I dug through my upcoming release, By Broken Birch Bay, and thought you might enjoy reading the pre-Thanksgiving scene. It comes about mid-way through the story.
Many years ago, I used to work in a local, hometown café as a short-order cook. It was actually my first real job. I have some good memories from that time, but I also can attest to the craziness of how busy it would get and the idiosyncrasies of customers.
The week before Thanksgiving 1924
“Do we have any more pumpkin pie?” Petra shouted at Mick from the cafe’s pass-through.
Mick, cooking a steak atop the stove, appeared to ignore her. Petra notched up her volume. “Mick!”
He turned his head in a quick motion.
“What?” he shouted back. “Can’t ya see I’m busy?”
Petra huffed. This is ridiculous, shouting through a hole in the wall. She took the time and trotted around the wall, through the swinging doors, and into the kitchen. She marched up to the stove.
Petra cocked her head and stood waiting with one hand on her hip, trying her best not to show her frustration. “I have another order for pumpkin pie, but I believe we’re out, unless you made more. Did you?”
Mick flipped the steak, a sizzle emanating from the pan, the smell of black pepper and onions rising up. “No. That’s on the agenda for tomorrow morning. What’s with people and pumpkin pie lately? By Thanksgiving we’ll be out.”
Petra snickered and thought of the mound of pumpkins inside the cellar at home. “Oh, don’t you worry. I know where you can get your hands on some pumpkin.”
“Good, ’cause I’ll probably need ’em.” Mick took a quick gander at Petra before examining his steak. “How’s it going out there without Ginny?”
Petra didn’t want Mick to think she wasn’t up to the challenge.
“It’s busy, but I can handle it,” she told him.
Petra needed her job at the cafe. Though, it wouldn’t hurt Ginny to show up when she’s supposed to.
“That girl’s got one more chance to get to work on time. If she pulls this again,” Mick ran his finger across his neck, “she’s done.”
Petra nodded, silently agreeing but inwardly groaning. She could handle the extra work for a few hours, but night after night? No way. If Ginny got herself fired, Mick had better have someone else lined up soon.
Petra pointed to the dining room. “I gotta get back out there.”
Mick raised the spatula in his hand. “Wait. Take this with you.” He plated the steak and added a baked potato he pulled from the warming oven. He split the potato with a flash of a knife, dolloped a blob of butter on top, and scooped a big spoonful of peas on the side, adding more butter as a yellow crown to the mound of legumes. Mick handed Petra the plate and the slip. “Table six.”
“Gotcha.” Petra took the plate and hurried back to the dining room, depositing the meal with a smile to a beefy man in plaid at table six. “Sorry,” she told him. “We’re out of pumpkin pie.”
“Apple, then,” he said.
“Right,” Petra confirmed. “I’ll be back.”
She had seen a few pieces of apple pie remaining in the pan
in the pie safe. Hurrying back to where the pie was, she stumbled and almost fell.
“Whoa, there,” a familiar voice said, and a hand steadied her elbow.
Petra looked back into the bright blue eyes that had stolen her heart. Unsettling prickles sped up her arms.
“Thanks,” she managed to get out, lowering her eyes away from Don’s.
He must have come in while her back had been turned. He still had his coat buttoned and his gloves on. He stood near the bar.
“Sure is hopping tonight. Where’s Ginny?” he asked.
Petra flicked her eyes up to his. “Late. Which she better fix, if she wants to keep her job.”
Don smiled, slow and easy, and the sight of it made her slightly woozy.
Pull yourself together!
But his smile faded. “I better let you get back to work. When you have time, I’ll take a cup of chili, hot tea, and a slice of pumpkin pie.”
“Oh, no!” Petra groaned.
She splayed her hands out to her sides.
Don’s eyes widened behind his glasses. “What? Did I say
He half laughed.
Releasing an exaggerated sigh, Petra found the humor in her
predicament and chuckled. “It’s just that you’re the fourth person to request pumpkin pie tonight, and we’re out.”
“Mick, out of pie? It’s unheard of.”
Don feigned shock, and Petra jabbed him in the arm. Boy, it was great to laugh with him like they did before things changed.
Petra turned serious. “Take a seat. I believe your usual is available.” She pointed out his stool at the bar’s counter. “I’ll get your tea and chili. Want some bread with that?”
Don’s eyes said so much more than the one word, but what they were saying Petra wasn’t sure. She desperately wanted to find out.
Trying not to think about him, Petra bustled around filling his order and getting the apple pie she’d promised to the man in plaid. After she’d placed Don’s order in front of him, she allowed herself to look into his eyes. Hers were almost level with his, even though he sat, and she stood.
Don held her gaze, unwavering. “Petra, I…”
Petra looked up and saw a woman toward the far end of the
cafe waving a hand in the air, a pinched look on her face. Petra hitched her thumb toward the back of the cafe. “I should go see…”
He didn’t drop his eyes from hers. “Yes.”
Petra grabbed the plate of pie and pulled herself away from
Don. On her way to the woman calling her, Petra handed the plate of pie to Plaid Man. Going one table over, she went to see what the woman wanted.
The woman complained about the peas, saying they were “old and shriveled,” but wasn’t that how canned peas always looked? Then she went on and on about a hair she’d found in her bread. The woman made it sound like Mick had put it there on purpose to annoy her. And, of course, she had to be one of the customers who’d wanted pumpkin pie. Petra gritted her teeth. This day just keeps gettin’ better and better.
“I’m never coming back here again,” the woman stormed.
Before Petra could offer something to appease her, the lady stood, as if she had a steel rod rammed up the back of her corset. She pointed to the door and tipped her chin up. “Come along, Bert.”
The poor, thin man next to her rose slowly, whispering an apology as he passed Petra.
Petra shook her head and wished them good riddance. She turned and took two more orders before walking back to the counter. She reached into the pass-through and clipped the orders where Mick would see them.
“Order!” she shouted.
Mick turned her way and acknowledged with a tip of his finger that he got the message. Turning back to face Don, Petra wondered what he’d been about to say.
“What was all that ruckus about?” Don asked between bites of bread dipped in his chili.
A hint of stubble darkened the lower half of his face, and though it made him appear a little unkept, Petra also thought it made him look more handsome. Why, she couldn’t say. Maybe the idea of a rugged man more than a well-groomed one fed her romantic side. It certainly wasn’t her touch of sense governing her reason. Whiskers scratched, plain and simple, and that was a fact.
“An unhappy customer.”
Petra gave him the details, and he laughed.
Shaking his head, Don said, “What people get annoyed over
never ceases to amaze me.”
Petra agreed. “You aren’t kidding! I mean, really, shriveled
They shared another laugh.
Petra inched her fingers closer to his on the countertop. She
looked down. “I’ve missed this, us laughing together.”
Don’s voice was soft, wistful. “Me too.”
He moved his hand until it touched hers, then he brushed
his fingers over hers. The simple action sent a shiver up Petra’s arm.
She had to know. “What happened? What did I do?”
She braved looking into his eyes, her heart thumping harder at what he might say. He shook his head, a frown on his lips.
“Nothing! You did nothing wrong,” he said in a fierce whisper.
He leaned across the counter toward her, the front of his shirt almost dipping in his chili.
“Then what?” Petra whispered back.
Tipping his head back, Don sucked in a breath and closed his eyes for a second. He opened them, connecting with Petra like a lead to a horse. “It’s more like who.”
Petra frowned. “Who? I don’t understand.”
“Order up!” Mick shouted loud enough for the whole diner to hear.
Petra nearly jumped out of her skin and rolled her eyes. “Just a minute,” she told Don.
She turned to collect the two orders Mick had filled. She carried them to their respective customers and made her way back to Don at top speed.
She faced Don. “You were saying.”
Giving a furtive glance around, Don said, “I think we should talk about this privately. Can I pick you up after work, or do you have to get home to Jefferson?”
Petra shook her head. “No, he’s staying at Mom and Dad’s tonight.”
“Fine. I’ll see you later. Around nine?” Don asked.
“I should be done by then. I’ll be waiting.”
Thanks for Reading!
I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from By Broken Birch Bay. Read more about the book here: https://jennyknipfer.com/by-broken-birch-bay/