Friday, May 25, 2012
the WIP--chapter two
Okay, here's a bit more. Feel free to tell me what you think of these characters (from the first scene, too). Do you like them? What sort of sense do you get about them? Would you want to spend an entire book with them? Hmm?
“I know I’m late and I’m sorry,” I called, pushing my way through the door of Mama Yanela’s, the Cuban grocery owned by my father-in-law, Tumelo, and his twin sister, better known as Mama Isa.
Amelia, Mama Isa’s daughter and my cousin by marriage, stood behind the check-out counter and pretended not to hear me. “Muchas gracias,” she told a customer, handing over a bag filled with freshly baked Cuban bread. “Please come again.”
I waited until the elderly customer had shuffled out of the building, then I stepped into the rectangular check-out stand in the center of the store. “Gideon called your mom, right? I had to drive all the way to Largo and back this morning—”
“You could have told me. You were supposed to open.”
I stared, remembering too late that I’d been entrusted with opening the store. In my excitement over the interview, I’d completely forgotten. “But Gideon called,” I whispered in a weak voice, knowing my excuse wouldn’t fly.
“He didn’t call me. And if he called Mama, I didn’t get the message.”
Amelia’s pretty face remained locked in neutral, but when she didn’t leave the check-out stand I knew she was royally ticked off. “You could have told me before this morning,” she went on, glaring at me from beneath her brown bangs. “I nearly panicked when I showed up at seven-fifteen and found the doors still locked. At first I thought you’d been in a wreck or something—”
“I wasn’t in a wreck.”
“But how was I supposed to know that? All those old guys who come for coffee were lined up outside. Even Jenna was waiting, and she had two cakes to decorate for noon pickups. Now she’s hopelessly behind.”
“Jenna!” I swiveled toward the bakery at the back of the store, where Jenna Daniels decorated cakes and pastries behind a glass display case. “I’m sorry if I threw you off schedule.”
When I turned to Amelia again, her lips had thinned with irritation. “I don’t know how you can be so casual about everything. This is not funny.”
“I didn’t mean to be funny.” I sighed and stashed my purse in an under-counter niche. “Look, the interview I had this morning was a one-time thing. It was important.”
“Sometimes I think you treat the grocery like some kind of hobby.”
“A hobby?” I dropped my jaw. “I work my tail off at this place, just like the rest of you. So don’t tell me I don’t work hard.”
If Amelia had been a cartoon figure, steam would be blowing out her ears. “Okay, you work,” she said. “But working part time means you breeze in whenever you feel like it and take off whenever the mood strikes you.”
“That’s not fair. I’m not that erratic.”
“But this isn’t the first time you’ve been late. If you’re going to open the store, you have to be here before seven. You have to get everything ready, turn on the lights, set up the coffee pots.
I closed my eyes.“I know what I have to do.”
“I don’t think you do. Because somehow you’ve managed to reach adulthood without learning how to take responsibilities seriously. It’s about time you grew up.”
Anger flared in me. Amelia and I were the same age, but she acted like a worried old woman and seemed to think I behaved like a child. I wanted to tell her that I could be as responsible as she was, but just then the bells above the double doors jangled and Claude Newton, one of our regular customers, shuffled in wearing his usual costume: a Hawaiian shirt, a denim kilt, and bright pink flip flops.
I covered my smile while Amelia turned and called out a welcome. “Hola, Claude. ¿Como estas?”
“Muy bien.” He moved slowly toward the canned goods. “Looking for goat’s milk.”
“Over there, right under la leche de coco,” Amelia told him. “You can’t miss it.”
My anger evaporated as I watched Claude navigate the aisle. How could I stay mad when our one and only resident nudist had popped in for his daily snack run? Working in a Cuban grocery might not be the most exciting job in Tampa, but it had to be one of the most interesting.
“Look.” I folded my arms and transferred my gaze to Amelia. “I’m sorry I forgot about opening the store. I’ll do better. I promise.”
Amelia drew a breath as if she wanted to continue arguing, then she blew out her cheeks. “From now on, let me know if you’re going to be late, okay? Mama’s trying to retire, so she needs to know she can depend on us. If you or Gideon needs to call about store business, call me, not Mama.”
“Okay. Got it.”
Her gaze softened. “Well . . . did you get the job?”
“I’m pretty sure I didn’t.” I pulled my apron from beneath the counter and tied it on. “I don’t have a master’s degree, so I shouldn’t even have bothered applying. I was hoping they’d be desperate enough to overlook my lack of education, but I’m unqualified to be a guidance counselor.” A bitter laugh bubbled to the surface. “Apparently I can’t even give myself good advice.”
Amelia stepped back to let me move toward the register. “Why did you major in psychology if you can’t get a job with your degree? Seems like your college years were a waste of time.”
I shrugged. “I didn’t plan to stop with a bachelor’s. I didn’t plan to get married so soon and I didn’t plan on getting pregnant—” I stopped when Amelia’s face twisted.
I could have kicked myself. I kept forgetting that she and her husband Mario had no children after four years of marriage. I’m sure they had their reasons for remaining childless, but I didn’t want to pry.
I shifted my gaze to the front window, granting her a measure of privacy.
“I’ll get out of your way now.” Amelia backed out of the narrow space behind the counter, gesturing toward the office at the rear of the store. “I’ll be at the desk. Mama and Uncle Tumelo are coming in later to go over the new order.”
I nodded. “Don’t worry. I’ll handle things up here.”
“If you need a translator, come get me.”
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. Though I didn’t speak Spanish nearly as well as Gideon or his family, I’d been working at the grocery long enough to get a sense of what people were saying when they talked to me. Or I could at least guess what they wanted.
“Go on.” I waved Amelia away. “I know what I’m doing.”
Looking back, I think that may have been the last day I could say those words and even come close to meaning them.