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Come One, Come All to Piney Point High School's Fifteen-year Reunion June 14, 2008, at 7:00 PM Piney Point High's Cafeteria.
Attire: Business Casual RSVP: Laura Moss 601-555-1515 or Celeste Boudreaux 601-555-4854
PS: The preparty will be at Pete and Laura's house, starting at 5:00 PM. Setups will be provided. Bring a dish to share.
I hold the invitation with one hand while unlocking the door to my townhouse with the other. The delicious sounds of silence fill my ears as I close the door behind me and make my way to my bedroom to get ready for my night out with the girls while trying to wrap my mind around the fifteen-year reunion. So they decided to go ahead with it. I warned Laura we might not have enough people who'd want to attend so soon after everything that happened during the last one. The memory is still pretty fresh—at least in my mind. But her response insinuated that I spend too much time here in Jackson and points beyond to know what's happening with folks in Piney Point. Right. Like I don't still have a salon there.
We nearly didn't have a reunion last time because Laura was so disorganized. Her husband, Pete, wound up in the hospital from alcohol poisoning. Trudy passed out from extreme dieting while her ex-husband played the jerk. And I nearly missed the whole thing from fussing with my mother.
At least Laura has the sense to let someone else have a piece of the responsibility this time, but knowing her, I question how much control she's willing to give up—especially to Celeste. According to some of the people in my Piney Point salon, the two of them are firmly established in a frenemy relationship.
I was tempted not to attend five years ago, but not so this time. There's nothing that will make me happier than to offhandedly mention the fact that I've expanded my business, and I now own at least one salon in every major southeastern city. I close my eyes and envision my classmates' expressions as I explain that my next goal is to grow my business up the east coast and then to be accepted on the TV Network Shopping channel. This is my ultimate dream, and it looks like I'm getting very close to realizing it. They do a bazillion dollars' worth of business every year, and I'd love to have a slice of that pie. In fact, I've been getting some interest from some of the bigwigs about a system I designed to help women have the coveted big hair without all the teasing that damages the hair shaft. Apparently the rest of the country has finally acknowledged what Southern women have always known—big hair is hot.
Yeah, I'm totally going to this reunion.
Rather than wait to hear from Mother or Dad about the reunion they've probably known about since Laura made the decision to have it, I grab the phone and punch in their number. "I wondered how long it would take you to call," Mother says.
"I just got the invitation in today's mail."
She sighs. "You know you're always welcome to stay here. I'll have Teresa get your room ready." After a brief pause, she asks, "How long do you think you'll be here?" There's a tightening in her voice that always worries me.
"I haven't really thought about it."
"You were here an awful long time for the tenth ... not that I mind, but you know how busy I am ... I mean your dad and I are, and ..." Her voice trails off, but I know that what comes after the dot-dot-dot is probably what I need to know.
"Tell you what, Mother, if I decide to hang around more than a week, I'll make other arrangements."
"No, Priscilla, that's not what I'm saying. It's just that, well ..." Her voice cracks, so she stops and clears her throat. "You know you don't have to limit your stay here to a week. A couple weeks will be just fine."
At least I know what I'm working with. "Thanks, Mother. I'm sure that'll be plenty of time to help Laura and Celeste and maybe even work in a few appointments."
"Oh, that's another thing. We're already getting calls from people who want you to make them over after what you did for Celeste last time."
She's right. I did a wonderful job of taking Celeste from dowdy to desirable, and I hear she's actually dating now. Jimmy Shackleford and Celeste—not the ideal match in my mind, but it is what it is.
"You still there, Priscilla?"
"Yes, I was just thinking. Please just tell people to call the salon and book with Sheila. I don't want you to have to worry about my schedule."
"When should I tell Teresa to have your room ready?"
I look at my calendar and give Mother a date before we finally hang up. As I get ready for a girls' birthday night out with my office manager, Mandy, and salon manager, Rosemary, I find myself wondering how Dad managed to talk Mother into hiring someone to help out around the house. My parents have certainly always had the money to hire domestic help, but Mother resisted, using the argument that she'd have to clean before the cleaning lady came, so there was no point. Yeah, she's a control freak.
The rest of the evening, the phone call with Mother plays through my head. She seems vulnerable and ... scared. I've heard that at some point in almost everyone's life, the child-parent role reverses. I hope that's not what's happening, but I put it on my mental list to consider, along with something even worse. Divorce. They've had problems in the past, but I thought they had worked them out. Even if I didn't want to go to the reunion, being there for a couple weeks will give me some time to figure out what's really going on with Mother and Dad. I know divorce is more common than staying together these days, but it's not like either of them has actually done anything that they can't fix. Plus—and I know this may sound selfish—I've always seen them as my safety net, a place to fall if things go bad. No matter how well things have gone for me, I still wanted to have that. Problem is, between reunions, I can never think of an excuse to stick around Piney Point more than a day or two—not nearly enough time to evaluate my parents. I just wish I could figure out what went wrong after the last reunion, when things started looking up between Mother and me as well as in their relationship.
* * *
"Happy birthday, Mandy," I say as I lean in for a hug and air kiss. Five years ago when I met this girl, I wasn't so sure she would work out, but I was desperate for someone to answer the phones, and now she's my office manager.
She flicks her hand from the wrist and rolls her eyes. "Don't remind me. Let's just party and forget it's my birthday."
I laugh. Mandy isn't even thirty yet, but I play along. "You don't look a day older than when I first hired you."
She starts to comment, but Rosemary breezes into the restaurant looking harried as usual. "Sorry, but my client needed extra TLC, and you know how I am."
"Boy howdy, do we ever," Mandy says. "C'mon, let's get a seat. I'm starvin'."
Rosemary billows her top. "It sure is hot out there, and it isn't even summer yet."
"That reminds me," Mandy says. "I better eat a salad, or I won't be able to wear my bikini when I go to Biloxi with Mama in a couple of weeks."
"I don't remember the last time I was able to wear a bikini," Rosemary says. "In fact, I don't even own a swimsuit."
Mandy tilts her head toward Rosemary. "So what do you wear to lay out?"
"Lay out?" Rosemary and I exchange a glance and grin as we follow Mandy to the hostess stand. "Girl, you better quit doin' that, or you'll wind up with alligator hide, or worse."
When I first hired Mandy, she and Rosemary were avid turf defenders, but over time, they've developed an understanding and affection for each other that I never saw coming. I'm relieved I stopped getting phone calls from one or the other of them tattling like a three-year-old. Now when I go out of town, the only thing I have to worry about is Mandy keeping an assistant. From what I understand, she's quite the taskmaster.
"So how's, um ... what's the new girl's name?" I ask. Mandy struggles to keep assistants, but when I talk to her about it, she says it's the nature of hiring people for their first job.
"Clarissa," Mandy says with a shrug. "She's okay so far, but time will tell. I don't know what's up with some people. Doesn't anyone have a work ethic anymore?"
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Rosemary fighting a case of the giggles, but I nod my agreement with Mandy. "Let's hope Clarissa works out."
She lifts her hand to get the waitress's attention. "I haven't eaten since breakfast, so let's order."
After we place our order, Rosemary turns to me. "So I hear you're having another class reunion."
I grunt. "Word sure does get around."
"According to Sheila, the appointment book is already filling up," Mandy says. "Chester will have his hands full, since he's the only aesthetician in the salon ... unless, of course, you do what you did last time and go early."
After Chester realized how much business I got from facials, he didn't hesitate to take classes so he could make his clients Hollywood glam. "I think I will go early."
"Then we need to move the closing date up for that salon in Raleigh," Mandy reminds me. "I don't think that'll be a problem since the current owners are so eager to get out of it."
Rosemary chuckles. "I have to hand it to ya, Priscilla. You have a knack for sniffin' out opportunities."
I smile but keep my mouth shut. My knack has more to do with Tim knowing the heartbeat of practically every privately owned hair salon between Florida and New York. The one in Raleigh came on the market when the couple who owned it decided they couldn't continue co-owning a business after their divorce.
"I've been thinking ..." Rosemary slowly looks at me then averts her gaze. "Never mind."
I frown. "You know you have to tell me now."
"It's nothing." She nervously glances over her shoulder and turns back to face me. "Promise you won't be mad?"
"You know I can't make that kind of promise. What is it?"
"I have a cousin in Apex, one of the little towns near Raleigh. Her husband's been sick, and well ..." Her shoulders sag as she contorts her mouth.
"How about if I transfer to the new salon in Raleigh?"
Rosemary's husband passed away a couple of years ago, and she's been visiting her cousin every chance she gets, so I shouldn't be surprised. But I am.
"They already have a manager." I lean back and study Rosemary's face for a reaction. "You know I don't like to go into a new salon and make too many changes too quickly."
"Yeah, I know, and that's fine. I don't have to be the manager." She shrugs. "In fact, I'd sort of like a little less responsibility."
When I turn to see Mandy's reaction, I realize she already knows. I feel left out of the loop, and to my surprise, it bugs me. But I can't let on, so I fold my hands and force a smile.
"Okay, let's do whatever we need to do to make this happen as smoothly as possible. Who do you think would be a good candidate to promote in Jackson?"
"Vanessa's pretty good with the other hairdressers, and she could use the extra money."
Mandy nods. "I agree."
"Okay, then I'll have a chat with her to see if she's interested."
Mandy and Rosemary look at each other before Mandy speaks up. "She's definitely interested."
My insides suddenly feel as though someone has pulled a plug and drained all my blood. At some point along the way, these two very fine women have learned to run my business without me, which should make me pleased as punch, but that's not happening. Still, they're just feelings, and this is business, so I can't let on.
"So when do y'all propose the changes take place?" I speak slowly and pray my shaky voice is only obvious to me.
Rosemary places her hand on mine. "Everything will be okay, Sweetie. You've done a good job with the salon."
Mandy nods. "Rosemary has already started working with Vanessa, and the salon in Raleigh has an open station."
Whoa. "So it's already in the works?"
"No, of course it isn't," Rosemary says. "We would never take action on something so important until talking to you. After all, you're still the boss."
I take a sip of water to calm down and moisten my dry lips. Finally, I nod. "Sounds like y'all have everything under control, so go ahead with your plans. What's next?"
The server takes our order and brings our food, and as we eat, Mandy and Rosemary tag team the details of what is about to transpire. I straddle the fence of being proud and feeling left out, but I'm pretty sure I do a good job of showing a positive attitude—at least until we step outside. Rosemary places her arm around my shoulders and gives me a squeeze.
Mandy takes my hand and looks me in the eyes that have begun to sting. "We are so proud of working for the Cut 'n Curl we could pop. There's no stoppin' you, Priscilla, and we want you to know you don't have to worry about a thing. Keep that forward momentum going and know we've got your back."
I close my eyes, nod, and fill my lungs with air. As I exhale, I open my eyes and see the concern on Mandy and Rosemary's faces. Again, I force a smile, hoping they can't see the insecurity that's behind it but realizing they probably do. "I know that, and I'm proud of you too."
"Then stop worryin' and enjoy the journey," Mandy says, stealing the words from the self-help CD I gave her last Christmas. "I have no doubt your big-hair system will catch on big-time, and every woman east of the Mississippi will have one."
"Oh, I think every woman in America will have one by the time it's all said and done," Rosemary corrects. "I can't imagine anyone not seeing the value of a poof without the messy teasing."
I laugh. These two are working hard at making me feel better, and I can't let them down. "Let's hope y'all are right."
"Oh, Honey, when it comes to you and your career, I know I'm right. From the moment I met you, I've known you're a force to be reckoned with. Matter of fact ..." Rosemary takes a moment to sniffle. "I even told Ted you were gonna be a big name in hair some day, God rest his soul." She glances at her watch. "I need to run home and call my cousin to let her know she needs to start looking for a place for me to stay. She offered to let me live with her, but you know what they say about fish and company: more than two or three days, and they begin to stink."
We hug good-bye and walk to our cars. All the way home I reflect on the conversation and think about how I have a choice of seeing it as an ambush or an opportunity. Change is good, right? I've always thought that, but at the moment it's rather unsettling.
I met Rosemary's husband, Ted, shortly after she joined my salon in Jackson, and I have to admit I was surprised to see a man old enough to be her father. In fact, she later confided that he was two years older than her father, but he was young at heart. She's always known that she was statistically likely to outlive Ted, but the reality when it actually happened hit her hard. I can't blame her for wanting to leave Jackson for a new start. At least I'll still have her working for me, and I'll do whatever I can to make the transition as smooth as possible.
My cell phone rings as I pull into the driveway of my townhouse. I look down and see Tim Puckett's name and number. It took him a while to start calling again after the ten-year reunion, but now we have a more defined relationship that I wouldn't trade for anything. Every once in a while I get the impression he'd pick up right where we left off, but then I occasionally hear about some girl he's dating. I have to admit to an occasional twinge of jealousy, but I know that's only my ego tugging at me. I've relinquished all rights to romance with this very sweet man, and he's entitled to see whomever he wants.
Excerpted from Bless her heart by Debby Mayne. Copyright © 2013 Debby Mayne. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted November 5, 2013
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