A Modest Proposal - Sample Chapter
The Butterfly Box
Lost in thought, Lauryn Alexander drew several final, sweeping lines on the evening gown she was sketching, then held it out to look at the completed picture.
Before boarding the flight from New York City to Las Vegas, she'd noticed a classic movie magazine with a picture of Ginger Rogers on the cover. The structured bodice and long, flowing silk of the gown Ginger had been wearing inspired Lauryn, and she couldn't wait to get seated on the plane so she could pull out her sketchbook and get the image down on paper.
Not that it would matter. The sketch would end up in her file with all the others she'd drawn, along with her frustration. But that didn't stop her from creating elegant gowns, at least on paper.
"Excuse me, miss," the woman next to Lauryn said. "That's a beautiful drawing. Are you a designer?"
Lauryn smiled at the woman who was probably in her mid-fifties. Her chic haircut and classy knit suit spoke of wealth and sophistication.
She's probably wearing St. John, Lauryn thought. St. John suits were thousands of dollars, and nothing was more beautiful than the fabric and fit of a St. John. Lauryn became aware of her own clean-cut khakis that she was wearing with the button-front trench coat she had designed herself.
"Yes, I am," Lauryn answered. "I design for Jacqueline Yvonne."
"Jacqueline Yvonne!" the woman exclaimed. "I should have known. I love Jacqueline Yvonne's career and evening wear collections."
This time it took effort for Lauryn to smile. "Oh, yes. Well, I design outerwear," she admitted reluctantly. Not that she wasn't one of the best outerwear designers in the city. It was just that her dream was to design beautiful dresses and gowns, not what women wore over them.
"Outerwear . . . I see. Like coats and jackets," the woman said.
Lauryn nodded. She loved working for Jacqueline Yvonne; Jacqueline was like a second mother to her. In fact, she'd been a better mother to Lauryn than her own mother, but Jacqueline just didn't seem to believe in her enough to give her a chance to design the kinds of clothes she wanted to design.
"Deary, I think you ought to show Ms. Yvonne what you've done here. It's quite beautiful."
"Well, thank you," Lauryn replied. The woman didn't know that Lauryn had taken many of her designs to Jacqueline, who always assured her that her day would come, but Lauryn was losing patience. She'd designed outerwear for nearly eight years, and with each passing year, Lauryn felt her dream slipping away faster than last year's fashions. She felt tired and upset to find herself at a dead end.
"In fact," the woman held up a finger, "I need a gown for a business conference in Zurich in a few months; have you ever considered doing custom designs? I have quite a few friends I could refer to you, besides myself."
Lauryn couldn't believe her ears. "I have done a few custom designs, and I'd love to do more."
"Why don't you give me your card, and I'll give you a call when I get back to the city."
Praying she still had some of her business cards, Lauryn fished through her bag until she found the little container. There were three cards inside.
"Here you go," Lauryn said, handing two of them to the woman.
"Lauryn Alexander," the woman said, reading out loud from the card. "It's wonderful to meet you, Ms. Alexander. I'm Caroline Nottingham." She held out a perfectly manicured hand clad in a diamond ring the size of a small walnut.
"It's so nice to meet you, Ms. Nottingham. Please, call me Lauryn." The two women shook hands.
"And please, call me Caroline." She tucked the cards into her purse, then turned to Lauryn. "You know, deary, I have a feeling you will get your big break soon. I have an eye for fashion, and I don't think someone with your talent can be ignored much longer. Just don't give up on your dream. After my husband died I was left with a lot of debt and no resources. Now I own a multimillion-dollar business. Perhaps you've heard of my hotel chain, Nottingham Plaza Hotels."
Lauryn's mouth dropped open. "You're that Nottingham?"
Caroline smiled. "Yes, dear. And I know what the power of positive thinking can do." The gracious woman took Lauryn's hand in hers. "Lauryn, dream big and work hard. You can achieve anything if you want it badly enough."
Lauryn felt the fire of inspiration burn inside of her. What an incredible woman.
"I believe in you," Caroline said. "You have the talent, but the greatest talent in the world doesn't achieve greatness; it's the hard work that does it."
"You should write a book!" Lauryn exclaimed.
"Funny you should say so. I actually am in the process of doing just that. In fact, you'll never guess who's agreed to write the foreword for me."
"Caroline, that's incredible."
"It is incredible. I grew up in a poor area of Pittsburgh with a drunken father and a mother who held down two jobs and did ironing at home. My biggest goal back then was to finish high school, then get a job waitressing, like most of the other women in my neighborhood. And now look at me."
Lauryn nodded, awestruck by the woman.
"I did well in school, and I was smart enough to recognize an opportunity when it came my way. I was offered a scholarship at a community college and decided to give it a try. That was my ticket out. I'm a strong advocate of education. Many of today's youth don't realize that's the key that unlocks the door of opportunity."
"So that's what did it for you?"
"Absolutely. I finished college with a business degree and found a job at a Marriott Hotel in New York. That's where I met my William."
Caroline nodded with a faraway look in her eyes. "William was a musician. He played the violin for many of the shows on Broadway. He had a wonderful career in music. He passed away nearly ten years ago after a long battle with colon cancer."
"I'm so sorry," Lauryn said.
"So am I. A day doesn't go by that I don't miss him." Caroline looked down at the plain gold wedding band she still wore on her finger. "He was the kindest man I've ever known. Are you married?"
Lauryn had to stop herself from bursting out laughing. "No," she answered, not bothering to explain how difficult the dating scene was for her, a twenty-nine-year-old LDS girl in New York City.
"Make sure you marry someone who is kind. Your marriage will be a blessing in your life if you do."
"I will." She thought about her own father, who was also a kind person. But it hadn't helped him to be kind when he was married to Lauryn's mother. No one could have made a marriage work with her. "So," Lauryn asked, "how did you become a hotel magnate?"
"I learned everything about the business that I could. William's work gave him many opportunities to travel, so I gathered ideas from each of the hotels we stayed in, many of them in Europe. We weren't able to have children, so I threw myself into my work. If I regret anything it would be that we got wrapped up in our careers and didn't adopt children, especially now that I'm alone. I have my friends and a sister I see occasionally, but it's not the same."
Caroline's thoughts seemed to drift for a moment. Lauryn noticed the hint of sadness in her eyes.
"Sorry, dear," Caroline said. "I guess we all have to learn things the hard way when it comes to life."
Lauryn couldn't have agreed more. Lately that seemed to be the only way she learned anything.
"Anyway, something else I've learned is that you have to be ready when an opportunity presents itself. I had left Marriott by the time William died, so I was beside myself trying to figure out what to do. I loved my husband, but he left me with some bad investments to deal with on my own. Then, almost out of nowhere, while visiting my sister in Florida, I stumbled across a hotel for saleCa beautiful Victorian structure with an amazing view of the ocean. I was ready for a change of scenery, so I got a business loan and took the greatest leap of faith I've ever taken in my life."
"Were you scared?"
"Nearly to death!" Caroline said. "But it turned out to be the best leap I've ever made, and it led to acquiring another hotel, and then another. My philosophy was to give all my guests the same experience I wanted to have when I stayed at a hotel."
"That's fascinating. You've done this all yourself?"
"Well, I've had wonderful help along the way. A lot of the people I'd met during my years in the hotel industry came to work for me; people I knew I could trust and had the same ideals I had. I also like to think that my William has helped me a little, too."
Lauryn smiled. "I'm sure he has."
"So," Caroline said, returning her smile, "you wouldn't mind designing a dress for me?"
"It would be my pleasure. What are you thinking?"
Caroline described the dress she had in mind--something black, sophisticated, and elegant.
"I'll be gone for ten days on business," Caroline told her. "But when I get back to the city we can meet again and talk some more."
"I'll have a sketch and some sample fabrics for you," Lauryn said. "I already have some ideas."
"Thank you, my dear. You've made this a very enjoyable flight. I usually fly first-class, but this was a last-minute arrangement, and I had to take what was left. I've been spoiled. I'm sure you can imagine."
Lauryn couldn't imagine. She'd never flown first-class.
"So," Caroline asked, "are you on your way to something wonderful?"
"I'm going to meet friends in Las Vegas for the weekend."
"That sounds fun."
"It will be! They're friends from high school. We try to meet every year to catch up on each other's lives. We're very close, even though none of us live by each other anymore."
"I think that's wonderful! A weekend of shopping."
"And eating and laughing. We do a lot of that."
"None of us are into the whole casino scene."
Caroline nodded. "I see." Then she shook her head. "Actually, I don't see. Why go to Vegas if you don't gamble?"
"It was just a central location for everyone. I found a great flight deal, and the others are in California and Utah. It just worked out. But like I said, we're not really into the whole Vegas strip thing, either."
"That's very wise of you. I simply abhor gambling. Part of the debt my husband left me was a result of gambling. A waste of time and money, if you ask me."
The flight attendant announced their descent into Las Vegas. Lauryn was amazed at how quickly the flight had gone. Lauryn and Caroline exited the plane together then Caroline paused before saying good-bye.
"Thank you for making that such an enjoyable trip," Caroline told Lauryn.
"It was enjoyable for me too; you've been an inspiration."
Caroline reached for Lauryn's hand and gave it a squeeze. "Listen, deary, if I can do it, anyone can. You just have to keep your eye on your goal, be ready when those opportunities come your way, then work like crazy to make it all happen. You can do it. I see a little bit of myself in you."
"Thank you, Caroline. I hope so."
"I'll give you a call when I get home. I'll be spending more and more time in Europe. I'm opening a new hotel in Zurich. Maybe you can come and stay sometime. My treat."
"That would be wonderful!" Lauryn exclaimed. Caroline gave her a brief hug and air-kissed her on each cheek.
"Ta-ta, deary, we'll talk soon," she said, then wheeled away her Gucci carry-on bag to catch her connecting flight.
Lauryn watched as Caroline scurried out of sight, then shook her head in awe. What a woman! So accomplished, so genuine.
She walked through the airport, mulling over the conversation she'd had with Caroline. With her thirtieth birthday looming ahead of her, Lauryn decided it was time to take a good look at her life and quit settling for the routine, monotonous existence she'd been living. She wanted the next decade of her life to be one of changes and new challenges.
Excitement bubbled up inside her. Somehow she was going to make her dreams come true. No one was going to do it for her. She refused to live another decade only to look back and wonder what she'd done with the last ten years.
Squaring her shoulders and lifting her chin, she snatched her luggage off the conveyor belt and dropped it to the floor next to her. Things were going to be different starting today!
With a resolve to think positively and visualize her dreams, she headed for the entrance to hail a taxi to the hotel. She wasn't exactly sure what had happened on that flight, but something felt tremendously different inside of her. And it felt wonderful!