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L's Cafe

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Part One:

Life in a small market town, one 'up north', is never small. Really, it makes a certain celebrity out of anyone. From the mechanic in the garage off the high street, to the dairy farmers who live in the big house on the hill, all are familiar, mostly friendly, faces on any given day they find themselves in town. You will even hear 'That's the Tracey family now' as their silver Nissan SUV goes past. 

Life for you, however, was yet to be determined. After you finished school, you went 'down south', off to university. And this was not a criticism; you literally had to go south as the town you were from was one of the northernmost in the country. But following graduation you returned home to take in the changes that had occurred while you had gone. 
       And one was big, to say the least. 

But you are getting ahead of yourself. Let's begin with explaining what life was like in those days before university. 

For starters, you would get up each morning at about 10 am, shower, spray some Lynx deodorant over yourself and then dress in your tracksuit - all before heading out to catch up with mates. Although, in that time, rarefied as it was by the end of one thing (school) and the burgeoning of another (university), you tended to stray from your friends and their rubbish talk about passing pensioners, old teachers who 'done us in' by marking essays that were barely written (you always finished yours), and their amusement in petty theft from the newsagent's - to nothing over a fiver in value. So, as it was, you found yourself in L's Cafe; the name signifying a local mother, Laurel, who opened the business when you were about 13 years old. 

But in the cafe, more a bakery stocking a small menu of cakes, slices, muffins, a few types of bread, and in between sampling most of the offerings as you avoided your mates from school, you befriended Freya, the older girl who worked there most afternoons. 
Asking around when you were back at home, you found out Freya was Laurel's niece, and that she was 20. 'She's been away for a bit, trainin' in hospitality,' Ma said over the breakfast table. 'A real sweet one, pet.' She could tell I fancied her, much to my initial embarrassment. 'So don't sit still like a stale bottle of you-know-what ... go and buy something. She might even talk to ya.' So, with some shrapnel in my back pocket, collected from birthday and Christmas money, I installed myself at the table by the window; in part so I could watch for any other friend who might see me, but more so I could take in the whole cafe. It reminded me of my grandparents' house, complete with lace curtains and prints of famous artwork.  

'Hiya!' Freya would always say, appearing from behind the till or cake display. Her pale face would redden a little when she saw it was me, mirroring what mine felt like it was doing. 'Let me guess. Ginger cake and chai?' She would half-close one of her dazzling hazel eyes and press a thoughtful finger against her lips. 'Got it in one,' was all you would lamely reply, smiling. 'Ah! Good one!' She'd congratulate herself with a hand on her hip, sometimes a faint slapping would occur in her excitement. 'You go sit now, matey. I'll whip these up for ya.' She'd hold my gaze momentarily then wink, before disappearing to the industrial noises of the small kitchen and pleasant scent of cinnamon. 
      Well, at least for the most part, this routine would happen daily. The conversation changed, of course, but Freya's delight in what she was doing never did. 
      That is, as it happened, her enthusiasm for baking consumed her. Shortly after you became her 'favourite', she would often join you at the small table by the window, telling you how she tried a different recipe to the ones Laurel had written - 'playing with the ingredients, sweetening here and there' - and increasingly, bringing a second plate over - 'I've not had anythin' since dawn and I'm Hank Marvin'''. In this time, and as you would discuss football, the future, Adele's latest record, you noticed Freya's uniform - 'stage black': black cotton t-shirt and black leggings - seemed to fit her more snugly than before. She was fairly short to begin with, but the flour-coated uniform seemed to stick to her growing body, exposing a soft belly and occasional slightest sight of back fat when she was facing away from you. And when you looked across the table at her, you could see her once sharp, pale face had now softened at the edges, dimples pooling in her cheeks and on her chin. Whether it was because of the sweet treats or something else, you felt yourself hardening to this increasing softness, thinking more and more about her when you were at home. 


You weren't ashamed to defer your enrolment to university, and neither were you embarrassed to spend most weekdays dropping in to L's Cafe; you could afford it, physically and financially. And, as you often fantasised, you were able to see more of Freya this way over the next six months. You liked the conversation, the friendship; the warmth of her wide smile as you came in. It was far better than any phone-gazing and online FIFA matches with your mates. 

After showering, now beginning to dress somewhat formally (jeans and a polo shirt), you took your time getting ready to move in the morning. 
'I'm going out,' you'd say, pressing open the front door.
'Off to see ya girlfriend, are ya?' Ma would say from behind the paper, a lurid headline about terrorism, welfare cheats or the Opposition facing you.
You would laugh at this. 'Yes, yes, off to see my girlfriend.' 
'Well she's a good baker, that one, so I don't blame ya,' you would pause for a moment, sensing the slightest thing was amiss. 'But I think she might be a little too good, if I'm honest.' 
Feeling suddenly quite self-conscious, gulping some air you would ask: 'And why's that, Ma?' 
'Have you not seen her? She's let herself go a little. I guess it's true; you either lose your face or your arse!' 
Ma would generally laugh up into the dusty ceiling when she would say something mean, but it did get you thinking: Had you not noticed Freya's change? You knew she tended to miss breakfast most days, filling up on, as she would put it, 'Today's worst-sellers, all good to me, though!'. You could also see she was redder in the face more often than just when she'd greet you; out of breath even. Maybe she was a little chubby. Who cares? Not you.

In fact, you admired the way she took her heaviness in her stride. The more you thought about it, the more you recognized her slapping her hip or buttocks when she guessed your order correctly, the flesh jiggling. You liked how she would spill more of her food on her chest, perhaps because she ate so quickly at times; how she would happily, blissfully with her eyes closed, let you feed a spoon-or-forkful of your own into her greedy, almond-shaped mouth. 'Quality control is quite rigorous here,' she'd say, laughing, her voice muffled by rich chocolate cake. 'But the results are in,' she'd add, searching your face. 'All top-class!'  
      You suppose Ma was right: Yes, Freya had put on a bit of padding. 
      But what did it matter, really? It just meant she was cushioned against the intermittent bumps she suffered as she huffed past cafe furniture, you'd see in her furrowed brow, she could have sworn was further away than that.

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Part Two:

'Cafe closed for weekend maintenance. Thanks!' The sign is written in bright yellow marker which, you recognize by the flourishes at the letters' edges, is in Freya's handwriting. Damn
     You stand re-reading the text before another voice breaks over your thoughts.
     'Closed, eh? Looked pretty good, if I'm honest.' Ravi, your best mate, stands next to you, his hand pressed against the glass of the front door. 
     'It's a right shame, pal,' you say back, thinking about what you will do tomorrow. 
     Ravi turns, resting his back against the door. 'You ever been before?' he gestures over his shoulder. 'God! The waitress in there. . .ma-ate.' He makes a shaka sign at nobody in particular, but smiles at the thought. 'What. A. Looker.' 
     Annoyed and perhaps slightly protective of Freya, the friendship the two of you have at least, you look at Ravi a moment too long. 
     'Shit, man. You alright?'
     Recovering a little, you nod your head and say: 'I think her name's Freya.' 
     'Nah, nah,' the tension you imagined had lifted. 'There was this girl I saw once, you know when we were coming back from the derby in London? It was about closing time, a bit of light rain, and there was this bird with a tight little bum and flashy blue trainers.'  
     Not remembering this, possibly as Ravi took another mate to the football that day, you tell him: 'You've got a good memory.' 
     '. . .Yeah, well, I never miss a good "front and back", you know?' 
    You, and the passing pensioner walking a fox terrier, look on at your friend's demonstration of two cupped oranges about half-way down his chest. 
     'You don't remember her?' Ravi is amused. 'Because she looked just like that!' 
     You both laugh at this admission. 
     'But anyway, man. I think I'd remember a name like Freya - Freya of the Fine Ass.' 
     At this you spread your hands and see in your mind's eye the fleshy, fuller buttocks behind the till, flanked by the checkerboard tea towel tucked into her sinking waistband. A thick white flour handprint, her own, is impressed upon the right cheek as Freya, busy with the oven, seems to greet you with it.  
     Stirring you from your reverie, Ravi asks: 'But who's Freya, though?'

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On 1/30/2021 at 10:07 PM, ShrubberyLogistic said:

😂 Having read a thousand stories set in America, it’s a pretty bracing sensation to see one that could’ve happened down the road from me. I love your style!

Thank you, I'm glad to hear you like it. I must admit, I was not sure if the setting would fit, what with all the other popular settings featuring in other stories. Power up t'North!

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Part Three: 

Sitting on the edge of the stone fountain opposite Boots in the high street, you and Ravi spend what must have been close to an hour, as he is all too happy to announce to all and sundry, 'scoping out the birds of our fair town'. What he doesn't notice, however, is that because the summer was unusually hot, the fountain had to be drained to save water; so making both of you look something like 'hoodies', 'blimmin' undesirables,' as Ma would say. The McDonald's you had almost made up for this embarrassment, at least. 
       'Ha ha! You seen this, ma man?' Ravi palms his mobile into your hand without letting you see the screen. 
       'What am I supposed to be looking at, mate?' you say, shooing away a filthy pigeon with eyes on one of your last French fries. 
       Ravi makes a shaka sign and shakes his head. 
       'You know who that is, yeah?' 
       'Someone you know?' 
       'Someone I know? Someone you know, mate. Look a moment, think - everything to play for.' 
       You pinch the Facebook picture, expanding it to a size you can see. You recognise a scene of a sports day, football at the local field, St. Martin's; a team photo of the girls' team. 
       'This was last month, wasn't it?' you ask Ravi, who is grinning at you like an insipid Cheshire Cat. 
       'Yeah, and what else do you see?' 
       Making a closer inspection of the team photo, taken from The Scarborough News, entitled 'Irn-Bru Northern Ladies Champions 2020', you notice a few of the faces in the sky-blue strip. 'Oh, yeah,' you hush. 
       'Can't believe they won, shouldn't have won. Bet money on the other side. Still can't believe how Kim can even get off the ground, the whale . . .' 
       You stifle a laugh at your friend's misfortune, but bristle at his use of 'whale'. 
       'Whale? You seriously still use that term?' You roll your eyes. 
       'What?' Ravi has lost interest in the conversation. 'But she is a heffalump, which I suppose helps her in goal . . . but anyway, I thought you guys were still in touch. I mean, I'd have thought I was being apposite, as Old Mac said in Lit lessons.' 
       You say nothing, instead cast your mind back to those happy lessons, momentarily. 
       'What though? You haven't seen her in a while or something, mate?' At least he's honest, is Ravi. 
       'I guess not,' you say looking at the picture again. 'But I don't think she's changed that much.' 
       You don't listen to the incredulous laughter of your good mate, the comparisons he variously makes of Kim to a lava lamp, jelly and marshmallows; you think instead that you will send Kim a text later on - but only after looking at her latest FB pictures first.
        Stirring back to reality somewhat as you start to head back home, you hear Ravi add uncertainly: 'She is well fat, though, yeah?' then 'Oh shit! Phone's dead.' He pauses. 'Um, listen, you can't send me some pics of Freya or connect me on Facebook later, yeah?' 
        'I don't think so, mate.'   

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