The Dress that Stopped the PainbyWokeUpOneDay©
Author's note: This is my entry into the 2017 Valentine's Day contest. I came up with the idea from a simple line in the refrain of a song on the radio; the story blooming outward in my mind in both directions. I was motivated to write it in three days because it wouldn't leave me alone until I did. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.
Marriage sucks! If I'd have known that I'd be in this much of a rut after seven years I'd have never done it!
I met my wife in unexpected circumstances. I enjoyed my noncommittal nature, my wanderings, so I wasn't looking. My little Blackberry was running out of contact space and that's the way I liked it!
But I was looking for a new investment, a new way of making even more money. I ran across an opportunity that seemed to have potential and did my due diligence. It was a women's clothing store in a prime location. Bad ownership was driving it into the ground. If I found the right people to run it, it was a gold mine waiting to burst open!
When I visited the store to meet with the owners, I found my hesitation about it to be justified. I was quite honest about my intentions: I would buy out the stores and the owners were to leave. I needed to gut out the cancer and get the store in the black as quickly as possible.
We started with a tour of the store and something caught my eye. Well, someone would be more accurate but it was the way she handled herself on the floor that captivated me. She was energetic and had the sales staff moving and excited. The owners were smiling but obviously depressed under the surface. The contrast was refreshing.
I was taken in the back room to see the books and get a lay of the process. I was unimpressed with what I saw and it only further reinforced the need to discontinue the current ownership in every way possible. At the end of their haphazard presentation I asked who the girl was, being told she was the floor manager.
Something told me I needed to talk to her away from the store. When we walked out of the back room she saw me and smiled, but almost imperceptibly scowled when glancing toward the owners. I thanked them and walked toward her, business card in hand.
"I'm Don. I'm thinking about..."
"I'm Tessa. Forgive me, Don, but I know why you're here and hope you succeed," she said with another scowl in the direction of the owners.
I knew then that she was the only way to make this venture profitable. I extended my hand to shake hers, putting my left over hers to encircle it. "When do you get done working?"
"I'm here until close, why?" she asked. I released her hand and she turned it seeing my business card.
"Call me the moment you're done. Tell absolutely no one, but I think you're the key to me buying this place. I think you're the key to making this store... hot!" I said this last word letting my eyes roam down her body.
She smiled at me and nodded slightly. Without moving her lips she said, "Count on it!"
"Memorize my number. When they ask, tell your bosses that I hit on you, you were polite, and there's no way you're going to call me. Rip up the card in front of them and toss it."
She nodded and I left. A few hours later I went to my favorite Italian restaurant and waited for her call. At 9:45 she called and agreed to meet me there.
When she walked in I knew I was right. She was a breathtaking brunette; 5'10" in high heels with long, sexy legs, tight ass, D cups, and a tight, short dress showing it all off. I thought my heart actually skipped a beat. Her hair looked different from earlier and incredible. Gorgeous was the word I used out loud when she sat down, making her blush.
I told her I was interested in buying the store, but only if the owners left at the same time. I didn't ask and she didn't wait to tell me what was wrong with the store and especially how it was run. She told me what she thought the store needed and how to make it work. The owners never listened to her and were even close to firing her for her meddling.
What she told me was impressive. She had a retail management degree and knew the ins and outs of the store, its suppliers, and what the store should and shouldn't be buying. Advertising, promotions, coupons, buyer's rewards... she had it all thought out.
"If only they'd let me try they wouldn't be in so much trouble!"
I sat back and rubbed my chin. "I have a thought." I paused for effect. "I'll buy the store on the silent agreement that you run it. The current owners must not know. If you don't agree, I'm..."
"Oh Don! There's no question I agree! Whatever you want, I'm in!"
We ate, drank, and got to know each other better. It was the first time that I left the restaurant alone, but it was also the first time I left with a funny feeling I'd met someone actually special.
I went home and poured over the books for the store. I intended to find out what I needed to know before I went to sleep that night, and it only took an hour. Any accountant fresh out of school could have found what I found. I tasted blood and I was going for the kill!
The next morning bright and early I went to my account managers and we worked out the deal as well as the details. It took only a day to get it all in order because we were very motivated. This time we wanted to appear eager. We didn't want to give the owners a chance to think. We wanted them to know they didn't have any other choice.
The next day I was back at the store and in the back room. I took the seat behind their desk to let them know I was in charge. My account manager and lawyer sat beside and slightly behind me. I gave the owners their books, copies made, and handed them my proposal. It clearly outlined what we knew the property was worth, how little the store was worth in its current condition, and our price.
As expected, they guffawed. "That'll ruin us! We can't accept an offer that low!"
I started circling my prey. "This property has been up for sale for over six months. You have not had one serious offer in that entire time." I had done my homework and they knew it.
"You also have some serious problems in your books. It took no time at all to find all of the... let's just call them underpayments to your employees over the last several years. Most are owed over $1,000, and in some cases much more!" I said putting another piece of paper in front of them outlining what we found.
"You can't think..."
My lawyer moved forward at this point and I sat back, folding my arms. He said, "The arbitration for a class action suit of this size will cost you far more than they are owed in settlements and fees, bankrupting you.
"As part of our offer, you will see here," he said tapping the paper, "that it is required that you pay each of these employees exactly what they are owed plus interest. You will also get them to sign a document," he said pulling out the document, "stipulating no further action will be taken against you for your wrongdoing. Then and only then will the sale go through."
My lawyer sat back and my manager went forward. He said, "We also found how you cooked the books in several other ways." He placed a document in front of them outlining only a few of the very costly but purposeful mistakes. We held back the most damning ones in case we needed to use them to good effect. "Using the store as your own personal piggy bank... I am sure the authorities and IRS would be interested..."
"Enough!" The owner and his wife were beaten and they knew it. The blood tasted good!
My entourage sat back and I didn't move, arms still crossed. "This is far more generous than our alternatives. We could just wait until the property is seized and buy it at auction for much, much less," I said satisfied we had done our job well.
Their shoulders slumped. They looked at each other and signed the offer.
"You have until the end of this business week to pay off your debt to the employees and get their signatures. After we have confirmed that they have the money, we will finalize the sale. We expect this to be done in two to three weeks," my lawyer said. It was a Tuesday.
"But, that gives us only three days!"
"Then I suggest you get moving!" I said. "We'll be leaving now, but Peter here," I indicated my account manager, "will stay and help you get the ball rolling. He or another of my people will be with you at the store until the sale finalizes." He also agreed to keep them in the office for a few minutes.
My lawyer and I left. He walked outside and waited for me while I went straight to Tessa. "It's on! More to keep to yourself, but we have pleasant surprises for you and your coworkers! You'll find that out soon enough. Would you call me when you're done with work tonight?"
"Count on it!" she excitedly said. "9:15 sharp!"
We met later and again, without me asking, she eagerly started sharing her plans for the store. It turns out that our conversation two days earlier got her mind working in overdrive and she had put together several written plans with many more ideas flowing freely.
On the spot I promoted her to store manager. I told her about the underpayments and told her that her first duty was to work with Peter to get everyone to sign the documents. She bared her teeth at the thought of the owners and their deception and happily agreed.
The next day I went into the store and told the owners that I had personally hired Tessa and she was to manage the store's transition with Peter. By Friday all of the store's current and former employees that had been cheated were paid and had signed. It was a testament to Tessa's abilities and further justification of my read on her.
One week later the owners were out, having signed everything over to us that day. All past irregularities, should they come to light, rested solely on their shoulders by written agreement.
The next night I closed the store with a mandatory employee meeting of all employees working that night or not. Faux champagne (because of under age employees), balloons, and streamers were quickly brought in when the last customer left. I lightly pushed Tessa forward and let her do all of the talking. We were going to close the store for a week to retool and repaint...essentially rebranding the store with a new name. Everyone would be helping to prepare and was excited!
Tessa outlined her incentives for sales, pushing the store as a whole over the individual. There would still be bonuses for top sales, but everyone who helped push the store over its cumulative goals would be getting bonuses -- everyone could benefit. Tessa was on fire and the staff was excited!
I was captivated. She had everyone in the palm of her hand for good reason. They trusted her and wanted to succeed with her. She had me as well.
After everyone left I invited Tessa out to eat and celebrate. I already had a reservation at a posh restaurant because I knew she'd accept. We talked, we celebrated, and we held hands for the first time. I felt the spark that did me in. She did too.
We were married six months later, her at age 23 and me at 30. We opened a second store six months after that, and a third a year after that. I spent a lot of time with this investment, all thanks to that wonderful woman. Tessa had the stores raking in profits that the previous owners didn't even dream possible!
We hired a second manager to help with the rapid expansion. Tessa personally picked Poppie, another retail management graduate with a second degree in fashion. They worked closely to keep on growing the business.
Two and a half years after we were married we had our first child, a boy. Tessa, being a self-made fashion maven, got quickly back in shape and back to work. Little Joe went to work with her a lot and the customers loved seeing him! Things were still going well with us and the business.
Four years after we were married our second child, Arabel, was born. Tessa again got back in shape but this time decided not to go back to work. She wanted to spend more time with the children.
A fourth store opened soon after and I was working all the time with Poppie to keep things running smoothly. Then Poppie finally got up the nerve to broach the subject of the stores having their own line of fashion. I was interested, but skeptical about such an expensive endeavor.
She had the perfect way to start, handing over her sketchbook. Drawings to reality, I knew nothing and said so. Poppie clapped twice and two of our sales girls happily walked in wearing her creations. It wasn't much of a runway, but it was effective! I drove Poppie and the girls to my home. Tessa was in love with the dresses!
We immediately worked out production and put them in all of our stores with a big promotion, opening a fifth store in the process. Sales were through the roof! Slowly we put out more of her creations. With Poppie's commission on each dress sold, she was angling toward buying into the store and getting more of her fashions in production. Tessa was livid. She wasn't even considered to be an owner, remaining an employee for tax purposes.
Tessa and I were drifting apart quickly since we spent little to no time together. This meant that Tessa became jealous of Poppie and the time I spent with the store, and of us together. I was beginning to think that Tessa didn't believe that Poppie is indeed a lesbian. I didn't care anymore!
This in turn, meant that our relationship went down the toilet. Love wasn't a word we used any longer. We fought constantly and as much as I wanted to be with my children, I couldn't because it meant that I'd have to fight with her. I was majorly depressed and started to drink heavily.
I sat in the office of the first store with my head down and hands clasped behind it, elbows on the desk. A bottle of Jack and a fresh glass were in front of me.
All of the events of the last few years rolled through my head and I had no idea how I got to this point. Putting all my time into a store for Tessa's happiness turned out to be our biggest downfall.
Poppie walked in and saw my disheveled state. "What are you doing, Don? You know full well you can't drink in the store!" she said trying to grab the bottle without succeeding.
I just pulled it and my glass back, hoisting the glass into the air. "Looks like I can! I'm perfectly capable..."
"Fine, smart ass! You shouldn't. Don't play semantics with me and put that away!"
I shook my head side to side. "If your relationship was going down the shitter, would you care anymore?"
"So eloquent!" she said and I stuck my tongue out at her. "My wife and I are doing quite fine, thank you very much! That crap won't help you anyway!" she said pointing to the whiskey.
"Let me be the judge of that." I took a swig from the glass at the same time that Poppie succeeded in swiping away the bottle.
"Go home. You know what today is. You and your wife..."
"...Are not going to do any better because of a single day on a calendar, especially not some damn greeting card holiday." I finished my glass and snapped my fingers twice, pointing at the bottle and back at the glass.
She just shook her head and held the bottle in her crossed arms. "Then go and work out. That always makes you feel better!"
"How is that supposed to help?"
"It's going to help more than Jack! You know that! You've been almost worthless lately around here!"
"How dare you!?"
"I dare because I'm your friend."
"Try telling my wife that. She doesn't believe me."
"She won't believe it from me either, you know that. If you don't try something else to work out your problems..."
"We've tried everything short of a full out intervention."
"Speaking of that..." she said shaking the whiskey.
"Fine, fine, you can stop now."
"Now get out of here. Go to the gym and work out your frustrations, then get a good night's sleep. I've got the stores under control as always," she said helping me to my feet. "Scat!" she said pushing me toward the door. "You did take a cab today, didn't you?"
"Yeah. I knew it'd be one of those days I should."
"It's been one of those days a lot lately, Don. Go and collect yourself and talk to your wife. Work things out!"
"Fat chance, but I do appreciate the encouragement," I said walking a little unevenly toward the front doors.
"Don't start. Just don't!" I interrupted her with a raised finger.
I made it to the sidewalk and took a deep breath of fresh... city air. I decided that Poppie was right: the gym sounded like a good place to go. Then the bar! That was a plan! I hailed a taxi and gave the driver the gym's address.
I checked in and changed, quickly going up to the second floor and the heavy bags. I needed to get out some of my anger in a very legal way! I put on the gloves and started working hard on the bags.
All I could think about was the last month of pure hell. Seven years of marriage, the seven year itch! I was feeling it and so was she. We fought about the kids, the household chores, the store, Poppie, and my constant working. In short, we fought about anything and everything! She also was bringing up my past before her and my womanizing. She assumed I was back to the good old days! Just because I didn't come home every night in order to avoid the fights, that didn't mean I was cheating!
I did have opportunities. Once, after a particularly bad fight I had with Tessa, a sales woman came on strong to me and we were making out in the back room. I had most of her dress off and she had my pants open. When she went down to blow me I came to my senses and stopped it. She was just trying to work the sale as hard as she could; there was nothing else there. But I almost blew it when she almost blew me! I immediately came clean to Tessa and that just let the floodgates open. I deserved it at first but this is two years later!
Every hit landed with a satisfying thump, but it wasn't enough. Soon I was hitting much too hard and hurting my hands even through the gloves. I stopped and ripped them off, needing to find ones with more padding because I didn't want to take time to tape my hands properly. I had worked up quite a sweat and my shirt was soaking so I decided to take it off while I changed my gloves. It's not really allowed in the club, but not something that's enforced around the heavy bags.
That's when I looked up. The gym is in a three story building. Most of the glitzy machines like the treadmills are on the first floor to attract customers. The heavy weights and other harder exercise machines are on the second. Classes are held on the third and showers and saunas are in the basement. Only one edge of the building has any windows to speak of, and the rest of the walls on each floor are covered floor to ceiling with mirrors.
It was in the mirrors that I saw her: a red headed goddess looking straight at me. She had on a simple workout outfit: tight black sports bra barely containing her ample chest and tight black shorts with light blue trim on top. Her legs were shapely and smooth, sexy as hell! Her belly showed not an ounce of fat on it. Her long hair was brought up in a tight pony tail. She had shiny lip gloss on and that face was amazing!
She was working at a butterfly machine, arms out wide and then swinging them inward. Her glorious chest was puffing out whenever her arms were brought back. Oh how I wanted to be the one she was working out for! All at once I felt the need, the longing, the desperate desire to be my former self. I needed a conquest with some random girl that I didn't need to know tomorrow!
No! NO! I shook my head away from the vision of loveliness. I went back to putting on the other gloves and started hitting the bag. I kept stealing glances of her, noticing her eyes were never moving away from me. She was drinking me in. I'm no slouch. I'm 37 and starting to grey a little on my chest and head. 6'2", 170 pounds of mostly but not obscene muscle, I'm in the same shape now that I was a few years ago.