ring looks vintage? Because it is. It’s from his grandparents- saw the proof of purchase even-“
The phone chimed again and the rest of the text came through, “-Thought I’d let you know- you beat me to being an old married woman and I didn’t want to keep you up too late waiting to hear from me. Talk in the AM!”
Tor gawked at her phone. “But what does this mean?!?!?!” She fervently typed and sent the message off ignoring her friend’s teasing. At least she was joking around.
Ten minutes later a reply came back. “It’s all tentative. That cousin? Happened at the end of high school- I saw the photo from that reunion even!”
Tor almost asked if Hailee was going to bring all the evidence to work in the morning, but she decided to trust the girl to know she was going to dispel all information anyways. After all, she wasn’t the girl’s mother. She was only a friend, and after the whirl wind of the day, Tor realized Hailee could handle herself.