Jake walked around the small eating area of his bakery refilling coffee mugs and bussing tables. The breakfast rush was dying down and he was starting to relax into his day. He still wasn’t sure that opening his floor space to serve coffee and baked treats was the best idea but every morning he was surprised how many of the town locals fancied a croissant and a latte.
It was a small town, barely a town, more of a large village on the west coast of Ireland that saw a huge booming trade of tourists in the summer and a slow but steady trade of locals for the rest of the year. When he opened the bakery ten years ago, it was a hole in the wall selling donuts and cookies. He did all of the baking in the apartment he as renting upstairs, and sold them out the window of the real estate office that took up the lower floor.
A few years after that when the real estate moved to a neighbouring town for a bigger catchment area, he expanded it to a whole counter and even installed a ticket system to serve customers in order. Last summer, after hearing his regulars grumble that there was no where to sit and drink the coffee, he put in a few tables, hired another baker and a server, and suddenly he was skirting the edge of being a cafe.
As he put the empty cups he collected into the dishwasher he listed all the things he had to do that day and wondered if Ellie would be around to accompany him. Or even if she would want to, he scoffed as he placed the coffee pot back onto the burner.
It was almost as if her birthday party last week was a switch and all of a sudden, being 14, she didn’t want to hang around with him as often. Didn’t want to go shopping with him, or fishing or to the movies. Now she wanted to watch movies with her friends, and boys, all she could talk about was boys. Jake idly rubbed the counter down with his rag as his mind wandered and he was so deep in his reverie that he didn’t notice Ellie coming out from the half door behind the counter that led to the stairs up to their apartment.
“Dad…hey Dad!” she yelled and tugged on his sleeve.
“Huh?” He turned to look at her and his eyes travelled over her jean shorts, crop top and pigtails. It seemed only days ago she was wearing baggy jeans and sweaters, concentrating more on her books than her looks.
“I’m going to hang out with Helen ok?”
“At her house?”
“Yeah, her mom has gone to the antique fair in Hartford so we can play music as loud as we want.”
Jake smiled and shook his head. “Home for dinner? I’m making chilli.”
“Yeah sure. Maybe with Helen.”
“Ok, there’ll be plenty.”
“Thanks Dad, see you later.” She waved and hurried off.
He watched her cross the street and jog through the square to Helen’s house. He focused back on his task at hand, collected payment from the remainder of the customers and bussed the tables, then carried the dishes back into the kitchen where Steve was putting a new batch of cookies into the oven.
“You ok to hold the fort?” Jake asked as he pulled off his apron and slung it up on a hook by the archway.
“Sure thing boss.”
Jake frowned. He hated when Steve called him “boss”. Technically he was his boss, but he didn’t feel like a boss. Most days he felt like he was about to be caught out. As if the bank manager was going to call round and explain how giving him the loan had been a mistake and he needed to pay it all back. And every time Steve called him “boss” he was reminded of that possibility. But he had given up reminding Steve and just put up with it.
“I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”
Jake walked through the bakery and out the door to the corner where his truck was parked. But before he got in, he walked to the back where there was a battered small hatchback car parked right up behind him, practically bumper to bumper.
“God dammit…” he muttered. He looked around hoping to see the owner come hurrying over to him though he couldn’t be sure this car wasn’t abandoned here based on the state of it. He walked to the front of his truck and realised his other bumper was right up against a tree. Knowing he wouldn’t be able to get out he went back to the car to see if it was open. He looked through the window and pulled on the handle but it was locked. He briefly thought of breaking in to get to the hand brake so he could roll it back but decided that was a bit drastic. He went round to the boot to check if that was locked and was leaning against the car, looking through the windshield to see if he could ascertain the owner when he heard someone calling out.
“Hey!” She half ran towards him, a bundle of papers in her hands, her dark curly hair flying about her face.
She was wearing a black pencil skirt and a baby blue silk blouse that hugged her figure. He couldn’t help but notice she wasn’t wearing any tights and was struggling to get to him with the 4 inch heels she was wearing.
“What are you doing?” When she got to him she was slightly out of breath and her face was contorted into an angry frown.
“Is this your car?” he asked though he knew the answer. She shrugged her bag higher onto her shoulder as it was in danger of slipping off, and gripped the bundle of papers to her chest to stop them from slipping too.
“Yeah, and before you try to steal it, know that it’s not valuable, barely runs and the radio is stuck on a golden oldies station.”
“I wasn’t trying to steal it.”
“So you have some sort of car fetish then?” She tried to hold everything as she rummaged in her bag for her keys. “Do you go round peering in everyone’s car or did I win the lottery or something?”
“You’re parked right up my rear!” he said as he walked away from her towards the back of his truck to show her.
“What?” She looked down towards his ass in confusion and back up to his face.
“Your car, is parked right behind my truck,” he clarified when he turned and saw her looking at his ass. “I can’t get out.”
She went over to where he was standing and looked at the tiny space between their bumpers then shrugged as she turned to walk away. “Couldn’t you drive the other way?”
“There is a tree there! I can’t go forward.”
“So you parked up really close to a tree, and now you are stuck.”
“Because you parked up behind me!”
“Hey buddy, I saw a space and took it.”
“And you thought it was ok to park so close to me?”
“Look, I can see you are building up to a big rant here and normally this is something I would encourage, but I kind of have my hands full, both literally…” she said as she struggled to get her car open. “And figuratively. I’m on the way to a job interview, I’ve just had these documents notarised, I have to get them delivered to the real estate office before lunch or I’m not going to have a roof over my head tonight. So the last thing I need right now is some stranger shouting at me for my questionable parking!”
He watched her struggle for a minute but as she got the keys out of her bag and put it into the car door the papers she was holding started to slip. She dropped the keys and tried to hold onto the papers but it was too late. Gravity had taken hold of them and pulled them out of her grasp.
“No!” she called out and she tried to grasp them but it was no use. They littered the sidewalk, caught up in the soft breeze and started to litter the road too. She crouched to pick them up and Jake came over to help her.
“Oh man I’m going to be so late!” she cursed under her breath as she scrambled about.
“Calm down!” he helped her pick up the papers, chased some errant ones down and came back to her side as she opened the car and deposited them onto the passenger seat in her car.
“Thanks,” she muttered without looking at him, then dropped her bag onto the disheveled papers and slammed the car door then twirled on her heel to face him. She tried to smile but he saw only the anger and frustration behind it.
“Look, forget about the parking, let me get you a coffee, you look like you could use it.”
“Coffee…” she sighed as she spoke and her eyes closed over for a second. “Right now I would kill for a coffee, but I seriously don’t have time.”
“Right, the job interview…” He looked down at her mussed clothes and back up to her harried expression. “Is that what you’re wearing?”
“What?” She glared up at him.
“No I mean…” Jake struggled to explain himself and held his hands up apologetically. “Wait a sec…” he turned and hurried into the bakery, poured a cup into a to-go cup then fixed a lid on it, snagged a large ginger snap cookie from the tray with a napkin and returned to her car, where she was just sitting into the driver’s side. “Here.”
She looked down at his hand where he was holding out the coffee and cookie then back up to his face in confusion.
“Coffee,” he said. “And a cookie.”
“You poisoned them? For blocking in your truck?”
“No, I just thought you might want a coffee before you go into your interview.”
“I would, thank you so much!” she took the items from him and sipped the coffee. “Oh my god, it’s good!” She craned her neck to look at the bakery he had come out of. “I’ll have to remember that place.”
“Best coffee in town,” Jake said with a small smile and for the first time since he met her she smiled back.
She sipped her drink again, keeping her eyes on him as she swallowed and he felt a warm wave curl up from the back of his neck to colour his ears. “So thanks for the coffee…I better go.”
“Uh, yeah. Sure.” He stepped back and closed her door then hitched his jeans up and stepped onto the curb.
She smiled at him as she started the engine and waved as the car pulled into traffic. Jake watched her leave until she was out of sight and only then realised that he hadn’t even asked her name. Cursing himself he pulled his own keys out of his pocket and climbed into his truck.
“God dammit Jake. Hottest thing to come through this town since forever and you didn’t even ask her name.” he slapped the steering wheel as he reversed the truck and tried to refocus his mind back on the list of tasks he had to take care of.