Friday, February 14, 2014
Poor Andrea appeared to be doing her best to keep an interest in Charmaine's lecture. After all, it's critical to have redundancy in a business!
"And the flour helps to prevent sticking. Are you still with me, Andrea?"
Andrea's brain was clearly clocked out at this point.
The only thing in her mind was the mountain of cash that she was going to make.
It was going to be like a TV show. She would make so much money that they could swim in it or make a huge, neatly stacked pile hidden away in a storage unit.
"Hello? Earth to Andrea?"
Except, she would haven't to hide it since every cent would be clean and legit… for the most part.
"Andrea, please! This is important! Breakfast might be the most important meal of the day, but dessert is where we're going to be making our money!"
"I know, and I apologize."
"It's all good. Now, as I was saying… this is what they call 'puff pastry'…"
Having all that money was going to rock. Andrea pictured herself in a nice car cruising down the streets of San Diego in the luscious air of summer.
"And then you lightly sprinkle some cinnamon."
That crisp breeze in your hair. In their hometown here in Oregon, the Pacific air wasn't as lovely as it was down on the Golden State.
"Andrea, this is also what you do to ensure that the cake is fully done…"
Why should she take a vacation in California? With this money she could simply move there…
"And if the toothpick comes out clean, you're good to go!"
At this point, Andrea decided to rejoin the currently one-sided conversation. "So, is that before or after we put on the cinnamon and flour?"
It wasn't hard to see where Kenton picked up his face-palming habit as Charmaine promptly did so at her best friend's remark.
"Andrea! That was the earlier dish! Please pay attention. Can you do that… for me?"
Andrea looked Charmaine in the eye, smiled, and said "Okay. For you."
"Maybe desserts aren't your thing. That's okay." Charmaine said as she reached over and started rummaging through the pile of cookbooks stacked between them.
"Maybe… oh, here's something. Entrees."
"How about Macaroni and Cheese. It's an all-American classic!"
"What? You might be onto something. They sell that stuff at the grocery store for about thirty cents per box!"
Charmaine had that look of sheer disgust. She found that crap-in-a-box completely repulsive.
"Y-You cannot be serious, Andrea!"
"I'm dead serious!"
"That stuff is filth! I want to make something to be proud of!"
"It's just as healthy as that Pastry-Puff-Cinnamon-Toothpaste-Cake that you were talking about earlier!"
"I'm not talking about that, Andrea!"
"Then why don't you clue me in. What are you talking about?"
"I want to do this for the art. Culinary is an artistic skill."
Andrea sighed. The money was her goal. Charmaine wanted to make art.
"I tell you what." Andrea said as the gears in her head started to spin at a rapid pace.
"You're going to tell me what?"
"If we both try to tackle everything ourselves, we're going to drown. It's an ocean out there. I'm not a chef. It's not my thing. You know that. You just worry about the cooking and I'll deal with the red tape. How's about that?"
Charmaine thought about this. All the fun and fame of running a restaurant without the hassle of business management. This was perfect. She could cook out of the books instead of cooking the books.
"Do we have a deal, Charmaine?"
Charmaine was about to raise her hand to shake Andrea's. Something was different. Andrea was confident. This wasn't the same girl that she confided in throughout elementary school. This wasn't the same woman was there for the birth of her son and gave her a shoulder to cry on when her husband was taken away from her.
"Mom, I'm home!"
Kenton's arrival to the small house distracted the two from completing their business deal.
"Oh, hello, Andrea!"
Andrea lowered her hand and looked at the young teenager that had entered the room.
"Hey, baby!" Charmaine said as she gave her son a quick hug.
"So, tell me. How did it go? Did you do it?"
"Yeah. It's done."
Andrea leaned back in the chair on which she was sitting. Without the proper context, this conversation could come off weird to a stranger. This somehow occurred to Charmaine and she turned back to Andrea as Kenton opened the refrigerator to get something to drink.
"Kenton's got a crush on a girl and he made a valentine for her."
Even though Andrea was far, far away from being a stranger to the family, Kenton was still shocked that his mother would give away such information so easily.
"Oh, it's just me. I won't tell." Andrea said with a giggle as she got up from the seat.
"So, what's for dinner tonight?"
"Oh, that stuff that you like."
"Mac and cheese?"
Andrea turned to Charmaine and raised an eyebrow.
"Uh… yeah." Charmaine nervously said.
"Awesome! I'll get it out of the pantry!"
"Wait! You don't have to…" Charmaine quickly exclaimed as Kenton retrieved the "crap-in-a-box" that she referred to as "filth" just mere minutes before.
"Just leave it on the counter and I'll have it ready in about twenty minutes." Charmaine said as she slumped down into her chair in defeat.
"Yes! Thanks Mom! I'm going to take a shower in the meantime!"
As Kenton cheerfully walked into his bedroom, Andrea politely got up from her seat at the kitchen table.
"I think that I'll head out. We'll talk about this some more next week. I'm getting my rest on this weekend as the stupid photo studio is having a half-off baby photo special next week."
"Alright, then. See you then!"
"I'll call you later on."
Andrea opened the door to the house and walked down the stairs. As she got into her beater car and cranked the ignition to the point that the engine would rumble to life, she started thinking about all that money.
If she could keep Charmaine preoccupied with the actual culinary stuff, all that money would be right in Andrea's pocket without Charmaine knowing a single thing.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
"You just worry about the cooking and I'll deal with the red tape."
Charmaine laid awake in her bed thinking about that line that Andrea fed her just under a week before. What red tape? Outside of a brief disagreement about having a catering business and the menu. The building has sat empty for several years and between her nest egg from her husband and Andrea's contribution, there wasn't going to be any "red tape".
Or was there? What exactly did Andrea have in mind? She said that she got the money from her uncle and Charmaine knew enough about the old man to know that he was loaded. She knew that Andrea had to be bailed out by her uncle on many occasions and none of which forced any "red tape"?
Wait a minute. This wasn't a couple hundred dollars to keep the eviction notices at bay. This was ten grand. That's a little more than a drop in the ocean for anybody. Maybe Andrea's uncle was asking to be a business partner. Was Andrea trying to be a man-in-the-middle to keep Andrea's uncle from meeting the "other half" of the business? Or "other third" to be exact.
As the sun started to creep over the top part of her windows, she could hear a muffled alarm going off across the wall. In between the tenth and eleventh beep, she heard a thump before the alarm went dead and the closing of the bathroom door reassured her that Kenton was awake on time for once.
She, working as a secretary at the elementary school, had to work on a similar schedule. Charmaine groaned as her alarm started to go off fifteen minutes later. With a yawn, she turned off the alarm and came to the realization that she only received a meager four hours of sleep.
"Good morning, baby." She said as she yawned yet again as she walked in on Kenton munching on a bowl of leftover macaroni and cheese from yet another batch that was made the night before.
"Morning, mommph." Kenton said as he shoveled the cheesy garbage into his mouth. Charmaine smiled and shook her head at the boy's semi-lack of table manners. She went to start the coffee maker only to find that it was percolating away with a fresh brew.
"I already started it." Kenton mentioned between shovelfuls.
"Aw, thanks, baby." Charmaine complimented.
"Are you going to meet with Andrea again today?"
Charmaine sighed and looked out of the window of the over-garage dwelling that they lived in. Kenton was surprisingly supportive of this huge step that Charmaine was going to make in her life. That was a trait that he shared with his father. No matter how ridiculous the idea was, Kenton was a determinator.
Kenton broke her train of thought by plopping his bowl into the sink and running some hot water to prevent the leftover "cheese" from coagulating.
"I gotta go, Mom."
"Wait, what? This early?"
"Yeah, I joined a new club."
"Oh, you did?"
"Yeah, the Drama club."
Charmaine turned her head sideways in curiosity. Kenton's interest in the arts included Slasher films and video games. The idea that he would be interested in something like Shakespeare and Greek Tragedies was just puzzling.
"Are you still playing basketball?"
"And you're sure that it's not going to interfere with your schoolwork?"
Kenton's smart mouth wanted to say, "What schoolwork?"
"Nah, I'll be fine."
"You better. If I find out you're slippin'…"
"Mom, I'll be fine. Now, I gotta go. Love you!"
"Yeah, yeah. Love you too."
Charmaine sighed as she dumped the fresh coffee into her thermal mug to prepare for the long trip to the school.
The morning dragged on and on. When you have no sleep, it is darn-near impossible to keep yourself awake for the minutes on-end when there's nothing going on. Every seventy minutes or so, there would be a kid or two sent to the office to be reprimanded by the Principal, but nothing too major.
Charmaine's lunch period started just as the recess period ended. Instead of going to enjoy a quiet lunch at the teacher's lounge, she went to the parking lot and got out her cell phone.
At the photo studio, Andrea had to deal with what felt with the twentieth screaming baby of the day. Instead of taking a lunch break, Andrea took “breaks” between pictures. She tried to time her photo shoots so that she could get a “break” around the time that Charmaine would go to lunch.
"You ready to talk some business?"
"Yeah, I would like to talk."
"Okay. So, you're okay with the arrangement?"
"I just have some questions."
"You said 'red tape' last night. You do have the money, right?"
"I know it sounds weird, but this whole thing sounds almost too good to be true!"
"I have the money. I could go to the ATM and get a receipt if you don't believe me."
"No, I believe you. But what's this 'red tape'?"
"Oh, you know. Tax audits. Permits. Health inspections. Employee affairs."
"Right. I don't want to pry, but how did you get your uncle to give you ten grand?"
"I told him that I was starting a business. Easy as that?"
"And he just gave you the money?"
"With no strings attached?"
"Well, I'm obviously going to have to pay him back someday."
"Oh, I see. You mean he's not on as a business partner or something?"
Andrea silently hissed. Charmaine was showing herself as being more business savvy than she could have imagined. She wasn't wrong: Andrea lied about the money being for her college tuition because she knew that her Uncle would certainly try to cut himself into the business. She didn't want him involved. It would be one more nose she would be smacking.
"No, Charmaine. It's just you and me. Against the world. Remember?"
"Yeah. Against the world."
"You sound tired. Get some sleep in your car. Can't have you sleeping at the desk, can they?"
"You're right. See you later?"
"Yeah. See you later."
Andrea hung up the phone and looked at the screen. The truth was within Charmaine's reach. Not good.
She met Charmaine on the very first day of third grade, in the same school where she would be a secretary decades later. And here Andrea was, in the present day, ready to become richer than her wildest dreams.
Andrea looked at the phone in her hand as she sent the text message lying to her best friend about renting a building. A chime on her phone alerted her to the fact that her online reservation for a plane to San Francisco was ready.
The whole scheme was a plan that felt ripped out of a movie: Andrea used the magical powers of the internet to set up one of those fancy bank accounts that could be managed online. As soon as Charmaine would give her the check, she would take that money and deposit it. As soon as she'd get off the plane, she would rent a car and drive it about eighty or so miles south to a suburb that would have a branch of the bank. One cash withdrawal later and she would be free with cold, hard, cash.
What was going to happen to Charmaine? Andrea knew her friend well enough to know that there was enough trust to put at least three days between Charmaine writing the check and realizing that the restaurant wasn't going to happen. Knowing exactly how much Charmaine got from her inheritance and she knew that Charmaine and Kenton would continue to live comfortable (yet disappointed) lives.
"When we start this place, we're going to be the ones making the rules."
Andrea shook her head. When Charmaine first heard about this whole restaurant idea, she was just as skeptical as anyone would normally be. When Charmaine reminded Andrea of this line, she was parroting one of the many lines that Andrea was spoon-feeding to get her to go along with this idea.
"Girl, are you out of your mind?!"
"No. I think we could do this!"
Andrea sat down in a chair in the elementary school office as Charmaine sat behind the secretary's counter rapidly typing on the computer.
"You're saying that I could just up and leave this place?"
"Yep. Be your own boss. We're going to be the ones making the rules."
"Are you feeling okay, girl? This is far out. Have you been sniffing those film-developing chemicals again?"
"Nope. I've been looking at what it takes. You know that building over on the corner of Jaguar and Panther? Dirt cheap rent. Maybe we can sweet talk the owner into a contract-for-deed deal."
"Girl, as much as I love and support you in everything that you do, this is asking a lot of me."
"Charmaine, look around you. Would you miss the nightmares, the stress, and the people?"
Before Andrea could continue, the intercom-call indicator lit up for the fifth-grade classroom. Charmaine gave the "be quiet" gesture to Andrea before pushing the button.
"Hello?" Charmaine cheerfully said.
"Yeah. He's on his way."
"Okay, I know the drill."
Andrea could barely hear the background laughter from the kids in the classroom as the top of a kid's head passed along the bottom of the tall office window. The door flung itself open and slammed against the wall.
"Sit down, Cameron."
"I'm sorry. What I meant to say was 'sit down' and 'shut up'."
The kid scoffed and took a seat in the chair next to the door.
"You know, Andrea. I might take you up on that offer."
"We'll talk later." Andrea said with a smile as she stood up.
"Alright. See you later, girl."
Andrea turned towards the door and took a step before feeling her leg catch up on something.
After catching herself on the wall, she looked down to see that the kid had his leg stuck out with the intent of tripping her.
"Oh, you're so cute." Andrea said with half-cheerfulness and half-sarcasm as she walked out of the office.
Maybe this wasn't the best idea. Charmaine was getting frustrated with her job and the crap that she had to take from the rowdy kids.
Andrea walked into her bedroom and looked around. Less than forty-eight hours left meant that Andrea had to start packing. This was the most difficult part of the task. There wasn't an opportunity to find an apartment or house down in California and she couldn't just send her stuff out to nowhere.
A good chunk of her most precious collectibles were already sitting in a storage unit about a hundred miles south. Like Charmaine, Andrea played sick several times to make a road trip to run a couple boxes to that storage unit.
Andrea took another deep breath and sat down on the bed. This was a difficult decision to make. Her job as a photographer in the armpit of the city wasn't going to make enough money for her to get a fresh start. There was no way that her family (who strongly believed in "hometown pride") would front her the money to move to another state.
This was the only conclusion. She had to keep a positive outlook on her upcoming new life. The only problem was that she was going to have to sacrifice the love and trust of her best friend and her family to do so.