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Coffee For Johnny
Thoughts raced through my head with little cohesion. Cookies-floor-Johnny-cookies-germs-Johnny-who-how-when-what-clean-Johnny?!
The air went still and quiet for a few moments as I stared at Johnny and he stared back.
“Are you alright dear?” came Enid’s soft voice across the silence. I snapped back to reality for a moment. I offered my biggest smile to her and nodded.
“Yes, I’m alright, thank you. The tray was just a bit hot.” I glanced back to John, my stomach disappearing in anxiety – perhaps excitement? Either way, my heart was in overdrive. “I’ll be with you in but a moment, I just have to tidy.” Spinning, I grabbed the dustpan and broom from the back and swept the mess, depositing it carefully in the bin. I was taking extra time, getting every crumb. Why was I so nervous to see him, why the delay?
He stood ever-so-patiently at the till, strumming his fingers on the counter top. Eventually I turned towards him, forcing a polite smile. “What can I get for you?”
His smile widened, and he hooked his thumbs in his belt loops. “Your best breakfast pie, and a black coffee to go, please. And some contact details would be swell. It’s been a while, hasn’t it Pancake?”
My cheeks burned at my old nickname. I’d earned it in high school for being the most flat-chested girl in our circle. I swallowed back my embarrassment, and retrieved the egg and bacon pie, sliding it into a white paper bag. “It has, you kind of disappeared.” I bit the inside of my cheek, how rude could I get? “I didn’t know where you’d moved to and you stopped answering messages.”
His posture shifted, a hand rising to scratch the back of his head and adjust his beanie. “Yeah, I lost my old phone, and never wrote down numbers. I’m sorry. Missed you though.” My heart leapt to my throat. I’d put him to the back of my mind, he’d been a fond memory, and now here he was, and he’d missed me.
‘Stop it Eva, don’t get ahead of yourself.’ I picked up a to-go coffee cup and brewed his order. “Missed you too.” Oh god, my heart. “I’ll write my home number on a napkin, one sec.” Sliding a crisp napkin from the dispenser, I quickly scribbled the digits, handing it across to him with his coffee. “When you’re free, we should catch up.”
He nodded, taking the drink. “Sure should,” he agreed. “I get off early on Thursdays. You ever been to McGinley’s?”
He laughed and my heart jumped. Again. ‘Get yourself together, girl,’ I chided myself.
“Not a ‘who’ but a ‘where’. The town pub. I take it you’ve not been. I’ll come by Thursday and we can go for a drink. For now, though, I have work.” I nodded, smiling wide.
“Sounds like a plan. And that’ll be $4.50.” Change was dropped into my palm, and a slip of paper dropped into the tip jar. “Cheap skate,” I joked, and he laughed as he waved himself out the door. I snaked my fingers into the jar to grab the paper, glad to see he’d dropped his phone number too.
Mearl spoke up. “Do you know the young Mr Ray, then Evie?” I nodded and explained we were friends from school. “Oh, my, how sweet. Do you know his fiancé then too?” And just like that my heart imploded. My face must have shown my disappointment. “She’s a fine girl,” he mused, “but you’re terribly sweeter. And you can cook. That Mabel isn’t good for much but looks.”
I nodded. “That’s sweet, sir, but we’re friends. We’ve always been best friends.” I forced what I hoped was a reassuring, even smile. “I’m happy to hear he’s settled down.”
“That makes one of us – that Mabel is a hussy out for the lad’s money.” I choked back a shocked laugh at the elderly woman’s spite. “Not many in town like her.” I nodded along, suddenly curious about this girl. I wonder what she was like. I wondered what he liked about her. I wondered if he missed me like he said.
I wondered so much that my staff arrived and shook me from my day dreaming. “Oh, Madeline, hello. Uh…” I glanced around for a few moments, gathering my bearings. “We need a batch of gingersnaps, there was an accident with the last lot.” The younger girl nodded. She was a sweet 18-year-old, five years my junior, but on my level in terms of maturity. I admired her tenacity and work ethic, and we’d become fast friends.
I was scatter-brained the rest of the day, my mind wandering back to Johnny far too much for my liking. I spent the next three days anticipating our ‘catch-up’ and by the time Thursday came around, I was buzzing with anxiety. I stayed dressed down, wearing a maroon sweater dress, a black fleece lined jacket and some boots. That morning had been a flurry of outfit changes, with me asking my mirror reflection and my calico cat whether it looked too dressy-too casual-too this, that and the other. Eventually I felt comfortable enough to go to work. In the bakery, I kept my jacket off, the heat of the kitchen warming the entire place. The day wasn’t especially busy, and I struggled to stay occupied. My brain was about as foggy as the air outside, a mist rolling in from the ocean and hugging the town.
At around lunch, when our only patrons were Mearl and Enid, Madeline, as cheeky as ever, asked about John, how I knew him, my thoughts on him. “You know, I’m actually just friends with him, that’s honestly all there is to it.”
“That doesn’t explain why you’ve been so out of it since you saw him,” she retaliated. I rolled my eyes in response.
“I’m always ‘out of it’,” I responded. “There’s zero difference.”
A snort sounded from the corner table. “My girl, you’re absolutely bonkers for that lad!” Madeline perked up, pointing at Enid, from whom the voice had come. “If it weren’t for that slimy Mabel, you’d be a perfect pair.”
I bit into a gluten free muffin, shaking my head. “Now, Enid, you know I love you, but I really think you’re being hard on this girl.” The elderly woman shook her head right back at me, her husband grinning across the table from her.
“You’ll learn, girlie, you’ll learn. Mabel is no good. Not good enough for our lad, that’s for sure.”
I thought for a moment before speaking; “How is it that everyone knows Johnny?”
Madeline took it upon herself to explain. “How could we not?” She started ticking points off on her fingers. “One – he owns the biggest estate in Brecht, it’s hard to miss something like that in such a little town. Two – his dad practically funded our hospital. He was a doctor, y’know?” I did remember John mentioning so but he lived with his mother, so I never actually got to meet his dad. “Three – and it’s a big one. He’s practically Brecht’s sweetheart. He’s always helping people out, volunteering, what-have-you. He’s such a good guy, it’s seriously sucky that Mabel got her claws in him.”
“What is it that makes her so awful?”
Almost like a comedy sketch, in swept a beautiful, tall, blonde bombshell of a girl with fire in her eyes. “You.” Her finger was pointed at me. Madeline sighed heavily. “I don’t know who you think you are, and I really don’t care, but know that Johnny has a fiancé. Mitts off.”
I raised my hands in defence. “I’m sorry, I’m not sure what you’ve heard but I’m aware he has a fiancé, I’ve no intention to interfere. Mabel, I take it?”
She pulled her faux fur trimmed coat tighter around her middle. “I am,” she sniffed.
I grinned. “Well then it’s a pleasure to meet you! I’m Eva, an old friend of Johnny Ray’s. I’m really happy that he has found someone he’s happy to spend the rest of his life with. You’re really beautiful, he’s lucky.” I hoped what I was offering would appease her. It seemed to, somewhat, her posture slackening.
“Thank you. I suppose you’re no threat, you’re not really in his league.” With that she snickered and turned to walk out the door. I rolled my eyes, meeting the gaze of my elderly patrons and Madeline.
“Okay,” I relented. “I get it.”
“See, she’s stupid too. You’re in a far better league than Johnny, much as I love the boy,” Enid sneered. I laughed, still a little offended by Mabel, but it somehow made me less nervous about this evening. The day was slow, as Thursdays generally were, so I tried to come up with a new recipe – maple peanut butter cookies. The first batch was too sweet, the next too floury, and it just kept on like that. Madeline came in while I was on the fifth batch, which had entirely too much peanut butter.
“What if you use peanut butter flavoured chocolate chips?” she asked, nibbling at a chewy mass of dough.
“I’d say you’re a genius, because I really do love that idea, but you’re eating raw cookie dough. You’re gonna get salmonella.” She shrugged.
“If that’s how I go, that’s how I go. By the way, your date is here.”
Excitement sparked in my chest. “Not a date, but thank you for telling me.” I reached over to the hook after dusting off my hands, pulling on my jacket. “You’re right to close?”
She grinned. “O’course. How long have I been working for you by now? Go, have fun. Not too much fun, don’t forget protection!”
I threw a cookie at her as I left. “You’re a child and he’s engaged.”
“To a harpy!”
“Who’s a harpy?” Johnny asked as I rounded the counter. “You look nice. Glad you don’t iron your hair down anymore.”
I absently reached up to my black waves. He liked my hair? “Why thank you. No sense in straightening my hair anymore, really. I work in a hot kitchen all day, it’s pretty much always up anyway.” He nodded, jutting his elbow out for me.
“Shall we away, milady?”
“I’ll kick you in the shins,” I replied, slipping an arm into his.
He snorted. “Like you could reach.”
Our banter ensued on the short trip to McGinley’s. Right at the top of town, on a short bluff, sat the squat little pub, green tinted windows glowing from the lights inside. I could hear laughter and obnoxiously loud music as soon as I stepped out of his car. I shivered, cold ocean wind whipping my hair into my face. “You look cold, Pancake.” I nodded a little.
“Let’s just get inside.”
He led me up the short gravel path, an arm around my shoulders. We were friends, this was normal. Friends hugged – he has a fiancé – friends huddled in the cold – fiancé! – this was totally platonic. The heavy ornate door opened and I was met with a tsunami of noise. Shouts, laughter, the clinking of glasses. “Welcome to McGinley’s, Brecht’s finest and only pub. You take a seat and I’ll get us some drinks – what’s your poison?”
He’d drawn me to a booth in the back, somewhat (barely) quieter than the bustle of the establishment. “Uh…” I ran through a list of drinks in my head. I wasn’t a heavy drinker, except for the occasional red wine while I cooked or did art. Other than that, it was purely social. “I guess… a bourbon?”
“You got it, dude.” He disappeared into the throng of people, to the bar. I noticed that he was met with several people greeting him, stopping him to chat. I watched him, curious about the man he’d become. And he was a man now, too. The facial hair aged him slightly, in a good way. His hair looked healthy, not the tight buzz cut he maintained in high school. I never knew it had a slight wave to it. And he’d grown – now about 6’2” and well built. I guess building houses does that to you. Eventually he came back to me, a beer in one hand, a small glass of bourbon and ice in the other. “Milady.”
“Keep it up and I’ll deck you,” I laughed over the chorus of drunkards. He slid into the other side of the booth, frisbeeing a cardboard coaster at me. I raised an eyebrow.
“Mickey doesn’t like water rings on his tables, save yourself the trouble.” I questioned who he meant. “McGinley. Crazy son of a bitch, but a good laugh.” I heeded his warning and slid the shamrock printed card under my glass. “So, tell me Pancake, how’d you wind up in little old Brecht?”
I circled the rim of my glass with a finger, chin in hand. Pursing my lips to think, I shrugged. “I don’t know. I did my business degree back home, had my own café there, but I kind of… grew out of it.”
He took a swig of his beer. “Grew out of what?”
“Our town.” He laughed. “No really. I never vibed with most of our school peers, didn’t make many in uni. As it tends to go with high school friendships, most of them faded into the void of occasional comments on social media.” He nodded along, watching me intently. “And you! You dick, you just vanished.” Brown eyes turned downwards.
“You know, I am sorry.” I smiled, hand reaching across to him.
“It’s okay. But anyway, I worked for Uncle Ollie for a bit, then my own bakery, but the town wasn’t doing anything for me anymore. I felt… stuck. So I un-stuck myself and vamoosed. I found an ad for an old bakery in a pretty little town, and I took it. Used my life’s savings, but here I am. The business, knock on wood, is going really well.”
He grinned. “Not the most exciting tale, but somehow it suits you.” I asked if that were a good thing. “Oh absolutely – that’s what I love about you. You’re simple, straight forward. You say what you want to do, you do it. I know what I’m getting with you.”
I don’t know if it was the bourbon or not, but something pushed me to say what I did next. “And you don’t get that with Mabel?” ‘Blew it’.
“May? How do you know about her?” His eyes had shot up from his lager.
I raised my hands in self-defence. “I’m not stalking you, I swear.” He laughed, which quelled my worry of frightening him off. “Enid and Mearl spilled the beans. You’re engaged, you bitch, and it took an old couple to tell me.” I kept my tone light, despite running a million reasons as to why he kept it to his chest through my mind. “Seriously, man, I’m happy for you.”
Johnny let go of a soft laugh and smile. “Thanks. I’m pretty happy.”
I pursed my lips again, hand back on the glass. “She stopped by the Baykery just before you showed up actually. She’s assessed me as being of little threat.” He laughed.
“Sorry, she can be a little…”
‘Controlling, jealous, paranoid?’ I didn’t say it.
“A little excitable.” I nodded.
“Well, she’s gotta keep a tight grip on her mans, huh?” I joked. A hesitant nod. Was he actually happy? He didn’t seem so. “So, how’d you propose?”
The night kept on in the same vain, swapping tales and sharing laughs and jokes. It was good to have my best friend back. When I got home that evening, after changing into my warm pyjamas, I flopped into my bed with a smile on my face. Johnny Ray… who’d have thunk it?
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