Carie let the tab fall away from her fingers as she stepped away from the Freezer Amor. She didn’t know who was ringing the bell on the loading dock, but she wasn’t pleased. She’d already received everything she’d ordered for the grand opening. Now was not the time.
After shutting the Freezer Amor and leaving the walk-in, Carie sighed, already missing the cool touch of the freezer’s air on her skin. She made her way to the back of the building and looked out a peephole. A large white truck stood just barely out of view and a face she recognized floated in the weird fisheye of the peephole.
What was he doing here?
Frowning, Carie opened the door to his smiling face.
“Hey, Carie,” he said, his smile disappearing once he saw her frown. “What’s wrong?”
“Just busy,” she said. “Lots of stuff to get in order for the grand opening. It’s only a few days away now.”
“Yeah, I heard. They mentioned it on the news the other morning.”
This was something Carie hadn’t heard. “Oh? I guess I missed that.”
“When you’re working as hard as you probably are, I bet you miss a lot of things.”
Carie locked eyes with him.
Was he hitting on her?
Or was he judging her on her work ethic?
“How do you mean?” Carie asked.
“I just know that whenever I’m working super hard, lots of things slip through the cracks. Regular stuff. You know…”
“I don’t. Not really.” And really, she didn’t. She couldn’t think of many things that she felt like she was missing out on, but if she was missing out on them, would she even notice their absence?
Jim shrugged. “Going out. Having fun. The things that make life life.”
Carie cleared her throat and raised an eyebrow. “Did you just say that I don’t have a life?”
Jim opened his mouth, but closed it for a moment, seeming to think about her question. “That’s not what I meant at all, but I’m sorry if it came across that way. I really didn’t mean it to.”
Carie stared at him for a moment, trying to figure out if he was genuine in his apology. She decided he was.
“Okay. I can accept that. So what’s going on? Why are you here?” Carie asked.
Jim’s fist came up and his thumb pointed to the back of the coffee shop. “They said I should talk to you.”
“Did they?” Carie asked in return. “Why would they do that?”
“I have coffee and other supplies to deliver. Angela was usually the one who signed off on the invoice, but when I asked for Angela, they sent me over here to talk to you. What’s going on?”
It was a good question. Carie didn’t really feel like she had a grip on the answer at all.
“Angela passed away,” Carie said. It was the easiest answer that she could come up with.
Jim shook his head and removed his hat. “Aw, no way. Are you serious?”
“Yeah. Completely serious.”
“The detectives that keep buzzing around me said she was murdered a few days ago.”
“Wait.” Jim’s eyes narrowed. “Are you a suspect?”
Carie considered lying, but didn’t see the point.
“It sure seems that way. They showed up at my house, then they showed up here, then they showed up at Rollingwylde.”
“Rollingwylde? What’s that?”
“That would be the new estate I inherited.” Carie shook her head. The whole thing was so incredulous.
“I’ve known Angela for several years. Didn’t she have children?”
“According to the detectives, she did. Three apparently. I haven’t gotten a chance to talk to them, nor do I really feel like I want to.”
“I bet they don’t want to talk to you either. You did sort of take their inheritance.”
Carie’s eyes flashed. “I didn’t take anything. I didn’t ask for anything. I received a notice for a will reading, drove out there, and somehow was willed Angela’s entire estate. I don’t know how it happened or why, but it was her last wish so who am I to question it?”
“It just seems strange,” Jim said, holding his hands up as if to make peace. “That’s all I’m saying.”
“I don’t disagree. It’s completely strange.”
“Is that why they sent me over here? You also inherited all of her businesses?”
Carie laughed and nodded. “Yeah. As if I didn’t have enough on my plate with the grand opening of the ice cream shop, now I have to deal with the regular day-to-day operation of the coffee shop as well as—”
Carie quit speaking. She’d almost mentioned the Amor Ice Cream Company, but had caught herself before it slipped out. She wasn’t sure how many people knew about the company’s sordid history, but definitely didn’t want to go around advertising that she was the new owner.
“Well,” Jim said, handing over the invoice for the coffee supplies. “Can you sign this?”
Sighing, Carie took the invoice and looked it over. There didn’t seem to be anything abnormal listed, so she signed off. She would go visit the coffee shop later.
“Okay, that’s everything. I do wish you good luck, but with everything you have now…” Jim laughed. “I’m not sure that you need luck.”
“Oh, I definitely need luck. Probably more now than ever. Imagine going from having a pebble on your shoulder to having an entire planet there. That’s with this feels like.”
Jim nodded, but she could tell he didn’t believe her. “Sure, but I’ve got a feeling that planet has a nice luxury padding to it.”
Staring at him for a few moments, Carie wasn’t sure whether she wanted to laugh or cry. It was true.
What Jim was saying was completely true. Sure she had a giant weight on her back, but with all the resources Angela had also given her, the weight wasn’t entirely uncomfortable or unmanageable.
“That’s a good point,” Carie said.
“Hey, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bum you out or anything.”
Carie saw the genuine concern in his face and wondered, not for the first time, what it would be like to spend time with him, away from their current business relationship. She wondered what it would be like to maybe go to dinner with him or to a movie.
Hell, she’d probably even go to a sports game of some sort if it meant talking or getting to know him a little better.
“It’s fine,” Carie said. “I’ll be fine. You’re right. The boulder is padded nicely and I should quit complaining.”
“I think you’re doing fine. I think you’re going to be fine.”
Carie nodded. “I hope so.”
“You will. I’m sure.”
Carie wished she had the confidence in herself that Jim seemed to have in her.
“All right, well, I need to get back to my route.” Jim tucked the small clipboard the invoice was attached to into a side pocket of his pants.
“Yeah, I need to get back to work too.”
Jim lingered for a moment, and Carie thought he might ask her a more personal question from the almost pained look he had on his face. He opened his mouth, but sighed instead of saying anything.
“Have a good day,” he said.
“Yeah. You too,” Carie returned.
Jim walked back to the truck and Carie noticed that his shoulders were slumped a little bit. As though he were disappointed in himself for not doing something. Maybe he was going to ask her out, but changed his mind. Maybe he saw all the baggage she was now saddled with and had thought better of it.
Truth be told, he could probably do better than me, she thought. He probably already is doing better than me and I’m just reading so far into this that I can’t even see my own face anymore.
When he was inside the truck, Jim rolled down the window and yelled out at her.
“Hey, you wanna to go out sometime? Maybe dinner?”
Carie froze, feeling like a deer caught in the headlights. She had an intuition this was about to happen, but now that it actually was happening she wasn’t sure she wanted it to
Jim began rolling up his window as she’d been sitting there silent, lost in thought for several moments.
“Wait,” she forced herself to say, already feeling her hands shaking. “Yes.”
Jim’s initial look of disappointment turned into pleased contentment at her answer. “Tonight?
“Where should I pick you up?”
Carie thought about that for a moment. According to Mark, David would have her moved into Rollingwylde by the end of the day. She had a feeling that no one else knew where Rollingwylde even was, but there was an alternative.
“How about I pick you up?” Carie asked.
Jim looked a tiny bit uncomfortable at this, but seemed to make up his mind pretty fast that it would be fine. This one time.
“Okay. Do you know where the apartments on Oklahoma Avenue are?”
“Yeah. I know where those are.”
Carie had visited a friend at the same apartments before. She remembered thinking they were kind of dumpy, but quiet, which was a plus.
“Okay. My shift ends at five so pick me up at seven?”
“That works for me. I’ll see you at seven.”
Jim smiled. “Bye, Carie.”
Carie almost pranced back into the ice cream shop, so excited was she about her date with Jim. She’d felt something between them from that first time they met. She’d felt an initial spark that now seemed to be growing. It wasn’t a full-blown bonfire or anything, hell, it wasn’t even a fire at all yet, but it did feel as though there were quite a few sparks and smoke was just starting to drift up from the tinder.
Taking a seat at one of the tables in the ice cream shop, Carie stared through the glass windows, not seeing anything as her mind imagined all the outcomes for that evening.
She laughed when she realized she didn’t even know where they were going. They hadn’t made it that far. She also laughed when she realized she didn’t know what to wear, because of that very same fact.
Somehow though, she knew it would all be fine. Jim seemed like it down to earth guy who could change plans as necessary and Carie knew she was the type of person who was strong enough to push for something else if she didn’t want to do what had been planned.
Carie daydreamed for several minutes, flitting from little scene to little scene in which she and Jim played out her own fantasies of that evening. When she had her fill of make-believe, she stood and did a once over of the ice cream shop. Everything was ready. The only thing she needed to do was take out the ice cream from the walk-in and place it into the slots of the serving counter. After that, she was ready for business. She definitely needed an employee or three, but that could come later. She would definitely need an employee once the bills started coming in.
Speaking of employees, Carie had a feeling she knew exactly where to find her first one.
She licked her lips as she stood up from the table, making her way to the back and heading straight for the walk-in. She paused there for a moment, chewing on her lip as she considered what happened with Tanner. Would this new ice cream man of hers disappear as Tanner had?
She also had to wonder why Tanner had disappeared. Was it because she had sex with him? If that was the case, she could hold out and not have sex with Rocky Road until after the grand opening. If it wasn’t the case though, Rocky Road might just disappear that evening and she would have to put another ice cream into the Freezer Amor.
And then that whole thing went back again to another question that wouldn’t leave her mind. Who had put Rocky Road into the Freezer Amor?
Shaking her head, Carie pulled open the door of the walk-in and made up her mind. She walked over to the Freezer Amor and pulled its handle. She half expected Rocky Road to be missing, but he wasn’t. He was there in the Freezer Amor, nestled in his packaging. Carie reached out and gripped the tab. She set up a mental prayer to whomever had gifted her the Freezer Amor, more than likely Angela, and…
Carie removed her hand from the pull tab as she realized she’d solved one of the mysteries already. The Freezer Amor had to come from Angela. Angela had owned the Amor Ice Cream Company so it made sense, actually it was the only thing that made sense in this whole mess, that the Freezer Amor had been delivered on Angela’s command.
“Why though?” Carie mumbled. Why had Angela chosen her? Not just to receive the Freezer Amor, but also to back her as an ice cream shop owner as well as writing her into her will. The whole thing was a twisted ball of yarn that Carie wasn’t sure she’d ever get to the heart of, but at least she knew where the freezer had come from. That was one thing. That was enough.
Feeling more grounded than she had in the past few months, Carie reached out, gripped the pull tab and opened Rocky Road’s packaging.
Nothing happened. She waited a few moments, but when Rocky Road still hadn’t left his packaging, she stepped forward to examine him. Slipping her hand into the package, she felt solid muscle beneath her fingers. Thick slabs of it as well. Where Tanner had been chiseled from rock, yet lean, Rocky seemed to be a whole different being. He was built up in places that Tanner had not been and—
His hand came up and gripped Carie’s wrist. Carie let out a little yelp and Rocky Road stepped out of the packaging. He wore a leather vest, a flannel shirt underneath, and dark blue jeans. His black boots matched his leather vest and he had a big hoop earring in his left ear. Still holding Carie’s wrist, he smiled down at her and she suddenly felt very tiny.
“Hello,” he said in a deep baritone that filled the walk-in. “What’s your name.”
He didn’t so much ask Carie her name as command her to tell him.
“Carie,” she said in a small voice. “My name is Carie. What’s your name?”
“Whatever you want it to be.”
“I’m gonna call you Rocky.”
“That’s fine. What do you want to do, Carie?” He asked.
“I don’t know. I need help in the shop,” she whispered.
“Help in the shop?” He smiled. “You sure that’s what you really want?”
Carie nodded, not trusting herself to speak.
“Okay.” He let go of her wrist. “I’ll help you in the shop.”
“Thank you,” Carie said and a thought occurred to her.
“Do you know Tanner?”
“I know Tangerine Dream,” Rocky answered.
“Where did he go?” Carie asked.
“Where we all go eventually.”
Carie chewed her lip. “Home. Where’s that?”
Rocky shrugged. “I don’t have an address, Carie.”
Carie nodded. Why would he have an address? He was fresh out of his packaging.
With a shiver, Carie led Rocky out of the walk-in. They both took a seat at one of the tables in the shop.
“Can I ask you some questions, Rocky?” Carie asked.
“Sure.” Rocky almost looked at her as though he wanted to eat her.
“Do you know anyone named Angela?”
“No. I only know you, Carie.”
“You know Tangerine Dream as well though.”
“Do you know anyone else?”
“Who else do you know?”
“Birthday cake, mint chocolate chip, chocolate, dark chocolate, Swiss chocolate, chocolate mocha, vanilla, vanilla mocha—”
Carie stopped him and stood. She headed back to the walk-in by herself, kicked the light on, and looked at the shelf. He’d just named all the flavors that were around the missing container of Rocky Road. Carie headed back out to the table and sat down again.
“Do you only know the flavors in that freezer?” She asked.
“I know other flavors.”
“Flavors not in that freezer?”
“Tangerine Dream isn’t in that freezer.”
“Do you know of any other flavors that aren’t in that freezer?”
“And these flavors, where did you meet them?”
“Home,” Rocky said with a shrug. “I met them at home.”
There it was again. Home. The place where Tanner currently was. The place Rocky knew.
If Carie could just find where this home place was, she could find Tanner.
“Okay,” she said, mind spinning. “I have another question. What causes you to go home?”
“Lack of a job. Lack of a mission. Lack of interesting work.”
That was confusing. Tanner had a job. He’d even said so.
“Tanner was going to work for the ice cream shop,” Carie said. “Does that not count as a job?”
“I’m not sure. It depends on whether or not he thought it counted as a job.”
“He’s the one who told me he was going to work for me.”
Rocky shrugged. “I don’t know what you want me to tell you, Carie. I’m not Tanner.”
“Right, but I feel like you have more insight into him than I really do.”
“Without a doubt.”
“Do you know anybody besides other flavors of ice cream?”
“Who?” Carie asked, finally feeling like she was hitting paydirt of some sort.
“Colombian Supremo, Madagascar Robusto, Tanzanian Peaberry—”
Carie stopped Rocky. “Those are flavors of ice cream?”
“No, Carie. They’re types of coffee.”
“Coffee,” Carie said in a small voice. She turned her head to look at the wall her shop shared with the coffee shop next door. The coffee shop that had the most beautiful baristas she’d ever seen in her life. The coffee shop owned by the same woman who owned Amor Ice Cream Company. The company it was said had been interested in expanding into coffee roasters.
Carie closed her eyes and shook her head as it all began to click. Angela had been using the coffee as employees. Probably using an Amor coffee roaster of some sort.
Carie also thought about all the women at all the tables within the coffee shop. Knowing the sex drive of the ice cream firsthand, Carie wondered if the coffee had the same sort of sex drive. If so, was the coffee having sex with the customers? Did Angela know this was happening? Was she facilitating this occurrence? Did someone find out and that’s why she was murdered?
“I’m not a very good private investigator,” she mumbled.
Another thought popped into her mind, something not related to murder, coffee, or sex.
“What would happen if I put another container of Rocky Road into the Freezer Amor?”
“Are you asking if it’s possible to clone me?” Rocky asked in return. He didn’t seem offended at the thought, just interested in the question.
“I’m just curious what would happen.”
“I have brothers and sisters you know. We’re all from the same batch.”
Carie nodded. “That makes sense.”
Did any of it make sense though?
“I’m gonna go over to the coffee shop for a little, did you want to come with?” Carie asked.
“Sure,” Rocky answered, standing up from the table.
Carie led him to the front door and they both headed toward the coffee shop. When they exited, Lisa stepped out from the Mercedes-Benz and began to open the back door for Carie.
“Oh, sorry. I’m just going to the coffee shop for a second,” Carie said. “Can I get you anything?”
Lisa eyed Rocky. “Some of that sexy man right there.”
Rocky gave Lisa an easy smile. “You better be careful. You might get what you ask for.”
“Oh yeah?” Lisa asked.
Rocky took a step towards her. “Yeah.”
Carie intervened. Now wasn’t the time for this. “Not now, you two.”
Rocky smiled at Lisa and Lisa whispered to him. “She’s right. Not now, but later.”
Carie rolled her eyes, holding open the door of the coffee shop for Rocky. They both entered. Inside, she realized that she was no longer surprised by the amount of women who’d seemed to flock to the little coffee shop.
At the counter, one of the baristas approached her.
“Hey, Carie. The usual?” Suma asked.
“No, actually. Can we go to the back and talk for a moment?”
Suma nodded and Carie came around the side of the counter, following him to the back with Rocky close behind.
When they got to the back, Carie had a moment to consider what she was about to ask. It was fine for her to believe that she had a magical freezer that brought ice cream to life which she’d ended up fucking (twice), but she was about to bring someone else into that strange world. Someone who she believed might actually be coffee brought to life. She didn’t want to immediately broach the subject head on, thinking it might be better to find a side avenue to approach from.
“Who gave you your name, Suma?” Carie asked. She thought it was a good question that would shed light on what was happening in the coffee shop without making Carie seem overly bizarre. If the barista wasn’t coffee, then he might find the question bizarre, but not insane. Carie could live with that.
Suma thought about the question for several moments before answering. “Angela gave me my name. Like all the other baristas here.”
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