Serendipity, Renaissance, Monique
There’s a girl sitting on my doorstep in a lovely Renaissance wedding gown, crying her eyes out, was Elise‘s first thought. The second was that the gown was muddy and torn. The girl’s mascara had run all down her face; her lipstick and hand prints had smudged the glass on the door of the shop. The peculiar scene looked all the stranger for the lack of any evening traffic out front. There was no one chasing her and no banged up car in the road. Elise had no idea who the girl was or why she was crying.
She stood back in the shadows, watching the girl for a moment. Long dark hair, cut in that new layered look that was so flattering these days. Her bangs were sticking up in the front and tangled. Large brown eyes stared at the door in front of her, not seeming to see anything at all. There was a scrape on her elbow and you could see where she had brushed against her dress, marking it with scratches of blood and dirt. The girl didn’t look panicked, just…despairing. Like she’d given up on something that meant everything. Had the groom left her at the altar? Had she tried to chase him? Elise stepped out of the shadows, she simply had to know.
~ ~ ~
Camille Jordan wiped her nose on the side of her wedding dress. It was ruined so who cared now? She had dreamed of this day since she had been a little girl. The lovely Los Angeles church wedding, lots of beautiful flowers and bows. Not now. She would never make it to the church now and if she did who would want her when she looked like this? Although tired and sore her main thought was that Adam will be so angry.
Camille saw movement and turned her head, focusing her eyes on the glass door. Sensible brown shoes filled her vision, thick ankles covered with vividly striped socks in every color of the rainbow. She squeezed her eyes shut and then opened them again. The socks and shoes were still there. A little higher was a pair of heavy green corduroy pants, a bit short at the ankle. A patterned sweater, snowflakes running across it, hung loosely around slender shoulders. Camille watched a hand unlock the door and turn the handle. The flesh looked paper-thin. Up higher, a shock of curly gray hair, rosy cheeks and bright blue eyes. Camille sat up a little.
“Are you alright dear?” The little old lady was saying. Camille didn’t know how to answer. “Are you hurt?”
Camille shook her head, suddenly embarrassed. I’m a mess and I’m probably scaring her. She shivered.
“N-no I’m okay. I scraped my elbow…” she lifted her arm and saw the blood left on her gown. “Oh no! I can’t, I just can’t…” She covered her face with her hands and dissolved into fresh tears.
“Dear me! Come in,” said the old lady. “Come in out of the cold and let me see.”
Camille looked up, hiccuping loudly. “It’s no use. It’s too late.”
The old lady helped her up and inside the store and then showed Camille to the back room. Camille limped after her. She didn’t dare lean on the shopkeeper; she was so tiny that Camille was afraid she would crush her. Back into the shadows they went. It was a very small shop, only three rows of shelves and it looked like another room off to the side. The shelves held what looked like countless pieces of junk. A jar of buttons here. A roll of duct tape there. A set of chipped bowls sitting next to an Elvis Clock with a comb for the hour hand. She looked to the other side and saw faded wallpaper. It looked like newsprint, yellowed and peeling. Picture frames lined the wall, all sizes, colors and shapes. It was too dark to see the people in them. The little old lady opened the door to the back room and led Camille through.
The back room was so unlike the front of the store that Camille did a double-take. Sunshine streamed into the room from a set of tall windows. There were boxes and shelves of things on the left, but on the right was a carpeted sitting area. Two tall upholstered chairs sat around a coffee-table that had seen better days. A tea service sat on the table and from the teapot a wisp of steam escaped and twirled lazily in the air.
“I’m Elise,” said the sweet little old lady, “and this is my shop, “Serendipity”. Can I get you something to drink?”
Elise shook her head, she wasn’t a tea drinker.
“No thank you,” she said politely. “Is there somewhere I can wash up?”
Elise smiled and nodded. She showed Camille to the bathroom and then went to the front for a few minutes. When she came back she could hear sobs coming from the little washroom. The door was partly open, so she stepped up to it and saw Camille inside, trying to fix the dress. Elise saw another bruise on Camille’s ribcage.
Camille saw her and turned around.
“Thank you for letting me in,” said Camille. “This has been the worst day.”
“Your beautiful dress…” Elise said, trailing off.
“Yes, the dress. It’s a Monique Lhuillier.” Said Camille as she wadded some of the fabric in her fist. “Only the best for Adam Wyche Junior. I was on my way to the church this morning; Adam went ahead with his family. I was supposed to be there…” Camille looked around for a clock, and not finding one continued. “Well I don’t know, but by now I’m late! Adam will be very displeased.” Camille seemed afraid at the thought. She turned and looked in the mirror.
“See, I was driving but I got lost. A man offered to give me directions and the next thing I know he‘s pulling me out of the car and then he drove away with it! I left my purse in it, my phone, my overnight bag, everything!”
“Oh dear, how awful for you! Did the man hurt you anywhere? I see bruises on your arm here.” Elise pointed. Camille rubbed her right arm and looked at it.
“Yes. Yes he grabbed my arm,” she answered slowly.
“While he pulled you out of the car,” Elise said, more of a statement than a question.
“I am so stupid!” Camille fretted. “Adam will be so angry!”
“Surely he’ll be relieved that you are alright?” Asked Elise. Camille hesitated before she began nodding and though Elise saw it she said nothing. “Well,” said Elise as she rose from her chair. “Do you want to call him?”
Camille was completely lost. Should she go to the church or back home? She couldn’t very well go to the church like this…but at least if everyone saw her and the dress they might believe her. What she really wanted to do was make herself…“Disappear.”
“Disappear, on your wedding day?” Elise questioned.
“Did I say that out loud?” Camille whispered.
“Why yes, you did.” Elise nodded, finally understanding. “You don’t want to go to the church, and you don’t want to go back to your house either.’ She touched the bruise on Camille’s ribcage. “How long?”
“How long?” Camille’s eyes met hers in the mirror then danced away again.
“How many times has he hit you?” Elise asked gently.
“Oh…just this once…well not really often…I made him angry and…”
“And he hit you. Nice of him to hit you below the shoulder so that the bruises wouldn’t show when you had the wedding dress on. Isn’t that right?”
Camille was very red in the face and wouldn’t look at Elise. She mumbled, nodding.
“But I deserved it though; I forgot that he likes his Grey Goose Vodka and bought the wrong one instead even though I knew better. I knew!” Camille shook her fist and more tears squeezed out of her eyes. “I should go. I have to go.” She took a Kleenex and wiped her eyes, then blew her nose. “I’m sorry, I have to go. I shouldn’t have bothered you.”
“But honey it’s no bother,” said Elise as she followed Camille back out front. They went back down the aisle and just short of coming out of the shadows they saw a black limousine cruise past. Camille reacted as if she’d been shot. She jumped back against the wall and stepped backward, eyes wide and heart beating crazily. Elise ran to her side.
“It’s him isn’t it? He’s looking for you.” Elise stated. Camille nodded and began to slide down the wall. Elise crouched with her. Some of the old newsprint and some of the pictures came off the wall and fell. Camille ended up on the floor with her dress muddled around her. One last photograph came loose from the wall and floated down, landing in her lap. She picked it up and studied it in the dim light. A black and white photo of an old couple as they walked away from the camera. They were holding hands; the gentleman‘s head bent to hers as though he was telling her something. She had turned slightly to look at him, a ghost of a smile on her face. This was how it was supposed to be.
“I don’t want to go back to the house!” Camille said, hesitantly at first. “I want to go back to my home! Back to Atlanta. I wish mom was here.”
Elise cradled Camille in her arms.
“Why don’t we call your mother dear? I know it’s a long way from L.A. to Atlanta but can’t you take a bus?”
“I don’t have any money Elise; the car thief stole my purse. No, I’m going to have to face him.”
“I’ll buy the bus ticket.” Elise said boldly. Camille started to protest but Elise quieted her. “I absolutely insist. Come on. Let’s get you into some clean clothes and fix you up and we’ll get you there straight away.”
“I couldn’t ask you to do that Elise,” said Camille. “I don’t even know you!”
“Ah, but I know you child. Or I should say that I know myself. I was you once, a long time ago.”
“Your husband beat you?”
“Yes. He did. For years and years. We raised two children in that horrible house.”
“Did he beat the children too?”
“No, not that they ever said, and I never saw him do it. But I wish I’d gotten out before I did; before my son learned that’s the way to handle your wife and before my daughter learned that’s the type of husband to look for. It’s a vicious cycle. Well I didn’t rescue my own children; I’m going to rescue you!” She glanced at her watch. “We have to hurry!”
They moved into the side room that Camille had seen earlier. It was full of hand-me-down clothing. They picked out a skirt and jacket set, blue and green with paisley and berries on it. Something a forty-year old not a twenty year old would wear. The fit wasn’t bad. Elise combed Camille’s hair back and put it up in a bun, the effect was very severe looking and matronly. She got some large sunglasses from a bin near the door and some blue flats to wear and the transformation was complete.
Camille used the phone to call her mother and they had a good cry. Elise sat by quietly. Her own mother had not been as receptive. You made your bed… should’ve thought of that before you married him…rang in her mind. That plea for help had been so long ago. She had been so young. Elise went to the front counter and rummaged around under it for a minute, drawing out an old sewing kit. She emptied the contents and in the bottom was a rolled up wad of bills. She looked at it for a moment then put it in her pocket, and as soon as Camille hung up she called a cab to take the girl to the bus station.
As Camille came out of the side room they heard a door slam in the back. Camille started but Elise patted her hand, turning her toward the front door.
“It’s just my old husband George. That back door always did stick.”
Camille straightened as the cab pulled up out front.
“I don’t know what to say Elise,” she began but Elise shooed her out the door quickly.
“Don’t you worry about it one minute dear. Go on home to your mother now, and don’t look back!”
As Camille stepped into the cab and turned to wave a tall man stepped out of the shadows and came up behind Elise. He looked from the sewing basket to Camille and back to Elise. The last thing Camille saw as she pulled away was the wince on Elise’s face as George’s hand settled on her shoulder.