Jed Had to Die

by Tara Sivec

CHAPTER 1

Coffee: Because crack will get you fired.

—Coffee Mug

“I love you more than anything. You’re strong, wonderful, and amazing. You never let me down, and I’m so blessed to have you in my life, Cecil,” I whisper, tightening my arms and putting a little more feeling into my hug of gratitude.

“I’ll take ‘What You Should Have Said to Your Boyfriend When He Proposed’ for two-hundred, Alex!”

With a sigh, I drop my arms from around the Cecilware Venzia espresso machine and turn to face the woman leaning against the counter with a smirk on her face.

“You’re hilarious, Bettie. Remind me again why I hired you?”

Bettie pushes away from the counter with her hip and runs her palm lovingly down the side of the espresso machine.

“Because I’m the only one who loves Cecil almost as much as you do, and I’m the only employee at Liquid Crack who can understand what you’re saying when you lose your shit and spray your southern accent all around this place,” she muses with a shrug.

She’s right, but I refuse to give her the satisfaction of admitting it. Bettie Lake is the exact opposite of me in every way, but for some reason, we click, even if she annoys the shit out of me sometimes. I knew within the first ten seconds of meeting her when she came in to interview for a manager position three years ago that I would hire her, no matter what her experience was. After spending the day interviewing people who didn’t shy away from telling me they hated coffee, but didn’t mind working in a coffee shop, I was ready to flip tables when Bettie walked in. With her poker-straight jet black hair chopped off right at her chin, short, chunky bangs with hot pink streaks, a nose ring, and tattoos that covered both arms, her chest, and the side of one neck, she flopped down in the chair across from me and said, “Coffee. Must. Have. Coffee,” and it was love at first sight.

Platonically, of course. I don’t swing that way, even though my ex-boyfriend now assumes I do just because he can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to marry him. But I’ll get back to that later.

Liquid Crack is my baby. My one true love. Well, aside from Cecil, but without Liquid Crack, I wouldn’t have Cecil.

Don’t worry, he understands.

After running from my hometown of Bald Knob, Kentucky as fast as I could when I graduated high school, I moved to Chicago and spent the next four years working my ass off getting a Business Management degree from Loyola while working two jobs and saving every penny I made to open my own coffee shop. Five years after I graduated from Loyola, Liquid Crack opened its doors in Lincoln Park, one of the most popular neighborhoods in the city.

Much to my amazement, people flocked to my little shop when word spread fast that I sold the best coffee in the city, and ordering your favorite cup of Joe didn’t require you to know how to speak Italian to get the size right. When you come up to the counter at Liquid Crack, your size choices are I’m Okay, My Head Hurts, My Eye is Twitching, and PEOPLE ARE ABOUT TO DIE.

That last one is the extra-large, obviously.

It’s not as confusing as it sounds because I don’t have ten thousand different types of caffeinated drinks on the menu. I only use Kona beans from Hawaii, and you can pick from black coffee, espresso, or a latte. Period. No hazelnut-mocha-choka-froo-froo-with-extra-whip nonsense here. Sometimes I’ll have a flavor-of-the-day if my distributor is running a special, but that’s as close to froo-froo coffee as I get. When you come in to Liquid Crack and you’re having a bad day, all you have to say is, “People are about to die,” and within thirty seconds, you’ve got yourself an extra-large cup of the nectar of the gods.

Coming in at just around a thousand square feet, with the original red brick walls and hardwood floor of the building it’s housed in, Liquid Crack doesn’t have tables and uncomfortable wooden chairs. It’s filled with mismatched couches and high-back comfy chairs I found at flea markets. Even though my shop is right in the heart of downtown Chicago and frequented by all the business people who work close by, this is not the type of coffee shop where you come to do business. When you sit down on a couch in Liquid Crack, you sit there and enjoy the coffee in your hand like a proper human being. You don’t power up your laptop to finish a spreadsheet, talk loudly on a conference call, or conduct a performance evaluation. You order your drink to go, or you sit down and forget about your troubles for a little while. It’s perfect. It’s cozy, and it’s all mine.

The bell above the door chimes and I lean around Bettie to smile at the incoming customer, my cheery disposition momentarily faltering when I see who it is.

“Payton, I need two My Head Hurts and one People Will Die, ASAP. Oh, and I hear congratulations are in order! Benjamin just told me the good news.”

Bettie snorts and I grab the hand-towel draped over my shoulder and whip it against her ass as she walks by me to get started on the order.

“Hi, Mark. And I’m not sure what Benjamin told you but-”

Mark, who works with my ex at a brokerage firm across the street, holds up his hand and cuts me off when his cell phone rings, bringing it up to his ear and talking so loudly I’m sure people back home in Kentucky can hear him. Leaning over to the register, I grab the framed sign sitting next to it that says, “Anyone caught working will be shot or sold to the circus,” and hold it up right in front of his face.

He wisely ends the call with a sheepish shrug as Bettie comes up next to me, humming the Jeopardy theme song under her breath while she sets the cups of coffee on the counter in a to-go container.

“Sorry about that, Payton. I forgot about your crazy no work rule,” Mark apologizes as he picks up the cardboard tray. “I hope you go easier on Benjamin when he’s in here. My man needs to work a hell of a lot more to pay for the big, fancy wedding you two are going to have.”

He gives me a wink and starts backing away, the phone ringing in his hand again and his booming voice filling the quiet space when he answers it. He moves faster across the shop until he’s out the door, all before I can say anything to him.

“You can take those coffees back to the firm and shove them up Benjamin’s ass! Or better yet, bend over and shove them up your OWN ass for insinuating I need a man to pay for anything!” I shout across the shop, getting a few weird looks from the handful of customers sitting around and enjoying their coffees.