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Jan’s Excellent Romance—Applesauce and Andy

Excerpt:
Chapter 1.    Open for Business 

 

Monday morning, 7 o’clock, I hung the “Open” sign on the door. Jan’s Café was ready for business. I immediately had a dizzy spell because I was nervous. Well, OK, I wasn’t nervous. I was scared out of my mind. Opening the café was either going to be the smartest thing I ever did or the dumbest. Right now I was leaning toward dumbest.

“So where is everybody?” My best friend, Tiny Tucker, was standing behind me, snapping her gum.

I turned around. “Ditch the gum,” I said. “Didn’t I tell you no gum? We’re trying for a little class here.”

Tiny was pretty in a voluptuous sort of way. This morning, her ample (I didn’t like to say overweight) figure was stuffed into a lime-green waitress uniform. She had a pink handkerchief in the bodice pocket splayed out over her left bosom like an orchid. She looked like a honeydew melon with some kind of strange growth on it. I hadn’t asked her to wear a uniform, but, Tiny told me, whatever job she had, she liked to dress the part. (I had on my usual: a sweater and jeans with a dish towel tucked around the waistband—as an example of the classy effect I was going for.)

“I was going to wait till a customer came in,” Tiny said. “I’ll get rid of the gum when someone comes in.” Tiny liked to chew gum. She said it helped her control her weight, because she couldn’t eat and chew gum at the same time. I had to admit she had a point there.

“I’m ready for business right now,” Tiny said. “Got my order book and everything.” She called over her shoulder to Hank Rogers, the cook. “You ready?”

Hank was standing beside the grill, tall stringy body leaning back against the prep counter, skinny arms folded, looking bored. “I’m ready,” he said. “Eggs, bacon, batter. Griddle’s hot. All ready.”

“All right, you two,” I said. “Cut it out. We’ve only been open about three minutes. The customers will come.”

“If you build it, they will come,” Hank muttered, and Tiny snickered.

I was ready to grab a couple of bagels and throw them at the two of them, but at that exact moment the door opened and in came Andrew Hudson.

Andy Hudson was a lawyer. His office was right across the street. He was successful. He had money. He drove around in a gleaming black Porsche Carrera. He was tall and toned and so good looking a lot of women I knew wondered why he was here in Brookside, a little village in the middle of South-Shore Long Island, instead of, say, farther east in the glamorous Hamptons or farther west in Manhattan, or even farther west in Hollywood. He wasn’t married.

Tiny had an odd reaction to Andy’s sudden appearance in our doorway. Normally, she hardly ever shut up. She was afraid of nothing and nobody. She could fire off wisecracks like an AK-47 blast. She could and did talk her way out of traffic tickets, bad debts, and—unfortunately—jobs. Which was why she’d signed on to waitress in my new café, at least temporarily—till, you know, something better turned up. Which was why she was standing right there behind me when Andy came in.

She was instantly mute, and her face was as pink as her breast-pocket hanky. Tiny was smitten with Andy Hudson. She would practically swoon whenever she saw him, even on the other side of the street or across the ballpark at a softball game. And now, here he was, right in front of her—apparently our first customer.

She was supposed to seat him, tell him today’s special, take his order, and bring him his meal. She was supposed to make him feel welcome. Instead, she stood there and ogled him, drinking in his dark hair and dark blue eyes, his strong, tan forearms extending from the rolled-back cuffs of a crisp blue shirt, top button open, nice tie pulled down, jacket hooked over one shoulder by an index finger, flashing his aw-shucks crooked grin at her.

She jerked her gaze away as if she’d been caught peeking at him naked in the shower. She looked at me. She looked at the floor. She was tongue-tied.

“Hi,” I said to him, giving Tiny a subtle kick with the back of my heel. “Welcome to Jan’s. I’m Jan. Jan Duffy.”

“Duffy?” he said. “I thought your name was Quackenbush. Jan Quackenbush.”

I was surprised Andy Hudson even knew who I was. But clearly he wasn’t up on the latest about me. I smiled and said, “My name was Quackenbush, but I’m divorced. I took my maiden name back.”

“Oh,” he said. “Sorry.” He actually looked embarrassed.

“It’s OK,” I said. “It hasn’t been very long. A lot of people know me as Jan Quackenbush. Takes awhile to change your identity, I guess.”

“Yes, well.…” he kind of stammered. “Anyhow, I thought I’d come in and—and get breakfast.”

“Oh, sure. Please. I should have arranged for confetti to fall out of the ceiling. You’re my first customer. So—as you can see—sit anywhere!”

I looked at Tiny who still seemed frozen to the floor. “Take Mr. Hudson’s order, Tiny.”

“Andy,” he said, heading for a booth by the door.

Tiny came to. “Sure. Sure.” She followed him to the booth.

About then, two more customers were coming in, and I seated them while Tiny took Andy’s order. She was functioning great as a waitress, but the wisecracks were absent for awhile. As I passed her in the aisle, I asked, “What did he order?”

“The special. The potato pancakes and applesauce.”

I was thrilled. I’d been afraid no one would try the special.

Other people came in. Pretty soon, about half the booths were occupied. There wasn’t a line out the door, but it wasn’t deadsville, either.

I glanced at Hank, who was busy constructing the breakfasts. Hank had been a cook in the army. His hands were practically a blur, making eggs, dipping batter, flipping things with the big spatula. Arms windmilling, he got a rhythm going and looked happy, kind of showing off his skills. Tiny and I were waiting tables and handling the cash register without stepping on each other’s toes or bumping into each other. It was going good. It was a good start.

I was at the register when Andy came up to pay his bill. “Everything OK?” I asked as I took his debit card.

“Yeah. Great potato pancakes. And that applesauce! My grandma used to make applesauce like that. Kind of chunky. Hank makes that, does he?”

“No,” I said. “Actually, I made the applesauce and the potato pancake mix.”

“Oh, yeah?” He arched an eyebrow at me. “Well I hope the applesauce is on the menu all the time. I really loved it.”

“Thanks,” I said, giving him his receipt.

I hadn’t put applesauce on the menu, but I decided on the spot to make it a regular side dish.

Then I thought, “What’s the matter with you, Jan Duffy? Catching Andy-Hudson-itis from Tiny?”

“Heck, yes,” I answered myself.

 

Chapter 2.    Hanging It All Out There

 

The next morning I arrived at the café only to realize I had locked the keys inside. Tiny and Hank and I were locked out.

“So let’s figure how to get in,” Hank said, reasonably. “Is there a window that opens?”

“In the rest rooms,” Tiny said.

We went around back. The window to the women’s room was shut tight, but the window next to it, the men’s room window, was a little bit ajar.

“Who’s going to climb in there?” I asked.

“Not me,” said Tiny. “Obviously I wouldn’t be able to fit through there.”

“Me neither,” said Hank. “You’re the smallest one, Jan. Besides, whoever does it will need a boost, and you and Tiny aren’t strong enough to boost me.”

Oh, well….

Hank clasped his hands together to make a stirrup. I stepped on, he lifted, and I jacked myself up to the window. I got my fingers into the opening and pulled, and the window swung open some but not all the way. I’d have to get my head and an arm through so I could reach the window crank and get it open enough to squeeze my whole body through.

I stuck my arm in, followed by my head, and almost gagged. The rest rooms were clean. But let’s face it, there isn’t enough Pine-Sol in the world to make a men’s room smell good. Furthermore, I was looking straight down into the urinal and realizing it was going to be my landing spot if I was able to shove myself all the way in. Oh, gee whiz.

The sooner I get this over with the better, I thought. “Give me more of a shove,” I told Hank. “I can’t quite reach the crank.”

Hank gave me another boost, and now I was balancing over the sill on my belly… half in and half out, and not able to take a full breath because I had my weight on my diaphragm. When you can’t fill your lungs, even a breath of men’s room air starts to seem pretty desirable. Unfortunately, I still couldn’t get my arm turned enough to grab the crank, and my hips were too wide to get through the opening.

So there I was with my head in the men’s room and my ass hanging out into the alley when I heard a voice—a man’s voice—not Hank’s.

“Holy smokes. Is that Jan?”

Oh, great, I thought. Who is that?

Hank said, “Hi, Andy.”

“Hi,” Tiny echoed softly, instantly lost in one of her Andy Hudson swoons.

“She left the keys inside and now she can’t get in—and looks like she can’t get out,” Hank was explaining.

“OK,” Andy said. “You keep your hands under her foot and I’ll pull her out.”

I felt a pair of strong hands grasping my hips and tugging. As I was coming down, Andy slid his hands to the rear to make a seat for me while Hank lowered my foot to the ground.

It was humiliating.

“Thanks,” I said, giving Andy a look over my shoulder.

He was grinning as he finally let loose of my fanny. “It was my pleasure,” he said.



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