Christine Long is a full-time Christian school teacher with a quirky sense of humor. Passionate about writing, she enjoys sharing through fiction the lessons God has taught her. She loves reading and writing, reading about writing, writing about reading, and learning about writing. Pursuing the dream of publishing a novel, she is seeking an agent for her Christian suspense novel. She writes weekly for TheCypressTimes.com and GranolaBarDevotional.com as well as keeping up her blog. She also writes book reviews for various sites. She is a member of My Book Therapy, ACFW, and Faith Writers. You can visit her at http://writing2theheart.blogspot.com
“Are you sure about that?” Cathy’s voice quivered as she fidgeted and shuffled the papers on the cluttered desk.
“I can’t see any way out of this, Cathy. The gallery just isn’t bringing in enough to keep us afloat.” Judy plopped into the leather arm chair opposite the great maple desk. Her employer’s normally sparkling blue eyes now looked more like little ponds reflecting stormy clouds. “We barely paid this month’s lease and there’s absolutely no way we’re going to pay next month’s.”
Cathy clicked the mouse and stared blankly at the red columns on her computer screen. Nearly a year in business and she was going to have to close. Not the rousing success she had planned for her life. Sighing, she closed the program and turned off the computer. Pulling herself together, she gave her assistant a watery smile.
“Tomorrow I’ll see what I can do to sell off our remaining inventory to some other galleries.” Tears pooled but she refused to let them fall—yet. “It was fun while it lasted, wasn’t it?”
Judy left and after several minutes, Cathy doused the lights and stepped into the main showroom. Soft spotlights caressed selected sculptures. Recessed lighting made halos around prized paintings. A year ago her dream had sprung to life. For the past few months, the dream began melting away, exposing the raw reality. Now it was becoming a nightmare.
Shouldering her way through the evening crowd, she came to her second-favorite shop. The door opened as she approached. The coffee aroma reached out to enfold her and draw her in as usual. Without thinking, she entered her other home-away-from-home. Just the fragrance lifted the corners of her lips. She waited in line for a few moments, enjoying the aroma and atmosphere.
“Next. Oh, hi, Cathy. How’s it going?” He smiled, lighting up his youthful freckled face, brown eyes dancing.
“Not so great, Charlie. How are you doing? Busy today?”
He snorted. “When’s it not busy in here? Doesn’t matter which shift I work, they run us off our feet.” He grinned again. “But I love it, so who cares?” He paused and Cathy felt his closer scrutiny. “Hey, what’s the matter? You okay?”
The kindness in his voice nearly broke the dam holding back her tears. She swallowed and managed a weak, crooked smile, her lips feeling strained. “I will be.” As she heard herself say it out loud, she realized it was true. She would be okay. With a little sigh and a bit more confidence, she repeated her mantra for today. “I’ll be okay. I just need one of your famous concoctions. What do you have today?”
“Hmm. Let me see.” He began pouring and stirring wonderful liquids into an oversized mug. With a flourish of whipped cream, he placed the masterpiece on the glass top in front of her. As she reached for it, he held up his hand, grabbed a small container, and sprinkled its contents over the whipped cream. “Viola! Another masterpiece guaranteed to chase those blues away.”
“Thanks, Charlie.” Cathy carefully carried the steaming mug to a corner table. As she settled in and took the first sip, it trickled down and warmed her insides. The rich mocha swirled in her mouth, filling her with comfort, while the hint of mint picked up her spirits. She smiled. That kid was a genius when it came to coffee. She sipped, lost in thought, enjoying the sensation of the delicious brew. She hadn’t noticed the shop’s emptying of customers until Charlie started wiping tables.
“Once again, Charlie, that was a perfect cup of coffee and exactly what I needed. How do you do it?”
Looking a bit uncomfortable with such praise, he shrugged his shoulders and grinned. “My grandmother says it’s a gift. Sometimes I just know what a person needs.” He paused beside her table and she motioned him to sit with her. “She does the same thing only with food. Boy can she cook!” His expression sobered. “So what’s really the problem? You’ve been coming in here for over a year and you’ve never looked this upset before.”
Cathy sighed. Why not unload on this kind and gentle teenager? Maybe talking it out would help. “You know I own the art gallery down the street?”
“It has been my dream since childhood to own that gallery. Throughout art and business schools all I could think of was the day I’d have my own place. Now I’m going to lose it because I can’t afford it. Not enough sales.”
Charlie sat back in his chair, twirling and flicking the dishtowel in the air. “So just get more customers.”
Cathy laughed. “That’s what I’ve been trying to do for months. Maybe it’s my advertising.” She shrugged. “Maybe it’s the economy. Maybe it’s both. I’ve been fighting it for months, but it’s a losing battle. I’ll take a job working for one of the larger galleries and try again in a couple of years.”
She stood. Charlie walked back to the counter with her and accepted her empty cup. “Thanks again for the coffee and for listening, Charlie. See you tomorrow.”
Cathy walked home, strangely comforted by her conversation with the young boy. Maybe, just maybe she’d find a way to keep her dream alive.
The next afternoon, Judy burst breathlessly into Cathy’s office. “There’s a woman out front. Wants art. Limousine. Lots of money.”
“Slow down. What are you talking about?” Judy just pointed through the open doorway to a stylishly dressed woman, her demeanor screaming wealth. Cathy smoothed her suit jacket. Smiling, she extended her hand to the prospective customer. Within the hour, the woman had purchased the best pieces and left a list of others she wanted. Totally blown away and her mind unable to grasp the numbers on the sales slip, Cathy flopped into her chair. Faintly she heard the buzzer of the front door opening.
What was Charlie doing here? Cathy went out to meet him.
“I just saw my grandmother pull away. Did she buy anything?”
“Your grandmother? That was your grandmother?”
“Yeah. She owns the chain of coffee shops I work at plus a few other restaurants here in town. So did she buy anything?”
Bewilderment overtook him as Cathy gripped him in a bear hug. He patted her shoulder and rolled his eyes. Women. All he did was tell his grandmother about a great art place run by a nice lady. What was all the fuss about anyway?