Ned lets out a low whistle as he follows Mingan into the shop. “Nice job, man.” He surveys the resurfaced exposed brick walls, live edge wood shelving, antique carved marble and wrought iron display tables, and, finally, the refinished stone and hardwood floor.
“I guess it does look pretty good.” Mingan says with a touch of pride as he flips the sign in the door from CLOSED to WELCOME. “Mr. Cawley fixed it up.” He doesn’t mention all the hours he spent helping him and the contractors.
Ned pulls a book from its shelf as Mingan goes into the back room and returns counting the day’s float. He opens the antique brass cash register drawer and Ned says, “That thing must weigh a ton.”
“Everyone loves it.” Mingan says, putting the bills in the drawer slots. He marks a balance sheet in the book Mr. Cawley keeps under the counter with the day’s date along with the number of bills and coins.
“Breakie?” Ned asks.
Mingan nods, “That’d be great.”
“She knows we open in fifteen minutes.” Mingan looks at the time on his phone and it buzzes with an incoming call. “She’d better be here.” She wasn’t working for a few days since she lost those shifts at the fulfillment center for… being herself.
“Breakfast o’ champions comin’ right up!” Ned says and goes into the back to light the Rumford range and check the kitchen’s stock.
“Hello?” Mingan answers his phone. It’s the job placement agency asking him to do flagging work, the construction site he was at last week wants him back. “Can’t today, I’m minding the shop while Mr. Cawley’s away.” He tries to keep impatience out of his voice. Why is it so hard for them to keep track of anything?
“Tunage!” Ned turns on the radio and adjusts the antenna. Hmm, he opens the icebox and stands back with the door open. Eggs, leeks, assorted herbs, three different types of cheese and a portion of baked ham. His head disappears into the cupboard and he finds red and russet potatoes as well as onion. Is that truffle oil? He reaches for a bottle at the back of a shelf.
Pouring purified cold water into the separate sides of the German designed machine, Mingan considers the expense. He’d wanted to charge customers and maybe set up a coffee bar, but Mr. Cawley was right. It made customers happy to be given a small cup of complimentary coffee or tea while they looked around, and relaxed. They’d already seen a return on this investment, Mingan calculates. At least on the coffee and tea supplies, if not on the machine yet.
The little bells above the door jingle as two women walk in. The brunette wearing a black overcoat approaches the counter and, when she sees nobody there, waits. “Morning!” Mingan calls to her, as he places the carafes on the burners. “Be right with you.”
She nods in reply, and turns to her mini-skirted friend who is looking at embossed writing paper and fountain pens displayed on one of the tables. “Hey, they have–” she calls to her friend, when they both stop and stare at the open doorway leading to the back room.
Music suddenly blasts as Ned flies by, air guitaring and bellowing, “Friday night I crashed your party! Saturday I said I’m sorry!”
“Oh no,” Mingan groans. “Sorry,” he says and turns to pull the plug on Ned’s party when he notices the women laughing.
“I was only having fun! Wasn’t hurting anyone! And we all enjoyed the weekend for a change!” He flies by the open doorway again.
The women are still laughing, the one in the black overcoat tapping the counter in time and the one in the mini skirt moving closer to the open doorway.
“How can I help you?” Mingan asks the one at the counter, adding, “I can get him to stop if he’s bothering you.”
“I’m in the wrong line of work,” she says. “I should be so happy at 7:00 in the morning.”
“He’s always like this,” Mingan shrugs. “Seven in the morning, seven at night.”
“There’s something to be learned.” She says, her voice trailing away. “Oh, right, I’m here to pick up a book I ordered.”
“What name is it under?”
“Ramona the Brave,” Mingan smiles. “My cousin liked those books as a kid.”
She looks at him blankly, and Mingan notices the almond shape of her eyes behind her tortoiseshell glasses. Are they blue? He wonders. Or grey?
“The man I talked to said it would be here today.”
“Right.” Mingan looks behind the counter. “Here it is.”
“You may be right! I may be crazy!” Ned wails on his air guitar. “But it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for!” He howls at the ceiling, his back arched, invisible guitar offered up to the gods of rock and roll. “Turn out the light! Don’t try to save me!”
The woman in the mini skirt leans against one of the marble tables, watching him and winding her honey-colored hair around her finger.
“Would you and your friend like a coffee or tea?” Mingan asks Ramona. “Freshly made.”
“Oh, I don’t really–” she starts.
“On the house.” Mingan says, holding a cup for her.
“That’s very kind.” She says, pushing her glasses up along the bridge of her nose. “Tea, please.”
“Sugar, milk, cream?” Mingan asks. She shakes her head no. Mingan pours and hands her the cup. “Careful, it’s hot.”
“Mmm, delicious.” She says, sipping. “English Breakfast?”
“Close,” Mingan says. “Earl Grey.”
“One for you?” Mingan turns to her friend.
“Thanks, coffee’d be awesome,” she says.
“Black?” Mingan asks.
“Two cream, two sugar, please.” She replies, then nods toward Ned. “Does he work here too?”
“Only when we’re desperate,” Mingan laughs.
“Remember how I found you there! Alone in your electric chair!” Ned flies by again, kicking the air, his long hair whipping behind him. “I told you dirty jokes until you smiled!”
“I was so glad when you opened,” Ramona says to Mingan. “The neighborhood could really use a shop like this. So much is online or at big chain stores.
Ned feels someone looking at him. Then he sees her legs in purple tights, the heels of her boots, and her hair the color of honeycomb. He locks onto her gaze and misses a chord. She quickly looks away, and burns her mouth on the coffee.
“It’s been in the works for a little while,” Mingan says. “We’re excited to be open.”
“You were lonely for a man,” Ned sings now, strumming his air guitar in place. “I said, Take me as I am.” The mini-skirted girl shifts her weight against the table, then lets the coffee burn her tongue again, more gently this time. “‘Cause you might enjoy some madness for a while.” She crosses her ankles and Ned imagines the sound of the tights, the fabric softly scraping.
The back door slams and Trudy tosses a loaf of fresh sourdough from Ginette’s bakery onto the heavy wooden counter.
“Hey, Tru.” Ned says over his shoulder. “Can you chop the potatoes?” She throws her parka on the large table in the middle of the back room, and goes to the sink to wash her hands.
“And I think of all the years you tried to find someone to satisfy you!” Ned goes back to hollering. I might be as crazy as you say!” This time looking directly at the honeycomb girl sipping her coffee. “If we’re crazy then it’s true! That it’s all because of you!” She lifts her eyes to look right back at him. “And you wouldn’t want me any other way!”
“Where’s that knife sharpener?” Trudy yells from the sink.
“You may be right!” Ned leaps in the air. “I may be crazy!” He strikes his air guitar like it’s hot. “But it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for!”
“Ned!” Trudy yells again. No response. She throws a potato at him and misses.
“It’s too late to fight!” Ned yowls. “It’s too late to change me!” No sign he even remembers she’s there.
“Ming!” Trudy yells. “Oh, sorry.” She says at the entrance to the shop. “I forgot we’re open.”
“This is Ramona,” Mingan says. Turning to Ramona, “This is Trudy, my sister.”
“Hi.” Ramona says, looking from one to the other. “You two don’t look anything alike.”
“Different parents,” Mingan says.
“Oh,” she says. That explains the different racial features, she thinks. But, siblings?
“And?” Mingan turns toward Ramona’s friend.
“That’s Skye,” Ramona says.
“Hey.” Trudy nods and disappears into the back room. Soon the sound of slamming cupboards and clanging pots can be heard along with Ned’s solo.
“Turn out the lights!” Ned wails his finale like it will save his soul. “Oh! Don’t try to save me!” Skye releases the lock of hair she’s been twirling and presses the coffee cup against her lips. Ned gives her a slow grin.
“Well, nice to meet you,” Ramona says to Mingan. “We should get going.”
“Yeah, back to the trenches.” Skye says, bending to retrieve her scarf that she hadn’t noticed had fallen on top of some board games and puzzles.
“Thanks for the tea,” Ramona says.
“Thanks.” Skye says, raising her cup to Mingan then glancing back at Ned for an instant.
The little bells ring above the door as they open it to leave.
“Tonight!” Ned calls out, bounding over to the counter.
They turn back, expressions questioning.
Mingan shoots him a sideways look, a mixture of relief and alarm.
“We’re making pizza!” Ned announces. “Come join us.”
The women look at each other, but don’t say anything.
“Our open house,” Mingan says, breaking the dangerous silence. “Pizza and… stuff.”
“Oh,” Skye says.
“Sure,” Ramona says. “Why not.”
“Great!” Ned says. “Six thirty, tonight.”
The bells above the door jingle again, and Ned and Mingan watch them walk down the sidewalk.
“Open house?” Ned asks, turning to Mingan when he can no longer see Skye.
Mingan shrugs. “We should have one.”
“It’s always the quiet ones.” Ned says, slinging his arm across Mingan’s shoulders.
They bask in glory until Ned jumps up. “Shit!”
“Right!” Mingan says. “Signs, decorations, snacks….” He looks at the time. “I’ll send out an email blast.”
“Gotta take care of things at the shelter,” Ned says. “I’ll be back in about three hours with whatever decorations I can round up.”
“I’ll make some signs and figure out snacks.”
“How many potatoes do you want?” Trudy comes out from the back.
“Chop and roast as many as we have — and the onions and leeks,” Ned says.
“Open house tonight,” Mingan says.
“What open house?” Trudy asks. “I’m making breakfast.”
“See, you never pay attention,” Ned says. “We’ve had this planned for ages.”
“Skipping class tonight?” Ramona asks as they approach her office building.
“Seems worth it,” Skye says. “What was that guy’s name?”
“Mingan,” Ramona says. “Oh, the one in the back… Fred or Ted, or something.”
Skye stops walking. “Ramona,” she says in a sing-song voice.
“What?” Ramona asks. Then, adjusting her glasses. “Okay, I might have noticed him last time, when I ordered the book.”
“He does have a Val Kilmer thing going on, when he played Jim Morrison.” Skye nudges her friend. “What’s his name again?”
“Interesting,” Skye says. “Mingan and Fred. They seem really different.”
“From each other, I mean.”
“Now that you mention it.” Ramona reflects a moment.
“What is it about Fred?” Skye wonders aloud. “A bit of a Tom Petty vibe.”
“If you cross Tom Petty with Animal from the Muppets,” Ramona laughs.
“That’s it!” Skye’s ringtone, Tarzan Boy, interrupts her thoughts. She checks caller ID. “Gotta run.”
“Sling lots of dogs!” Ramona calls after her, before taking the elevator up to her never-ending mountains of paperwork.
“You know it.” There’s already a lineup at Skye’s hotdog stand when she arrives. Breakfast dogs, who would have thought?
[Song and lyrics in italics: “You May Be Right,” written and performed by Billy Joel, 1980.]
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