Authors: Eva Charles
“I understand, sir, and I promise you, there won’t be a next time.”
George nodded. “I want to hear all about the Blues, but first tell me about your brothers.”
“I thought we were getting breakfast?”
“We are, but I need to make a stop first, and I want you to come with me. I also need to pick up some flowers, let’s catch a cab at the corner.”
“Are we visiting someone?”
She nodded. “Lola.”
“Lola,” he smiled. “She won’t mind us dropping in so early?”
Cassie squeezed his hand. “Lola won’t mind.”
The cab dropped them off at the entrance to the Brooklyn Cemetery.
“We’re meeting Lola at the cemetery?”
She nodded. “She lives here now, at least her body does.”
Drew grabbed her hand. “Tell me about Lola.”
Cassie nodded and squeezed his fingers. “She was one of the most special people I’ve ever known. I met her in my cancer support group. She’d spent her entire childhood bouncing in and out of foster homes, until she ended up in a group home as a teenager. But you’d never have known any of it. She was always upbeat and cheery, taught me so much about counting my blessings instead of dwelling on the things I didn’t have. And I have so much, especially compared to her.”
He tucked her under his arm up against his side.
“Her hair fell out during chemotherapy, and she wore a drab green bandana to cover the baldness. She always joked about how it matched the green on her face when she got nauseous. At Christmas, our group picked names for a secret Santa, and I got Lola. What I really wanted to buy her were groceries, an iPod so she could listen to music, pay for her medicine, buy her the wig I know she really wanted. I thought about doing it anonymously, but I had no idea where she lived, and there were all sorts of privacy rules about sharing information. So I bought her a scarf.”
Cassie stopped and pulled a colorful scarf from her purse. “This scarf. The gifts were supposed to be under ten dollars, but I went to Barney’s and bought her the most expensive scarf I could find, one that wouldn't itch or make her uncomfortable, something that would feel good against her scalp. And then Josephina, our housekeeper, helped me switch the designer tag with one from a less expensive scarf from a discount store.”
She fingered the tag sewn on the scarf. “After she died, one of the nurses who’d taken care of her, brought it to me. Lola had asked her to give it back, and to thank me for being her friend.”
“Cassie, I can’t imagine how hard that was for you.”
“It was hard, but I’m thrilled to have the scarf. It reminds me of her sweetness and courage, and of how happy she looked when she opened it that Christmas.”
“Do you think she ever knew it was from Barney’s?”
She shrugged. “No, I don’t think so.”
“You’re such a little rule follower, it must have been torture to willfully disregard the rule,” he teased.
“You don’t know the half of it.”
“There’s more rule-breaking? Talk to me.”
“Do you remember Tilly?”
“Your father’s cousin’s wife, the one who forgets she came from a long line of pig farmers?”
She nodded. “That very one.”
“She walked in right after we’d finished our little switcheroo, and threw her coat at Josephina. ‘It’s expensive, don’t let anything happen to it,’ she chided, like Josephina was an irresponsible child. I was way beyond fuming. Josephina has worked for my parents forever—she’s part of the family. None of us would ever dream of treating her like that! We love her.”
“So what did you say to Tilly?”
She couldn’t stop grinning at the memory. “Not what I said, but what I did. I gave her the scarf from the discount store, after we’d sewn the designer label on it, for Christmas. I got Josephina to help me with that, too. Although I didn’t tell her why I needed her to do it. She almost keeled over when she found out what I was up to.”
“I can’t believe you did that. Tilly fell for it?”
“Josephina couldn’t believe I did it either. Tilly adored the scarf. I’ve seen it on her several times. She only knows labels, doesn’t care what’s behind them. I enjoyed every second of it, and Josephina and I still get a good laugh over it.”
“That’s too funny, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at Tilly again with a straight face.”
They walked a little further into the cemetery until they were beside Lola’s grave. “Lola loved her scarf too. It looked beautiful on her, brought out the blue in her eyes.” Cassie rubbed her hand over the smooth granite stone.
“She had a very aggressive cancer that had spread beyond her lymph nodes by the time it was discovered, and the nasty chemo she was prescribed weakened her immune system. She caught pneumonia that winter and died. I never went back to group after that.”
He crouched down to get a better look at the headstone. “She was only nineteen.”
“Yeah,” she nodded, “only nineteen… They held a memorial service for her in the hospital chapel, and the only people there were nurses, social workers, her doctors, and a few of us from group. The hospital staff took up a collection so she wouldn’t have to be buried in a pauper’s grave. There was not one family member, not one friend, at the service. She’d moved around so much, she had no roots, no ties to anyplace other than the cancer center at the hospital. It was as though she’d gone through life anonymously.”
Drew stood up and reached for her hand, rubbing his thumb in circles over her palm.
“After the service,” Cassie continued, “I walked for a long time with Lola’s scarf draped around my shoulders, and took inventory of my life. That’s the day I decided to tell my father that I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t sit in an office on Wall Street making money for people who already had plenty of money. Lola’s death gave me the courage to change the course of my life.”
“That’s why you named the bakery after her, that’s why it seemed right.”
She nodded. “The first money the bakery made went to buy the headstone. I couldn’t bear the idea of her being anonymous in death. And all the profits from Lola’s go to the social work department at the cancer center to help young women get second opinions, medicine, groceries, wigs, and anything else that a survivor might need to improve the quality of her health, and her life.
“The funds are also used to accommodate family travel and some other expenses, so women don’t need to be alone during surgery and treatment. It meant so much to me to have my mom there the whole time I was in the hospital, advocating for me when I was too weak to speak for myself, holding my hand when things got rough. It’s hard to have cancer, but when you’re young and you don’t have resources, it’s particularly awful. I know I could accomplish the same things by using the money in my trust or hitting up people I know for funds, but I wanted to help in a more integral way.”
“Cassie—what a beautiful story. I’m so glad you brought me here.”
“Other than my accountant, no one, not even my parents know about how the bakery profits are used. The anonymity is important to me. I don’t want it to become the poor little rich girl who had cancer and is now raising money for the less fortunate.”
“I get it.”
“I brought you here to tell you about Lola, but there’s something else too.”
He cocked his head, and stopped mid-step. “Sounds serious.”
“Serious in a good way. At least I hope you’ll think so. Lola’s mission is important, but there’s something else I need to do now, for you, and for myself.” She took a deep breath, “Baltimore’s not my home. It’s where I ran when I needed to hide from all the people in New York who knew I had cancer, who knew about the broken engagement. It’s been good to me, and I’ve grown to love it, but it’s not where my heart is.”
“Where is it? Where’s your heart, Cass?” he asked running his fingers over her cheek.
“My heart’s with you, in Boston. I’m moving to Boston to be with you, to start my tearoom, to live again. To love again.”
The worry vanished from his face, and he hugged her so hard he lifted her off the ground. “I’m about the happiest guy on the planet right now. But I want this to be right for you, too. What about Lola’s?”
“Tim’s buying it. I’ll hold the mortgage, he’ll keep the name, the employees, and I’ll give him the rights to use my recipes. All but the madeleines. That’s our recipe, and I don’t want to share it. I’ll use the profits from the tearoom the same way I used the profits from Lola’s.”
“It sounds like you’ve thought this all through. What’s your time frame like?”
“Tim and his wife are so excited about the arrangement, my holding the mortgage allows them to have their own shop long before they thought they’d be able to manage it financially. I think they’d like the transfer to happen tomorrow. I’ve begun scouting out places in Boston that might work.”
“I may know of a place that would work, too.”
“You have the Blues to think about, and I want this to be my thing. I have a vision for what I want the tearoom to be. I also need to find an apartment.”
“Why do you need an apartment? I have a perfectly good place with lots of room. Do you really see us spending many nights apart?”
“No, but I need to keep an apartment for now, even if it ends up to be just a place to store my junk.”
“I don’t get it. Seems like a waste.”
“Not to me.”
“At least let me help you find a place for the tearoom.”
“Okay. I’ll let you help, but I’ve already got my eye on a couple of spots.”
“Don’t sign a lease until you talk to me.”
She rolled her eyes.
“Fine. But I’m getting close, the clock’s ticking.” She held up her wrist and tapped her index finger on her watch face.
“Listen, Miz Bossy Pants, I’ll come up with something before you can say milk or lemon with your tea. And…”
“Shh, kiss me.”
“When will you be back in Boston? I found the perfect place.”
“I have a couple of places to check out, too. One has more space and some outdoor seating. The other I’m not sure about, but it’s hard to tell online. Tell me about the place you found.”
“You’re going to love it.”
“Where is it?”
“Within walking distance of the ballpark.”
“That’s not all that helpful.”
“It’s helpful for me. I can stretch my legs, grab myself a cold drink and some goodies whenever I need a pick-me-up.”
“Why do I think you’re not talking about the kind of goodies you eat?”
“Oh, you can definitely eat these. Put them in your mouth, anyway.”
“Yep, a hopeless cause. Don’t bother to try and steer me toward a better path, it’s a waste of time. Sister Mary Louise once said that about me when I was a kid.”
“No, she didn’t.”
He laughed. “You’re right. She wasn’t talking about me, and I can’t remember whether she said it about Cole or Mark.”
“The Harrington hellions.”
“So when are you coming to check this place out?”
“Soon. I’m working out the details with my lawyer so we can finalize the sale of Lola’s, and packing.”
“Don’t wait too long.”
“Have you seen it?”
“Do you think it’ll work?”
“I’m calling you about it, aren’t I? But I’ll leave the final verdict to you.”
* * *
“I didn’t love either of those places. They looked much better online than they did in person.”
“I didn’t really like them, either. And that first one is in a marginal neighborhood. I’d worry all the time when you’re there alone.”
“How does the place you found compare with what we just saw?”
“You’ll have to tell me. You’re the one who has to live with the space.”
“Where are you taking me, and don’t we need to meet a real estate agent at the property?”
“Nope. I’ve got the key. I’m a trustworthy kind of guy.”
“It must be nice to be so important. Is it in the park?”
, I can’t remember. I guess you’ll just have to wait and see.”
After they’d strolled down a shaded path for a while, he pulled a satin blindfold out of his pocket. The one they kept in the nightstand at his apartment.
Oh, my God!
I can’t believe you took that out of the bedroom and brought it out in public.”
“Don’t worry, it won’t spill your dirty little secrets all over town. It promised to be discreet.”
She swatted him.
She closed her eyes, preparing to be blindfold. “Okay this…”
He ran his tongue over her lips, and nipped, pulling away suddenly. Just like when she wore it in private, the blindfold added an air of uncertainty that was scintillating.
“This is a perfect location for a business. Lots of foot traffic, easy parking, and near a subway stop. I’ll let you be the judge of the rest.”
He gently removed the blindfold.
She blinked several times, trying to adjust to the light. Her eyes widened at the structure in front them. It was a partially-enclosed pavilion surrounded by flowering trees, a structure straight out of Greek or Roman literature.
“What do you think?”
“I think it’s amazing. Really, really amazing.”
“Can I afford the rent? The lower my overhead is, the more profit goes to the cancer center.”
“I know. But you want a place that attracts customers, and one that fulfills some of your own dreams, too. Plus the landlord’s a nice guy. He’s willing to lease it to you for-all-he-can-eat baked goods, and any other treats you might want to throw in.”
She looked at him. “You own it?”
He nodded. “For now.”
“Drew… I can’t.”
“It’s perfect, you said so yourself.”
She moved around the space, admiring the plaster and mill work, running her hands along the columns. “It looks like it just needs some minor work to get it up and running, and an oven or two. What are you asking for rent?”
“No, Cassie. If you want it, I’m signing over the property to you. It’s yours, no matter what happens to us.”
“Drew, I can’t accept this from you. This is my thing. I could buy this myself from the trust, but that’s not what this project is about. Not what it’s ever been about.”
“This is my gift to you, because I’m glad your mom was there to hold your hand when I couldn’t be. Because you had access to the best medical care available, and to all of the other things you needed. I’m grateful for all of that, so incredibly grateful. I want other women to have it, too. Look, this is your thing, and I promise I won’t stick my nose into the business, but let me do this, let me play a small part in helping, too.”
“Why don’t we do a loan? You could give me favorable terms.”
“Uh-uh. Think of how much more income you’ll generate if you’re not saddled with rent or a mortgage. It’s good business.”
“It has so many possibilities…”
He could see her mind churning while she wandered through the place, so lost in thought, she jumped at the knock on the glass door. “I ordered lunch. We can sit on the bench out back.”
“Drew, it’s lovely out here, so peaceful and private.”
“As soon as I saw this place, I knew it was for you. It was everything you’d described, the Orangery, inside space, outside space, tall ceilings, romantic ambiance, an abundance of light.”
“Wait a second. I just started looking for a place ten days ago. How did you find it and buy it in such a short time? Even you’re not that important.”
He gripped his chest. “That hurts my feelings. And you’re wrong. The team’s winning, and I’m becoming more important by the day,” he teased, nuzzling her neck.
“Behave yourself, at least until you answer my question.”
“I bought it after Jay’s wedding. I saw how your face lit up while you were looking around the Casino at Roger Williams. There was an event here, and I heard that night that it was being auctioned some time this summer, but I never let it get that far. You know, to most people, this place is just a white elephant.”
“Not to me. It’s the perfect place for a tearoom. But back on topic. You bought this, and we weren’t even dating yet?”
“I wanted it for you. I wanted to be part of something that made your face light up, even before I knew about how you used the profits. And I knew it was a matter of time before we were together again.”
She raised her eyebrows. “
“I was prepared to hang around forever if I needed to. And I thought, since you hadn’t thrown me out of Lola’s that first day, maybe we had a chance. We loved each other once, I never stopped loving you, and I refused to believe you’d ever stopped loving me, or that you wouldn’t love me again.”
She laid her head against his shoulder.
“I know we were kids at Brown. But there’s no one I’ve met before you, or since, who even came close to completing my heart. It’s always been there for you, waiting for your love to fill in the nooks and crannies.”
“I have no idea what I did in life to deserve you. I love you so much.”
“Couldn’t possibly be as much as I love you.”
“What would you have done with this place if it hadn’t worked out this way? Tell me.” She squeezed his thigh.
He shrugged. “I’d have sold it—I don’t know. Maybe I would have turned it into a man cave.”
A man cave
“Yeah. Put in a big pool table with a fake Tiffany lamp over it, a fully stocked bar, a giant screen TV in the corner, a poker table, video game console, dartboard, and a few of those pictures of dogs playing cards. And a urinal in the bathroom, of course.”
“Guys love urinals, Cass. Gotta have one.”
“Not in my tearoom.”
He smiled and pulled her onto his lap.
“I’ll accept your generous gift on one condition.”
“Does it involve sexual favors? Because if so, I’m in.”
“You’re like a horny teenager with a one-track mind.”
“Tell me you don’t love it,” he said taking her earlobe between his teeth.
“I so love it,” she said shuddering.
“Now what’s the condition?”
“That both our names are on the deed. I’ll run it, make all the decisions…”
,” he said with an exaggerated reverence that made her laugh.
“I’d like to have your name on it, because I want you connected to my dreams, to something that’s so very important to me.”
“Sweetheart, I want to help make all your dreams come true. I’ve always wanted that.”
And right now, he also wanted to lay her out on the bench and—
A woman came down the path with two adorable little girls dressed in school uniforms, who waved at them. Foot traffic, good for business, lousy for a nooner. “So what will you name it, Madame Decision-Maker or do you prefer the Decider-in-Chief?”
“Don’t like taking orders from a woman, huh?”
“Have you ever visited my childhood home, met my relatives? And, no, I don’t mind taking orders from the beautiful woman in my lap. You can order me around all day long, as long as you understand at night, in our bed, it’s my turn. All night long, baby.”
“I can live with that.” She trailed kisses up his neck, tracing the contour of his ear with her finger. “I think Petite Madeleine is the perfect name for our tearoom,” she whispered.