Authors: Constance Barker
A Caffeinated Crunch
Copyright 2015 Constance Barker
All rights reserved.
Similarities to real people, places or events are purely coincidental.
The town of Sweet Home, Florida finally settled down after being rocked by the murder of Francine Diddlemier. Not that many people grieved the old girl since she practically vilified almost all the town residents in her weekly paper. However, the thought of a murderer running loose conking people over the head with cookware was certainly unsettling. Mike Barton took his son and moved to Miami while his wife remained in jail in Orlando awaiting trial.
We finally settled into a groove two months after the murder that occurred in our shop, the Coffee Cabana, which I own along with my two aunts, Essie and Hildie. They are in their 60’s but as spry as spring chickens. I was 30 years younger but I swear they could outrun me in a foot race.
It was 10am and the morning rush had simmered down. I saw the familiar shark fin atop one of the many golf carts pull into a parking space in front of the coffee shop. Harvey Davis, one of our regulars had arrived to get his usual, coffee and a chocolate chip muffin that Essie would hold back for him since most of the pastries she and Hildie would bring each morning would be gone by the time he arrived. We would need to hire another baker to keep the muffins, fried pies, crème horns and cupcakes in supply for afternoon stragglers.
Harvey strode in wearing his Tampa Buccaneer baseball hat. “Good morning ladies. I hope everyone is in a good humor today.”
“Why?” Essie asked. “Am I not going to like the next thing out of your mouth?” Now my Aunt Essie can have a hard edge mind you, but it’s all a façade. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. Harvey has known her for 50 years so her brash side had no effect on him.
“No,” Harvey said innocently. “But I did hear some gossip around our little community last evening.”
Harvey and my aunts lived in a senior gated community just a few blocks away from downtown Sweet Home. Hence, all the decorated golf carts that populated the town’s streets. The senior community was quite large, encompassing acres inside the town limits. They had their own post office, gym, golf course and recreational building where the residents gathered for pitch-in suppers or to simply get together for gossip fests. My aunts and Harvey were known to partake in the festivities at the rec center and they knew many of the people who inhabited Sinking Springs Village, as it was called.
Since it was a slow time and no customers besides Harvey were in the shop, Essie and Hilde sat down at his table to be filled in on the latest happenings within the senior society. I stayed behind the counter, reading the manual of my new cappuccino maker, but eavesdropping all the same. My life was boring so I had to live precariously through my elders.
Harvey took a sip of his coffee and a bite of his muffin. My aunts stared at him impatiently. But Harvey was in no hurry as he savored the taste of the chocolate chip muffin. I smiled as I watched Essie roll her eyes waiting for Harvey to swallow. Hildie was more patient, wiping the table of crumbs with her damp wash rag.
Harvey made the sin of taking another sip of coffee to wash down his muffin. “Old man, if you take another bite of that muffin before telling us the scoop, you’ll be wearing it as a tie!”
Harvey gulped hard. “Lands sake Essie…you are an impatient soul.”
Essie waved her hand. “Just get on with it Harve.”
“Well,” Harvey began. “Last evening I was playing euchre with a few of the ladies at the rec room.” Hmmm, now that surprised me. Harvey and three women. Go on….
“They were saying that Mr. and Mrs. Jefferies had a shouting match the previous evening. It seems that Mrs. Jefferies believes Mr. Jefferies is having an affair, and she may be right.”
Essie waved her hand. “That old coot…who’d want to have an affair with him?” My aunt Essie had no barriers.
Harvey raised his coffee cup to take another sip, but put it back down when he saw Essie’s staunch stare. “The word from the ladies group is Mildred.”
Essie continued to stare at Harvey. “Huh?”
“Yup…seems she and Mr. Jefferies, I believe his name is Carl, have been seen together in Sabina.”
“That doesn’t mean anything,” Aunt Hildie interjected. “Maybe they simply ran into one another.” Hildie always liked to find the good in people. She didn’t want to believe there were evil people in the world, only those who had been changed by circumstances beyond their control. She always looked for the good instead of the bad. I hungered to be more like her.
Harvey shrugged. “Word is they were seen cuddling in a back booth at a restaurant and walking arm in arm down the street.”
Hildie looked down at the table. “Hmmm, that doesn’t sound too innocent then.”
Essie was eating it up. “Mildred again? What is with this red haired floozy?”
Essie learned that ‘Toe’ Thompson, a regular in the shop and Sweet Home’s lifelong bachelor had dated Mildred in the past. Although Essie would tell you and anyone else who would listen that she wasn’t interested in any man since her husband passed, I was seeing something different. Ever since it came out that Toe (just a nickname, should anyone ask) was known to be a man about town, my Aunt Essie had taken a second and third look at the tall drink of water. He was thin, but his shock of dark brown hair wasn’t thinning and he had all his teeth. All plus marks in the senior dating guidebook. Hildie was quite comfortable being the old maid. She never married content to live on her own until Essie became a widow. She knew Essie was lonely so invited her to live at her house inside the senior community. At 62 and the oldest, Essie didn’t think of herself as a senior. She’d even call some of her neighbors old geezers, even if they were a year or two younger. It was safe to say, Essie was not accepting her advancing years with grace and dignity.
“First I find out Toe is the Casanova of the neighborhood, now Mildred is intertwined with a married man,” Essie huffed. “This town is turning into Peyton Place.”
“Peyton what?” I asked. Oops…caught me listening in.
“It was an old soap opera my dear,” Hildie answered. Our mother and your grandmother use to watch it. Back then they called them stories.”
I finished setting up one of my coffee pots to brew some French Vanilla for the afternoon customers. The sweet hint of vanilla along with the powerful undertone of the coffee bean filled my nose with its vibrant aroma. I walked over to Harvey’s table and sat down with him and my aunts to take a rest.
“So does Mrs. Jefferies have any clue as to her husband’s jaunts to Sabina?” I asked.
“Not sure,” Harvey replied. “If someone hasn’t told her I’d be surprised. But maybe she doesn’t care. Some women are like that.”
Essie narrowed her eyes in his direction. “Well, I have pride. If I found out my husband was testing the waters in forbidden territory, he’d find his belongings on the front lawn.”
Harvey grinned. “I have no doubt of that Miss Essie, but no man in his right mind would ever fool around on you.”
Harvey liked to harmlessly flirt with my aunts, even though he knew they were only interested in being friends. The only woman in Harvey’s life was his cat, Miss Pickles, and she wasn’t about to allow any other females in his life but her.
The front door of the coffee shop opened and Mr. Toe Thompson, handyman extraordinaire, entered. Hildie stood up from the table.
“What can I get you Toe?”
“I’d like to try out that new fangled cappuccino machine.”
Hildie sat back down. “That’s Lily’s territory. I have no idea how to run that contraption.”
I walked back behind the counter. “Would you like a cappuccino or a latte Toe?
“Not sure I know the difference in those beverages.”
“Basically the latte has less froth than the cappuccino.”
“Oh that drink that leaves you with a mustache? I don’t think I want that. Might mar my image.”
“Latte it is then.” I commenced making Toe’s latte and received a dirty look from Essie when I turned on the frothier. She hated noisy machines, especially my coffee grinder. Now this one was worse. She’d have to get use to it. The customers were enjoying the different choices in java. I also served tea in the afternoon. I handed Toe his cup and he took a sip.
“That’s mighty tasty Lily.”
“I’m glad you like it.”
“Hey Toe,” Essie hollered. “I hear your girlfriend is messing around with a married man.”
I knew she was trying to rattle his chain.
“Which one?” Toe asked. Ha!
Essie looked peeved. “Just how many women do you have in your harem?”
Toe pulled up a chair and sat down. “I don‘t like to kiss and tell.”
Hildie smiled and Essie pouted. As much as she tried to hide it, it was evident to me and Hildie she was sweet on Toe. But knowing my aunt, she would never let on.
“Harvey has spies everywhere Toe, you better be careful,” Hildie said with a sly smile.
Harvey downed the rest of his coffee. “Just a friendly conversation during our weekly euchre card game. The ladies got wind of Mr. Jefferies having a snuggle fest with Mildred in Sabina.”
Toe sipped on his latte. “Lily, this is good. You may have converted me.”
“Watch it Toe, it’s got a kick to it. Made with espresso,” Essie offered.
“Hmmm, you don’t say. Just the kick I need to replace Miss Dorothy’s bathroom sink this afternoon.”
“She’s finally pulling the trigger,” Hildie said. “She’s been talking about it for over a year.”
Essie looked exasperated. “Can we please get back to Mr. Jefferies and his wandering eye.”
“I don’t think it’s wandering,” Hildie said as she stood up from the table. “Sound like it settled on Mildred.”
“That’s the thing,” Harvey said. “The ladies also said he was seen with another woman last weekend. A young one.”
Essie leaned forward. “Who?”
Harvey shook his head. “They didn’t know. Wasn’t anyone from around here.”
Hildie headed back around the counter. “That’s enough gossip for one day. I need to get to the grocery and stock up on butter, sugar and shortening. Essie you coming or staying?”
Essie looked over at Toe who was enjoying his latte. “I’ll stay and help Lily.”
“It’s really not that busy the rest of the day if you want to go.” I knew that’s not what she wanted to hear.
Essie gave me a look that would drop a bear. “I really don’t need to go to the store. Besides, your inventory skills could use some help.”
“You just don’t know how to read my writing.”
“No one can read that chicken scratch young lady.” Very true. Of course I knew she wasn’t about to go over my inventory numbers. She wanted to stick around because of Toe. But once he was finished with his latte he stood up to leave.
“Heading out so soon Toe,” Essie asked.
“Yep, that bathroom sink isn’t going to install itself so I better get with it. See you all later.” He walked out the door with Essie looking after him. Harvey stood up as well.
“I better run along as well. The boys are playing poker this afternoon and I don’t want to be late.”
“From euchre to poker,” I said. “You’re becoming a card shark.”
Harvey pointed to the fin on top of his golf cart. “Now you get the picture.”
Indeed I did. Sly ol’ dog.
The rest of the day was slow but normal for a Wednesday. That evening my friend Jules and I went to dinner at the local café. I wanted to see how her first week at a new job was going. She previously worked as a receptionist with a legal firm in Orlando, but the drive back and forth became too much. A receptionist job at a local dentist office opened up and she jumped on it. It was less money, but Jules wouldn’t have to pay as much in gas so it worked out.
As we walked into the café the familiar aroma of fresh baked biscuits and pies filled our senses. The café was run by four senior women who took all their knowledge of home cooking from their mothers and offered it to their customers. Everything was made from scratch; no frozen food came from these ladies. They offered down home cooking including meatloaf, mashed potatoes, fried cod fish, chicken and dumplings and a host of pies including my favorite, peanut butter.
Jules and I sat at one of the many booths that lined the wall. The café was long, with booths on one side and tables and a bar with stools on the other. The ladies decorated the café like an old time diner, with old movie posters featuring stars like Gregory Peck in
To Kill a Mockingbird
, or John Wayne in
The Sons of Katie Elder
. Posters of crooners like Frank Sinatra and Bobby Darin also dotted the walls. Small vases filled with daisies sat on the tables along with plastic red and yellow bottles filled with ketchup and mustard. Walking into Reva’s Café was like walking back in time. There was something comforting about the atmosphere and the food kept customers coming back for more.