"I just don't think Cathy's working out," Justin cradled the phone against his neck while he wiped down the counter. "Yeah, no. She's terrible with customers, Laura. She's actually frightening some of my regulars." The bell tinkled. "She doesn't listen to me. I know this was a favour to you—yeah. Yeah, I know. I know, but—Look, I'll call you back in a few minutes." He fumbled with the phone to hang up, giving his attention to the new customer. "Hi..."
Michelle stood by the door, adorably awkward but nicely dressed in a nice business-casual combo of skirt, button-up shirt, and heels, which for Java Jones was only one step away from a floor-length ball gown. "Hi."
"Hey, no goop to clean off today?" he asked brightly, before wincing. "That... sounded funnier in my head."
"It's okay, I was going to make a joke about it anyway, you just beat me to it—"
He remembered with a leap of startlement and pulled out her t-shirt from under the counter, giving it a brush clean of stray flecks of espresso grinds. He held it out. She blinked in surprise for a moment and then thrust out a shopping bag at him. "And here's your t-shirt back! I washed it. Too. Thank you so much for all your help."
Justin didn't know what to say. He hadn't meant the shirt as a loan, he was happy for her to have it, but then, why would anyone want something that hideous? Cathy was right, he couldn't give them away. He lifted up the counter-flap to step closer, taking the proffered plastic bag. Surprisingly heavy for just a shirt, and he peered inside the bag. "What are all these?"
"Oh, shoot." She pulled out a thick sheaf of multi-coloured pages, and then tried to hand the bag back, before remembering she needed it to carry both the stack and her own returned tee. They juggled handfuls for a moment before Justin ended up with the Java Jones shirt and she had her own, stuffing it into the bag. "We're, uh, flyering today."
"Flyering?" Justin repeated. What he really wanted to define was the "we".
But that was answered by the door opening: a tall, well-built guy—similarly attired in button-up shirt and nice trousers—popped his head in, catching Michelle's eyes. "Ready?"
"Not yet, I was just—"
"The bank, Michelle! Our appointment's soon. You're the one always going on about first impressions and all that." The guy stepped in, pulling the door closed behind him, giving a nod. "Hey."
"Hey," Justin replied, feeling superfluous and holding the clean but still vomit-green t-shirt out in front of him.
"I gave him back his t-shirt," Michelle explained, after the moment stretched into awkwardness. "And... oh right." She turned her attention back to Justin with a big smile. "We're flyering for our new business... the gym. Our new gym, remember?"
"Gym?" Justin repeated, noting peripherally his conversation skills had deteriorated down to monosyllables.
The guy pried the sheets from Michelle's hands, muttering, "You are a terrible salesperson. Hi," he repeated, brightly, to Justin. "I'm Bryan. Bryan Haley. I don't know if we've met but I've been in a few times."
"Yeah, I think I remember—I'm Justin, the owner." Justin made sure not to show how much the handshake hurt. "Do you guys want to put a flyer up? We have a space on the wall for that." He pointed at the section that he reserved for flyers, noting old, left-over tape residue. I should get Cathy to clean the windows. That might keep her out of the way for a while. Then he lost himself in a nightmarish image of his teenage niece scrubbing and complaining loudly about child-labour laws to passersby.
The pair taped the bright-pink flyer to the glass while Bryan made impatient noises about the bank. As they finished, he hustled her out the door.
"Thanks again for the other day, I really mean it," Michelle called over Bryan's shoulder.
"No problem," Justin called back, too late.
Dammit. Of course she had a husband; of course she did. He sighed, annoyed, not at her, but at himself. Maybe he should try online dating again. It was obviously getting bad if he was daydreaming about customers.
He wandered over to examine the newest addition to his window: a common, letter-size, laser-printed handbill. Designed by someone with access to a better program than Word, making it classier than 95% of the rest of the surrounding detritus. Two pieces of which were out of date. He ripped them down for the recycling.
Creampuffs. That's their gym? Intrigued, he recognized the address as in the industrial area, before leaning against the window, with a sigh, wondering again what it would be like to start a cafe from scratch. Make all the choices. Not that he didn't love the Java Jones, but it had... well, it had Jones all over it. It was already established.
He crumpled up the old, out-of-date handbills. One of these days he'd stop daydreaming over his shared workspace idea. He had a good thing going with the cafe. And if Michelle and her partner wanted to sink everything into a gamble... Well, good for them. Bryan seemed a pleasant enough guy, if a bit impatient. And Michelle... was taken. He tossed the crumpled paper into the blue bin under the milk stand. But she was friendly and funny, and he'd been wanting to expand his social circle anyway...
And new businesses in the area were always a good thing. A gym might bring more regular customers during the slow periods of the day. Justin perked up, making a mental note of the opening date—it could be worth checking out.
YOU ARE READING
After spending her 20s and 30s coasting from job to job, geeky Michelle has finally found her calling. She's teaming up with her out-going jock brother Bryan to create Creampuffs, a gym for ultra-beginners and introverts. They'll need to renovate th...