It had been weeks since Mr. Travis Quellwood, the man responsible for Temperance’s new-found love of hatting and her heart’s singular desire, had been in the store. And since his first visit, much had changed. Prudence’s wardrobe had been selectively pruned. What once was a haberdashery, had bloomed into quite the place for ladies. Henry’s stock was pushed aside, gathering dust since Herman’s (his former employee and suspected thief), hasty departure, and the space that was once filled with men’s finery was brimming with ladies brims.
But while the store had transformed, the clientele had not. In fact, in the absence of a man to sell toppers and the like, Henry’s faithful audience had dwindled.
Though she ached to see him, Temperance had given up hope that the handsome Mr. Quellwood would make another appearance until one cold day. The little bell at the front door rang, and Temperance, who was in the back room deconstructing yet another of her sister’s dresses came scurrying out. Clucking like a barnyard hen about the constant interruptions, her customer service was more likely to scare perspective customers away than it was to welcome them in. But this particular customer was not afraid. He was used to working with the temperamental and flamboyant. They had only met once, but he was already used to the mad hattress’ idiosyncrasies.
With twinkle in eye, and wallet in hand, he took a look at her created collection. Clucking ceased when she realized who it was she was clucking at. For what seemed like an endless moment there was nothing but the ticking of the clock between them.
~Tsk Tsk Tsk~
Temperance’s heart leapt into her chest. She could hear it pounding in her ears. The floor fell away from her feet and she became weak in the knees. Collapse was eminent but she never hit the floor. As she regained awareness, she found herself in the strong arms of Mr. Travis Quellwood, himself. All her months of worry and wait were worth it for they brought her right to that moment.
She swooned for a matter of seconds before lashes fluttered and she clutched her heart which, though still fluttering, had sunk back into her chest.
“I’ve come to see your work, my dear. I can already see that you have been quite busy,” Mr. Quellwood said, easing communication by not letting Temperance speak. He lifted her easily to her feet and was careful upon letting go should she swoon once more.
Temperance, straightened her dress and smoothed her frizzy hair with a flattened palm, nodding in answer to the man’s observation. “I should like to buy one for a ….well….for a very special lady.” His weighted gaze shot right through the tiny, chalk-white, woman who’s voice had yet to return. He smiled and continue looking around. “But it must be ~exquisite~.” He approached Temperance who’s eyes never left him and stopped only inches from her. She inhaled deeply as her nose nearly bumped into the brass button on his vest. He smelled of pipe tobacco and spearmint. Like everything else about him, Temperance found the scent intoxicating.
She could barely bring her eyes to his for fear that she might swoon once more. “What would you suggest for a creature with skin of alabaster…like your’s? Something red, perhaps? The color of love?”
Temperance stumbled backward and pointed across the room to a crimson bonnet trimmed in black, glittering with crystals. Mr. Quellwood followed her direction, his long stride carrying him quickly to the masterpiece. He snatched it up with breathless exclamation and then peered at its creator. “This…this is too pretty to part with,” He said, holding it as if it were made of glass. “But if you would entrust me with the purchase, I am sure you will meet a much deserved reward.”
Temperance nodded dumbly, stumbling to the cash counter. Quellwood met her there and held the bonnet up to her, admiring the contrast between the scarlet fabric and Temperance’s pasty skin. “You are correct! This is perfect for one with skin as fine as yours.”
Now, Temperance couldn’t be sure, but for one brief moment, it felt as though Mr. Travis Quellwood was flirting with her. The thought made her giddy.
As she wrote up his bill of sale, he leaned on the counter, a hint of mirth alight in his eyes. “May I ask, my dear lady, what are you doing on the evening of the fourteenth?” Temperance looked up at him, her mouth falling open with the hope that a voice would come out. In it’s absence, she simply shook her head, a lost look in her eyes. The man smiled as he gently brushed one of her frizzy curls aside. “I should like to see you at a special performance my troupe is putting on. Would you come? Would you come…as my special guest?”
Of all the dreams she could have dreamed she would have never dared to dream this one. It was too bold…too unlikely…and had it never occurred, it would have left her tattered hopes too tattered to repair. But here, it was happening! She wanted to scream, to cry, to run out into the street and yell the news at the top of her lungs! But his presence held her still and silent. Upon his last visit he had stolen her heart and upon this one, he had stolen her voice; a feat never before accomplished. She could only nod, the sloppy bun jiggling back and forth on top of her head.
“Good!,” he exclaimed exchanging the neatly packaged bonnet for the agreed upon price. “I knew you would not dare break my heart. I promise it will be a night you shall never forget!” With that, he doffed his hat and offered her a deep bow as he backed out of the shop disappearing into the busy street.
In the moments after their meeting, as her thoughts fell quiet and the ticking of the clock became apparent once more, Temperance’s voice returned. She gasped a small gasp of shock. “Oh dear,” she said, worrying the cuff of her sleeve. “Oh…dear.” Her heart began to race once more. “What shall I wear? The fourteenth…of February…” Eyes widened as everything he had said came flooding back in bits and pieces. “OH DEAR,” she exclaimed, unable to believe her good fortune. She ran outside stopping in the middle of the street and yelled at the top of her lungs. “I’m going to be his Valentine!!!!”