Wait, Chapter Four? What happened to the first three? You can start at the beginning–go here.
Kit peered through the glass, watching James package up one pound packs of coffee beans. The roaster was churning away, so she had to tap loudly to get him to turn. His scowl became a smile when he saw her face. He unlocked the door and let her in.
“Not open yet?” she said, as he locked the door behind her. “Sorry. I didn’t realize how early it was.”
“I couldn’t sleep.” James shrugged. He wasn’t much taller than Kit, but he weighed more. Where she was sturdy with muscle, his middle squished from lack of exercise. He had an open, cheerful face that had more lines than usual. His eyes had bags under them.
“Me neither,” she said, patting her abdomen.
She glanced around Cafe Ishmael. Tables had been cleared and cleaned, pastry case emptied and vacuumed clean of crumbs, waiting for the baker’s delivery. He’d placed a new dried floral wreath on the mantel, and pale green candles burned merrily inside, a tiny fire suitable for late spring. Next to the hearth, she saw a stack of paper coffee bags and one of the plastic vats he used to store roasted coffee.
James walked to the roaster and picked up another bag of green coffee beans. Pouring it in, he set the timer. The air filled with the burned grass/caramelizing sugar scent of roasting coffee. As the roaster hummed away, he joined Kit at the table.
Kit reached for a bag. She filled it from the hopper, then set it on the scale. Three ounces off. “I’ve lost my touch.”
“It’s been a few years,” James said.
James looked sad, tired. He had an M of worry lines on his forehead. She pulled her lips in. She glanced at the chalkboard menus in their gilded frames. Above the cabinets, an arched chalkboard paint held the menu. One of his customers had written it out for him years ago, and her talented penmanship still impressed people even after the woman had long since moved down to Seattle and been forgotten. Ulrich had made the wooden shelves that held the bottles of syrup, the cups and mugs, the chipped ceramic plates. Half the cups had been made by their aunt Hazel before she died, and most of the rest had been gifts from customers.
Kit filled another bag and weighed it. Seventeen ounces. Closer this time. She poured some beans out and weighed it again. James filled his from the hopper and sealed it.
“Aren’t you going to weigh it?”
James set it on the scale. Sixteen point zero one ounces. He smirked at her, and handed her the roll of stickers. “I’ll weigh, you seal and label.”
Kit nodded and pulled out the roll of stickers. “Beltane blend?”
He nodded. They worked in silence, draining the hopper full of beans into one pound packages. The roaster beeped its completion, and fell silent. Take the bag from James, seal the flap with the sticker, place in the basket. It was just like old times, except it wasn’t.
She glanced up at the floorplan sketch tacked to the wall above the light switch. A bigger kitchen, a seating area upstairs, a new display cabinet for cups and saucers made by local artists. The paper was dog-eared and yellowing.
“I did that spell to summon a nanny for you.”
“You did?” Kit smiled. “Did it involve a pentacle and five black candles?”
“Ha ha. No. Not that kind of summoning. Just asked to match you up with someone who can help you.”
“Thanks,” she said. “But that’s not what I came to talk to you about.”
“Want some chai?” he said. He hurried to the counter before she could respond. “I have a new thing I want to try.”
He put a handful of spiced tea in the bottom of a cup, and added hot water. He didn’t meet her eye, had that manic jitteriness that he got when he was upset about something. She watched as he poured milk into a pitcher and carried it to the foamer. His hands were shaking. Maybe they’d finally have that talk they needed to have. The milk foamer hissed. Did he think she didn’t know? Maybe he was pretending it wasn’t true for his own sake.
She glanced around at the inside of Cafe Ishmael. It was like being inside her brother’s heart. The furniture was as threadbare and beloved as a stuffed bear. On the mantel above the empty hearth, he had placed a floral display for Beltane.
James ladled steamed milk and foam into the hot tea. He carried it to her and set it down.
“Chaippucino” he said, and toasted her with one of his tiny espresso cups. “Not on the menu. Little sisters only.”
He knocked back his shot of espresso.
“James, I want to talk to you about something.”
She set the cup gently in its saucer.
“Bad news, Kit, but not for you.” He tried to smile at her, but his eyes shone, and it came off as twisted. “Finances. Danger. Loss. I can add up. There’s no money left. Barnabus estimates we can hold on another three months, maybe four. I told Fenwick about it.”
“There are no renovations. I’m sorry. I didn’t want to lie, but I thought if you didn’t know how bad it was, if I could just keep it going a little while longer, long enough to try new avenues, I could turn things around.” His voice cracked, and he knocked back the second shot violently.
“What happened?” she asked, gently. She’d known about the loan Fenwick made to his brother-in-law, not the details, but the fact of it.
He shook his head. “Rising costs. More competition. Margins on the food were too small for too long. The carts didn’t work out like we thought. Plus the water heater, and the damage from the storm. It all adds up.”
“There has to be something we can do,” she said. Her voice cracked. She knew it was bad, but she didn’t realize the extent of it. Seeing James like this was like watching the stone foundation of a house crumble into sand. “Siang’s a genius with numbers. If you let her see the books, maybe she could help?”
“It’s too late, Kit,” James said. “That’s what I thought too, but Barnabus has been over it and over it.”
“What do the tea leaves say?”
“They said debts would come due.” James stopped pretending not to cry.
“This has been a long time coming, Kit.” James wiped his eyes. “Years. It’s been trickling away as fast as I could put it in. I’m sorry I hid it from you.”
“What will you do?”
He put his head in his hands. “I’ll pay you back.”
“Don’t worry about that.”
“I will. I’ll get a job.”
“What about witchcraft? Could you, I dunno, do a spell or something?”
“Did that, Kit. Years ago. That’s how I got the loan money. But the Lord and Lady don’t give you stuff for free.”
“Kit, I understand you want to help, but believe me, I’ve had this conversation with Barnabus a hundred times. It’s over.”
She sipped her milky spiced tea, but it made her queasy. She set it down.
“You don’t like it?”
“Baby doesn’t like dairy.”
“I could make you one with soy,” he said, standing.
“Thanks, but I better get going. Boss wants to see me before dawn.”
“What did you come to see me about?”
She smiled and shook her head, feeling a weariness that wasn’t entirely the baby’s fault. Poor James. She didn’t need to burden him with her problems.
“Just wanted the pleasure of your company.”
Like the book, but short on cash? New chapter next week!