AN EXCLUSIVE SNEAK PEEK (HAYDEE MEETS VENUS):

Haydee Miller

“Ahhhhhh!! Why didn’t you tell me I looked like this?”

I turned to find my apparently still unstable customer had discovered the burnished gold mirror my Feng Shui-crazed friend Joan had hung in the space next to the French doors, opposite the main entrance. It was supposedly meant to scare evil spirits right back out the front door, should they happen to make their way into the store looking for reading material.

“Sorry.” I dropped the phone and plucked a tissue from the box behind the counter, figuring I’d give her another minute before getting back to my own life crisis. “Isn’t that kind of an awkward thing to tell someone? ‘Oh, by the way, you cried all your mascara off?'”

“I wasn’t crying,” she snapped, snagging the tissue from me as soon as I was within reaching distance. She made a guttural sound in the back of her throat as she leaned into the mirror, dabbed the tissue onto her tongue, and went to work at the stains on her cheeks. “I was…I have…allergies. Why in the hell isn’t this coming off? And why is non-waterproof mascara even still manufactured?”

“Seems waterproof now,” I offered, meaning to inject humor into the situation. More because I needed humor at this moment or I’d be tempted to cry. “Need another tissue?” I dashed back to the counter to get her one, catching sight of the list I’d started yesterday. A list of possible places to find a husband just in case my date tonight didn’t pan out. The list was very short and now mocked me from the countertop, reminding me that the chances of Mr. Right waltzing into my bookstore–where most of my social interaction took place–were slim to none.

Tick, tock, went my mind clock.

“That’s what I get for becoming all stupidly emotional,” the woman across the room muttered, apparently forgetting she’d just blamed allergies for her makeup mess. I returned to her side and passed her another tissue. She finished with one cheek–the blackness of the mascara streaks had now been replaced with streaks of scarlet from scrubbing–and turned to tackle the other. “The rule book was definitely right about getting personally involved with humans. That will not be a problem in the future, I assure you.”

She really didn’t seem to be talking to me specifically, so I didn’t try to interpret. Rule book? Not getting emotionally involved with humans? Who else would you get emotionally involved with?

She finally turned from the mirror, the damage marginally repaired. Not that anyone would notice. Everything else about her screamed confidence and beauty. Her outfit was obviously quality, with a flirty flowered skirt that swirled above her knees like butterfly wings. Whereas my jeans were fairly new and serviceable, but boring. (No one dressed up in Bander, a laid-back tourist town through and through). The spiky heels on her feet would have rendered me incapable of walking. And her hair–cumulous-like clouds of loose blond curls draping her slender neck and shoulders–made my serviceable brown ponytail seem drab. She looked like the princesses in the books I’d devoured as a little girl. Like the princess I’d once vowed to grow up to be…you know, before real life crushed those fantasies.

Great. Just what I needed. A confidence crumbler when I had a big date tonight.

Only I didn’t have a big date tonight anymore. Bugger.

Sighing, I tried to forget about my fast-approaching deadline–and my alternative if I didn’t find another alternative–and concentrated on my customer instead. If I’d been a traffic-stopper like her, maybe I’d already be married and this wouldn’t all be an issue at all. Maybe I needed a trip to Bander Spa & Beauty for a few highlights, a facial…a quick liposuction.

I finally stopped checking out the me I wanted to be–which was making me more stressed by the minute–when I found her leaning toward me, eyeing me with what looked like anticipation. She stuck out a long-fingered hand with nails that looked like they’d never missed a date with the manicurist. Feeling a like a small-town girl next to a glamour queen, I reached out my hand with its serviceably short nails. She shook like a man, with purpose and a firm grip.

“I’m Venus,” she announced, apparently sticking around the store now that she looked more presentable, though she appeared to have no interest at all in books. Which was too bad. I could almost always use extra help around here.

“Ah. Venus. That explains why you like my Venus de Milo so much.”

“Something like that. And you are?”

“Haydee Miller. I own the store.” I plucked a business card from the counter and passed it over.

“Miller?” She looked at me oddly a minute, like she was trying to remember something…then her eyes grew wide and twinkly. Then she shook her head and frowned, more at herself than me, it appeared, before continuing solemnly. “You’re looking for a man.”

Whoa. Did I look so desperate that strangers could tell? A glance in the mirror revealed I just looked panicked. Maybe because I was.

I waved absently toward the phone. She must have overheard my conversation. “I did have a date tonight, which I have to cancel. But, no big deal.” Except that it was.

“No worries.” She grinned again, flashing perfect white teeth. “Tell me about it. What’s your plan?”

“Plan?” Interesting choice of words, almost like she knew me better than she possibly could.

“Let me guess…” My customer whirled delicately and began strolling around the room, picking up various items, then replacing them quickly when they didn’t interest her. “You dreamed your whole life of owning a bookstore.” She examined the Book of the Week display, featuring the latest book by Stephen Colbert, before grimacing and dropping it back on the table. “Though, seriously? Why not something fun, like…shoes? You totally should have gotten into shoes.”

“Shoes aren’t really that big a deal to me.”

She sighed. “Pity. Had I been meant to work anywhere, I’d have loved working in a shoe store. Anyway…now that you have the dream career, you’re ready for the man. And kids. The full package of True Love!”

Well, we didn’t have to go that far. Dreaming of a handsome prince sweeping me off my feet had pretty much disappeared with puberty and life’s realities. “I do have a plan,” I told her. Might as well just blurt it out. After all, maybe she had some ideas. “I basically charted my whole life when I was seventeen..for a counselor at school, when I was having a really hard time.” No need to elaborate that my mom had recently died, and my dad had buried himself in grief until he hadn’t even known I existed anymore. Depression had so consumed me, I’d been practically paralyzed. “I planned out when I’d graduate, what I’d major in. When I’d have saved enough money to open this store, buy a house, a family-friendly car.”

I re-settled the pens and pencils in the Welcome To Bander mug on the desk, kind of like re-settling the memories I had floating around in my head. “At first I thought The Plan was lame…but it worked. I got through that hard time, made it through high school, got my MBA, and I’ve had the store now for five years, and it’s pretty successful.”

I stopped talking, suddenly struck by how easy everything up to this point had been. After some false starts–then some deviations from The Plan during college that had nearly sunk me into depression again–I’d followed The Plan to the letter. The house, the car, the store. None of those things had been difficult. I’d never dreaded running my own business. I’d looked forward to it, completely confident that I could do it. A couple years later, when I’d saved the down payment for my house, there’d never been even a flicker fear about having a mortgage or what homeownership meant. As long as I stuck to The Plan, everything turned out fine. I could move forward with confidence. I knew what to do and when to do it.

Without The Plan? I got hives even thinking about throwing away what had basically been the guiding light of my life. If I ditched The Plan, how long would it be before I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning? Before I stopped socializing. Before I let my business deteriorate because I had nowhere to go and no guide to follow?

“So, anyway,” I continued, “I turn thirty-three in six weeks, five days, and…” I glanced at my watch, “…eight hours. On June twenty-fifth. I’m supposed to be married by then. Only I haven’t really dated, really, in like, ten years.” God. That was the most pathetic thing I’d ever had to admit out loud.

But it was true. I hadn’t had a serious date in ten years. I’d had six–now seven–online dating disasters, the last of which I hadn’t even actually dated. It had taken me two weeks to accept Bill’s invitation to dinner because the last six had only served to discourage me. But Bill had been different. I’d had a good feeling about him. When I didn’t know about his pregnant wife.

Venus didn’t even try to stifle her gasp. “Ten. Years?” She sank into one of the reading chairs scattered throughout the store, her perfect teeth worrying at her lower lip and her brow collapsed into a frown.

She didn’t have to take it so personally. I had the problem, not her. “I mean, I’ve dated a little in the last few weeks.” A male stripper, the biggest jackass redneck I’d ever met (who practically had the cops called on him during dinner for harassing the lovely Mexican woman waiting on us), and, of course, now the married guy. “But I need to get serious. I need a husband.”

Finally she squared her shoulders and nodded. “I can work with that.”

I laughed. “Wanna be my dating coach? I bet you have a trick or two up your sleeve.” Surely someone so beautiful knew some tricks us “girl next door” types didn’t.

“I’ll be better than your dating coach,” she counter-offered, flipping a cascade of blond curls over her shoulder in a practiced move I’m sure had caught the eye of many men. “I’ll find you exactly the perfect man. One hundred percent satisfaction guaranteed. With no money required, of course, because that would be unethical. Although, a place to stay might be nice. Anyway–” She popped out of the chair, practically quivering with excitement. “I’ll be your fairy godmother.”

Text Copyright © 2010 by Shannon McKelden