Lost and found sisters, p.11
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       Lost and Found Sisters, p.11

          

  “Just a few streaks. You wanted to look cool and this is definitely that. And actually . . .” Lena artfully played with Quinn’s hair. “Blue’s a great color on you. I should’ve gone for obnoxious orange, but I was torn between my reputation for great hair and my need to make you look unappealing to Mick.”

  Quinn gaped at her. “I could complain to the owner here, you know that, right?”

  “Go for it. You’re speaking to her.”

  Quinn blinked at Lena and then stared at herself some more. There weren’t many streaks of blue, a very select few actually, professionally placed and . . . damn. It totally made her complexion pop.

  “You’re welcome. That’ll be eighty bucks.”

  Quinn paid her and started to head out, stopping to turn back. “Mick told me you and he were high school sweethearts.”

  “Did he?”

  “Yes.”

  “Did he also tell you that I let him slip through my fingers once and I don’t intend to do it again?” Lena asked.

  “I thought you were with the bartender.”

  “Boomer?” Lena shrugged.

  “Maybe he’s your soul mate,” Quinn said hopefully.

  “I’m ninety-nine percent sure my soul mate is carbs. And anyway, me and Boomer are taking a break. The thing you should know is that I was Mick’s first. And I intend to be his last.”

  Chapter 11

  I want to be cuddled. But I also want to be left the hell alone. Being crazy is hard.

  —from “The Mixed-Up Files of Tilly Adams’s Journal”

  Quinn knew she was early when she parked at Carolyn’s property, but she’d wanted to check it out. She felt she needed to do this for Tilly’s sake, who was now left with a wanderlust father who’d apparently never expressed interest in either of his two daughters, a closed-for-now café, and a not-so-slightly rundown house.

  Clearly money had been a problem, and Quinn thought of the café’s lost revenue. Not good. She walked around the back of the house and found . . . good God.

  Chickens, all of them staring at her with beady black eyes and squawking in disapproval.

  No one had told her there were chickens.

  Her phone buzzed with an incoming text.

  MOM:

  Honey, did you get enough food for breakfast? Remember you get cranky if you don’t eat.

  Quinn pointed at the chickens. “Hear that? I get cranky if I don’t eat. Don’t test me.” Then she texted her mom back, crossed her fingers, and lied through her teeth that she was eating super healthy.

  MOM:

  You never could lie very well . . .

  Quinn rolled her eyes but also smiled. Love was a funny thing. You could get mad, hold a grudge, let it fester even, and then with one little sentence, forget all the bad for all the good.

  The sound of voices brought Quinn to the front of the café. Three old guys stood there listening to a short, curvy woman with a booming voice and a German accent—which reminded her of Marcel.

  The woman had a key, which she put into the lock to let herself in.

  “Excuse me,” Quinn called out.

  The woman turned and sized up Quinn, and smiled. “Knew I’d see you sooner or later.”

  Quinn swiveled her head to look behind her, but nope, no one was there. “Me? You know who I am?”

  “Quinn Weller,” the woman said. “You’re from L.A., which is proved by those blue streaks you’ve got in your hair.”

  Quinn lifted a hand and touched the strands in question with a grimace.

  “I also know that you climbed a tree and then fell out of it and landed in the ER.”

  “Okay,” Quinn said in her defense, “I was stung by a bee and I’m allergic. Or I wouldn’t have fallen out of the tree.”

  “My point is that you must have known you’re allergic, yes? It’s bee season. Yet you tried to help soothe Tilly anyway.” She paused. “That told me all I need to know about you. You’re Carolyn’s daughter. You were the one in the bar kissing Mick Hennessey last night.”

  Quinn blinked, stunned on so many levels. “How do you know all that?”

  “Because I know everything.”

  “Well, your sources are off,” Quinn said. “I wasn’t kissing Mick Hennessey.” At the B&B, yes. Bar, no.

  The woman shrugged. “If I was skinny and looked like you, I’d kiss him too. As for me . . .” She nodded to the café. “I work here.”

  “Hasn’t the café been closed since Carolyn’s death?”

  “Yes, but I came to check on the perishables and make sure everything is okay. I’d reopen, but I have no authority to do so.”

  “Do it anyway, Greta!” one of the old guys standing around said.

  “Yeah,” yelled another. “We’re hungry!”

  “My wife won’t let me come home until noon,” the third called out. “And the library says I can’t come back anymore on account of when I read, I have to do it out loud to myself and they objected to my . . .” He did air quotes. “Content. They said I read too much porn, that I’m addicted.”

  “You are,” old guy number two said.

  “Hey, I could be addicted to drugs, you ever think of that?” he asked. “Do you realize how lucky you all are?”

  Greta leveled a look at the old men and they shut up as if on cue. “Everyone zip it. Time to be on your best behavior.” She pointed at Quinn. “We’ve got the new owner standing right here.”

  Everyone swiveled wide-eyed gazes her way and then started talking at once.

  “Please open!”

  “I’m starving.”

  “Can I use the bathroom? My prostrate ain’t what it used to be.”

  Greta brought her fingers up to her lips and let out a piercing whistle. “Silence.”

  The three old men fell silent.

  Greta looked at Quinn expectantly.

  Quinn wasn’t happy about being called out, but she couldn’t help but be curious. “I’d like to go in.”

  Greta opened the door for her and then followed her in. “It’s nice to meet you. I’m Greta, by the way. I’ve worked for Carolyn the past twenty-plus years. She was the kindest woman I’ve ever known, cared for everyone in her circle.”

  A circle that hadn’t included her own daughter, but hey, whatever, Quinn was over it.

  Or at least working on being over it.

  “You’re from Germany,” Quinn said, knowing that her German accent was the real thing compared to Marcel’s fake one.

  “I came here twenty-two years ago with my husband on a business trip of his,” Greta said. “I had no English. We stopped here for lunch and he left to make a phone call. He never came back.”

  Quinn, who’d been staring at the old kitchen equipment—so old that it was a wonder anyone could cook anything decent with the antiquated appliances—turned to look at Greta in shock.

  “I know,” the forty-something woman said. “He was a sohn von einem weibchen.”

  “Stupid head,” Quinn translated loosely and for the first time in her life, she had something to be thankful to Marcel for.

  “Yes.” Greta looked impressed as she began to go through the storage bins with an eagle eye. “I had nowhere to go, no money, no place to stay. Carolyn took me in and gave me a job. I helped her cook. Or served. Whatever was needed. This place is a mess. It’s good you’re here, City Girl. We’ll clean and reopen.”

  “She’s not staying,” Tilly said, having just arrived in the doorway. She looked at Quinn’s hair and arched a brow. “Blue?”

  “Don’t ask.”

  “My friend did blue streaks once,” Tilly shared. “She’s on the swim team and the chlorine turned her hair from blue to pea green.”

  “Good thing I’m not a swimmer,” Quinn said. “Can we go somewhere and talk?”

  “Maybe. I’ve got to do homework first. I’ll be back.”

  “But—”

  But nothing because the girl was gone.

  Quinn sighed and moved to check out the dining room. One wall was covered in corkboard. It was lined with a shelf upon which sat an old Polaroid camera. The board was filled with pics of Carolyn and her customers. Tilly was in there too. As was Greta, often arm in arm with another woman, the two of them in aprons with Carolyn. There were also reviews of the café, and a couple of award certificates as well. Just small-time regional stuff, not the awards and reviews Quinn was accustomed to seeing, but still. “Impressive,” she said.

  Greta smiled. “Carolyn would love you being here.”

  Quinn struggled with both resentment and nostalgia for her few conversations with Carolyn. She knew that much of the resentment came from how deeply hurt she was by the deception, but she found herself unable to quickly get over it. “How did you know who I was?”

  “Easy.” Greta came close and took Quinn’s hands, smiling at her with a fondness Quinn had no idea how to accept. “Carolyn described you perfectly. She said you looked just like her, which is true. Although you don’t have the fret lines between your eyes yet.”

  “Don’t worry, they’re coming.”

  Greta smiled. “She also said that you were smart, beautiful, and successful.”

  Quinn couldn’t help but be fascinated in spite of herself. “She talked about me?”

  “Oh yes. After each trip to L.A., she’d go on and on. Her entire face would be lit up for days.” Greta’s eyes went damp. “Truly,” she said softly. “Your mum was the kindest woman I’ve ever known. It bothered her over the years, not knowing how you’d turned out.”

  But not enough to actually look for Quinn sooner. Because damn, it would have been nice to hear all of this from Carolyn herself.

  “Hey!” This was followed by a knock on the front door. Old man number three. “We’re starving. You opening or what?”

  Greta looked at Quinn. “Can you really cook?”

  “Yes.”

  “So . . .?” Greta asked. “How about it? There’re people who need the income, you know.”

  It shamed Quinn to realize she’d never even thought about that.

  There was another knock, on the back door this time. The tall, dark-skinned woman from the photos with Carolyn and Greta. She walked in like she owned the place, her eyes on Greta, her jet-black hair in thick braids down her back, tied together with a colorful ribbon. “What is it, Greta?” she asked in a melodic, soft accent. Jamaican, maybe. “What’s your emergency?”

  “Other than you didn’t return a single text?” Greta asked. “We talked about this, Trinee.”

  “No,” Trinee said. “You talked about my dislike of cell phones. I listened. I did not agree. Why are you here bothering Carolyn’s daughter?”

  Did everyone know who she was?

  “I miss my job,” Greta said. “I miss being needed. I found out she was in town and I thought what the hell, go big or go home.”

  “You say that like going home is a bad thing,” Trinee said. “I’ve been working my new job at the grocery store, which I hate. I don’t want to go big. I want to go home. And I want to take a nap when I get there.”

  Greta tossed up her hands dramatically.

  “You’ll find another job, as I did,” Trinee said. “Leave her alone, the girl doesn’t need this right now.” She then gathered up the full trash bin. “I’m taking this out, but I’ll be back.” She pointed at Greta. “And then we’re going home.”

  “Hmph,” Greta said.

  Quinn smiled. “You two bicker like sisters.”

  “Or like an old married couple . . .,” Greta said and held up her hand with a pretty gold band on her ring finger.

  “Oh,” Quinn said. “I’m sorry. You got married again. That’s lovely.”

  Greta snorted. “Not always. But we’re happy. I’m happy. At least until she walks away like my first spouse did.”

  Trinee had come back into the kitchen, hands empty. She slipped her arms around Greta. “Never.”

  Quinn’s heart sighed for them while aching for herself.

  “Hey,” someone called from out front. “You opening or what?”

  Greta and Trinee looked at Quinn.

  “How can we?” she asked. “We’d need fresh produce and meat and herbs . . .”

  “Fresh nothing,” Greta said, bustling around. “We’ve got an entire freezer full of stuff to use up. And we’ll have eggs just as soon as someone goes and collects them. We could start with half days. Breakfast and lunch only. Dinners would have to wait until we’re back on our feet.”

  Quinn literally didn’t know what to say. She felt a responsibility to these people who needed their salaries but when she turned in a slow circle, taking the place in and looking for sanity, she failed to find it.

  Tilly popped her head back in. “What’s going on, did you reopen?” She looked . . . hopeful.

  It shocked Quinn. As did the words that came out of her mouth. “Yes, but just as a trial,” she said.

  Greta grinned and unlocked the front door. The three old men came in. “Lou, Hank, and Big Hank,” the oldest one said by way of introduction. “I’m Lou. That one’s Big Hank.” He jabbed a thumb at the shortest but widest one.

  Big Hank stopped in front of Quinn and looked anxious. “You any good at cooking?”

  “I’m a sous-chef at Amuse-Bouche,” she said.

  Everyone collectively blinked as one.

  “It’s a trendy, popular restaurant in L.A.,” she said.

  “Never heard of it,” Big Hank said.

  “Me either,” Lou said. He was bald, his head shiny like a cue ball, although he did have a bunch of hair coming out of his ears.

  “What the hell’s a sous-chef?” Not-Big-Hank asked.

  “Not sure, but it sounds fancy,” Greta said. She tossed Quinn an apron. “Have at it, City Girl. It’s all yours today. Make it easy for yourself and stick with the breakfast menu only. Pancakes, waffles, French toast, bacon, sausage, biscuits, eggs . . .”

  Quinn shook her head. “I don’t do that kind of cooking.”

  “What other kind is there?” Tilly asked.

  Quinn shook out the apron. It read: WARNING! HOT STUFF COMING THROUGH. “I mostly handle the planning and directing of food preparation, supervise kitchen staff, take care of any problems that arise, that sort of thing.”

  Tilly didn’t look impressed.

  Neither did anyone else.

  Big Hank turned to Greta, looking desperate now. “I’m real hungry,” he said.

  Greta took back the apron. “I’ll make my famous pronto potato pancakes. I do it as a special once a week,” she told Quinn.

  Everyone groaned but when Greta whipped around to look, they all found something else to look at.

  “We hate her pancakes,” Trinee whispered to Quinn. “But no one’ll say so and hurt her feelings.”

  Everyone looked pleadingly at Quinn.

  Oh good God. And that’s when she saw Trinee getting the baskets ready for the tables. “Wait! You can’t just put out cold butter packets. And the crackers might be stale.”

  “Yes, because that’s our problem right now,” Trinee said. “No one at the stove cooking, but the crackers might be stale.”

  And so Quinn ended up in the kitchen learning a very important
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