Simone Bradford struggled through the front door of her trailer avoiding stepping on Maxine, her very-excited-to-see-you! sable and white papillion, She dropped her mail in a trail behind her as she walked through the tiny trailer to her even tinier kitchenette. She placed the grocery bags on the floor before putting away the cold items into the ancient refrigerator, she lifted, Maxine’s leash off the hook it occupied by the front door and took her Papillon for a walk before dinner. When, Maxine had finished her ‘business’, Simone went back into the trailer, removed, Maxine’s leash and grabbed ‘dinner’… a box of crackers out of one of the cobalt blue cupboards above the stove, and put a kettle of water on to heat while she put away the rest of the groceries. She then placed a teabag of the cheapest green tea she could find in the white cup with pink and yellow roses that used to belong to her grandmother. There was a time in Simone’s life when her grandmother’s ‘country china’ was not good enough for her to use. During that time inher life it was ‘Go Wedgwood or go home.’.
‘My how the mighty have fallen.’. She sighed to herself.
When the kettle finally whistled, she poured the hot water over the tea bag and carried the cup and saucer, and the box of crackers, with her through the kitchen, into the small living room where she went through her mail as she sat in her favorite chair.
“Occupant, Resident, Simone Bradford or Current Resident, credit card bill, utility bill- nothing yet from Prince Charming,” she said to Maxine who was now in her lap trying to steal licks of hot tea from Simone’s cup. “Oh, yes! My new tea catalog came today! Look Maxine,” she showed the cover of the thin catalog to Maxine who showed a respectful amount of interest while trying not to get caught stealing crackers.
“Gee, Maxie, when the highlight of a girl’s day is getting a tea catalog in the mail, it’s time for her to get a life!” Maxine cocked her head to one side and huffed at Simone in what sounded to her like agreement.
“Don’t be so quick to agree,” she told Maxine as she got up to put her uniform, from the tea room where she was a waitress, into the wash with the rest of the dark clothes waiting for new life to be given to them before being doused again tomorrow with tea, bits of scone, and assorted sandwich fillings.
Simone felt a poke on the calf of her leg as she finished and looked down at Maxine. “Ready for dinner?” she asked her friend. A huff and stamp of feet was Maxine’s response. Simone went to the refrigerator feeling thoroughly bossed by her opinionated dog. She opened a can of food for, Maxine and placed a couple spoonfuls of it in her dog’s dish along with a treat. Simone would have felt eternally guilty if she didn’t spoil her friend. Maxine was only two years old, but they both had been through a lot in that short amount of time. Simone was more inclined to spend her money on Maxine than herself, and today was no exception.
“Hey, girl, are you ready for your present? It’s your birthday today!”
Maxine had no idea what Simone was so happy about but she liked the tone in her voice and did a little dance around the kitchen floor ‘huffing’ and shaking her head to make her ears flap. Simone laughed at Maxine’s impatience and reached into one of the bags still on the counter and pulled out a plastic container full of something brown and cut into strips.
“Guess what I have? Give up? It’s dried, cut up buffalo livers! Mmmm! Come on girl. Come on!” Simone lead Maxine on a brief chase into the living room. Maxine poked her in the leg with her nose the whole way. Simone pulled out a piece of liver from inside the container.
“Sit!” she commanded Maxine. Maxine huffed at her and stamped her feet.
“Sit I said,” Simone tried again. Again, HUFF was the only response she got from Maxine. Laughing, Simone gave the piece of liver to, Maxine.
“I guess no one should have to do tricks to be fed. Even if it is expensive buffalo livers!”
Simone had bought Maxine from a breeder in town three weeks before she lost her job. Already smitten, she couldn’t bear to give her back. It had been a financial struggle, but Simone had kept Maxine with her through thick and thin. That decision had been worth every penny and sacrifice. Simone sat back in her chair and reached for her book; Sayings of the Desert Fathers. She had overslept that morning and didn’t get to do her prayer, and quiet time before she left for work. The day had not gone well. Her attitude had been off and as a result, her tips had been low. ‘No one to blame but me,’ she thought. As she sat reading, Maxine’s giant ears flicked and she was up and out the flap of her doggie door. The only thing Simone had been able to teach her was not to bark at the neighbors, just strangers. When Simone heard Maxine growling and huffing, she knew it had to be at the people in the trailer next door. Maxine drew a fine line between obedience and getting away with murder. Evidently, according to Maxine, huffing and growling weren’t barking and she had refused to give them up. Simone had finally consented and in the end it had turned out to be a good way to tell what was going on around her. Maxine did her job well. An hour later Simone had completed the reading and was ready for bed. Early to bed and early to rise had not yet made Simone wealthy, but she was healthy and wise.
“Maxine!” she called out. “Here, Max! Come on girl! Come inside!”
Maxine bounded through the doggie door with a huff and several wags of her body. Simone slid the panel in the doggie door just in case a skunk or neighborhood cat decided to try and wander in during the night.
“No sense in tempting them,” she said to Maxine.
Simone carefully went through her nightly routine. She shook her long auburn hair out of its chignon and brushed it smooth. Slipping into her shorts and t-shirt combo with the roses on it, she sat on the edge of her bed with Maxine next to her and said her prayers. When she was done she slipped under the covers. Maxine looked at Simone and then crawled over to her own side of the bed and lay down.
“I don’t know why you bother,” said Simone, “we both know where you will be before too long, tucked in and snoring next to me!” Simone reached over and grabbed Maxine pulling her next to her and snuggling her close. Planting a kiss between Maxine’s ears, Simone told her ‘goodnight’ and turned out the light.
Morning, as it always did for Simone, came much too early. She disturbed Maxine as she got out of bed and was rewarded with a familiar grumble of protest. Knowing Maxine wouldn’t get up on her own, Simone picked her up and carried her to the front door, opened the door, set Maxine down and closed the door without undoing the panel so she couldn’t sneak in when Simone wasn’t looking. Maxine sat there for a couple of minutes still trying to wake up. Simone left her little friend to her own devices and went into the kitchen to start her day. She filled her small tea bell full of loose-leaf Earl Grey tea and waited for the kettle of filtered water to boil. By the time the water had boiled and the tea had steeped 4 minutes, the scone she had taken from the freezer to cook was done and she was ready for her quiet time. She stopped by the doggie door to let in Maxine and was greeted with an indignant huff as Maxine trotted past her and went back to bed.
‘She’s even worse at mornings than I am,’ Simone thought to herself.
Thirty minutes later, Simone closed her bible with tears in her eyes. Proverbs 24:16 was the last thing she had read, ‘for though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity.’
“You are so good, Lord,” she said out loud. “Your hand lifted me up and carried me each time I fell. Thank you, Lord. You are so merciful and good.” she looked around her at her humble abode and knew to the eyes of a stranger it did not look like much of a blessing but since she was not living in her car, she had enough money to pay her current bills (which weren’t much) and money to buy food (barely) she really could not complain. Wants and needs were two very different things but as always, she added to her prayer, “and Lord, I pray for more than enough.”.
She put down her bible and got up to finish getting ready and leave for work. Rushing to the bathroom, she scooped up her hair into a clip and sprayed it into obedience with her cheap drug story hair spray. Next came the face washing and makeup. She did a full-scale application of foundation, blush, lipstick and eyeshadow and even curled her eyelashes before applying her mascara. Even when in ‘corporate America’, Simone felt it was important to look her best which for her included; makeup, hair done and jewelry on, even if she was just waitressing. Next came her uniform. The most ridiculous thing she ever had to wear in her life. Since Miss. Daisy’s Tea Parlor tried to mimic an old fashioned Victorian era tea room, all the waitresses were required to look the part. This meant mutton sleeves and long hot skirts in black with white caps and aprons, even in the summer. Despite the silly get-up and serving tea all day, Simone had grown to love tea and everything about it. She especially liked it when some of the customers would dress in period clothing. Their outfits were colorful and exotic while hers was merely functional and drab. Her one small act of individuality in her costume, was the bright red lipstick she always wore. Placing some dry kibbles in Maxine’s dish and checking to make sure she had plenty of fresh water for the day, Simone walked out the door.
Getting into her very worn out car, Simone closed the door being careful not to slam the skirt of her dress in the door jam. Just as the car was warming up, she pulled into the parking lot of the Victorian house that had been converted, and painted in a tastelessly garish manner, into Miss. Daisy’s Tearoom and Millinery, in Old Colorado City. Using her key, she opened the door and started the morning prep. A little while later, she heard a car outside. Looking out the window, she saw the cook drive up. Simone had arrived her usual half an hour early. Betty, the cook, was always on time and Kate, the other waitress, was always late. Today was going to be a big day. They had two Red Hat© parties coming, plus three separate reservations, all within a half an hour of each other. The tea house opened at eleven. It was seven ’til. Betty took over the kitchen, leaving Simone free to vacuum and check the tables to see if they needed wiping down and if the salts and peppers needed topped off. She finished just as the first Red Hatter came through the door. A 90 year old cutie, she had that beautiful white hair that looked like spun sugar. She wore a red hat with a generous helping of feathers and sequins, a lovely purple dress with long sleeves, and a red and purple feather boa wrapped around her neck. She, too, had put on makeup this morning and topped off her look with some great sparkling earrings and a brooch.
“Good morning, Violet!” Simone greeted her enthusiastically. She was a regular and Simone had enjoyed getting to know her. Many of the ladies were a joy to be around. Some were cranky and cheap with their tips, but for the most part, they were like Violet, glad to be alive and still full of life. Vi, as she liked to be called, came over to give Simone a hug.
“How are you doing, Simone, dear? Got a handsome rich man yet? One that will spoil you and buy you the world?” Vi asked with a chuckle.
Violet spoke in a crisp, pleasant clip, pronouncing every consonant, sealing every word and never used slang.
“No, not yet, and besides, I wouldn’t want the whole world, it would be too much to clean!”
The two women exchanged pleasantries for a couple of minutes then the conversation turned to their dogs. Vi also owned a papillion.
“Daphne sure did enjoy Maxine’s visit last week. It took her another week to recuperate, but it was the liveliest I have seen her in a while, Simone.”
Simone remembered the play date when she had taken Maxine to over at Vi’s house. The two dogs had romped in the backyard for most of the time Simone had been there. Vi had served Simone the most delicious scones while she was there. Better than that, Vi had given her the recipe. They, like her friendship with Vi, would always be a heart treasure for Simone. Simone settled Vi into a seat by the window. Simone knew she liked to look out the window and see what was going on out on ‘The Ave’, Colorado Avenue. She liked to ‘people watch’ the tourists.
“Foot traffic is a little thin today,” Vi said, “do you think it will pick-up?”
“It better. If it doesn’t I just might have to rob a bank!” came Simone’s standard reply. The official tourist season was still to come, when the streets brimmed with people. Simone was confident it would pick-up here in the next month or two, especially the closer it got to summer. Simone excused herself and went to get Vi some ice water with lemon.
“Here you go, Vi,” She said as she set the glass down.
“Oh! I did not hear you come in,” came Vi’s startled reply. She had been deep in thought but now that Simone had broke through her reverie, she looked away from the window and up at Simone. Just then the door opened and laughter followed the slight breeze in as three more ladies joined Vi at the table. Simone left them to their ‘hellos’.
Back in the kitchen, Betty was pulling hot scones out of the oven.
“Ten more minutes on the quiches,” she told, Simone, “how we doin’ out there?”
“Great! All but two of them are here.”
They worked in silence for a few minutes.
“What time did Kate say she was coming in today?” asked Betty
“She didn’t. Does she ever?”
They both chuckled at the joke. They loved Kate, what wasn’t to love? They just didn’t like her unreliability. Simone finished spreading the cold curry chicken salad onto the croissants, adding; sprouts, slices of tomato, & lettuce before putting the tops on then cut each sandwich in half and neatly arranged the pieces on the middle plate of a three tiered, vertical serving stand. In between the chicken croissant sandwich were nestled little cucumber and butter finger sandwiches. Next she took the chocolate covered strawberries off the wax paper they had been sitting on and placed them on the bottom tray with other bite sized fruits and petit fours covered in bright frosting.
The scones were last; placed on the top tier so that their heat would not rise up to whatever food was sitting on the plate above which could cause it to melt and/or fall apart or wreck its taste. Each table was also treated to a tray with three wells in it; each well filled with either cream, lemon curd or jam. Checking on the ladies again, Simone saw they were ready to begin. Each of the tables of four was given a three tiered tray filled with the delectable finger foods Simone and Betty had just made, for the ladies to enjoy with their tea. She took the last of the trays of food and tea out to her ‘guests’ and after a little explanation about the food, she let them be so they could enjoy themselves without interruption. She always referred to the customers as her guests. She would have loved to be the owner of Miss. Daisy’s. Simone had tried several times to get Cora to jazz up the menu or serve an exotic tea or plan a special chocolate tea. All her ideas had been shot down. However, since Cora was rarely at the restaurant, Simone would sneak in some of her ideas whenever she could. They had all been a hit with her customers except for the most stubbornly unadventurous. Simone was always pouring over tea books for new recipes and tips on how to do things better or to add variety. She helped Betty clean up in the kitchen while the ladies were having their meeting. The occasional sounds of laughter would find its way down the hall and into the kitchen. Simone loved it. Being single and alone, she was sometimes lonely too. Remembering the voices and the laughter from the day helped her at night when she was feeling blue. All she had to do to feel better sometimes, was to think about the day. The happy faces of the customers, the smells from the kitchen and especially the laughter, helped ease some of the emptiness in her life. All that, plus Maxine, made her feel blessed, but there were some things missing in her life that friends, food and pets couldn’t replace. Simone wanted her own business. She desperately wanted something to call her own. Her friends at work thought she needed a man. THAT was the furthest thing from her mind. She put the dishes in the sanitizer a little too hard earning herself a raised eyebrow from Betty.
“Something on your mind, Kid?” Betty asked.
“No. Nothing!” Simone’s reply was a little enthusiastic for Betty. She grunted and turned back toward the rack she had taken out of the oven. The next reservation had wanted quiche and although there was plenty in the freezer from the day before, they knew the supply would be wiped out and none would be left for the lunch crowd, if there was a lunch crowd. The bell to the door rang interrupting her thoughts. She looked around the corner and saw five ladies walk in. She greeted them with a warm smile as she confirmed they were her next reservation. Kate was still missing in action. Simone felt herself getting nervous. Simone and Betty had been unable to convince Cora that she needed to let Kate go and find a replacement who knew how to tell time. Simone took the ladies to their seats and set them up with menus and flatware. When they were ready, Simone put their order in with Betty and went to check on her Red Hatters. She was greeted with a happy cheer as she entered the room. Everyone was smiling and seemed to be having a great time, and more than one of the ladies complimented her on the food. Simone smiled to herself. The gamble of jazzing up the usually bland chicken salad had paid off. She had read about the lavender sugar used to make lavender scones in a magazine and, since it was Vi’s Red Hat group, and she knew far enough in advance they were coming, Simone had made the lavender sugar herself a week ago. She fairly skipped into the kitchen on the wings of praise she had received and shared the kind words with Betty.
“You oughta be running your own restaurant,” said Betty, “you have the know how–”
Simone cut her off before she could get too far.
“There’s a big difference between know how and funding, Betty, you know that. Until I win the lottery, I’ll just have to make do with the way things are.”
Betty started to protest.
“No, Betty, let’s not even go there. I just don’t have the money and talking about something I want when I know it’s out of reach is too painful for me.”
Vi was passing by the kitchen on her way tot he ladies’ room when she heard what Simone said.
“Hope deferred makes a heart grow weak, Lord. If it is your will, show me how to bless Simone.” she prayed as she shuffled down the hall way.
Vi’s red hat group stayed for three hours until they wore themselves out talking and planning their next gathering. Other than the reservations, no other customers came in all day. Right on schedule, the door opened at 3 pm. and in walked Cora. Kate had not come in, nor had she called to say she wasn’t coming in.
“How’d we do?” asked Cora leaning on the counter. Cora only cared about the bottom line. She did not care enough to come in and contribute toward making the tea room a success. She felt she had done her part by putting the tea room into existence and she expected her employees to carry the burden of making it work.
Simone had just finished counting the drawer and handed the envelope over to Cora so she could see for herself. They had barely hit $300.00 and that was even with some of the purchases from the Red Hat ladies. If she was disappointed, Cora hid her emotions. Simone took her apron off and stuffed it in her bag to take it home to be washed. Her day was done at the tea room but it would still be a while before she made it home. Since her tips at the tea room were getting smaller due to the lack of customers, she was on her way to a job interview for another restaurant on the evening shift. She hated the idea of leaving Maxine alone so much, but if she didn’t start bringing in more money she wouldn’t even be able to afford Max’s food. Though it wasn’t required of her, Simone usually stayed late to help clean up the kitchen. Not today. Cora didn’t know about the interview but Betty did and gave her a reassuring wink as she left to get into her car. As she walked across the parking lot, Simone saw the owner of the building talking to a man she had never before seen. They were pointing to different areas of the building as the spoke to one another. Their conversation came to a halt as she walked by and resumed after she had gotten into her car. She briefly wondered what they were talking about but was soon too busy driving to think about it anymore.