Chapter Fourteen - Gypsy Rose
“Grace, you’re here!” Maggie cried, hurrying over and throwing me into a hug.
I breathed in her familiar musky scent, not realising how much I’d missed her over the last two weeks. I wrapped my hands around her slim waist and squeezed gently. Maggie had always seemed like such a fragile creature, and I was always worried I’d break her in half.
“Hey, Mags,” I said.
One thing about Gypsy Rose was that it was very casual towards its workers. Maggie was just about the best boss in the world. She was only around thirty, with blond hair and caring green eyes. She was small and slim, with rosy cheeks, a sweet smile and tanned skin. She was soft-spoken, gentle and kind, and I loved her to death.
I looked around the shop and at the new restorations.
“New wallpaper?” I asked, swinging open the door to the kitchen and flinging my satchel down on the bench.
She grinned. “More retro-hippie flowers,” she proclaimed proudly, as if she’d been panning for gold and discovered a fortune.
I peered closer at the wallpaper and furrowed my brow. “Is that… Are those tiny whales?!”
She peered over my shoulder and laughed, filling the room with a sweet, tinkling sound. “Uh-huh. To save the whales! I thought it sent a positive message to everyone that we don’t support the slaughter of whales.”
I shook my head ruefully. Only Maggie could find wallpaper with retro-hippie seventies flowers and miniature whales and still manage to make it look cool.
I grabbed a black apron off the hook and tied it around my waist, pulled my hair back in a messy bun and quickly checked my appearance off the reflection of one of the aluminium kitchen appliances.
Black button-down dress shirt with three quarter sleeves, enclosed leather shoes and black dress pants with the Gypsy Rose logo on it was our uniform. I pinned on my badge that said, Hi, welcome to Gypsy Rose! My name is Grace.
I turned back to Maggie, who was talking to April, a pretty girl with strawberry-blond hair and large blue-green eyes, though she seemed totally unaware of her prettiness. She was always quiet and mousy.
“Okay, April, you can take the west side of the floor. That’s now your section. Grace, chill out in the back and clean up the kitchen, please.”
I moved over to the sink and ran some water into the basin, adding some organic lemon-smelling detergent. I quickly dropped in some of the reusable Tupperware containers we stored leftovers in and began scrubbing industriously, humming to myself as I did my assigned job.
Half-an-hour had passed before a pair of arms wrapped around my waist and pulled me into a tight hug. I grinned as I looked down at the feminine, familiar arms.
“Amber!” I cried, spinning around and hugging my other best friend, besides Annie and Matt. She didn’t seem to even care that my hands—which were covered in gloves—were covered in hot water and soap suds.
Amber was absolutely, positively beautiful. But unlike April, she had the confidence that added to her approachable persona. She was always bubbly and bright and outgoing, never without a smile on her face.
She had graduated from school two years ago, and she was about to celebrate her twentieth birthday. She hadn’t gone to college because her mother had been diagnosed with cancer, and so Amber had forsaken her education to look after her mother full-time, taking the odd class at community college in the nighttime to try and at least do something. But Gypsy Rose had been her safe haven, and she adored Maggie.
Eleven months ago her mother had passed away. It had shocked most town-goers. Amber’s mother had actually seemed to be getting better, but it happened suddenly, in the middle of the night.
For a while Amber had stopped being the enthusiastic, optimistic girl able to make you smile no matter what mood you were in. She had become—zombified. She stopped turning up to work, never went out and never talked to anyone. She stopped eating and leaving the house. She stayed locked up in the small clapboard home they had, and if she didn’t need to go out, then she didn’t. She avoided human contact at all costs.
I’m not sure what Maggie did or said, but after three months Maggie went to visit Amber, and the next week Amber had turned up to work, starting to heal and bounce back from her mother’s death.
Now she was back to being the overenthusiastic, bouncy, bubbly, loud girl everyone at Gypsy Rose loved. It was good to have her back.
“Did you miss me?” she asked, grinning wildly and showing off pearly white teeth.
Amber and I didn’t see each other much outside of work, but since we mostly worked the same shifts, we saw each other nearly every single day. There was the odd occasion where we would hang out on the weekend, but we didn’t do it very often. We were always busy or working.
“Of course!” I squealed, excited. “It’s been two weeks.”
She hugged me again. “It’s been too long.”
“How was Colorado?” I asked. This past two weeks, Amber had been on a road trip with her boyfriend, Colin, a handsome college graduate.
“Sunny,” she said. “But really nice. The locals were sweet.”
’I’m glad you had a good time—”
Just then Maggie burst in and tutted with mock disapproval. “Girls, you really should be working,” she reminded us. “Grace, someone wants to see you.”
“Really?” I asked.
“Yeah, it’s in April’s section, but they’re demanding to see you. You know April, she’s not good with confrontation. He says he won’t order until he sees you.”
I frowned. “That’s… weird.”
I dried my hands on a dishrag, gave Amber another hug and then wandered out onto the floor, where waitresses wandered around and people ordered and talked.
April had her back to me and was blocking my view of the customer. She was gesturing with her hands, and as I wandered towards them, catching the last bit of her sentence.
”…the boss has just gone to get her now. Please wait patiently, sir. Unless you’d like to order now.”
I tapped April on the shoulder, and she spun around, her eyes cautious, before she broke into a full-fledged grin of relief.
“Oh, you’re here. This guy wants to see you. I’ll leave you to it.”
She stepped aside and scurried back towards the counter. I turned back around. “You wanted to see me?” I said, cutting off abruptly as I pulled my eyes back around and realised who it was.
“Oh, it’s you,” I said, sighing and tucking my hair behind my ears.
Cole’s eyes were glittering as he met mine. My heart skipped a beat, but I didn’t pay attention to it. “Is that any way to treat a paying customer?”
I groaned, then plastered on a falsely cheery, amiable smile. “Hi, welcome to Gypsy Rose. My name is Grace and I’ll be your server today. What can I get you?” I dropped the innocent, friendly act and glared at him. “Better?”
He nodded. “Much better. Can I get a…’ He squinted at the menu. ’What the hell is Orange-Zest-and-Lemon-Drop-Calming-Tea?”
I sighed. “It is exactly what the name says.”
“Couldn’t you have shortened it to something a little catchier?” he asked, brown eyes sparkling.
“Tell me, if I had’ve shortened it and given it a catchy title, you’d still ask what it was, wouldn’t you?”
He shrugged. “Maybe.”
“And then, just to get on my nerves, you would’ve asked me why I didn’t lengthen it to what it was to make it less confusing.”
He grinned. “Yeah, probably.”
I threw my hands up in the air. “I just can’t win with you, can I?”
He shook his head, and a strip of hair fell into his eyes. “Where’s the fun in that?”
“Just… do you want the tea or not?”
“Might as well. You could probably use some calming tea yourself.” He muttered the last part under his breath.
My jaw dropped open, offended. “I do not need calming tea! I am perfectly calm.”
He patted my shoulder as if he pitied me. “Of course, Grace. I know.”
I swatted his hand away. “Don’t touch me.”
“Oooh,” he said, looking thoroughly amused. I longed to slap that smirk off his face. “Feisty. I like it.”
I groaned. “Alright. One Orange-Zest-and-Lemon-Drop-Calming-Tea coming up.” I despised asking the next question I did. “Anything else?”
I braced myself for more bickering and torture. But instead all I got was a swift shake of the head. “No, I think that’s it.”
“I’ll be back shortly with your order,” I said, dropping a smooth curtsy and hurrying away from the table. I began methodically making his tea out of orange zest and lemon juices.
Why couldn’t he have just ordered with April? Man, he was annoying. Did he really have to go through all that just for me? Why did he even want me to be his server that much? It wasn’t like his life depended on me being the one to make his tea!
“He was cute,” Amber said, coming up next to me and beginning to help me make the tea. She bumped her hip against mine playfully and grabbed a mug for me. Something told me she wasn’t just here to lend a helping hand, but rather to talk about Cole.
“He’s annoying,” I said, quickly mixing the ingredients.
“Was he giving you a hard time?”
I rolled my eyes, snorting. “When does he not? He seems to find it amusing to make my life miserable. We’ve been going through this whole thing of trying to out-prank each other. Seeing who can humiliate each other the best.”
“What?” Amber squeaked. “What have I missed in the past two weeks?”
I gave her a quick run-through of everything that had amounted between Cole and myself. The pranks and cutting remarks. The bickering and confrontations. Emilie and Alyra.
“Wow,” she said, eyebrows raised. “That’s pretty heavy. But you know what they say. When a guy bullies a girl, it’s usually because he likes her.”
“I highly doubt that is the case with Cole.”
“Why? Look: He’s been wanting to get revenge for what you did; to get your attention. Then he asked for tutoring help. Ten bucks says he doesn’t even need it. Seriously, you should ask around. Maybe you’ll find he’s a wiz at English and he’s just pretending he needs help to get your attention. He shows up at the place where you work, annoys the hell out of a poor colleague, insisting to see you. Do you see where I’m coming from?”
I pushed my hair behind my ears. “It’s more complicated than that.”
“I’m just explaining what you told me, Gracie. What does Matt think about this?” she asked, eyes wide.
“Matt?” I repeated, uncomprehending. I blinkd at her, before my forehead creased and my eyebrows pulled together. “What does Matt have to do with this?”
Her eyes twinkled, as if she knew something I didn’t. “Never mind. I was just curious. Now you better give this tea to Cole before it gets cold.”
I groaned in frustration. One terrible thing about Amber was that she was stubborn. If she didn’t want to tell you something, no amount of torture will make her say it. I sent her an icy glare before grabbing the cup and turning around.
I stiffly walked over to Cole and placed it in front of him. He smiled up at me.
“I hope you find this to your liking,” I told him, before turning around and walking back to the bench.
I barely made it three steps before he called me back. “Grace!”
I groaned and thought to myself, Why is life so cruel?
“Yes, Cole?” I asked as patiently as I could, spinning around and giving him my best friendly smile. I was not going to lose my job because I had been cold to Cole. I knew he would be liable to talk to my boss about my lack of customer service skills, so it was best to just smile and try and be nice to him, even when every muscle in my body was screaming at me to slap him and walk away.
“At least stay and watch in case I don’t like it,” he said.
I sighed and crossed my arms over my chest. He lifted the mug to his lips with deliberate slowness and took a small sip. He swished the tea around his mouth like some kind of wine-taster, and I tapped my foot impatiently.
He swallowed and put the cup down, leaning back and putting his hands behind his head. He watched me carefully, not saying anything.
“Oh, come on, Cole! Say something!” I whined, giving in to his stare. Why couldn’t I just get back to work?
“What would you like me to say?”
“Anything! How it tasted, if you liked it…”
He shrugged. “It was alright.”
“Why are you here, Cole?” I finally asked the question that had been eating me up since I saw him at the table.
“I just wanted to check this place out.” Something about his expression made me think he was lying.
“Oh, really?” I asked disbelievingly. “Because I don’t believe you.”
“Maybe I just wanted to check out where you worked,” he said as if it was no big deal. My heart skipped a beat, however. It seemed to be doing that a lot lately.
“I just wanted to see what kind of place you worked in.”
I went to say something, but he cut me off, standing up and throwing a ten dollar bill on the table.
“I have to go now,” he told me. “But keep the change.”
Then he walked out of the café as if he were some macho mafia leader, leaving me looking after him, dumbfounded. I leaned against the table, and as Amber brushed past me, holding a tray filled with cupcakes for a table of business associates in the corner, she said, “Wow, that’s one strange dude.”
Yeah, you’re telling me.