Clementine’s 46th (and last) adventure at The Happy Store wraps up the series…at least for now.
In the days, weeks, and months that followed Clementine Fraile’s first visit to The Happy Store, she had never ceased to delight in the sights, smells, and sounds of that almost mythical kingdom which had come to play such a big part in her life.
It had started almost two years before with the delicious aroma of oatmeal cookies on a cold November day. Betty Davis, although Clementine did not then know her name, drew her past glittery boxes, feathery plumes, and fragrant candles toward a table filled with platters of cookies and cups of hot chocolate.
The very same Betty Davis who, slim, graceful, and dynamic, was that very Sunday afternoon, going to marry her father, Rufus Fraile.
As Clementine walked slowly from her car to the front doors of The Happy Store, she did a little skip. Then she clicked her heels together and, quoting from Lewis Carroll’s joyfully nonsensical poem, she sang out, “O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
When she was about to leap up the curb, she heard the soft toot of a horn. She turned and stepped aside as a red van pulled up beside her. A sign on the door of the van proclaimed:
Tony the Contractor
You name it. We do it.
Construction. Repair. Electrical. Plumbing.
Clementine walked around to the driver’s window, which Tony rolled down. He stared at her, his blue eyes steady on her face. Then he blinked, resumed his steady stare, and said, “I just took a picture of you.”
She blinked once as well. “So did I,” Clementine said.
They both smiled.
Tony said, “Sorry I can’t go to the ceremony, but I can get to the reception early if you want me to help you set up.”
Clementine shook her head. “Thank you, but not necessary. You have the address?”
“Sure do. Your father’s house. Red roof. Red shutters. Porch swing. Sugar maple in the front yard. Brown and gold wreath made out of ribbons on the front door.”
He put his car into gear.
“Six o’clock, right?”
Tony blinked twice and said, “Back-up pictures.” After which he winked and drove away.
Clementine entered The Happy Store.
As soon as the opening doors tinkled her arrival, Walter Graybill, the store manager, called out, “Lock it behind you. We don’t want customers thinking we’re open.”
She locked the front doors.
Walter added, “You’re last, Clementine. Everyone else is already here.”
The wedding party gathered at The Happy Store that afternoon was not large, as most of the bride and groom’s friends and family had been invited only to the reception, which was to take place in Rufus Fraile’s large Victorian home two hours later.
Other than Clementine and Walter, there were Betty Davis, her sister Robin, her brother-in-law Martin, and her niece Ditto. Athena Eliopoulis was there, as were Mr. and Mrs. Hyman Pease (Clementine’s old boss and his wife). Also in attendance were Rufus, his best man – the shop foreman at The Ribbon Factory – and the judge who would marry them.
Twelve people in total.
Even so, talking Walter into letting the wedding take place in The Happy Store had stretched the limits of his ability to bend and/or break rules. Specifically the rules that prohibited gatherings of employees before and/or after the working day.
But Betty had fervently wanted to get married in the place where she’d met Rufus, surrounded by the colleagues she loved, and amidst the fantasy paraphernalia that made up her Happy Store life.
So Walter agreed. On the condition, he insisted, that “No photos of the ceremony are posted on the Internet, and no mention of where you got married is ever made to anyone including your dearest friends and unborn grandchildren in perpetuity anywhere outside of this room.”
The bride, of course, was beautiful, her intelligent brown eyes shining and her buttery blond hair a cascade of curls. The groom stood beside her as solid and erect as the nutcracker soldiers The Happy Store sold at Christmas. Every one of Rufus’s kinky red hairs was in place, and the smile on his square jaw was as wide as the Mississippi.
For those who attended the wedding, it was noteworthy that Walter – unsentimental, rigid, rule-enforcing Walter – had permitted such a travesty of regulations for the sole purpose of making one of his employees happy. For this reason alone, at least on that day, he was seriously beloved.
But for Clementine, the day was even more significant. For she felt that the occasion of Betty’s marriage to her father was a drawing-to-an-end.
Or a new beginning.
Either way, she was coming full circle.
Standing among her friends with her hair a mass of ringlets around her elfin face, wearing a shimmering green dress that complimented her yellow-speckled green eyes, she looked fairy-like. Young, delicate, fragile, and strong. There was about her a quality of wispiness. As if she were made of the trail of stars that a fairy godmother leaves behind when she waves her magic wand.
And as Clementine listened to the judge’s deep voice intoning, “Do you, Rufus Fraile take Betty Davis to be your lawfully wedded…” Clementine thought back to her career as an art director, her departure from advertising, and her joyful entry into the World of Fanciful Things.
Blue satin pillows with bright fuchsia bows. Exotic ceramic vases inscribed with hieroglyphics around the base. Faux orchids, hydrangea, forsythia, and roses. Ruby goblets. Soft chenille throws. Plush and cuddly llamas, bunnies, lemurs, and bears. Crystal napkins rings. Giant wood giraffes. Smiling elephants with raised trunks and tusks. And the wonderful, prickly, innocent-looking and irresistible sisal hedgehogs that had started it all.
Clementine came to The Happy Store seeking … what? She did not know. Whatever it was, though, she had found it in Walter’s reluctant (but irresistible) smile. In Betty’s breezy confidence and imperturbable kindness. And in Athena’s goddess-like imperative to do what had to be done in the most professional way.
“I do,” said Betty Davis.
“I do,” said Rufus Fraile.
As vows were exchanged and the newlyweds kissed, Clementine’s eyes roved lovingly from The Bloom Shop, to the walls of pillows, to bins of napkin rings, to mosaic framed mirrors, to bad landscape paintings, to area rugs displaying huge tropical flowers, to the EMPLOYEES ONLY sign on the door to the stock room, to the friends she had made over the past two years.
And she made a vow.
That whatever the future might bring, in the inner and outmost recesses of her soul, she would remain faithful to the lessons she had learned from The Happy Store.
To the Essence of Enchantment that abided there.
And to the magic that – behind the glass doors leading to three-wick candles, embroidered holiday pillows, and carousels – had made her and all who had ever entered, well…
Copyright © Shelly Reuben, 2020. Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her writing, visit www.shellyreuben.com