Having the perfect life isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Designer Lily Chau doesn't know if she's finally got it together or if life is starting to unravel. With a successful boyfriend and a great job at up-and-coming fashion house Garments of Praise, it seems she has the perfect pattern for success. But her mother's health is failing, her boyfriend just won't pop the question, and being a pattern maker is a far cry from having a clothing line of her own. Lily is sure her hands are just too full to draw her deepest dreams.
Raya and Chenille, Lily's pals at Garments of Praise offer plenty of advice and sympathy. Jean, Lily's co-worker and second Mom even goes behind Lily's back to boost her chances of success. When she's chosen for the reality show The Next Design Diva, it seems like the chance of a lifetime for Lily. But the mysterious designer chosen to mentor her sends her spinning. He's fresh, fine—and way off limits. Suddenly Lily's life goes from carefully patterned to nothing but a tangle of threads.
The envelope held Lily Chau’s future. She held a letter opener, stabbing under her nails for the remnants of her past. Skimming under the nail of her ring finger, she snagged what she’d been going for, a hunk of prunes caught under her nail last week during the chop and puree fest once known as her mother’s breakfast. A breakfast that her mother had returned as quickly as Lily had spooned it all in, leaving Lily standing in a puddle in her best shoes.
“Jump in the shower. Grab the black pants. Your wrap blouse is clean. I saw it the other day,” her neighbor Pinkie had said, arms going in every direction. “You don’t know how to feed her, Lily. You should have waited for me.”
Lily had tried to wait, but her mother wasn’t in a waiting mood today. The guilt over leaving her mother hungry with their neighbor had sent her into a chopping blending frenzy that ended as such things usually did, seeping into her shoes and staining her best skirt. But that was okay. She’d put a barrette in her mother’s hair and fed her breakfast. Where God chose to store that breakfast was up to Him.
Though Lily was known around the office for her eclectic and exciting personal style, the pants she wore now were turning into her work uniform. But her mother was still alive, her boyfriend was still dropping hints about their inevitable wedding and she grew closer to God each day. Things were good, with hopes of getting better. Becoming stable.
So why was she holding the letter opener in both hands? Lily poked the point of it into the envelope, tracing the letters in the return address: The Next Design Diva Show, Nia Network. Lily slipped the blade into the envelope’s back flap then slid her finger against the instrument’s edge. She pulled upward slightly, ripping the corner and . . .
“Are you sleeping in here?” A husky voice laced with laughter echoed in the hall before its speaker reached Lily’s office. Jean believed in giving people warnings of her impending arrival, even her friends. For everyone but Lily, the announcement was usually warranted since people tended to find Jean a little intimidating. Lily saw through Jean’s fast moves and loud talk . . . to her heart. She hoped her friend wouldn’t see her through her just as quickly today.
“Can’t you ever stay in your office during the creative hour? We’ve got thirty more minutes. Take a nap why don’t you? Or color in a coloring book like that guy over in production.” Though Lily chided her loving workaholic friend for coming to visit when they were all supposed to be spending time alone to refuel their creativity, the interruption was a gift. For a moment she’d let herself consider something impossible. Something still forked on her letter opener.
Jean whisked into the office just as Lily swept the letter into her desk drawer, where it would accompany her secret copy of Modern Bride and a cigarette she’d found after quitting and hadn’t thrown away.
Lily squirmed under her friend’s withering glance as Jean pushed Lily’s huge fossil doorstep into place. Jean shook her head. “Oh my. Now she’s cramming things into that drawer again. Don’t tell me. You’re peeking at those silly ten dollar wedding books? Or were you dreaming of that picket fence on Long Island with your doctor friend?”
Warmth rushed to Lily’s face. “Neither. You need to stay out of my desk, you nosy thing.”
Jean approached Lily like a lioness in a good suit. A hearty laugh bubbled up from her throat. “Listen, honey, nobody needs to be nosy to know anything around here, especially when you stuff that drawer so full it can’t shut. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to come in here and pick all that mess off the floor since you ran the custodian away from here.”
“Here you go with that again. I told you. I did not run the custodian away. He can still clean in here . . . when I’m around.”
“Uh huh,” Jean shook her head in pity.
“He was stealing my rocks!” Lily banged the letter opener on her desk, wanting to shove it into the drawer too, but now to afraid at what might come flying out if she did.
“Listen to what you just said. Stealing rocks. Now I admit you’ve got some of the best pebble and bauble collections I’ve ever seen, but you’ve got to let it go.” She reached around Lily and yanked out the drawer. The magazine unfurled as if she’d pulled the string on a parachute. Fabric swatches, neon note squares and office supplies spilled over the sides and onto the floor.
Jean stuck her hand toward the back and came out with a pitiful excuse for a Virginia Slim. “You’ve got to let this go too. You haven’t smoked in almost two years. What are you doing, planning a slow suicide some time in the future?” “I-I-just give me that, okay?” Lily reached for the cigarette and peeled back its skin, emptied the tobacco guts into the trash while trying not get too much of the smell on her fingers. As she considered what she’d really saved up for later, disobeying the voice of God, Lily became much less concerned with Jean and more concerned with her own heart. Sometimes it seemed like she’d come so far, but there still those little secrets she tried to keep, parts of her life she tried to stuff in a drawer. And God kept having to come and pick up the pieces when it spilled over the side.
She grabbed a wet wipe from her purse and scrubbed her hands, only to realize what dangled from Jean’s fingers.
The rumpled magazine had covered it, but as usual Jean had left no stone, or mangled bridal book unturned. She looked as though she’d caught a tiger by the tail.
“So they did pick you! I knew they would. They had to. I told Raya I was going to call her father myself if they didn’t.”
Lily froze. She’d carried the envelope around in her purse for two days wondering why the show had written her. She considered submitting sketches several times, but each time something happened with her mother’s health to make her forget it. There was also the quiet that had come over her every time she’d prayed about it. She felt as though she was suppose to wait and see the salvation of the Lord, that what God had would come to her through another way. Now it seemed that her other way might be from the office down the hall. “What did you do?”
Beads from Jean’s bracelets jangled as she shook her wrists. “Nothing much. I took a few sketches from your book and scanned them. Sent that robe you designed for that stupid boyfriend of yours—”
Lily clenched her fists. “The kimono? That was Ken’s Christmas present. I’ve been looking everywhere for it. How could you?”
Her friend smiled. “Easy. Now hush and open the letter. At least I don’t try and match you up with men. Not that you couldn’t use some help there too . . . Don’t look at me like that. I care about you.”
If this was caring, Lily didn’t want to think of what not caring might feel like. She pried the letter from Jean’s fingers and placed it into the drawer, now empty except for a star-shaped paper clip in neon pink and a pencil with no eraser. Lily’s sketching pencil. She stared up at the ceiling. “Why couldn’t I have regular friends who don’t care about me so much. Goodness, Jean, how could you? I mean sure I’d love to have my own line, my own show, but I can’t—”
“Here we go again. You really should have been a Catholic you, know. You’re a natural at the guilty martyr thing.” Jean dropped into the chair a few inches away. “We’ve been over this a gazillion times. You can do this. None of your excuses hold water, especially your first one, that you’re not good enough. You’re good enough and you have the sense to still question your talent. Good enough for me. As for your mother, she can go wherever you go.”
It was Lily’s turn to laugh this time, though there was little humor in it. “Like the way your grandkids could go wherever you go, Jean?”
Her stoic friend grabbed the desk with a white-knuckled grip. “Okay, you got me. I still think you should open it. Just to know.”
“No thanks,” Lily said, taking the letter from the drawer and ripping it to shreds. “Some things are best left unknown. The things that count though, that people care about you and want the best for you, those are the prizes of life.”
Jean’s jaw tightened as she swept the torn bits of paper into the trash with her cupped hand. “Oh, please. Friendship is great and everything, but this is it! Your shot. And you ripped it up. How could you?”
Lily covered her friend’s hand with her own. “I don’t know, but I did. If it’s mine, God will bring it back . . . at a time when my hands are free enough to hold it.”
From JADE, by Marilynn Griffith, Revell Books ISBN 0800730410, June 2006, Copyright © 2006. All rights reserved.