Friday, May 17, 2019 by Shelly Reuben
Clementine makes a snap judgment in her 16th adventure at The Happy Store.
On more than one occasion in the past few weeks, Clementine Fraile had encountered couples like this one, but they were always Betty’s or Harriet’s problem. Not hers. This was the first time that she had two of them to herself.
He – the male-half – was fiftyish, tall (but to Clementine’s five-foot nothing, everyone seemed tall), with a full head of sandy brown hair, silver at the temples, a gaunt-but-handsome face, and brown eyes that puddled like melted chocolate whenever he looked at his female companion.
She – the distaff half of the pair – couldn’t have been more than twenty-four years old, with shoulder-length brown hair, bronze skin, beautiful cheekbones, and bright green eyes.
“But you promised…” were the first words Clementine heard pop out of her mouth.
Followed by the man’s deep, burly, and (one would hope) uncharacteristically submissive response, “I know I promised, Hon. But …”
“No buts. I want exactly the same look that Coco had in…” She pronounced the name of the famous dead French designer with the casual familiarity of a friend referring to an old college roommate. Then she turned to Clementine.
“We have a dark brown sofa and two side chairs. They’re …” Her eyes roved the showroom until they espied a floral pillow on a nearby chair. She pointed to a trio of petals in the pillow’s design and said, “That color.”
“Oxblood,” the man mumbled.
“Burgundy,” his consort snapped, faster and louder, and giving him a dismissive glance. Then she directed Clementine’s attention to a gray velvet ottoman. “Would this go with a brown sofa and burgundy chairs?”
Clementine looked at the ottoman. “What color are the walls, rug, and curtains in that room?” She asked.
“Tan walls. Burgundy drapes. Oriental rug with a lot of burgundy, gold, brown, and black.”
The man, clearly bored by the conversation, wandered off to inspect a television console. Then the woman, losing interest in the answer to her own question, drifted toward a display of end tables and nightstands.
Clementine, left standing alone like a cat tossed out the window of a moving car, stuck two fingers into her mouth and let out the kind of ear-splitting whistle that New Yorkers employ to hail a cab.
The man, the woman, and everyone else in The Happy Store abruptly stopped what they were doing and turned toward the sound.
The petite sales associate smiled serenely and said to the man, “My name is Clementine. What’s yours?”
“Hudson,” he barked back, as if responding to a formidable drill sergeant.
Clementine raised an inquiring eyebrow toward the young woman, who as quickly responded, “Valerie.”
“Great, Hudson … Valerie. Now I don’t have to shout: ‘Man and woman who want to buy an ottoman,’ if I need to get your attention.” She met Valerie’s eyes. “To answer your question, you already have enough colors in your living room, and it would be distracting to add any more.”
“But Coco…”Valerie began hopefully.
Clementine said firmly, “The gray won’t work. But this brown ottoman would nicely complement the…”
And so began forty minutes during which Valerie dragged an unenthusiastic Hudson from ottoman to area rug. From area rug to tapestry pillows. And from tapestry pillows to dining room tables. Finally abandoning furniture all together when she became infatuated by a selection of giant, Grecian-style floor urns.
“A hundred and ninety dollars for a big jug?” Hudson protested.
But a quelling look from Valerie, and he nodded meekly. As he did for the six multi-stemmed faux-pink Japanese Magnolia branches she picked to go inside the “jug,” purring ecstatically, “These are so Coco!”
After which Hudson winced aloud, “Twenty-bucks for a stick with fake flowers?”
“Faux, not fake,” Valerie insisted.
“Reduced from $19.99 to $14.96,” Clementine interjected optimistically.
Hudson sputtered. “Si…si…six fake flowers? Wouldn’t four be…?”
“Coco,” Valerie began.
“To hell with Coco,” Hudson growled loud enough for Clementine to hear and Valerie to ignore.
Minutes later, Clementine rang up their purchases, and from the corner of her eyes, watched the young woman coo gratefully to the much older man, who was clearly both annoyed and smitten by her as he returned his credit card to his wallet.
After they left, she continued to follow them with her eyes, so absorbed in her own thoughts, she did not notice that Betty Davis, her beautiful buttery blond no-nonsense boss, had come to stand at her side.
“Interesting people,” Betty said as Hudson and Valerie exited the store.
“Oh. Hi,” she said. And then asked, “You mean the sugar daddy and his arm candy?”
Betty’s face scrunched in confusion. She turned from Clementine to the disappearing duo and back to Clementine again. “You think…?” And she burst out laughing. “Hudson isn’t Valerie’s sugar daddy.”
The young sales associate gave her boss a blank stare.
“He’s her real daddy. Her biological father. The grandfather of her unborn children. Her pop. Her padre. Her dad.”
Betty’s laugh turned into a twinkle. “I know what you’re thinking, but you’re wrong. Two years ago, Valerie’s mother had a stroke. So Valerie – and Hudson didn’t even have to ask her – volunteered to take a year off from college and help out. Once her mother recovered, Hudson promised that after Valerie graduated from college and got a job, he would furnish her new apartment.”
Father and daughter entered the parking lot, opened the rear door of their Jeep, and carefully positioned the huge mosaic urn and half-a-dozen large magnolia branches in the back seat.
Betty continued cheerfully, “Hudson has successful car dealership in Burton Springs, so he isn’t hurting for money. And Valerie may be a little pretentious with her Coco this and Coco that, but she just a sweet and silly twenty-two year old making sure that her father keeps his promise.”
Clementine shook her head in wonderment. She muttered contritely, “I was so wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.”
Betty, still cheerful, shrugged.
“An understandable mistake. But … like so many of the men who come into The Happy Store, Hudson is not a besotted sugar daddy.”
She paused and winked at Clementine.
“He is just a besotted dad.”
Copyright © 2023, Shelly Reuben – Originally published in The Evening Sun, Norwich, NY – evesun.com Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her books, visit www.shellyreuben.com.