“Sorry about that, Payton. I forgot about your crazy no work rule,” Mark apologizes as he picks up the cardboard tray. “I hope you go easier on Benjamin when he’s in here. My man needs to work a hell of a lot more to pay for the big, fancy wedding you two are going to have.”
He gives me a wink and starts backing away, the phone ringing in his hand again and his booming voice filling the quiet space when he answers it. He moves faster across the shop until he’s out the door, all before I can say anything to him.
“You can take those coffees back to the firm and shove them up Benjamin’s ass! Or better yet, bend over and shove them up your OWN ass for insinuating I need a man to pay for anything!” I shout across the shop, getting a few weird looks from the handful of customers sitting around and enjoying their coffees.
“That was nice, but it might have been more effective if you said it TO him, and not yelled it across the shop like a crazy person after he was already out the door,” Bettie laughs.
“He’s the third person today to come in here and congratulate me. What the hell is Benjamin thinking?” I mutter, heading over to the sink to start cleaning the pile of dirty mugs.
“I believe his exact words when he came in yesterday were, ‘I know you really meant to say yes, you were just surprised. As soon as you start wearing that gigantic ring the size of the Sears Tower that I’ve been bragging to everyone about how much it cost, it will sink in that you’re going to be Mrs. Benjamin Montgomery!’” Bettie says in a deep voice. “I’m paraphrasing, of course. He actually said the dollar amount out loud, but I’ve blocked it from my mind. Even just the idea that you have a piece of jewelry that costs more than my car shoved into the back of your nightstand drawer makes me want to stab you in the face.”
I sigh, turning off the faucet when the sink is full of water and soap bubbles, wondering how on earth I’m going to convince Benjamin that I meant it when I told him I didn’t want to marry him. I moved to a big city like Chicago because I was tired of living in a small town where everyone knew your business. And also because the only place that sold coffee was the one, full-service gas station on the town square and they wouldn’t know what fresh coffee beans were if a bag smacked them in the face.
“I don’t know how many different ways I can inform him it’s over,” I complain to Bettie with a sigh, rinsing off a blue coffee mug that says Washington, D.C. on it, under a picture of the White House. “With Benjamin lying to everyone he knows and telling them that I said yes to his proposal, and most of those people being customers of Liquid Crack, it’s like living in Bald Knob all over again when they come in here.”
That thought makes me shudder even though I’m up to my elbows in hot water. There are a multitude of reasons why I haven’t been back to my hometown since the week after I graduated, and the gossip mill is just one of them. I love the hustle and bustle of a big city, I love the noise, I love that everything you need is within walking distance, and I love that you can stroll down the block every day at the same time and never see the same people. If Benjamin would just accept the fact that I don’t want to marry him, I wouldn’t be standing here on the verge of getting hives at just the thought of Bald Knob. I love Chicago, but Benjamin and his denial are starting to ruin that for me.
“You know every time you say Bald Knob I picture a town square with a giant stone statue of an old guy with his dick hanging out. And people flocking to the statue to touch his ‘bald knob’ for good luck,” Bettie laughs, making the same joke she always does on the rare occasion that my hometown comes up in conversation.
I ignore her, lining up all the now-clean coffee mugs on a towel spread out on the counter next to the sink and taking a step back to admire them.
“Did I tell you Benjamin wants me to get rid of all my coffee mugs and order matching ones for the stores?”
She gasps, grabbing a hot pink and blue mug with the word Dallas written across the center in white, hugging it to her chest.
“I’m so glad I didn’t let you know I was starting to feel bad for the guy. Let’s kill him. I know people who can make it look like an accident,” Bettie tells me in complete seriousness.
“You felt bad for him?” I ask in shock, wiping my wet hands on the apron tied around my waist as I turn to look at her.
Yes, I zero in on that instead of her comment about killing my ex-boyfriend. If one more person walks in the door and asks me about my wedding, I won’t care about making his death look like an accident.
“Only for a second. I mean, you’ve been with the guy for five years. He was here when you opened Liquid Crack, and even though he’s a pompous asshole who wears entirely too much hair gel, you dumped him when he proposed, the same day you signed the papers to franchise this place,” she reminds me.
When she sees my eyes widen with guilt, she quickly sets the coffee mug down and rests her hands on my shoulders.
“I said only for a second,” Bettie repeats. “Any man who wants to get rid of coffee cups you’ve been collecting since you were a kid deserves to be dumped. And castrated. Possibly poisoned with a side of head-and-eyebrow shaving while he’s sleeping.”
While it’s true that I broke up with Benjamin when he proposed, a few hours after my final meeting with the lawyers to sign the paperwork to make Liquid Crack a franchise, I didn’t want anyone thinking I said no because of my business and where it was going. I said no because I didn’t want to get married. To anyone. I said no because growing up in Bald Knob, you had two choices – get married to someone you’d known since birth and start popping out kids, or get the fuck out of there and get a life. I chose option two and I learned how to be a strong, independent business woman. I loved Benjamin and we had a pretty good relationship, up until the franchise discussions started six months ago. He wanted to change everything that made Liquid Crack what it is today. He wanted to make it uniform and corporate and just like every other coffee shop franchise all over the world. We’d done nothing but fight about it for months and his proposal honestly did surprise me at the time. I thought we were on our way to ending things and here he was planning for our future.