I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar… Scrub that. I was actually working in a small bakery. The owner – Charles – liked to refer to it as an ‘artisan bakery’. I felt that profits would be up if we sold a few more sausage rolls and pies, instead of sourdough loaves and sweet potato pasties.
Most of our customers were pretty ‘right on’. Men with long revolutionary’s beards and tight red jeans. Women with layers of tie dyed clothes and multiple piercings. Charles had squeezed in a couple of bistro tables and spindly legged chairs in order to upgrade us to a cafe. Fairtrade products were stacked artistically on the counter tops and a shiny cappuccino machine was Charles’ latest toy.
We were rarely busy.
I started there as a Saturday girl while I was still at school. Saturdays were slightly busier because of the weekly market outside. When I started doing my ‘A’ levels I had Tuesdays and Thursday afternoons free so Charles offered me some extra work.
This was partly to give Charles and his partner Aimee some quality time together. Aimee did most of the baking, as well as serving in the shop while Charles indulged in intellectual conversation with one of his many mates who perched precariously on the chairs, bought one cup of soy milk pumpkin latte and stayed until closing time.
Aimee and I got on well. I’m sure that she would have liked to run up some sausage rolls but Charles was adamant that everything in the shop was vegetarian friendly.
We had our secrets, Aimee and I.
On market day we often had disappointed customers who pulled faces at the very thought of sprout and coriander quiche, or Savoy cabbage and marrow ciabatta, before rushing off to the chip shop or Maccy D’s.
Charles refused to admit that, however honourable his principles were, the general public did not agree with him. The cafe was losing what little money was being made on the bakery sales, and there were not that many takers for the hefty loaves that were more suited to being used in dry stone walls than gracing tea tables.
I could see the signs, and was casting around for alternative employment when fate changed the course of my life.
On an even more sluggish than usual Thursday afternoon, I had cleared all the tables bar one, washed up and was in the bakery at the back of the shop when I heard a huge crash.
Aimee was upstairs in the flat having a lie-down. Charles was sitting at one of the tables with his friend Ben.
Well, he had been sitting at the table with Ben.
When I looked through the door into the cafe all I could see was dust and the front of a large van poking through the place where the shop window used to be.
The van’s engine was still running and I could see a man slumped over the wheel. I couldn’t see Ben or Charles.
I couldn’t see any chairs or tables either.
I backed into the bakery and got out my phone.
‘Police, Fire or Ambulance?’ said the operator.
‘All three I think. A van has crashed into the shop front where I work. There’s a man unconscious and I can’t find my boss – or his friend.’
The operator assured me that help was on the way and that I should stay in the bakery in case the shop front collapsed.
I did as I was told, listening out for any sound that Aimee might have woken up. I had a feeling that she was pregnant – but hadn’t told Charles – and once she went up for a nap it would take more than the shop being destroyed to wake her.
The fire brigade were first on the scene.
I showed them where the rear entrance to the bakery was, and two very large and rather handsome firemen joined me in order to carry out their assessment of the damage. One of them managed to get into the van and turn the engine off. I saw him look at his companion and shake his head.
The man in the van was dead.
There was no sign of Charles and Ben.
My fireman took me upstairs to check on Aimee. She was fast asleep still but we woke her up in case the crash had affected the structure of the flat as well.
We sat in the back of an ambulance; we were both shaking and neither of us was brave enough to ask the other about the whereabouts of Charles.
My fireman came back looking puzzled.
‘We’ve checked. There’s no one in the cafe. A lot of mangled metal and we’ve got the guy out of the van. Are you sure there were two people in there?’
I shrugged. They had certainly been sitting there when I’d cleared the tables and did the washing up but I hadn’t left the bakery until I heard the crash.
Aimee began to relax a little.
‘Could they have gone somewhere else?’
I shook my head. Charles rarely left the cafe during opening hours unless he was shopping for supplies and he tended to do that on Sundays.
A policeman tapped the fireman on the shoulder.
‘We’ve found them.’
‘In the shop?’ Aimee was trembling again.
‘No. One of your neighbours spotted them. They were in Maccy D’s eating burgers.’
I’m not sure if Aimee would have preferred Charles and Ben to have been squashed under the van. She was so angry.
A shamefaced Charles and a grinning Ben appeared in the doorway of the ambulance.
I got up.
I had the distinct feeling that I wasn’t needed.
The fireman held out his hand to help me down the step.
‘Are you okay?’ he asked.
‘I think so. I’ve a feeling my job prospects just took a nose dive though. Even if Aimee forgives Charles for his lapse, the shop is pretty well wrecked. Do you know why the van crashed?’
‘Officially no but unofficially the paramedic thinks that the guy had a heart attack and was probably dead before he hit the window. I guess we should be grateful that the cafe was empty and you were safe.’
I could have been mistaken but I had a feeling that my fireman blushed when he said this.
He really was very handsome.
‘Do you actually like all this veggie stuff?’
‘Hate it. Aimee and I often have ham sandwiches when Charles has to nip out to the shops.’
‘Only,’ and he blushed even more, ‘I was wondering if you’d like to go out for a meal – when you feel better of course.’
‘I’m fine. Now I know that Charles and Ben are okay – and that Aimee will finally be able to own up to Charles that she doesn’t like veggie stuff either. It’s a shame about the poor man in the van but it could have been much worse – couldn’t it?’
He nodded and looked at his watch.
‘I finish at six. Are you free tonight?’
My turn to nod.
We didn’t go to Maccy D’s.
Our first date was at the little Italian restaurant far enough away from the cafe so that I didn’t have to look at the boards across the window and the yellow police tape flapping in the wind.
My fireman – now known as Tommy – has become a permanent fixture in my life and I had very little inclination to look for another job.
Aimee and Charles – and the new baby – gave up on the bakery business.
I lost contact with them but I heard that the insurance payout was very generous.
It was a shame about the man in the van though.