My new novel No Strings Attached will be out in 2 weeks. Here’s a preview. Enjoy!
No Strings Attached
© Harper Bliss
“To one year of freedom.” Amber held up her cup of green tea.
Micky stared into her latte and shook her head. “Let’s not toast to that.” She looked up and found Amber’s eyes. “Freedom’s overrated.”
Amber cocked her head. “What’s wrong with you today? This is not the effect my yoga class is supposed to have.” She kept holding up her mug.
Micky averted her glance. Amber was always beaming with positive energy and obvious physical and mental health. Some days, it was just too much. “I’m not saying I’m not happy that my divorce became official exactly one year ago, but I don’t have that much to show for it. This yoga session is the highlight of my week. My children don’t need me anymore, which they keep reminding me of at every turn. I had foolishly believed my life would become better after leaving Darren, but it doesn’t feel that way.”
“You’re still finding your feet. And Olivia and Christopher do still need their mother very much. They’re still getting used to the situation as well. Think long-term, Micky.”
“Well, I definitely don’t want to get back with Darren, I just… feel so empty, so meaningless. My days are filled with literally doing nothing.”
“They’re filled with the exact same activities as before the divorce. It’s just your perspective that’s different,” Amber said.
Amber was a good friend to have, but her spiritual mumbo jumbo did irritate Micky at times like these. Micky could also do with a glass of New Zealand sauvignon blanc much more than this latte.
Micky shrugged as Kristin, The Pink Bean’s owner, headed in their direction.
“Hello, ladies,” she said. “I hope you had a good class.”
Micky let Amber reply to that question. Amber explained how she’d had her students stay in pigeon pose for longer than usual and asked Kristin when she was going to join again.
“As soon as I find a new employee.” She thrust a sheet of paper in Micky’s direction. “Are your children old enough to have an after-school job?”
“My children?” Micky bristled. “Actually work for pocket money?” She feigned an exaggerated laugh, then clasped a hand to her chest. “It’s my own fault. I spoiled them too much.”
“How about you, Micky?” Amber’s voice rose.
“Me what?” Micky stared at the text on the piece of paper. Barista wanted. Being upbeat is much more important than being experienced.
“You’re looking for something to do with your time. Why don’t you apply?” Amber looked at Kristin, possibly for words of encouragement, but Kristin had a business to run so why would she hire a washed-up divorcée like Micky? And why would Micky take a job in the first place?
“It could be fun,” Kristin weighed in. “You come in here every day, anyway. I’ll show you the ropes.”
“Me?” Micky leaned back. “Work at The Pink Bean?” The idea sounded ludicrous to her. “I don’t know the first thing about making complicated cups of coffee like this.”
“You’re an expert at drinking them, though,” Amber offered.
“Think about it.” Kristin shot Micky an encouraging smile, then walked off and pinned the sheet of paper on the notice board by the door.
“Why did you say that in front of her?” Micky gave Amber a wry look.
“You know me, Michaela, I’m always only trying to help.”
It was infuriating, but true. “Can you imagine me serving coffee at The Pink Bean?”
“Why not? You were just telling me about how empty you feel inside. You basically said you’re bored. Working here for a few hours a day can change that. You’d meet new people. You wouldn’t be alone. And you can take my evening classes. They’re a bit fuller, but I’ll still pay special attention to you.” Amber drew her lips into that wide smile of hers. A ginger curl had escaped from her ponytail and danced along her temple as she nodded.
“But”—and Micky was embarrassed to admit this—“I haven’t worked a day in my whole life.”
“What are you talking about?” Amber’s voice rose again. For a yoga teacher, she really had problems keeping her voice level in social situations. “You raised two children. You made a home for them and for your ex-husband. It’s not because you don’t get paid for it that it isn’t a job—and a tough one at that.”
“If you put it that way.” Was Micky actually starting to consider this crazy idea? What did she really have to lose apart from a few hours of her time, which she didn’t do anything useful with, anyway. “But I’ve certainly never had a boss before.”
“You live with two teenagers. No boss can be worse than that. Besides, Kristin is a pussycat.” Amber let her gaze slide to the counter where Kristin was chatting to a customer. “Remember that time I hit on her because she was always alone in here and I read it all wrong and I assumed she was single?”
Micky nodded. “How could I forget when you remind me every few months?”
“She let me down so gently. It was the easiest rejection I ever experienced. She even offered me a free cup of tea, which I didn’t accept, of course.”
Micky had heard the story of Amber’s failed crush on Kristin many a time since The Pink Bean had opened two years ago. Since then, they’d met Kristin’s wife Sheryl, a professor at the University of Sydney, and Amber had successfully gotten over her crush.
“What will my kids think of their mother working at a coffee shop called The Pink Bean?” No matter what she did, Micky’s hormonal teenagers would disapprove noisily for an instant, then retreat back into the silence they wrapped themselves in with their oversized headphones on their heads and their blinking screens in front of their eyes.
“They won’t mind, and it doesn’t matter.” Amber fixed her gaze on Micky’s, as though wanting to say something with her intense stare.
“What?” Micky asked.
“You’ve let it slip that you might be open to… exploring more. This is a great place to start.”
Micky’s eyes grew wide. “What on earth—”
“Don’t play innocent with me now. I’m your best friend. Have been for a very long time. I’ve seen your gaze wander. Besides, you’ve told me in no uncertain terms.”
Micky felt herself flush. This didn’t stop Amber from pushing further.
“On a day like today especially, on the first anniversary of your divorce, I think you should take action. Not just symbolic action. Real action. Make a change. Take a step forward.”
At least Amber was letting go of the innuendo. “I’ll sleep on it, I promise.”
Amber nodded, then slanted her torso over the small table. “I know it wasn’t the actual reason for the divorce, because there’s never only one reason, but I know you’re curious. It’s time to put yourself out there.”
Only Amber could say something like that and have the most endearing, non-smug look on her face as she leaned back.
“When will you put yourself out there again?” Micky countered.
“I have,” Amber was quick to say, then scrunched her lips together. “You know I have, I just haven’t met the right woman yet.”
“Maybe you’re frequenting the wrong places and hanging out with the wrong kind of people.” Micky was still a little unsettled by what Amber had just implied.
“You mean The Pink Bean and you?” Amber narrowed her eyes. “Never.”
Micky looked around the cozy coffeehouse just round the corner from her new home—from her new life. She’d been living in the Darlinghurst area for only a few months, and had chosen this quickly gentrifying neighborhood at Amber’s insistence. Amber claimed Micky couldn’t hide herself away in the suburbs of Mosman anymore, not even if it meant that Olivia and Christopher would have much smaller bedrooms to sulk in.
Kristin gave her a quick wave from behind the counter. Micky tried to imagine herself behind it.
Should she take the leap?
When she’d gone hunting for a new pad, Micky had fallen in love with the second house the real estate agent had shown her. Her children, not so much. The biggest trade-off when they had swapped Mosman for Darlinghurst had, in the end, not been the size of the bedrooms but the fact the new house only had one bathroom they all had to share. On school days, Micky had no problem letting Olivia and Christopher take their showers first, the latter never spending more than five minutes in there anyway, while she made them breakfast and attempted—mostly in vain—to get them to eat it.
“I’ll have an apple on the bus” was Olivia’s standard reply, while Christopher would eat one forkful of the scrambled eggs she’d made, mumbling, “Mmm, good, Mom,” just to placate her, after which he probably wolfed down a Snickers bar. Micky found the wrappers everywhere.
Today, though, Micky needed to be at The Pink Bean at seven thirty—“Just to observe on your first morning shift,” Kristin had assured her—and she was impatiently waiting for Olivia to exit the bathroom. This reinforced the thought that this whole thing was an awful idea in the first place. She was forty-four years old. She’d been married to Darren Steele for a whopping eighteen of those—she’d given him her prime. What was she doing starting work at a coffee shop where, at least once a week, an LGBT activity took place?
Micky remembered the double-take she had done when Amber had first brought her there just after it opened.
“Must it really be so blatantly obvious?” she had asked, not caring how that made her come across. Her marriage had been in the final stage of its existence and what if someone she knew ran into her at a coffeehouse called The Pink Bean. Why couldn’t it just be called The Bean? And now she was going to work there—or at least attempt to. What did that say about her?
Her kids, who had become regulars at The Pink Bean as well, often going in after school for a muffin or an iced tea, didn’t seem to be disturbed by the Pink aspect of The Bean when she told them about her plans. They’d mostly scoffed and said, “You, Mom? Serve people coffee? Why?”
Micky had explained that she needed something to do with her time, now that they obviously didn’t need her that much anymore.
“But why do that?” Olivia had asked. “Can’t you volunteer at a soup kitchen or something, like other moms?”
Micky had postponed and postponed her decision to leave Darren. She’d wanted to stay until both her children were at university, but Olivia was only twelve at the time and the six years it would take for her to graduate high school seemed like a lifetime.
Micky had not been able to provide Olivia with a coherent answer to her question. Not even she knew why she wanted to work at The Pink Bean—she didn’t even know if she wanted to work there. It was just a leap, like Amber had said. Trying something new.
Christopher, who was a sweet boy at heart, but suffered deeply from the mood swings that come with puberty, hadn’t been very talkative and had just grumbled something Micky didn’t understand.
Micky knocked on the bathroom door. “Hurry up, Liv,” she shouted, while nerves coursed through her body.
The bathroom door flew open, and Olivia stormed out. “Is it going to be like this every morning now?”
Tonight at dinner, Micky would suggest a proper morning bathroom schedule. She shouldn’t have tried to wing it like this. “We’ll work it out, sweetie.” She resisted the urge to kiss her daughter on the top of the head—Olivia had grown out of accepting spontaneous motherly affection a while ago.
Olivia headed off to her room and banged the door shut behind her.
Happy times at the Steele-Ferros.
* * *
Micky never visited The Pink Bean before lunch, and the morning rush took her by surprise. She watched as Kristin and Josephine, the only other morning-shift employee, moved behind the counter with astounding efficiency. As a mother who had just fought with her daughter over bathroom time, Micky greatly doubted her ability to ever do what the two women were accomplishing. They had a rhythm about them, Kristin taking the orders and Josephine executing them seamlessly.
Micky felt foolish just standing around like that. The only thing she’d done so far was take cups of coffee to customers who were sitting at a table, but at this time of the day, most beverages were sold for on-the-go.
Another conclusion she drew was that by opening The Pink Bean, Kristin had built a goldmine. Australians were serious about their coffee, and they were equally willing to pay good money—albeit way too much—for a cup of it from their favorite vendor. Micky imagined all the people who had walked out of there with a scalding hot paper cup on their way to the office, enjoying Kristin’s work. And it was hard work, she could see now.
“Hi, Micky,” Sheryl, Kristin’s partner, said. “First day, huh?” She stood in the middle of the line, clearly not expecting special treatment.
Micky walked over to her, feeling exceedingly self-conscious. She pecked Sheryl quickly on the cheek. “It’s a bit daunting.”
“I bet.” Sheryl always dressed casually for work, and today was no different. She wore jeans and a loose-hanging blouse. Micky actually looked forward to getting to know her and Kristin better. They were acquaintances now who said hello and good-bye to each other and had never gotten further than making small talk. They were an impressive couple to whom, Micky had to admit, she looked up.
“Why don’t you sit down and I’ll bring over your coffee?” Micky said.
Sheryl gave a deep belly laugh. “You obviously don’t yet know the rules of The Pink Bean.” She shuffled forward in the queue. “General Park over there doesn’t do nepotism.” She eyed her partner from a distance. “Not even for me, her wife who owns half this place.” She winked at Micky. “I’ll wait my turn, otherwise I’ll get in trouble tonight.”
Micky gave a nervous giggle. She’d know all about Kristin’s rules soon enough.
She looked at the ever-growing queue and wondered what was so much better about being there than her usual routine of meandering around the aisles of the organic supermarket in Potts Point and picking out the best-looking produce for dinner—at least her children always had a huge appetite after school.
“Micky, can you fetch us some more cocoa powder from the back, please,” Kristin asked, and Micky snapped to attention, though she had no idea where the cocoa powder, or anything else for that matter, was to be found.
<<End of preview>>
No Strings Attached will be available on 14 July 2016