“Good morning,” Sal sang out as she walked in the front door of the coffee shop. A lack of response made her look around the room. She saw no one. That was unsettling. No customers, no baristas, no people at all.
“Hello? Is anyone here?”
She breathed a sigh of relief when Camille came running from the back.
“Oh hi,” Camille said with an easy smile. “I’m sorry. Sylvie desperately needed me to taste a cream filling she made.”
“Desperately?” Sal laughed. “I should get in on that.”
“Do you want something other than your regular?” Camille asked, stepping behind the counter.
Sal brandished her silver travel mug. “Nope. Just lots and lots of jet black rocket fuel. I have an article to finish before next Monday and I procrastinated too long.”
Camille looked around. “It’s quiet enough in here this morning. You should be able to concentrate.”
“What’s up with that?” Sal asked, handing over her mug. “I like some excitement around me while I’m working. Do I need to be worried? Is there something I should be doing?”
“Oh honey,” Camille said. “We’re fine. We haven’t been open two months yet.”
“But there’s usually someone in here when I’m working.” Sal knew she sounded whiny. Polly wouldn’t let her get away with it. She chuckled to herself. Sometimes she wanted to strangle that girl.
“We’ve been having a lot of good days,” Camille replied, interrupting Sal’s thoughts. “The town isn’t used to having something like this. It will take time to build a steady clientèle.” She smiled. “They aren’t used to paying this kind of money for something that Joe’s Diner sells for practically nothing, you know.”
“Should we lower our prices?”
“No.” Camille scowled at Sal. “We’ve talked about this. You, me, and Jeff. You can’t let worrying force you into bad business decisions. Right?”
“I know that,” Sal said. “You’re right.”
Camille smiled. “Of course I am. I always am. Remember who you’re talking to, here.”
“Just give me my coffee and let me go sit in a corner,” Sal said. “And one of those chocolate chip muffins.” She looked down at the baked goods. “And a cinnamon scone.”
“I don’t know how you do it,” Camille said. She handed the coffee mug back to Sal.
“Eat all of those calories and not gain weight. You know women hate you, don’t you?”
Sal shook her head. “Haters gonna hate.” She smiled. “But honestly, I don’t know how I do it either. I have a really high metabolism, I guess. Mom does too. She can eat anything.”
“It’s not right,” Camille said with a sigh. “It’s just not right. Go on over to your table and I’ll bring them to you. You want the muffin warmed a little, right?”
“I’m getting predictable. Yes. Thanks.”
If it was available, Sal liked to sit at a table against the east wall, snugged up to the bookshelves. She took her laptop out of its bag, opened it and turned it on. This was one of her favorite times of the day. While the computer whirred to life, she drew in the scent of her coffee before taking a tentative sip. It was hot. Too hot for a long drink, but perfect for the moment. She leaned back in the chair and looked across the room. This place was hers. She knew she wouldn’t make any money for a long time, but that was okay. As long as it could pay for itself, she’d be satisfied.
It was incredible how different the cost of living was here in Iowa. Sal knew she had it easy. Mark owned his home, so she didn’t have to pay rent. They split the cost of everything else, but even still, that was less than she paid to rent a tiny apartment in Boston.
A young couple came in and Camille glanced over at her. Sal waved Camille off, telling her not to hurry with her food.
They’d been lucky to find that woman. Camille had great business sense and exuded a sense of family and belonging. It was fun to watch her work. Sal knew that she’d been a little nervous about being one of very few African Americans in Bellingwood. Hmmm. Was there anyone else who lived here other than Joss and Nate’s twins? Nope. Wow. Camille had courage. Maybe growing up as the oldest in such a large family gave her an extra dose of confidence. Not much phased her. Sal hoped she knew that everyone around had her back, no matter what.
Sal entered her password on the front screen and waited a few more moments before opening a browser tab. She didn’t want to work today, but couldn’t come up with anything better to do. She’d spent the last two days cleaning the house. Worst job ever. Mark tried his best to clean up after himself, but they did live in the house and sometimes there was no helping the clutter and the mess. Early last summer he offered to hire someone to clean on a regular basis, but Sal wasn’t ready to admit that she couldn’t keep up. It had been a great way to avoid writing, but that didn’t mean she liked it.
Her mother would be beside herself if she’d seen Sal yesterday – on her knees scrubbing a toilet. Next time she’d take a picture and send it to her father. He’d laugh and understand and then when he wanted to torment his wife, he’d show it to her.
Mark hadn’t even seemed to notice when he got home last night. Sure, it was late and he was exhausted, but Sal had expected a little bit of appreciation for all she’d done around the house. He knew that wasn’t her thing. At all.
He’d come in, dropped his jacket over one of the dining room chairs, kicked his shoes off in the living room and went into the bedroom. He dropped – fully dressed – onto the bed with its fresh, clean sheets and turned the television on. Sal had stood in the middle of the living room with her mouth wide open – in shock. He hadn’t said much other than a mumbled hello. No kiss, no acknowledgment of her work or anything.
Yep. There’d been a fight. She was still a little mad at him – even though they’d finally talked everything out and he apologized for ignoring her. She’d ended up apologizing for expecting so much out of him when he’d put in a rough fourteen hour day. The next few days were going to be just as difficult for him. She didn’t really want to know exactly what he did during the day. Much of it involved bodily fluids that she wasn’t prepared to think about.
“I’m sorry,” Camille said, putting a plate in front of Sal. “That took longer than I expected.”
Sal shook her head. “I probably could have gotten off my lazy behind and come up to get it, but I got lost in my thoughts. Thank you.”
“Have you had any luck?” Camille pointed at the computer.
“Not so much. I wasn’t thinking about that.” Sal looked up at her. “I’m pathetic. I have the perfect life. I’m doing exactly what I want and yet some days I struggle to eke out a few hundred words. I wrote more when I was working every day.”
“Maybe you used your writing to distract yourself from work?” Camille asked.
“And now I’m cleaning house to distract myself from writing. Talk about something that just isn’t right. That’s not right. I hate cleaning.” Sal tapped the side of the computer. “And this article is frustrating me. I haven’t found the right hook to give it life.”
“Do you want to talk about it? Maybe that will help.”
Sal smiled. “I’d love that. But you’re busy.”
Two more people had just walked in. Camille waved at them.
“If I’m here tomorrow and still struggling, I’ll ask,” Sal said. “I just need to focus.”
“Let me know,” Camille said. “I’m always here.”
Sal watched her walk away with a lilt in her step. She was a genuinely happy person. What would it be like to live that way? Maybe if Sal had grown up in a big family where people were affectionate and loving, she’d be happy all the time too.
“Stop it,” she said to herself. “Polly wouldn’t let you get away with this. You are happy. You have a good man who loves you even when he’s a jerk and you’re irritable. Now get to work and quit over-thinking things.”
She took a drink of her coffee. Now it was the perfect temperature, but the muffin had grown cold. Oh well. It still tasted good.
Three more customers had come in and were chattering two tables away from her. There it was. The perfect amount of noise. She looked at the screen and had a brainstorm. It was only a matter of time now. The article was practically finished.
Book 12 – Out of the Shadows – is scheduled for release on Christmas Day, December 25th. If you haven’t signed up for the newsletter, you can do so right there on the side of this blog. The newsletter will arrive in your email box at 6:30 am – just about the time kids are begging to get up and experience the wonder of the day.
These vignettes are a little bit of fun that I have as I look at the world of Bellingwood from the perspective of a character other than Polly Giller. You never know who is going to show up.
There are two other vignettes to go along with Book 12 that were published in the October and November newsletters – and once you sign up, you can gain access to everything in the past issues. One final Book 12 vignette will be in the December newsletter.
I’m not ready to sign off for the year yet. You’ll hear from me once again, so I hope you are having an awesome holiday season.