© 2017 by J.E. Benoit. All rights reserved.
© 2017 by J.E. Benoit. All rights reserved.
“Final notice?” I mutter to myself as I open the envelope with the giant red letters emblazoned on the front. I could have sworn that Morgan told me she sent in the payment when we got the second notice a few weeks ago.
“Hey Morgan!” I call out from my small office at the back of the coffee shop. I’m taking advantage of the afternoon lull to get through the mountains of paperwork currently occupying every inch of my small desk.
Morgan pops her head in the door. “What’s up, Addy?”
“Do you remember paying the electric bill last month?”
“No, you said that you took care of it, don’t you remember?” she replies.
I prop my elbows on my desk and let out a deep breath as my head drops into my hands. “Evidently not because I just got this in the mail.” I grab the bill from my desk and wave it in the air. “I could have sworn we paid it, but I guess it just got lost in this mess that I’m trying to pass off as an office.”
“I’m sorry, Addy. I know that you’ve been stressed lately with trying to keep the place afloat. I should make more of an effort to help out with the behind the scenes stuff,” Morgan says as she walks over and places a comforting hand on my shoulder.
“Don’t be silly, Morgan, you’ve been a great help running the front counter and keeping the customers happy. I don’t know what I would do without you. I’ll figure the rest of this out, one way or another.” I look up and give her a weak smile.
Our heads both turn toward the door as we hear the bell chime, signaling that a customer has come in.
“I’ll go take care of that.” Morgan points over her shoulder toward the front counter. “If you need anything, though, just know that I’m here to help however I can.”
I squeeze her hand that is still on my shoulder. “Thank you. You know what I would kill for right about now? A large iced caramel latte.”
Morgan reaches down to give me a small hug and smiles at me. “You got it boss,” she says as she walks out of the office to take care of the waiting customer.
Alone again, I turn my attention back to the piles of bills on my desk. Luckily, now that spring is finally here, the students from nearby Central Creek College seem to have come out of hiding. Business is picking up so we have a little extra money in the bank account to hopefully make a dent in these bills. Since we can’t very well run the shop without electricity, I grab the checkbook out of the desk drawer and quickly scribble out a check. I stuff it into the envelope and affix a stamp. Turning in my chair to the small shelf behind my desk, I place the envelope on top of my bag so I don’t forget to actually mail the stupid thing. Out of the corner of my eye I spot the framed picture sitting on the end of the shelf to the right of my bag.
Reaching my hand out, I lightly run my fingers over the face of the smiling woman in the picture. “I’m trying over here, Aunt Josie, but if there’s anything you can do from up there to help me out, I’d be eternally grateful.”
I may have told Morgan that I would figure all this out one way or another, but the truth is that I didn’t know the first thing about running a coffee shop when I inherited the place from my aunt six months ago. Heck, I was a Psychology major, which doesn’t exactly scream “small business owner”! To make matters worse, because Aunt Josie had been so sick leading up to her death she did the best she could to make sure the business stayed afloat, but certain things ended up slipping. By the time I moved back to Little Creek and took over operations, I had quite the hole to try to dig myself out of.
I am doing the best I can, but it seems like every time I feel like I have my footing, another stack of bills arrives or another piece of equipment breaks. Not to mention the upkeep on the building itself. I could really use a handyman around here to help out with some of that, but I can barely afford to keep Morgan on the payroll, let alone pay someone else to do odd jobs.
Morgan and I were best friends when we were growing up, but when I moved away to attend college we lost touch. When she found out that I was moving back to town to take over the shop, she reached out and offered to help. She was between jobs at the time and loved the shop as much as I did, so it was a no-brainer on my part to take her up on her offer. I truly am thankful that we reconnected. Not only is she still an incredible friend even after all those years, but she is an unbelievably dedicated and hard worker. I meant it when I told her that I don’t know what I would do without her.
I will do whatever it takes to see the Perky Jo Café thrive. I was an only child and lost my parents when I was twelve years old. Aunt Josie was my dad’s only sister and she took me in and raised me as her own. Morgan and I spent countless hours hanging out at the shop bugging her. I may not know much about running an actual business, but thanks to her I can make a mean cup of coffee.
It was hard losing Aunt Josie, but being here and running the shop that she loved so much helps me feel close to her. She never had any children of her own, this shop was her baby and I owe it to her to keep her legacy alive. Besides, it’s the least I can do after she took in a bratty, depressed pre-teen and gave me the best life she could manage.
I shake my head to clear my thoughts and begin to turn back to my desk to focus on the daunting task at hand. Just as I am facing my desk again, I feel the chair shift beneath me and throw my arms on the desk to catch myself from landing on my ass.
“What the hell?” I shriek as I regain my balance and look down to the offending chair. I notice that the stupid leg that has been loose for weeks has finally decided to give up on life and is now dangling uselessly beneath the chair.
Awesome, just what I need, something else that needs fixing.
I really do need to consider finding a handyman. Maybe I can just find a boyfriend and take care of two birds with one stone, sprucing up my non-existent love life and getting stuff fixed around here. Who am I kidding, though? Between spending all my time trying to keep this place in business and considering my track record with past boyfriends, I have no time or desire to start seeing someone right now. Sure, I get lonely from time to time and wouldn’t mind some companionship. Maybe I should just get a cat. On second thought, scratch that idea. The last thing I need is to become a crazy cat lady.
Morgan has been trying to get me to date pretty much since the moment I returned to town. I know she means well, but if I have to hear her try to set me up with another random hot guy who comes in for coffee, I may just strangle her skinny ass. With her long dark blonde hair, hazel eyes and tall, slender figure she’s a knockout and never has trouble picking up guys. She always seems to be dating someone new and can’t understand how I would rather sit home on a Friday night with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and unwind than go out with some random guy that she thinks is perfect for me.
It’s not that I have trouble attracting a guy’s attention. My fair complexion, bright green eyes and dark red hair usually turns heads and men tend to appreciate my slightly curvy figure. It’s just that given what a colossal failure my last relationship was, starting a new one is the last thing on my mind right now.
When Aunt Josie passed away and I found out that she had given me Perky Jo’s I knew I had to move back to Little Creek, but my boyfriend at the time, Darren, was not at all interested in supporting me in this venture and refused to come with me. Things had been slowly falling apart in our relationship for some time and I think that he saw me moving back as his opportunity to end things between us. Despite the rough patch, I had loved Darren, or at least thought I did at the time. We had been together for two years and were living together, so it hit me pretty hard when he told me he would rather throw it all away than move back to town with me. I’m in no rush to put my heart back out there quite yet.
As if on cue, I hear Morgan shout back to me, “Adaline! You are not going to believe the fine hunk of man that just left! I got his number, you seriously should call him! He’s a grad student over at the college and I think you two would be perfect for each other.”
Rolling my eyes, I decide that between the mountain of bills, my poor broken chair and Morgan’s constant meddling, I need to get some fresh air. I might as well stop by the mailbox and drop off the electric bill while I’m out, so I grab my cardigan, tote and the envelope from the shelf and head out to the front of the shop.
“Hey, where are you going? Did you hear what I said about the hottie who just left? I think he might be just the thing to get your mind off everything going on here.” Morgan waggles her perfectly shaped brows, while holding out my little cup of sanity.
“Morgan, my dear, beautiful friend.” I snag the cup from her outstretched hand. “I appreciate you looking out for me, I do. But you know that I’m not ready to get involved with anyone yet and besides, I really need to keep my focus on keeping our heads above water here.”
Morgan crosses her arms in front of her chest with a pout and shoots me a disapproving look. She is just about to open her mouth to no doubt argue her case, but I hold up a finger and cut her off.
“I have to drop this bill off and then I am going to run across the street to the park to enjoy my afternoon caffeine fix and soak in some fresh air. I won’t be gone long, but I have my cell, so call or text if you need me,” I tell her as I slip out the door before she can say anything else.
Out on the sidewalk the midday hustle is winding down. With only a few people milling about, I’m grateful the chance of human interaction is minimal. I need a few minutes to myself to collect my thoughts. Taking a fortifying breath, I cross the street and head for the entrance to the park where I hope to find a few minutes of peace and quiet.
I make a quick detour and stop near the park gates to shove the damn electric bill down the throat of the big blue mailbox. I love being back in Little Creek, I really do, but would it kill them to join the 21st century and allow a girl to pay a bill online? Although, that would also require actually owning a computer which is something I am currently lacking. In my haste to get away from Darren, I left behind the one we shared and Aunt Josie never got on the whole technology bandwagon. Just one more thing to add to my list of things I need for the shop, once we start making money again.
Little Creek may not be the most technologically advanced town on the East Coast, but what it lacks in modern conveniences, it more than makes up for in charm. One of my favorite places since being back is the small park right across the street from Perky Jo’s. I’ve found it to be a perfect escape right in the heart of town. I often come here whenever I have a free moment to just sit and think or when I want to soak in some fresh air.
I walk through the black wrought iron gates at the entrance to the park and already feel my blood pressure dropping. Making my way down the stone steps to the walkway, I immediately seek out my favorite green bench and am relieved to discover that it’s vacant. It’s almost as if it’s waiting for me.
I plop my melancholy butt down on the bench and point my face to the sky, taking a moment to bask in the late afternoon sunshine. This is my favorite time of year here; it’s just beginning to get warm on a regular basis and the world is fresh with new possibilities.
I love this particular bench because it sits beneath a giant cherry blossom tree, which is currently in full bloom. It’s hard not to smile when you’re sitting beneath a giant umbrella of bright pink flowers that smells better than any bottle of expensive perfume.
Looking around at the nearly vacant park, it always amazes me that since being back I have not once seen a landscaper, yet the park is always immaculately manicured. There are several flower beds nearby and there’s not a weed to be found.
Taking a sip of my drink, I catch sight of the Perky Jo’s logo on the side of the cup and am flooded by a wave of emotions. I’m grateful that Aunt Josie trusted me with her baby, but at the same time I worry that I don’t know enough to be able to restore the café back to its former glory.
When I was a little girl, not even old enough to run the cash register, Aunt Josie used to tell me that there was a silver lining in every bad situation. One time, she was baking a batch of muffins for the morning crowd when the oven malfunctioned and burnt the whole batch. Instead of being upset at having to start over and the money lost on the wasted inventory, she simply looked at me and said, “Just think of all the ducks that will be enjoying a lovely treat later!”
Perhaps now is a good time for me to start trying to find the silver lining in all this mess. I mean, it’s not all bad; I’m back in a town that I love, reconnecting with my best friend and lucky enough to be able to work beside her every day. Plus, I get to talk to the loyal Perky Jo’s customers daily, who help to keep Aunt Josie’s memory alive by always sharing stories with me.
Thinking of all the good things with my situation is restoring my confidence that I can do this. Things could always be worse. I just have to remember that on the days I am feeling particularly overwhelmed.
With that thought, I hear my phone buzz and reach to dig it out of my bag. It’s a text from Morgan letting me know that round two of the afternoon rush is starting and asking when I will be back.
I shoot off a quick text letting her know I am on my way and gather my things as I stand. Just as I am about to head back toward the steps to head out of the park, I see something out of the corner of my eye that catches my attention.
Bending down to retrieve the item, I pick it up and discover that it’s a photograph. “Where’d you come from?” I ask aloud, turning it over to take a closer look.
The poor thing is pretty beat up with pieces missing along the left side and I can’t quite make out who or what was in that half. But the right side is nearly perfect and I am immediately captivated by a dark-haired man with bright blue eyes and a friendly smile. The man is undoubtedly handsome, with just a hint of mischief in those gorgeous blue eyes, but it’s the boyish charm in that huge smile he’s wearing that I can’t seem to look away from. I briefly wonder who this man is and how this photo appeared seemingly out of thin air.
Glancing around, I don’t see anyone that might have dropped it and I don’t remember anyone passing me while I’ve been sitting here. For some unknown reason, I can’t bear the thought of leaving the picture behind or tossing it in the trash. I take one last look at the man’s grinning face before slipping the picture into the back pocket of my jeans. I’ll figure out what to do with it later.
With my renewed sense of hope about things at the shop, I hop up the stone steps and make my way back across the street to relieve Morgan.