Authors: Ana Corman
“Do you care to share any of the dreams and wishes you keep in your treasure chest?”
“It’s an ever changing list but the current top three are my mom’s continued good health, the continued success of Cocoa Cream, and a trip to Paris. I’ve never been and would love to go someday.”
“Your mom has certainly fulfilled her part. It sounds like Cocoa Cream is already a national treasure, so that leaves your trip to Paris. You’ve made the first two happen, so Paris should be a shoe-in.”
“I really hope so. But if it doesn’t, I’m thrilled with the first two.” Catherine hesitated. “What’s in the top three on your wish list?”
Olivia floated her hand through the sea of bubbles. “My current list is the safe arrival of my niece, a better balance between work and play, and last but not least a Maui vacation and an exotic island woman dressed only in a grass skirt serving me a tall icy Mai Tai.”
Catherine laughed. “Your imagination knows no limits, Olivia. I like that. You must be starting to prune by now. Is the water getting chilly?”
“A bit. I haven’t enjoyed a bath like this in a very long time. Thanks for joining me.”
“Thanks for inviting me. Are you working this weekend?”
“I’m afraid so. It’s my weekend on call. What about you?”
“I’m opening the doors of the bookstore at seven a.m.”
“Well then, I should let you go. Good night, Catherine.”
“Good night, Olivia,” Catherine said, not wanting to hang up.
LIVIA WALKED ACROSS THE PARKING LOT
to the large automatic glass doors. The patio tables across the front of the store were full of patrons enjoying their specialty drinks in the balmy evening air. She stopped in the entranceway and smiled at the plastic figurine of Friar Tuck dressed in a flowing green robe waving an Irish flag. He must have stood three feet tall and his chubby face and gregarious smile welcomed everyone.
Moving through the glass doors, Olivia felt blanketed by the smell of freshly ground coffee and the hum of excited voices. All the tables and overstuffed chairs in the coffee shop were filled with people deeply engrossed in conversation. Sarah McLaughlin’s song “Fallen” filled the air with her ethereal voice and blanketed Olivia with a sense of belonging. As she worked her way through the crowd she noticed several pairs of men holding hands and a couple of women nestled in one chair together. She headed for the coffee-shop counter illuminated with a shamrock beaded light set.
“Welcome to Cocoa Cream. What can I get for you?”
“Actually, I’m looking for Catherine O’Grady. Do you know where I can find her?”
Summer pointed through the coffee shop. “That area over there inundated with lighted shamrocks is the customer-service desk. You should find her there. If not, Laura or Dana will know where she is.”
“Can I get you something to drink first?”
“Let me say hello to Catherine and then I promise to be back for a mocha frappuccino.”
Crystal stepped in beside Summer and reached into the glass display case for a cranberry scone. She followed Summer’s gaze. “Who was that gorgeous woman?”
“I don’t know, but she’s looking for Catherine. Why don’t beautiful women like that come looking for me?”
Crystal laughed as she slipped the scone into a brown paper bag. “Because you still haven’t learned to stop drooling at the sight of a gorgeous lesbian.”
Summer scowled as the next customer stepped up to the counter.
Olivia made her way through the bustling coffee shop and entered the two-tier bookstore. She was in awe of it its sheer size and feeling of warmth as she admired the shamrock garland and wreaths adorning all the banisters around the store. She saw people gathered in several areas of comfortable chairs and couches arranged together in cozy sitting areas. Olivia headed for the customer-service desk and smiled at the bright green St. Patrick’s Day banner draped across the front of the desk. Huge green paper shamrocks hung from the lights above the counter. A tall auburn-haired woman behind the counter hung up the telephone and turned to her. “Hello. Welcome to Cocoa Cream. How can I help you?”
“I was looking for Catherine O’Grady.”
“She just stepped into our storage room. May I tell her who’s looking for her?”
“Please. I’m Olivia Carrington.”
The woman’s eyes narrowed dangerously as she folded her arms across her abdomen. “Ah, the big mean doctor who’s upset my best friend more than once.”
Olivia was taken aback. She glanced at the nametag. “I believe Catherine and I have sorted things out, Laura.”
“Catherine and I are very close, Dr. Carrington, and I don’t enjoy seeing her upset. You best remember that. However, it did mean a lot to her that she had a chance to talk to you throughout the week. She seems to think you could be a good friend to her. You have yet to prove yourself to me.”
“You obviously love her very much, Laura. I’m just beginning to get to know her but I can tell you that she’s someone that I’d like to get to know better. As a friend.”
Laura nodded toward the single pink rose Olivia was carrying. “Do you always give roses to your friends?”
They stood for a moment looking at each other.
“Okay. Why don’t you browse around the store and I’ll tell Catherine you’re here.”
“Thank you. And Laura, I really do care for her. Can you allow me that?”
Laura stepped around the counter and stood beside Olivia. “I love her, Olivia. She’s been through so much with her parents and in her personal life. I want her to be happy. What she wants right now from you is friendship. Just promise me you’ll listen to her, and not push her in a direction she isn’t ready for.”
“Okay. I’ll go find her.”
Laura walked through to the back of the bookstore and into the large storage room. Catherine was gingerly stretching on her tiptoes to set a stack of Patricia Cornwell paperbacks on a high shelf. She blew a strand of hair out of her eyes and tucked it behind her ear, then turned when she heard Laura walking toward her. They shared a warm smile. “Do you need me, Laura?”
“No, but it seems that Dr. Olivia Carrington would like to see you.”
Catherine was startled. “She’s here in Cocoa Cream?”
“Yes, she is. And she’s carrying a rose. I told her to go look around the bookstore while I came to get you. That was after I gave her an earful about having to prove herself to me if she wanted to be your friend.”
“Oh, Laura, you didn’t.”
“I sure did. I really dislike the fact that I warmed up to her by the time we were done talking. And don’t you dare tell her I said that. I’d like to see her squirm when she’s around me. That should keep her on her best behavior for a while.”
Catherine couldn’t help but laugh. “I hope you didn’t totally terrify her, Laura.”
“Not totally, just slightly.” Laura brushed a smudge of dust off Catherine’s chin. “Go clean up before you go out there and talk to that beautiful lesbian friend of yours.”
Catherine brushed the dust off her hands. “Tell her I’ll be out in a minute.” She started for her office then stopped and turned back to Laura. “Play nice.”
“Do I have to?”
Catherine shook her head and headed through the storage room door.
ATHERINE FOUND HER MOTHER behind the customer-service desk.
“Have you seen Olivia, Mom?”
Dana watched the emotions wrestle with her daughter’s spirit. She gently touched her cheek. “I believe she’s waiting for you in the women’s studies section.”
Catherine walked past the mystery and science-fiction sections and turned the corner, feeling her pulse quicken as she saw Olivia nestled in an overstuffed well-worn chair, with her legs crossed at the ankles on the ottoman before her. She was dressed elegantly in a nutmeg suede blazer, sunshine yellow turtleneck, and black dress slacks. A big fluffy white traitorous cat nestled peacefully in her lap. In one hand Olivia held a copy of the
San Diego Hikers Guide;
the other gently, rhythmically stroked Maya’s chin.
Catherine couldn’t believe how the sight of Olivia completely strangled her ability to breathe or think. This was not how a woman should feel about a friend.
She took a deep breath and slowly approached Olivia’s chair, easing herself onto the edge of the ottoman. She felt an intense heat as her hip settled against Olivia’s legs. She struggled to calm her jagged nerves as Maya stretched her front paws before her and curled them rhythmically.
Olivia’s face shone with a heartfelt smile. “Catherine.”
“Welcome to Cocoa Cream, Dr. Carrington. Why didn’t you call and tell me you were coming?”
“I was afraid you wouldn’t be here. So I thought I’d just take my chances and show up. It looks like lady luck was on my side for once.” She picked up the pale pink rose from the table beside her and handed it to Catherine. “This is for you.”
Catherine accepted the delicate rose and brought it to her face. She closed her eyes and inhaled the beautiful fragrance. “Thank you, Olivia.”
“You’re very welcome. The pale pink color signifies friendship. I just wanted you to know that our conversations this week meant a lot to me.”
“It’s meant a lot to me, too. What do you think of our place?”
“It’s incredible. It’s great to see the large showing from our community here.”
“We’re very blessed. I was really fortunate to buy in this area of Hillcrest. The huge gay and lesbian population has embraced us and made this a popular hangout. In turn I try to have a good stock of books they might enjoy. We want them to feel like this is their home.”
“You certainly have achieved that ambiance. I love all the St. Patrick’s Day decorations.”
“St. Patrick’s Day is very special to us. It’s the day we opened the bookstore. We always have a huge St. Patrick’s Day celebration for our anniversary. It’s actually three weeks away. If you’re off that Saturday maybe you’ll join us.”
“I’d love to. So many people have told me about this store. I can’t believe I’ve never been here. You really have created a very warm place.” She paused and frowned slightly.
“Your cat, however, is a much better welcoming committee than your bodyguard, Laura.”
“Laura told me about your conversation. I’m sorry about that. Laura’s my best friend and also helps manage Cocoa Cream with my mom and me. She cares about me, Olivia. She didn’t mean any harm.”
“Are you kidding? I’m shocked she even let me stay to see you. When I saw your cat come toward me I thought Laura had sent her to attack. Instead she jumped into my lap and curled up into a ball.”
Maya yawned hugely before tucking her paws back under her chest and looking directly at Catherine with that, “Did you need us for something?” annoyed look that only cats can pull off effortlessly. Catherine shook her head in disbelief and glared at Maya. “Traitor. I thought you were supposed to protect this store from mean people and dangerous lesbians.”
Olivia laughed as she placed the open book over the arm of her chair. “How would you classify me, Ms. O’Grady? A mean person or a dangerous lesbian?”
“I wouldn’t necessarily classify you as mean. Dangerous means able to do harm. Are you able to do harm, Dr. Carrington?”
Olivia luxuriated in Catherine’s closeness. “I guess that depends on what you consider harm, Ms. O’Grady. Laura certainly seems capable of it.”
Catherine crossed her legs and held her rose gently in her hands. “Laura’s bark is worse than her bite, Olivia. Besides, she doesn’t want you to know that she’d warmed up to you by the end of your conversation.”
“If that’s warm, I’d hate to be around her if she disliked me.”
Catherine couldn’t help but laugh. She glanced at the cover of Olivia’s guidebook. “Do you enjoy hiking?”
“I love hiking. There are so many gorgeous trails in and around San Diego. My favorite is in Torrey Pines. But once again my big issue is finding the time. What about you? Are you a hiker?”
“I’m not a big fan of encroaching on the rough terrain that God intended for reptiles and multilegged creatures. I much prefer to pound the pavement and explore the shops intended for civilized women.”
“Spoken like a true urbanite. It looks like I’ll have to take you out for a walk and show you what you’re missing.” Olivia rubbed Maya’s ear. “Do you think that’s a wise idea, Maya? Or is she liable to toss me off some cliff side?”
Catherine laughed. They both looked down at Maya, sound asleep and purring like a running motor in Olivia’s lap. “She never curls up like that with a stranger. She much prefers to perch on the top of a shelf or stack of books and spy on our customers. She must trust you, for some strange reason.”
“Maybe she doesn’t think I’m mean or dangerous.”
“What does she know? She’s a spoiled-rotten cat.”
“Pets know, Ms. O’Grady. You could perhaps learn some things from this Persian beauty.”
She pulled an envelope from her jacket pocket and handed it to Catherine. “This is for you, too.”