One Lump or Two - Chapter Seven

Hubert’s advice was invaluable to Penelope, and she followed his directives to a T. He suggested she handle the issue of the restaurant license before getting carried away with tearoom décor, since without the former, there would be no latter.
This was a task to which Penelope did not look forward, as it required filling in legal forms, having them notarized, and then getting them approved by a city official. In the miniscule town of Pacific Grove, that meant dealing with both lawyer Bernard Beekham and Police Chief Walter Harrison.
In preparation of Penelope’s impending city hall battle, Zara served as coach. Penelope had awakened early to dress, and Zara set up camp under the covers in Penelope’s bed, unmaking it in the process.
“First off, ditch the pit of no return,” Zara said, yawning and trying to open her eyes. “You can never find anything in that unwieldy bag, you can hardly carry it, and frankly, it looks awful. I wouldn’t be surprised if it had fleas!”
“But it holds everything!” Penelope insisted. “Wherever I go, I have what I need.”
“What you’re gonna need is back surgery!”
“Harumph! As I was saying, I never think, ‘Oh, if only I’d thought to bring this or that,’ because I carry everything I could possibly need with me.” She added a sweet smile to the end of her plea, hoping that would appease Zara.
“Not a chance,” Zara said, hopping out of bed to go back to her own room. A moment later she returned. “Here. You can borrow a clutch from me.”
Penelope recoiled in consternation.
“What?!” Zara said, handing her a shell-shaped, beaded eggshell bag decorated with hanging fringe and an ornate clasp. “How on earth can you object to this bag? I bought it at Gimbel’s in Manhattan … and for a pretty penny too!”
“But Z!” she said, whispering loudly and looking around the room as if someone may hear them. “It looks like it belongs to a lady of the night!”
Zara laughed with abandon, getting back into Penelope’s bed and kicking the covers into disarray. “Well … I suppose it does belong to one … or did. In any case, you’re not lugging around that pit with you.”
“Fine! I’ll take my coin purse.”
“And what about your keys?”
“I’ll tie them to my coin purse … somehow … Oh fiddlesticks, I’ll figure out something.” Penelope said, becoming annoyed at the nuisance her plan presented.
“I don’t see why you walk around with keys anyway. Or why you drive at all, for that matter. You look more like a jailor than a genteel lady clanking those keys about. And how will you ever avail yourself of the opportunity to have a man give you a lift when you practically run a taxi service of your own?!”
“You know darn well I like to be self-sufficient. Why would I wait around for a man to do something for me that I can easily do myself? I was most grateful to have learned the skills of an automotive mechanic during the Great War. I was able to repair Jeeps and serve the war effort. And I feel it is my duty to make use of that training and apply those abilities now … It would be an insult to the brave boys who lost their lives to do otherwise.”
“Well if you put it like that,” Zara said, sliding deeper under the covers and pulling them up to her nose.
“Now that the handbag situation is settled, what do you make of my costume?” she said, smoothing her skirt, her head held high.
“I’m not sure. Give us a spin … Very nice, actually, P. Businesslike yet feminine, and with a skirt you can walk in without looking like you’re scuttling atop hot coals. A fine choice!”
“Glad you approve … finally,” Penelope said, angling her cartwheel hat atop her head and pinning it in place.
“Oh not that wooly mammoth!” Zara lamented.
“Now it’s my hat that’s too big?”
“You said it, not me.”
Penelope glared at her, unpinning the great hat and brushing back her hair.
“Don’t you have a cloche? Even a toque hat with a Mephisto feather or two would do.”
Penelope shook her head no, unintentionally loosening her carefully pinned coiffure. “I suppose I shall just have to go naked,” she said, dropping into the chair at her vanity table.
“That’s it! The Lady Godiva approach. That should make an impression on that prig of a lawyer and the moody police captain.”
“Chief,” Penelope said absentmindedly.
“Fine, police chief … Oh snap out of it, P. If you don’t have anything here, there must be something at Aunt Dee’s shop you can wear.”
“It’s my shop now, thank you very much … but, say … I think you’ve come up with a marvelous idea.”
“Of course I have … What idea is that?”
Penelope rummaged through her closet for a moment, then emerged holding a leather hatbox with brass clasps. When she opened it, Zara let out an awed gasp.
“Where on earth did you find such a divine creation?” Zara purred, reaching out her hands to take the elegant postillion hat. “What a beauty, and look at the lace on that delicate veil. A millinery triumph, to be sure. But where did it come from?”
“Aunt Dee’s. When you mentioned the shop, I remembered I’d come across this lovely thing and hid it.”
“But why would you hide such a gem?”
“I planned to give it to you for your birthday.”
“Oh, P. What a thoughtful gesture.”
“Well now the hat’s out of the box, so to speak, it’s yours. Happy Birthday, Z,” she said with an elated grin.
“Ee gawd, I wouldn’t be caught dead in that thing,” Zara said, dropping the hat like it was infected with plague, and scooting it away with her foot.
“What?! I thought you said it was beautiful.”
“It was! … about five years ago. Really, P, I wouldn’t consider wearing something from last season, let alone from last decade.”
Penelope slowly put the hat away, sulking in silence.
Immediately Zara regretted her thoughtlessness. It was no secret Penelope was awkward when it came to both fashion and socializing, and Zara knew her friend could use all the bolstering Zara could provide. “I’m a fool … and a haute couture snob. What can I say?” Zara began in apology.
“Oh you’ve said more than enough,” Penelope replied flatly from within the walk-in closet.
“This is what happens when I’m awakened in the A.M.—which I have no doubt stands for anti moral—besides, I’ve not even had my coffee yet.”
Penelope finished dressing in silence, looking everywhere but at Zara.
“Say … what about that fetching hat over there,” Zara said, pointing to the cartwheel hat she’d insisted Penelope remove. “Why, that looks just perfect! I don’t know why you didn’t model that one in the first place! Go ahead, put it on.”
Penelope suppressed a grin and played along. “You mean this old thing?”
“Oh, P, that looks just swell on you. Yes, that’s the ticket! Shame on you for not showing me that one first.”
“Well, you know how forgetful I can be,” Penelope said, glancing up at Zara for the first time since their spat began.
Zara put out her arms, inviting a hug. The two shared a warm embrace.
“Why do you put up with me, P?”
“Because apparently Costas won’t,” Penelope returned with a sneer.
“Why you devil!” Zara said, slapping at Penelope’s hat. “You really do look splendid, P., like a force of nature.”
“Thanks, Z. Though nothing about this legal mumbo jumbo feels at all natural to me.” 
“Just remember how far you’ve come and how much you’ve done. This next step will be a breeze. Now go show those men what a thoroughly modern businesswoman is made of!”
Penelope once again poked a beaded pin through her hat, then slipped on her gloves, grabbed her coin purse and keys, and marched out the door. Zara slid further under the covers and closed her eyes. A moment later, Penelope barged back in.
“Shoes,” was all she said.
* * * *
Three hours after opening her front door to tackle the tangle of red tape she was sure awaited her at city hall, Penelope returned, her hair disheveled and cheeks flushed.
“Hellooooo,” she called out upon stepping into the house’s quiet foyer.
Hearing no response, she traipsed up to her room to change into her work apparel. There she found Zara, napping, a sweet smile on her slumbering face. The squeak of the closet door awakened Zara, and she stretched and sighed contentedly.
“Haven’t you gone yet?” Zara said. “And why are you taking your hat off?” she protested. “I thought we agreed—”
Penelope removed the hat and held up a sheet of paper.
“What’s this?” Zara said, sitting up in bed.
Penelope tossed the page onto the bed. Zara rubbed her eyes and began to read.
“Ya don’t say,” she mumbled, blinking at the page.
“We did it, Z.”
“You mean you did it, P.”
“With your help. I don’t think I could’ve faced those men without you.”
“How did it go, by the way? You sure made quick work of it.”
“Hardly. I’ve been gone a good three hours.”
“My, my. Time flies when you’re in someone else’s bed.”
Penelope looked at her askance.
“Oh you know what I mean. Now tell me what happened!”
She sat in her vanity chair to unlace her shoes and unfold the tale. “Well, I sauntered into Chief Harrison’s office cool as a summer cucumber and ready to get down to business. I heard him call out in a friendly voice from a back room, ‘I’ll be right with you. Help yourself to some coffee and something called a Danish pastry. They were just delivered from the Butterfly Café. Never had one before myself, but they’re not half bad!’ … ‘Thank you, I will,’ I said in reply. He then walked into the room and his friendly demeanor fell flat. ‘Oh … it’s you, Miss Price. What brings you here?’ he said. I felt about as welcome as the grim reaper.”
“I wonder what this fellow has against you. Everyone says he’s the most affable person in town,” Zara said.
“Who’s everyone?”
In Pavlovian fashion, the sound of that name caused Penelope to sit at attention, tingling as her heart rate elevated. She covered up her reaction by pretending to stretch her back. “Oww, this darn crick in my back! Anyway, I don’t know what I may have done to insult the chief, but the upshot is he went over the forms with a fine-toothed comb and said, ‘Well, I can’t find anything wrong with your paperwork, not a single thing. Looks like I’ll have to grant you that license.’ And then he stamped each of the documents and handed them back to me. ‘Will there be anything else, Miss Price? I have a whole town to oversee and can’t spend all my time tinkering with lady businessmen.’ ‘No, that will be all. Thank you, Chief Harrison,’ I said, and I walked out the door before he could change his mind.”
“Brava, P!” Zara said, pulling a pillow to her chest and squeezing it. “Then what?”
“Then I strolled over to the office of Bernard Beekham, Esquire,” she said, strolling across the room in an exaggerated manner and sitting on the edge of the bed.
“Good show! I bet he was surprised to see you so breezy and poised, the old slug.”
“That’s one way to put it.”
“Oh? What would be another way?”
“Another way would be that by the time I got to his office—just two doors down from City Hall, by the way—I’d completely forgotten what I was doing there. I practically forgot my own name! That man is just so darn disconcerting!”
“Ugh!” Zara said, cringing and hiding under the covers.
“You’re tellin’ me!”
“I take it you eventually came to your senses and explained why you were there,” Zara said, peeking from beneath a blanket.
“Not exactly. I babbled incoherently about the weather for a moment, trying to recollect why the dickens I might be there. He noticed the paper I was carrying and took it out of my hand. While he wordlessly processed it, I rambled on about the attractiveness of his office décor. I was in the middle of praising the cut of his armchair when he lifted me by the arm and walked me to the door. Again, not saying a word, he placed the document back in my hand and closed the door behind me.”
“How excruciating! At least he notarized your paperwork.”
“Yes. Thank heaven that’s over!”
“What next?”
“Now we start setting up the tearoom,” Penelope said, her voice cracking.
“What is it, P.?”
“It’s just … those are words I never dreamed I’d have reason to say out loud. It’s really and truly happening. I can hardly believe it. Thank you, Aunt Dee,” she said, putting her fingers to her lips and blowing a kiss to the heavens.
“She’d be really proud of you … I know I am,” Zara said, smiling. She yawned and stretched again. “I suppose I should consider getting out of bed eventually. Any sign of Paolo yet?”
“No, was he supposed to meet you here?”
“Meet me here? He’s most likely still asleep in my room, the lovable lout.”
Penelope felt instantly agitated and decided to broach the subject once and for all. “About that. Z, don’t you think it’s time for Paolo to go?”
“Go where? You mean back to Italy?”
“No, I mean … well I don’t feel right about having him living in the same room as you. I’m a businesswoman now and trying to gain some respect in a new town.”
“Why, Penelope Price. Since when do you care about gossip?”
“It’s not that, not exactly. It’s just … well this is my house and … and what you’re doing does not sit right with me. It goes against my morals.” There! She did it. She took a stand for her beliefs.
“Is that so?!” Zara sat upright in Penelope’s bed, her tone bitter, and eyes squinting.
“What you do under your own roof is fine, but—”
“Oh, I see. Suddenly you’re ashamed of me. I’m the good-time girl who you can take to the speakeasy but not to the tearoom. Well thank you very much, I don’t need your charity or your judgment. Paolo and I are leaving!”
Zara jumped out of bed and headed for the door. Penelope got to it first and closed it.
“No, Z, please,” she pleaded. 
“Let me out!”
“Zara! Please. Just listen to me. I don’t want you to go. But can’t Paolo at least visit his own room once in a while?” she croaked, having difficulty speaking as her mouth dried up. “It’s a very nice room,” she added, trying to ease the tension.
Zara slid her back down the door and sat against it.
“I’m sorry, P. It’s just … your whole career is ahead of you and mine … well mine is behind me … somewhere in Greece … I don’t even think Costas has noticed I’m gone! I haven’t received a single communiqué from him.” She wiped a tear from her cheek. “You have the world by the tail and all I have is … well … Paolo.”
Penelope sat next to her and patted Zara’s knee. “Are you kidding? You have style, grace, wit, brains, beauty, charisma … and you have me.”
Zara smiled through her sorrow.
“We’re in this together. You know I can’t do this without you,” Penelope said.
“I’m not so sure about that,” Zara said, looking at the floor.
“Well I am. Now come on. Let’s go face the day … together.”
Penelope stood up and extended a hand to Zara. Zara sat for some moments, trying to collect herself, then looked up into her friend’s earnest eyes, and raised her hand to take Penelope’s.
* * * *
By the time the twosome made it to the shop, it was late in the afternoon. Penelope, who lived by the clock during her days as a bookkeeper in San Pedro, had lost all sense of time since arriving in Pacific Grove. She’d become hard-pressed to know the day, let alone the hour, as she propelled through the juggernaut of her new venture.
“Nice of you ladies to drop by,” Dan said, polishing the wood on the teller’s cage.
“Hopefully you’ll consider the wait worthwhile,” Penelope said, holding up the tearoom permit.
“What’ve you got there?” Hank asked, walking into the room, cleaning paint off his hands with a rag.
The sight of him in his dungarees, his captivating smile, and tousled waves of hair caused Penelope’s breath to catch. She grabbed her side as the corset pinched her ribs.
“You all right, Miss Price?” Hank asked, rushing to her aid.
“Just gas,” Zara said, as if in confidence.
Penelope glared at her and handed the document to Hank.
“Well I’ll be,” he said.
“What is it?” Dan asked.
Hank handed him the paper and walked out of the room. Penelope feared it was the threat of intestinal vapors that had caused him to retreat.
“Congratulations, Miss Price!” Dan exulted. “This is a watershed moment for you. I remember the day I got my permit for the saloon. I felt like I could conquer the world. And you will!”
Hank re-entered holding a wooden plank. “I suppose now’s as good a time as any to show you a little something I’ve been fiddling with.” He turned the board around to reveal a hand-carved sign with gold letters that read: AntiquiTeas. “I hope you don’t mind me taking the liberty.”
“Mr. Edwards. I don’t know what to say,” Penelope began, finding herself breathless again as a variety of heady emotions rode roughshod over her.
“It’s the gas,” Zara said in a mock whisper.
Penelope shot her another galled glance.
“I can redo it if you prefer,” Hank offered.
“No, please. It’s perfect,” Penelope said, still clutching her side as she began to breathe normally. “Thank you, Mr. Edwards. That was very kind of you.”
“Call it a business-warming gift, so to speak,” he said, smiling. “It still needs to dry, but we have a full three weeks to get it up now that things are official. Congratulations on the permit.”
“I seh you’ve come up weeth a name,” Hubert said as he entered the shop’s open door.
“Good morning, Mr. Allen! Good morning and good news,” Penelope said, relieved to see Hubert who had become a stabilizing source for her when it came to business management. He made sound decisions and gently advised Penelope without berating her for her lack of knowledge or acumen. Having his store located next to hers assured her that help was only steps away, and following his example she’d begun to believe there was a feasible answer to every commercial dilemma.
Dan handed Hubert the permit.
“Weel weel thees eez good news eendehd, Mees Price. We can behgin construction on the tehroom at once!”
Just then Penelope noticed a teenage girl lurking outside the shop. “Hello there, may we help you?” she called.
“Oh, my apologiz. Steella. Steella come in her.”
Hubert motioned to the girl who entered the room without her feet or eyes ever leaving the ground. She was a classic beauty with fine features and porcelain skin. Like Zara, she wore her hair in a bob, though Stella’s looked as though it was cut impulsively with kitchen shears on a dare. Her deep blue eyes had a haunting quality to them, and she enjoyed staring at people for minutes on end, never blinking. She nearly always dressed in black, and wore fishnet stockings constantly, regardless of their condition.
“Thees eez my god-daughteer, Steella Parker. I thought peerhaps you would consideer heer when you behgin hirin. Sheh is sure to make a wondeerful shop geerl.”
“Oh, I hadn’t … how do you do, Miss Parker?” Penelope said, offering Stella her hand.
Stella merely put her hands behind her back and looked at Penelope blankly and unblinkingly.
“I see. Well, I am Miss Price, this is Miss … ehr”
“Zara, just Zara.” Zara said, leaning indifferently against one of the display cases.
Stella looked up at Zara, perceptibly intrigued.
“This is Mr.—”
“Yeah, I know them,” Stella said, disregarding Dan and Hank as her eyes remained fixed on Zara.
“How’s tricks?” Zara asked casually, scratching her head and mussing her hair enticingly.
“Not bad,” Stella said with a faint smile. “Say, what’s a dame like you doin’ marking time with these stiffs?” she added, testing Zara.
“I get a kick out of ‘em … kind of like monkeys in the zoo,” Zara said, sitting on the shop’s banquette, her legs crossed and arms stretched along the top of the sofa. “So what’s your story, little sister?”
“My god-awful god-father here says I have to get a job … actually, he seez I have to geet a job,” she added, mocking Hubert’s speech idiosyncrasy.
“Humph!” Hubert responded.
“What a sporting idea!” Zara said.
Stella’s eyes widened. That was not the sort of response she expected from a cool customer like Zara.
“Think of all the things you’ll do with the mazuma you’ll earn. Why, the world’s your oyster, just waiting for you to crack it open and seize the pearl that’s yours. So tell me, what flips your pancakes, Stella?”
“Don’t waste your breeth, Mees Zara. Sheh neeveer answeers queestions. Sheh is far too contrary. But sheh eez a very bright girl behneth all the … black.”
“Painting … and Paris,” Stella offered. “I want to move there one day, soonski.”
Hubert stood agog.
“Ah, Montmartre, eh?” Zara responded coolly. “I’ve spent many a fabled evening at the Moulin Rouge. I was there the night the original theater burned down in fifteen. I had nothing to do with that fire, for the record,” Zara said, reeling in the young flapper. “Taking a job here at AntiquiTeas would help you save up pennies for your grand journey to Paris … but I’m sure you already thought of that, of course.”
Stella turned to Hubert and gestured to him with her thumbs up. “Everything’s Jake, Uncle Hubert.”
“Who eez Jake?” he asked.
“I think she means she’ll take the job?” Zara suggested.
“I’m glad someone here is hip to the jive and speaks English,” Stella said, smiling and shaking Zara’s hand.
“P?” Zara said, nodding to Stella.
“It’s very Jake to have you on board, Stella,” Penelope said, failing miserably at speaking in modern slang.
Stella stifled a laugh. Zara burst out into a hearty cackle.
“Weel, now that eez seetled, Mees Price, weh have much yeet to do.”
“Stick with me kid. I’ll show ya the ropes,” Zara said, nodding to Stella.
“Don't forget to get a collar for your new pet,” Penelope whispered as she walked past Zara on her way to the officially permitted tearoom.