After five years of grieving the loss of her husband, Mary Jo knows she has to move on. She's made a life for herself and her son, but they're both missing the love of a good man. When she meets Ray, Mary Jo feels something she hasn't felt in a long while. Can they make a connection, or will another woman or the law come between them?
Mary Jo’s staff had been telling her for weeks that Ray, one of Fayetteville’s finest, had the hots for her. “Look,” said Ella, who helped out at the counter, “he used to come in during the morning crush and get lost in the crowd. He’s figured out the downtime so he can see you.”
“You should see how moony-eyed he gets whenever you walk out from the back,” teased Janine. “He’s spent oodles of money here just waiting for the chance to talk to you.”
Mary Jo decided today, Officer Ray would get his chance.
For the next couple of hours, she found herself too blessed busy to think about it. She kept herself and three other staffers occupied. 7-Up, Red Velvet, and Amalgamation cakes; Mississippi Mud, pecan, and peach pies; along with a variety of cookies and other sweets were made fresh every morning before the café opened. Mary Jo kept lunch simple. Three kinds of sandwiches – but no fried catfish, it’s too smelly – coleslaw, and cornbread were the staples. To drink, people could chose from sweet tea, hot tea, coffee, and the usual soft drinks.
With the kitchen under control, Mary Jo checked the dining area. It held about a dozen small tables, each with a pink cracked-ice laminate surface and chrome legs. The chrome chairs had pink vinyl backs and seats. Certainly not a man’s café per se, but Mary Jo had known the men would come. Once their girlfriends, mothers, and wives brought her goodies home, they’d have to come themselves. She knew her desserts were irresistible.
The menu and prices were neatly printed on a huge chalkboard on the wall behind the counter. The menu holders on the tables contained Mary Kay catalogs. Mary Jo made sure each holder held the current issue. Her regulars looked forward to thumbing through the pages, marking their choices, and filling out their orders while they drank a Cheerwine soda and ate one of Mary Jo’s yummy concoctions. One evening a week when the café closed, Mary Jo ran sessions on skin care, make up, and spa treatments for her Mary Kay clients. Combining her two businesses proved very profitable. She’d built a good life for herself and her son.
The café opened at 8:30 a.m., two and a half hours after her arrival. Someone always waited outside for Mary Jo to unlock the door. A little jingling bell announced the entrance of the first customer and every customer thereafter. Soon a happy hum and steady rhythm of activity swept through the café. The wait staff ensured coffee cups were topped up, while the girls at the take-out counter had a stream of people to serve. Every once in a while a pleasant lull settled in, allowing everyone to catch their breath before the next onslaught.
During one such quiet period Ella poked her head into the kitchen, getting Mary Jo’s attention. “He’s here,” she hissed. No need to elaborate—everyone knew who he meant.
With a deep breath, Mary Jo wiped her hands on the apron she wore, untied it, and tossed it down on her worktable. Checking her image in a mirror by the door leading into the restaurant, she tucked a stray hair behind her ear, trying to calm her racing heartbeat.
Janine kept Ray waiting, pretending to rearrange some cream puffs behind the glass. Mary Jo walked over to Ray’s table, hoping he couldn’t hear the pounding in her chest. “Mornin’ Officer. May I help you?” she asked, trying to sound nonchalant. Her hands were as cold as ice. Raising her eyes to meet his, she couldn’t help noticing how handsome he is in his uniform. His cap lay on the table and she took in his thick, wavy brown hair. His jaw was square, with a cleft in his chin. Above it, his lips looked ready to laugh, a straight—but not sharp—nose, and twinkling blue eyes. Her mouth dry, Mary Jo pressed her lips together.
“Yes, thanks,” he answered with a smile, exuding confidence and ease. “I was hoping to get a slice of your famous Mississippi Mud Cake. Unless you’d make some other recommendation?”
“Well, I’m rather partial to the Red Velvet myself.”
“Great!” exclaimed Ray. He peered over her shoulder and hollered to Janine, “Two slices of Red Velvet, one medium coffee, black, no sugar…” He turned back to Mary Jo who, startled, slumped into a chair across from him. “You like coffee?” he asked. At her wordless nod, he turned his attention to Janine again. “And another coffee. I assume you know how your boss likes it.” Ray leaned across the table. “I don’t usually have the pleasure of such lovely company on my morning break,” he said with a grin. “You don’t mind joining me?”
Mary Jo shook her head no, still at a loss for words. Doesn’t let the grass grow under his feet, does he? Sees an opportunity and jumps on it. Not sure if she liked that about him or not, she looked at him more closely. “Don’t I know you from somewhere? Other than here, I mean?”
Ray smirked and raised a brow. And that one expression gives him away completely.