Henery Press is celebrating summer with Chick Week. To help celebrate chick week, I’m sharing the first chapter of Cropped to Death. I hope everyone enjoys it (and wants to read more!)
The industrial sized straight-blade trimmer sliced through the air. Even from across the room, I heard the blade going through paper – whoosh, whoosh. I poked a finger into my left ear and pressed the cell against the other. My grandmother Hope’s instructions garbled through the device, the words loud and then soft, an effect that had nothing to do with being in a technological dead zone. Not that keeping a cell phone connection was easy to do in Eden, West Virginia.
Since we started the Scrap This employee crop two hours ago, the whacking hadn’t stopped. The blade, like my sanity, was near breaking. I covered the mouthpiece and leaned across the front counter, trying to catch Marilyn’s gaze as I avoided jamming my side into the cash register.
“Could you adhere something for awhile?”
Marilyn Kane picked up the useless part of the picture and dropped it. My gaze followed the fluttering photo cast-off to the ecru colored linoleum floor. A discarded pile of Michaels littered the area beside the eight-foot table.
My friend and fellow employee discovered six weeks ago that her husband, Michael, did more than just commute with his co-worker. I didn’t know if she was more upset about the affair or the fact the twenty-two-year-old harlot would give birth to Michael’s baby in four months.
“Faith, are you there?” Hope asked. “Are you taking notes?”
“Yes.” I tried to keep the chipper in my voice and the exasperation out as I reached for a pen and piece of paper. My grandmothers had as much trouble leaving me in charge of their store as they did remembering at twenty-six, I was a grown-up.
“We still need layouts for the back display wall. It’ll be off-white so use vibrant colors so they’ll pop. Also, bring the box of flyers and business cards.”
“I know.” I rolled my eyes, thankful there were no security cameras to catch my attitude.
“Cheryl and I wish—”
“That you could handle the booth.” I was perfectly capable of handling a booth at the community art benefit show. I’ve handled the store just fine. Okay, there was that one incident involving the paper racks but that was almost a year ago. “Grandma, you have to help Cheryl host the show. You can’t let her do it on her own.”
Not that Grandma Cheryl wasn’t qualified to host. She had hosted all of my slumber parties growing up. With a sharp look and even edgier words, Cheryl whipped everyone into shape. I learned the fine art of snarkiness at her knee.
“You’re right.” Hope sounded resigned to her fate. “I’m just worried about tomorrow. Did you remember—”
“Grandma, I read the list you taped to the front counter by the register. I read the one in the break room. And I’ve taken my own notes. We’ll have everything we need.”
“Including the prizes for the contest?”
I squeezed my eyes closed. “What contest?”
Hope sighed. “I told Cheryl to leave a written note rather than a voice mail.”
My forgetfulness for checking phone messages was legendary in my tiny family. No amount of scolding from my grandmothers—or from myself—corrected the flaw.
“Since we’re closing the store for the Art Benefit Show, we decided to hold two contests to make it up to our customers. And hopefully, it’ll draw in some new ones.”
Business was down across the county, especially for those of us who offered consumers the non-essentials in life. Hobbies were the first items cut from a budget.
“One contest will be opened for seasoned croppers and the other for novice scrappers,” Hope said. “To encourage new scrappers to enter, we’ll hold two teaching crops next week. I also need sign-up sheets for those.”
I jotted down the time and cost for the crops, then snapped the cell phone shut.
Car lights flooded through the slats of the blinds covering the large display windows. Tunnels of beams bounced off the jars holding fabric flowers and ribbons lining a row of shelves. Shadows flickered across the walls, doubling the inventory of the overstocked store in a dark and menacing hue. We had to start moving the product. A store morphing into a warehouse didn’t do well for the bottom line.
“I should’ve brought sunglasses.” Sierra Brodart squinted as the harsh light hit her face. She wiggled her fingers over a glass jar then moved to the next. Fifteen small jars filled with various embellishments were scattered around the work surface. She plucked out two forest green brads from a jar and then pressed them through the cream cardstock.
Whoosh. Whoosh. The slicing and dicing resumed. I held in a long-suffering sigh and glanced at tomorrow’s work schedule. In the morning, my grandmothers wanted all the employees at the Art Benefit Show.
Knowing our receivables for the last quarter, I worried about that decision. Scrap This had two full-time and two part-time employees. My grandmothers, Hope and Cheryl, believed part of their purpose in life was helping women through financial transitions. Marilyn was facing a divorce. Sierra’s three boys were all in elementary school and her husband Hank was once again out of work. Linda Anderson was an empty-nester who lost her beloved husband of thirty years in a car accident eighteen months ago. I was their prodigal granddaughter who joined the military to take on the world only to have the world slap me back home. Hard.
Eden was a great place to live—well, start over—as no one held high expectations. Here it made sense to go from working in JAG to helping in my grandmothers’ scrapbooking store. No one thought a scandal caused the switch in my career path. Here, everything boiled down to family.
Marilyn slapped another picture onto the trimmer. With a whack of the guillotine style blade, she was single.
I ventured from behind the counter and headed toward Marilyn. We needed professional layouts on display tomorrow to demonstrate scrapbooking as a legitimate art, not just a mommy-hobby. The best way to increase income was tap-ping into the professional art market. I doubted a collage of body parts would entice people into the store. Emerging serial killers probably weren’t interested in keeping a scrapbook. Even if they were, they weren’t quite the clientele I wanted for Scrap This.
“One day, your children,” I stressed the last two words, “might want an intact picture of their father.”
The evilest of gazes landed on me. I never knew Marilyn’s wide blue eyes could look so beady and narrow. “And what would you know about that? Maybe the only good husband is a…”
“Forgiveness, Marilyn. It’s a good thing.” I stole a look at Linda who sat beside the chopping diva.
Linda hunched over her page, lips pinched together, complexion pale except for two red splotches on her cheeks. Her hands shook as she placed a picture of her twenty-something son onto a piece of cardstock.
“What would you know about forgiving a husband?” Marilyn shoved disheveled blond curls away from her face. All the better for me to see her glare.
A lot, actually. But I kept the thought to myself.
“Faith’s just trying to help.” Sierra punctuated her sentence with a snap of her wrist. Two yards of brown and blue grosgrain ribbon furled out. A click of the lethal-tip scissors separated the perfect length of ribbon and completed the page starring her three elementary school-aged sons Harold, Henry and Howard, affectionately known by the greater community as the Hooligans.
Sierra swore they took after their father. Having heard of Hank’s pranks, which usually ended with a ride in the backseat of a squad car, I agreed with her assessment. Hank was a good guy, but one you never really trusted. The bad boy from high school still lurked inside of him.
Marilyn snorted and returned to hacking her philandering husband from the photo history of her life.
Who was I to judge? I didn’t trust anyone with anything other than the sanitized version of my past. Yep, I served in the Army. Yep, I worked in JAG. Nope, it’s not like it was on TV.
I wandered back to the counter and picked up my crop tote. I could only procrastinate so long with administrative duties. My insides squirmed as I dropped myself into a vacant seat at an empty table and pulled out a pack of photos. Public scrapbooking always left me a little anxious as I opened snip-pets of my life to the scrutiny of others.
Sierra draped herself over my shoulders and stared at the photos. She tapped a manicured nail on the picture of my grandmothers and me at a Renaissance Festival. “Who took the photos?”
I flicked the flap of the packet. “Steve.”
“Ah, say no more.” Sierra launched a knowing wink at me before returning to her layout.
Steve Davis, my neighbor two doors down, and the one man who could make me think about reconsidering my commitment phobia. Nothing would please my grandmothers more than Steve and I becoming a couple. Nothing could be less likely to happen. A woman couldn’t maintain a lifestyle of confidentiality with a significant other in her life.
I cringed. I would fall asleep hearing that sound in my head. “I think you should give the cutting tools a break.”
Marilyn continued her violent scrapbooking techniques. She held up a picture of a holiday gathering, placed it on the trimmer, and pressed the handle. Michael was dismembered from Thanksgiving dinner.
“You can’t cut him out of all the pictures,” I said. “It’s really ruining the composition.”
Marilyn’s evil glare returned as she eliminated her philandering husband from two more family portraits. “Yes, I can.”
“Think of the children,” I said.
“This is my private book. I can crop off whoever I want,” Marilyn said.
Linda packed up her supplies and flicked a desperate gaze at me. Unlike her, I didn’t have a choice. I had to stay offer guidance and suggestions. We needed layouts, not body parts.
“It won’t look good, Marilyn,” I said.
“I think it looks great!” Sierra giggled. “Go, Marilyn, go. Crop that hubby!”
The stress in Marilyn’s face evaporated as she laughed. She grabbed more pictures. “Crop you. Crop you. Crop you!” Marilyn slammed the blade down the middle of a picture of Michael. The man fluttered to the floor in two pieces.
If you’d like to read Cropped to Death, it can be found at the following places:
Barnes and Noble
and also through the iTunes store.