EMMY IN THE CAFÉ
Frederick Marsh had invited a new employee to work at Marsh’s Manor. And not just a regular employee, either. The newest addition to their “family” would be their new manager.
They managed themselves spectacularly, in Emmy’s opinion, but it wasn’t like her uncle had asked her for it.
Frederick chewed the last bite of his food and addressed his family again. As he looked around the table, he made eye contact with each of them.
“This could be a good change, bringing someone in,” he continued. He eased out of his chair, and Emmy and Noah stirred to help him as he wavered for a second. He waved them away before he settled on his feet, favouring his left leg. He turned and collected his crutches from beside him.
Noah sank back in his seat, his brow creased as he watched his father. His sister, Lucy, sat beside him. Her glazed eyes stared at a spot on the beige wall just over Frederick’s head. Emmy, however, sat rigid in her seat as her eyes drilled into the side of her uncle’s head.
“I’m getting on a bit,” he sighed. “I’m not as young and fit as I used to be anymore, and you lot can’t keep going the way you do. It’s not right to ask that of you. You deserve to have a life outside of here and with Tania working weekdays, you’ll have more time to yourselves now.”
He propped the crutches under his arms and rested his weight on them. “Besides, it’ll do the business some good to have fresh blood.” He studied the three of them still sat at the table
Noah heaved a sigh as he stood, a head above Frederick’s natural height. “I think it’s a good idea. We could do with the extra help.”
Standing together, Frederick and Noah almost looked like before and after photographs. They had the same sharp features, the same dark, heavy brow, curly dark hair and warm, tan complexion. They even had the same slouch. Their mannerisms were even mostly the same. But there were a few ways in which they differed. They were of different height. While Noah was tall, healthy and fit, Frederick was short and brittle.
Noah leaned over the table to collect their plates and cutlery before he took them into the kitchen. After a few seconds, the sound of rushing water reached their ears. Frederick looked across the table at the remaining two of them.
Lucy leaned back in her chair, stretching her legs out underneath the table. She had a strong resemblance to her father and her brother. Though, her features were much softer and more expressive, like Emmy.
“It’s not like you need the extra help, though,” she mumbled and stretched her arms over her head, her back arching like a cat. “Emmy and Noah don’t mind. Well, Emmy doesn’t. Do you?”
She cocked her head to the side as she watched Emmy. But before Emmy could open her mouth to speak, Lucy continued over her. “Actually…I wouldn’t mind working there, too. Like…as a more permanent thing. I…I could work on the weekends while I’m at sixth form…and take on more shifts during the summer holidays.”
Frederick studied her for a long moment and Lucy answered back with a small smile, her eyes, wide and hopeful. Frederick took in a deep, slow breath.
“Maybe we can get you working on the weekends for a few shifts and then we’ll see how things are going in a couple of months. If you do well, I’ll see about getting you a permanent job.”
Lucy’s face fell. She tilted her head to the side and thought for a moment before she shrugged and slid out of her chair. “That’s fine,” she sighed. “I just need some extra cash. I’ll be in my room if you need me.”
She turned and left the living room. Her footsteps thundered against the wood as she ran up the stairs. The sound filled the air, joining the sound of running water from the kitchen.
Emmy turned her attention back to her uncle and crossed her arms over her chest. “We don’t need anyone else.” She said abruptly. Her voice was louder than she had intended, and she flinched at the harshness of it.
“Speak for yourself!” Noah yelled from inside the kitchen.
Emmy rolled her eyes and leaned forward on her elbows. She stared at her uncle, her eyes earnest. “I can run things. Let me take charge.”
Frederick sighed again, got up from his seat and limped away from the table, toward the hallway. “You take on too much already. It’ll be easier this way, love. Why don’t you just enjoy this? Most people would be glad that they get to work less. I’m not docking your pay if that’s what’s worrying-”
“No! That’s not it at all.” Emmy straightened her spine and set her palms down onto the dining table. It annoyed her that he would think that money was her priority. She didn’t work at the café for the money.
To be perfectly honest, she could probably find a better paying job. She did it because Frederick had needed both her and Noah at the time to help him.
And as far as she was concerned, he still did.
“Well, then…just take some time for yourself. You can even do part-time, so you can go to university if you still want. You know…if you change your mind again.”
Emmy averted her eyes and frowned down at her hands, resting where her plate had been. She brushed her hand over her right sleeve, her fingers itching to pull at the edges. It was already frayed from years of picking at the hem.
“No,” she muttered, “I already said that I wasn’t planning on going.” She had considered studying history at university after leaving sixth form, but that was three years ago.
Frederick considered her for a minute before he answered. “Suit yourself.” He sounded tired and weak, and she felt guilt seep down into her spine, like ice.
She ignored the feeling and gave him a hollow smile. “But you’re probably right about taking more time off. I’m sure it won’t be that bad to have extra help.”
The smile he gave her in reply was uncertain, but after a moment’s hesitation, he hobbled out of the room.
Emmy watched him leave. She listened to the sound of his uneven footsteps. A few seconds later, the sounds became swallowed by the creak of a door, before there was silence. Emmy sighed and allowed herself to deflate in her chair.
She hadn’t meant to sound ungrateful or to cause him any unnecessary stress. But she thought the idea of bringing in an outsider to run the café, was ridiculous and going to cause more problems than it solved.
Frederick had broken his leg a week before while mopping the floor of their home kitchen. She had been at her parents’ house at the time, in the middle of a two-week visit to celebrate her 22nd birthday.
Frederick was known for his unusually brittle bones and had periodically broken a few over the years, so the news hadn’t come as much of a surprise.
In the absence of both Emmy and Frederick, Noah had begun running the café, with his younger sister, Lucy. She had been working temporarily after school, while their other employees, Tania and Andrea, took on extra shifts.
Noah had been in charge for what felt like the longest week of Emmy’s life, before she was able to return just the day before, to take charge.
Frederick had used their dinner time and Emmy’s first night back home to announce all the final changes he had made at the café, to get things back to normal.
With Tania’s son starting nursery, he had decided to move her to work with Emmy and Noah on the weekdays. Andrea and their new manager would work on the weekends.
The plan was for him to help them run the café, regularly, in Frederick’s absence and maybe even after he healed.
Instead of her.
For well over two years, Emmy had helped to run the family café and she had always handled any issues they had with ease. She was hardly inexperienced when it came to the café. So, it was more than a little insulting, but she could hardly complain that he hadn’t put her in charge.
At least, not to anyone else.
Her uncle had said that the new employee would liven up the place and become a welcomed addition. Emmy, however, still disagreed.
She took in a long breath through her nose and exhaled loudly. After a few seconds of quiet, she pushed back her chair with a loud scrape and left the room, leaving Noah in the lit kitchen.
That night, her mind whirled as she paced the length of her room. Her uncle’s words felt like a thick fog stuck in her head, suffocating her, even as her head hit her pillow and she fell asleep.
Unsurprisingly, she woke the next day in a soured mood with a headache.
Bright light poured in through the windows, as pale and piercing as the cold that crept into her room under her windowsill. It bit at her exposed arms. The clock on her bedside table beeped insistently while it displayed 6:30 am, bright red on its screen.
Emmy groaned and flipped the covers off her, fighting away the sluggish feeling. She turned off the alarm and rubbed her arms violently, before she scampered out of her room, down the stairs and into the dim kitchen.
She padded around the kitchen, making herself a bowl of cornflakes before she collapsed in the same dining room chair that she had sat the night before. She hated early mornings, but they were normal for her job, so she did her best not to complain.
Lucy strolled into the room a few seconds later, and spilt into the chair to Emmy’s right, smiling sleepily. “Morning.”
Emmy raised an eyebrow. Lucy’s hair was a nest stuck on her head. She passed a hand through it and her fingers caught on the tangles. Her eyes were still bleary from sleep and surrounded by dark circles.
“Mm,” Emmy mumbled around a spoonful of cornflakes. She lowered her eyes to stare at the emptying bowl.
Lucy rested her arm on the table and rested her chin on her palm. She drummed the fingers on her other hand on the table, gazing at Emmy with lazy interest. Emmy raised her head and scowled back at her, fidgeting in her chair. “What?”
“I heard you pacing in your room last night. What’s wrong?”
Emmy swallowed another spoonful and shook her head. “Nothing.”
Lucy searched Emmy’s face. “Something’s wrong.” She pressed.
“Nothing’s wrong.” Emmy snapped at her.
Lucy leaned back, her eyes narrowed. “Fine.” She got up from her seat and headed into the kitchen. Emmy stared down at her bowl as she swallowed another spoonful around the lump in her throat.
Forty minutes later, Emmy, Noah and Lucy were fully dressed and fed. They waved goodbye to Frederick lying on the living room couch before Emmy closed the front door behind them.
She pulled her coat tighter around her against the chill of the outside and followed Noah into the car.
The clouds overhead hung grey and dismal, as Noah steered the family car down the bleak damp streets. Ten minutes later, they had arrived at Lucy’s school, a symmetrical group of dull grey, bricked buildings.
Over the last five years, severe modifications had been made to the school and made it seem like a very different place from the one Emmy and Noah had attended. According to Lucy, however, all the fancy new equipment and the modern renovations didn’t really make the place any more interesting. Or improve it, in terms of education.
As to be expected at 7:30 on a miserable Thursday morning in Britain, the school was extremely desolate, with very few students around. From where she sat in the car, Emmy watched as one small girl, with a bag on her back twice her size and a lunch bag in her hand, scurried inside the main glass doors to the building into the empty hallway inside.
Emmy dragged her attention away from the girl to look at Lucy. She had been babbling about the workload from her Physics class.
“Have fun. Learn things.” Emmy said, nodding towards the building. Even to her own ears, her voice sounded bleak.
Lucy smirked at her in the mirror. Her eyes lingered on Emmy for a bit too long before she slid out of the back of the car. “I’ll try, if you do.” She sang.
“At least, just try not to come back a complete idiot,” Noah called from the driver’s seat. Lucy’s mouth curled into a smirk, and her eyes narrowed.
“I can only promise not to come back more stupid than you.” She replied, her voice dripping with honey.
With a scoff and a wave goodbye, Noah pulled away from the school and Lucy, and drove the two of them to the café.
They arrived outside of the two-story brick building in Patton’s Place. The wooden plaque on the front marked it as Marsh’s Manor in black handwritten script. The café was sat on a corner of a block of stores along a side road, but it radiated warmth in a way the other buildings around it didn’t.
Noah unlocked the front door and held it open for Emmy. With his usual promise that he would be back soon, Noah turned and left, letting the door swing shut behind him.
It had become a ritual of his for the past two years to stop by an off-licence before they opened up.
She liked the quiet his absence brought. Just her, alone in the café.
Emmy looked down at the antiquated furniture, at the old, cream-coloured, patterned couches bordering the edges of the room. The sturdy wooden tables were scattered around the room and a large, stone fireplace with a metal grate was at the back of the café.
She ran her hand over one of the worn arms of the couches as she passed, feeling the frayed woven material under her fingertips. She walked across the wooden floorboards to the back of the café to where the fireplace sat and lit it.
The warmth from the fire spread around the room very quickly, but there was still a chill in the air that had arrived with January and it had trailed in after her. The cold had sunk rapidly into her body, making her feel sluggish and clumsy. She pushed through the feeling and went to work, quickly and methodically.
Her mind began to clear as she took down the chairs from the tables and wiped them clean. She brewed coffee and began to heat pre-made baked goods in the oven. She climbed the stairs that led to the second-floor landing and prepared the tables and chairs there.
As she worked, dull winter light filtered in through the large glass windows along the front of the café. It landed on the hardwood floors and spilt over the worn wooden tables and chairs scattered across the wide room.
She worked quickly and efficiently. Only when all her tasks were done, and she had time to think, did she realise the absence of her sadness, when the weight of it settled back onto her shoulders.
Noah returned ten minutes later, still five minutes before the café officially opened. He tossed her a bar of chocolate as he passed, and she thanked him before her mind wandered again.
The new manager would arrive the day after tomorrow and so it would be just the two of them for a few more days.
When 8:30 arrived, a rush of customers stormed in, and the door rang the bell overhead like a battle horn.
Some of the customers that came in were office workers, looking to pick up a coffee to wake them up before they had to catch a train or fight through traffic. Some were parents, who had just dropped off their children at school and were indulging in a small treat. And some had come in as part of their daily ritual, ordering the same thing they always did, sitting in the same chairs, talking to the same friends.
Emmy welcomed the familiarity of the noise and the chaos, revelling in it and the adrenaline it brought her. Noah took the orders with patient nods, while she served the customers with bright smiles.
Just before 11 o’clock reached, the café had calmed down. With the departure of a handful of customers, the quiet, sadly, allowed Emmy more time to think.
She stood behind the counter, a pensive expression plastered on her face and silently, she began to list, all the reasons why it was unnecessary and counterproductive, even, to hire someone new for the position of manager.
She swiped the sponge once more over the cafe counter, wiping away left-over sugar and coffee granules as she contemplated, yet again, what the new employee would be like. Would he be tidy? Would he be on time? Easy to work with? From what her uncle had said, he lived far enough that he wasn’t familiar with the area. ‘Localish, but not too local.’
Whatever that meant.
There was a gasp and a sharp tinkling that cut through the hum of the customers, as a cup shattered on the floor. Emmy looked up, toward the noise and she saw Mrs Martin sitting by the front windows, almost swallowed by the large plant she sat next to, as she stared at the broken pieces of her cup on the floor in front of her.
Mrs Martin was a regular customer at Marsh’s and was even more skittish than a squirrel had a right to be when Emmy or anyone else at the café spoke to her. She was a tiny, round woman who, at times, resembled a turtle, engulfed in her large green coat, her head only just peeking out of the neck. Her hat was a green woollen bundle pulled over her wiry hair.
Mrs Martin never liked to make a fuss and would much rather go unnoticed in a crowd of people than to draw too much attention to herself. She looked up at Emmy, appalled and apologetic.
Emmy beamed at her as she rushed over with a dustpan and brush to pick up the pieces of the broken cup. “Don’t worry about that, I’ll clean it up.” She reassured her, as she picked up the pieces.
“I’m so sorry.” The older woman whimpered. She wrung her hands together and began muttering more apologies that Emmy brushed off.
“It’s perfectly fine. Noah?” She called over her shoulder to her cousin. He looked up from wiping down a table. “Can you get Mrs Martin another cup?” She turned back to the woman. “Peppermint, isn’t it?”
Mrs Martin nodded, and Emmy’s smile widened. “Well, you can have this one for free.”
The woman smiled gratefully. “Oh, thank you, Emmy.”
“It’s my pleasure,” Emmy replied.
Noah led Mrs Martin over to the counter to get another cup of peppermint tea, while Emmy disposed of the broken cup before she returned to wipe up the spill.
As she cleaned the mess, she heard ringing laughter from the other side of the room. When she turned, she saw her friends sprawled on the old couches in the back of the café by the fireplace, chattering with each other.
They had strolled in an hour ago, welcomed her back from her holiday, and as always, they claimed the couches by the window as theirs.
Tilly lay draped over one of the arms of the armchair closest to the large window that dominated the wall, her thick dark hair and her long limbs dangling like the branches of a willow tree. A wide t-shirt hung loosely from her frame, while her leggings clung to her legs. Her striped socks were visible just above her white running shoes. Her pointed nose was raised to the ceiling and her large almond eyes were fixed upwards as she spoke to the group, her hands gesturing occasionally.
Maelie was on her right, reclining against the couch, her tangle of red curls spread out from under her beanie. She had a notepad on her lap and a crumpled book in her hands. Her fingers brushed the sides of her book as she rotated it slowly, her usual scowl fixed in place.
Henry sat across from her on the opposite couch, looking ragged and breathless as always, his light hair sticking up in all directions. He leaned over the coffee table and dragged the notebook from Maelie’s hands. Still sweaty from his morning run with Tilly, in spite of the weather, his t-shirt stuck to his back as he moved. Whatever he said next made the group laugh and Maelie snatch her book back out of his hand. She kicked her foot out at Henry, making Tilly cackle.
Katherine sat to Henry’s right, smirking as she smoothed her dark woollen turtle-neck dress down and crossed her legs, her sharp voice cutting through the laughter like a knife. Her dark hair was curled carefully and pulled up in an elaborate bun.
Emmy stood up and glanced at the almost empty room, before looking at the clock. It was just after eleven. She knew from experience that it would be quiet until half twelve.
She stood up, went to the kitchen and deposited the dirty cloth. As she exited, Katherine looked up in her direction and waved her over to them.
Tilly’s face brightened as soon as she saw her, and she sat up. “Finally!” She squealed. “It felt like you were gone for months. Please don’t leave for so long next time. I know they’re your parents, but that was too long. But, don’t worry…you’ve come back just in time.” Tilly said breathlessly
Maelie stretched her legs out in front of her. “Yeah, Aiden and I might need your help for our film project coming up.”
Emmy tensed. “I really hope you don’t need to film me.”
“Maybe. We’ll let you know.” Maelie said vaguely.
Tilly waved the conversation away. “Yeah, yeah, that’s great, but I was talking about me. I want to go on a date.”
That made Emmy pause, in curiosity. “With who, exactly?”
Tilly shrugged. “Someone new. Anyone new, really.”
“Well, why are you telling me that? Go find someone.”
Tilly made a face and glanced around the coffee table at her friends for support before looking back. “I want you to set me up with someone.”
Henry leaned toward Emmy. “You really should. She needs the help.” He muttered.
“She’s hopeless.” Maelie chimed in, clicking the button on her pen.
Henry’s teeth glinted in the firelight as he smiled. “She’ll probably die alone.”
Tilly’s body deflated into her armchair. “Hey! I am right here. And that’s not true. At all! You just don’t get it.”
She was right. They didn’t. Tilly’s love life was always a popular subject for her and a great source of teasing too. Tilly would date a guy that she liked. They would form a strange couple that, to everyone else, made as much sense as a car that ran without an engine. After a month or two, with no warning, they would break-up, and Tilly would spend two weeks complaining about him before moving on.
Tilly’s standards baffled everyone because they were too ambiguous, and so, no one could say what she was looking for in a partner at any given time. Her type would seemingly change from month to month. She had dated musicians, scholars and athletes, but she never even said what the appeal of any of her boyfriends had been, or even what had gone wrong between them. No matter the partner she chose, they always helped to form a weird, unlikely and ultimately doomed couple.
“What else is there to get?” Maelie’s voice was dry and crisp, as she twirled her pen and began to write in her notebook. “You can’t see an idiot coming from a mile away, but they sure can see you.”
Emmy fought a smile and perched on the left arm of Tilly’s chair. “Mae! Be nice!” She chided as she patted Tilly’s shoulder soothingly.
Katherine picked up her cup and brought it to her lips, her sharp eyes focusing on Emmy over the brim. “Maybe you could set her up with someone at the party. You’ll have a clearer head than her.”
Tilly sprung back to life. “This.” She gestured to Katherine. “This is all I wanted. Just someone with good judgement, with me, when I’m looking my best, surrounded by people looking their best. People looking for new…friends.”
Emmy’s forehead creased, and she turned her attention to Katherine. “What party are you talking about?”
“My party. The one I’m throwing? Tomorrow?”
Emmy gave a small scoff and massaged the back of her neck as she rolled her shoulders back. She was beginning to feel an ache in her back. “Another one? What’s brought this on?”
Katherine’s brow furrowed for a second before it smoothed out. “Oh, right. You weren’t there when we decided on it, were you? You were at your parents’ house, right?”
Emmy rolled her shoulders back again, against the tension stored there. “Yep. So?”
Katherine nodded indulgently. “We’re having a welcome party for your new boss at my house. Just so everyone can meet him in an informal setting and get to know him before he starts. From what I’ve heard from Frederick, he sounds almost as dedicated to the job as you. He already has a few ideas about this place. I think your uncle might have picked the perfect person for the job.”
Emmy’s shoulders stiffened, but none of her friends were paying close enough attention to notice. She rubbed her neck again. “Have you spoken to him? The new guy?”
Katherine nodded. “He seems nice enough. He’s kind of quiet.”
Noah slid into view and took a seat next to Katherine, crossing his legs by the ankles. “So, what are we all talking about?” He sighed.
Emmy glanced at Katherine. “Apparently, we’re having a party for the new employee.”
“Oh yeah, Bellamy’s party? I’d forgotten about it.”
Emmy’s brow creased. “Bellamy? That’s his name?”
Noah nodded. “Yeah, you didn’t know that? Dad mentioned it yesterday at dinner, didn’t he? I remember him mentioning his name before.”
Emmy shook her head. She had a hard time remembering the details of her uncle’s speech, but she was pretty sure she would have remembered that piece of information.
“Well, yesterday was the first I heard about him, at all.”
Noah shrugged and sank back into the cushions of the couch with a heavy sigh. “Look, the party will still be fun. We haven’t had one in a while.” He looked at Katherine. “Who did you invite?”
“Just a few people. Our friends...” Her phone chimed, and her eyes widened a fraction as she looked at the screen.
She froze as she read it and when she turned back to Emmy again, her eyes were pleading. “Em, I need a favour. Can you take care of the food? I haven’t had a chance to get anything myself yet, because I’ve been too busy. I was going to get something today, but…” She raised her phone. “And now I have something to do. Please?”
Emmy met her eyes for a second before she looked away, as the familiar feeling of guilt crept up her spine. “I’m sorry but I can’t. I-I really can’t.”
“Why not?” Katherine demanded.
Emmy fidgeted with her left sleeve. “It’s too soon. I don’t have enough time. I…”
“Emmy! I really need your help with this. It’s important. Please?” Katherine stared at her earnestly.
Emmy raised her eyes to the ceiling and sighed. She knew Katherine too well to believe she even had a chance to decline. “Fine! I’ll do it.”
Katherine gave her a satisfied smile and clasped her hands together. “Good. Your help is greatly appreciated.”
Henry relaxed back in his chair. “Great. So, what are we eating? Are you buying the snacks or making them? If you’re making them, could you make something with chocolate? And if you’re buying them, can you get something with strawberry and chocolate? Unless you’re feeling adventurous and want to make something fancy, I’m okay with that too, as long as it tastes good.”
“Fine,” Emmy relented, glaring at him. “But if you throw up on Katherine’s rug, from all that chocolate...” She trailed off.
Katherine’s eyes were slits. “No. He won’t. He knows better.” Henry shrank back at Katherine’s glare and crumpled in on himself.
Amused, Tilly turned her head back to Katherine. “What time are we all meeting here, again?” She looked back at Emmy, “And will there definitely be alcohol? I need to know.”
“It starts at 8:30 pm at my house tomorrow, but we’re meeting at 8:00 here first, at closing time,” Katherine said looking at Emmy. “It’s just a few friends from around. And yes,” she turned to Tilly, “we will have alcohol. Beer and wine. Something with class, hopefully. I already asked my father about using the house and he said it’s fine. Well, he’s fine with it if we clean up. And leave all his alcohol alone.”
Emmy glanced at her watch and rose from her seat. “We better get back to work. Noah?” She called over her shoulder. He unfolded himself from the chair and followed her back to the counter.
Their friends waved them away and returned to their conversation. He leaned over to Emmy and whispered. “Are you sure you can get everything together by tomorrow?”
She bristled at his words. “Of course, I can.”
Noah held up his palms. “Alright, then. I was just making sure. Would you like some help? I’d be happy to.”
Emmy frowned at his words. Whenever Katherine planned an event, it would unofficially fall to Emmy to organise the food and drinks. It had been like that for years. “I’ll be fine.”
Noah looked unconvinced. “It’s a lot to do, in such a short time. Maybe it’s too much work. I can help.”
“It’s only a few friends.”
He scoffed. “Better to be safe than sorry, especially with Kat.”
She deliberated for a few seconds before a customer entered the café, the bell signalling his arrival. With no time left, she finally agreed.
At eight pm, Emmy and Noah closed the shop to the public. Katherine, Henry, Maelie and Tilly were all long gone, with Katherine reiterating the important information as Maelie and Henry dragged her out through the door. She had already sent money to Emmy’s account for the food. She had said that she didn’t mind whatever food they decided on, but that they should bring plenty of it.
Noah had sent a text to Lucy to tell her the change in plans and she had arrived at the café at half-past four and had set out her physics books on a table next to the counter and camped there until closing.
Once the shop was secure and tidy, Noah slumped into the seat he had occupied before, crossing his legs at the ankles. “So, what are we getting? Or making? Are we making food?”
Emmy settled down opposite him. She already had a list written for what they needed for the next day. They just needed to buy the items. She had deliberated the entire day, wondering if she should bake something as well, but the thought that her food would be under more scrutiny this time passed through her mind. She pondered silently, earning herself a frustrated look from Noah.
“Well?” he prompted.
Once again, an interruption determined her decision. “Kitchen. Now.”
Did you enjoy my ongoing story so far? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, Kimberley YoungWrite a Review