Small intimate tables dotted the floor of the cafe with comfortable chairs. The air smelled of madeleines and other sweet treats, and the display case held savories and pastries alike. A sign hung in the window welcoming guests. It was finally opening day.
Sally straightened her apron and tucked a loose curl behind her ear. She’d picked the name “Hi-Tea” for their shop because that’s how her grandmother used to say hello to her, “Hi-ty!” It was something she herself would say upon waking as a small child. She grew out of saying it eventually, but the stories continued of how she’d greet the day from her mom to all who would listen.
She hoped her location on Heavenly Village Way would attract the locals and the tourists alike. It was a prime spot near the gondolas and heavily trafficked, but she knew it could be hard to keep consistent business throughout the year if the locals didn’t also come.
She walked to the front door. Morning was just dawning, and no traffic filled the street yet. It was late Spring, and a chill lingered in the air. She unlocked the door and stepped outside to wipe down the two sets of cafe tables and chairs waiting outside.
She looked up and down the street and spied a lone jogger out on their morning run. She waved hello as they passed by, then turned to go back inside for a little warmth. Her sweater was comfortable, but the morning temperatures were getting to her hands. She rubbed them together for a little warmth as she walked back inside.
“Nervous?” a voice from the corner called out. Her silent business partner, Sam, decided to not be so silent at times. “How about a cup of coffee? I’ll be your first customer.”
She glanced his way and stuck out her tongue, “To be a customer, you’ve got to pay!”
He laughed and retorted, “Oh, I think I bought a lifetime of coffee and pastries, woman. Go get me some!”
She rolled her eyes and headed behind the counter, then prepared him a creamy, frothy cup. She also pulled out a “salmon with everything” savory and set it on a plate. She took both over to the corner where he sat comfortably working away on his own pet project.
As she set it down, their first real customer came in. Sally greeted the customer and provided them a small menu to help with their selections.
The older lady perused the drink selections and walked over to the counter. “May I have an English Breakfast with cream and sugar? I haven’t had one in years.” Her voice had a faded English accent. “Also, do you have any financiers?”
Sally was thrilled. She could finally have someone let her know if she was close with her recipe. “Yes! I do. Please have a seat and I’ll bring everything to you as soon as your tea is brewed. Would you prefer a cup or a pot for one? A pot has two cups.”
“A cup will do, thank you.” the lady responded as she took a seat at one of the small low tables in a comfortable highbacked chair.
Sally went to work behind the counter plating a financier and gathering the supplies for the lady’s tea. She fixed a small plate with sugar and a small creamer, then delivered it to her table. “I’ll be right back with your tea and financier. You’re my first customer!”
She went back to the counter and finished up the tea, then picked up it and the financier, then returned to the table. “Here you go. Enjoy.”
The lady nodded thanks and began to prepare her tea.
Sally hesitated a moment, then turned and returned to behind her counter. She’d envisioned quiet moments like this, but she hadn’t planned for what to do with her time. She started fiddling with the display to make sure everything looked good and filled in the spots emptied by serving the salmon savory and the financier.
“Excuse me.” A quiet voice spoke from behind the counter. Sally almost didn’t hear her, but she saw a figure through the display case and popped up her head.
“Hello?” Sally walked around to see who was speaking. “Can I help you?” As she turned the corner, the figure disappeared. Sally shook her head; was her mind playing a trick on her? It must have been her own reflection.
Sally headed over to the lady in the high-backed chair. Maybe that’s who she heard. “Can I get you anything else?”
The kind lady said no, then asked if she settled up at the counter. Sally nodded yes and made her way back to the counter to close her tab and take payment.
Sally looked at her first customer sweetly. “Was everything okay?”
The lady nodded yes, then commented, “Your financier was delicious by the way. I wouldn’t change a thing!” and she winked at her as she handed Sally a tenner. “Keep the change dear. You’ve got a good setup here. I wish you luck.”
With that, the lady exited the cafe and wandered away.
Sally walked over to Sam sitting in the corner still and wondered out loud, “Did you see a little girl come in then walk out by chance?”
Sam just looked at her and shook his head in a firm no.