When you least expect it, something wonderful always happens.
Wiping crumbs and coffee rings from the carved oak bar, Jenna Daley repeated her grandmother’s words over and over in her mind. Heaven knew, she could use something wonderful about now. She would even settle for something sort of good, or even just mediocre, so long as it wasn’t downright awful like just about everything else from the past couple of years had been.
Jenna gathered up half a dozen dirty mugs and placed them in the bus tray, which she picked up and carried to the kitchen. Glancing at the clock on the wall, she overturned the cups into the dishwasher and turned the machine on. Five more minutes and she could lock the door. If she hurried with the clean up, she could be at Mrs. Carter’s before the woman had a chance to build up a head of steam.
If Kelly didn’t love Mrs. Carter so much, Jenna would have been tempted to find a new sitter, but that was a trial in itself so she put up with the disapproving looks and the tongue-clicking whenever rush hour traffic made her late. Some things just couldn’t be helped.
She threw another pointed look at the clock and prayed, Lord, please don’t let anyone else come in before I can lock up. Grabbing a dishcloth, Jenna swiped it over the counters in the tiny coffee shop kitchen then gave the cloth a rinse and squeeze and tossed it over the edge of the sink to dry overnight. Pulling her coat of the hook in the back hallway, she picked up her purse and keys and headed for the front door. That’s when she heard the bell over the door tinkle. Her heart sank. Not another customer now, she wailed silently, laying her things on a chair.
A tall man entered. He must have been in before because Jenna thought he looked familiar. Stepping behind the coffee bar she watched as he slid onto a stool and smiled at her.
“I’d like a tall vanilla latte,” he said. “Extra hot.”
“I’m closing in a couple of minutes,” Jenna informed him, suppressing her urge to shout at the man. “Can I make that for you to go?”
He hesitated and unzipped his heavy coat. “Well, it’s been a beast of a day and I would just like to sit here for a few minutes of quiet, if you don’t mind. But, yes, I suppose you’d better make it to go if you want to close up.”
“I’ll tell you what,” she replied, “I’ll just lock the door so no one else comes in and you can nurse your coffee for a few minutes while I mop that mess around the door. When I’m finished cleaning up, I’ll let you out and you can be on your way. How does that sound?”
“Like a fair deal.” She noticed how tired his brown eyes looked. She knew that look; in fact, she was all too familiar with that feeling, like you could sleep for a hundred years before you felt rested. She turned away and prepared his drink then locked the front door of the shop. While she dragged out the mop and pail and swabbed the floor near the door where wet and muddy boots had tracked in dirt and muck, he sipped his coffee and never said a word. By the time she rolled the mop pail back into the corner of the kitchen, she returned to find him standing with his coat buttoned up.
He smiled at her again and for a moment she was caught off guard. His smile was…kind, as though in spite of his fatigue, he recognized a fellow comrade at arms. For just a second, she felt like he saw into her soul.
“A deal’s a deal,” he said, picking is cup up from the bar. “I’ll take my coffee and go. I hope I haven’t kept you later than you wanted.”
“My babysitter is an angel with my daughter,” Jenna said, unlocking the door, “but she’s a bit of a dragon with me if I’m late.” A blast of cold air rushed in as the man stepped out onto the snowy sidewalk. “Please come again.”
He paused and turned back to face her. “I believe I will,” he said, and then he strode off into the night.
Jenna ran back to the kitchen and grabbed her coat and purse and a half hour later she pulled up against the curb in front of Mrs. Carter’s house. Leaping over the ridge of snow pushed up by the plough, she ran to the door. Three-year-old Kelly, already bundled into her snowsuit and boots stood at the door, her mittens dangling from the ends of her sleeves.
“Mommy,” she cried when Jenna opened the door, stomping the snow from her own boots.
“Hi sweetheart,” Jenna said, bending to give her daughter a kiss on her round cheek. Straightening, she saw that Evelyn Carter stood behind Kelly, apron on. “How did it go today?” Jenna asked.
“She’s a darling as usual but she made sure I became aware that she doesn’t care for peanut butter and bananas together,” Mrs. Carter replied. “Did you know that?” Something about the way she asked the question conveyed a whiff of disapproval, as though Jenna’s not knowing demonstrated her inadequacy as a mother.
“I had an inkling,” she replied vaguely. While she knew Kelly didn’t usually like sweets and savouries together, the banana and peanut butter combination was new to her, mainly because she would never put them together herself. Kelly had never tried them at home.
Gathering up her child, Jenna headed back down the sidewalk, strapped Kelly into her car seat and drove home, ten blocks away. The clock on the dashboard glowed in the dark. It was already 5:52. That meant she had just over two hours to cook, eat, and feed Kelly, spend a little time with her, and put her to bed before Andrea, the teen-ager from next door, showed up to sit with her until after midnight. Jenna spent the evening cleaning an office in a building on Second Street, which fortunately for her was only four blocks from her apartment.
When she came home in the wee hours of the morning, the sitter lay on the sofa, sound asleep. Jenna nudged Andrea’s shoulder.
“Hey,” Jenna whispered. “Do you want to go home?”
Andrea groaned, rolled off the couch, and staggered to the door. “See you next time,” she mumbled, pushing her long brown hair from her eyes and squinting at the brightness of the hallway light.
Jenna locked her apartment door, tossed her coat on the sofa and was in bed in five minutes.
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