After Saturday’s admission, I thought Mom would relieve me of my commitment by committing herself. Yeah right. I guess, “My turn,” meant for love only.
So, here I am, again, mentally hovering over Mom’s navy Acura, racing down I-97 towards the agency. I watch me; watch my individuality and my personality racing along right with it. Trapped in a fake persona, the real Diamond Duprey a hostage in an ill-fitted khaki skirt with—can you believe—anot ill-fitted matching blazer. Conformist fatigue, camouflaging the true designer me, knowing that no recognition or validation will come from these Chicago quarters. At least not like this.
“This is not who I am; who I want to be,” I whisper, squinting at my mirrored reflection.
And this is no way to forget the embarrassment of Friday.
Cringing, I ask my image, how are you going to make this work? My insides a jumbled mess as I drive down Halsted.
And why did I let Mom off the hook by not telling her of my situation? She does bear some responsibility. Not for my stupidity, but . . . anyway, I want to quit. I want to walk right in there today and say, “I’m outta here.”
But I won’t. Yet.
I try to think of something to motivate me, bring me some joy, more fun in the shop. However, I’m at a lost.
Thumping my fingers on the steering wheel, I’m confused, what a vacation. What happened to my initial bonding?—with Mom. Now I’m living a vacation nightmare.
Fortunately, I left early enough to escape Vie this morning, so that I can figure out a game plan to overturn Friday’s catastrophe. And again glancing into the mirror, I wonder, what would Nanette think? If I’d dressed like this when we first met, she wouldn’t have given me the time of day, let alone allow me to work as a costume designer for her.
Exactly when will the real Diamond Duprey reappear? I wonder, turning onto the agency’s street. My only consolation; I went willingly—hoping for leniency.
Uh oh. . . . Whose car is that?
I pull into the agency’s side parking lot right next to a black Mercedes E500 with beige interior’s, knowing without knowing, that it belonged to Mr. Riley. Absolutely ready to turn right around and go home. This is my time, why I come early! It’s the only peace I get during my whole time here, I complain—my few stress-free moments with another cup of coffee before everyone’s arrival.
I need this time! . . . Alone. And I don’t want to be alone with him, I think sitting in the car, debating what to do, my fingers drumming the steering wheel, when suddenly I see a man in a black leather coat approaching from the rear of the Mercedes.
Oh no, it’s him, I groan, thoroughly tempted to slide underneath the dashboard. But it’s too late. Here he comes!
With no time to fake anything, I’m forced to let down the window, pasting a smile on my face, while he bends his handsome face right beside me—startling similar to Seneca, making me stare.
Focus, Diamond, I command during his, “Nice car.”
Feeling impaled to explain, I grin, “My mom’s.”
“Mom’s?” he asks, face definitely puzzled.
“Yes.” Why is that unusual?
“Well, it’s still nice;” he smiles.
“Thanks. Yours too.”
“I’m glad you like it,” he says, brown eyes direct, though still smiling somewhat mischievously.
Why should he be glad, I wonder, before I realize he’s playing with me. Trying to break the ice?
Now squatting, with his arms braced against my door, his face too close for my comfort, as I try not to inch away, he says grinning boyishly, “I’ve got a confession, Diamond. I knew you came in early. But I wanted to talk with you before anyone else arrived. I’m sorry to impose on your private time, but can I see you in my office for a few minutes?”
“Uh, sure. . . I’ll be right in.”
“Take your time. And I’ve already put on the coffee, so you may want to grab a cup before you come in.”
“Thanks, again,” I say, dreading the future moment, wondering, what’s this all about? Watching this tall masculine figure walk away without needing to go into his trunk.
He watched for me? The question silly considering everything he said.
Taking a few minutes to regain composure, I check my appearance in the mirror before dragging myself slowly from behind the wheel. Unnecessary to unlock the agency’s door, I walk straight in, the bell tinkling my entrance. The main room is only dimly lit because of the angle of the sun, but a bright light brightens Mr. Peters’ office. From the look of things—many empty boxes near the door, it’s now Mr. Riley’s place.
Mr. Peters’ gone already. . . We didn’t give him a party.
Placing my coat on the coat tree and my bag at my desk, I pour myself a cup of coffee, then stand in the doorway, startled, looking around at the neatness of a once disorganized space. It’s a place transformed. A beautiful mahogany desk with a large maroon leather swivel chair replaced an old weathered wooden desk clothed in papers and a crackled vinyl chair. Awards were even hung on the walls.
“Wow,” I say. “What an improvement,” though not wanting to discredit Mr. Peters. I continue, “I guess decorating wasn’t Mr. Peters’ thing.”
“No?” he smiled. “He said I could set up; so here I am. Come on in and have a seat.” He directed me to one of the two leather open-armed chairs.
The door slams shut behind me, but Mr. Riley says, “I’ve got to get that fixed. Could you prop that open with that doorstop,” he asks, pointing to a bronze elephant near the door.
Was that for him or me? I wonder, distracted briefly, but impressed again by the sisal rug under my feet and his desk.
“It’s like you waved a magic wand, then poof!” I say regarding the masculine prosperous-looking office. “It looks like success,” I praise on my way back to my seat.
Smiling, he says, “Then I’ve accomplished what I wanted to achieve. Actually I just transferred my things from the other agency. Saturday afternoon the painters and carpet layers came in, then the movers came in on Sunday, so that I could be up and running today.”
That’s why the awards adorned the walls, I think. He’ll definitely be good for the shop.
“Mr. Peters is meeting with his own movers. He’ll say his final ‘good-byes’ Wednesday. But he’ll be in later today,” he says as I tune back in.
Sipping from my coffee, I continue to take it all in, though feeling a little uncomfortable since he watches me.
“It looks like you have a good eye, Diamond. . . How about you taking on the job of redecorating the main part of the office? Why don’t you take time to gather some pictures of what might work; them we can go over them; work out the plans.”
Is he kidding? That’s just the boost I need, I think, frantic to start.
Trying to conceal my excitement I ask, “I should do this between filing and answering the phones? . . . Not that I mind,” I clarified.
“No, instead of. It shouldn’t take more than a couple of weeks to get everything done, right?”
“I don’t think so.”
“And after that you can go back to your other duties or something else in the agency. It’s your call. You may even want to try your hand as an agent.”
That thought takes me to Jackie. Could she be responsible for his pulling me off the files and phones? If she is it backfired.
“Mr. Riley. Who will be responsible for answering the agent’s phones and doing their filing?”
“Everyone will have to pull their own weight regarding that for a while. If it works out okay, then we’ll leave it. If not, well. . . We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”
I like his style. Especially since he left me my dignity regarding Friday’s fiasco. I know he’s thought about it.
Should I mention it? Decide; I’ll let that lazy cat lie.
Should I mention it? Decide; I’ll let that lazy cat lie.
Suddenly the bell on the agency’s door clangs.
“Hey. Where is everybody?”
“Sounds like your friend Octavia,” Cowen says with a funny grin. “Maybe I should employ her also?”
Grinning back I answer, “Don’t do me any favors. I’ll leave that to your discretion and your good judgment.”
“Then maybe I’ll wait awhile before I tackle that,” he says standing, his handshake firm and comforting. “I think you’ll be a pleasure to work with. Thank you for your time.”
“And thank-you for the opportunity. I’ll get started gathering samples right away,” I say leaving his office, thinking; this may not be too bad after all.