These short vignettes take a moment away from Polly’s life and focus on someone else in Bellingwood. While I write them during the same time I’m putting together a book (because seriously, when am I NOT putting together a book?), they won’t spoil any of the story. In fact, you might not even see a reference to the vignette anywhere in the book because … well … if Polly doesn’t know about it, I don’t get to tell the story.
Vignettes are published in each of the newsletters which arrive on the 25th of every month, but sometimes there are stories that insist on being told.
September 25th will be here soon, but we have a few events coming up in preparation. Thursday is my birthday giveaway – stay tuned. And don’t forget that Friday, September 16th is the final Wine & Trivia night of 2016. It’s a party!
Now for the story …
With a Little Help From My Friends
Book 15 – 04 – With a Little Help From My Friends
“I’m so glad you’re still open,” Stephanie said. She dropped her overstuffed messenger bag on the floor in front of the counter.
Skylar laughed. “Hello to you.” He gestured to the customers still sitting in booths and tables. “You’re fine. We’re open late the next two weeks until Bellingwood Days are over. What can I get for you?”
“One of those mocha caramel frappe things with an extra shot of espresso.” Stephanie stepped over to the dessert display, shook her head and walked away from it.
“Did you want something?” he asked.
Camille carried a tray of rolls and muffins out from the back. “Hi Stephanie, how are you doing?”
“Okay.” Stephanie lowered her eyes. “Actually I’m exhausted. I just got back from a meeting in Perry. I had to be there at seven o’clock and then I listened to the worst speaker ever blather on for five straight hours.”
“No break?” Skylar asked.
“Yeah. A break, but not nearly long enough. Then I raced back to take Kayla to Boone for an eye appointment, and then Kristen called and said I needed to rush home because Jeff had scheduled a meeting with someone who wants to rent the classrooms. He’d forgotten about it and he’s in Webster City or Clarion or somewhere up north.”
Skylar pushed the coffee across the counter to her. “Are you nearly done with your day?”
“I hope so.” She glanced at the baked goods one last time and gave another quick shake of her head. Things were going so well and she didn’t need to mess up her diet with anything more than the frappe. It was bad enough. Stephanie tried to justify it by telling herself she hadn’t eaten anything except for that apple at the break this morning.
Stephanie gave him her credit card and picked up her bag, slinging it over her shoulder.
“You should have whatever you want,” Skylar said quietly. “You look great.”
She took the credit card and receipt and gave him a perplexed look. “Thanks. It’s okay. I just need to sit in peace and quiet with caffeine. Are you really going to be open for a while?”
Camile grinned. “We’re open until seven o’clock for the next two weeks. You have hours and hours.”
“Good. I’m hiding in that booth over there with my laptop,” Stephanie said. “I told Kristen that I couldn’t take any more today.” She picked up her drink, gave Skylar another confused look, then headed for a booth in the corner, out of the way of everyone else.
Even though the speaker had been incredibly boring, he’d given them great ideas for running small hospitality businesses; how to market Sycamore House and ways to find out who might be looking for their services. She wanted to make sure her notes were in order before presenting them to Jeff, Sylvie, and Rachel.
She pushed her drink off to one side and set up the laptop, cursing when she realized that the power was so low. She’d have to work fast.
“Hey.” Skylar slid into the bench across the table from her and held out a plate with a chicken salad croissant sandwich on it. “I know you like these. It didn’t sound like you had time to eat today.”
Stephanie frowned. “You don’t have to do this.”
He grinned. “Yes I do. If I don’t take care of you, who will?”
She knew that Sky was being flippant, but his words took her aback. Nobody except Jeff had ever taken care of her and in the last couple of months, he’d gotten so busy that even he wasn’t didn’t have time. It was really okay. That just meant that he trusted her and believed she was handling things on her own.
“Thanks.” Stephanie breathed out a sigh. “I don’t think I realized what I was getting into. It’s all so much fun and totally crazy, but sometimes I don’t breathe until I drop in bed at night.”
“What ‘cha working on?” he asked.
“Just organizing my notes from this morning. If we use any of this guy’s ideas, it will only make my life busier, but we could increase Sycamore House’s business by ten to fifteen percent over the next year.”
“Wow. Do you have a business degree?”
Stephanie shrugged. “Not yet. Maybe someday I’ll find time to go to college.”
“You should totally do it. Even if you start at DMACC in Boone. I heard that’s how Sylvie got hers. And look what she’s doing.” He smiled. “But then, you’re already doing what you want without it. Maybe it doesn’t matter.”
“I know, but I wonder what I’m missing,” Stephanie said. “Jeff knows so much.” She shook her head. “I was never a very good student, though. I’d probably screw it up and get F’s.”
“Yeah, right. You’re helping run one of the growing businesses in Bellingwood. You ain’t no dummy.”
“What are you going to school for?” Now was as good a time as any to change the subject.
Stephanie had glanced at the laptop, frustrated at the falling battery level. She waited for him to expound on his degree and when he didn’t she looked up. “What do you want to do with that?”
Skylar shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s just interesting. I like statistics and digging into data. I wouldn’t mind getting into a big law firm and doing research. Something like that.”
“You’re kidding.” Stephanie laughed at him.
“You? Stuck in a little room doing research? That would kill you.”
“It wouldn’t be so bad. I really like the work.”
She blinked at him. “You’re weird. You love people. You should totally be on the opposite side of that. Like working as a counselor or in family services or something.”
“It makes me mad when people keep doing stupid things and don’t try to fix themselves. I’m bad with those kind of people,” he said.
Stephanie swallowed and took a deep breath. “Oh.” She turned in her seat and looked down.
“Did I say something wrong?”
“No, that’s okay. Thanks for the sandwich. I need to get to work,” she said.
Her laptop sounded an alert, telling her that it had crossed its last boundary for battery power. She cursed and slammed it shut.
“I said something to upset you.” Skylar put his hand out. “What did I say?”
“It’s nothing.” Stephanie jammed her laptop back into the bag. “I should go back to the office. I’m out of power.”
“There’s a plug right here.” He pointed at the power block on the wall. “But tell me what I said.”
She gave him a small smile. “Don’t worry about it. It’s my deal. Really.”
The front doorbell dinged and he frowned at her. “I don’t usually screw up this badly with people. Don’t leave. Plug your laptop in and eat your sandwich. You deserve a few quiet minutes. I’ll leave you alone.” He jumped up from the seat and ran over behind the counter.
“He didn’t know, you moron,” Stephanie said to herself. “Nobody knows. And when they do find out, they just pity you. Grow up and let this go.” The last place she wanted to be was at the office, but now she’d embarrassed herself and didn’t want to stay here either. Why couldn’t she just have come in here, had a quiet hour with her frappe and laptop with no one bothering her?
When Skylar had brought the sandwich over, Stephanie had been so happy that he was paying attention to her. He was really cute, and such a nice guy. But she’d sabotaged herself. That’s what her counselor warned her about. She didn’t trust men and so she’d find ways to make sure that no one could ever hurt her like her father had. Except Jeff. But then, he’d never do what her dad did to her. She chuckled. Last year she’d been infatuated with Jeff. He’d been kind and never threatened her. He just took care of her. It hadn’t taken Stephanie too long to realize that he would drive her freakin’ crazy, even if he did like girls. She loved him more than anyone else but Kayla.
Jeff would tell her to buck up and not let her embarrassment drive her away. She dug down into the bag and pulled out the power cord, attached it to the laptop and brought everything back to life. She’d get lost in her work. There was no reason to acknowledge that anyone else in the coffee shop even existed.
She looked up and smiled at Sylvie. “Hi there. I’m just trying to get my notes together from this morning. You’re going to love some of the things I learned.
Sylvie sat down across from her. “I’m butting in.”
“Oh no, what?”
“Skylar said he upset you. That boy wears his heart on his sleeve,” Sylvie said. “Well, at least he talks about everything that bothers him.”
“He talks a lot.” Stephanie nodded in agreement.
“Sky doesn’t know about your past.”
“Nobody does. But it’s not his fault. It’s mine. I over reacted and then I didn’t know how to get out of it.”
“Are you okay?”
“Sure.” Stephanie lifted a shoulder. “Sometimes I think everything is just normal and for a few minutes I don’t have to think about my father or get sick to my stomach at the things he did to me. And then, boom, it’s all right there in front of my face again. I’m never going to be free of that.”
Sylvie’s eyes filled with tears. “No honey, you won’t. But I’ve learned that I don’t have to let it destroy my life. He took the years he took and the rest are mine. I won’t give anymore up to him.”
Stephanie looked at her in surprise. “You? Who?”
“My husband.” Sylvie leaned across the table. “Jason and Andrew’s father. He beat and raped me repeatedly until the day he threatened the boys. Then I left.”
“That’s when I left. When he threatened Kayla. I didn’t know that about you,” Stephanie said. “You seem so happy and normal.”
Sylvie laughed out loud. “Yep. That’s me. Normal. My friends keep trying to set me up with a man.”
“Eliseo,” Stephanie said with a nod.
“But I’m not ready to be married again,” Sylvie said. “I finally feel like I’m my own person. I can take of me and my sons. I really am happier every day. I like being just me.”
“Do you think about what your ex-husband did to you all the time?”
“I used to.” Sylvie reached out and took Stephanie’s hand. “I’ll bet that if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll realize you think about your father less now than you did when you moved to Bellingwood. Am I right?”
“Probably.” Stephanie smiled. “You’re right. It’s a lot less. Sometimes I just get hit with it and memories flood over me.”
“But even right now, they’re easing away, aren’t they?”
“Yeah. I guess they are.”
Sylvie gave Stephanie’s hand a quick squeeze and then sat back in the booth. “I think Skylar might like you.”
Stephanie’s eyes grew huge. “What? You’re kidding me.”
“Nope, I’m not.”
Stephanie giggled. “I’m never going to be able to come in here again.”
“You’d better,” Sylvie said. “You need to give him an opportunity to ask you out on a date.”
“I’ve never been out on a date.”
“Well, you’d better figure this out.”
“Like you and Eliseo?”
“Aren’t you the smart-mouthed little girl,” Sylvie said with a laugh. “If Skylar asks you out, you have to say yes. And I promise. If Eliseo ever gets up the courage to ask me out on a date, I’ll say yes, too.”
Stephanie looked at the counter and caught Skylar glancing their way. “This is just weird. I don’t know what to say now.”
“Say nothing. Just be your normal self.”
“You mean the girl who turns into an idiot because he made me remember my dad?”
“No, the wonderfully bright and beautiful young woman who has a huge future in front of her, despite what she faced in the past.” Sylvie stood up and stepped forward to give Stephanie a hug. “Don’t you dare believe anything other than that about yourself, either.”
Stephanie watched her walk away. Life was so strange now that she lived in Bellingwood. This group of people that she’d fallen into was like no one else she knew. They just took care of each other. She’d never have known that about Sylvie. Andrew and Jason seemed really normal and Sylvie was always so happy. Maybe it would end up being okay.
“I’m sorry,” Skylar said, showing up in front of her again. “I don’t know what I said to upset you, but I’m sorry.”
“It’s really okay. I’m not upset.” She checked her watch. “But I do need to get this done. I have to get back to Sycamore House before Jeff leaves.”
He looked a little stunned, then backed up. “Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow, then?”
“Yeah. Probably. Gotta have my fix, you know.” She held up her nearly empty glass. “Thanks for the sandwich. I really did need it.”
He smiled at her and turned away.
All Stephanie could think was “What in the world?” She chuckled to herself. This was nothing like what she had pictured for her future.