Goes to show you never can tell... for the what a character contest.
Mavis Shipley struck an elegant silhouette against the white and gold shimmer of the fragrance department. Her designer black suit, glowing pearls, and Ferragamo kitten heels were tasteful. Her salt and pepper hair was pulled back in a chignon and her makeup was perfect.
The rhythmic clack of her footsteps through the store announced to the employees of Mason and King they'd be opening in exactly one hour. They also signaled they'd better be prepared for Ms. Shipley's morning walk-through. Glass displays should be immaculate, trousers folded perfectly, and racks organized in a uniform fashion. Ms. Shipley lead by example, maintaining exceptional standards of not only customer service, but efficiency and self-presentation. She insisted on holding her employees to those same standards. If an associate didn't live up to her expectations, they wouldn't last long. When she spoke, her smooth southern drawl served to punctuate the fact that she simply didn't suffer fools lightly.
At the associate lockers, the opening crew engaged in the favorite employee pastime of speculating on Ms. Shipley's mysterious personal life.
"Do you think she has a family?" Pondered John from men's apparel.
"I doubt it. She probably lives here and keeps her coffin in the storeroom." Frank from ladies shoes laughed heartily at his own wit, falsely assuming his co-workers thought him a comic genius.
"If you're implying she's a vampire, she'd be sleeping in a coffin during the day. We see her all day, dumbass." Snapped Tiffany from cosmetics.
The side door serving as the associate exit flew open suddenly, startling the group. The mall security guard rushed into the hallway, out of breath. His face was crimson and beaded with sweat, his generous gut hung over his black belt. "Where's Ms. Shipley?!?" He could barely speak the words without passing out.
"Probably in her office, why??" Demanded Frank-from-ladies-shoes. Mall cop rushed down the corridor leading to the store and Ms. Shipley's office. "What's going on?!" Frank's voice was tinged with excitement as he started after him.
Mall cop stopped abruptly and turned to face the crowd following him like paparazzi down the hallway. "Don't tell anyoneI told you this, Ms. Shipley would complain to my boss that I'm gossiping and I'd have my head on a platter! Besides, she scares me." The mall cop said in a hush, "Anyway, that girl Allison that works in handbags just totally lost her shit and broke someone's windshield with a baseball bat!"
"Why?! Who's car is it??" squealed cosmetics Tiffany.
"Sssshhhhh!! Shut UP! I don't know who's car it was, I know it doesn't belong to anyone who works here, I'm assuming it's a boyfriend or something, I couldn't really see who was in it. Remember- not a word!" And with that, mall cop ambled importantly down the hallway toward Ms. Shipley's office.
He was met at her door by a uniformed officer.
"I'll leave this to you." The mall cop couldn't get away fast enough.
The officer rapped on the door. "Enter." Ms. Shipley commanded. He did, shutting the door behind him. Murmers came from the office, and quite a while later she emerged with the officer.
"I'll speak with her." she said abruptly. "If there are no charges being filed, I assume that's all?" The officer nodded, handed her his card, and departed the building.
Mavis Shipley stood at her door for a long time, reflecting. She then strode purposefully to the wine bar located between the salon and formal gowns department. It was closed as well, but a quick conversation with the manager and a couple of minutes later, she emerged with two wine glasses and a bottle of red. The escalator carried her downstairs, and she click-clacked to the restrooms next to men's furnishings. She turned decisively to the employees behind her trying very hard not to spontaneously combust with curiosity.
"Mary, here are the keys to the front doors and the doors to the parking garage. Please be sure to greet the customers as they come in and offer to help them find what they've come for."
Mary stepped out onto the aisle from men's furnishings. "Yes ma'am." she tried not to sound uncertain. Mavis stared stonily at her for a second. "If I need anything I'll ask the customer service manager?" Mary offered.
"Good girl. Now everyone get to work, please." She began to turn to enter the ladies room, then swiveled around again.
"Oh! Mary will you please ask Jimmy to put an out of order sign on this door? He's usually doing the windows in the upstairs vestibule right about now. Thank you." Mavis returned her attention forward and knocked softly, then slowly pushed open the door.
Gentle sobs coming from the last stall echoed through the tile and bounced off the porcelain sinks.
"Allison?" Mavis called out, "Can we talk?"
The sobs ended abruptly followed by a few seconds of silence. "I am so sorry, Ms. Shipley. I haven't clocked in yet so I'll just come to your office to sign the termination papers when... when I can pull myself together." Her voice was shaky and dampened by the stuffy nose she'd managed to generate from hard crying.
"Cryin' like a woman who's dropped her basket." Mavis thought.
There had been many times she had to endure crying from an employee, but it was usually a result of sub-par work resulting in disciplinary action, which gave her no cause for compassion. Allison was not one of those employees, however. She was dependable, intelligent, and had a personality worthy of promotion. Human Resources wasn't her expertise, and personal issues weren't outlined in her playbook. Mavis would have to navigate with a different compass.
"Termination papers are off the table, Allison. Unless you want to quit, which I'm going to try to talk you out of because exceptional employees are hard to come by. Also, there's no time limit on when you need to come out of here. Stay as long as you need to, but at least come out of that stall so I don't have to make a fool of myself tryin' to sit down on the floor in this pencil skirt." Mavis chuckled through her ladylike drawl. "Also, I brought wine."
Allison laughed, cathartic and full of relief. "You brought wine? Well how can I say no to that?" She opened the stall door.
Mavis looked at her thoughtfully. She couldn't have been more than 25. She was lovely with bright blue eyes and shiny auburn hair just below the shoulder. She seemed popular with her co-workers, and had a cheerful disposition. She's the last person Mavis would have pegged for a scorned vandal full of rage, "But who was I at 25?" she mused to herself.
"Come sit." Mavis beckoned to the overstuffed chairs in the lounge inside the ladies room. They sat, and Mavis leaned forward to pour a glass for Allison, then one for herself. She took a generous sip from her glass. "Bustin' up someone's windshield is the act of a desperate woman."
"I guess so." Allison sniffled, dabbing her nose with a crumpled tissue. "I don't know what happened, I just snapped."
"This is over a man, I know that much. Only love can drive a woman that crazy."
Allison turned pale then took a sip of her wine. "Um, yeah you're partially right. Only I don't have a boyfriend. I have... a girlfriend."
"Well there's no difference, still only love can drive a woman that crazy." Mavis waved her hand matter-of-factly.
Allison was stunned. "I don't know why, but I assumed you didn't really approve of that kind of... lifestyle."
Mavis took a sip of her wine, then looked down at her lap primly. "People assume a lot of things about me. I learned a long time ago I'd rather have my privacy and let people make their assumptions than give people the assumption that they can violate my privacy. I'm very happy to lead my life under the radar, so to speak." She looked up and smiled at Allison, "I don't judge people for their lifestyle unless it involves pain and death to others, so are you gonna tell me what happened or am I gonna have to stalk your instagram?"
Allison laughed again, this time in delighted disbelief.
"It's a typical story, I guess. I found out last night she's been cheating on me with one of her co-workers for the past year."
"Lord, if there's one thing I can't stand it's a cheater. I swear if I ever found out my husband was runnin' around on me, he'd have more to worry about than a bat to the windshield."
Allison nodded, then did a double take. "I didn't know you're married?!"
Mavis smiled and flashed her best jazz hands. "Privacy!"
Allison finished her glass. "Anyway, the worst thing about it is she and her girlfriend came over to the house a couple of times to play cards and have dinner. The whole time, she was screwing around on her girlfriend with mine!"
"How long had you been together?"
"Just about a year, that's what's so humiliating about this whole thing! Everyone knew but me that she was a serial cheater, no one had the guts to tell me. If I'm really honest with myself I think this bothers me more than the missing her part." Allison picked absently at a loose thread on the luxe armchair. "She's already packed up her stuff and moved in with the bitch."
"This is gonna sound like a cliche, but it's the truth. My grandma used to say; 'Mavis, boys are like busses. One comes along every 10 minutes, all you got to do is wait.' That woman was always, I mean always right, and she was right about that too. Now, I'm no Doctor Ruth, but I'm positive the same rule applies to girls."
Allison smiled wantonly. "I suppose I'm not so worried about dating again as I am about what happens now. What am I supposed to do in this empty apartment I have to go back to?"
"Well if I were you, I'd start with a nice hot bath. Then sit down and write yourself a long letter about the whole mess, I mean really pour your heart out on that paper. One day, you'll go back and read it and you'll be proud of how strong you are. Then, I would get a little fixed up and go get some groceries, and make yourself a fancy dinner. Or get out for dinner with a friend, in any case eat something good and drink some expensive wine. Take the day off, come back tomorrow."
Mavis patted her hand. "You feel up to facing the dogs out there?" she nodded her head toward the door, "We'll walk out together laughing, with your head held high. What do you think?"
Allison's eyes brimmed with tears. "I think I want to hug you. You'll never know how much this conversation means to me and how much you've helped me feel better."
"Oh god don't get to cryin' again, we're out of wine!" Mavis laughed as she gave her a motherly squeeze.
"Ms. Shipley, can we keep the whole lesbian thing between us? I haven't really socialized with anyone at work enough to know how they'll react. I'm sure over time it'll be fine, but for now I'd feel better if it wasn't common knowledge."
"Absolutely. As long as you don't tell anyone I have a soul. Or that I'm married. Or that I just drank at work."
"Deal!" Allison beamed as the hug broke. "You know, Ms. Shipley, I think the thing that's surprised me the most about you is that you're freakin' hilarious!"
"I know. Don't tell anyone about that either."
Allison straightened herself up and took a deep breath. "Ok. I'm ready."