Cooking Up A Story by Maneen Miles

 

Chapter One

Wednesday afternoon


My do-or-die moment. If this doesn’t work, what next?
Placing her shaking hands on the floor plan and sketches lying between them, Faith straightened up and cleared her throat:

“I do hope you’ll consider my proposal.” Faith looked at Tommy Chung with what she hoped was her most win-him-over face. He dabbed at his lips to remove a crumb of chocolate.
    “Miss Jordan, this is such a surprise. What you gave me to sample tastes amazing. Any more top secret recipes for me to try? Got a real winner on your hands. And I oughta’ know, seeing as I do so much traveling for the business. Flavor sits on the tongue like…like… a delicate springtime butterfly on the first cherry blossom.”
    He leaned in conspiratorially, “Trying out some fancy phrases from a book I’m reading: Improve Your Sales Talk With Poetry. How am I doing?” Despite herself, Faith laughed along with him.
    “And your cookbook—this mockup’s most attractive. Might coax even me into picking up a mixing bowl and spoon, let alone open it up to drool over the pictures and recipes. Never would have guessed you had all these talents.”
    Faith teetered between a sudden surge of excitement and anxiety. Tommy was the eternal salesman but she didn’t care so long as her venture took flight. His fingers drummed on the counter. Faith stopped breathing waiting for 'But'.
    It didn’t come.
    “Unless I’m wrong, I won’t be able to keep them in stock.” He motored on. “As for your proposed space in my Emporium, I like your blend of heritage with contemporary West Coast without being too precious about it. Space to show off your recipe book, custom flavorings, posters for your weekend mini classes. Your own design?”
    Faith nodded then relaxed and waited for an enthusiastic ‘It’s a deal’ and his handshake. Pulling off his rimless glasses, Tommy stepped back to look at her covertly. There was a long pause. “I’d say your project’s a go, however…"
    Here it comes.
     “...there’s a huge but involved.”
    I knew it.
    Tommy Chung’s voice lowered to a whisper. “You might even call it real bad news.”
    Faith bit her tongue, not wanting to protest.
    “I just submitted a request for a permit to expand Chung’s Grand Emporium. Use my empty storage annex next door. So your timing’s off. My business situation is at—shall we say—at a nerve-wracking point. Delicate. Even worse that I’m a town councilor and can’t take part in debates. Thinking it could go this way or that.” Brow furrowed, he motioned with his hand at a calendar. “More bad news…”
    Bad news heaped on bad news? Can anything else go wrong?
    “If I go back to town council with any amendments like adding in your project—which I think is a perfect fit—don’t get me wrong— it could mean a holdup of…well, who’s to say how long?” He paused to let the idea sink in. Faith’s insides began to churn.
    What was I thinking? I should have listened to my instincts and kept a low profile.
    Faith shook herself, aware Tommy Chung was still speaking.
    “I sure hope they like my ideas.” He looked up with fondness at the tin plate ceiling then around at the turn-of-the-century fittings, wide plank wooden floor boards, and front bay window customers loved as much as they adored the view of the town square and wharf beyond.
    “You and I are at the mercy of town council especially when it comes to heritage buildings and…” He pointed up, “… and my living quarters being upstairs. Some folk in Cascade Bay just itching to tear this place down. They don’t think business owners should be allowed to live above the premises—no matter whether it’s a book store, restaurant, or emporium.” He sighed then continued, “My hands are tied.” He held out his sweater-clad arms as if they were handcuffed.
    She wilted against the counter.
    He patted her hand. “What say we talk next Tuesday? Maybe I’ll have some news for you by then. What I can tell you is council’s negotiating some kind of jaw-dropping, out-of-the-blue contract.” His voice lowered, “Miss Jordan, I feel I can trust you to say nothing for the time being. Pretend I never told you.” He caught the question in her eyes. “I’m not in on all the details yet. All I know is it’s about a chance for us to host a global contest. Strange. Cascade Bay being such a small town and all. But I think it has to do with problems with a venue elsewhere.”
    Tommy sighed and forced out an energetic tone, “You like this sweater style over on this table? Just arrived.” Without waiting for an answer, he added, “You got a boyfriend? Perfect for the gentleman who wants to celebrate Christmas in style. Attractive don’t you think?”
    She swallowed hard.
    Don’t crumble now. Lord, please give me strength.
    All Faith saw was a blur of colors that finally shifted into a pattern of green holly berries sprinkled across neat piles of cardigans. She forced herself to nod.
    “Yes… attractive.”
    “Only $89.95. On special this week.” He stroked a neat stack of orange sweaters on a nearby table. “This is the last of the Hallowe’en shipment. If you hurry, you could get one for the boyfriend I’m guessing you don’t have. Go out trick or treating together.” He beamed.
    Tommy Chung’s famous for his jokes and somehow being in the know. Has major people smarts too.

     What's he figured out about me?
    Faith’s voice faltered, “Next week then?” Tommy Chung jotted some words in a notebook then tapped what he had written. “It’s in my calendar, Miss Jordan. Talk to you real soon. And don’t forget to check the sales rack outside. Awesome bargains.”
    Faith’s eyes teared as the doors swung behind her.
    Stupid, Stupid. Stupid me. I like the man, really I do. Now he’s going to spread word around town about me and people will start asking questions I don’t want to answer!
    Fumbling for a hankie to dab at tears, she forced herself to step down the worn wood steps. Turning around to admire the front of Chung’s Grand Emporium, she couldn’t miss its turn-of-the-century white clapboard, ornate turn-of-the-century signage, and sturdy cedar pillars. Faith told herself for the hundredth time: ‘If a woman had to start her life over, this place is perfect!’
    It went beyond the store, beyond the steady stream of customers who went in empty-handed and exited laden with parcels. Locals came for a cornucopia of items: exotic candies, jams and dried fruits, herbs, yard goods, hand made toys, camping gear, soccer gear. Granted, there were no malls in Cascade Bay, no blazing billboards, no giant box stores, no highways dividing the town in half or cutting the shoreline off from view. But that’s what made it perfect. Tourists arrived, discovered the small town and some, like herself, burrowed in.
    Either you love this place or don’t. Simple enough. If only all my decisions could be simple.

***