Chapter 15 – Kara
Kara had dyed her hair a deep, rich chestnut brown the Saturday after she and Tim broke up. It made her feel like a new woman in some ways. So did the church service on Sunday, and she found solace in the pastor’s sermon. When she prayed, it was for a path forward. She tried hard not to think about her past relationship, and only of good things to come.
Finishing her checkout and saying farewells at the command that week was bittersweet. But she got plenty of compliments on her new hair color and a few more references she could use in applying for jobs. She was able to use an on-base gym to work out two more times before starting her final two weeks of leave. Kara had no idea how she was going to stay in shape during her hopefully short hiatus from the military. Maybe I’ll just do calisthenics and take nightly walks around the neighborhood, she thought.
That whole week she mulled over Amelia’s advice about getting to know Peter Gildon better. She truly hoped they could become good friends and that maybe he had some sage advice on a way ahead for her.
And she couldn’t help thinking again and again of him ravishing her. Lustful thoughts came to her every night when she laid down to sleep. Sleep, in fact, wouldn’t come at all until she’d touched and satisfied herself while fantasizing about the handsome older man. Someday I may have to act on these fantasies, she thought.
When Thursday came, Kara had enjoyed her time at Flannery’s with Peter, and she was glad she had taken her friend’s advice about getting better acquainted. She had been a bit nervous about the whole thing though. Still, their conversation had been wonderful, even with the background noise of karaoke. She had learned a lot about the writer with smoky blue-gray eyes. But there was much more she wanted to know. And Kara had been very careful not to let her attraction to him show, even while getting his thoughts on relationships and comparing and contrasting them with her own.
Peter had seemed truly interested in her ideas for his story too. She thought she might like to look into books in the erotica genre to get a better feel for how she could perhaps help him even more. And again, she couldn’t help but flash back during their duet that week to the fantasy she’d had about him during her lovemaking with Tim.
Going into Flannery’s that night, Kara had assumed that Peter was maybe in his early forties. As it turned out, he was 49 years old, while she was only just approaching 25. She still couldn’t get over the way she was somehow drawn to men with much more life experience than she had. Maybe, she thought, it’s because I see them as wise. Or maybe it’s because they seem stable and settled, unlike men my own age, who are just trying to find their way in life. Maybe I need to look into these female psychology studies that Peter spoke of.
Kara had also been very hopeful when it came to Peter’s tip on possible employment. So on Friday morning, she headed to the barbershop down the street from Flannery’s with the funny name Mane Street. She laughed when she arrived and saw the logo on the shop’s sign. It was a lion’s head with a slicked-back, well-coiffed mane, wearing dark sunglasses.
Kara spoke very briefly with the manager, Amy, in the waiting area after filling out an application. Even though Kara didn’t know Peter well enough to use him as a reference, she still dropped his name in their conversation. Amy raved about him, saying that he was a fantastic customer who came in every three weeks for a trim and always tipped his stylist, Jessica, very well. Jessica, whose pregnant belly protruded beneath her smock, looked up from the head of the customer she was working on at the mention of Peter’s name, and shot a smile Kara’s way.
Amy explained that Jessica’s space and equipment would be up for rent on a month-to-month basis soon, and she had already taken several applications. She said she would contact Kara if she were accepted to take over the space. Kara thanked her for her time and left.
She was disappointed once again with the reception she had received; but moreover, she was hungry and definitely in need of some caffeine. She had noticed a small coffee shop a few doors down from the barbershop that looked promising. She thought the shop’s name, Mercedes Beanz, was cute too. What’s with all these crazy business names? Kara wondered. And why is it so hard for a licensed cosmetologist to find a job in this area?
Kara saw a couple of patio tables, each with a few chairs, outside the shop’s entrance, and she thought it might be nice to eat outside. As she opened the door to enter, she noticed a “Help Wanted” sign in the window, stating that the shop was looking for friendly, helpful people to join their team. Kara thought that it wouldn’t hurt to put an application in here too. After all, if she could learn all the things she had over the past seven years, she could certainly learn to make coffee drinks.
Once inside, Kara ordered a café latté and a blueberry bagel from a freckled strawberry blonde young woman named Sandra, who looked to be just a few years younger than she was. She also asked for an application, and Sandra gave her one. She told Kara that the owner was around somewhere and would speak to her after she’d filled out the form. Kara took her food, drink and the application outside with her and sat down at one of the tables there.
She had finished her bagel and was sipping coffee and working on the application when a middle-aged woman came out of the shop and sat down at her table. She was a brunette with just a touch of gray, and she had laugh lines surrounding her smiling blue eyes. She introduced herself as Paula Lindsay, the franchise owner.
Kara shook her hand and told Paula it was nice to meet her. “I didn’t know this shop was part of a chain. I just assumed this was a mom-and-pop place.”
“No pop—just Mom,” Paula said with a grin. “A lot of people think that because the store is so small, it couldn’t possibly be a franchise place. But the company was actually started by a woman named Mercedes in Houston. There are several stores there, and more in Dallas and Austin. I only have the one for now, but I’d like to have another store or two someday. So what brings you to us today, Kara?”
She explained that she was leaving the Navy and looking for work in cosmetology and had applied at many salons already. She told Paula that she had just spoken with Amy about a position at Mane Street, but noted that she wasn’t getting positive vibes about any jobs right now. So she was thinking of trying something else for now until a stylist job opened up.
“Thanks for your honesty, Kara. We’re pretty flexible with our scheduling,” Paula said. “So if I were to hire you and you found some other part-time work, you could still work a little here. Once I’ve invested time in training someone, I really don’t like to let them go.”
Kara handed her the completed form and the owner looked it over. “Wow, you have a degree in social work. So I can see you like to help and serve people. That’s good.”
“Yes, and I’ve been an administrator in the Navy, so many people have relied on me to keep their paperwork in order.”
“I’m impressed. Why are you leaving the service?”
Kara explained that she’d been turned down for the master’s program but had reapplied, and that she was working with a local recruiter to come back to the Navy in an officer development program.
“Also impressive,” Paula said. She thought for a moment before posing her next question. “If I were to hire you on the spot today, could you be here at 6:00 tomorrow morning? We don’t open until 7:00, but you’ll need some basic training before we open the doors.”
“Absolutely! I’d be delighted to join your team right away. And of course, if something else were to come up I would definitely be willing to stay on part-time. I’m a hard worker, so I think I could handle two jobs with no problem.”
Paula liked her answer and hired Kara then and there. She gave Kara a quick tour of the coffee shop. The main part of the shop had half a dozen tables, each with several wooden chairs for the customers. There were also a couple of pub tables across from the main counter, alongside a bar where the customers could get brewed coffee from air pots or doctor their drinks with sugar and flavoring powders. They walked through this space into a small reading area in the back, where numerous books filled a wooden bookcase. Paula explained that this was a book exchange, where customers could take or leave books. There was a lounge chair and a small table for customers to use who wanted to sit and read for a while, and also a restroom nearby.
After that, Paula took her behind the counter, where Sandra was now working with a spiky-haired, bleached blond and willowy young man. The darker roots beneath the spikes were a more natural brown.
“You’ve met Sandra already,” Paula said. “Now meet my son, Jeremy. Jeremy, this is Kara. She’ll start training with you two tomorrow morning. I’m just showing her around the place.”
Paula showed Kara the kitchen space, storage area, and her own small office in the back. “That’s all there is to it. All the pastries and baked goods are locally sourced and Mercedes has a great deal with a coffee importer in Houston. That’s where we get all the beans. We take deliveries and get everything prepared for the day starting at 6:00, Monday to Saturday. We’re closed on Sundays, otherwise I’d never get any rest.”
“I like that,” Kara said. “I like to go to church a couple of Sundays a month anyway, so now I won’t have to worry about never getting to go.”
“I forgot to mention pay and scheduling. It’s minimum wage and the baristas split any tips,” Paula explained. “I’m thinking if things go well, we can put you on for six hours a day, Monday to Thursday and Saturdays, working mornings mainly with Sandra and/or Jeremy. I have others who work noon to close. Does that sound like a fair schedule to you, Kara?”
“It sounds ideal. I’ve recently gotten in the habit of going out on Thursday nights, so this way I can sleep in a little on Fridays.”
“Alright, that ends the tour. We’ll see you back here tomorrow morning. Jeans, a t-shirt and comfortable sneakers or flats are fine. We’ll get you a smock and dive right in.”
Kara thanked her, said goodbye and headed out to her car. Before she left the plaza, she sent Peter a text with the good news: “Thanks for last night and the tip on a possible job. I got one, but not at Mane Street. I’m starting as a barista tomorrow at Mercedes Beanz instead.”
Kara heard the tinkle of a text message coming in as she drove the few miles back to Cindy’s place. She read it after pulling up in front of the house, and Peter’s reply made her smile: “Congrats! I’ll have to visit you there. See you Thursday night again? I had a terrific time too.”
She was quick to reply: “Definitely. See you soon. :]”
Peter wasn’t finished, and texted again: “I’m already putting your ideas to work in my book. Thanks for that. Any requests for karaoke?”
She thought for a minute before sending a response: “Yes, please sing some happy songs, maybe about love and a happy ending. And how about more Fireball and a duet from Grease again?”
“It all sounds great. See you Thursday,” he replied.