“I need two roast beef melts, both with extra bacon and tomatoes.” Aaliyah called to the cooks in the back.
Aaliyah dreaded Friday nights. Sandi’s Café received more customers that night than any other night of the week. People just wanted to treat themselves to something nice, kick back and relax after a long week at work. Though she wished she would have done the same, instead she was pulling a double shift because some of the employees decided to attend some raving party.
“Lia, order up!” Informed the cook as he slid the two ceramic plates through the window.
Aaliyah quickly grabbed the two plates from the window and placed them down in front of the two men. “Here you go gentlemen, enjoy.” She smiled. “I’ll check back on the both of you here in a few. Enjoy your meal.”
She let out a tired sigh and glanced up at the clock. Almost ten o’clock and the last of the customers were beginning to clear out. Whilst cleaning down the last of the remaining tables, one of her co-workers by the name of Samantha Moore made her way toward her.
“So, how are you liking Port Isabel?” Samantha shot her a warm smile, her beautiful brown eyes glittering in the dim light of the restaurant.
Aaliyah placed a few dishes down into the dish tub and turned to face her. “Still getting used to it to be honest. It’s quite different than what I’ve grown accustomed to.” She closed her eyes and thought back. Memories of Nathan’s abuse flashed through her mind, memories she was trying so hard to forget.
Samantha laughed quietly. “Well you’ll love it here. We don’t have much like the bigger cities, but we make up for it, you know? Besides, the people here are great. It’s one of the many reasons why I chose to stay and raise my son here.”
Aaliyah smiled. “Then I guess I made the right choice by staying.”
She wheeled the cart into the kitchen and began loading the dishes into the dishwasher before locking up. She took off her apron and glanced solemnly around the kitchen. She missed her bakery. She missed seeing the looks on her customer’s faces as they bit into her delectable sweets and the praise she received afterwards.
The kitchen doors flew open bringing Aaliyah back into reality. Samantha sighed heavily and drained the mop water before storing it back into the supply closet and turning to her.
“Do you want a lift home?”
Aaliyah shook her head. “No, thank you. I’m fine. I really don’t mind walking.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“Probably not, but I could really use the fresh air right about now.”
Samantha hesitated. “Just be careful, okay?”
“I will. I promise.”
The following morning Aaliyah headed down to White Lumber & Supply to buy stain and supplies to fix some minor damages to the house. As she stepped through the sliding doors she inhaled the smell of freshly cut lumber. She’d always liked that smell.
As she began to stroll down one of the aisles, she instantly began to feel overwhelmed by the extensive amount of supplies that were placed neatly on each shelf. She didn’t know where to begin.
“You look a little lost.” A voice says, startling the young woman.
Aaliyah spun around and came face to face with an imposing man about her age standing behind a platform truck parked at the end of the aisle. He took a step in her direction and she resisted the urge to take a defensive step back. His sheer size took her aback. He was well over six-feet tall, with light short-cropped hair, olive skin and mesmerizing blue eyes.
A flush reddened her cheeks. “Is it that obvious?”
“Oh yeah.” He flashed her a smile that caught her off guard.
She smiled back, surprised at being greeted with such enthusiasm so early in the morning. Good hire, she thought.
“Sorry,” She cringed a little. “I just moved here so all of this is new to me.”
“Ah, well that explains a lot.” He chuckled. “Can I help?”
She considered his offer for a moment. What did she have to lose by getting a little help? She pulled a piece of paper out of her purse and unfolded it. She had written down the list of items she was going to need.
“Sure, if you don’t mind.” She said, handing him the piece of paper.
“Not at all,” he said, studying the paper before turning to look at her. “I’m Jason by the way.”
“Aaliyah,” She shook his hand, which engulfed her own.
As they walked through the wide aisles they finally came to a stop in the paint department. “Do you know what kind of deck stain you’re looking for?” He asked.
“I don’t have a clue.”
“Well, if you want to show off the beauty of new wood a clear finish is the obvious choice. But that clarity also leaves it vulnerable to the sun’s rays, and that means more frequent reapplication. Solid stains offer great sun protection but hide the wood’s grain under an opaque film. It’s got about a four-year life span, but like all film forming finishes, they tend to peel or crack.” He said. “The most popular finishes are semi transparent stains, which are also the easiest to maintain. They contain more sun-blocking pigments than clear finishes, but not enough to completely obscure the wood grain. Just recoat after three years and you’re good.”
She nodded with a nervous smile. “I think I’ll go with the last choice.”
“Semi Transparent it is,” A hint of a smirk curved his lips. “About how much do you think you’ll need?”
“Um, probably about two gallons.”
He pulled two gallons of stain off the shelf and picked up the paper and looked at it again before continuing down another aisle. “Sandi’s Café, huh?” He said, continuing to make small talk. “What in the name of God’s green earth possessed you to work there?”
“Wait, how did you know?”
“You’re wearing their logo,” He pointed to the small emblem on her white polo.
Aaliyah mentally slapped herself for her brief moment of stupidity and grabbed a few brushes off the utility hooks. “It was the only place hiring at the time that was close to where I live.” She said. “Besides, the people there are friendly. I like friendly.”
“I’m just pulling your leg,” He chuckled. “The only reason I’m asking is because you work there along with my sister, Samantha.”
Her eyes widened. “Samantha’s your sister?”
He tossed a few more things into her hand basket. “Yep. That’s my baby sister. She’s a handful.”
“Funny, usually it’s the other way around with older siblings.” She gave him a playful smile.
He smiled knowingly and tossed the last of the remaining items on the list into the hand basket. “Well that’s the last of it. Just follow me up to the front and I’ll cash you out.”
Taking a deep breath, she turned and followed him to the register.
Jason rang up the two gallons of deck stain, paint brushes, painters tape, and lumber.
“That will be fifty-five dollars, please.”
She glanced up at Jason, and she’d wished she hadn’t. He was watching her closely, intently. It was unnerving.
“Would you like a bag?” he asked as he took her cash.
“Please,” she muttered, her voice soft and wavering.
Casually, he placed her purchases in a plastic bag and handed back her change.
He came out from behind the counter. “If you pull around back I can load up that lumber for you.” Reaching into his back pocket, he pulled out a pair of work gloves.
“That won’t be necessary, I don’t have a vehicle.” She said. “If you don’t mind could you just hold onto the items in the back for now and I’ll stop by first thing tomorrow morning to pick them up?”
“Listen, I get off of work here at seven.” Jason said, running his hand through his hair. “I can load them up in my pickup and stop by your place this evening to drop ’em off before I head home.”
“I appreciate the offer, Jason. I really do, but I can’t ask you to do that.” A ball of nervous energy formed in her stomach.
“It’s no problem,” He insisted, watching her intently as she quickly gathered her items from off of the counter.
“I’ll be by in the morning. Thank you for all your help.” She said quickly as she passed by him, leaving before he could say anything more.
Lucas, one of the sales associates and Jason’s best friend joined him as he watched her retreat.
“Jason has a crush,” Lucas sang teasingly.
Jason punched him in the shoulder. Lucas retaliated until they were laughing and grappling on the floor of the store like wild animals.
“Boys! Boys! My lord, seriously. Frank, come control these boys!” Catherine flushed as she came out of her office, a mix of laughter and embarrassment flashing across her features.
Frank emerged with a giant flyswatter and smacked them each upside the head once. They cursed and finally separated.
Jason stood there for a moment longer and watched her walk away. She looked uncomfortable, definitely nervous and he had simply tried to lighten the mood with small talk. He found her attractive, very attractive. But she was also a mystery, a puzzle he wanted to solve.
When she was fifty feet away she stopped and adjusted the sack on her left arm. He shook his head slightly and reached for his cell phone in his back pocket as he headed toward the back of the store. He scrolled down his contacts list until he came to a stop at Samantha’s name and hit the “call” button. She answered on the second ring.
“Hi, Jason,” she said when she answered it.
“Sam, I need a favor.”