Without further ado, Teresa escorted Carie to the empty storefront next to the coffee shop.
“You ready?” Teresa asked.
Breathless, Carie nodded.
This was really happening. This was real.
Teresa pulled her keys from her purse and removed one of them. She handed this key to Carie.
Chuck had never entrusted Carie with a key to his shop. She’d always had to wait on him to arrive to unlock the door and then to leave.
“Thank you,” Carie said as her hand, seemingly divorced from her body, took the key. She stared at it for a moment.
“You gonna open the door?” Teresa asked, a playful smile on her face.
“Wha-yeah!” Carie said, cringing when she heard the overwhelming excitement in her voice.
“Okay!” Teresa returned with the same amount of energy.
Normally, Carie would be embarrassed, but it didn’t seem as though Teresa was making fun of her excitement. It seemed as though Teresa was feeding off and returning the same exact excitement that Carie was feeling in that moment. It felt as though Teresa was actually on her side.
Carie slipped the key into the lock and twisted.
“Other way,” Teresa said.
“Right. Of course.”
Carie unlocked the door and held it open for Teresa who shook her head and gestured for Carie to go ahead and enter herself.
“After you,” Teresa said.
Carie nodded and stepped over the threshold.
Inside, the smell of dust was surprising. She wasn’t sure if she’d ever been inside an empty storefront before or what it should smell like.
Teresa didn’t appear to think anything was out of the ordinary though. “I’ll have my interior guy give you a call tonight. You can set up a meeting for tomorrow and go over how you want the inside of the shop to look. He’ll run over your different options and you can choose the ones you’re interested in. He’ll report back to me and assuming everything’s fine, budget-wise, we’ll be good to go. If something comes up, I’ll give you a call and we can sort it out before any money exchanges hands.”
Carie nodded, doing her best to take in everything Teresa was saying as fantasies about her new ice cream shop threatened to overwhelm her.
“Do you have any idea of what you want to name the place?” Teresa asked.
Carie nodded. She’d always hated the name Chuck’s Cones and had several times tried to get him to change the name, but he’d always said the same thing: “My shop, my name.”
“Well?” Teresa asked.
“Honeybee Sweets ‘n Treats,” Carie said in a quiet voice. She looked at Teresa, nervous of what the woman would say.
Teresa was quiet for a long moment as though she was thinking the name over. “Why Honeybee?”
“I really like bees. Like a lot.”
“And they’re really easy to draw, so logo design won’t be too difficult.”
Teresa nodded and laughed. “You’ve thought this out a bunch of times, haven’t you?”
“I have,” Carie laughed self-consciously. “I probably think about bees way too much if I’m being honest.”
“Hey, I’d prefer you to have thought about this too much than not at all.”
Teresa finished showing Carie around the space and then they both exited.
“Okay,” Teresa said as Carie was locking up. “I’ll have my guy call you tonight and we’ll get started right away. It’ll probably take a few months to get all the permits set up and the space finished. Will you be okay on money in the meantime?”
Carie hadn’t even thought of that. She was unemployed now and couldn’t afford to have zero income until the shop opened. And what would her income be at the very beginning? What if there were no customers? How would she survive?
“Whoa.” Teresa placed her hand on Carie’s shoulder. “That’s an overwhelmed look if I’ve ever seen one. I know this is all a lot, but we’re gonna take it one step at a time. Let’s start with the first thing. Do you have enough money to make it to store opening, or do you need a loan?”
Carie’s face burned with embarrassment, but she refused to allow pride to make her lie. “I need a loan.”
“That’s fine. I can float you until the store opens. Once we’re at that point, we’ll have you pull a salary for a little bit until I’m paid back and then we’ll start with profit sharing after.”
“Thank you,” Carie said. “I mean it. I’ve never had anyone look out for me like this before. Ever.”
Teresa shooed this sentiment away. “It’s fine. We all have to start somewhere.”
Carie drove home from her meeting with Teresa with her mind ablaze. She kept having to pull over on the side of the road and run back over everything that had occurred, not sure if it’d actually happened or if she had imagined the whole thing.
A brand-new shop she’d never seen?
A benevolent owner that wanted to invest in her future?
Strangely beautiful baristas that all seemed to be interested in their customers?
“Can this really be real?” Carie asked herself one of these times she’d pulled over. “Is this really happening?”
Carie took a deep breath and tried to calm her jangling nerves. She was a business owner now. She was in charge of her own destiny. For the first time in her life it was make or break and it all depended on her.
With that somber thought fresh in her mind, Carie drove home. When she arrived, she was pleased to find that the boxes of Rob’s stuff had disappeared from her porch. After heading inside, she crashed on the couch and closed her eyes. It was so quiet inside of the house that she could almost hear the silence pressing in on her ears.
It was a pleasant feeling that quiet pressure.
As thoughts, dreams, and fantasies of her new business mixed in her mind, she drifted to sleep.
Several months later found Carie standing in front of her new storefront. The building was painted a soft yellow with light brown stripes across it to make it look like a bee. Above the door was a sign that read Honeybees Sweets ‘n Treats. A cute little bee sat on the word Treats.
“What do you think?” Teresa asked.
“I love it,” Carie said and meant it. “I truly do.”
Teresa nodded. “Good. Is everything up and running?”
“Everything’s in and finished. All we’re waiting on is the first batch of stock to arrive.”
“Wonderful. When is that supposed to get here?”
“Today. The supplier said this morning, but at Chuck’s we always got it late afternoon.”
“Let me give you a piece of advice,” Teresa said. “Make a good impression on the driver. Do that and you can probably get your stock earlier than other people on the same route.”
This tip, like many others always seemed to take Carie off guard. They were so simple that she felt she should have been able to come up with them herself, but was always surprised.
“Yeah,” Carie said. “I don’t think the driver at Chuck’s ever actually liked Chuck.”
“I bet not. I bet that’s why his deliveries were always later than they were supposed to be.”
Carie nodded in agreement.
“All right, well, when is your grand opening?” Teresa asked.
Carie considered. She’d been trying to arrive at the best date, but was still unsure. Was it better to open on the weekend and get all the crowds right away, or was it better to open during the middle of the week so any issues could be worked out before the crowds got there?
“Actually, I wanted to talk to you about that,” Carie said.
“Oh? Is there a problem?”
“No, no problem. I’m just not clear as to when the optimal day to open is. Is it better to open in the middle of the week and sort out any issues that arise or is it better to—”
Teresa interrupted her. “Let me stop you. There’s no optimal time to open. Optimal is whenever you’re ready. If you feel more comfortable opening in the middle of the week and making sure everything is set, open in the middle of the week. I do have to warn you though that you will never find all of your issues until you’re really slammed with customers.”
“Trial by fire,” Carie said.
“If you like.” Teresa shrugged. “I think of it more as crowdsourced consulting.”
“I think I’d rather open in the middle of the week. This is the first shop I’ve ever owned and I want to give it the best shot possible for the crowds on the weekend.”
“Fine with me.”
Carie didn’t think she’d ever met anyone as easy to work with as Teresa. The woman said what she wanted, what she meant, and what she needed without mincing words. With Teresa, it seemed you always knew where you stood.
“Okay, well get back to it,” Teresa said. “It’s Monday and I expect you to be open by Wednesday.”
Carie nodded. “No problem. I’m on track.”
“Good. Well, I’m gonna head back to my shop and let you get back to yours.”
Carie beamed. Hearing that the shop was hers never got old.
The supplier’s delivery driver arrived later that morning.
“You Carie?” The man said, not bothering to look up at her as he wrote notes on his clipboard.
“I am. What’s your name?” Carie asked.
The man blinked and looked up, surprised. “Jim. Why?”
Carie knew this look well. It was a look of someone who thought the person was getting their name in order to complain to their supervisor.
“No reason in particular, Jim. I just like knowing the names of the people I work with. You’re a person, right? You have hobbies, right? You’re not only a delivery driver, right?”
“Right,” Jim said. The look on his face said he still didn’t trust Carie and she didn’t blame him. “Don’t you work at Chuck’s Cones?”
Carie laughed. “I did until he fired me.”
Jim seemed to relax. “He always tried to get me to cut him a deal.”
Carie shook her head. She hadn’t known about this. “As if you’re in charge of pricing, right?”
Jim nodded. “Exactly. I have nothing to do with pricing. At all. Ever. I don’t even know how much any of the stuff I’m delivering costs.”
“I get it. Customers were always trying to get me to cut them deals and it was exactly like you said. I don’t have any sort of control over the pricing.”
“But you do now, right?” Jim asked, putting on an easy smile.
“Yeah,” Carie said, slowly beginning to nod. “I guess I do.”
Jim laughed. “What you gonna do with all that power?”
“Try to take over the world?” Carie said, making Jim laugh harder. “I think before I do that I’ll give you a discount. Twenty-five percent off anything we sell, anytime you want it. Consider it the dealing-with-shitty-customers discount.”
Jim nodded. “You know what, I’m gonna have to take you up on that offer.”
“I hope you will,” Carie said, noticing the freckles on Jim’s cheeks for the first time. Blushing, she turned and opened the back door so Jim could start unloading. She left him to it and returned to the front of the store.
When everything was unloaded, Jim found her.
“All finished?” Carie asked.
“Yep.” Jim held out the clipboard for her, along with a pen. “I just need your signature.”
Carie verified the stock, signed, and showed Jim out. He waved at her from inside the cab of the truck, rolling down his window to call out to her before he drove away.
“I’m gonna take you up on that offer.”
“I hope you do,” Carie called out over the noise of his engine.
Jim smiled and drove away.
Carie headed back into the shop. She paused for a moment in front of the walk-in. The door was left open a crack. Frowning, she looked around. She was the only one in the shop at the moment and she was sure that she’d closed the door when she and Jim had left it.
“How did you get opened?” She said under her breath.
She opened the door and peeked inside.
Everything looked fine. All the stock was where she and Jim had left it. He’d even taken the time to make sure all the containers were arranged with their labels facing out.
This made her smile. Every time Jim had dropped off stock at Chuck’s, the labels had always been facing in.
Teresa was right. Making friends with the driver was the correct decision and it didn’t help that he was a cutie as well. Carie sighed. Maybe she’d be able to find a decent date now that she was single. Maybe she and Jim could have something. He was easy enough on the eyes and seemed like he had a good personality.
“What are you talking about?” Carie asked herself. She didn’t have time to be dating. She was starting her own business and apparently couldn’t even remember to keep the door to the walk-in closed.
Carie was closing the door when she saw it. It sat in the far corner of the walk-in, hidden by the shelving there. Frowning, Carie entered the freezer and closed the door behind her, not wanting any more of the cold to escape. She glanced at the thermometer and saw that the needle was still well within the green range and that there was no danger.
The door closed, she headed over to examine the thing she’d seen. A thing she was almost sure wasn’t there when the walk-in freezer had first been installed. But where had it come from? Jim? That didn’t make sense. He wouldn’t just deliver something she hadn’t ordered, right?
Carie stood in front of it, her mouth hanging open. There was another freezer inside of the walk-in. It was a little taller than she was as well as a little wider. The freezer was the same silver as the walls of the walk-in. Maybe that’s why she’d never seen it before?
That couldn’t be the case though, she’d seen the interior of the walk-in before the shelves had gone up and there had been no secondary freezer within it. Hell, she’d seen the interior of the walk-in after the shelves had gone up and this thing in front of her still hadn’t been inside. The freezer had its own handle as well as a logo spelled out in cursive chrome.
Freezer Amor, the lettering read.
“Freezer Amor?” Carie mumbled. She reached out for the handle and withdrew her hand immediately, surprised by the heat she felt on the metal. It wasn’t even close to being hot enough to burn her, but it was warm enough to be disconcerting. Especially for something inside the walk-in.
“Maybe this is some sort of joke?” Carie said under her breath. She thought maybe this was some sort of hazing thing from Teresa for a moment, but almost immediately discarded that as Teresa didn’t seem like the type to play practical jokes. Shaking her head, Carie reached out for the handle again, ignoring the heat.
Bracing herself, Carie opened the Freezer Amor. Thick, billowing clouds of cool air spilled out, hanging around the floor of the walk-in and making it look as though she stood in some sort of mist.
With the door open, she frowned. It was completely empty inside. She wasn’t sure what she expected, but an empty freezer was not it. There weren’t even shelves. Just an interior of white molded plastic. There were also words printed on the inside of the door:
One flavor at a time. No empty containers.
“What the hell?” Carie asked the empty freezer. She held her hand out and touched the back wall of the freezer. Surprisingly, it felt colder than the rest of the walk-in.
Carie closed the door to the freezer and took a step back. It wasn’t frustrating only because she didn’t know where the freezer had come from, but also because it now sat there, taking up space that could have been devoted to stock, in her walk-in freezer.
“No free rides in this walk-in,” Carie mumbled.
She opened the door to the Freezer Amor and grabbed a container of ice cream off the shelf to the left. She chose one of the less popular flavors, just in case something went wrong and it melted, or went bad, or…
Or what though? Why did she feel this nervousness in her stomach? Why was she getting flutters from the ice cream she held in her hand?
Shaking her head, she placed the container of Tangerine Dream into the Freezer Amor and closed the door.
As the door clicked shut, she felt her knees go weak and suddenly felt almost faint. Eyes narrowed on the Freezer Amor, Carie left the walk-in. Soon, in the hectic mix of getting everything up and running for her grand opening, she completely forgot about the Freezer Amor and the container of Tangerine Dream sitting inside.
Plans had to be made, checklists had to be checked, everything had to be ready.
Carie went home that night exhausted, but excited.
Excited for her future.
Excited for her shop.
Excited for some other reason that she couldn’t quite place her finger on.
Carie slept well that night with an overwhelming sense that everything would take care of itself.
Carie awoke the next morning feeling more rested than she had in years.
She felt as though some deeper part of her, which had been empty for years, had been filled during her sleep.
Was this what fulfillment felt like?
Carie didn’t know, but refused to linger on it, instead relaxing and enjoying it.
She got ready and grabbed breakfast on her way out. As she drove, she saw everything more clearly. The sun broke through the clouds in narrow beams. The birds sang from the lush treetops. Squirrels jumped from limb to limb.
Pulling in to the little shopping center that housed The Cutest Coffee Shop In The World as well as Honeybee’s Sweets ‘n Treats brought about a sense of completion to Carie. She headed into the coffee shop was surprised to see that Teresa wasn’t there. Teresa always seemed to be in the coffee shop, sitting at the same table.
Carie strode to the counter and said hello to the barista who had taken her order the first time she’d entered. She’d finally gotten his name.
“Hey, Suma. How’s your morning going?”
“Well. Yours?” He asked in return. Carie was still attracted to Suma, but not so overwhelmingly that it caused her to stumble over words and even forget who she was.
“Really well. Thanks for asking.”
“Can I get your regular started?”
Carie’s regular was a medium cup of light roast, black.
“No,” Carie said, shaking her head. She felt fantastic and as though she deserved a little treat to start off her day. “I’ll have a Purple Lotus Cocoa.”
Suma nodded and wrote her name on the cup. Carie paid and waited at the pick-up counter, surprised that Teresa still hadn’t shown up.
When her cocoa was ready, Carie took it and headed over to her own shop. She unlocked the door, let herself in, and locked the door again. After disabling the alarm system, she began looking over her day’s checklist. It looked insurmountable, but when you were working for yourself, things that seemed insurmountable never actually were. Once you got going, they seemed to roll downhill of their own volition.
Carie headed to the back to put away her purse but paused in front of the walk-in. She thought she heard a thud of some sort come from inside. That didn’t make any sense though and she continued to the back. As soon as she tossed her purse into the locker, her phone began to ring from within it.
Sighing, Carie fished it out. The name on the display of the cell made her pause.
“I’d rather get this over with now…” Carie sighed, picking up the phone. “Hi, Rob.”
“Carie.” Rob sounded surprised although she had no idea why, because he’d called her. “You picked up.”
“Yeah. It’s a phone.”
“I guess I just… I guess I didn’t think…”
Normally, or un-normally when you really thought about it, Carie would’ve tried to help Rob finish his sentence, but now Carie felt no such obligation. She left him out there in a stumbling, bumbling hellscape of words he couldn’t seem to crawl out of.
“I mean… I wouldn’t have thought… You know… I guess what I’m trying to say is…”
Rob trailed off and Carie wondered if he was just going to hang up. She felt like she would’ve been okay with that.
“Megan and I were wondering…” Rob trailed off again.
Carie smiled. This was going to be great. She couldn’t wait to see where he was planning to go with—
That time Carie knew she’d heard the thud come from the walk-in. Pursing her lips, she headed in that direction. Maybe that stupid Freezer Amor thing had broken already. That would been fine with Carie, it’s not like she or Teresa had paid for it.
As Carie stood in front of the door to the walk-in, Rob started talking again.
“Megan and I were wondering… If we could come by and talk to you…”
Carie rolled her eyes. “About what, Rob?”
More stutters and stammers started coming from Rob’s side of the phone. Carie ignored him as she pulled open the door to the walk-in. She stood there for a moment peering in and straining her ears to hear even the slightest—
There was. That same noise. Again.
“It sounds like it’s coming from the Freezer Amor,” Carie said under her breath.
“What?” Rob asked from the other side of the phone. “What was that?”
“Get to the point, Rob,” Carie said. She entered the walk-in one careful step at a time. She didn’t want whatever was making the noise to stop. She wanted to find out what it was. And if it was a rat or something else that was alive, she wanted to see it so she could report it properly and take care of the problem before her grand opening, or even worse, a health inspector arrived.
“Why are you being like that? Why can’t you just be—”
Carie heard three beeps as the call was lost. She glanced at the phone and saw that her signal was completely gone.
“Oh. Right.” She’d forgotten completely that the signal didn’t carry inside of the walk-in. Megan had found that out on the very first day at Chuck’s Cones. She’d tried to answer a call in the walk-in, but had promptly been disconnected. She tried several more times before she realized the walk-in was the problem, not her phone.
Carie slipped the phone in her pocket and placed her hand on the handle of the Freezer Amor. It was freezing to the touch and Carie jerked her hand away. Sucking in a deep breath as she felt the cold burn her hand. She brought her hand up to her mouth and blew hot air into it. It helped a little, but not much.
She reached out to touch the metal shelf beside the Freezer Amor. It was cold, but nowhere near as cold as the handle to the Freezer Amor. She wondered why the handle felt so much colder than the rest of the metal in the walk-in.
Carie jumped. This close to the Freezer Amor, the thud was loud and definitely coming from inside. Carie pulled her sleeve down over her hand and grabbed the handle again. She braced herself, took a deep breath, and pulled the door open. What she saw in the freezer took her breath away and she took several steps back, her head swimming at what she was seeing.
At who she was seeing…