Sneek Peak~~Chapter 1

Everything at Café Crave is just a little wrong since the new manager took over.  It used to be a quaint, comfortable hangout for Sands, Riyaan, sometimes Cat and me to meet up for our weekly therapy debriefs.

The new manager is turning it into one of those up-scale a la carte cafés where yuppies are seen sporting designer label clothes and latest Gucci handbags.  The walls are now covered with original artwork from local artists, hung crookedly at different angles each time we come in, as though someone keeps trying to get it right but is unable to do it.  It’s hardly a place where a fat lady and her eclectic group of friends, including her very own stinky homeless friend, are welcome.

Riyaan, world’s best gay friend and coffee barrister extraordinaire, catches my eye as the door shuts behind me.  “Large mocacchino?” he calls across the counter.

“Make it a double,” I reply and approach the booth where Sands sits.  Why can’t she remember to get a table?

Booths convey a sense of privacy and intimacy while making it difficult to slide in and out of them, not to mention the table cuts into one’s gut.

Another annoying change to the café is the tables are too close.  The place is never more than a third full, yet they squeeze in the tables as if anticipating of throngs of caffeine addicts.  As a large woman, I am unable to walk through this minefield without bumping into something.  I only ever go there when I have no choice and this was one of those times.  The gang hasn’t met in weeks and Riyaan insisted on meeting here as he was on a break.

“Excuse me, so sorry” I mumble as I bump the arm of a patron and cause her coffee to slosh across her hand.  I hope it doesn’t scald her.  Another patron, chatting loudly on his call phone, grabs his purchase at the cash register and walks toward to the door, except I am blocking his path.  He stops short gives me an obvious “Ew” look, then backtracks and takes the long way around the minefield.  He lowers his voice and snickers something.

I’m almost to the booth.  In my haste to get there, I turn sideways to squeeze between a chair where sits a man with a laptop and a table where a couple, oblivious to the world, makes googly eyes at each other.  “Sorry,” I say as my stomach knocks the man’s head and arm forward.  His hand hits a key and the laptop screen goes blank.

“Shit” he mutters.  So much for hoping whatever it is is backed up or not important.

Meanwhile, my butt pushes the table behind me backward.  “Hey!” the female hisses.  I glance over my shoulder and see coffee spilling over the table.

“I do apologize,” I offer and duck my head in embarrassment.  I’d get out of there but my friends were waiting. Feeling glares boring into my back and barely muffled snickers from the far side of the café, I slide into the booth across from Sands, who gives me a sympathetic smile.

“How’s it going?” she asks.

“Never a dull moment,” I reply and risk a glance around the room.  A few people hastily look away, but I forget about them when I see someone standing at the café window.  It’s Cat.  I smile and wave her in because she never comes in uninvited.

“Not again” Sands turns to see whom I’m waving at and groans.  “Why do you do this every time?”

Cat leaves her rusty grocery basket parked outside and opens the shop door.  Just as customers lean away from me as I walk through the shop to make room, they now lean away from Cat to avoid contact with her filth.

She slides in the booth next to Sands just as Riyaan arrives with my drink.  “Double mocacchino, darling” he purrs, making the word come out dahh-ling, and sits next to me.  Riyaan, my ‘knight in pink flamingo armor’ (his words), always makes the perfect coffee.  His dyed blonde highlights over espresso brown hair makes him look like the specialty coffee drinks he serves.

Cat arches a brow.  “Like you need a double.”  Her breath reeks of cheap beer; her hair (of indeterminate color) looks like it hasn’t been washed or brushed in a week; and her frayed, faded clothes smell, but despite being a homeless alcoholic, Cat (short for Catherine, what she was called when she had a normal life, comfortable home and career as a university professor) looks like a scrawny stray cat and can always be counted on to criticize others.

Sands is more sensitive.  “What’s wrong?  Is it your dad?  Is he okay?”  Her big blue eyes fill with worry.

I nod.  “Yes, he’s fine.  It’s just . . .” I’m embarrassed to tell them.  It makes me feel like more of a loser than I already am.

“Just what?” Sands prods.

“Out with it,” Cat barks.

I sigh.  “Tiresa and Mika are getting married.”  Tiresa is my sister.  Mika is my ex-husband.

“Guess you do need a double,” Cat quips.

Sands’ body appears to deflate and she shakes her head, speechless.

“It’s about time,” Cat continues.  “At least they won’t be living in sin any more.”

“Cat!  That’s not the point,” Sands snaps.

Riyaan’s eyes widened in horror.  “That’s so wrong.  Oh, Bella,” he rests his hand on mine, curled around the takeaway cup, “I’m here for you.  If you need to talk, you call anytime, okay?”

“Yeah,” Cat interjects, “if you need to talk or go shopping, it’s always convenient to have a gay friend.  Especially a pretentious one who insists on mispronouncing and misspelling his name as RHEE-OHN instead of plain old RY-UN.”

“CAT!” all three of us say in unison.

As my three friends continue to bite and claw at one another, I think back to earlier that day when I got the news.

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