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Once again, as we’d done many evenings before, Mike and I sat at a table near the Cookie Corner in the common area of the mall, snacking on a cookie and sipping a cold drink. We watched a trickle of shoppers ride the escalator to the second floor while Mike consoled me with words of praise and respect.

"At least you’ve got the courage to try out your ideas." he said. "Many people don’t. And you never lack in creating new things to do, either, like the Puff ’n Stuff shop you dreamed up—what a great idea! Let your brain rest a bit. You’ll come up with something else!"

"Thanks." A cookie and a compliment always made me feel better about myself. From day one, Mike had always been my biggest fan—from my attempts at artwork to my determination to learn to play the accordion. He’d brag to anyone willing to listen, and it wasn’t always about me.

"Want to know what’s skipping through my mind now?" I raised my eyebrows at him.

"Sure."

"Linda, the gal from the tee shirt place, told me that the sportswear shop, over there … " I pointed to the storefront " … will be closing the end of this year. Seems like a good location for a store of some kind—like a quality ladies’ wear boutique. I figure that classy jewelry store across from it must attract upscale clients."

"There was a dress shop here once before. Remember? Out by the entrance?"

"Yes, I remember. But she sold manufacturers’ samples—all small sizes. Have you noticed the proportions of the women who shop here?"

"Not really." He looked around the area. "Unless they’re well-built!"

"Cute, Mike. I see size twelve and up. And their upper arms are big!"

"So, check it out," he said. "See what it would take to make it happen."

"I might. But, first-things-first, I need to make flyers for my wall hangings and get them in the mail."

With my confidence intact once again, I spent the summer promoting my wall hangings and MLM product line, and researching ladies’ apparel shops—how to run one, how to buy inventory, how much the rent and utilities would be on the soon-to-be vacant spot, and calculated the break-even point.

Mike’s workdays were hot and long. His appetite waned, bringing more middle-of-the-night insulin reactions to handle. He’d spend evenings downstairs in his hobby room, talking shop on the phone with fellow road inspectors, or working on plat drawings for extra income.

As summer faded into fall the weather cooled, the days shortened, and Mike’s job hours and insulin reactions lessened.

I worked diligently on printing and shipping orders for my wall hangings and continued to study the viability of a ladies’ apparel shop. By the end of the year, Mike and I had discussed it at length, agreeing to take equity out of our house to fund startup and inventory. We knew it could fail, but I would make every effort to prevent that. The bank approved our loan within twenty-four hours.

I negotiated a lease with the mall management company, to start in mid-February, next year. We were given thirty days free rent to prepare the store for opening. Mike agreed to help me by constructing a display shelf under the front windows, and dressing rooms in the back corners.

In November, I attended my first Apparel Market at the Seattle Trade Center—an exhausting two days of seeking and ordering name brand clothing in a variety of styles and sizes that I thought would appeal to the local ladies. Delivery would be in February.

That done, I drew floor plans according to information I’d gleaned from apparel marketing books and made a list of what materials and outside labor we’d need to turn the dull gray sports-apparel space into a warm and welcoming boutique.

I filled December and January with a blizzard of activity getting things ready for creating our store. Suddenly it was February. I spent my days behind the papered windows, cleaning, painting, supervising the electrician as he installed track lighting on the ceiling and ambient lighting on the walls where the dressing rooms would be. I filled the entire wall to the right of the entry door with mirror tiles veined in gold to make the space look larger. I wallpapered the shop-side of the back room in shades of brown with warm pink accents, and had pink mimosa carpeting installed. Mike constructed the window display shelf and three dressing rooms per my designs.

Via classified ads, I bought a variety of clothing display racks and a glass-front display case which we trucked to the shop. A tall, custom three-way mirror was delivered and set up by the gentlemen who built it.

Once again, I spent my days in the transformed space, accepting shipments of apparel, steaming out the wrinkles, tagging with prices and arranging on the racks. After dinner, Mike and I would return to the shop until late at night, finishing up details. Four weeks never went faster in my life.

Dress me Beautiful, our women’s apparel store, opened the middle of March, 1983, at ten in the morning. Traffic and sales were brisk that first day, and by the nine-thirty closing time, my legs ached and my body was beat to tears. It was clear that I needed help; at least a break in the afternoons, to keep my sanity and get paperwork done.

Linda mentioned that her daughter would be available after school and evenings, at minimum wage. She was a great fit, and allowed me to hurry home in time to fix dinner for Mike, then rush back to close up the shop.

Mike adjusted to the start up of our business by frequenting the local Chinese Restaurant every evening when I went back to work. He enjoyed visiting with the other patrons as much as his bourbon and seven. I did not. I hated it.

The mall closed at nine o’clock, and I’d be home by nine-thirty. Our truck wouldn’t be there. Not wanting to be one of those wives who call all the taverns at night looking for her husband, I’d wait. And I’d pray. Keep him safe, O Lord. Please. I’d stand at the window in our music room, staring at the end of our cul-de-sac, hoping for the headlights of our pickup to round the corner toward home.

My mind ran rampant with whys and worries—had he just forgotten the time? Was he getting drunk? Having an insulin reaction? Maybe he was in a ditch somewhere, helpless. Could he have smashed into another vehicle? O God, no. We could lose everything! Why did he start up this habit now? Please, please, Dear God, make him come home!

Often the headlights wouldn’t appear until eleven o’clock, or later. Inexplicably, my prayers of pleading would turn to those of immediate, but momentary, thanksgiving ... Thank you, God. Thank you.

A wave of relief would come over me, only to disappear when Mike made his entrance at the bottom of the stairs.


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