A Short Story: The Gift

 

Tuesday, early afternoons was the time that Jess Abernathy-Vaughn held the brief meeting with Richard at the Café to review the previous weeks’ financials. These meetings had moved from mid-morning, and gradually became more and more perfunctory and business at the Café expanded, and to the mild astonishment of Jess herself, actually began to turn a profit which fell into a fluctuating zone somewhere between ‘barely marginal’ and ‘satisfactory.’

“No way would I ever advise someone wanting to make a fortune to start up a restaurant,” she remarked on that particular day, and Richard nodded, glumly.

“No, it’s more of a fame, fortune, and feeding people,” He replied. “On the other hand – people always want good food… it’s just that it’s a constant struggle to provide it at a cost that the public will judge to be fair. You know that the margins are always thin, and most people who go into full-frontal food service are as mad as hatters…”

“So I gathered,” Jess observed dryly, just as Luc emerged from the kitchen, blinking absently, like something strange, and tatted, fresh from a long stretch of hibernation or suspended animation.

“Is there something the matter in the kitchen?” Richard asked, with a slight edge in his voice, as Luc merely stood there, staring blankly at the tables, as if he had forgotten the purpose.

“No … nothing,” Luc replied. “I was just thinking.”

“It must have been painful,” Richard answered, and Jess snickered into her glass of unsweetened iced-tea. “You’d probably best not do it again.”

“On it, Chef,” Luc replied. “Oh, I just remembered. The cakes are done. That raisin-wedding-cake thing.”

“Why didn’t you say so!” Richard exclaimed and bolted from his seat.

“I took them out of the oven,” Luc said, to Richard’s back, and Jess rolled her eyes, thinking that yes, nothing could more have proved Richard’s point about the madness of food service in general than that brief exchange. But Luc’s expression briefly cleared as his distracted gaze wandered towards Jess.

“Oh – Hi, Mizz Vaughn. Mizz Letty doin’ OK?”

“Yeah, she is,” Jess replied, cautiously. Good heavens, Luc had made some progress towards a social manner. “How are you doing?”

“Fine,” Luc replied. “Hey – business doing good?”

“Very well, I think,” Jess answered. Luc nodded, as if mildly pleased at this revelation. Then he wandered back towards the kitchen, just as the old-fashioned bell over the front door jingled – that sweet, silvery, old-fashioned jingle. The door at Abernathy Hardware had the same old-style bell over it as well. Likely, they had come from the same place, decades before Jess was even born.

“Hi, Jess!” It was Pamela Pryor – Princess Pammy, as Jess had always called her, in her own mind. “I’m glad I caught you! I saw your jeep outside! Look, I have something for you, but I don’t have it with me at the moment! Are you going to be at home later? I can bring it by.”

“Sure, after about 4:30.” Jess sneaked a peek at her schedule, cruelly mapped out on her cellphone. “Is it bigger than a breadbox…”

“Nothing like that,” Pamela’s smile was brilliant, unforced. “Just something I found, when we were sorting out the guest rooms at the ranch, for Pop’s latest wedding. A little thing, really – but I thought of you and Joe, immediately, and I want you to have it for the baby … see you around five, then!”

Just then, Richard came out of the kitchen, scowling – a dark expression which lightened by several degrees when he caught sight of Pamela. Jess repressed a small sigh. Pamela – gorgeous, accomplished, blond and rich, by way of being Doc Wyler’s beloved granddaughter, had that effect on practically the entire world. Jess had always thought that unfair – but then, she had married Joe Vaughn, who was Pamela’s high school flame, so perhaps she herself possessed a charm or two. Still, Pamela had always made her feel inadequate, merely by existing.

“Hi, Richard!” Pam exclaimed. “We got your order for beef tenderloins for Pop’s wedding supper at the Cattleman. Andy and the boys will deliver them next week, if that’s OK.”

“Prime beef, nothing less than choice,” Richard said, with relief.

“For one of our best customers, nothing less,” Pamela agreed with a twinkle. “We’ll give you a call when it’s ready for delivery.” Her cellphone, deep in the depths of her Birkin handbag, burbled merrily, and she added. “Must fly – see you at about five, Jess.”

“See you,” Jess answered, without enthusiasm, and began closing up the folder for the Café. Little Joe peacefully slept in his stroller seat. “Nothing more for this week, Rich, unless you have any questions.”

“None at all,” Richard answered, sounding abstracted. “See you next week.”

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