“THEY SAY it’s bad luck to buy yourself an opal.” My first customer of the day brushes a strand of silky-blonde hair from her ageless face and gifts me with a lip-bitten smile from the other side of the glass counter. “But I’m feeling lucky today and that piece is to die for. Would you mind?” With a polished nail the color of a ballet slipper, she points to a vintage BlanchardMoet cocktail ring, an unapologetic gold number with an oversized opal in the center and a halo of glistening diamonds. “Of course.” I remove the key from the satin ribbon on my wrist and retrieve the bauble, careful to place it on a pale pink square of velvet as if it were worth a million dollars and not five hundred—shop owner’s rule. I keep close as she examines it under the store lights with the kind of enthusiasm that belongs in another world, another time. It’s almost as if she’s never seen anything so magnificent as this ring, childlike oohs and aahs, a whole production. “This is off the record, but allegedly this piece once belonged to Wallis Simpson. A gift from her first husband—before she married King Edward VIII.” The woman diverts her gaze—the bluest I’ve ever seen—to me. “You’re kidding.” I lift a palm in protest. “That’s what our seller told us, though I will say we haven’t been able to verify that.” The woman slips it over her right ring finger, taking in the shimmering view from all angles as she exhales with the purest of sighs.
It fits as if it were made for her, and it looks as though it were too. I suppose when your hand is slender and delicate, you can pull off anything from gaudy cocktail rings to chunky diamond eternity bands to the unapologetic rock on her left ring finger. Everyone is married in Palm Shores. Everyone but me, that is. But technically I only work in Palm Shores. I live in her western, less glamorous sister city, the one with more people, more crime, less money, and houses without sweeping views of the rolling Atlantic. Most people don’t vacation to West Palm Shores. Not that I’m complaining. I’m quite content with my life exactly the way it is. Honest.
I wouldn’t change a thing. Folding my hands together in front of my hips, I place my stunted, thickset digits out of sight, though I can still hear my mother’s voice tsk-ing away at the sorry fact that I inherited the unfortunate Cabot Fingers. “Even if the Wallis Simpson story isn’t true, I love the idea of it, don’t you?” She bounces on the balls of her feet once, an excited woman-child. “Makes it a little more than something pretty. Gives it meaning. A story that lives on forever.” “This place is full of stories,” I say. And it’s true. Smith + Rose is Palm Shores’ most popular high-end consignment boutique, drawing in fastidious shoppers of a certain breed from all over the world as well as bored vacationers ambling away from their resorts, money so Florida-hot it’s burning holes in their pockets. “That silk scarf.
” I point to a mannequin in the front window display. “Once belonged to Jackie O. in the seventies.” “Allegedly?” “Verifiably. Her great niece’s sister-in-law brought it in last month, along with a picture and a notarized document.” The leggy blonde, still wearing the opal ring, departs from the glass case to check out the vintage scarf. I check the time on my watch, jonesing for my next break. I can almost taste the nicotine sting on the tip of my tongue. Smoking at work is always a whole thing—a paperthin PVC jacket to keep the stink from leaching into my clothes, gloves to protect my fingers from staining, peppermint gum. I tried the whole patch thing once without luck.
My doctor wrote me some pills last year that were supposed to help, but they only gave me nightmares. It’s a dirty, disgusting habit, but for now it owns me. “It isn’t my style, but my God is it beautiful,” she says. She’s right. It isn’t her style at all. She’s sleek and modern, dressed in head-to-toe black with hair so pale it’s almost white—not a hint of brass. If she’s a local, I imagine she goes to one of those upmarket hair salons on Caraway Avenue, where the stylists are so busy they have assistants—and some of their assistants are so busy they have assistants. “My mother would just adore this,” she says, her fingertips light along the patterned fabric. “Though we’re a long way from Christmas, and her birthday isn’t until October. I’ll keep this in mind.
” “Of course.” Although I earn a small commission on all of my transactions, we’re under strict orders not to pressure shoppers or oversell products. The owners of Smith + Rose feel any high-pressure tactics cheapen the shop’s experience. “You know …” she says, returning, her fingers toying with the opal ring. “I have a few things I’m looking to sell, but I haven’t the slightest idea where to begin.” “What kinds of things?” “Nice things,” she glances around, peering through fringes of jet-black lashes as soft as gossamer. “Heirloom quality pieces. Vintage. Rare. Designer.
” “You’ll want to make an appointment with the owners. They personally handpick everything. If you have receipts, documents, appraisals, anything to help show the value of your item, you’ll have the best chance at being accepted. Here.” I retrieve a business card from behind the register and hand it over. She tucks the card into a cognac-hued Balworth bag, a purse that—if I’m not mistaken —costs a whopping twelve grand retail and requires an eighteen-month stint on a wait list. The wooden handle boasts a black silk scarf tied into a flouncy bow—a little pop of feminine whimsy against the backdrop of a perfectly chic ensemble. “Thank you so much. I’ll definitely reach out to them.” A rumble comes from outside, and the sky has darkened from just a few moments ago.
Angry clouds usher in a tropical thunderstorm. It’ll likely last twenty minutes or so, and anyone strolling by will seek refuge in my store until it passes. Tourists always forget umbrellas. They don’t know Palm Shores isn’t always sunshine and blue skies. “Just so you know, they’re never here on Mondays or Tuesdays.” Not that she’s asked why they aren’t here today, but I feel compelled to share that information should she stop in another time. “But you can almost always find them Wednesday through Friday.” “Must be nice to only have to work three days a week …” she says with a wink. “How long have you worked here?” “Almost nine years.” I’ve only been asked this question twice since working here.
The first time the woman had asked me as an insult when she attempted to imply that my age at the time correlated to unprofessionalism and inexperience. This was after she marched in to demand a refund on a non-returnable necklace. When that didn’t work, she claimed the piece was a fake, going so far as to have a fake letter drafted up on fake letterhead from some fake insurance agency. This woman in front of me is nothing like that miserable lady who never set foot in here again after that shit show. This woman is anything but miserable. I swear there’s an aura about her, vibrant beams of sunlight splaying out from her like an angelic being in an oil painting. “She has good vibes,” as one of my old friends would’ve said. She was always judging people by their “vibes.” I guess after three years of friendship, she decided she didn’t like mine anymore because the fruitcake ghosted me without reason or warning. “You must love it then,” she says.
“I think I would too, being surrounded by beautiful things, meeting new people all day.” I crack a semblance of a smile. She isn’t wrong. I love my job. My bosses, while typically sour-faced or shit-faced, depending on the time of day, are decent to me, and it beats the hell out of sitting behind gray cubicle walls forty hours a week. Or following in my mother’s professional footsteps and managing the housekeeping department at Le Bleu Meridien Hotel for decades on end. Not only that, but I’ve always had an affinity for the genuine. In a self-absorbed society with a narcissism epidemic, everyone values image perception over reality. No one cares about being real anymore. But all of the items in this shop? They’re as real as it gets.
None of them are trying to be anything they’re not. They don’t care about what came before them or what came after. They don’t care that they were replaced by newer, better things. They’re original. True. Authentic. “Yes, it’s a wonderful place to work. So what are we thinking with the ring?” I change the subject. “It really does suit you. And I’ve never heard that about opals being bad luck … it must be an old wives’ tale.
” She laughs under her breath. “I’m sure. It’s crazy how these stories come to be, isn’t it? Are there a bunch of bored housewives sitting around a coffee table making up ridiculous rules about jewelry to entertain themselves? Surely they have better things to do with their time …” Probably not. This town is full of old wives (though you’d never guess any of their ages), most of them bored, bronzed, gossipy little drama magnets trying to one-up one another. It’s its own culture and, honestly, I find it fascinating. I take the opportunity to get a closer look at her. Glassy forehead. Not a single crinkle around her eyes or between her brows. She could be thirty or she could be a fifty-year-old science experiment—Lord knows, Palm Shores has some of the best plastic surgeons in the country, if not the world. “All right,” she exhales, clasping her elegant hands over her heart.
“I’m sold. It’s too beautiful to pass up.” “Wonderful. I can take that for you.” I place my hand out, palm facing up. She slips it off her ring finger and places it carefully in my hand, like it’s the most precious thing she’s ever touched. I retrieve a wooden box made of unstained, matte white oak and a white satin ribbon. “I’ll wrap this and meet you at the register—unless you’d like to keep shopping?” I steal another glimpse of the sky, which is now a deeper shade of blue, blanketed in malignant clouds. I’m guessing she has five minutes tops before that rain destroys her pristine blow-out. The woman checks the glinting diamond-and-white-gold timepiece on her wrist, releasing a quiet hum.
I take another gander at her ring, the stone having fallen to one side with its weight. I’m guessing it’s five, six carats tops—excessive, yet more tasteful than the postage-stamp-sized hunks of carbon many of our shoppers wield. “I’m supposed to meet my husband for lunch at that new place on Sapphire Shore Drive in a few …” she says. “Though I could spend all day in here.” “No worries. We’re here seven days a week.” I carry the box to the register closest to the front door. She follows on the opposite side of the counter, heels clicking against the marble floor with each step. “You’ll just have to come back and pick up where you left off another time.” “Absolutely.
” Her tone wholeheartedly convinces me. “Five hundred sixty-four dollars and eleven cents,” I say a short minute later. I swipe her card, setting it down while it processes. Then I help my curious self to a one-second peek at the name on the bottom. Odessa DuVernay. Palm Shores is a magnet for celebrities, billionaires, and Golden Age-old money types —but I don’t recognize the name. It’s possible she’s a transplant. We get a lot of New Yorkers down this way, though I didn’t catch an accent. She could be anyone from anywhere. The card reader beeps before expelling a paper receipt, which I slide across the glass countertop along with a blue-inked fountain pen etched with the Smith + Rose logo.
Despite the fact that they’re imported from Switzerland and twenty dollars a pop and are always being “accidentally stolen,” my employers refuse to consider more economical alternatives, considering them tax write-offs well spent. It’s all about the complete Smith + Rose experience. Every detail, from the fig and cassis scent being diffused from strategic sections of the space to the helpful-but-not-toopersonal staff on the sales floor to the smooth flick of the fountain pens as they sign their receipts has all been carefully orchestrated by long-time best friends, high-end retail aficionados, and sun-bronzed Betties: Elinor Smith and Margaret Rose. The sky releases a groan and little specks of rain pelt the sidewalk. Odessa doesn’t notice or, if she does notice, she doesn’t care … it seems she’s too focused on me. “Thank you so much, really. You’ve been so kind and helpful.” Her voice is airy and laced in profound appreciation—which almost distracts me from calculating my fifty-dollar commission from the sale of this ring. “You’re so welcome.” I smile so big my cheeks hurt.
“I don’t believe I caught your name?” She lifts one brow. The owners have never required nametags, claiming they’re just another formality that downgrades the high-end shopping experience. We’re supposed to assist the customers, not get personal with them. According to Margaret and Elinor, most of these people don’t want to be bothered with friendly banter and exchanging names is a gateway to that. “Cate.” I come around from behind the register to hand-deliver her purchase. “Receipt’s in the bag. I do hope you’ll come again soon.” Odessa DuVernay glances over her shoulder on her way out the door, her voluminous blonde hair bouncing with each click of her aqua-bottomed heels. “I absolutely will.
Take care, Cate.” Just like that, the sky opens and the kindest Palm Shores trophy wife I’ve ever met disappears into a tropical thunderstorm sans designer umbrella. I lock the front door, flip the “Be Right Back” sign, and head out back for my twominute smoke break and a quick sip from my can of Royal Crown cola in the breakroom. For a moment, I consider the patrons stuck in the downpour and a twinge of guilt slices through my middle, but it’s quickly replaced by the restless nicotine craving screaming through my blood. In my PVC jacket a minute later, fingers gloved, I stand beneath an overhang, back against the brick. I light a menthol Newport, and while the rain pools in the pitted blacktop pockets of the parking lot, I take my first drag. I was a crisp eighteen when I started smoking, and for the dumbest reason. Some kids buy a pack of cigs on their eighteenth birthday because they can. Me? The nostalgia practically called to me by name. The packaging was almost straight out of the eighties— which was the last time I saw my father.
And the brand name—Newport—had this East Coast, old money feel to it: also reminiscent of my father, seeing how he and his “real” family hailed from Newport, Rhode Island and the Cabots were Golden Age legends alongside the Astors and Morgans and Rockefellers. I take another drag and stub out my half-finished stick on the wall before jamming it back into the pack, and then I head inside to peel out of my coat and gloves and pop a stick of gum. The rain lets up by the time I unlock the front door. The trophy wife is long gone, of course, but if I’m lucky, maybe I’ll see her again sometime. I don’t say this about a lot of people, but she seemed authentic. Genuine. And I’ve spent my entire life learning the difference between real and fake. 2 Zsofia IT’S QUITE LATE, and Mrs. DuVernay is in a mood again. She steps out of her heels as if they disgust her, kicking them askew as she makes her way to her dressing room on the other side of her bedroom.
I scramble to grab her shoes, waiting for her to peel out of the day’s clothes and emerge in her favorite silk robe with her initials monogrammed over the right breast. She’s taking longer than usual to undress today, nothing but huffs and sighs coming from the other side of the doorway. If I had to guess, she’s gained a few pounds. That always seems to send her into a quiet fit when she’s changing. I imagine her examining her tall, thin body from the three angles of her mirror, hugging the shoes against my chest as I wait to go in. Mrs. DuVernay sighs when she finally comes out a minute later, bare feet covered in red markings from the day spent out and about in killer heels. Markings, I’m convinced, she no longer feels. I tried them on once, when she wasn’t looking—her favorite pair of shoes, the black ones with the teal bottoms. In less than ten steps, I swear I had a blister forming on the back of one of my heels.
“My drink, Zsofia,” she says, hands on her hips as she peers around her bedroom with raised eyebrows and flattened lips. I nod toward her vanity, where her usual—a dry white wine with a splash of organic pineapple juice—rests on a vintage coaster made of rhinoceros ivory. Mrs. DuVernay swipes her drink off the table, taking it with her into the master en suite. I carry her shoes into the closet, praying I can locate the correct place for them before she yells for me to fetch her a heated facial towel from the warmer in the spa. This past Friday, she had two professionals come and sort through her closet—a stylist and an organizer. One helped her create toss/sell/donate piles and the other reconfigured the rest of her things to the point where I can’t find half of what she sends me to retrieve now. An empty red shoebox with its top misaligned is situated in the middle of the closet. Dropping to my knees, I place the heels neatly inside, fasten the lid, and find the proper spot for it amongst the others along her expansive wall of designer shoes. “Zsofia,” she calls from the next room, her tone flat and void of emotion.
I leave the closet to find her at the vanity, the day washed off of her face and a thick mask of rosehip stem cells and sea kelp on her face, sinking into her pore-less, ageless, glass-like complexion. “I’ll be right back with a towel.” I head to the spa room at the end of the hall. Mrs. DuVernay prefers to have her facialists, masseuses, and manicurists come to the house so she can beautify in private, though I believe it has more to do with the fallingout she had with her group of friends a few years back. They always used to schedule their pampering appointments together. After the squabble, Mrs. DuVernay couldn’t bear to be seen alone and friendless in her favorite beauty haunts, so she persuaded Charles to turn one of the spare bedrooms into a home spa. Not that it took much convincing— Mrs. DuVernay controls the purse strings around here, as much as she prefers to flit around like a Palm Shores trophy wife.
It’s just another act of hers. Like everything else. I tiptoe down the hall to the spa room, retrieving a couple of damp wash cloths from the towel warmer on the back counter, and I bring them to her, stepping a few feet back as she breathes in the soft, lavender-scented steam and wipes away the exotic remains of her skincare routine. When she’s finished, she hands them off, reaches for her wine, and shuffles to her bed, her snow-colored silk robe billowing behind her with every leggy step. “That’s all for tonight, Zsofia.” She waves me off as she climbs beneath a mountain of high-thread count bed coverings. “Oh. One more thing. Tell Charles it’s time to come to bed on your way out.” “Yes, Mrs.
DuVernay.” I shut the door behind me without making a sound so as not to wake Aviana down the hall. Lord knows teenagers need their rest, and she can be a bit of a bear to deal with in the morning. As her human alarm clock, I prefer that she not be overly tired come six AM. It certainly makes my job a lot easier. I run my palm along the polished banister on my way down, careful not to make a sound this time of night, when the house has quieted and settled and every footstep or cleared throat reverberates. Once I arrive on the main floor, I head for Mr. DuVernay’s study—a room placed in the farthest reaches of the house, so Charles can play his jazz music and strum on his prized collection of rare guitars without disturbing his headacheprone wife. Rapping on the outside of the door, I wait for him to answer. The other side is quiet tonight.
No jazz records. No clumsy, six-string chords. I knock once more, holding my breath as I wait in silence. Perhaps he isn’t in there? Twisting the door knob, I crack the door a few inches to check. “Mr. DuVernay?” With no response, I push the door wider, peeking my entire head in to look around. The room is dark save for the floor lamp in the corner, and the curtains are open, showcasing a view of the water from the floor-to-ceiling windows on his east-facing wall. Boat lights sparkle, their reflections swaying in the distance on the buoying Atlantic. I’ve always thought it seemed dangerous to boat late at night. Then again, I’ve never boated in my life.
What would I know? Peering around the room one last time, I draw in a sharp breath when my gaze comes to him lying on the sofa, still as a statue, fast asleep. Peaceful because he’s anywhere but here. Padding across the room without a sound, I make my way to him, a slow smile bending my mouth as I watch him sleep. Charles is an impossibly handsome man; generous brown hair with salt-and-peppered temples, chiseled chin, sun-kissed complexion, runner’s body much younger than his physical age. When he isn’t having an ‘off’ day, he’s a force to be reckoned with, a personality much larger than the room Mrs. DuVernay keeps him confined to most of the time. Charles’ smile alone has turned some of my worst days into some of my brightest, and I live for his eyes—ocean blue on the outside with a ring of hazel in the middle—like they can’t decide what they want to be. A man like this is wasted on Mrs. DuVernay. He deserves better.
She deserves worse. “Mr. DuVernay,” I say his name on the breath of a whisper before placing my fingertips on his shoulder, giving him three light taps. “Mrs. DuVernay would like you to come to bed.” His dark lashes flutter as his eyes open, and then he squints, focusing on me. “Ah. It’s you,” he says, placing his hand over mine, gentle and unrushed. “Is my wife asleep yet?” I swallow the rigid protuberance that has suddenly found a home in my throat. “No, sir.
” Charles pulls himself to a standing position, his gaze never abandoning mine, not for one second. “Well, that’s a shame, isn’t it?” Our eyes hold for a moment, and I stifle the knowing smile that threatens to curl my lips. He and I both know that the DuVernay household is a serene place when the missus is sleeping—or better yet: off on one of her solo vacations. There are more smiles when she’s away. More laughter. Less tension. More living. Less silent suffering. We’re both prisoners of circumstance. Prisoners with very different privileges.
Prisoners of Mrs. DuVernay. “Goodnight, Zsofia,” he says before striding to the door. “Get some rest.” I wait alone in his study for a beat, and then I shut off his lamp and close the door on my way out. He’s gone by the time I reach the hall, leaving nothing but the faintest trail of his posh Italian cologne. Tiptoeing through the darkened DuVernay residence, I make my way to the apartment above the garage—the only home I’ve ever known. Home sweet prison cell.