Sally finds herself in a spot of bother

‘Your problem is you scare all the boys off,’ Nan said, leaning against the counter.

‘Not just the boys,’ I muttered, not paying attention as I tried to type the next stock order into my tablet. I kept making mistakes.

‘It goes to show no-one has taste, Men’s clothes look good on you, and if you were a bloke they’d be fawning over those muscles.’

I frowned at her and reminded myself she was trying, which was more than Mother ever did.

‘I’m just saying if you’re single forever it’s not your fault.’

My expression stiffened.

She patted my hand. ‘It’s people having no sense.’

I removed my hand. ‘Thanks, Nan, sort of.’

She smiled, picked up her tea, and returned to her coven of old ladies in the corner.

Jimmy paused behind me with a small stack of plates and whispered, ‘She’s right, my clothes look great on you and I’ll fawn over your muscles if you want.’

I flushed, suppressing a smile. ‘You’re such a brat.’

‘Are you going to punish me?’

I turned my head slightly and kept my eyes lowered. ‘Not right away…’

‘How long will I have to wait?’

I smiled. ‘How long can you last?’

Hidden behind the counter his fingers curled around mine in a soft squeeze. ‘I’m sure you’ll take your time finding out.’

I squeezed his hand in return. ‘I suppose you’ll have to wait and find out.’

He took a shuddery breath. ‘I suppose I will.’

I wanted to bounce up on my toes and kiss his cheek but people were already peering over their menus at us, waiting for just that.

I released his fingers and he returned to the kitchen. I finished the stock list, checked it, and saved it for Jimmy to double check, there was always something one of us came up with at the last minute. Usually it was more chips, we got through a lot of chips.

Three takeout coffees and a ham and cheese panini later Sally came in dragging a rain cloud with her.

‘Are you alright, Mrs S?’ I asked.

She forced a smile. ‘It’s nothing you can help with, dear.’

I got a glass cup off the top of the coffee machine. ‘I’ll make you a hot chocolate and you can tell me all about it.’

She rummaged in her change purse.

‘On the house,’ I added. ‘For a valued customer like you on a bad day.’

She sniffled and dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief.

‘Hey.’ I reached across and squeezed her arm.

‘I need my property wall fixing but the insurance won’t cover it because they say it’s wear and tear.’ She dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief. ‘If I don’t do it I might get in trouble for not maintaining in properly because the papers say it’s my responsibility and they’re saying it’s dangerous.’ She sniffed. ‘Where am I going to find someone reliable I can afford?’

‘At your local café, of course.’ I patted her arm. ‘I know a guy, he owes me a favour, I’ll ask him to take a look and give you a quote.’ I couldn’t leave a little old lady with a falling down wall with winter coming. ‘He’s only starting out in his new business so he’s not expensive.’

She threw her arms around me and squeezed as if she was trying to throttle me with her thin arms. I patted her back.

‘Don’t be putting yourself out on my account,’ she said.

‘I’m not, he keeps asking me if I’ve heard of anything.’ I unwrapped her arms before she throttled me or pulled me over the counter.

‘And they try to say young people don’t understand community or look after their elders.’ She pinched my cheek, it was surprisingly painful for someone who looked like they had no upper body strength.

‘I’ll stop by after work and see if he has any business cards yet I can give you.’

‘You’re sure he’s reliable?’ she asked, worry etched in her face and I wondered how many people had tried to con her now she look old and fragile.

‘We went to school together, he’d better be, I know his mum.’

‘Ohhh,’ she said and squeezed my arms. ‘Just, ohhh, thank you.’

I smiled. ‘I’ll get you that drink, grab a seat.’

She practically bounced over to the table of old ladies and started an animated conversation about our conversation. I took the hot chocolate over, with extra marshmallows, and got nods of approval, pats, and cheek pinches that made me wince.

‘The helpful young lady is my granddaughter,’ Nan said, chest puffed.

They cooed and awwed over what a good granddaughter I was. It was nice, although I didn’t appreciate the pokes. Until they got to the ‘It’ll be a lucky man who snaps you up’ bit.

I brandished my tray like a shield and hurried back behind the counter where I could pretend I couldn’t hear. I glanced through the hatch at Jimmy who was singing to himself under his breath and he set up the Special of the Day.

My stomach twinged. More guilt. Just great.

Feature image by Aliona Gumeniuk on Unsplash

For more episodes of Take a Bite Cafe click here.

Published by Jesse

I'm a writer and academic specialising in fantasy fiction and creative writing theory. I'm allergic to pretentiously talking about fiction and aim to be unashamedly ‘commercial’. Surely all fiction is commercial anyway, or what’s the point in publishing it?

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