This story is by Hannah J Custer and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Jarem noticed something was wrong as soon as the clock chimed 4 pm. Even the familiar smells of the season didn’t ease his mind. The spiced cider on the stove, cinnamon from the baked goods and the smell of nutmeg and pumpkin spice invaded every crevice of the neighborhood coffee shop.
Marjory should be here already. She always arrived at 3 pm sharp. She would tease around with the brothers, order her favorite drink, and watch the world go by in a seat by the front window. A half an hour passed but she still didn’t come through the door.
Jarem felt his excitement wane as he rocked from foot to foot while the last customers of the day took their leave. He asked his younger brother. “Where is she?”
Colin looked up from where he swept. “She’ll text us if she’s in trouble.”
Jarem snuck his phone out of his apron pocket but a quick look told him very little.
Their grandfather, Pops, was busy at work on an order of birthday cupcakes. Mike, their older brother, was helping to put on the finishing touches. He insisted. “She’s probably fine.”
Pops took notice of Jarem’s agitation. “What if someone got up the courage before you, Jarem? What will you do with all your big plans?”
Jarem didn’t even get a moment to consider it before he heard the front door open with a creak and burst of cold air.
Marjory stepped in with a bit of a limp and looked up at the young man behind the register. Jarem welcomed her with a relieved smile. To someone else, he would probably look more threatening. Despite the tattoos that covered his arms and reached up to his neck and various piercings, she knew Jarem was the sweetest dork she’d ever met.
Jarem’s first thought was how her eyes were red and there was a catch in her throat as she greeted him. “Hi there.”
Jarem asked, concerned. “Did your car not start up again?”
Marjory looked down at her phone and bit her lip when she saw three missed texts from Jarem’s number. “No. I had a lunch date but they didn’t show. I waited for a while-”
Colin interrupted. “Who stood you up? We were just teasing him about somebody else asking you out before he-”
Jarem covered up Colin’s mouth with his hand. “Why don’t you go sit down while I kill my baby brother? Wait for me and I’ll make you a pumpkin cappuccino.”
Jarem brought her espresso in one hand and a first aid kit in the other. He sat down beside her and said. “You’re lucky you didn’t turn an ankle in those shoes.”
Marjory laughed embarrassed, “Just blisters.” Then motioned toward his hands. “Is that for me?”
Jarem let her take the drink and showed her the first aid kit, “May I?”
She nodded, surprised. She took her first sip and watched in fascination as his big veiny hands gently took off the strappy heels and applied bandages on her sore feet. She asked, “What do I owe you?”
He shrugged. “Consider it a birthday gift.”
“Are you sure your name isn’t Clarence?” She teased.
Jarem just laughed and watched her scan the street outside the window. He told her. “I’ve seen you watch this street a million times but why do you keep looking?”
Marjory replied. “It’s a bad habit. I keep fantasizing that a miracle will happen and I’ll just happen to see Garrett walk by on his way to work at the hospital or something like that.” Her voice faded away as her hope diminished.
Jarem asked. “Your oldest brother? I haven’t met him yet.”
Marjory dug in her purse and took out a newspaper clipping. “This is him. He’s fifteen years older than me.” It was a picture of a man who had Marjory’s same knobby nose with several children, who had the same nose, standing close by their mom.
Jarem read the caption. “Dr. Garrett McClure, MD.’ Wow. Your family must be really proud.”
Marjory admitted. “It comes with a cost though. I haven’t seen him in almost four years.” She explained. “I was just a kid when he got married. I would get so mad at him but I get it now as an adult. It hurts but I understand. Right now, he’s busy with his work, his wife, and his kids. He just doesn’t have room for the rest of us anymore.”
Jarem asked. “If not him, then who am I punching for making you cry?”
Marjory flinched “It’s not like that.” She took a sip to clear her throat and pointed to a little girl in the picture. “My niece and I share the same birthday. I asked my sister in law, if she, my niece, and I could have a birthday lunch together. She agreed but didn’t show up.”
Jarem replied. “We’ll just have to find someone else.” He leaned back and rubbed his chin. “Liam is on his honeymoon. Elise went back to school for a new semester and the twins are still overseas. Then your mom and dad won’t be home until tomorrow?”
Marjory could only nod.
Suddenly the clatter of small children and their equally noisy mother exploded into the coffee shop. Jarem jumped to his feet and muttered to Marjory. “Prepare thyself.” Instantly, he was ambushed on all sides by nephews of various sizes. Clamoring for his attention, they unintentionally body slammed Jarem to the floor.
Mike’s wife Tonya threatened the whirling dervishes at her feet. “If you kill Uncle Jare, Miss Marjory will never come back to babysit or come to the park to blow bubbles. She likes him, you know.”
The two-year-old, Owen was sitting on Jarem’s face. He asked with absolute shock and then indignation. “Likes you? No. Me. Likes me!” He motioned with his arms for Marjory to grab him and she swept him away.
Owen squealed, repeating his new favorite phrase. “She likes me. Likes me.”
Colin appealed to the older boys. “Help your uncle up. He’s an old man.”
As Jarem stretched and bemoaned his agony, Marjory dissolved into giggles.
Owen looked at her with eyes wide as saucers. He grabbed both sides of her face and planted a wet kiss on her chin. Most of the onlookers gasped or laughed but Tonya quickly took Owen away and scolded him lightly. “Leave that to your uncle.”
Jarem tried to pull Marjory away from the crowd when the back door creaked open. They could all hear Pops call out. “Just in time, Dr. McClure. I hope your little girl likes these cupcakes.”
Marjory looked at Jarem with shock. “Is that who I think? Why? How?”
Jarem feigned innocence. “Go check it out.”
Marjory walked past the counter and into the back. Standing there with Pops was her older brother.
Garrett turned and grinned when he saw her. “Happy birthday pretty girl.”
Marjory ran and wrapped her arms around his neck. She closed her eyes and breathed in the smell of antiseptic and Old Spice as he gave her the bear hug she’d been missing. For a moment, nothing else existed. Garrett told her in a sad whisper. “Twenty-five years old…Where does the time go?”
Garrett let go first, wiped his eyes, and then noticed Jarem standing back. “Who’s this?”
Jarem stepped up and held out his hand. “I’m the one you talked to on the phone.”
Pops explained. “Cup of Joe used to be a cake shop. Garrett called the old number and asked about cupcakes for your niece. When Jarem recognized his name, we told him we’d do it.”
Garrett replied. “I’m really grateful.” He shook their hands and said as he noticed the way Marjory was smiling. “It looks like you’ve been taking care of my sister for me.”
Marjory looked at him with new eyes as Jarem replied gruffly. “She takes care of herself, just fine. I just get to help sometimes.”
Garrett took what he said with a nod of approval and they helped him load up the car while Marjory updated him on everyone and how they were doing.
He gave her another hug and they both made promises to see each other soon, knowing that they couldn’t keep them. With an exchange of I love yous and I missed yous, he was gone.
At first, Marjory felt like a little girl again watching him drive away but she felt a big hand on her lower back, supporting her. Jarem was right behind, not saying a word.
Marjory pulled him up to her side. She got up on her tiptoes and kissed him on the mouth. She pulled back and told him. “Thank you for sharing your family and bringing me a piece of mine. It’s the best present I could have asked for.”
Jarem confessed, straight and simple. “I love you.”
Marjory interlocked her hand with his. “I know.”