Minnie Fox's goal is to find a beau who can help support her ailing father and his struggling dress shop. As a working man, her friend Peter Simmons simply doesn't fit the bill. Instead, Minnie's got eyes for Peter's childhood pala wealthy Chicagoan. So why can't she stop thinking about Peter?
Peter wishes Minnie would see him as more than a friend. As a hardworking mechanic, Peter knows he'll never be able to dazzle Minnie with fancy suits and expensive cars. But maybe he can prove to her that what's in a man's heart is worth more than what's in his wallet.
The Dressmaker's Daughters: Pursuing their dreams a stitch at a time
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It's hopeless." Minnie Fox stared at her reflection in the mirror behind the drugstore soda fountain, her cherry soda temporarily forgotten. Only three weeks shy of her nineteenth birthday, she should at least have a beau. Most of the girls her age were either engaged or married. Minnie had no one.
It must be her looks. She bore no resemblance to the motion-picture actresses on the covers of Photoplay. They sported glamorous bobs. How would she look with that hairstyle? Minnie pursed her lips, stained red from the soda, and rolled her long, wavy hair up to her jawline. The fat rolls of hair on either side of her face looked like loaves of bread sitting atop her threadbare brown wool coat.
She let her hair drop. "It is hopeless."
"What's hopeless?" Minnie's next older sister, Jen, plopped onto the stool next to her.
"Nothing." Minnie twirled the straw in her soda, took a sip and lingered while the bubbles fizzed against her lips. "I don't know why I care. There isn't a sheik within fifty miles."
"Sheik?" Jen's lip curled in distaste. "Stop talking like them." She poked a thumb toward Kate Vanderloo and her college girlfriends a couple stools away. Born to wealth and privilege, Kate was pretty enough to grace the cover of Photoplay. So were her girlfriends. All were here on midsemester break and to attend the Valentine's Day Ball.
"Shh! They'll hear you." Minnie scrunched a little lower. "For your information, that's what everyone calls guys who try to look like Rudolph Valentino." She flipped through the magazine until she found what she'd read earlier. "It says here that the college campuses are full of sheiks. It's quite the rage."
Jen rolled her eyes. "What do we care? None of us will ever go to college. I can't even save enough money for flight lessons. Besides, other things are more important, like getting Daddy well."
Minnie flinched at the reproach. "I'm sorry. You're right." Daddy's heart had been weak from childhood, but last summer he'd suffered a seizure that left him even weaker. He'd recovered enough to walk her older sister, Ruth, down the aisle in October but soon after retreated to his bedroom. "I want that, too." Minnie outlined the glamorous actress on the Photoplay cover with her finger. "That's why I'm hoping for a rich and famous husband."
"Sure," Jen snorted. "Where are you going to find that in Pearlman?"
"There are a few well-off bachelors."
"One or two, and they're much older than you."
"I suppose." Minnie couldn't give up her dream that easily. "Maybe he'll be new to town. Like Sam. He came to town to open the department store and ended up marrying Ruthie. It could happen again."
"That happens only once in a lifetime. Besides, Sam had to give up his inheritance to marry Ruth. They're just as poor as we are."
"Unless she sells her dress designs. Sam says that'll make them rich."
"Sam's a dreamer. How many manufacturers have they tried? Every one has turned down her designs."
"Maybe this time they'll get good news."
"Maybe." But Jen didn't sound hopeful. "They're supposed to get word today."
Rather than dwell on something she couldn't control, Minnie watched Kate flirt with the soda-fountain clerk. Kate Vanderloo always seemed to have a new beau. Even in high school, she'd been able to capture every guy's attention. Minnie, on the other hand, could only imagine what it would feel like to have every man's gaze follow her across a room. She glanced again at the magazine cover. Maybe if she looked more like a movie star. "Should I get my hair cut?"
Minnie pointed to the cover. "So I look like a star."
"You can't even act."
"I can sing. I was second soprano in the school choir."
Jen shrugged, as if that accomplishment meant nothing. "Are you almost done with that soda? We need to close the shop. Ruth wants to go with Sam to the telegraph office. The call's supposed to come in around five o'clock." The telegraph office was also the telephone exchange. Since neither the dress shop nor their house had a telephone, they had to place and receive long-distance calls there. "Ready?"
"I suppose." Minnie sucked more of the fizzy liquid into her mouth, but she couldn't gulp down a soda, and she wouldn't waste it. At five cents apiece, they were a rare treat.
Down the counter, the soda clerk leaned close to Kate and gave her a dazzling smile. "I'd take you to the ball."
Kate giggled and fluttered her eyelids. "If I didn't already have an escort, I might consider the offer."
Now, that was ridiculous! Kate Vanderloo would rather get run over by a train than go to the Valentine's Day Ball with a soda clerk.
Jen gave Minnie a look of disgust. "Let's go." She spun around to leave.
Minnie slurped up a mouthful of soda and swallowed. The bubbles tickled her nose, and she sneezed.
That drew Kate's attention. "Oh, Minnie. I didn't see you there. Sally tells me you are serving punch again at the ball. I hope you don't spill it this time."
Minnie wanted to disappear. It was bad enough that she had to dress in a maid's uniform and wait on Pearlman's elite, but she couldn't bear doing it in front of her former classmates. She stared at the Photoplay cover. If only
The bell above the drugstore door signaled a new arrival and drew the attention away from her. Tall Peter Simmons entered. He cast a quick look at the counter and swiped off his cap before stomping the snow from his old work boots.
"Oh, it's just Peter." Minnie turned back to her soda.
"Just Peter? What do you mean?" Jen sat back down. "I thought you were friends."
"A little, but he's been acting strange lately."
"How? He seems perfectly normal to me."
"I don't know." Minnie had run into him more than once in the alley that ran behind her house. He could take that route from work to home, but he seemed to always time it for when she was coming back from work. Then he wouldn't say anything intelligent, just mutter something about the weather or ask how work had gone. "He just acts different."
Minnie knew exactly what her sister was thinking. "Don't get any ideas."
"Did I say a thing?"
"You don't have to," she muttered low enough so no one could hear. "Between you and Ruth, you practically have us married. Stop it."
"All right, all right. The subject's closed." Jen stood. "Are you ready yet?"
As Minnie drank the last of her soda, Kate snickered and whispered something to her group of friends. The giggling girls were all watching Peter, who had asked for a bottle of Lydia Pinkham's tonic from the druggist. At their laughter, embarrassment bled up his face clear to the roots of his tousled brown hair.
Minnie felt sorry for him. Peter was a decent guy. It wasn't his fault he'd lost his parents and got sent to Pearl-man by that New York orphan society. He'd gotten a good home with Mrs. Simmons, but then she lost her house and had to move in with her daughter. That meant Peter had to stay with his foster brother's family at Constance House, the local orphanage. That must have reminded him every day that he was an orphan, too. Poor guy! He could act like an idiot sometimes, but he didn't deserve Kate's ridicule.
"It's for Mariah," Peter explained while he waited for the druggist to fetch the tonic. "She's not feeling well."
Peter's sister-in-law had her hands full running the orphanage. Peter helped out when he wasn't working at the family's motor garage. He was good with his hands. He'd built the shelving and counter at the bookstore, helped out in Sunday school, and was the first guy to set up tables and chairs for any church function. He deserved Kate's respect.
Instead, the girl laughed at him.
With every passing second, Minnie got angrier until she couldn't stand it anymore. "Mariah's lucky to have a brother like Peter helping her out."
If anything, his face got redder, but it did draw Kate's attention away from him.
The girl's mouth curved into a smirk. "Minnie's sweet on Peter."
Her girlfriends seconded the proclamation.
Minnie felt her cheeks heat. "Am not!"
The girls giggled harder.
"Then why are you blushing?" Kate asked.
"Am not!" But that wasn't true. Her face burned and was probably as red as Peter's. Her gaze dropped to the magazine cover. If only she looked like Clara Bow, she could command respect. The fashionable guys would notice her. All it would take was a new hairstyle. She jutted out her chin. "For your information, I'm going to marry a sheik."
Kate snorted. "A sheik? You? What a laugh. No sheik would look twice at someone like you. If you want my advice, you had better settle for a local guy." She inclined her head toward Peter, making her point perfectly clear. "Come along, girls. We wouldn't want to interfere with Minnie's romance."
The girls headed for the door, singing, "Peter and Minnie, sweet as can be."
Minnie wanted to throw her soda at them, but the Bible said to turn the other cheek. It didn't mention how hard that was to do. She slurped up the melted ice that tasted faintly of cherry soda. It was hopeless. She had only a hint of flavor, while girls like Kate sparkled.
"Forget them," Jen said. "They only care about themselves."
"I know." And deep down she did know that, but would it really be such a terrible thing to be attractive and important for once? Just one day, Lord. One little day.
"They should get their mouths washed out with soap," Jen added. "Let's go."
Minnie dug around in her pocket for the nickel to pay for her soda but came up with nothing. She frowned and hunted in her other pocket before a sudden thought distracted her. She could look like Clara Bow. Oh, she couldn't afford a real hairstylist, but Jen had cut her own hair. It didn't look that great, but then it had to be easier to cut someone else's hair than your own. "Will you cut my hair?"
"Me?" Jen's eyebrows lifted with surprise. "Mother always cuts your hair."
"She won't give me a bob. I want my hair to look like this." She pointed to the Photoplay cover. "It shouldn't be too difficult. Easier than cutting your own hair, and you did a pretty good job on that."
"After Ruth straightened out all my mistakes. Why don't you ask her?"
"Because she'd take Mother's side. Will you do it?
"All right, then, but no promises you'll look like that cover."
"Good!" Minnie clapped her hands together.
"And you have to take the blame when Mother sees it."
Minnie had no choice but to agree. Mother would throw a conniption fit. She loved Minnie's long hair. Well, times were changing, and Minnie intended to change along with them. She was going to become a modern woman, and modern women wore both their hair and their skirts short. Modern women had guys, not beaus. They dated instead of being courted.
She sneaked a glimpse at the register. Peter had finished and was headed their way, tonic safely hidden in a paper sack.
"That'll be five cents, miss." The soda clerk tapped the counter.
Minnie dug around in her other coat pocket. Where had she put that nickel? "Just a minute." She tried her skirt pocket. Nothing there, either. "I had a nickel in my coat pocket." She reached in again and found a hole. "Oh, no! It must have fallen out. Jen?"
Her sister shook her head. "I don't have any money with me."
Minnie bit her lower lip. At least Kate wasn't here to witness this embarrassing moment. She turned to the soda clerk. "May I pay you later?"
"You don't have five cents?" He looked shocked.
"Here." Peter stepped up and placed a dime on the counter. "Keep the change."
The soda clerk snatched it up and went to the cash register.
Peter Simmons paid her bill? If Kate ever found out, she'd hound Minnie to death. "I'll pay you back."
He shuffled his feet, halfway looking down and half of the time peeking up at her. "Don't need to."
"Yes, I do." She took a deep breath and remembered her manners. "Thank you." She even managed a smile. "I found a hole in my pocket. It must have fallen out on the way here."
"That happens." Still, he stood there.
"I guess we should be going," she suggested.
"Yeah, I suppose." He stuffed the tonic into his coat pocket. "Look, Minnie, I was wondering" He stopped abruptly, and his face got red.
She panicked. He was going to ask her to go with him to something. Not now. Not when she had discovered the means to interest a real manone who could both help her family get out of debt and fulfill her dreams. "I need to get going." She backed away. "Ruth is waiting for us."
"Yeah. I should go, too. Mariah needs the medicine."
"See you later, then. And thanks again." She edged behind her grinning sister.
"Anytime." He glanced at Jen before striding to the door. He yanked it open and let it slam shut before hurrying off toward the orphanage.
Only then could Minnie take a breath.
Jen was still grinning. "He is sweet on you."
"No, he's not." Minnie felt the unwelcome flush of heat coupled with an odd slushy feeling inside. "He was just helping me out, like a brother would help a sister."
Jen laughed. "Think that if you want, but I'm telling you that he is definitely interested."
"Well, I'm not." That should put an end to this. "I don't feel anything romantic for him. Besides, he can hardly talk around me."
"And he's not my type. I'm looking for more out of life than settling down with a local guy. I want to go places and see things. New York City. Maybe even Hollywood. I'm looking for a real hero."
Jen dug in her coat pockets and pulled out some gloves. "You don't want much, do you?"
"I just won't settle. Kate Vanderloo can say what she wants, but I'm never going to marry someone local."
"All right, then." Yet Jen still had that impish grin on her face. "Let's go."
Minnie finished buttoning her worn hand-me-down coat and followed her sister. The moment she stepped outside, a blast of icy wind knocked her hat off her head. It tumbled and rolled toward the street. Before she could retrieve it, a fancy new car glided past. Its deep blue finish gleamed. The chrome grille sparkled. Every inch of it looked fast and expensive.
She grabbed Jen's arm, her hat forgotten. "Look at that. I wonder who owns it. He must be rich to afford an automobile like that."
Jen dug her hands deeper into her coat pockets. "I suppose."
"I've never seen the car before," Minnie mused. "It's not Mr. Kensington's or Mr. Neidecker's or anyone else's from the Hill." Everyone referred to the wealthy neighborhood above Green Lake as the Hill. "He must be a newcomer. He could be a motion-picture actor."
Jen rolled her eyes and started toward the dress shop. "In Pearlman?"
"Why not?" By the time Minnie retrieved her hat, the frigid air had numbed her cheeks and fingertips. She hurried after Jen. "Maybe he's a new student at the airfield."
"There won't be any new students until spring."
"Then who could he be?" Minnie leaned over the frozen street, trying to see where the car went, but she lost sight of it after it passed the bank. "Maybe he's just passing through."
"No one just passes through Pearlman."
Jen had a point. That meant a newcomer in townan important newcomer. Hopefully, he was a bachelor.