Weekly DiVa | Oct 1, 2023
Happy October!
How've you been? Swell? (Let's bring back ‘swell.’) Me too. I had another solid week of writing with Samantha, I've made taste test through all four bags of popcorn, and my dining room table is covered in books for a festival on Saturday. I did wake up with a headache that I am blaming on my lack of caffeine yesterday, but I'm sure it will be gone by the Eagles game today. Life is good!
We are less than a month from TULLE DEATH DO US PART! So as a super-special treat for you, I'm giving you a chapter one excerpt down below. You can find it below LIFE TALK, which is abbreviated this week so you have more time for TULLE. I'm so considerate, aren't I? (pats self on back.)
But first, an in-person book event! If you're in the Philly-ish area, then mark your calendar for this upcoming Saturday, Oct 7. It's the annual Collingswood Book Festival, and from what I've heard, it's massive! I'll be there with other members of my local Sisters in Crime chapter. I have to leave the house at 5 am to arrive in time to set up, which should indicate to you exactly how strong my level of commitment is. (I prefer to think there's only one 5:00 each day.) Find me at booth #160!
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Last night, I was rooting around in the attic for some supplies to use for the book festival, and I came across two boxes of Barbie dolls. These aren't my childhood barbies, but collectibles that I've acquired along the way. I used to display them but they haven't made it back onto shelves since I moved back to Pennsylvania. 
Even though I knew I still had the dolls, and I had a good idea of where they were, the euphoria I felt when I opened the box and saw them was unexpected. It was a reminder not to take things for granted--things we have, things we love, things that bring us joy. 
If you've got some of your favorite things tucked away, maybe it's time to bring them out and let them brighten your world too. 
(uncorrected proofs)
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My ten-fifteen appointment was twenty minutes late. I wouldn’t have minded so much if said appointment hadn’t asked me to close my fabric store, Material Girl, to the public while she browsed the aisles to get ideas for her wedding dress. It was an unusual request, and I probably would have politely refused if she hadn’t been referred to me by Adelaide Brooks, general manager of the historic mansion less than a block away. It was bridal season, after all, and sending brides my way had become just one of the many small kindnesses Adelaide had shown me since I’d reopened my family’s business.
It was early October, and the hot summer temperatures were starting to break. I’d had the store ready to open at ten and wasted fifteen minutes rearranging a display of delicate tulle fabric that I’d discovered in the back room just last week. Someone, presumably my great-aunt Millie, the original owner of the shop, had wrapped each bolt in quilted cotton to protect it, which explains why I didn’t find it until recently. It’s not unusual for eighty-year-old fabric to exist, but to find several full bolts, in pristine condition, was like spotting a unicorn in the frozen foods aisle at the grocery store. Discoveries like this, vintage fabrics that had been preserved by the store having been closed for ten years before I inherited it, along with new additions like the proprietary blend of velvet I’d had woven for the store and the end-of-bolt acquisitions I made from my contacts in the wholesale fabric market, helped Material Girl stand out as a place where you could find the fabric of your dreams.
You can only fuss so much with delicate fabric before potentially destroying it, so I forced myself to leave the tulle display, and I moved to the stoop outside my shop. Material Girl was the bottom floor of a Victorian rowhome, neighbored on one side by an antique market and the other side with a shop of Tiki ephemera. The rest of Bonita Avenue was populated with shops, restaurants, and banks that made it a charming small town where people liked to visit. Already the street parking was filling with cars, and visitors were going into and out of shops, looking for something special.
And my store was still closed.
A young couple came out of Tiki Tom’s next door. The woman, a pretty blonde with fair features and wispy hair that framed her cherubic face, pointed to my window. “A fabric store!” She turned to the man next to her. “You don’t mind if I go in, do you? I promise I’ll be quick.”
The man smiled. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” he said teasingly. “Go in. Take all the time you want. I’ll go across the street and get a cup of coffee.”
The woman smiled. They shared a quick kiss that told me there was no animosity behind his teasing, and then she turned toward the shop. That’s when she saw me.
“Oh—hi! I didn’t see you standing there,” she said. She glanced behind me and saw the Closed sign in the window. “Is this shop closed?” My hours were listed on the window just below the sign, so it wasn’t difficult to see that they were in conflict.
I glanced up and down the street. It was a typical Friday morning. By noon, cars would have to circle the block, waiting for a parking space to open. The weather was sunny and seventy-five, one of the first near-perfect days we’d had after the gloom of June and the heat of July, August, and September. Today would bring with it a crowd of day trippers, the best business in a small California town like San Ladrón, and I was at risk of missing it. Adelaide couldn’t be blamed for the tardiness of the client she’d referred to me, but I was getting more and more curious about how it had come to be that she’d recommended her in the first place.
I pulled my phone out and checked for a message or missed call, then made a snap decision. “I was expecting a private, um, consultation this morning, but she’s running late. Come on inside.” I pulled the door open and stepped back.
At that moment, a small black sportscar with tinted windows screeched to a halt in front of Material Girl. The passenger window rolled down, and a blond woman in oversized black sunglasses and a black beret peered out. “Are you Polyester Monroe?” she called to me.
“Yes, I’m Poly.”
She got out of the car and said something to the driver. She turned back to me. “I’ve heard a lot about you.” She stormed the stairs to my door cast a dismissive glance at the woman next to me. After an awkward moment, she looked back at me. “My assistant did request privacy, didn’t she?”
There wasn’t a lot I could do in this situation. The woman in the beret was right; the initial request had been for a closed shop for her appointment, and the sign on the door indicated I’d honored her request. Pointing out the woman’s tardiness wasn’t the best display of service, and Adelaide’s referral lingered in the back of my mind.
I turned to the original customer. “She’s right. I agreed to close the shop for her appointment. I don’t know how long we’re going to be, but if you give me a phone number, I can call you when we’re done so you can come back.”
“That’s okay. We only had about an hour before we…” her voice trailed off as she stared at the woman who’d just arrived.
The woman in the beret and sunglasses smiled at the blonde, and for a moment, I thought she might have a change of heart on her whole privacy thing. And then she glanced over her shoulder. “I just hope the paparazzi doesn’t track me down here.” She gave us a broad smile and swept inside.
It wasn’t appropriate for me to make a disparaging comment about a customer, but the attitude was too big to ignore. I glanced at the shy blonde and said, “The paparazzi? That’s a little much.”
“She’s right,” the blonde said. “That’s Beatriz Rosen. The media loves her.” She craned her neck, and her gaze followed the woman as she wandered deeper into the store.
I’d heard the name, but it took me a moment to place it. “The ballerina?” I asked. The blonde nodded. I turned and looked into my store. “She’s on billboards all over Los Angeles.” 
And with that name, the reason for privacy became clear.
Since moving to San Ladrón, I’d lost touch with the gossip of Hollywood, but Beatriz Rosen’s story had come to me before that. She was a prima ballerina who’d first made a name for herself for her bold dance performances, and then as a bad-boy magnet, being romantically linked to a steady stream of rock stars, actors, and professional athletes in the gossip columns. She’d danced in her first lead over a decade ago, in her late teens, and the internet took notice. Ticket sales boomed as a whole new generation of balletgoers clamored to see her in person.
Someone at the Los Angeles Ballet Repertoire took her image one step further and plastered her image on billboards around the city. I used to see them when I drove to my old job in the fabric district. When I moved to San Ladrón, I left those billboards behind. I was more likely to watch movies from the thirties than attend the ballet anyway, and aside from the gossip I’d heard, I didn’t know much else about her.
I shared a bittersweet smile with the blonde. “I’m sorry. I did agree to let her shop in private. But seriously, I can call you when she’s done, or stay open later tonight if you want to come back.”
“I can’t believe she didn’t…” the blonde said, her voice trailing off. “We’re on our way north so we won’t be around.” She glanced into the shop one last time, and then turned away and crossed the street. I lingered for a moment to watch her enter the diner. Her cheeks were flushed, and she seemed genuinely excited to share news of her brush with fame with the man she’d arrived with. Their faces turned to the window, and I smiled and waved.
The street filled with more people, so I didn’t think much when another woman approached the store. This one was dressed casually in a white T-shirt, jeans, and black and white Nike Panda Dunks. Her hair was in a ponytail and her face was free from makeup.
“I’m sorry,” I said. I positioned myself between her and the entrance. “My shop is closed for a private shopping appointment.”
“Why don’t you take out an ad?” she asked. “When Beatriz finds out you don’t know the meaning of the word ‘private,’ she’s going to be furious.” She elbowed me out of the way to enter my store.
With a backward glance over my shoulder, I saw the couple watching me from the windows of the diner. Their smiles had faded.
I liked to think of myself as a natural businesswoman, but in the span of fifteen minutes, I’d already turned away one customer and offended another. While the rest of the avenue was bursting with business, I was on my way to ringing up a big, fat goose egg.
I reentered Material Girl and closed the black hinged metal accordion gate across the entrance, then locked it. Beatriz and her female companion stood by my bridal display. I’d wanted to maximize the opportunities of wedding season, so I’d pulled every white fabric in the shop into a freestanding display and papered the wall behind with sketches of wedding dresses. My skills were in designing, not sewing, and my imagination coupled well with my ability to sketch out a concept. Since moving here, I’d made the acquaintance of a local seamstress who worked for me part time and could make anything I dreamed up. Most of my customers were able sewers themselves, but my designs often provided the inspiration.
“Welcome to Material Girl,” I said. “I’m the owner, Poly Monroe. Adelaide may have mentioned me when she referred you to the store.” I addressed Beatriz, not the other woman, though I sensed she wanted my attention too. Not wanting to insult her if she was someone I should recognize too, I hoped for an introduction.
“Hello,” the original woman said. “I’m Beatriz Rosen.” The introduction was unnecessary, but she had no way of knowing that. She held out her hand, and I shook it. My ex-boyfriend, who studied the art of handshakes in his role as an up-and-coming financial analyst, would have described her handshake as regal—not particularly strong, but definitely self-important. She released my hand and gestured toward the other woman. “This is my friend, Renee.” Her companion held up her hand in a wave.
I smiled and said, “Nice to meet you.” I turned back to Beatriz. “Adelaide didn’t give me details on your shopping needs. I can give you a tour of the store or make recommendations if you’d like.”
“I need to find a wedding dress,” Beatriz said.
“You found the right part of the store. Is this for a special performance?”
Renee and Beatriz looked at each other. “You could say that,” Beatriz said.
Renee added, “She’s getting married.” Beatriz moved away from us and studied the sketches on the wall. “She’s had a little trouble finding the right dress.”
“When’s the wedding?”
Beatriz turned back to me. “Saturday.”
“Next Saturday.”
“That’s…soon. Depending on your fabric choices, it will take more time than that to get the required yardage in from a wholesaler.”
Beatriz didn’t seem to hear what I said. She tapped her finger on one of the sketches. “This one. This is the dress.”
I moved to Beatriz’s side and looked at the sketch she selected. It was one of my quick sketches, a few simple lines on paper to capture the essence of a massive gown comprised of layers of light, airy fabric. It was a fun gown to draw because it was easy to get across the idea of it, but it would be difficult to make and would require a lot of tulle—almost everything I’d discovered in the workroom.
Beatriz looked away from the sketch and scanned the bolts of fabric in my display. “Do you have something more special than what you have on display? I’m not used to wearing inexpensive fabrics.”
I bristled at the insinuation. Wedding dresses took far more yards of fabric than most garments, and it made sense to use less expensive ones in the underlayers or hidden parts of a dress’s construction.
“For a dress like that, I’d suggest synthetics for the structure and the volume, and something more special for the bodice.”
“Like what?” Beatriz asked.
“Something light and airy. Netting, voile, something sheer,” I said. I pointing to the shelf she’d dismissed. “These are the best.”
“What about this one?” Renee asked. She’d wandered away from us as we spoke, and I already knew she was standing by the vintage fabrics. I turned around all the same. Beatriz crossed the store and ran her hand over the one bolt of vintage tulle I’d placed on display.
“This is beautiful,” Beatriz said. For the first time since entering the store, the attitude of importance that she wore like a cape disappeared. She stepped back and exposed about a half a yard from the bolt, and then ran her fingers over it gently. “This is the one. You can make my dress out of this.”
It wasn’t lost on me that it wasn’t a question.
“That’s vintage tulle,” I said. “It’s not the most durable fabric in the shop. My great-aunt, who started this shop, sourced it from Tulle, France.”
The two women exchanged a glace. “That’s perfect,” Beatriz said, and then, as if the time and skills necessary to complete such a preposterous task were of the smallest consideration, she added, “You can do that, right?”
“Actually, I can’t,” I said, conflicted over the possible loss of business. “It’s a near-impossible deadline as is, and I’m not the most skilled sewer—”
A noise by the front gate hijacked Beatriz’s attention. I turned and looked. A man rattled the gate from the stoop outside of my shop. I held up my finger to the two woman and said, “Excuse me. He must not have seen the Closed sign.”
When I reached the door, I left the black retractable gate in place. “I’m closed for a private appointment,” I said. “I don’t know how much longer we’ll be, but I’ll probably be open this afternoon.”
“Beatriz?” he called past me. He threaded his fingers through the opening of the gate and shook it. “Yo, B. Get over here. I need to talk to you.”
I was too shocked by the idea that this rough-around-the-edges man was the fiancé of Beatriz to say anything, so when Beatriz headed my way, I stepped back to give her room. I hovered a few feet away, though, not loving the vibe.
“I told you this was going to take a while,” Beatriz said. “We can talk when I’m done. I don’t know what else you expect.”
“I expected you to answer your phone. I’m not kidding, B. This is serious.” He glanced past her at me. I reached into the pockets of my black trousers and pulled out my phone to look busy. There were two missed call notifications from a number I didn’t recognize. I dismissed the notifications and then checked my social media feeds.
“I know this is serious,” Beatriz said. “It’s the rest of my life. You don’t think I would have said yes if I didn’t mean it, do you?”
“I don’t know,” the man said. “We’ve known each other a long time, but this whole thing doesn’t seem like you.”
Something about the conversation sounded more ominous than romantic, and while I wasn’t thrilled about Beatriz keeping my shop closed indefinitely, I also wasn’t thrilled about this public altercation taking place on my doorstep.
I shoved my phone back into my pocket and approached the couple. “I’m sorry to interrupt,” I said. “Beatriz, if you’ve made your decision, I can ring up the fabric and recommend a few seamstresses who can interpret my sketch.”
“I’ll be done here when I’m done,” she said to the man, and then added, “We’ll talk later.” She left him by the gate without saying goodbye. I wouldn’t give good odds on the survival of their marriage.
While Beatriz headed back to Renee, I started to close the door. The man turned away from me and stared out at the street. He looked annoyed at the prospect of killing time in a small, California town, but if Beatriz was going to be my client, I didn’t want to offend her partner-to-be.
“She probably wants you to leave so you don’t know anything about her dress,” I said. “It’s tradition.”
“Don’t let her fool you,” the man said. “Beatriz Rosen doesn’t care about tradition. She doesn’t care about anything but herself. The sooner you learn that the better off you’ll be.” He turned his head and spit on the sidewalk and then jogged down my steps and walked away. 
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