on the front of them (and which Calisto had always personally found hopelessly tacky, despite selling well among her age group) had been afforded a prominent position near the front of the store, almost as if they were intended to be the first things you saw when you walked in. So her mother's hand in the operations was still visible even if her once-overwhelming personal touch had weathered away like footprints in sand near the shore.
Marisa emerged from the back, a large, multiethnic woman with a style that seemed equally informed by antique stores as by specialty clothiers. She opened her arms and Calisto walked into them.
"My baby, you're looking so fine today!"
"Hi Aunty." People who knew you as a little kid never seem to be able to shake that first impression no matter how much growing up you've done since then. It was the case with her and Marisa.
"Tell me you've come to work for me. I really need that family talent right now." The younger girl was off in some other corner of the store doing inventory or whatever. Maybe she just did the retail.
"Well, this is more than just a social call, if that's what you mean."
"You look hungry. I'm closing the store down for the next hour and getting you something to eat." Calisto tried to protest that she had already eaten but her Aunty clearly had interpreted her visit as a catch-up opportunity. It was problematic, having to accept her largesse after not having asked for it, while at the same time having an even more consequential subject on her mind.
They went to the place where her mother used to take her for sushi all the time. Calisto never cared for it, but wanted to play the part of the gracious guest long enough to conceal what she had really come for properly.
"So how have you been keeping, dear child?"
"Oh, you know. Good days and bad days and all that." She never much felt like talking about the toll that recent and semi-recent events were taking on her, and didn't find any such talks productive. Pain was painful and loss was devastating, what else was new? Still, she recognized the necessity of participating in these kinds of discussions in order to appear at least mostly human.
"I still cry every day. I can't imagine what it must be like for you. Maile was a beautiful soul. Seeing the way her light shines on through you makes me so happy."
"Yeah, I'd like to talk about that. My mom asked a small favor of me before the end."
"You know you can come and work for me any time. Like I was saying, your skills are badly needed right now."
"That is not what she asked." Calisto barely knew how to contain her impatience at this woman's ceaseless need to hear only what she wanted. "She told me I should never work for anybody but myself."
"You would be working for yourself, entirely! Same as the arrangement she and I had. Design in your spare time, earn your share. Independence with stability, the best of both worlds."
"Aunty, I don't have a designing bone in my body. You know that, my mother ought to have told you enough times how woeful I was at everything she tried to teach me. Do you know what I made the other day when I was trying to knit a scarf? I made a shawl, but with a little scarfy tail on one end."
"See, now that's the kind ideas we need around here. Outside the box, refreshing."
"The point is, I don't think she meant for me to just follow in her footsteps. I think she wanted me to strike out on my own."
"You certainly can enter the game without my help, but why would you want to? And why would I let you when I owe your mother so much? The least I can do to honor her memory is get you started on your own path."
"Thank you. The thing is, I've been working on this idea for a dating site with this..." She had difficulty with the phrasing and eventually just settled on "new friend of mine."
"Oh." Her eyes widened as she tucked a bite of sushi inside of one cheek to continue speaking. "A new beau, I hope?"
"He's just some guy who wants to start a business with me."
"And tell me about the dating site, what's the idea behind it? You were always so smart and so good at coming up with clever things."
"Basically, the idea behind the site is that anybody can meet up with anybody else at any time. It's supposed to accelerate the whole process by connecting you with people who share the same taste in food. You could literally just show up, at a place like this, and connect with someone else who happens to be eating there, of you're both using the same service."
"Ooh, so you could have impromptu lunch dates then."
"Yeah, but it doesn't have to be lunch. Honestly, I got the idea from thinking about how I never went to prom because I didn't have a date. If this had existed back then, I could've hooked up with another dateless person and who knows, maybe we would've even had a fun night."
Marisa looked at Calisto as if attempting to recall a younger version of her. "I distinctly remember you saying prom was stupid and grades were all that mattered."
"Of course I would say that, no one wants to admit that not having a date makes you feel like a loser. This is supposed to be a solution to that. Anyway, I'm gonna need to get into some of my mom's cash flow to get us started."
"Ah, I see. Now you know that it's not just as simple as all that, don't you?"
"What do you mean?"
"The cash flow you speak of is built into the store itself. So how much I can give you depends on how well the store is doing at any given time."
"Okay, so how are things right now?"
"Baby, I'm so sorry. We've been in the red for quite some time. I've actually been looking at some less costly locations in case we have to move." Marisa's face registered that she read Calisto's expression of worry, and she reassured, "Don't worry, it's not as bad as that just yet. But if things keep going the way they've been... But holiday season is around the corner, too."
Calisto felt that she needed to do some reassuring of her own. "It's fine, I don't need that much. We don't really know how much this will cost yet. I just need to know it will be there."
"Oh, I would never let anything happen to your mother's money. I would pay it to you out of my own pocket if I had to. The situation is just precarious now, but we've lived through worse times together, your mother and I. I have a good feeling that the best days are still ahead."
"That's great. So you would be able to cut me a check if I walk in tomorrow and ask for it?"
"Anything you ask. I owe my livelihood to Maile, and she owes her inspiration to you."
"Mom didn't exactly make me feel so inspiring most of the time."
"Oh, you were all she ever cared about. She once told me that this business, no matter how successful it ever got, meant nothing to her without you there to benefit from it. The fact that she was supporting you for its own sake was the only reason she poured so much of herself into it."
"I guess you're right. But it's funny you say that, seeing as how she got out of the business right when I actually needed her support the most."
"Oh, she never got out. She left the day-to-day running of the store to me, but she still did a lot of stuff behind the scenes, right up to the end, you'd be surprised. And she never stopped supporting you."
"Yeah, but the point is, I couldn't feel it at the time. And now it's too late." Calisto was falling into the very pattern of self-pity which she set out to avoid when she began this meeting. It occurred that now that her mother was gone, it would be best for her to see as little of this woman as possible. Marisa hero-worshipped her mother and credited her for everything that had ever gone well for her. Maybe Calisto was too harsh on her mother, but hadn't she earned that right? Being an only child, this was her sole insight into what it would be like to be in a rivalry with a sibling.
"Children always learn everything too late. I know I did." Marisa had none of her own.
"I have to get back to the office," Calisto said without consulting a timepiece of clock of any kind. "Thanks for lunch." She hadn't eaten a thing.
"Feel free to take anything you want off the rack. It's all yours."
"I don't have time to shop right now, but I'll come back." The likelihood of her taking Marisa up on this offer was minimal. Black skirts and plain blouses were pretty much all she ever wore to work, and her idea of dressing up for an evening out was putting on the newer hoodie. Being raised around fashion for so many years had put her off the idea. It was curious to her that Marisa seemed to believe that a predeliction for clothing was genetic, or at least passed down through the influence of an elder. "And I'll call ahead next time. Bye!"