November 19, 2006 by Dan
I woke up the next morning at seven-thirty. It wasn’t my fault; five months of working for Brianna had forced me into a normal schedule, and my body was still having a hard time differentiating between the weekend and the other days. I got out of my twin bed to the noise of Brianna and Emily, who were breathing in unison. They had both slept fully clothed; Brianna slept on her stomach, and her arm was resting on the back of Emily’s head. I had a vague memory of Emily waking up in the middle of the night for an emergency expurgatory trip to the bathroom, but I wouldn’t have bet money on the veracity of the memory.
It was quiet downstairs. I walked past the doorway to the master bedroom, where we had dropped Ade and Steven last night, wedged a chair under the door handle. Someone had taken the chair away, and the door was just ajar.
“Come into the kitchen,” said Mathilda’s voice. “I’ve started breakfast.”
The kitchen was, of course, cozy without being tight, homey without being kitschy. I sat at the smaller of the two tables, which had both already been set. Mathilda was hovering over the stove island, simmering bacon, stirring what looked like pancake batter, and tending to a baking coffee cake.
“Nothing’s quite ready yet,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting any of you to be up so early this morning.”
“Did you have trouble sleeping?” I asked.
“Oh no,” she said. “I lived in New York once; after that, sleeping anywhere is easy. Although that boy with the blonde hair…he was still awake at five-thirty in the morning when I got up, and he talked my ear off for an hour before falling asleep on the couch the other side of the kitchen.”
I laughed. It came out a croak. Jason had probably sampled some of his goods before driving up to Vermont.
“You’re dehydrated,” she said. “Orange juice?” I nodded.
“Coffee?” I nodded a bit harder, then regretted my decision. You never know what you’re going to get with home-brewed coffee; Mathilda seemed okay, but what if she liked instant?
She didn’t. Her orange juice was fresh-squeezed, and she ground coffee beans right there and set a pot to going. The machine was a model I hadn’t seen before, but it made great coffee—rich and hot with just a touch of good bitter flavor.
“Did you have a good time last night?” she said.
I paused before I answered, alternating sips between OJ and coffee. Had I had a good time? By all rights, I shouldn’t have. I don’t like to dance, I didn’t like any of the music they’d played, and I didn’t jump on Emily, who was both available and attractive It should have been a crappy night.
“Yeah,” I said. “I did.”
“Good,” she said. “I think it’s so great when you get a bunch of happy people together. By the way, I never caught your name.”
“Pete,” I said. “Pete Ainslie.”
“Nice to meet you,” she said. “What do you do?”
“Right now, I’m biding my time working for Brianna, the girl I came in with. She’s a social-justice lawyer. I help her out.”
“Do you like it?”
“What do you like?”
“I used to work in a coffee shop,” I said. “I liked that.”
“How do you like eggs?”
She fumbled around in the drawers and the refrigerator, whipping up my breakfast, humming the whole time.
“Why don’t you just do what you like?” she said. “Because I can’t have what I had before—my friends who worked there are back in school or dealing full-time or moving to Burlington. My old boss has retired. I just don’t know where to go.”
“Well,” she said. “I don’t understand why you don’t just work for yourself. I did, and I had no idea what I was doing. Just get a bank loan and go.”
I grinned at her. “That’s not a bad idea at all. I have some friends who know about that sort of thing.”
“Good boy,” she said. “Another waffle?”
The humidity had finally left, and I couldn’t have been happier for it. The summer of 2002 had been an extraordinarily hot one, with the standard admonitions in the Globe to watch after your elderly neighbors, stay inside during the day, stay out of the sun, and not set things on fire. I had spent most of the time shuttling back and forth between Brianna’s office, the bank, and the offices of the Cambridge City Planner.
I stood on the sidewalk on a gorgeous Friday afternoon, with the sun warming the back of my neck, watching Barry and Adrian climb up two ladders on the side of a green awning. My two friends tore off the white cover and let it fall to the ground.
“Looks good,” said Gerald.
“Thanks,” I said. “For all the help, I mean.”
“Convincing bankers is what I do,” he said. “You had the down payment, I had the moxie. It was no trouble at all.”
“Well, thanks to everyone,” I said. It was neat; everyone was there. Barry had finagled a couple of computers for a wireless Internet corner and jukebox, and had wired the stereo. Brianna had done the law work, Adrian had come down nearly every weekend from Burlington and helped me clean up the little storefront off of Massachusetts Avenue, down on the other side of Central Square, Gerald had dealt with the banks, Jason had helped with the cleaning, and Emily, of all people, had found a used pool table through a liquidator she knew. It was a beautiful thing, with old engraved cues, leather ball pockets, and red felt. As we were putting it together, I had fallen on top of her and landed with my lips a few inches from hers. Nothing happened, and I didn’t even think about it much.
I liked the way the awning looked. White letters on a dark green background, in a font that looked to me like it was gothic but had actually been invented by a Swedish guy in 1882.
“Well, are we going in?” asked Adrian. “You’re open, right?”
“Friday nights are always big,” I said.
Pete’s Place—coffee and conversation. That’s what it said on the awning. I had a bank line of credit to pay off, no customers yet, and a long winter ahead. I’d never get vacation, and I was in a neighborhood with two Starbucks within three blocks, and one more in the former Jon’s Place ready to ramp up in a couple of months. Boston’s economy was still in the dumper with no real prospects of getting out; I’d had about sixty people come by to find out about working, and I only had space for three or four once I’d scheduled Jason’s time. I walked on in, past the chairs I’d bought from a company liquidator in Charlestown, under the funky half-propeller fans that a local artist Adrian knew had donated, and fired up the espresso and coffee machines, which I had picked up from a consignment house for free; they had been Jon’s, and he had told the house to give them to me if I needed them. I ground some espresso and took a metal jug out of the refrigerator.
“Okay,” I said. “Who wants a drink?”
If you read this far, many thanks. I hope you liked reading about Pete and his friends, and I hope that I managed to put a smile on your face every now and then. And, if you liked what you read, please leave a comment or send me an email. It makes my day to hear from you.
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