One Lump or Two - Chapter Nine

Penelope’s words were far more prophetic than anyone could have imagined. As the big day approached, nerves frayed and tempers flared. The morning before the grand opening, while potting flowers along the besidewalk in front of the shop, Penelope witnessed not one, but two scuffles. First, she noticed Dan and Hank shouting at one another in the tearoom. She couldn’t make out what they were saying, but their body language indicated anger, and the situation became so heated Hank shoved Dan who then stormed out. Immediately thereafter, Vincent approached Dan who was endeavoring to cool off, and the two of them got into a brief confrontation.
Just minutes later, Zara and Paolo pulled up in the Duesenberg, but before Penelope could say hello to them, she saw that they too were arguing. In time, Vincent had Stella in tears, Dan and Hubert were at each other’s throats, and Hubert stomped off in frustration after a fruitless attempt to converse with Paolo. At the time, Paolo sat smoking in the car while everyone else was working himself ragged. Later, Paolo snapped at Hank for talking to Zara, Penelope spotted Vincent giving Zara dirty looks, and even Stella and Dan had words!
Penelope knocked on wood—specifically, the new tearoom’s cherry wood sideboard— in hopes of getting through the next day without running into a major altercation of her own. She and Zara had experienced a few minor spats, but she didn’t count those, as best friends were bound to drive each other to distraction now and again. If I have to get into a dispute, let it wait ’til after opening day, she thought, trying to negotiate with God or herself or whomever might oversee such matters.
By the end of the night, the crew was too exhausted and excited to engage in disputations of any kind with each other or anyone else. One by one, the workers filtered into the tearoom upon accomplishing the last of their allotted tasks. When Zara noticed everyone was together and quiet, she dashed off to the kitchen, returning with a tray of small glasses and a chilled bottle of sparkling apple cider from the nearby Martinelli orchard in Monterey.
“What, no champagne?” Penelope said, smiling.
“Don’t think the thought didn’t cross my mind, but then again, so did the thought of you being put in jail on opening day for violating Prohibition. Enough about the libations, say something inspiring … or at least sappy,” Zara added with a smirk.
Stella passed out the bubbling glasses while Penelope searched for the right words. Just then the front door opened.
“Oh, I hope I am not deesturbing you,” Hubert said.
“Not at all. Your timing’s perfect,” Zara said, leading Hubert in to the fold.
Paolo, who normally would’ve glowered and growled at the sight of Zara on another man’s arm, was in such high spirits he smiled and saluted Hubert.
“Yes, Mr. Allen, please, take a glass,” Penelope said, handing him her own. “I was just about to say … well, I hadn’t quite figured out what I was going to say actually.”
The crowd chuckled.
“Hurry it up, P. These folks are thirsty,” Zara cried, handing Penelope another glass of cider.
“Oh all right. All I can say is this tearoom represents a lifelong dream, a dream that is coming true thanks to each and every one of you. I’m so thankful for you all and look forward to many years of success together. Cheers to tomorrow and cheers to you!”
“Cheers!” all cried, downing their drinks.
“Now who’s going to wash all these glasses?” Penelope asked.
Another communal chuckle ensued, followed by looks of dread as each pondered if he or she was to be the answer to the question.
“Let’s see, it’s just before ten now … see you all in about ten hours,” Penelope said, looking at her watch, her heart racing in excitement.
The workforce filed out the front door, their weariness matched only by their fervor to see the culmination of all their toil. Paolo and Zara walked off hand in hand, their affection rekindled after Paolo’s visit to Carmel. “Paws off!” Penelope heard Stella object as the ever-tolerant Vincent walked her home.
Hank waited until Vincent and Stella were out of sight to bid Penelope goodnight. “Well, I suppose this is it. Goodnight then, Miss Price. And may the dawn bring with it the realization of your sweetest dreams,” he said, kissing her hand gently.
Penelope gurgled unintelligibly in response, then succumbed to a bout of nervous giggles. Hank furrowed his brow in confusion, opened his mouth to speak, then opted to depart. Penelope called out after him, still talking in gibberish.
Dan hung back, refusing to leave until Penelope did so as well, fearing she’d fritter the night away at the shop, fidgeting with unimportant details instead of getting a much-needed full night of sleep.
“Yes, I’ll go right home, Dan. Scout’s honor,” Penelope promised.
“Miss Price … there’s one other thing,” Dan said quietly, rolling his cap in his hands.
“Yes, Mr. Cooper? Is everything all right?”
Dan sighed deeply, shifting from one foot the other. “I don’t know how to say this …”
“Oh Dan, don’t tell me you’re quitting already. I don’t think I could bear it!”
“No, it’s not that … just the opposite, in fact … it’s just … I wanted to thank you for what you’ve done for me … and my family. We still have a long way to go, longer than my wife Lily deserves, I hate to say. But thanks to you, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel now. By this time next year I think we’ll be back on top. I just know it! I can’t begin to tell you how much this job means to me.”
“Mr. Cooper, if you go on like this I’ll be blubbering from here ’til Sunday,” she said, retrieving a hanky she’d tucked into her sleeve during the toast earlier, should she become weepy.
“Golly, Miss Price, I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“I’m not upset, Mr. Cooper. Just very moved … and grateful.”
“Me too!” he said, smiling.
Penelope smiled in return, her smile turning into a yawn. “And very tired, it appears,” she added.
“Me too!” he said enthusiastically.
Penelope giggled. “See you bright and early tomorrow, Dan.  It’s sure to be quite a day.”
“Actually, I won’t be in until later … that is if you still want me to go pick up those blocks of ice in Monterey.”
“Oh that’s right! I’d forgotten. Are you sure you don’t want Vincent or Hank to go with you? Those blocks look awfully heavy.”
“I’ll be fine. Besides, I think you’ll need as many hands on deck as you can get ahold of.”
“Good point. The doors open at ten o’clock sharp, so try to get back around nine thirty. Too early and the ice will melt, and too late will be—”
“Too late!”
They both chuckled and set off for home. Everything would be different the next day.
* * * *
Penelope slept briefly but soundly and awoke refreshed and expectant. With time to spare, she took advantage of the opportunity to sit in her bedroom’s window seat and open the windows, appreciating the sights and sounds of the waves crashing beneath the warming sun’s gradual ascent. She suspected she was still asleep and dreaming, so magnificent and serene was the scene, so auspicious were her prospects. Her thoughts drifted, and she wondered if she’d ever share such a moment with a husband. Surely, if a magical place like Pacific Grove could grant her wish of opening a tearoom, it had the power to provide her with romance. She shook the thought off as unattainable. “Let’s not get carried away old girl,” she said aloud to herself. “Just enjoy the day.”
She rose from the window seat, stiff from having remained there for so long, then she donned her dressing gown and tiptoed toward the kitchen so as not to awaken Zara.
“Care for a cup?” Zara asked softly from the breakfast table.
“Aaaaaagggghhhhhh!” Penelope screamed.
“Does that mean yes? Or that you’ve had too much already?” Zara said, pouring a mug and handing it to Penelope, making sure to steady Penelope’s juddering hands as she did so.
“What on earth are you doing up at this hour?!” Penelope asked, trying to catch her breath. “Thank the lord I hadn’t put my corset on yet!”
“You’re somethin’ else, P. But to answer your question, I’m up at this ungodly hour because this is the biggest day of my best friend’s life, and I wouldn’t be late for it for all the tea in China!”
Penelope raised her coffee mug in thanks, her hand still unsteady. “What time is it anyway?”
“Half past six.”
Penelope let out a languorous sigh. “Good, now we can savor our morning and not rush.”
“Uh huh,” Zara replied, looking askance at her friend. “I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts you’ll be rushing around tearing your hair out and nearly fainting in your corset within three quarters of an hour.”
“Possibly,” Penelope said, speaking into her coffee mug and peeking over its rim.
The two friends enjoyed a relatively leisurely breakfast of toast and coffee while Penelope tapped her foot and fiddled with the handle of her coffee mug. Eventually, they both went to dress.
“Where are you going?” Penelope asked as Zara walked down the hall. “Aren’t you coming up?”
“After I wake Paolo. He slept down here last night … something about respect for both you and me and how kind you’ve been and that sort of rubbish,” Zara said, smiling.
Penelope put her hand over her heart. “This is going to be a day to remember.”
“It is at that.”
* * * *
Penelope took her time getting ready, not so much by choice as by circumstance in that as she was shaking in excitement to the extent she had difficulty doing up her buttons and arranging her hair. Fearing she was late, she didn’t stop to chat with Zara and Paolo as she hurried down the stairs and out the door. She merely called out, “See you at AntiquiTeas,” as she took up a brisk pace down the walkway toward her car.
“Let’s see … keys, bag, coin purse … I think it’s all here,” she said aloud as she prepared to start the Model T.
Even in her rushed state, she made a point to look left and right and rear and left and right again before easing her car onto the road. “Oh I am a tearoom queen! And it is, it is a glorious thing to be a tearoom queen!” she sang, changing the lyrics to one of her favorite Pirates of Penzance songs as she drove toward the tearoom, her tearoom.
She arrived just before eight o’clock to find Stella and Vincent sitting on the sidewalk in front of the entrance.
“Aren’t you two prompt?” she said as she unlocked the doors.
“Happy opening day, Miss Price,” Stella said, handing her a tattered bunch of wild flowers.
“Stella, you shouldn’t have,” Penelope said, trying to hold onto the flowers and remove her keys from the lock at the same time.
“I didn’t, actually. It was Vincent’s idea,” Stella admitted.
“Well then thanks to you both,” Penelope said, tying her keys onto her coin purse and placing them in the drawer in the teller’s cage.
“Prego,” Vincent said, beaming.
“Ignore him,” Stella said, rolling her eyes. “It’s one of his Italian days.”
“Well I hope you’ll be back to English by the time we open in two hours,” Penelope said, tapping her wristwatch.
“Si. Bene,” Vincent replied with a nod.
“So where should we start?” Stella asked as Zara and Paolo entered, their arms wrapped around each other and lips meeting frequently.
“Ah, amore,” Vincent said approvingly. “Buongiorno!”
“Buongiorno, Vincenzo!” Paolo said with a wide smile.
“Buongiorno!” Hank called from the entrance as he strode in.
“Can we all come back to America, please?” Penelope said genially.
“Yes, at your service, m’lady,” Hank said with a slight bow.
Penelope tingled warmly, unsure if it was because of the thrill of the grand opening, or perhaps something else. She dismissed the feeling and took a deep breath. “Shall we?” she said.
“After you, Miss Price,” Zara said, gesturing for Penelope to lead the way into the tearoom.
When Hank passed by, Penelope noticed that he was wearing a suit, a handsomely tailored suit that accentuated the breadth of his shoulders, his upright stature, his powerful arms and legs, the cool confidence in his gait, the waves of his luxurious sun-kissed hair, and the depth of his pale turquoise eyes. Yes, Penelope was sure his suit did all that.
“Mr. Edwards?” she said, still trying to rein in her jitters.
He stopped on the spot and turned to her as if he were a model effortlessly pivoting on a fashion runway.
“Thank you, for all you’ve done,” she began. “To say you’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty does you no justice. And now, to think you’d stay on to help pour tea today … I’m most grateful.”
“Well, you as a bookkeeper should understand, it’s a simple matter of mathematics. You needed help. I like to help. Supply and demand,” he said with a wink. “May I?” he added, crooking an arm for her to take.
She placed her hand on his forearm, and her breath caught, causing her corset to cramp. Nerves, she thought.
Once she entered the tearoom and saw the members of her disparate crew standing at their stations, all trepidation fell away, and she was ready to take command. “All right, everyone knows their places, but I think it would be a good idea for you all to know what each other is doing. The last thing we want to say to people today is, ‘I don’t know.’ Now, Zara will handle seating, Paolo and Hank will pour tea, Stella and Vincent will serve the food, Dan will plate the food, and I, well, I suppose I’ll put out fires.”
“Say, where is Dan, anyway? Why did he get to sleep in?” Stella said.
“He went to Monterey to get a few blocks of ice,” Penelope answered. “I didn’t want him to go too early or the ice would melt. Not to worry, he has platters ready to go in the Kelvinator. He’ll be back with the ice about half an hour before we open.”
The crew set to work as if the events and demands of the day were second nature to them. Every member of the team understood exactly what they were expected to accomplish and how to go about doing it. About an hour before opening, Zara tapped Stella on the shoulder, a pair of garment bags in tow.
“No … no … no one said anything about wearing some hokum uniform,” Stella protested.
“Not a word,” Zara admonished. “Vincent, I have one for you too.”
The young workers took their bags and slogged off, muttering under their breath.
“You want the bathroom or the office?” Stella asked resignedly.
“Lady’s choice,” he said.
“Neither?” she responded.
“You realize you don’t stand a chance against both Zara and Miss Price.”
“Oh all right, then. I’ll take the office. There’s no mirror in there so at least I won’t have to look at myself in whatever ridiculous getup they’re foisting on me. They keep this up and I’m going to form a union. We have rights too, ya know!” Stella said, bewailing her plight from the office doorway as Vincent passed by walking toward the kitchen. “Just where do you think you’re going?! If I have to, so do—”
“Hold your water, Stella. I’m just going to the kitchen to change. The bathroom’s occupied. Now close your mouth and close the door, and don’t come out until you’ve changed both your outfit and your attitude. Is that clear?”
Stella stood for a moment with her eyes and mouth agape, then shut the door. She was unaccustomed to Vincent speaking to her so commandingly. Like Penelope, she began to tingle inexplicably and felt lightheaded. “I should have eaten breakfast,” she reasoned aloud as she slipped off her favorite black cotton dress, faded from constant use.
“Whoa!” rang out from the kitchen.
Zara and Penelope giggled. A moment later, Vincent emerged in handsome livery, tugging on his shirt cuffs to show off his splendor.
“Magnifico!” Zara cheered, clapping enthusiastically as Vincent walked around in a circle for full effect.
“Absolutely radiant,” Penelope said in a hushed voice as Stella entered the tearoom.
“Mama mia,” Vincent whispered.
Stella tried to suppress a smile, but failed.
“Glad rags become you. Not exactly servant’s attire now is it?” Zara said, twirling a finger indicating Stella should turn in place.
“Zara, it’s absolutely beautiful,” Penelope said.
“And absolutely flapper,” Zara said. “Why should Stella pretend to be someone she’s not? We flappers are the future, and we needn’t be ashamed to show it.”
Stella let out a squeal of delight as she spun in her black, knee-length, bugle-beaded, sheer-cap-sleeved dress. Black stockings, T-strap Mary Jane heels; and a matching necklace, earrings, and head-wreath set completed the ensemble.
Just then, a rapping on the front door interrupted the fashion show.
“Oh good, Dan’s back a little early,” Penelope said. She strode to the shop door and flung it open to find Elsie Davies and a photographer.
“Look sharp!” Elsie said, as a flashbulb popped and dropped to the ground.
“Oh Miss Davies, good morning. We will open the doors in about forty-five minutes,” Penelope said, attempting to block the entrance.
“Don’t mind us. We’ll be quiet as mice. You won’t even know we’re here,” Elsie said, barging past Penelope. “Roger, which spot do you think will be better for pictures? Here … or over here? I want to interview our more prominent citizens both coming and going. You made quite an impression on Florence Morgan, Miss Price. She’s invited the entire garden club and symphony association to your little soiree today. Roger, go right on ahead and move anything that’s in your way. Penelope won’t mind, will you, Penelope?”   
“Well actually—” Penelope began to say.
“Oh dear, are we too late to get a good seat?” a woman said, entering the shop through the open door. “Alice, Sophie, Mary come quickly or we won’t get a seat!” she called back to her friends.
“Good morning, ladies. I’m afraid we’re not quite open yet. If you’ll give us another forty-five minutes—” Penelope said.
“Welcome, ladies. Elsie Davies from the Butterfly Bugle. What brings you to the grand opening of AntiquiTeas today?”
Realizing she stood a better chance of joining them than beating them, Penelope scurried to the tearoom, closing its doors behind her. As she did so, she heard two more parties enter the antiques shop, encouraged by Elsie Davies.
“Everyone, the floodgates have opened,” Penelope said breathlessly. “I’m afraid we’re going to have to start the show now.”
“But what about Dan?” Stella said.
“We’ll just have to go on without him. Do your best.”
Stella, Vincent, and Paolo all panicked for a moment, running into each other in their discombobulated frenzy, behaving like the bungling characters in a Keystone Cops film. Zara and Hank remained nonchalant, manning their posts in preparation for whatever the day might throw at them.
“Come on, Dan. Get a move on,” Penelope whispered, looking at her watch and rushing back toward the antiques shop. “Zara, can you cover the kitchen ’til Dan arrives?”
Zara nodded.
As Penelope cracked open the tearoom doors, she was greeted by a throng of guests, all ready to be seated, all ready to be served. “Good morning, and welcome to AntiquiTeas,” she said, sliding the doors open wide. If you’d like to check in with me, I will be happy to seat you, one party at a time.”
The mob paid her no heed and stampeded into the room. The women gasped and pointed and whispered. The men nodded in admiration and took their seats, ready for free food and attentive service. Penelope gave up acting as hostess and resorted to the kitchen to find Zara standing in front of the open Kelvinator, stupefied as to where to start.
“I’ll take over from here, Z.”
“Oh, thank God,” Zara said.
“Where are Stella and Vincent?”
“Helping Paolo and Hank prepare the teapots. None of us were ready yet, you know.”
“Oh believe me, I know,” Penelope said, tying an apron around her waist and working at lightning speed to unwrap Dan’s prepared platters for delivery to the waiting tables.
“Where’s Dan when you need him?” Zara asked, taking the platters from Penelope and garnishing them with fresh vegetables.
“He should be here in no more than fifteen minutes.”
“What should I do for now? I feel like a bump on a log,” Zara said, placing a radish on a plate of cucumber sandwiches.
“Offer everyone sparkling cider and charm the pants off them … literally, if need be.”
“Now that I can do.”
Zara marched out of the kitchen to face the crowd as Stella and Vincent entered requesting food to serve. Everyone present had been given tea and was ready to eat. Penelope had just started to feel like she had a handle on the situation when she heard an unsettling hush fall over the tearoom.
She peeked through the kitchen door to see Florence Morgan entering the room. Hank gave her his arm and escorted her to a table situated between the fountain and floor-to-ceiling windows. Elsie Davies was hot on her heels, at the ready to scribble down every golden word Florence might deign to deliver, while Penelope hurried to arrange the platter designated for Florence’s table.
Hank entered the kitchen and, upon seeing the unappealing pile of sandwiches, quickly reassembled them, standing some on their ends, leaning others against them at interesting angles. He then reached into his pocket, produced a switchblade, and rapidly carved the radishes into rose shapes, shaved the carrots into curls, and halved the grape tomatoes using v-shaped cuts to make them more attractive. He inserted the vegetables along with some herbs between the sandwiches and finished just as Vincent arrived in the kitchen requesting food for Mrs. Morgan’s party.
A few minutes after Vincent presented the delicate comestibles to Florence, she asked him to fetch Hank, whom she then asked to summon Penelope.
“She’s asking for you,” Hank said, poking his head into the kitchen.
“She who?” Penelope asked, though she suspected she knew the answer.
With shaking hands, she removed her apron, then walked out into the tearoom.
Upon seeing her, Florence stood up and said, “I’d like to propose a toast—to Miss Penelope Price and her AntiquiTeas tearoom, both most welcome additions to Pacific Grove. Young lady, I believe your grandaunt would be quite proud. To AntiquiTeas!” she cheered, raising her teacup.
“To AntiquiTeas!” the crowd echoed, teacups aloft.
Penelope struggled to find the appropriate words to say, so filled with humble gratitude and emotion was she. She opened her mouth to speak, but all anyone heard was a blood-curdling scream.
And then her world came crashing down.