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Last resort, p.12
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       Last Resort, p.12

           Jill Sanders
 
Cassey stood in her office looking down at the almost empty dance floor. She knew that bad nights happened as often as good ones did, but Saturdays always used to be busier than Fridays. Ever since the shuttles had stopped, it was hit or miss.

  Over half of her dining floor sat empty as well. Sighing, she crossed her arms over her chest and calculated in her head. She’d been juggling the finances for a few months now. Even with the amount she had in savings, she would be running low a lot sooner than she had previously calculated. She needed those shuttles, or at least for the season to start sooner.

  She closed her eyes and leaned her forehead against the one-way glass. There was a call she needed to make, but she’d been dreading it for the last few weeks.

  Walking over to her desk, she picked up the phone and dialed her brother’s number. Roman picked up on the first ring.

  “Hey, sis. What’s up?” She could tell he was working outside, something he’d always had a fondness for. He ran his own landscaping business, one of many businesses he owned, and worked a lot with her brother Marcus, who ran his own housing construction company. They were an unbeatable team when it came to new construction in the area.

  “Hi, I don’t mean to bother you. It sounds like you’re working,” she said.

  She heard him take a breath and step away from the noise. “You are never a bother. Besides, I needed a break.”

  “I hate to do this, but I’m going to be a little behind on my checks to help out with the home this month. Actually,” she sighed, “it might be some time before I can get you the full amount again.”

  “Are there problems?” She heard the concern in his voice.

  “Nothing that I can’t handle. Just some setbacks. I’d really hoped to avoid this, especially with the holidays just around the corner.” She bit her bottom lip.

  “Cassey…” Her brother’s voice broke into the calculations she was doing in her head. She was desperately trying to figure out how to get the extra money so she could continue helping her brother with his halfway house. She and her brothers did what they could to financially support the home Roman ran for kids in need. “Don’t worry about it. Marcus and I have had a very successful couple of months. We can cover for you until things pick back up.” She sighed and closed her eyes as tears started to form. She hadn’t expected anything less from her brothers. “If you need anything…”

  She shook her head, holding in the emotions. “No, really. I just have a few things to figure out, and then I’ll be back in full swing.” She smiled. “Thanks, Roman. Tell Marcus thanks, too.”

  “Sure thing, sis. Well, Marcus is yelling at me to get these damn cabinets in, so I better get back to it. We’ll swing by sometime soon.”

  “I’d like that. See you then.” She hung up and walked to the glass and looked down again. If only she could get her numbers back up so she could pay Roman and get rid of this empty feeling in her heart.

  The next morning, she walked down the boardwalk before many of the shops opened. There was a bakery at the end of the breezeway that baked the best cinnamon rolls. The rolls were the size of your fist and tasted like heaven. The owners were friends of hers and some of the nicest people she’d ever met. Alfred and Marvin weren’t a couple, but they were the closest of friends. They had told her that they’d tried to be more than friends a few years back, but now they just had a working relationship. It seemed to work. The Lunch Box was the best thing that could have happened to them. Marvin was a recovering coke addict and Alfred had gone through a messy divorce after his wife of twenty years had found out that he was gay. She’d taken his kids, his house, and his heart. The Lunch Box was his one and only love now.

  Cassey sat at the outdoor bar as Marvin walked up with a smile. “There’s our favorite girl. How’s tricks?”

  She smiled. “Not bad,” she said as he poured her a cup of coffee and set a larger-than-normal cinnamon roll in front of her. Steam rolled off the sticky bun and when the smell of cinnamon and raisins hit her, her mouth watered. Forgoing the coffee for a nibble of the hot roll, she closed her eyes and moaned.

  “Marvin, I have said it a million times before, but this is the best thing I’ve ever had in my life.” She took another bite, bigger this time. When her eyes slid open, she looked around. There were fewer than a dozen people sitting around the tables in the small building. She could remember a time when it was a fifteen-minute wait just to get a cup of coffee on a Sunday morning here.

  “How are things going around here?” She frowned a little.

  “Don’t worry about us; we’re doing just fine. We paid the bank off last year and anything we make just pads our pockets. You on the other hand…” He frowned as she took a sip of her coffee. “We’re worried about you. We know where your money goes and…”

  She held up her hand, shaking her head. “It’s fine. Roman and Marcus are helping out right now.” She smiled as relief crossed Marvin’s face.

  “We’d sure hate to see anything happen to that place. All the good you four have done.” He shook his head and smiled.

  When she was done eating her breakfast, she walked towards the small mall area where there were clothing shops. Deciding that tomorrow night called for a new dress, she took her time picking out the perfect outfit. A few hours later, she found what she was looking for. The dress was perfect. Its teal lace set off her eyes and skin tone perfectly. Not to mention she already had a pair of heels that matched the cheery color.

  She took her time walking back down the boardwalk. It was just past noon and almost every place was open. She took her time stopping at each shop, talking to the owners or workers for a while and enjoying her time.

  She really did feel like part of a community here. It was wonderful how close everyone was. There had never been animosity between businesses owners. Everyone was kind and generally concerned about keeping the boardwalk flowing with tourists.

  She knew a few of the local kids and always knew when they’d ditched school during the week because most of them hung out at the beach. Walking over to a group she knew well, she smiled at Bobby, the leader.

  “How’s it going?” she asked as she leaned back against the railing of the walkway. Looking out towards the beach, she saw that the sand was almost empty. There were a few joggers and several families braving the cooler weather but nothing like during the season.

  “Oh, hey, Cass.” He lightly put an arm around her. He’d grown almost a foot since last summer and now she had to crane her neck just to look into his blue eyes. His unruly brown hair was falling in his face, a face that most high school girls would fall for immediately.

  “I heard you got onto the soccer team this year,” she said with a proud smile on her face. Two of Bobby’s friends chuckled, so she raised her eyebrows at them in question.

  “We all did,” Steve, the shortest of the three, said. “By default. There wouldn’t be enough kids for a whole team if he hadn’t dragged us along for tryouts.”

  “Well, I still think it’s wonderful you all are going to play.” She smiled and patted Bobby’s arm. She knew Bobby’s history, which was much like her own. He’d been put in the system when he was five after his father had put him in the hospital by pouring scalding water all over his little body.

  Taking part in Roman’s charity, the Spring Haven Home for Boys, had its ups and downs. Watching Bobby grow and become a trusted young man in town had been a perk. She’d seen him grow so much since he’d been placed in the home run by her brother.

  “Well, I’d better get going. Let me know when your first game is. I’d love to cheer you on.”

  He nodded and smiled, looking a little embarrassed. She turned and walked towards her place, a smile on her face and her heart lifted.

  When she walked in, she didn’t expect to see Luke sitting at the bar, but there he was, dressed in khaki jeans and a short-sleeved shirt. His leather jacket was tossed over another chair as he talked with Wendy, laughing at something she’d said.

/>   She smiled and walked over to him. “Well, this is a surprise.” He turned and faced her upon hearing her voice. His smile grew wider.

  “We were just talking about you,” Wendy said before moving down the bar to fill an order.

  “Oh?” She turned to Luke.

  “Only good things, I swear.” He put his hands on her hips and pulled her closer. He buried his face in her neck and took a deep breath. “There,” he sighed, “now I feel better.”

  When she pulled back, she thought she saw a flash of something in his eyes. Was it sadness? It was gone just as quickly as it had crossed his face.

  “I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow.” She smiled and enjoyed the feeling of being close to him.

  “I finished with my meetings earlier than expected and wanted to be here, instead.” He smiled. “Have you had lunch?” She shook her head. “Great.” He smiled and nodded to an empty table. “Why don’t we eat someplace close?”

  She smiled. “I hear they have the best calamari and coconut shrimp.”

  “Count me in.” He took her hand and then noticed the bag she’d set down. “Shopping?”

  She smiled as she nodded. “I’ll just drop this off upstairs and be right back.” She rushed up the stairs to her office. Taking a few deep breaths, she tried to calm her nerves as she reapplied some makeup and lip gloss. When she walked down the stairs, she felt more in control.

  He was sitting in one of the larger booths along the back wall. The window overlooked the boardwalk and beach. It was one of her favorite spots. He had ordered her a frozen Pineapple Sunset, one of their signature specialty drinks, and he sipped a tall beer.

  “I ordered us some calamari and shrimp for starters. I’m thinking of having some fish tacos. What about you?”

  “You can’t go wrong with Sam’s tacos. I absolutely love the Mahi Mahi po’ boy. We boast having the best along the Gulf.” She sat next to him in the booth and took a sip of her drink. She realized how good it felt to sit in her own place and enjoy the atmosphere.

  Luke put his arm around her and pulled her closer. “There…” He smiled at her. “Now I can relax.”

  She smiled and looked around. “You know, I’ve never been on a date in here before,” she said absentmindedly.

  “Really?” He looked around with her. “It’s a great place. Comfortable.” He tilted his head, like he was thinking about something. “If the food is as good as you say, I see no reason for you to be struggling.”

  She sighed and rested her chin on her hands. Bella, one of her waitstaff, delivered their appetizers.

  “I’m struggling, we all are, because the shuttles stopped,” she said as she scooped up some sauce with her calamari. The rich flavors hit her tongue, causing her a moment of pure pleasure.

  “Shuttles?” He looked at her, a frown on his lips. “No, they didn’t.”

  Her eyebrows shot up. “Of course they did. About two months ago, just after the busy season.” She watched as he took some calamari and sampled.

  “I’m pretty sure they didn’t. At least not from Crystal Shores.” He frowned as he sampled the shrimp next. “This is wonderful.” He took another bite.

  “I was lucky to get Sam.” She nodded and grabbed one of the larger shrimp and allowed the bite to melt on her tongue. The juices, the spices—everything about it was perfection. Closing her eyes for a split second, she sighed and enjoyed the tastes. When she opened her eyes, Luke was looking at her funny. His eyes heated, watching her mouth as her tongue darted out to lick some of the tangy sauce from her lips. She knew that look but wasn’t prepared for the heat that spread throughout her body by just seeing his reaction to her.

  The spell was broken when the waitress walked up and interrupted. After they had placed their lunch orders, Luke looked over at her and frowned a little.

  “You said something about the shuttles stopping?”

  She sighed. She really didn’t want to talk business, not when the looks he was giving her were causing her insides to boil. But she could tell the mood had passed and he was all business now.

  She nodded and took another sip of her drink.

  “That just doesn’t make sense. It’s not the hotels that run the service, but the counties.” He frowned a little more and took a drink of his beer. “After all, it benefits everyone.” She could tell he was deep in thought, so instead of commenting, she watched as his mind whirled, working it out. She knew the conclusion he’d come to; she’d come to the same conclusion a few weeks back. It took him almost five minutes to work it all out in his head before he said anything more to her.

  “You know, there are several hotel owners that sit on high places on the county board. Some are appointed, others voted in.” He frowned a little more and she smiled. “My father is one of those.” He stopped talking when the waitress dropped off their lunch.

  She took a bite of her po’ boy and watched him absentmindedly take a bite of his burger. “You know,” he said, setting down the burger, “if I wanted to buy out business land for cheap, first thing I’d do is find a way to make sure the land wasn’t worth much.” He picked up a fry and dipped it in catchup.

  “Great minds think alike,” she said, under her breath.

  “What?” He set down his burger and looked at her.

  She shook her head and took another bite of her sandwich.

  “You think that’s what my father is doing?” he asked, looking a little hurt.

  She shrugged her shoulders. “You tell me. You’re the one walking into my place with an offer that’s three times lower than what this place is worth.”

  She saw the shock on his face and recognized the second realization hit him. He looked hurt, genuinely hurt, and for the first time, she thought that maybe she’d misjudged him.

 
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