Any other time, Greg’s off-handed attempts at humor I might welcome, but after the news report I was listening to, I was not in the mood. Yet, I humored him. I muted the television. “Who’s there?”
I rolled my eyes. “Orange who?”
“Orange you glad you didn’t sign that lease yet?” His dimpled smile faded when I pushed back into the pillows and sighed. “You didn’t, right?”
“I didn’t send it yet, thank God.” I said, reaching for my laptop, sitting on its lap-desk next to me on the bed. I’d intended to send it off to the leasing agent this morning though. It was sitting in my drafts folder, just waiting for a push of a button.
I’d been hesitating, much to Greg and Mom’s growing annoyance, about opening that coffee shop in our little town.
Greg let out an audible sigh of relief. “This might be one of the few times I’m glad you didn’t give in to me.”
The world needed more spaces for creative minds to congregate. When I brought up the idea, complete with the perfect spot, in the historic downtown area, Greg and my Aunt Kay quickly approved. We’d both wanted to do something more than be worker bees all our lives. And Aunt kay loved that the spot I’d chosen was near the park with the perfect view of the pond centerpiece. She’d have a place to come and write or read. Thoughts of Aunt Kay made me even more maudlin.
The way I was feeling, seeing my plans fall through as well as missing Kay, talking to my mom wasn’t going to be helpful. So, I didn’t call her. Instead, I spent the morning first emailing then calling the management company about the space I had planned on renting. She tried calling a couple of times, but I was embroiled in a fight about that damned agreement.
The phone rang as soon as I hung up, my phone rang. With a sigh, I picked it up without bothering to look at who was calling. I thought I already knew. “Hey, Mom,” I started. “I—"
But I was cut off by the caller. “Hey Selena, it’s Javier.”
Out of habit, I glanced at the nearest clock but realized I was off today. I replied, bemused, “Javier? What’s up?”
“Hey, yeah. So, I know you’re not working today so I wanted to let you know we’re going to have to shut down.”
“Oh. Wait. What?”
Javier answered in that annoying nasally, smug tone of his that had the same effect of nails scraping on a chalkboard to me. “I guess you haven’t been watching the news. There’s this virus going around…”
“Yes, I’m aware. But it’s non-essential businesses they’re asking to shut down.”
“Selena, restaurants are non-essential.”
Just like coffee shops.
We’d only been back to the States for a little over a year and a half after Greg got out of the Army, and just finding our footing when my Aunt Kay opened her home to us. Since she lived close to San Antonio, where Greg was getting his medical treatments for PTSD and where I was trying to find work, we gratefully accepted.
Aunt Kay, my mom’s oldest sister, was my favorite. She was the one I would come see in the summers when I was growing up, and she was also the woman who helped me cultivate my love of reading. The answer to her offer was easy enough for me, and by extension, Greg, since he had come to adore her over the years of our dating and marriage.
Our being there with her also meant that she wasn’t alone when her health started to decline. What I didn’t know until after she passed was, just as I considered her my favorite aunt, she thought of me just as highly. Highly enough to overlook both of her own sons, one of whom was in jail and the other who had cut her off years ago, to give me her home and land in her will. It didn’t take the sting out of losing hers, but to be around the things she interacted with, and the hundreds of books she’d touched and read and loved…being in her home made me feel like Aunt Kay was still around, still watching over me.
After my call with Javier and the management company, I realized I had more time on my hands than I expected. So much for the coffee shop business and, again thanks to the Coronavirus, so much for the sucky job I took in town to be close to Aunt Kay when she got ill.
It would have been easy at that point to give into the sinking sense of despair just then. I’d known Javier had been looking for a way to get me out of that restaurant the minute he set eyes on me—the Selena Martinez from Donna, Texas, was not who he envisioned when he heard my name.
The Selena Martinez who spoke fluent Spanish wasn’t even a Black Latina, just some average Black girl who learned Spanish through friends and telenovelas, did not, could not vibe with his image, nor with the nearly 100% Hispanic staff in his shop. But where he couldn’t find a reason to fire me, the Coronavirus helped out.
I’ve been here before, without a job, or even the hopes of finding one at the moment. I wasn’t going there again.
The last stint, after all, had gotten me to the concept of the coffee shop.
There had to be something I could do with all this new extra time I had on my hands. Something productive.
I ended up in the little room full of shelves of books, which was at one point in time the room Kay’s youngest son, Simon, once inhabited. Sometime after he had left, she put money to renovating it and making it her own personal reading room. It was so Kay, with its turquoise painted walls and purple, blue and pink furnishings to go along with the bright white ceiling to floor built in bookcases.
Since we moved in here, the work of getting our lives on track kept me from truly reacquaint myself with her house. In the time since her kids had grown up and gone on their way, she had put a lot of effort into her home and it showed, especially in this room. The built-in bookcases here were good quality work with shelves to house her personal collection, but at waist level to the floor, the shelves gave way to drawers. I opened one to find notebooks. So was the next. Spiral bound ones, but also those faux leather kinds you could find in bookstores on the shelves before the registers in others. She even had a vast collection of comp books.
And every one of them was filled with notes, random thoughts apparently, interspersed with equally random cutouts of places and other pictures. All in the neat, flowery scrawl of hers, in various colors, but mostly blue or purple. Purple had been her favorite color.
“What were you doing here, Kay?” I muttered to myself.
As if it was an answer to my question, the next drawer I opened, a black book sat on top of the stacks.
I took it out and opened it up.
This journal belongs to
Keitha Marie Simmons
I smiled, “Of course, it does.” I turned the page.
This version of a journal was familiar to me. Just as I questioned how my sixty-plus year-old auntie knew about bullet journals, I looked up and saw the very book about bullet journaling, right there in front of me.
I laughed despite myself. Anyone, from here on, who told me that old dog can’t learn new tricks had no credibility.
Then the envelope slipped out from the pages.
It was addressed to me. It was a notecard from one of the sets on the counters in Auntie Kay’s handwriting.
I could hear her voice as I read. Tears welled in my eyes and made me go over it a second time to take it all in.
“I hope it’s you reading this and everything’s intact. I’m sixty-eight as I’m writing this, and I figured it was a good idea to organize things instead. I may not have the time to do what I want, but if I don’t, maybe you’ll take up the torch. Love you so, so much; Aunt Kay.”
The information in the journal was detailed, from Facebook and webpages she found interesting to resources she started building with. But the most detailed in the journal was how the notebooks fell in step with her writing ideas.
Kay had cataloged them to correspond with her thoughts, and the black book was the key.
“Hey, you,” I glanced up to find my husband standing in the doorway of Kay’s library, looking quizzically at me, on the floor, notebooks strewn around me, my computer in my lap. “What’s going on?”
“I’ll talk to you in a while. Right now,” I waved him away and went back to work.
Wisely, he left me alone.
I explained it to him that evening, catching him up with the events of the day as we were getting ready for bed. “It appears that Auntie had dreams of being a writer. I seem to remember her saying something along those lines a long time ago, but she never brought it up again.”
“Sounds like Kay.” Greg grunted as he got up from his last set of push-ups, his cutoff sweatshirt shorts hung deliciously low on his hips, the vee of his abs narrowing below the band. It sparked an idea… “And you. ‘Cause if I remember correctly, you mentioned something similar a long time ago.”
I hadn’t forgotten. It was a little kid’s dream job, dreamt up right here in this house… and maybe…
“Kay always talked about interesting stuff. It’s a shame she didn’t have the time to see to all of them.” He mused aloud. “So, what are you planning on doing? What do you want to do with your coffee shop idea?”
“Well…” That was a good question, and I didn’t have an answer for him right then.
But he didn’t wait for an answer. Seems he already had one in mind. “Writing books and publishing them online won’t have the overhead that a brick-and-mortar business requires, and Kay was good to us. Seems like she’s still being good to us. You going for it, right?”
Could it really happen? We did have money saved for the coffee shop. And, truthfully, becoming a writer, a real, money making writer trumped a coffee shop any day.
Greg plopped down on the bed next to me. “I’d say do it. At least, see how things pan out for the next few months. You have the time, we have the money, and besides, Kay obviously thought you could do something with all those ideas.”
When he put it that way, how could I not? Kay not only left me the house, but something even more precious.
Her hopes and dreams.
The first, my initial foray into the venture, didn’t do as well as I hoped, but I plugged on. Not only because it was something she wanted, but it kept me busy during those first few, chaotic months.
It took eight months and several hundred hours, but I produced three books from those journals, and am working on two more. Five months on this path, I not only paid back into our savings but added to it.
This morning, eight months since I found those journals, in checking the income reports, Kay’s books put us $20,000 in the black.
20k, in the first eight months.
Kay’s still with us, in so many ways. Most of all in that turquoise reading room, and that little black journal.