Forty Candles by A.M. Willard
October 3, 2018
The only good thing that David and I accomplished well was creating Sophia. She’s smart, her own person, and not spoiled by David’s family. Yes, I married up and into a family that has more roots in this town than the hundred-year-old oak tree in the middle of the park. The problem with upgrading my lifestyle all those years ago—they have better lawyers and money to keep this short and straightforward process drawn out until they’re all ready to give up. I might not have my house or anything from within those walls other than my clothes and a few items that I was able to pack up, but I do have my company. That’s one thing David can’t touch.
Designs by Jules is mine and mine alone. I started my own company before we married, and have put blood, sweat, and tears in that place from the day I opened the doors. Other than the custody of Sophia, this is my fight. Without my business, what would we have left? A name that means nothing to me anymore. A life where I’m confused on where I went wrong in my marriage. A life that I’m living with my parents.
“Mom,” I hear Sophia’s voice filter through the door.
“I’m up,” I respond as I sit up in the small bed and pull the comforter up a little further as if I need it for protection. As Sophia enters my room, I take in her beauty. The way her curly red hair resembles mine, the way she’s paired ripped jeans with a half off-the-shoulder black top, matched with her black and white checkered Chucks—she’s artistic in her style, combining a mixture from the 80’s to today’s shabby chic look. What she doesn’t wear, however, are dresses with frill or lace. Throughout the years, David and I did agree on letting Sophia find herself, and not molding her to what our families wanted. She’s smart and would find her way. She expresses herself with clothing, and as long as she’s not covered in a hundred percent black or dying her hair black, we’re good with this.
“We need to move, have you seen this?” she asks as she holds up a baby pink tennis skirt and white top with a thin pink stripe along the bottom. I try to hold back, but I can’t. A burst of laughter falls from my lips. It’s not that I’m laughing at her. I’m laughing because it’s been less than twenty-four hours, and the first outfit has already been purchased.
“Sophia, I’m afraid there’s more where that came from.”
“Mom, I am not wearing this, and you can’t make me.”
“I’m not, but you might want to hide from your grandmother.”
“She can’t make me either. This is totally not fair,” she states as she plops down on the edge of my bed, nearly tossing me from it. I lean forward, placing my hand on her back before I respond. “Sophia, I know this is a change, but I promise it’s not forever. I’ll start looking today, and we’ll find someplace new.”
“Whatever,” she states, and quickly stands before turning back to look at me. “Grandma wants you down for breakfast. She’s on the warpath—just a warning.”
“Thanks, kid. I’ll be down in just a few,” I say, offering her a smile for reassurance that our lives will be okay again. I’m worried about what this is doing to her internally. When I told Sophia about the upcoming divorce, her response was, “Not shocked, Mom. Seen it coming years ago.” I couldn’t help but wonder if she’d walked in on her father before over the years. Did she hear rumors, witness the action for herself? I asked, and she told me she hadn’t, but she did sense it. She also reminds me that I don’t smile anymore—that it’s been a long time since she’s seen a genuine smile on my face. That was the moment I knew I had to get her out of the negative energy. Even though my parents will drive us crazy, this house is a place I can smile and be myself. Well, to a point.
Tossing off the blankets, I stand and make my way over to my tiny closet. Rummaging through, I find my black pencil skirt and turquoise silk button-up top and hold them close together. Today is an important day, a day that could take my company to the next level if hired. We really need this contract with Ward Properties. Not just for the spotlight of being the one design company in Savannah to handle all their properties, but I need this for us. I want to show Sophia that no matter how hard life is, the right thing still happens, and that even though her father isn’t beside me anymore, I can still be the fierce and determined woman who started Designs by Jules.
Quickly, I dress and throw on a little makeup, trying to conceal the black circles I’ve got going on under my eyes. My shoulder-length auburn hair is uncontrollable this morning. I twist it in a low ponytail and tame down the flyaways that frame my pale complexion. Stepping back, I do a quick once-over, verifying that everything looks put together well. It’s easy to hide the mess that’s resting inside. With a sharp exhale, I take off downstairs and brace myself for this morning’s events.
“Good Morning, Jules. It’s nice of you to join us for breakfast,” my mother states in a tone that’s not welcoming.
“Morning, Mother. Where’s Sophia?”
“Your father took her to school, and I’ll pick her up this afternoon for you,” she states without looking away from her newspaper.
“I’ll pick her up. Thanks, though.”
“Don’t you have work today, or are you blowing that off as well?”
“Stop, Mother. I’m not blowing anything off, and this is our routine. I take her to school, I go to work, I pick her up, and then I come home to cook.”
“Yes, but that was your old routine. Don’t you need us to help?”
“No, you’re doing enough as it is,” I state as I pull down a travel mug so I can fill it with coffee and get the hell out of here before I say something I’ll regret.
“Suit yourself, but I have Bridge tonight, so dinner will be in the oven before I leave.”
“Yes, ma’am.” I really need to get out of here and to the office before my meeting. “I’ve gotta go, see you this afternoon,” I state as I place a gentle kiss on the side of her face and take off. Once outside on the porch, I let the air I was holding in my chest out in one long sigh.
“That was better than I expected,” I say as I open the door to my Camry and slide in.
After driving across town to my office, I park and sit here for a moment, taking everything in. I’ve spent weeks preparing for this meeting; drawing up new designs and putting together a presentation that would knock Mr. Ward off his rocker. I’ve heard rumors about him, about the company, and never thought in a million years that I would have an interview for being their chief designer. Lenny Ward is close to my age but was always out of my league when we were kids. I’d only ran into him a few times over the years since we had different social circles. That, meaning, I was married and he was very single. It seems that the single guys aren’t at the club while the ladies play Bridge on the weekend.
Lenny Ward has been described as vicious, cold, a player, and downright brutal when it comes to his family’s business. Never in all the years of design have I felt this nervous to present my ideas. If they like the ones I have today, I’ll be contracted to design all their homes to come, including the mock houses. If I’m passed over, it’s back to the drawing board. It’s time to take off the Southern gloves and play hardball with the man who could ruin it all.