Pepper – Never Say Never: Book Three of the ‘Never’ Trilogy

By

Linda Kane Paavola

 

 

January 2010 – Milan, Italy – Pepper and Shannon

Pepper returned from the states in the middle of the month. Not soon enough as far as Shannon was concerned. Shannon had been totally freaking out. She had not heard from Enzo since the night before she left to fly to the states for Christmas. She had returned to Milan shortly after Christmas specifically to spend New Year’s Eve with Enzo. She thought for sure he would be proposing to her then. Everything up until that time was pointing to that outcome. But now he was nowhere to be found.

 

Pepper and Shannon lived in Milan, Italy but their families lived in the United States. They had both been visiting with their families over the Christmas holiday. Pepper was a fashion designer and Shannon was her business manager, best friend and ‘adopted sister-in-heart’ since Pepper even knew she had a twin sister. Her father had taken her from them when they were only three months old. Shannon had been dating Enzo seriously for the last six months.

 

Shannon had called his apartment at all hours of the day and night and there was no response. She had even gone over to his apartment. She had a key, so she let herself in. She was hoping beyond hope that she wasn’t going to find Enzo’s dead body in his apartment. The first thing she did when opening the door was to sniff. She didn’t smell anything bad, so that was a good sign. No dead, rotting body. She walked through each room and everything seemed in place. It seemed that most of his clothes were still in the closet, the bed was made, food in the fridge and even the sink was empty of dirty dishes. He was certainly neat. She didn’t see his suitcases so there was a possibility he hadn’t returned from his trip to his family’s home. He had planned on going there to spend Christmas with them, but he was also planning on being back in Milan the same day Shannon returned.

 

She had called all the hospitals in the area and they had not had anyone by his name or description brought in. She called the morgues. No one with his description there either. She called his office and talked to his secretary. She told Shannon he hadn’t been in to work since the Christmas holiday break. He had not called in with any excuses. Shannon asked her if she would talk with any friends of his from the office to see if they knew anything. She said she would. Shannon gave her phone number to his secretary to call her back with any news. Enzo’s secretary called Shannon nearly a week later and said no one had heard anything from or about him since before the holiday. Shannon asked if she knew his family’s phone number. The secretary looked into the files and gave Shannon the phone number and his family’s address.

 

Shannon tried talking to other friends of theirs outside of work and no one had heard from or seen Enzo since Shannon had left town for the holidays. Finally, Shannon broke down and called his parent’s home phone number. She had not wanted to upset them, but she was at the end of her rope. There was no answer when she called.

 

Finally, with Pepper back in town, Shannon felt like she had more strength to carry on her investigation, which is what this was beginning to feel like. She and Pepper sat in Pepper’s kitchen going over everything Shannon had already done since she had returned to Milan in her search for Enzo. Pepper said, “Have you tried calling the hospitals near where his family lives?” Shannon said, “I hadn’t thought of that.” Pepper said, “Maybe he got sick while he was visiting them.”

 

Shannon got on her computer and found all the hospitals in Impernato, Italy. There were several. She started from the top and found out nothing all the way down the list. She tried calling his parent’s phone number once again. There was still no answer. Finally she decided to call the police station in Impernato.

 

Pepper walked down the stairs to Shannon’s office just as she was dialing the number to the Impernato police headquarters. She sat down on the corner of the desk. Shannon explained what she was calling about and was immediately transferred to one of the police detectives. When the detective answered the phone, Shannon explained her concern again. The detective asked Shannon how she was connected with the family. She said that she had been dating Enzo, the son of the family, and he had been there for the holidays. He never returned to Milan when he was expected.

 

The detective explained that unfortunately the family she had been trying to call had been involved in a house fire. Evidently they believed in decorating their Christmas tree the old fashioned way with the candles clipped on the tree branches. The house was old and didn’t have any smoke detectors in the house. All the candles must not have been entirely extinguished and the tree was dry. It didn’t take long for the entire house to become engulfed with flames. The report showed that a younger man had gotten out of the house. That must have been Enzo. When he realized that none of his family members were out, he went back in to try to save them. The firemen were trying to stop him from going back in since the fire was so bad, but he fought against them and went in regardless. While he was inside, a beam crashed down and he was crushed beneath it. One of the daughters was saved from the house by a firefighter only to later die in the hospital from smoke inhalation. Everyone else died that was in the house. As far as he was concerned, her boyfriend had died a hero trying to save his family. The detective told Shannon he was sorry to have to give her this news over the phone. There was no information as to where he was living.

 

Pepper watched as Shannon was listening on the phone. Tears were streaming down her face. She did not say anything at the end of the conversation. She just hung up the phone and looked up at Pepper. Pepper came around the desk and hugged her, not knowing for sure what had happened, but knowing it wasn’t good. Shannon slumped to the floor along with Pepper and she cried herself out. Pepper stayed with her the entire time, just letting her cry. She only moved to grab the tissue box from Shannon’s desk and place it in front of her.

 

Finally, after nearly an hour on the floor, Shannon said, “He’s dead.” Pepper said, “What happened?” Shannon explained as best she could between her sobs. Pepper said, “You’re going to stay with me tonight, then tomorrow I want you to consider taking another vacation and go home for a while. You are in no shape to work for now. Shannon just nodded.

 

Pepper helped her up the stairs and put her in her guest room bed. Pepper lay there next to her, holding her as she continued to sob and moved into a fetal position. Finally, when Pepper could tell that she had fallen asleep; she tip toed out of the room and closed the door.

 

What an awful thing! Shannon returned to Milan expecting to be engaged to the man of her dreams and instead she finds out he died in a house fire. Pepper called Shannon’s family to let them know what had happened. They were terribly shaken up by the news. They told Pepper that Shannon was just beside herself with happiness over Christmas and was so anxious for them to meet Enzo. Pepper told them that she suggested Shannon go home for as long as necessary to get a handle on her loss. She said she would have Shannon call them with her plans the following day.

 

Now Pepper had to decide what she was going to do about fashion week. It was coming up in a month and she still had a lot to do to get ready for it. Luckily, she had done most of the designs before she left for vacation. She still had a couple more designs she wanted to do, though. Shannon was definitely not up for working on the books and making all the arrangements. She would see how Shannon was in the morning. In the meantime, she needed to start thinking of alternatives.

 

She didn’t know anyone in Milan that she would trust with her business finances. It wasn’t just that, Shannon did so much more. Josh, Pepper’s brother-in-law, came to mind immediately. She would trust him working on her business finances. If Shannon ended up going home for a while, she was going to see if she could steal Josh away from Bailey to fill in while Shannon was gone.

 

Poor Shannon, all her happiness went down the drain with one phone call. She had been so happy. Enzo was such a wonderful guy and absolutely in love with Shannon. They made a perfect couple. It would be a long time for Shannon to be able to give her heart to another man.

 

When Shannon woke up the next morning, Pepper was already in the kitchen making coffee. She looked terrible. Her eyes were totally blood shot. Pepper said, “Have a seat, I’m just making some scrambled eggs and bacon. I’ll pour you a cup of coffee to start with.” Shannon didn’t say anything and looked as though she was looking right through Pepper. She did take a drink of her coffee, however.

 

Pepper said, “I made an executive decision and called your parents last night to let them know what happened to Enzo. They feel horrible for you. Is there anyone else you would like me to call?” Shannon said, “Let me think for a minute first.” They spent the rest of breakfast in silence.

 

Finally Shannon said, “Pepper, will you go over to Enzo’s apartment with me today.” Pepper said, “Sure.” Shannon said, “When I was there before, I was just looking to see if he was there or if there were any signs of him returning from his trip. I would like to go to see if there is anything he may have left to give me when he returned. Does that sound horrible?” Pepper said, “You mean, you want to look to see if there is an engagement ring that he bought for you?” Shannon said, “Yes. If there is one, at least I would have that as a part of him forever. Then when we are done, I will tell the landlord the situation that he won’t be back and he can clear out the apartment.” Pepper said, “Whenever you are ready to go, let me know and I’ll go with you. I definitely do not want you going over there alone.”

 

Shannon said, “I’ve also made another decision. Right or wrong, I’m staying here and working. If I go home, I will just wallow in self-pity. I don’t want to do that. I would rather stay busy and have something else to keep my mind off of or at least TRY to keep my mind off of Enzo. Plus, you would not be able to function without me at this time. Please agree with me on that last part to at least make me feel better.” Pepper said, “I don’t have to pretend, I was panicking last night on what I would do about financials at this time. Not only that, you do so much more than just the financials here.”

 

Shannon said, “I don’t have to go to the states to be with family. I have you and I’m going to really need you more than ever now. Can I stay with you for a few days?” Pepper said, “That’s a stupid question. You can move in for as long as you want.” Shannon said, “I’m not going to get carried away, but I need to be close to you for a while now.” Pepper just said, “I’m here for you sis.” They hugged and then went to clean up and get ready for the day.

 

The trip to Enzo’s apartment was tough on Shannon. She held up better than Pepper anticipated she would though. They did a thorough search of the apartment. On his desk was a framed picture of Shannon and him. It was the same picture that Pepper had shown her mother of them. In one of his desk drawers he had several more pictures of them together or of Shannon alone.

 

In Enzo’s closet, they found a carry bag with a couple of wrapped presents in it. They had Shannon’s name on them. She sat on the bed and opened them. One was a silly little frog figurine with a note attached that said it reminded him of their day trip to the river. The other box had a beautiful heart locket necklace. Inside were pictures of both of them. This box also contained a note saying he wanted her to keep them together in her heart forever. Shannon was crying while opening each of these. They were so like him, silly yet romantic.

 

There was another picture of the two of them on his nightstand. When Pepper opened the drawer of his nightstand, she found another wrapped box with Shannon’s name on it. Beneath it were several handwritten scribbles of notes he’d been jotting down. It looked as though he’d been working on these notes over time. The notes were on several different types of paper, napkins and even tissues. It seemed he wrote on whatever was at hand when the thoughts came to him.

 

Pepper told Shannon to sit down on the bed again. She then handed her the box and sat down beside her with her arm around her. Inside, Shannon found the most gorgeous diamond and yellow topaz ring she had ever seen. She slipped it on her left ring finger. It fit perfect. Tears were now rolling down her cheeks. Pepper handed her all the notes that she had found under the box. Shannon read them, one by one. He must have been trying to find the perfect words to tell her how he felt and to ask her to marry him. They were all sweet, but the one he had marked with a big check mark must have been what he finally decided he was going to say. It simply said, “My dear, sweet Shannon. I love you and know I cannot and do not want to live without you. Please be my wife. I will love you forever. Will you marry me?” Pepper swore she heard Shannon say ‘yes’ between her sobs. Pepper and Shannon sat there for a while longer.

 

Shannon took the presents that were marked for her and the pictures. She left the ring on her hand and put the ring box and all the notes in the carry bag with the other gifts. She locked the door behind her and they went to the landlord’s apartment to tell him the news about Enzo. She handed over his key and said goodbye. It was a very quiet walk back to Pepper’s store. Luckily, it was a Sunday and the store wasn’t open. They walked up the stairs to Pepper’s apartment.

 

Shannon said, “Would it be awful for me to wear the ring and say we were engaged? He wrote the note asking me to marry him before he died.” Pepper said, “No, I don’t think it would be awful. He wanted to propose to you and give you the ring. It is yours. He wanted you to have it.”

 

Shannon called her parents to let them know that she would be staying in Milan. She said it would be better for her to stay busy. She told them about the ring they found and the note he had written for what he was going to say to propose. They told her that if she needed to come home anytime, she should. It probably would be better for her to be busy and they knew how busy this time of the year was for them. They told her how sorry they were for her. She was sobbing again when she hung up.

 

Pepper called her mother to let her know what had happened. Anna felt as bad about the situation for Shannon as she would have for any of her daughters. She agreed that it was better for her to stay and work. Anna told Pepper not to tread too lightly with her. It would be better if she treated her just like she would any other time. She told Pepper to give her one more easy day, but tomorrow she should start back to business as usual. It would be tough, but Shannon was a tough cookie.

 

That afternoon, Pepper asked Shannon if she would like to see the wedding pictures from her mother’s wedding. Pepper was hoping it would not add fuel to her wounded heart, but during any other time it would be a natural thing for them to do.

 

Pepper’s mother, Anna, had been married to her first love when she graduated from high school. Two years later, one separation and the birth of twins brought them back together but not for long. Lawrence and Anna had grown apart and he ended up leaving her when the twin girls were only three months old, taking one of the girls with him. They never divorced. The twins were told that their other parent was killed when they were young and they were never told they had a sister. Lawrence was murdered during a burglary at his business.

 

Pepper’s twin sister, Remie, was then on her own. The only grandparents she had known had both passed away earlier. She ended up moving away from Florida to start life over without her father. Her life ended up in Arlington, Virginia where she had a job as a hospice nurse. She fell in love with Jared, a man she met while out with friends. Eventually they married. There were many problems, secrets and long absences by Jared. As it turned out, he was part of the terrorist plot group behind the September 11, 2001 airline disasters. Remie was in the process of leaving Jared and asking for a divorce, not for the first time. He had always sweet talked her into staying in the past. She was so upset at this last absence that she took a sledge hammer to his locked desk to find out what he had been hiding there. What she found scared her beyond anything she had ever experienced. There were diagrams of airplanes with arrows pointing to different areas and writing in another language. She found several passports with Jared’s picture but different names. There were several cell phones with messages in languages she didn’t understand. She scooped it all into a box.

 

Remie took the box with her to her lawyer’s office where she was going to file for divorce. On the way, she heard on the radio about the airplanes flying into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania field. She thought of the items in the box from Jared’s desk. Remie became frantic. Luckily she was nearing her lawyer’s office by then.

 

After her lawyer contacted the FBI, going through the U.S. Federal Marshal’s office and being put into a witness protection program, Remie was no longer Remie. She was now Bailey Lynn Holden. She held herself in a bubble for the longest time, not knowing who to trust and who to fear. Finally over several years, she opened up and found her true love, Joshua Blake. They married, had two children, then Bailey got the next fear of her life. Her U.S. Marshal called her to let her know there had been several computer blings on her maiden and first married names. She was afraid that the terrorist group had bid their time and was now coming after her for turning in Jared and several others in the terrorist group they found because of the phone records.

 

When her U.S. Federal Marshal contact called her one day to let her know they were getting quite a few computer blings from inquiries on her old name, both married and maiden, Bailey finally had to tell Josh everything she had held secret all those years since being put into the Witness Protection Program. Her family quickly moved from Denver where they had been living to Waverly, South Carolina to a beach house she had purchased unbeknownst to Jared when they were having problems. That is where they ended up staying.

 

As it turned out, the computer blings on Remie’s name were from Pepper and the private investigated. The investigator was hired after Pepper FINALLY found an envelope in her mother’s desk with pictures of the twins, birth certificates for two baby girls and the note that Lawrence had written to Anna when he left her taking Remie with him.

 

It took several months of dead ends for the private investigator and one chancy subterfuge on Pepper’s part to actually find Remie/Bailey. Since then, the twins and their mother have been reunited and done everything in their power to reconnect and make up for lost time.

 

While visiting Bailey one time, Anna met Evin, a man she discovered was her one true adult love. They had a whirlwind romance and were married on New Year’s Eve this last year. Pepper stayed in Waverly to help out in her mother’s boutique while they were on their honeymoon before she returned to Milan to work.

 

Pepper brought out the wedding album that Evin’s son Fynn had given to everyone involved in the wedding. Shannon said Anna looked gorgeous as usual and so happy. She noticed that Anna was wearing one of Pepper’s designs. She said the way Evin looked at Anna she could tell he was very much in love with her. Shannon admired the photo quality. She said, “Those sunset shots are the most beautiful pictures I’ve ever seen for a wedding. WOW! What a great photographer.” Pepper showed her the pictures of the entire wedding party and pointed to Fynn and said, “This is Fynn. He is Evin’s son and a professional freelance photographer. He had an assistant that he had worked with before that took the shots that included him, but he took the rest of the photos, including those sunset photos.” Shannon was very impressed.

 

Pepper asked Shannon about her Christmas vacation with her family. Everything went well. Shannon told her that her sister is expecting another baby. Her brother has a girlfriend but none of the family was terribly impressed with her. She seemed like a gold digger and didn’t appear to have even one brain cell in her head. Shannon said, “She’s looking for a sugar daddy. Obviously she does not know how little my brother has or makes. We were all trying to tell him what we thought but he wouldn’t hear a word of it. Love is blind. I just hope he doesn’t end up marrying her and end up with a houseful of kids that she won’t do anything to help raise. I pity the kids. Unfortunately, we can only do so much.”

 

Shannon asked about Anna’s new boutique. Pepper told her about all the work that Anna, Bailey, Josh and Evin did to fix up the two stores and make them into one. It looks wonderful. She told her about the first day the store was open and the long line of people waiting to get in. Pepper said, “Mom had to put in an expedited order to have enough stock for the rest of the week. She got some great feedback and recommendations for additional items to carry. While Mom and Evin were on their honeymoon, we received a huge box of sunglasses for the shop. That was one item that was requested on the first day by one of the customers. Both Bailey and I grabbed a pair for ourselves and I chose one for you, before we put any out for sale.” Pepper ran back to her bedroom to get the sunglasses she had gotten for Shannon. Shannon put them on to style them for Pepper. They looked great. Pepper continued, “We sold nearly every one before mom returned. It was definitely a great recommendation. AND you will be very happy to hear that I stayed away from all sorts of financial situations in the store. I never even worked the cash register.” Shannon actually laughed at that comment. Pepper was glad she could hear that coming from Shannon today.

 

Shannon said, “So tell me more about this Fynn character.” Pepper said, “He’s the guy that I ran into the first time I went to Bailey’s house before she knew about us. He thought I was her. He’s obviously gorgeous, but he’s sarcastic and a roamer. He’ll never settle down. Give him a beer and he’s happy. He lives in plaid flannel shirts and jeans. He does have some beautiful photo books published though. He is Josh’s best friend. He kept getting Bailey and I mixed up. It was hilarious.”

 

Pepper continued, “Speaking of getting Bailey and I mixed up, after I arrived in Waverly, Bailey and I walked into the store. Just the two of us together made somewhat of a stir. Then Mom came out of the back and seeing three of us really brought stares. She introduced Bailey as her daughter and co-manager and me as the designer of P.A.H. Fashions. Then she held up one of my designs to show the customers in the store. One of the women took the dress from her hand, checked the size and went to try it on. When she came out, she went to Bailey and said that she loved the dress and meeting the designer made it even better. Bailey did not want to embarrass her by letting her know she was talking to the wrong twin, so she just said, ‘Thank you’ and the customer was a happy camper. Bailey just winked at me and smiled.”

 

Shannon was thinking to herself, “As long as we sit here and talk about other things, I’ll be okay. I am afraid that when I’m alone to sit and think on my own, I’ll be a basket case. Time will heal all wounds. I just have to remember that. At least I know what true love feels like. That’s more than many people can ever say.”

 

Shannon asked Pepper how she was doing with her designs. Had she done any more while she was in the states? Pepper said, “I did some sketching, but not nearly what I had hoped.” Pepper showed her what she had done. Shannon said, “These are good, but they are not runway good.” Pepper said, “My thoughts exactly. Do you mind if I leave you for a while and try to get some sketching in today? Do you have something in your office to do? I’ll be right next door then.” Shannon said, “Go ahead and get some work done. I do have a lot I put behind during my search for Enzo, so I do have work to do.” Pepper said, “Really, just yell if you need a time-out and we’ll get some tea or walk up to the bakery.” Shannon said, “That sounds good. Let’s work for at least four hours then we’ll do the bakery break.”

 

Pepper went into her studio and turned up the music. Shannon shut her door, which she often did when Pepper got into her music a little too loud. Shannon had no problems with that though because that was when Pepper did some of her best work. Shannon tried to concentrate on her files and balance sheets, but occasionally she would look at her ring and tears would start again. She told herself to pull it together and she started over. This was the only way as far as she was concerned.

 

Pepper was working on fall fashions for Milan’s February Fashion Runway Show. Her mind was on the beach again. She was thinking drift wood. That was somewhat an odd color for her fashions. It was growing on her though. She loved the beach. She didn’t realize how much she loved it until she’d been back to Waverly several times. It was an entirely different world in Waverly.

 

The designs she had already were essentially slim pants with ankle accessories such as three buttons up on the outer seam teamed with slouchy belted tops, belted jackets, cashmere and wool items, some Bohemian designs, double breasted jackets with fur lined large hoods and very form fitted sleeveless beaded gowns. The majority of the items were in muted grey, black and caramel but she had to add in several accents of bold colors, purple and deep rust orange. She wanted to add a few more gown designs to her collection.

 

She could not believe she had been working for four hours when Shannon popped her head in and turned off her music. Pepper had finished one design and was well into her second one. She was pleased with the work she’d done. She could tell Shannon had been crying again, but it was to be expected. Pepper said, “So how’s it going for you? Did you get much done?” Shannon said, “Not what I should have, but some.”

 

Pepper put her arm around her waist and said, “Go wash your face and put your jacket on. It’s bakery break time!” Shannon said, “Sounds good. Give me a few minutes.” Shannon was moving slow. Not the normal bounce in her step. It would take time, a lot of time.

 

It felt good to get outside and walk a bit. If Pepper was left to her own devices she would probably be sitting at her sketching table twenty-four hours a day some times. During their walk, they ran into a few of her friends. Unfortunately, they asked about Enzo. It was bound to happen. Pepper did most of the talking so that Shannon didn’t have to. Everyone was very sympathetic and supportive. They all told Shannon to give them a call if she needed anything or wanted some company. It did not stop the tears from coming. They walked a bit farther than the bakery before turning around and going in so that Shannon could calm herself a bit.

 

When they went into the bakery, they were greeted personally. They were quite frequent customers. After they chose their pastry and coffee, they found a table in the corner. Pepper was telling Shannon about Bailey’s cookie baking and Anna Blake’s pecan pie. Pepper said, “I don’t think I did enough stair climbing before I went back to make up for all the food I put in. So, I’m going to be running up and down the stairs in the morning and after work to try to work off some of the calories I ingested. Every single calorie was well worth it though. Shannon was pretty quiet and seemed satisfied to listen to Pepper talk.

 

They walked back toward Pepper’s apartment. Shannon asked if she minded stopping at her apartment so she could pick up some of her clothes since she was going to stay with Pepper for a few days. Pepper said that was fine. They walked to Shannon’s apartment and Shannon went through her closet and drawers as though in a daze. She did not seem to be able to make any decisions. Pepper went back into her bedroom and helped her choose a few outfits and finally she had several days of clothing packed. They were ready to go back to Pepper’s apartment.

 

When they arrived back at the studio, they both decided to put in another three hours of work before stopping for dinner. Since Pepper had just arrived back from being in the states for several weeks, she had not had time to get to the grocery store. They decided to go out for dinner. Again, Pepper turned on her music, but she shut her door before Shannon had a chance. About an hour into her work, she had a question for Shannon. When she opened the door between her studio and Shannon’s office, she saw Shannon sitting on the floor crying. Pepper dropped down beside her and asked her if anything specific started her emotions pouring out this time. Shannon just held out her left hand. Pepper understood. It was the engagement ring on her finger.

 

After they had sat there for a while, Pepper made a suggestion. She said, “I know you want to wear the ring that Enzo was going to give you, BUT you know that everyone you see at work will want to congratulate you on your engagement. That will bring up the situation over and over again. I don’t think you are ready for that. Maybe you should put it in your jewelry box for now until you are more resigned to the situation. Then in time, you could always wear it on your right hand. The situation is hard enough on you now without having a visual reminder every time you glance down at your hand.” Shannon nodded and finally said, “I think you’re right.”

 

Pepper said, “Enough of the staff knows about you and Enzo. I think I will have a meeting in the morning right away and fill them in on the situation so you won’t have to. I will ask them out of sympathy for you, not to ask you any more questions or to even bring up the subject. Is that alright with you?” Shannon gave Pepper a hug and said, “That would help a lot. Thanks.” When they stood up, Shannon ran upstairs to place the ring in her jewelry case. She came back down and said, “Okay, it’s time for work again.”

 

Pepper went back into her studio forgetting what she had gone in to ask Shannon about. Pepper got the second design finished right before their three hours were up.

 

For dinner, they walked to a restaurant they rarely frequented. Although the food was wonderful, the prices were higher than they should be. They just thought they would have less chance of running into friends there. Thank goodness, they didn’t.

 

The dinner conversation was about what Pepper had missed in the shop while she was still in Waverly visiting her family. Shannon told her that she had two more haute couture gown orders and that Pepper would need to contact the women in the morning to make appointments for them. Ciara had to put in a fabric order. Another sewer requested to be switched to pattern making. I told her she would have to wait for you to get back to her on that one

 

Pepper said, “I think that would help. I’ll talk with her tomorrow.” Pepper asked, “When you walk downstairs, does it look like everyone is always busy or are their times that people are just sitting around?” Shannon said, “Here it looks like everyone is busy all the time. At the other building, I’ve seen some sewers without anything to do or maybe they do not want to work as hard as possible.” Pepper said, “I might have to take a stroll up to the other building off and on more and see for myself. Better yet, maybe I should plant a mole down there. I’m not paying people to sit around doing nothing. Remind me tomorrow to do that.”

 

When they were finished with dinner, they had a nice leisurely walk back to Pepper’s apartment. Pepper was ready to turn in right away to catch up on her jetlag. Shannon was not in the mood to sleep. She didn’t want to dream of Enzo. Actually she would love to dream about him, but knowing he would not be there when she woke up made her not want the dreams. She ended up reading a book on the couch and that’s where Pepper found her the next morning. The book was still in her hands while she slept.

 

Pepper started the coffee pot and knew that Shannon would wake up shortly after the coffee smell hit her. Then she went in to shower and get ready for the day. When she turned her shower off, she heard the shower going on in the guest bathroom.

 

They met in the kitchen at about the same time. Pepper told Shannon to stay in her office all day if possible. She needed the time to mourn without having to answer questions all day. If she needed anything done downstairs, she was to bring it to Pepper and Pepper would relay it down. Shannon said, “Thanks that should help.”

 

Everyone was punched in for the day and there was still ten minutes before the store opened. Pepper walked downstairs and asked everyone to gather around. She started by saying that she hoped everyone had a wonderful holiday. She told them that she certainly had. Her mother had gotten married. Then she said, “I have some sad news I want you all to hear from me. Shannon and her boyfriend, Enzo, were going to be engaged on New Year’s Eve. Unfortunately, he never returned from his family’s home after the holidays. Their house caught on fire. Enzo made it out safely. However, when he noticed that his other family members had not come out, against the firefighter’s protests, he went back into the house to try to help them out. At that time a ceiling beam fell and crushed him. His entire family perished in the fire. Shannon went to his apartment after she heard this and found the engagement ring and notes of what he was going to say for the proposal. I suggested she go home for a while during her mourning period. She decided working and staying busy would be the best way for her to get through this sad time. I’m requesting that none of you ask her about the situation or even give your sympathy’s to her. She’s very fragile at this time. Treat her just as you would normally treat her, please. It will take time. I don’t know how long, but help her out by doing as I’ve asked. Thank you. Now it’s time for work.”

 

When Pepper was finished talking, she saw tears in several of the women’s eyes. They talked amongst themselves about how tragic the situation was, and ‘poor Shannon, no one should have to go through this.’ Everyone, however, did go back to their stations and began working.

 

Pepper walked back to where Ciara was standing. Ciara gave Pepper a hug to welcome her back. She said, “That is so terrible about Shannon. What should be the happiest time of her life, turned out horrible. I will mentally send her good thoughts but won’t talk to her about it. On the other hand, that is wonderful news about your mother. Has she known this man long?” Pepper said, “Actually, she only met him last May. It was quite a whirlwind romance. She ended up moving out to Waverly and renting two adjoining empty shops at the boardwalk mall. She got the owner’s permission to remove the adjoining wall. She, along with Bailey, Josh and Mom’s male friend redecorated it and made it into a THE CLOTHES HANGAR BOUTIQUE. She’s going to see how something like that works. She moved there under the guise of wanting to be closer to Bailey, but we all know it was because of Evin. You’ll get to meet him. They’re coming out for the runway show.” Ciara said, “I’m looking forward to it. Your mother was alone much too long.”

 

Pepper said, “Shannon told me we have two new requests for haute couture gowns. Did she mention them to you?” Ciara said, “No, unfortunately Shannon was not herself for the last week. Now I know why.” Pepper said, “I’ll call the women and get back with you.” Ciara said, “Sounds good. It’s good to have you back.” Pepper smiled and turned to leave as Ciara’s assistants were coming in to the room.

 

Pepper chatted with a few of the employees on her way around the workroom. She noticed her runway designs hanging under a protective cover in the corner. She walked over to check them out. She wanted to look them over to make sure the next few she designed would make a cohesive group. She was very satisfied with them. She still needed more ‘energy’ in the line though.

 

As she was running back up the stairs to Shannon’s office and her studio, she thought of all the cookies and pie she had eaten while she was at Bailey’s over the holidays. It was all worth it. Too bad her sister had turned into such a fantastic cook and baker. She wondered if she was always like that or if she started after she got married. She’d have to ask her that. That’s something she would have known if they had been raised together. She still regretted all the lost years between them.

 

Pepper stopped at Shannon’s desk. At least Shannon was working and not crying. That was an improvement. Shannon looked up. Pepper said, “I told everyone what happened and asked them not to talk to you about it. I asked that they treat you just as they normally would.” Tears started to appear in Shannon’s eyes however she quickly tried to squelch them and said, “Thank you.” Pepper continued into her studio then immediately turned back and went to Shannon’s desk. She asked, “Do you have the numbers of the women that wanted to order the haute contour gowns?” Shannon opened her desk drawer and pulled out the two orders. Pepper looked at the names and her eyes widened. She said, “WOW! These should be fun to work on. Hopefully they don’t want anything weird so I have to turn them down.” Pepper knew that some of their styles in the past were pretty risqué and she refused do those.

 

Pepper went into her studio, closed the door behind her and called the two women. They described what they were looking for and a type of fabric they would like their gowns made from. She asked when they would be able to meet at her studio for a consult. One of the women would be in the area the following week. The other one was shooting a film and would not be able to be there until the end of February. Pepper set up appointments for both of them.

 

She then went to turn on her music and moved to her sketchpad. After looking over the other designs in her runway line, she was ready to start drawing. She was ready to start drawing……she sat there and nothing came to her. Was this like writer’s block? This had never happened before. She always seemed to have ideas. BUT, not right now.

 

Pepper reached for one of the albums that held some of her past designs in. She thought looking through the album might give her some ideas. Nothing! She pulled out another album and scanned through it, then another and another. Nothing, nothing, nothing! Pepper was beginning to panic. She switched the type of music on her IPod hoping that would help. She sat down in her easy chair and picked up the wedding album from her mother’s wedding. She had to get her mind off her designs for a while.

 

She paged through the photos. They definitely were outstanding pictures. Fynn was talented, no doubt about it. She stared at the sunset shots. She went through all the pictures again. She glanced at everything around in the photos, not just the people. The boardwalk was prominent, sea grasses were sticking up here and there, rocks and shells here and there on the sand, waves breaking on the shore and the beautiful colors of the setting sun in the background.

 

Pepper went back to her sketchpad and started drawing. She was nearly in frenzy mode. It seemed as though the design was evolving with a mind of its own. When she finished, she stepped back, accessed the design and smiled. It was perfect. She immediately went through her fabrics and chose which ones she wanted to use. There were a total of eight different fabrics that would be used in this design. She called down to the workroom and asked one of the women to come up and help her carry the fabric downstairs. Within three minutes, the woman was upstairs in her studio. She took four bolts of fabric and Pepper took the other four bolts. Pepper placed her design sheet on top of her fabric bolts. They placed the fabric on the pattern maker’s desk. Pepper thanked the woman who assisted in bringing the fabrics down.

 

The pattern maker looked at Pepper is amazement. She said, “Usually you bring me only one design and the fabric for it. Why am I getting several designs at once?” Pepper said, “These fabrics are all going into this one design.” The pattern maker said, “I have to see this design!” Pepper showed it to her. She explained which fabrics went where. The pattern maker jotted down all the notes and numbered each area and then said, “I will be very anxious to see this made up. I’ll let you know when I’m finished.” Pepper just said, “Thank you.” She smiled all the way back up the stairs.

 

As Pepper passed Shannon’s office, Shannon looked up and said, “What’s going on with all the fabric?” Pepper said, “It’s for my latest design.” Shannon said, “All that for one design? That’s either going to look fantastic or crappy. I’m guessing fantastic.” Pepper laughed and went back into her studio.

 

Pepper drew another somewhat similar design in a shorter version and a few variations on the design. She knew these would be her final designs walking the runway. When the pattern maker called up to say she was finished with the first one Pepper had taken down to her, she brought down the second similar one for her to work on.

 

She took down the two designs she had finished over the weekend to two other pattern makers along with the fabric. The sooner she finished with her runway designs the more relaxed she would feel.

 

Pepper walked back up to Shannon’s office and told her she was going to be taking a walk up to the other warehouse workroom. Shannon said, “Do you want me to go along?” Pepper said, “I’d love the company and the extra pair of eyes. Transfer your phone calls down to the store. I’ll let them know we’re both going to be out for a little while.”

 

Pepper went back downstairs and told the clerk at the store register that both she and Shannon were going to the other workroom building for a bit. They should be back within an hour or so depending on what was going on there. Pepper told her that Shannon was transferring calls down to her. Just then Shannon came down the stairs. She tried to keep eye contact away from anyone working in the store. She could not take the sympathetic looks right now.

 

The day was cool outside but still very comfortable for January. The other warehouse workroom was only about three blocks away. Pepper didn’t go in there very often so she did not know the employees there very well. Shannon was down there occasionally. Ciara was the one that usually brought the work to the employees there.

 

As they were walking down the street, Pepper told Shannon that she nonchalantly wanted to see if everyone was working in this workshop to their highest potential. She told Shannon to walk down the opposite aisle as her and run an eye across all the stations. If someone was not working, she told her not to stop but just take note of which ones they were. Pepper would handle it from there.

 

Luckily, there was a hallway at the entrance so that the worker’s would not immediately see them come in. There were two young women leaning against the wall, smoking and chatting. Immediately, Pepper told them to go outside and wait until she came back out to talk with them. Smoking was not permitted in ANY of her work or sales areas. She jotted down their names in the little notebook she brought with her. When they said they didn’t have their coats, she told them to throw their cigarettes outside to be picked up by them later and wait by the door.

 

Shannon walked in first so that she could walk down the far side of the workshop. Pepper heard her quietly greet a woman. There was an unusual amount of chatter that she could hear going on. After a couple of minutes, Pepper walked in and walked along the closer side. She stopped to comment on one woman’s sewing, telling her she needed to remove the stitches and start over. She continued walking. There was a young woman and a young man that were just sitting at their stations chatting. There was fabric on their tables but they had their chairs angled so they were aiming at each other. There was a specified break room for this building. That is where the employees were supposed to take their breaks, not at their work stations. Shannon and Pepper met in the break room. There were three people in there having their lunch. Pepper just smiled at them and asked how everything was going. They said, “Fine.” Pepper asked if there were any problems here that they would like to discuss.” One of the women said, “There is always so much talking going on that I have a hard time hearing my music even wearing my earphones.” Pepper asked them if there was enough work here for them or were there times they were just sitting around waiting for another assignment. Another woman spoke up and said, “We always have projects to work on. When we finish with one, we just need to go to the front to see the next item to be worked on. There are several people that just sit and chat when they are finished and take extra-long breaks. They do not bust their butts at all.” Pepper thanked both women and she and Shannon walked out of the break room.

 

As they were walking back toward the front, the woman that Pepper had told to remove her stitching had not done so. She had just continued on with what she was doing. Pepper stopped at her work table and said, “I told you to tear out that seam and redo it. Why haven’t you done that?” The woman said, “It looked fine to me.” Pepper said, “Stop right now, punch your time card, collect your things and don’t bother returning. You are fired for insubordination. Your final check will be mailed to you.” Pepper watched as she collected her things, followed her to the time clock and took her time card after she punched out. Pepper wrote her name in her notebook along with the two from the front who were smoking. She followed her to the front door and watched her leave.

 

Pepper then turned her attention to the smokers by the front door. She said, “You both signed agreements at the beginning of your work here. On those agreements it was stated that there was NO smoking allowed anywhere in the building. You are both fired. Go collect your personal items from your workstations, clock out, retrieve your coats and leave. Your final paychecks will be mailed to you.” One of the ladies tried to argue with Pepper and Pepper just said, “I will mail a copy of the agreement you signed along with your final check.”

 

Pepper went with the smokers to their stations to make sure they only removed their personal items from the tables. She followed them back to the break room while they clocked out. She took their time cards also. She followed them to the door and watched them leave, making sure they picked up their discarded cigarettes they threw out earlier.

 

Pepper and Shannon then walked back to the young man and woman that were chatting and asked them, “Are you on a break now?” They said, “Yes.” Pepper said, “Do you know that you were told when you started working here that breaks are ONLY taken in the break room?” The girl said, “Yes, sorry.” The woman next to the young woman said, “They are always on break from what I can tell. They do very little work.” The young man started to disagree but the woman on the other side of him agreed with the woman on the side of the young woman. Pepper thanked the two women. She told the young man and woman to join her in the break room now. Shannon followed along.

 

When they were all in the break room, Pepper reminded them that they were being paid to work, not to hook up on a date. The young man started to interrupt. Pepper just held up her hand to stop him. Wisely, he took the hint. Pepper said, “I will give you one more chance to work. If I find out that you are taking too many breaks and are chatting too much again, you will be fired. I will be moving you to different stations so you are not next to each other. If you are not happy with this arrangement, you are free to leave now.” They both said they would like another chance. Pepper said, “Come with me and collect all your items at your table that are personal and the designs you are working on. Shannon, would you please take this young woman to one of the smoker’s stations and I will assist this young man to one of the other freed up stations. I think your neighbors where you have been are tired of your inefficiency already.”

 

Luckily the smokers did not sit near each other. The locations of the two young people were several rows and tables apart. While the packing up was going on, Pepper told the new neighboring sewers on both sides of the young people what the situation was and told them to let either Shannon or her know if they continued to take overly long breaks. The sewers said they would.

 

After the two young people were settled into their new stations, Shannon then went to the front of the room. She clapped her hands to get everyone’s attention. She said, “We’ve been told that there is a lot of conversation going on while you are supposed to be working. That is not allowed. You were informed of that when you were all hired. You all signed agreements with the rules written out. A question to your neighbor about your work is allowed, anything other than that is not. You may listen to music only if you use earphones. To reiterate some of the rules that you signed when you started working here, breaks are only to be taken in the break room. They are to be ten minutes in the morning, a thirty minute lunch and ten minutes in the afternoon. You are to get up from your work station once every hour and walk around to stretch for five minutes and five minutes only. There is no smoking allowed anywhere in the building. That includes the hallway coming in from the door. When you are finished with a design, it is to be hung up. Immediately come to the front and pick up the next design to be worked on. Are there any questions?” There were none. Shannon added, “Three people have been fired during our visit today – two for smoking and one for insubordination. If you think we are joking around about this that should prove to you that we are not. You are being paid well here, better than any other comparable business. You are being paid to work. If anyone has anything they would like to tell us, Pepper’s and my phone numbers are right next to the phone in the back room. Thank you and now you may return to your work.”

 

As Shannon and Pepper were leaving, Shannon looked at Pepper and said, “You know, that was actually quite exhilarating.” Pepper smiled and said, “It was, wasn’t it. Are you in the mood for a pastry? The bakery just happens to be on our way back to work.” Shannon laughed and said, “I was just thinking the same thing.”

 

They stopped at the bakery, but when they looked at the time, they decided to take their pastries back to their desks. Pepper ran up to her apartment and made some green tea for both of them and brought a cup down for Shannon and herself as she went back into her studio. Shannon picked up all messages that had come in while they were gone from the store cashier. Luckily, there weren’t many.

 

When Pepper was in her studio and the music was blaring, she thought to herself, “Yes, that was VERY exhilarating!” She was not going to hire anybody to replace the three employees that she had fired just yet. She would see how it went. It didn’t sound like they had been doing all that much anyhow so it probably would not make that much difference.

 

She sat at her desk and enjoyed her pastry and tea before going back to work at her sketchpad.

 

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