When Lisa showed up at the Starlight Cafe to tell Connie she was interested in buying it, Connie was so happy that Lisa thought she might squeeze her to death. “I knew this place was meant to be yours,” Connie said.
It was meant to be hers. Lisa felt it. She just hoped the loan officer at the bank would feel it too.
“Handing the cafe over to you would be perfect. I worked so hard to get it going in the beginning. Back then it was just Marty and me before he started drinking. We put our hearts and souls into it and now to see you have it.” Connie paused. A tear slid down her cheek. “I can’t believe I’m getting so emotional.” She sniffled. “I can’t explain how much it would mean to me.”
Suddenly Lisa realized that buying the cafe wouldn’t mean just buying a coffee shop. She would be buying a legacy that she’d have to maintain for Connie. It wasn’t going to be only a financial responsibility. It would be an emotional one too. She was ready for it though.
She was never more ready for anything.
Connie gave her a run down of the business right then and there. She acted like it was already a done deal even though Lisa didn’t have the money to pay for the place yet. Lisa listened and absorbed. There was a time in her life when all of that information would have sent her into a panic. The numbers would make her head spin, and the idea of the responsibility would send her running for cover. She hadn’t realized how much she’d changed since being away until that very moment. Instead of panicking she took out her phone and took notes. She knew that some of the information Connie was giving her would be useful when she was applying for the loan.
“You’re serious about this, aren’t you?” Jamila asked.
Lisa sat at the dining room table with her loan application spread out in front of her. She’d been working on her business plan ever since she’d moved back into Jamila’s place. It was funny to her how quickly she slid back into the rhythm of life in St. Pete. It was almost as if she’d never left. “I sure am. I don’t want to mess this chance up.”
“I’m glad.” Jamila stood in the entryway of the dining room with a plastic shopping bag dangling from her fingers. “You seem different. It’s like you suddenly grew up.”
“That’s funny. I was just thinking about how much everything here seems the same.” She looked up from her application at Jamila. “I guess I’m slower to develop than most. I used to think that I was already grown up and then all this stuff happened and I realized that …” Lisa’s words trailed off as she thought about the decisions she was finally making. She was scared but didn’t have the sense of dread that accompanied her on her move to Chicago. “Thanks for letting me move in. It’s been good to be back.”
Jamila smiled. “No problem. This place felt empty without you.”
“You mean less cluttered.” Lisa started gathering her papers into a pile.
“It’s nice to be back. I didn’t realize how unhappy I was with Richard until I left him. Isn’t that funny?”
“It’s sad. I could see it when you came to visit. We all could. He wasn’t right for you,” Jamila said.
“He never really was, but for some reason, I wanted to make it work. I guess I was afraid of starting over with someone else.”
When Lisa and Richard first met she thought he was funny and interesting. She liked the way he seemed to know exactly what he wanted. His intensity was so different than what she was used to that she found it magnetic. When they graduated from college, he went after the exact job that he wanted in a company that he’d been researching for years. He pursued his career with a single-mindedness that left Lisa with a sense of awe. She never felt that kind of passion about anything in her life, including him. As she looked around at other people’s relationships she realized the muted contentment she felt probably wasn’t love, but she was too afraid to pursue anything else. When he went to Chicago, she was fine with a long distance relationship knowing that eventually, she’d go out to be with him. She didn’t have a yearning to see him. Most times she was relieved by how simple not having Richard around made her day. That didn’t make his betrayal any less heart breaking though. The pain that it brought her was a welcomed shock because it showed her that she was indeed able to feel. Those feelings were frightening. The loss of control that accompanied them made her life feel life was crashing down around her.
Jamila nodded knowingly. “I know what that’s like, but we all have to start over sometimes.”
“I know. At least this time it feels right.”
“I’m glad to hear that.” Jamila went to the kitchen and started loading the contents of her grocery bag into the refrigerator.
Lisa took a few deep breaths. She’d see the loan officer tomorrow. If all went well, she’d be that much closer to owning the Starlight Cafe.
Lisa sat on her bed looking at her cell phone. She’d decided to stay in St. Pete, but she wished she could go back in time and undo the way she hurt Damon. She knew it was good that he had moved on, but secretly she was hoping they could pick up where they’d left off. That was unrealistic, but there was still a part of her that wished she still had a chance with him.
When he called her after she left for Chicago early, he was angry. He had a right to be. She’d left without saying goodbye. She didn’t even wait for him to get back into town.
The first time he called, she didn’t answer the phone. He was still in Miami and had no idea that she was on the road. Sitting in the middle console of her hatchback the phone beeped, buzzed, and serenaded her. Each time she looked at the screen she saw Damon’s name, but she didn’t pick up until she got to Chicago.
“I have a confession to make,” she’d said, leaning against her car at curbside by the two-story brick house where she was renting a room.
“What is it?” he asked.
She wondered if he suspected that something was wrong. She thought she’d heard a hint of doubt in his voice. “I’m in Chicago.”
“Oh.” He was quiet for a moment. “I thought you weren’t leaving until a few days after I came back from Miami.”
“I decided to go early. I’m anxious to get that part of my life started.”
“But I thought that we—” He paused again. “I have to go.”
“Don’t be mad. I like you. I really do. I just need to get myself together before I can be serious about anyone.”
“I know. You’ve said all that before. I expected to at least be able at say goodbye.”
The disappointment in his words sunk into her. She expected him to be angry. She expected him to hang up and never want to talk to her again. Instead of being angry with her, he sounded sad. She couldn’t make him understand what she was looking for. She couldn’t explain that she was all wrong right now and because of that, it wouldn’t work out between them. The thought of how much she would mess up their relationship made her heart ache, and she couldn’t take anymore heartache. That’s what she told herself, but she didn’t want to tell him that. “I was hoping we could still—” She didn’t even know what she was going to say.
“Be friends.” The words had a sarcastic edge that she didn’t like.
“I don’t know. I still want to talk to you or even see you sometimes.”
“I’ll think about it,” he said. “I can’t make any promises right now.”
“Okay.” That was good enough for now. She couldn’t have expected more.
“I have to go.”
“Okay,” she said again.
When he hung up, she felt an emptiness inside that she hadn’t expected. Lisa was sure she’d ruined everything, but then Damon called her a week later. Talking to him on the phone was a bright spot in her in her early days in Chicago. The city was particularly gray that fall. Clouds blanketed the sky most days, and she missed the Florida sunshine. She hadn’t anticipated how hard it would be to start over in a new city. School filled much of her time. She found work in a little coffee shop a few blocks from her home, but there were still too many empty hours.
Damon visited her in early winter giving her relief from her solitude. Despite the bone chilling cold, they explored the city together. Wrapping themselves in layers of wool and fleece, they headed out like explorers trekking across the Arctic. Lisa had limited her life to school and work. Damon came to Chicago with a tourists agenda. They went to every museum and gallery. He was as excited as a child to see the sights. When he left, she was left feeling more alone than she did before. That’s what made her so vulnerable when Richard called. She tried to resist him at first, but in the end, the idea of a secure future with him got in her way.
Thinking about it all now, she could clearly see her mistakes. Too bad they weren’t so obvious when she was making them. Her life was full of regret. In her search for safety, she’d given up happiness. She was determined not to give it up for good though. Her relationship with Richard was definitely over now. There was no way he’d take her back even if she wanted him to. She would never want him to anyway.
Lisa never really thought that she wouldn’t get the loan. Starlight was already successful, and she had a business degree. How could the bank not see it as a sure thing? Well, somehow they didn’t. Her credit score had been ravished by a con woman from Montana a year ago, but she had been told that was all taken care of. Apparently, it wasn’t because the loan officer at the bank told her that her score was too big of a red flag for them to loan her anything. She’d have to get that fixed first.
“I can’t believe my luck,” Lisa said. She sat on the sofa under the colorful painting Jamila had put up years earlier. “What am I supposed to do now?”
“That’s a tough break. I guess you should start looking for a job,” Jamila said.
Lisa shook her head. “I’m not giving up that easily.”
“You can apply for a loan from another bank.”
“My credit is messed up. No bank is going to loan anything to me.” Lisa thought for a moment. “There has to be another way.”
“You should talk to Connie. She’d probably be willing to work with you. She does want you to have the shop pretty badly, right?” Jamila said.
“Don’t worry. I’m not going to let one ‘no’ destroy my dream. I have to look for other options, that’s all.” Lisa picked up her cell phone and got up from the couch. “Now it’s time for option number two.” She started walking to her room.
“What’s option two?”
Her father answered the phone before Lisa got to her room. “Hi, sweetheart. What can I do for you?”
Lisa smiled. “It’s funny that you asked.” Lisa closed the bedroom door and sat on her bed. “Remember how you said that you would help me open a coffee shop on the island.”
He laughed gleefully. “You’re finally moving to be closer to your father. I was waiting for that day to come.”
“I’m moving back to St. Pete.”
“That’s not quite what I was hoping for, but it is still closer.”
“I want to buy the Starlight Cafe, but I can’t seem to get a loan from the bank. I was wondering if you’d be willing to help me?”
“I’ll do what I can, but I can’t promise you that I’ll be able to give you all of the money you need.”
As she talked to her father about her plans, Lisa’s heart started to feel light again.
Lisa sat on the chair in the corner of the room. She’d ordered a bed online, but it hadn’t arrived yet so, for now, she slept on an air mattress that she’d placed under the window. She left most everything she owned in Chicago and didn’t plan on getting it back anytime soon. She tried to get Richard to mail her some things, but he never returned her calls, and she didn’t feel up to going there quite soon.
She picked up a black-and-white composition notebook that she’d bought earlier that day. There was something about the feeling of opening a brand new notebook, the crisp blank pages begging to catch her thoughts. She flipped through it quickly once, breathing in the smell of new paper. Then she opened it to the first page and started to write.
Lisa hadn’t written anything creative in years, but that didn’t stop the words from flowing out of her onto the page. She was still a writer. She’d always been one.