Day 15: The Cold Heart

19 3 6

After a trip back to the shelter, a discussion with the director there, a few phone calls to some of the staff back at work, and an evening of scrounging up shoes, Ashley and I returned to our respective homes to collapse into bed.  I felt bad for running her so hard after she had just recovered from her illness, but when I offered for her to go home early, she shooed my concerns away and continued on with a smile.  I made sure to thank her every chance I got, though it became more and more difficult to do so as a cough started taking up the majority of my throat's time.

That night I only managed a few winks of sleep thanks to both the plans for the coming day running through my head and the hacking cough that shook me awake every time I got close to a blissful dream state.  When my clock buzzed around seven in the morning, I groaned with fatigue, but didn't fight the alarm.  It wasn't like a few more hours in bed would have granted anything for me.  Sleep wasn't coming and I was determined to make amends for the mess my failed boot line had caused.  I washed up, put on a layer of makeup to hide the circles beneath my eyes and the blotches on my cheeks, and made myself a pitch black cup of coffee.  I considered opening the calendar for a moment, but decided I didn't need to add that to my worries.  What will be, will be, I thought.

"Ms. Sullivan, we're so glad to see you!" cheered the delighted director of the North Street Shelter.  "Some of your employees showed up early and brought breakfast for the occupants.  It's been quite a morning."

Following her in with Ashley at my side, I walked into a packed cafeteria style room where several of my staffers handed out coffee, donuts, fruit, and cereal.  I knew that several of them had expressed excitement about the project we had suggested the night before, but I hadn't fully appreciated their zeal until I saw their enthusiasm put to work that morning and as a result, a smile lit my face.

And it wasn't like the smile that had found my lips when I discovered Heidi Blake had endorsed the Snow Bunnies or when Shelby had given me her full marketing support for the boot line.  It was a true, honest smile that felt comfortable upon my lips.  That felt like an old friend that has been calling me for years, but I had only just then invited it back to my home.  It felt wonderful.

"Excellent," I replied to the director, "we'll leave them to that as we get set up for the fitting."

She led us to a conference room where we set to work organizing the shoes we had brought over the previous night, sorting them by style, size, and color.  Back out in the large, open room, breakfast was winding down and the staffers were able to help Ashley and I reposition tables close to the wall as well as create banks of chairs to create a few separate work stations.  We laid out scrap materials and supplies that we pulled from our fabrication rooms at work, and brought out a few measuring tools to identify the proper fit for each occupant at the shelter.  On the other side of the room, some staffers and a brand manager from a clothing line were setting up spaces to do fittings with a wide wardrobe of clothes they had procured.

Several of my staffers manned the fitting stations, while I and some of the other designers worked the fabrication tables.  When alterations or repairs were needed on any shoes that we brought or that the occupant already owned, we set to work replacing soles, adding cushion, and patching tears.  We polished and shined.  We mended and sewed.  We welcomed every new complication with a smile, even when we got a pair of Snow Bunnies.

"I'll take those," I said, when Ashley brought over the first pair of Bunnies.  "First, let's take this off," I mumbled as I removed the frivolous cuff of white fur.  "And then we'll add an insole and a fleece liner.  You did bring me a size up from what their shoe size is, right?"  I looked up at Ashley from my work, but before she could respond, I had to turn away to conceal another hacking cough.  "Shit," I grumbled, reaching into my pocket, "I'm about out of cough drops."  I popped another lozenge into my mouth and then, turned to face Ashley with expectations of getting her affirmation on the shoe size.  However, I was instead met with pouting lips and a raised brow.

"You should go home," she answered.

"Absolutely, not," I replied with a gravelly voice.  I cleared my throat a couple times and sucked on the honey flavored drop so that it coated my raw throat.  "This is my penance and...well, I'm having fun and I don't want to go."

I sounded a tad childish as my pout stuck out my bottom lip in defiance, but it was true.  A rush of adrenaline was pulsing through my veins and my heart beat with an eagerness that powered my tired arms and restless lungs.  I forgot what it felt like to handle the materials, to manipulate the fabric, and to tailor a shoe to fit just right for a customer.  I hadn't had that kind of fun in years and no cough was going to keep me from that.

"Okay, if you say so," said Ashley with a sigh.  "The answer is yes, that's a size up."

After that, things continued smoothly despite the quick trip Ashley had to make to a nearby pharmacy to get me some more cough drops.  However, I had also asked her to pick up lunch for all the volunteers and occupants at the shelter, so it was really kind of on her way.

We all took a break to have lunch even though we had commandeered most of the tables.  Instead people people mingled or ate off their lap.  It didn't matter, food filled our bellies and conversations spilled from our lips.  At some point it was hard to tell who was a volunteer and who wasn't.  That too brought a smile to my face.  Ashley, however, was quick to wipe it off.

"Is everything set with lunch?" I asked, before biting into a slice of vegetarian pizza.

"Yes, everything is out, everyone is eating, everyone is happy, but we have a different problem."

The calendar, I thought.  It hadn't reared its ugly head yet and I felt certain Ashley was about to unveil it.

"What's up?" I asked with a sigh, suddenly finding my appetite missing.

"When I came in with the delivery, I saw a TV crew setting up.  I talked to them and they plan on filming this event to show on the evening news.  The shelter director thought it would be a good way to raise awareness about those suffering from homelessness, and she also thought she was doing us a favor by marketing Sullivan Shoes and Jesse's line."

"Well, I would have to agree," I said with a shrug.  "In fact, Shelby might actually have something nice to say to me tomorrow."

"Yes, but," said Ashley, her words drawn out as she glanced over at something behind me. I turned to follow her gaze and found our work stations a mess of various materials, threads, and accessories.

"I think Shelby knows that repairing shoes can be a bit messy," I said, answering her gaze.

"It's not that," sighed my assistant, who glanced back at the door to see if the camera crew had stepped in yet.  Finding us still alone, she turned back with a whisper on her lips.  "You're not really repairing the Snow Bunnies.  These are being retrofitted to be better, more proper boots.  What is it going to look like if the face of the brand is acknowledging the flaw in the design?"

"Shelby is all but given up on the Snow Bunnies, why will it matter?  The boot is doomed anyways."

"But, the company's credibility for fine products isn't.  You giving out unwanted pairs of Snow Bunnies with retrofitted comfort is going to make the brand in general look bad.  This may be the last straw."

I looked away from Ashley's burrowing gaze and instead turned my attention to the entrance of the shelter.  The director was there with an eager smile on her face as she opened the doors to the camera crew from a local news station.  And then I looked down to where volunteers were wrapping up their lunch and returning to their work with fitting occupants and repairing our trove of donated shoes.

"Fuck Shelby and whatever it is she thinks of this," I answered, looking Ashley straight in the eye.  "I came here to do this and I'm not sending these folks out of here with shoes that will do more damage than good."

"Okay, then," said Ashley with a half smile.  "I'll work on cleaning up lunch and you keep up with those cough drops."

"Will do," I said with a wink before finishing off my slice of pizza and returning to my work station where another pair of Snow Bunnies awaited me.

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