Carie sat quietly for a few moments, her mind hopping around to different job prospects. She thought about all the things she’d wanted to do as a small child and if those things were even realistic as an adult. Growing up, she’d quickly come to realize that chasing every whim wasn’t the greatest idea.
“Chasing probably isn’t a good idea if things can come to you,” she mumbled as she finished up the remains of her breakfast and cleaned her dishes.
It was a nice sentiment, but she wasn’t sure if she bought it or not.
Once the dishes were clean, she sat down on the couch and stared at the little hot glue gun marks that dotted the edges of her television. She thought about all the time she’d invested in her relationship with Rob as well as all the time she’d invested in Chuck’s Cones. She wasn’t mad about losing all that time, but she did feel somewhat cheated. She could have been focusing all her attention on something else, something good, something that made her feel, what… Human?
That might’ve been part of it, but she didn’t think it was the whole thing.
“So I’ll live. I’ll be more human.” She said it in such a small voice that it almost could have been the voice inside of her head. There was something scary about deciding that she would begin to live her life from this point on as she saw fit. She hadn’t exactly said it in that way, but that’s what she’d meant. That’s what she’d decided. Nodding, she got up from the couch and headed to the bedroom. “I’ll live.”
She started pulling clothes from her closet, trying to find something cute for what she had planned. Going out didn’t necessarily need to end the way she thought it might, but it wouldn’t hurt to try. She eventually settled on a cute, high-waisted peasant skirt with a hound’s-tooth print that had black leather laces at the waist. And pockets. Obviously pockets. She loved the pockets.
With her skirt picked out she grabbed a gray spaghetti strap tank top and a cute pair of flats. She headed to the bathroom threw her hair in a ponytail and did her makeup. Taking a moment to examine her handiwork, she took in a long, deep breath and let it out. By the light of day, it didn’t appear as though her face was covered in all the wrinkles she’d seen the evening before. In fact, there was a soft, dewy glow to her skin that she really thought looked nice.
Carie headed out of the bathroom, grabbing her keys and purse from the bedroom as she headed to the front of the house. She didn’t want to be around when Rob and Megan showed up to grab the boxes. She wasn’t quite sure where she wanted to go, but all she knew was that she didn’t want to be sitting in that house when they showed up.
After locking up the house, she headed out to her car, started it up, and drove away without looking back. She drove aimlessly for a while, driving up and down streets, looking at stores, thinking about what she wanted to do with her future, what she wanted to do with her life. Eventually, she decided she was going to head to the mall. There, at least, she could walk among other people and relax as she did so. It sounded like a good idea.
On the way to the mall, she passed a little shop she’d never seen before. Two shops, really, although the shop on the right was just an empty storefront for the moment. There was a sign in the front window that said “Coming Soon: Your Great Idea.”
Carie rolled her eyes at this. “Right. My great idea. Just like that.”
The shop to the left was the one that caught her eye. It was a cute little purple storefront with large, round windows set into the front. She pulled in and was pleasantly surprised to find that the parking spot right in front of the door was empty. She pulled into the parking spot and turned off the car, memories of her mother drifting up from the past.
Her mother had always said that if you got the empty spot right in front of the front door, you were bound to have good luck for the rest of the day. It was just one of those little superstitions that Carie still believed, or entertained at least.
Carie got out of the car, locked it, and stared up at the sign that adorned the front of the shop.
“The Cutest Coffee Shop Ever” the sign read and Carie thought it just might be accurate.
Carie pulled open the door and a tiny bell jingled somewhere above her head. She looked up, but saw no bell and assumed it must be one of those electronic systems. That all disappeared from her mind as the scent of brewed and roasted coffee wafted towards her. Zombie-like, she headed towards the front counter, delighted at the tiny cakes that sat in the display case. Their frosting flowers, stars, and other shapes were immaculate.
For a place she’d never heard of, Carie was surprised at how many people were in the small shop. Almost all of the tables and seats were taken. At the counter, Carie looked over the menu, smiling at the titles of the different drinks.
TK Cutesy drink name.
TK Cutesy drink name.
TK Cutesy drink name.
There were so many intriguing options that Carie wanted to choose them all. She settled on a Purple Lotus Cocoa. She had no idea what a Purple Lotus Cocoa would taste like, but was interested to find out. As she was finishing up making her decision, the barista working the counter approached. Her mouth fell open as he sauntered to stop in front of her.
He was the most beautiful man she’d ever seen. His black hair tumbled across his forehead in a disheveled way that looked nice and unstructured. His tanned skin had a healthy glow to it and as he smiled, his lips slipping across perfect, white teeth, Carie felt her breath hitch in her chest.
“First time here?” He asked.
Carie, forgetting everything, focused on trying to locate a name tag. She always hated when people came into Chuck’s Cones and didn’t bother to use her name, instead calling her ice cream girl or whatever else they would come up with and determine was clever.
“Sorry?” was what she managed to say when she didn’t find a name tag of any sort affixed to his apron.
The barista smirked and leaned across the counter. “What for?” He whispered as though she and him were in on some sort of joke together.
“Huh?” Carie mumbled. The Carie on the outside talking to the barista was very different from the Carie on the inside who was screaming at her to get her shit together. The Carie on the inside was dying the death of a thousand cuts as she had to sit there, trapped, watching this outside Carie bumble over her words.
“I asked what you were sorry for,” the barista said. If he felt she was being even a little awkward, he didn’t show it. In fact, bizarrely, he seemed to be enjoying their conversation.
“Oh. Uh.” Carie’s mind raced for something acceptable to say. Something cool. Something that would let him know that she was just as relaxed as he was in this conversation. What came out was “I don’t know.”
The Carie on the inside tore her hair out and screamed at this.
“Fair enough,” the barista said with a shrug that made it seem as though he’d taken what she’d said at face value. “What can I get started for you today?”
Carie had no idea.
“Uh,” she said, trying to fill the awkward silence as her eyes raced across the menu. She knew she’d had something picked out, but for the life of her couldn’t remember what it had been. The Carie on the inside fell down and began slamming her face against the ground. “Can I get ummmmm…”
The barista waited patiently, not looking annoyed or rushed or as though he had other things he’d rather be doing. He stood there and waited, watching her. This did nothing to calm the flustered feeling enveloping Carie’s entire being. Her eyes paused for a moment on one of the options on the menu and the Carie on the inside screamed at her to just say the words to order something, anything to get this whole awkward conversation over and done with.
“Can I get a cup of coffee?” Carie asked. The Carie on the inside began to sob.
“Is that what you really want?” The barista asked.
“No,” Carie said in a soft voice. “I don’t know what I want, but I don’t want to waste your time.”
“I’m right here, right now, and I’m not going anywhere. Take your time.”
This was somehow worse than him just giving her the coffee that she didn’t really want. At least that way this whole conversation would be over and she could take a few moments to collect herself and relax.
She took several deep breaths, refusing to just choose something, to choose anything, and breathed a sigh of relief when her eyes found the original drink she had wanted to try.
The barista smiled. “What about a Purple Lotus Cocoa?”
Carie nodded. That was exactly what she wanted. The Carie inside breathed a sigh of relief that the whole thing was over.
“Yeah,” Carie said an agreement. “A Purple Lotus Cocktail.”
The Carie inside began screaming again.
“We don’t have those,” the barista said, keying in her order. “But I’ll let the boss know that maybe we should add it to the menu.”
Carie tried to smile, but imagined her face looked like a first grader’ attempt to draw her family.
“What size?” The barista asked.
Size. Of course. They always ask what size.
“A medium?” Carie asked, unsure if this was one of those places that had alternative words for the different sizes.
“Got it,” the barista said, pulling a medium cup from the sleeve and marking stuff onto it. “What’s your name?”
The barista laughed. “We’ll just put Carie on the cup. I’ll get this started for you.”
Numbly, Carie nodded and turned away to go find a seat.
“Miss?” The voice of the barista said from behind her. “That’ll be three ninety-nine.”
Carie’s eyes slid shut and she let out a deep breath. What was wrong with her? Why was she like this?
Turning back around, she put her purse on the counter and began rooting through it for her billfold. For a short moment, she thought she might have left her billfold at home, and wouldn’t that have been the perfect capper to this whole ordeal? She found her billfold though and paid the barista.
With that done, and the interaction complete, she headed over to the pick-up counter. As she waited, she looked over the other patrons, surprised to see the coffee shop was almost entirely filled with women. There were several men scattered here and there, but the majority of the customers were female.
Carie had an idea it had to do with the name of the coffee place as well as the colors used on the storefront. She had an idea that someone with a fragile ego, like Rob, wouldn’t ever be caught dead in a place like this. Just as soon as Carie began to rehash her relationship with Rob, and what he would and wouldn’t do, she heard her name called. She turned and stared into the eyes of a different barista. This barista was a woman with the most perfect curls Carie had ever seen. They looked like tiny little springs that were symmetrical. The woman’s eyes were a green so deep that Carie decided they had to be contacts. The problem was, they didn’t look like contacts at all. The striking eyes looked completely natural when coupled with the curls and the woman’s flawless skin.
“You’re Carie, right?” The barista asked.
The Carie inside warned her that she better start speaking, and start speaking fast.
“Yeah,” Carie forced out. Happy that she’d finally gotten her mouth to work when she wanted it to, she continued, “That’s me.”
The Carie inside groaned.
“Purple Lotus Cocoa,” the barista said, acting as though she hadn’t noticed Carie’s awkwardness. “Just like you wanted.”
Carie nodded, reaching out to take the drink. Her fingers touched the barista’s, and for a terrible moment, Carie thought she was going to drop the Purple Lotus Cocoa. The barista moved quicker than Carie would’ve expected, her other hand darting underneath to catch the cup before it fell.
“Oops,” the barista said with a smile. “Don’t want to drop all this deliciousness.”
“Thanks,” was all that Carie could get out. Taking the drink and cursing at herself, she turned away from the barista and scanned the room for an open seat or table.
A woman sitting at a table with an open seat right in front of her, looked up.
The woman pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes as though she were examining Carie. When it seemed as though everything checked out, the woman nodded and spoke. “Take a seat.”
Carie looked around, knowing that the woman was talking to her, but still off-center from the conversations with the two striking baristas.
“I’m talking to you,” the woman said, pointing right at Carie’s chest. “Take a seat already.”
Carie nodded and took a seat. She sat there for a few moments, staring down at her drink before looking up at the lady. The woman stared back at her, waiting for something it seemed.
Stomach in knots, Carie took a sip of her drink and immediately felt all the stress and tension drain from her neck and shoulders. Her nervousness also seemed to dull, and unconsciously, she breathed out a deep, contented sigh.
The woman nodded. “You looked like you needed that.”
“I did.” Carie took in a full breath and another sip of the Purple Lotus Cocoa. “I really did.”
“I can tell,” the woman said. She reached her hand over the table and held it out for Carie. “My name is Teresa, but everyone around here calls me Mama.”
Carie reached out for Teresa’s hand and shook it. “Mama?”
Teresa laughed. “Can’t be two mamas. If that’s your name, you’re gonna have to change it.”
“I was just surprised that you go by Mama.” Carie laughed in response. “My name is Carie.”
“Everyone goes by something, Carie.”
“I guess you’re right.”
Carie took another sip of the Purple Lotus Cocoa. Every time the drink entered her mouth, she tasted a different flavor. This last time there’d been a strong taste of vanilla and orange which was strange considering it was supposed to be cocoa.
“This drink is really… Interesting,” Carie finally said.
“Interesting in a good way, or interesting in an I’m-being-polite-and-I-don’t-want-to-offend-you sort of way?”
“Definitely the first. It’s good. Strange and surprising, but tasty.”
“How so?” Teresa leaned in, surprising Carie with the amount of interest she had in her opinions on a drink.
“Well, this last time the flavors I got were vanilla and orange, before I got an almost green tea and peppermint taste. Before that it was, what… Jasmine and chocolate?”
Teresa smiled and sat back in her chair. “Okay.”
She said it in a strange way. Almost as though she were making up her mind about something Carie didn’t know about.
“What do you do?” Teresa asked as Carie took another sip, lemon peel and licorice blossoming on her tastebuds.
“I work at Chuck’s Co—” Carie stopped midsentence as she realized that was no longer the case. “I used to work at Chuck’s Cones.”
“Used to?” Teresa asked.
Carie sighed, not really wanting to get into it, but also feeling comfortable telling the stranger sitting across the table from her all about what happened the day before. “Yeah. The day before was my day off and apparently the walk-in freezer was on the fritz. My coworker, who was also cheating with my boyfriend, didn’t bother to let anyone know so when I showed up to work, all of the stock in the freezer was unrecoverable.”
“And you were fired for that?” Teresa asked, a single eyebrow lifting.
“No, actually, I’m not exactly sure why I was fired. I had just told off my coworker for taking a two and a half hour lunch and leaving me with a giant line of customers who she’d been ignoring before she left. Not that it matters but during that two and a half hour lunch she was having sex with my boyfriend so that’s just one more great thing to add to that whole situation.”
Teresa chuckled. “That’s quite a story.”
Carie shrugged. It was only a day later, but it already felt surreal.
“So this Chuck character,” Teresa said, rubbing her chin. “How often does he show up to his shop?”
Carie laughed. “When things go wrong, and only when things go wrong.”
“Seems like the type who would do something like that. Let me guess, he promised you you might be manager some day or at least led you to believe that?”
Closing her eyes, Carie nodded.
“Yep,” Teresa said. “I’ve dealt with my fair share of people like Chuck and you want to know what the one thing I’ve realized after all these years of dealing with people like him?”
“The one thing you can count on them for is to make asinine decisions that affect the livelihoods of those who work for them. The other thing you can count on them for is not understanding that their decisions affect those who work for them. Did you ever have any problems with Chuck before yesterday?”
Carie thought about it for a moment, trying to think of any time he’d been frustrated or upset with her and couldn’t really think of a single time.
“He would occasionally get upset about things that were out of my control, like the freezer situation or like the time the lights in the display case malfunctioned.”
“Tell me about that,” Teresa said.
“Not much to tell,” Carie said and there really wasn’t. “The lights shorted out in the display case. I gave him a call and let him know and he said he would send a repair man to take care of the problem. The repair man told me it was a blown fuse. I told that to Chuck who proceeded to have the circuit breaker replaced. Come to find out it wasn’t a blown fuse at all and just a loose wire. I know nothing about electricity. I’m not an electrician. All I did was relay what the repair man said to me, and actually I found out later that the repairman told the same thing to Chuck, but he turned it into this whole I did this to him, I did this to the shop sort of thing.”
Teresa shook her head and rolled her eyes. “Growing up, I worked for so many people like Chuck.”
“Does it get any better?” Carie asked.
Teresa was silent for several moments as she studied Carie. “That depends.”
“Depends on what?” Carie asked.
“Depends on whether or not you decide to live your own life versus jumping through the hoops other people want you to.”
Carie almost knocked over her cocoa. That was exactly the thought she had earlier in the day when she decided to live her own life. She was tired of jumping through hoops for other people. If she was going to jump through any more hoops, they would be her own.
Teresa let loose an easy laugh. “I see that struck a chord.”
Carie nodded. “Yeah. It did. I came here today to make a decision about what I wanted to do with my future.”
“You chose this shop?”
“Not quite. I was heading to the mall to walk around for a bit. I like being around people and malls have that nice noise that make it easy to think as you move through. Anyways, I saw the shop out of the corner of my eye so I ducked in to check it out and now here I am.”
“Yes. Here you are.”
“Anyways, what do you do, Teresa? Since you decided to quit jumping through other people’s hoops, what is it that you do?”
“I sell coffee and cakes to strong women like you.”
“You sell coffee and…” She trailed off as she realized what Teresa meant. “Wait, you’re the owner?”
“In fact I am,” Teresa said, smiling at the shock on Carie’s face. “I own this entire building.”
Carie thought back to the “Coming Soon: Your Great Idea” sign she saw earlier and it all made sense.
“Wow,” Carie said.
Teresa laughed. “It’s not that impressive, but it does allow me to live my own life which is impressive. To me at least.”
“No, it’s impressive to me as well. I would love to do that.”
“Would you?” Teresa asked.
“Then do it. Show me.”
Carie wasn’t sure what Teresa meant. It was one thing to say you were going to live your own life, but to do it and to show it right there in a moment was something she wasn’t quite sure she knew how to do. Teresa crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair, obviously waiting for Carie to show her exactly what she meant.
“I… I don’t know what you want from me.”
Teresa didn’t respond, she just sat there waiting patiently, a tiny smile toying at the corners of her mouth. In that moment, it seemed as though the entire shop had grown quieter, the voices more hushed as Teresa waited for Carie to deliver the things she said she wanted to do. Carie glanced over at the counter and saw three baristas watching the conversation. The two she’d seen earlier as well as a third who—
No, she thought. Don’t get hung up with their looks again. You need to keep your wits about you.
Carie took a sip of her Purple Lotus Cocoa, flavors she couldn’t even place playing across her tongue, and realized exactly what she wanted. She wanted to deliver moments like this. She wanted to be Teresa. She wanted to own her own shop and make all of her customers happy. She wanted her employees to enjoy their jobs. She wanted everyone to like her.
Carie spoke a long string of words with barely a breath, not wanting to stop for fear that if she did she would never finish.
“I want to open my own ice cream shop in that store next to yours and I want to be the owner. I want you to mentor me and teach me how to be in control of my own life and how to seize every day for what it’s worth.”
Teresa stared at her for a long time after the massive outpouring. “Do you know what my father always told me while I was growing up?”
Carie, not trusting herself to speak, shook her head no.
“He told me that if you’re good at something, never do it for free.”
Carie nodded, her heart breaking. At least she’d given her best. At least she’d gone out with a bang.
“Here’s what we’re going to do: because I do listen to my father’s advice always, I’m not going to just give you that storefront. I am going to mortgage it to you as well as invest in your ice cream shop. I will be your silent partner.”
Carie felt lightheaded. She felt like she was about to pass out at this offer.
Teresa nodded and leaned forward. “You need to take a few moments. I understand.”
“No, I’ll do it. I’m in.” Carie spit the words out quickly, terrified for a moment that the deal might disappear if she didn’t pounce on it right then and there.
Teresa laughed. “I figured you might jump on it. Listen, Carie. I have a lot of faith in you. I only invest in people, never ideas. That was another thing my father always told me. Invest in the jockey, not the horse. You’re the jockey. That ice cream shop will be your horse. Take care of it and it’ll race for you for as long as you live.”
Carie nodded. “I will. When can I start?”
Teresa laughed again. “You’re the boss. You tell me.”
“Today,” Carie said. “Right now.”
“Always bet on the jockey,” Teresa said. “Looks like I found a great one.”