Chapter Twenty-Two

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The windows of the storefront were securely plastered with newsprint, even the door. The for-lease sign was gone, but no indication took its place of what the store would become. The neighbourhood balanced on the knife's edge of impending gentrification, so hipster espresso bar or combo pawn/vape shop remained equally likely.

This is stupid. Bryan's setting me up for a joke. She imagined a husky, bearded pawn shop owner opening the door, and crossing his arms, scowl on his face. She wondered if Leo was okay. Marietta never spoke about him, changing the subject with a pained expression whenever anyone asked. Yes, he'd been part of the scam, but friendly, in his own way, and he did make sure that the police knew that the Haley siblings were innocent. He hadn't needed to do that. She hesitated, a bit sad, then shook her head, and knocked on the door.

She'd come this far. Might as well see what the fuss was about.

No response; she knocked again and this time the commotion inside—hammering and such—stopped. She braced herself, waiting for Bryan's stupid prank to commence.

"We're not open yet, sorr—" Justin trailed off, then his face lit up. "Wow! Hey! Hi! I didn't expect—hi!"

"Hi," Michelle replied, as surprised, although less wordy about it. "I—I didn't know this was your—what are you doing here? Are you opening up a new coffee place across from my gym?"

"Where's your gym...?" Justin peered over her shoulder out to the snowy street. She pointed to the sandwich board in the distance. "Holy crap. I knew it was the same neighbourhood but I didn't realize it was across the street."

"Liar," Michelle replied, playfully, and he did a big shrug.

"You got me. I planned all this. No, not really. Come in, come in! Come see!"

The space inside seemed larger than she'd expected from the storefront, and she let her surprise show. The walls were gutted, chunks of drywall in heaps on the floor, wires and pipes exposed.

"There was this weird, like, half-tailor half-garment factory in here." Justin led her in, stepping over rubble. "For like 50 years. Then she died and he retired, or maybe the other way around, I can't remember. They had bought the building next door and opened the two spaces into one, but other than that, didn't bother to fix anything. So it's all gotta go." He pointed out the various construction workers, who had stopped when she'd stepped in but now resumed their tasks. "We found old knob and tube wiring, dead mice, horsehair, old newspapers. You name it and it's creepy, it's probably in these walls."

"Dead people?"

"Thankfully no dead people. Yet." Justin held up crossed fingers. "Here's hoping."

"So what's it going to be? It's really big for a coffee shop." Michelle peered, craning her neck.

"Oh, it's not going to be a coffee shop. I mean, there'll be a satellite of the Java Jones in here—maybe that corner—simple carafes and baked goods. Maybe sandwiches, haven't decided yet. No, it's a co-working space."

"It's a what?" Michelle shouted over the construction noises, as politely as she could manage.

He frowned, his hands on his hips. "It's noisy in here, I agree. Let me grab my coat, we'll go for a walk."

The sky remained grey, but the air felt mild—not spring yet, but the snow wanted to melt. The neighbourhood started to come to life with people out doing their shopping as Michelle and Justin strolled along the main street.

"I like the Java Jones," he began, "but I realized more and more that what I liked wasn't making coffee or ordering cookies, but the people—my regulars—"

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