One Lump or Two - Chapter Six

“Really, I feel like I’m taking advantage of you, Mr. Edwards,” Penelope said two hours into a productive session of sorting and cataloguing with Hank and Dan.
The comment caused him to look up quickly, and he locked eyes with Penelope for a brief, electrifying moment.
“I, I mean surely you have better things to do with your time,” she said.
“Doubtful,” Dan chaffed, flashing his disarming, trademark smile.
“I’m here for you as long as you’ll have me, Miss Price,” Hank said.
She listened intently to his words and thought she might lose consciousness.
“It’s the least I could do for Dee’s niece—volunteer to get the shop in order.”
“Volunteer?! Heaven forbid, Mr. Edwards. I intend to pay you a fair wage,” Penelope said, bouncing back from her near swoon.
“Then I suppose I’ll have to quit,” Hank replied, making a faux start to remove his tool belt.
“What? I don’t understand!” she squawked, panic gurgling in her stomach.
“He means he’ll only work for free, Miss Price. You really should let him. He was fast friends with your great aunt and knows every inch of this place,” Dan said. “Besides, I’m not so sure if his work actually commands a ‘fair wage,’” he added in jest.
Penelope stood smiling and saying nothing as she wrestled to catch her breath.
“Everything okay, Miss Price?” Dan asked. “Maybe you should sit down.”
She nodded and lowered herself onto a back room chair Dan brought in, searching for something to say. Finally, she blurted out, “Mr. Edwards, I don’t suppose you know where my aunt kept her inventory log. I’ve searched high and low, but haven’t found anything in the way of records or paperwork.”
“That’s because Dee didn’t keep any,” Hank said, looking directly at Penelope, an amused, anticipatory grin on his face.
“Didn’t keep any? But how is that possible? She must have thousands of items in this establishment. Did she at least maintain a financial ledger?” Penelope asked.
“Never … didn’t believe in it,” Hank said.
“But how did she do business?” Penelope asked rhetorically.
“Very well, actually,” Dan said, unfolding a collapsible chair and nodding to Hank to do the same. “She was highly respected here in town and always had extra funds to share with those who needed them … and she was a good tipper.”
“Pardon me? Ohhhhh, do you mean at your saloon?”
“Yes, ma’am. She came in every night, when she was in town, and always closed the place down. She was one heck of a good listener, putting up with me grousing night after night as Prohibition got closer and closer,” Dan said.
“I thought the patrons were the grousers and the bartenders were the listeners,” Penelope said warmly.
“We’re a little backwards here in Pacific Grove, if you haven’t noticed,” Hank said.
The shop door jingled and Hank, Penelope, and Dan left off conversing.
“Customers?” Dan whispered hopefully.
“P … Ohhhhhh P,” Zara called in a singsong tone.
“More like loafers,” Penelope said with a shy smile. “Back here!” she cried as Zara and Paolo negotiated their way to the rear room. “Well good morning, you two.”
“It is awfully early, isn’t it?” Zara said, yawning.
Dan snorted. “Heck, we’ve been up and at it for about seven hours now.”
“Well well, what an unexpected pleasure to see you here, Hank,” Zara said, forgetting she’d asked him to come by.
“As requested,” Hank said with a slight bow.
“Who’s the forgetful one now?” Penelope said quietly to Zara.
“I’m not forgetful … just inattentive,” she replied.
Hank turned to Paolo and extended his hand. “Hank Edwards.”
Come?” Paolo replied in Italian, looking baffled.
Nome Hank,” Zara said loudly, pointing to Hank.
 “Hank, bene,” Paolo said to Hank, then put his hand on his own chest. “Paolo.”
“Oh, umm … piacere di conoscerti,” Hank said.
“Paolo,” Paolo repeated, pointing to himself.
“I didn’t know you spoke Italian, Hank,” Dan said.
“Apparently I don’t,” he replied with a chuckle.
“Stick to what you’re good at, old sport,” Dan said, slapping Hank’s stomach with a clipboard and handing him a pencil.
* * * *
All looked to Penelope for direction, and it was at that moment she realized she’d never directed or supervised anyone. She’d been the lowest on the totem pole at her bookkeeper’s job and was expected to do everyone else’s bidding. Her family had a dog when she was very young, but she couldn’t get it to mind her, and when sister Pauline was found to be allergic the pet had to go. When in Sunday School, she was once asked to lead a few desperate junior students down to the bathroom. Getting them there was easy. Getting them back was another story and not one that ended well. All told, asking someone to pass the butter at dinner was the extent of her management experience.
Mystified as to how to delegate she pulled Zara aside. “Help!” she gasped.
“I will! That’s why we’re all here … even Paolo!” Zara said.
“No, I mean I need help telling everyone what to do. I have no idea how to!”
“Of course you do. I’ve seen you do it!”
“What? When?”
“On moving day—when you were directing Dan and Paolo, telling them where to put the furniture. You were brilliant.”
“I was?”
Zara nodded.
“Well that was easy. I already knew where I wanted everything to go … and it was just two of them.”
“This is no harder, and you’ll be fine. Just supervise us all the way you would want to be supervised.”
Zara gave her friend a supportive peck on the cheek leaving a red imprint, then walked back to the group.
“Everything all right?” Hank asked.
Zara raised a thumb in affirmation as Penelope quickly devised a plan. First off, she decided to play to everyone’s strengths. Dan was energetic and good at moving things quickly and efficiently. Hank was a craftsman who could be depended on to bring style and an air of elegance to his endeavors. Zara was her ace when it came to window dressing—in every sense of the term. And Paolo would do whatever Zara asked of him, albeit begrudgingly—unless it involved food.
Something Penelope had not taken into account was the group’s dynamic. Dan and Hank got on famously, as good friends do—same with Penelope and Zara. But Zara’s flirtations with Hank were upsetting Paolo and he grew increasingly sullen, carping and moving the shop items roughly and noisily. Penelope thwarted the impending storm by limiting him to handling only non-fragile objects and running errands that required driving.
She put Zara in charge of deciding which bits should go on display and which into storage based on their eye appeal. Dan made sure everything got where it was supposed to go, and Hank set things up for ease of use and mobility, ensuring the cluttered space became comfortable to get around. Penelope simply supervised. She was at once exhilarated by her new role, but also felt guilty that she wasn’t really doing anything, at least not in her estimation.
The little band of unlikely coworkers spent the remainder of the day categorizing, ogling, and marveling at Dorothea’s merchandise, stopping only when the street lamps were lit. After all was said and done, Penelope had made for an effective delegator, and more was accomplished than she imagined possible.
Dan was the first to notice the late hour. “Well, folks. Time for me to get back to the family … dinnertime and all,” he said, his previously happy-go-lucky expression now fading with concern.
Penelope got an idea. “Mr. Cooper, may I have a word?”
Dan followed her into the unkempt office cautiously, his brown furrowing in worry. “Yes, Miss Price?” he said tentatively.
“Would you mind getting dinner for our crew here? I’d sure be grateful,” she said, opening up her coin purse to produce a small bundle of bills. “This should cover it.”
Dan exhaled audibly.
“Everything all right, Mr. Cooper?” Penelope asked.
“Yes … I thought you were sacking me, is all.”
“Why on earth would you think that? Your work is exemplary!”
“Let’s just say, luck and good fortune tend to run the other way these days.”
“Well, those dark days are over.”
He exhaled again and smiled. “What would you like for supper?”
“Oh, whatever you recommend is fine. You choose,” she said, smiling kindly.
* * * *
Dan returned just over an hour later to find the shop deserted except for Penelope. His expression downcast, he raced over to her to apologize for his tardiness. “I’m sorry, Miss Price. I came back as fast as I could. Did everyone tire of waiting and go home?”
“Not at all, Mr. Cooper,” she said, handing Dan an envelope.
“I don’t understand,” he said, accepting the envelope.
“The food is for you and your family.”
“I … I don’t know what to say.”
“Don’t say anything or your supper will get cold. Now get home. Shoo!”
He gulped and nodded to her, then turned and trotted out the door. As Penelope began the usual search for her keys, Dan burst back through the door. Peering into the envelope he asked, “How many days will this cover, Miss Price? I want to make sure you get your money’s worth.”
“That’s just for today, Dan.”
“But this is twice what we discussed … and three times more than the average wage.”
“Well, you’re three times more valuable than the average worker.”
Dan looked at her speechlessly for a moment, then enfolded her in a bear hug tighter than her corset.
“Mr. Cooper!” she rasped.
“Please excuse me. It’s just … you’re an honest to goodness angel, Miss Price.”
Penelope smoothed her skirt and hair, moved by Dan’s display of emotion. “Thank you, Mr. Cooper. That’s kind of you to say, though I doubt angels get as exhausted as I am now. Let’s both go home.”
Dan nodded and stayed long enough to help Penelope lock up and find her keys.
When she arrived home, once more she heard the bumptious sounds of Zara and Paolo’s bedchamber activities—a connubial subject Penelope was far too tired to tackle at the time.
“I’ll talk to her tomorrow,” she said to herself as she slogged up the stairs, dropping onto her new bed, shoes and all.
* * * *
The next few days proceeded in the same productive and cordial manner. Penelope was in her glory making lists. Dan and Hank treated their labor as if it were play, joking and approaching every task as if it were a joy. Zara continued flirting with Hank, and Paolo continued glaring at her, frowning, and muttering under his breath in lieu of doing much in the way of actual work.
By the end of the week, every bauble and bibelot in the entire store had been catalogued and boxed up, or incorporated into the front room displays. The containers along with the more cumbersome and bulky objects were moved to Penelope’s carriage house; and the shop’s large storage room was not only emptied, but scrubbed from top to bottom, including the previously blackened windows.
Come Monday morning, Penelope was the first to arrive at the shop. She stood in the vacant room, admiring her crew’s accomplishments and stretching her sore back and arms when she heard the front door jingle.
“Good morning!” she called out.
“Good morninn!” she heard a voice say, a voice she struggled to recognize until the moment Hubert Allen walked into the room.
“Mr. Allen, what a pleasure. What brings you here this morning?” Penelope said, twisting her back for relief.
“I can hardly behlive my eyes,” he said, gazing around the room. “Wheere deed eet all go?”
“The trinkets and small items were dispersed around the antiques shop. The large items are stacked to the ceiling in my carriage house,” she said, eying the space with pride.
“Most eempreeseeve!”
“Thank you. It took a heck of a lot of elbow grease, I can tell you.”
“Eexceelleent … most eexceelleent eended,” Hubert said, nodding as he looked around the room. “Mees Price, have you made arrangemeents for the deecorating of your tehroom as of yeet?”
“Now that you mention it, no. I’ve been so focused on clearing the place out, I never stopped to think about filling it back up. I suppose I’ll need some furniture, won’t I?” she said, thinking aloud.
“Oh yees, and a stove and sinnk … and weell you beh wantinn anotheer Keelvinator?”
“Gadzooks! I forgot all about those things.” For a moment she was tempted to panic, but she quickly decided to take control of the situation instead of letting it control her. She’d become better at that since arriving in Pacific Grove.
“Of course you’ll ned tables and chairs, deeshees and leeneens, window coveerings, rugs.”
Penelope’s eyes widened at the thought of all she’d failed to take into account. She gulped down her worries. “But what I most need at the moment is a new list! Excuse me,” she said as she trotted to the teller’s cage to retrieve her clipboard and pencil. She returned, writing furiously. “Let’s see, I’ll also need utensils, serving platters, a large table on which to prepare food … am I forgetting anything?” she asked, focusing on her list as a means of allaying her anxiety.
“Something weeth wheech to make thee teh peerhaps?” he replied.
Both chuckled at the obvious but neglected answer.
It felt good to laugh, and Penelope had been doing a great deal of it in the last few days. Her customary guilt and fear had begun to give place to contentment, along with a quiet faith that matters could and would work out well. New friendships were budding for her, and she was grateful for valuable allies such as Hubert.
“Yes, that would probably be a wise idea,” Penelope said. “What would I do without you, Mr. Allen? I’m truly indebted to you. If there’s anything I can ever do for you …”
“Actually, theer is something I would like to ask you … to at lest conseedeer …”
“Oh yes, please ask.”
“I don’t know eef you’ve hired a shop cleerk yeet …”
“I confess, the thought never crossed my mind,” Penelope said, sitting on the red velvet banquette, trepidation gaining the advantage in her internal tug of war. “I fear I am in way over my head, Mr. Allen.”
“Nonseense, you’ll beh fine, Mees Price … once eeverihthinn has behn put in place.”
“I don't think I’m suited to running a tearoom.” Her lip quivered as she considered the extent of the vital details she’d overlooked.
“Have you applied for a reestaurant peermeet yeet?”
She shook her head no, put her clipboard down, and set her hands in her lap as her eyes started to fill.
“Whoa-ho, what’s this?” Hank said, entering the shop to find Penelope on the verge of nervous prostration.
“I was just deescussing weeth Mees Price some of thee teekneecalitehs of opeening a food eestableeshment,” Hubert explained.
“Are you all right, Miss Price?” Hank said, handing her his handkerchief.
“Yes … no … It turns out I’m not all right at all. I’m not fit to own a tearoom!” she sniveled.
“Allen, what did you say to her?” Hank said, shooting the man an accusatory glance.
Hubert jerked his chin defiantly and turned away from Hank, placing his fists on his hips and thrusting out his chest.
“Mr. Allen has been wonderful, actually … just wonderful,” Penelope said, her lower lip waffling again.
“Why don’t you tell me what happened, Miss Price?” Hank said, kneeling next to her and gently lifting her chin with his forefinger.
Dan walked through the open front door at that moment. “Who wants loganberry muffins? Baked ’em myself … Say, what’s going on here?”
“Crisis of confidence would be my guess,” Hank said.
“I don’t follow,” Dan said, offering Penelope a muffin.
She took it and began to pick at it, her eyes downcast. “This is quite good, Mr. Cooper,” she murmured glumly.
“Dan,” he replied warmly.
Penelope’s slumped frame relaxed, and she took a larger bite from the muffin. “Dan … thank you … all of you. I apologize for my outburst. I don’t know what came over me.”
“Eet ees complettleh undeerstandable, Mees Price. Theere is much to do wheen opeening for beeznees.”
Penelope sat for a moment studying Hank’s handkerchief as she twirled it between her fingers, still too embarrassed to look up. “I thought I was on track, but boy, I haven’t even left the station,” she said quietly.
“Well not yet, you haven’t. That’s why we’re all here, to help get the train rolling,” Dan said encouragingly, handing her another muffin.
His indefatigable good humor and optimism made her smile, and she made a mental note to strive to adopt the same sort of sunny attitude. “Thank you, Dan. One breath at a time … Whew … Good thing we’re not opening tomorrow, eh?”
“Wheen do you eenteend to opeen Mees Price?” Hubert asked.
“I think I should defer to you on that matter, Mr. Allen. It’s clear I need a good deal of help if this business is ever to burgeon.”
Hubert crossed one arm over his chest, stroking his chin with his other hand and paced about the room, taking long strides and muttering to himself. Penelope, Hank and Dan looked on in silence.
Whether it was the warm muffins or the selfless support of those around her, Penelope once again felt the sense of wellbeing and hopefulness that was part and parcel of her Pacific Grove experience. She lapsed now and again, but overall her confidence was definitely growing.
“Threh wekks!” Hubert blared suddenly, startling the three onlookers who all jumped simultaneously.
“Do you really think so?” Penelope said, discreetly dabbing her nose with Hank’s handkerchief.
“I do,” Hubert said.
She took a deep breath, determined to forge ahead. “Looks like I better get that restaurant permit right away. First things first. Then I suppose I’ll need to find a cook. Mr. Allen, do you—”
“Ahem!” Dan said, crooking his thumbs under his arms and bobbing on his heels.
“He’s making a not so subtle hint that he wants the job, Miss Price,” Hank said.
“You, Dan?” she said in surprise.
“Cooking is a hobby of mine—making people happy by making them a delicious meal. I never wanted a saloon, to be honest. My dream was to open a hoity-toity restaurant. Creating the food at your tearoom would be just as good … better!”
“Turns out his cooking isn’t totally inedible,” Hank chimed in. “He used to make all the food at his saloon. He had quite a following, believe it or not.”
Dan threw the napkin covering the muffin basket at him in response.
“Well if these muffins are any indication …” Penelope said, starting in on a third one.
“Mees Price,” Hubert said, donning a pince-nez, then clasping his hands behind the small of his back. “Weh have work to do.”
“We certainly do, Mr. Allen!” she said, rising and rolling up her sleeves.