New Winslow S6E9
Olivia’s knuckles were bleeding. She kept her little container of moisturizer in her glove compartment, but that was so far away from the bathroom she was scrubbing right now. Okay, it was in the parking lot out back. But she’d have to get out of this bathroom, past the broken table that had fallen apart last night, through the back hallway where eighteen other tasks would greet her, then out to the parking lot to get it. And then she’d lose all motivation to come back in here and continue to chisel ancient soap scum (or what she really hoped was soap scum) off of the double sink in this far too small bathroom.
Why were there two sinks and one toilet? Who does that? A lock of hair fell out of the bandanna she’d stolen from Noah to cover her head while she worked, and she pushed it back in place with a filthy finger, immediately regretting it.
The Limerick building already looked so much better than it had a couple days ago. Between the three of them, they’d spent most of their waking hours scrubbing the place down and sorting the trash from the usable materials left over from when John had run the place. The kitchen wasn’t quite ready for cooking, but the bleaching had made it far less creepy. Up front, the fossilized donut was still in the case. And by this point, they might as well make it the cafe’s mascot. But the windows were cleaned and the sunlight streamed in, making it even into the bathroom through the door she’d propped open with an old bucket she recognized from their backyard.
Her sponge had officially dissolved by now, but the other pack of sponges was out in the kitchen. Olivia swore as she realized she’d left them on the long assembly counter. Dammit, she’d spent how many years doing this work? She hadn’t even ordered aprons yet, and she hadn’t wanted to sacrifice her one apron at home for this. But she was going to ruin her clothes at this rate and even the idea of buying clothes from the thrift store made her feel vaguely guilty in a way that none of the others would be happy to hear about. But they didn’t need to be spending money unnecessarily right now.
“Hey, how’s it going in there?”
Andrew’s voice made her jump, just like always, and she turned to see him in the doorway wearing a dust covered Keegan’s apron.
“Where’d that come from?” she asked, motioning toward it.
Andrew laughed self-consciously. “Noah had it,” he said. “I’m about to go get him too. I’m making tea and we’re all taking a break.”
A cup of tea sounded wonderful. “I’ll get him,” Olivia said. “I need to go get some cream out of my car, anyway.”
She held up her hand, where the light bleeding had stopped, and Andrew winced. “No gloves?” he asked.
“I couldn’t find mine earlier.”
“We’ll grab some later.”
She was about to protest, but he was already making his way over to the counter, where he’d set up a thermos and some mugs from their kitchen. Olivia set down the remnants of her sponge and walked toward the back, passing by all the tasks she’d known she’d see on her way out. Splintering wood, a broken windowpane, and that unstable door were just the tip of the iceberg as she pushed the back door open and went out into the muddy parking lot.
Noah was back there, breaking apart a bookshelf that had been on its last legs. She’d been tempted to keep it, envisioning the little library they could set up. But then Noah had zeroed in on the single patch of mildew on the middle shelf, then the wobbling supports for the bottom shelf, and water damage along the cheap back paneling. So she’d reluctantly let him pull out his special occasion ax and destroy it.
She watched from the doorway as he swung the ax down into the back panel, splitting it and sending splinters everywhere. He took another swing, slamming the ax with more force than was probably necessary for this task. Another swing went into the joint where the top of the bookshelf met the back. Then another. And another. The wood cracked and mud splattered as he kept swinging, moving faster and faster as the ax pulverized the cheap wood. It was in at least eight pieces now, all of which could have easily gone into the dumpster. But Noah kept swinging, the ax hitting mud as frequently as it hit the wood. And she could see something in his face as he swung that made her reluctant to interrupt.
If liquifying the bookshelf with an ax gave him a little catharsis, she wasn’t going to be the one to take that away. So she slipped back inside without him noticing.
As Andrew was pouring them both a cup about ten minutes later, the back door opened and she heard Noah coming in just before the stress could settle. He showed no sign of anything strange as he walked into the dining room.
“Tea?” Andrew offered.
There was nowhere clean to sit, but they were all dirty anyway. Olivia sat down on the floor with her back against the counter. She thought the other two might grab the chairs from yesterday, but they were on the floor on either side of her a minute later. “All things considered, we’re doing pretty well,” she said.
There were murmurs of assent as she looked around the space. They’d need to figure out a floor plan soon. If she remembered the old setup correctly, there’d been about eight tables. If they got bigger, more comfortable tables, they’d have to cut that number down. But it was still reasonable.
“So what’s our brand?” Andrew asked her.
Olivia laughed, leaning her head back and closing her eyes for just a moment. “Hmm,” she said. “Our brand.”
“Yeah, we need to do some brand building before we really start setting up in here. So what are you thinking? Warm and rustic? Traditional coffee shop with a twist? Futuristic?”
“Futuristic rustic,” she said. “We’ll get robots to replace us, then take a vacation.”
“I’ve been thinking about it,” Andrew continued. “We need to go outside of New Winslow too, but I don’t want to advertise for people to come here. But we won’t survive on our base just being people in town.”
“Roman was saying that yesterday,” Noah said.
Olivia turned to look at him. “You saw Roman?”
“Yeah, I stopped by the hospital to drop some stuff off.”
“How was he?”
“Looked like shit,” Noah admitted. “But better than last time I saw him.”
If Roman was talking about business, then he had to be doing alright. But before Olivia could ask for more details she might or might not get, Andrew was talking again.
“That makes sense,” he said. “And we might want to have a delivery element to this. Obviously it won’t be me, and we can’t afford to hire anyone else right now. But-”
“I’ll do it,” Noah said.
“We haven’t even set it up yet.”
“I said I’ll do it.”
Andrew blinked at him. “Okay,” he said after a beat, as Olivia watched him reel his own temper in. “Great. That sounds good.”
Meanwhile, Noah looked like his own minor outburst had surprised him too. Olivia was tempted to tell him to go take a nap, like she did when Mia started getting pissy with her. “Sorry,” he muttered.
“I don’t know what brand building is.”
“It’s just a marketing thing,” Andrew said, moving smoothly back into planning mode. “We figure out what the market is like, what could set us apart. How to connect with customers. Those kinds of things. I figured I can take the lead, just because I’ve done this kind of thing before.”
The atmosphere was uncomfortably charged right now, and Olivia wasn’t sure how to diffuse it. And she was quite literally caught in the middle of them. “I know we’ve got our business plan drafted, but let’s sit down tonight and do some of that,” she said. “The fun stuff.”
“It’s not all the fun stuff?” Andrew asked as he shifted and pulled a broken floor tile out from under himself.
Noah laughed and took the tile from him. Andrew smiled, and the tension eased a little as Olivia pulled herself to her feet. “I’m going back in to battle that bathroom,” she said. “If I’m not out by five, just seal it up.”