My new novel Water Under Bridges (Pink Bean – Book Five) will be out next week Friday (on 30 June 2017). Here’s a preview. Enjoy!
Water Under Bridges
© Harper Bliss
As far as first days at new jobs went, this one had been easygoing for Mia. Kristin hadn’t hired her to brew coffee; Mia was here for far loftier goals. Expansion. A second coffee shop in another part of the city. Obtaining a liquor license. Turning the Pink Bean brand into much more than the friendly neighborhood coffee shop it stood for today.
“Great product,” she said to Kristin after taking a sip from her coffee. Strong and black. For someone who had just become manager of a coffee shop, Mia didn’t truly believe all the fancy coffee drinks were necessary. What was wrong with plain old regular coffee? That was how she liked it. But she wouldn’t have this new job if not for the fancier beverages which had a much higher margin than simple black coffee.
Tomorrow morning—bright and early—Mia was expected to handle the first barista shift of the day alongside Josephine, to whom she hadn’t even been properly introduced. She had suggested it herself, favoring a hands-on approach and learning the ins and outs of the coffee shop business from actually working in one. The only part she wasn’t very enthusiastic about was the starting time of her duties at 6:30 a.m.
“Hello, hello,” Sheryl said as she entered the Pink Bean from the back room.
Kristin and her partner had interviewed Mia together for the position, so Mia had already been formally introduced. After the interview, which had been relaxed and free of the usual corporate stiffness, Mia had wanted the job so badly, she’d had to stop herself from going back in and pleading her case all over again. It was the vibe of the place. Not only the extreme gay-friendliness—or perhaps she should call it straight-friendliness—but the way the two of them were together. It gave her hope for better times in her own personal life. And the number of lesbians that must frequent the place. Mia didn’t know the neighborhood very well, but even on the way over from the train her gaydar had pinged several times. The lesbian density wasn’t as high as in Newtown, but the women here were different. And Mia could do with a new stomping ground.
“I know we hired you to help Kristin, but that doesn’t mean she’s allowed to boss you around too much.” Sheryl kissed Kristin on the cheek. “She can be like that sometimes.”
Kristin gave Sheryl a look, then refocused her attention on Mia. “Don’t mind her. Sometimes she doesn’t know when not to say something.” Kristin shot Mia a warm smile, her eyes narrowing with glee and the skin around them crinkling up.
“I look forward to getting to know you better, Mia, but now I have to dash. Professorial duties are calling.” She tipped a finger to her forehead and stopped at the counter where Josephine handed her a takeaway coffee she hadn’t even had to order.
“Jo, can you join us for a minute?” Kristin asked.
“No, that’s all right,” Kristin said.
Mia could have done with a refill but Kristin had the sort of insistent tone of voice she instinctively didn’t want to argue with.
Kristin introduced Mia to Jo as the new Pink Bean manager and Jo to Mia as the Pink Bean’s longest and hardest-working employee with the voice of an angel.
“I guess that makes you my new boss then,” Josephine said. “So we’d best try to get along.”
“You should really come to the next open mic night,” Kristin said. “Jo will be singing and blow you away in the process. We’re lucky to have her on our tiny stage once every two months these days, that’s how in demand she is.”
“Please, Kristin.” Josephine waved her off. “You know how easily I blush.”
A customer walked in and Kirstin got up. “You girls get acquainted. I’ll take care of this.”
Mia took the opportunity to study Josephine’s face. She couldn’t immediately place it, but something about her was beginning to look familiar. “Wait a minute. You’re not Josephine Greenwood, are you?”
“The one and only. Why do you ask?”
“Er, because of this.” Mia fished her phone out of her back pocket and scrolled to the WhatsApp message that contained the music file Pat had sent her a few weeks ago. She tapped play and a powerful, impressive voice boosted from her phone’s inadequate speakers. “Is this you?” She glanced at Josephine’s face.
“Sounds like me. Where did you get this?”
“A friend sent it to me. She went to one of your gigs and made this recording. Sent it to all of us, that’s how blown away she was by your voice. I could only agree.” Mia gave Josephine a wide smile. “It’s an honor to be working with you.”
“I’ll sing you a tune once in a while.” Everything about Josephine smiled.
“If you don’t mind me asking—why are you working here? There’s so much buzz about you in Sydney right now. You’re about to blow up.”
“Very simple. I need the money,” Josephine said matter-of-factly. “Singing in student pubs doesn’t pay that well.”
Mia couldn’t help herself. The question that worked its way from her brain to her mouth in record time was out before she could think about it. “Do you have someone looking out for your interests?”
“I have Jimmy.”
“The guy playing guitar on that clip you just heard.”
“Your guitar player is your manager?”
“He’s not my guitar player and he’s not my manager either. He takes care of all the bookings and the admin stuff, for which I’m very grateful.”
Mia didn’t know how to go about this. Tact had never been one of her strong suits. “The fact that I have this clip on my phone says so much. I don’t usually know about new music, let alone about local bands or singers, but I do know about you, Josephine. You’re on the verge of something. Just playing that ten-second clip gave me goosebumps.”
“It’s still just a hobby,” Josephine said.
“My guess is it won’t be for much longer. Your voice is too heavenly to keep it from the masses.” Mia smiled at her new colleague.
Josephine tilted her head and painted a soft smile on her face. “Thank you for the kind words. I approve of the buttering up to your brand new co-worker strategy.”
“I mean every word of it.” Mia was starting to love the Pink Bean and its employees more by the second.
“To tell you the truth, I’ve had several offers for management and I think I am a little aware of the buzz, but I have so much going on right now, I don’t even know where my head is most days. I probably shouldn’t say this, but my mornings here are by far the most relaxing hours of my day. I can do this on autopilot and have a chat with the regulars, but the second I walk out of that door at lunch time, it’s mayhem.” She sent Mia an apologetic smile. “I think what I need most of all is a life coach. Or an assistant. Neither of which I have the money to pay for.”
“Jo,” Kristin said with a raised voice from behind the counter. “Amber and co are arriving. I’m going to need a hand.”
“We’ll talk more later,” Mia said. “But if you ever need me to cover for you here, just ask.”
“Thanks, Mia.” Josephine got up and reached for their empty coffee cups.
Mia held up her hand. “I’ve got these.” She gathered the cups from the table and stacked them in the dishwasher.
She watched Kristin and Josephine work in perfect tandem. A group of three very attractive women had just placed an order of their usual and was making its way to a table by the window.
“Mia, come meet some people you will see in here every day,” Kristin said. “They’re part of the furniture, really.” She handed Mia a mug of green tea and carried two cups of coffee over to the table, gesturing for Mia to follow her.
“Ladies, please meet the brand new Pink Bean manager, Mia Miller. Mia, this is Amber, who will be having the tea.” Kristin nodded at the woman with the ginger curls tied into a high ponytail. Mia set the tea down in front of her and put on her widest smile. “She runs the yoga studio down the street along with her best friend Micky, whose favorite drink is a cappuccino.” Kristin set down the cappuccino in front of the dark-haired woman. “And a short black for Louise,” Kristin said and winked at the youngest woman of the bunch and, to Mia’s tastes, the most interesting looking. Dark, piercing eyes. Straight black hair that fell to her shoulders. And that skin. Not quite dark and not quite pale. Christ, maybe she should take up yoga lessons.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, ladies.” Mia tried to imprint their names into her brain. She wouldn’t have any trouble remembering Louise’s.
“Micky used to work here, until she decided that yoga was more her thing than coffee,” Kristin said with a grin on her face. “And Amber stole her from me.”
“If I remember correctly, dear Kristin, I was the one who gave her to you in the first place,” Amber said.
“Excuse me,” Micky said. “Nobody gave me to or stole me from anyone. I’m quite capable of making my own choices, thank you very much.” She painted a stern expression on her face. “That’s not to say that I don’t miss my buddy Jo behind the counter and my wonderful ex-boss, of course.” Micky craned her neck and gave Josephine a wave.
“So you all work at Glow?” Mia asked. The flyers near the door of the Pink Bean were hard to miss. She was mainly interested in finding out what Louise’s position was, although the tights and tank top did give it away somewhat.
“Glow is the three of us,” Amber said. “Louise just started a few weeks ago as an instructor. Micky handles the admin side of things. I basically had to hire her because she, her partner Robin, and her ex-husband invested the bulk of the money in our tiny but wonderful studio.”
“And made all your dreams come true,” Micky added.
Louise sat stiffly saying nothing and, it seemed to Mia, avoiding her gaze altogether. Maybe she was still getting used to her new employers. Mia knew all about it. She would send her a look of encouragement if only the woman would glance in her direction.
“It’s nice to meet you,” Amber said. “Odds are you’ll be seeing lots of us.”
“I look forward to it.” Mia smiled widely and again, in vain, tried to find Louise’s gaze. A challenge. She was up for that.
Mia Miller. Louise couldn’t believe it. Just when things had started going her way again. She’d found a great job very close to her parents’ house. She lived and breathed yoga and Amber was the same, and therefore a dream to work for. Micky was a hoot and she and Amber often formed a double act that had Lou in stitches when they went out for after-work drinks. She’d been coming to the Pink Bean for a while now and she liked the vibe of the place, and often came here between classes to relax, have a coffee and read a book. And now Mia Miller had turned up out of nowhere to ruin her life once again.
Of course Mia hadn’t recognized her. Or if she had, she’d certainly hidden it well. No, if she had remembered who Lou was, there would have been at least a glimmer of recognition between them. And whereas Mia’s face hadn’t exactly remained blank, there was no sign of her having any idea who Lou was. Which was good, Lou guessed. She didn’t want to drag up the past—especially not that dreadful part of it—and have an awkward conversation in the Pink Bean, which now no longer could be her place of sanctuary. Of all the people in Sydney, why did Kristin have to hire Mia? Oh well, Lou would have to spend more time at the studio then, or go home between classes. Did Kristin say Mia was the new manager? If so, maybe she had an office somewhere in the back and wouldn’t show her face too much in the shop.
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost, Lou,” Amber said. “What’s wrong?”
Kristin and Mia had walked off and sat talking at a table a few feet away. Lou could hear snatches of Mia’s voice when she talked and, after all these years, it still sent an icy chill down her spine.
“Nothing. Not feeling too well today. You know.”
Lou had only been working for Amber for a month, but she already knew her well enough to know Amber would never leave it at that. Her only hope was that Micky would return swiftly to their table after her chat with Jo, so they could change the topic of conversation. But Micky seemed deeply engaged in whatever she and Jo were chattering and giggling away about, so it was just her and Amber at the table, and the silence spreading between them, needing to be filled.
“Mia and I went to the same school. It’s a bit of a shock seeing her here.”
“Oh. Yeah, you did look like you were genuinely surprised there for a moment.” Amber examined Lou’s face for a second longer, then averted her gaze—surely because she remembered Lou had told her a few weeks ago how uncomfortable it could make her feel when people stared at her for too long. Even well-intentioned, kind people like Amber.
Amber’s inherent, blatant kindness was what had drawn Lou to Glow in the first place. She was hooked after her first class with Amber, because they obviously subscribed to the same principles of yoga—the non-trendy, open-minded school of thought on which all yoga principles were founded. Sadly, especially in a city like Sydney, many instructors liked to ignore these and preferred to focus on which latest fad could get them a higher member count and which brand of yoga pants they could sell those new members after class.
As soon as Amber had announced at the end of a particularly invigorating vinyasa class that she was looking for an instructor to join her, Lou had grabbed the opportunity. And now here she sat.
“Don’t worry about it.” She flashed Amber her most convincing smile, hoping it was enough to trick Amber into believing what she said was true. Amber with the sixth sense for when someone was feeling a little off kilter. Some mornings, when Lou arrived at Glow after a bad night’s sleep, caused by the circumstances which had led her to end up in her old room at her parents’ house, Amber would cast one glance at her and ask, “Bad night?” Before Lou had even said a single word. “It was a long time ago and she obviously didn’t recognize me. It’s not as if we were close or anything.” An understatement if there ever was one.
Micky returned to the table and said, “Jo tells me Mia has an MBA. Meaning she possesses valuable business knowledge neither you nor I do. Should I ask her about that online advertising problem? Maybe it’s just something silly we’ve been missing.”
Amber pondered this for a moment. “I guess it doesn’t hurt to ask, but make sure to offer her enough free classes in return for her counsel.”
“In return she will get a few invaluable pointers about working at the Pink Bean. She will sort of be taking my place, after all. A position I held for quite some time.”
Oh great, Lou thought. Just like that the conversation had drifted back to Mia. Whatever business conversation Amber and Micky were planning to conduct with her, she hoped it wouldn’t bring Mia into Glow—and she hoped even more that Mia wasn’t the yoga type. Lou was unsure of her reaction if Mia showed up to one of her classes.
“Yes, Micky, you are a true wunderkind. It took you a long time to get there, but here you are at last, at the tender age of forty-six. Part of the work force. Making the economy grow. Making Glow run like clockwork.”
“Speaking of clockwork. I should really get back. And so should you, Amber. Your next class is an hour away, Lou, so if you would be so kind as to invite Mia to a free yoga class at a time of her choosing, and slip her my number while you’re at it.”
“What?” How did Lou get involved in asking Mia for anything at all? She hadn’t even opened her mouth.
“Besides, you might get lucky. She was making eyes at you the entire time she and Kristin stood here earlier. You didn’t notice?”
“They went to school together,” Amber said, making Lou doubt the existence of her sixth sense. “Maybe she did recognize you, Lou.”
“I’m pretty sure she didn’t,” Lou said with a small voice. “And I would appreciate it if I didn’t have to run your errands, Micky.”
Micky knitted her brows together. “What’s gotten into you?”
“She’s right, Micky.” Amber came to her rescue. “We should ask Mia ourselves.” She rose. “But now we really have to go. See you later, Lou.”
Lou breathed in and out deeply, feeling as if she’d dodged a bullet, even if it had meant being rude to Micky and in front of Amber no less. She was still trying to make an excellent impression on her new bosses and talking back like that was probably not the best way to do that. But Lou would be damned if she’d do Micky’s bidding on this. If it had been anyone else, of course, she would have gladly offered them a free lesson and given them information on the benefits of yoga, but not Mia Miller. Anyone but her.
Lou sneaked a glance at her. She allowed her gaze to drift to the table a few feet away from her for just a fraction of a second but, of course, just then, Mia looked up from her conversation with Kristin, and sent her the most excruciating smile. It was a well-meant smile, Lou was sure about that. But it was a little late for good intentions. Besides, Mia still had no clue of who Lou was. She couldn’t help but wonder what she would say if she did.
Lou didn’t smile back but instead gathered her belongings and headed out.
“Leaving already?” Jo asked. “I was getting ready to prepare your second caffeine shot of the morning.”
“I have some errands to run before my next class.” Lou rushed past the counter without asking Jo when she would find the time for class again. It had been a while since she’d last seen her on a mat.
<<End of preview>>
Water Under Bridges will be available on 30 June 2017