Pepper’s Penance Ch. 02

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Pepper’s Penance

We Don’t Always Get What We Want

Author’s Note

Pepper’s Penance is a slow burning romance that unfolds over the course of twenty-three chapters. This is not a wham-bam story. But, if you’re into that sort of thing, I think you’ll like this one.

Chapter 2: We Don’t Always Get What We Want

The mists turned to rains that continued all through that Sunday and into the next week. I maintained hope for a few days, diligently checking my voice mail and text messages, hoping for some sort of response from the woman at the park pavilion. By Thursday, I gave myself even odds that she would call. A week later, I lowered it to one in five. The following week it was maybe one in a hundred. By the end of the month, I pictured my business card faded and illegible after accidentally going through the wash. Two weeks after that I resigned myself to the fact it was probably lying at the bottom of her kitchen trash.

Almost two months to the day I handed her the card, she showed up at my door.

It was game day at the university and the football fans were out in droves. Not even the clouds and drizzle could dampen their excitement for today’s homecoming game. And what the celebration didn’t do to warm them, I imagine a flask of spirits tucked into their rain jackets probably did. Some were listing and weaving already. Others took buses or the light rail to the stadium, but for most it was down the street they marched. Right past my store. All those people, and not a single one darkening my door.

I reached under the counter and pulled out an old bottle of school glue that I had rinsed out and filled with henna paste. I squeezed a little line onto a piece of scrap paper to make sure it hadn’t dried up. It was still flowing nicely, so I began laying down the long, curving stem of a flower over my left wrist. I added a couple of thin leaves. My plan was to have the bloom situated somewhere between my thumb and index finger.

Students and alums continued past my door as I entertained myself with my doodling. The crowd began to thin noticeably by the time I put the final touches on the flower petals. Nobody was in the store, so I turned the radio to the college station thinking I might listen maltepe escort to the game as I turned my attention to the latest pile of bills. I was separating them into piles of pay later and pay much later when she appeared at my door—the woman from the piano at the park pavilion—two months late, and on a game day.

I watched her take a last drag on her cigarette and then crush it under her heel, dropping it right at my front door of all places. The door chimed as she entered. She was followed by her mangy boxer who proceeded to shake and shimmy as wet dogs do, sending water everywhere. The woman lowered the hood on her black rain jacket and looked around.

“Your dog can’t be in here,” I said.

“You got a sign on the door that says all are welcome, regardless of race, creed, color or orientation. And now you’re going to tell me it only applies to those who walk upright on two legs?” The woman lifted her hood and turned toward the door.

“Wait,” I said. “Let me get a towel. I’ve got one in the back.”

I emerged from the back room to find her looking around the store. She circled the perimeter, glancing over sheet music, guitar strings, polishing cloths and clip-on tuners. She turned and wandered over to the baby grand dominating the center of the store.

I glanced at her dog and handed her the towel. She used it to dry her pixie cut that looked about two weeks past due for a trim before tossing it back to me. She dumped her rain jacket in a soggy pile over by the register.

For the moment, I contained my urge to strangle her and instead laid the towel across her dog’s back and proceeded to rub. At least the dog was civilized and didn’t put up much of a fuss as I tried to soak up the water. In fact, the dog was the only one who seemed to be happy about the current situation, as long as I didn’t linger at one of the bare patches of fur. Then the poor thing would itch like crazy.

Meanwhile, the woman had started fingering the keys in the upper register. “Yamaha,” she said, the corners of her mouth forming a downward arc. “Hmm.”

“I suppose you have a Steinway at home,” I mumbled.

“Actually, yes, I do.”

I looked at the woman standing in my store, thought about the price I had last seen on a Steinway escort maltepe and Sons baby grand, and shook my head. She took no notice and was completely absorbed tinkling out some sad little minor key melody. Her dog took two steps over to her, curled up under the Yamaha, sighed, and closed its eyes.

“They always sound a little bright in the upper register for my taste. But I suppose it’ll do.” The woman sat down and continued playing her depressing little tune, soon adding to the weightiness of the whole thing with some dark chords pounded out by her left hand. Not once did she acknowledge my presence other than that remark about my piano being a little bright for her taste.

I looked around the empty store. This was not how things were supposed to be happening. She wasn’t supposed to show up two months late on the biggest football weekend of the year, when nobody was going to walk through the door of my shop. She wasn’t supposed to bring that soggy mutt to leave a puddle on my floor and have a snooze under a fifteen-thousand dollar instrument.

“You got anything to eat? It was caffeine and nicotine for breakfast, so if you want me to stick around…”

“There’s a deli next door, if you’re—”

“Great. See if they’ve got Diet Coke.” She continued to ignore my presence, other than to give her lunch order, and focused her energies on giving the Yamaha a good pounding.

I had to admit, depressing as her musical selection was, she was a virtuoso on the ivories.

I shrugged. “What kind of sandwich do you want?”

“Something kosher. I’m feeling kosher today.”

I always thought kosher was more of a lifestyle than a fleeting thought for the day, but whatever. “Corned beef on rye?”

“And a Diet Coke.”

I turned and walked back to the front counter, curling my lower lip and blowing a sigh straight up, hard enough that it caused my hair to float heavenward along with my frustrations. I pulled out the menu for the deli. I was about to pick up the phone.

“What did you do to your hand?” she hollered. “You burn yourself or something?”

I looked at my henna art, still drying. I marched over to the piano.

“Hi, I’m Ashley Zimmer of A to Z Music, and this is henna art.” I thrust out my hand.

She maltepe escort bayan snuffed and went back to playing.

“This is the part where you say, ‘Hi, my name is so-and-so. Thanks for letting me use the piano in your store while the park pavilion is closed.”

She stopped playing. “Hi, I’m Pepper. And I’ve got a piano at home.”

I stared. At our feet, her dog rolled over, let out a sigh and went back to sleep, dreaming of chasing rabbits or whatever it is dogs do.

“You want chips and a pickle with your sandwich?” I said.

“Nah, I’m good.” She went back to being absorbed in her playing.

I walked back to the front counter and placed our lunch order.

* * *

My plan worked, to an extent. Pepper’s playing did attract one customer to my store, and it did encourage them to linger. Unfortunately, that customer was the long-haired, hippie delivery guy for the Deli next door. He spent some time looking at the guitar strings and tablature on the far wall, but eventually left empty-handed. I pinned my meager hopes on in him returning come payday.

Meanwhile, Pepper took a break, sidling up next to me at the front counter to eat her sandwich. Between helping herself to my chips and slurping loudly at the remains of her drink, she would pull handfuls of little hard, brown treats from her sweatshirt pocket and drop them on the floor for the dog.

I decided to be the bigger person and make a little conversation “What kind does she like? Your dog?”

“These?” Pepper said. “These are cat treats.”

“Cat treats?”

“We have an understanding. I don’t judge her, she doesn’t judge me.”

I set my sandwich down on the deli paper. “You ever think she might be allergic to the ingredients? Some dogs are. With all the itching and biting—”

“Never thought of that.” She reached down to the dog. This time it was with a corner of her sandwich. “That’s it Trixie, strictly kosher for both of us from here on out.”

And that’s how I was formally introduced to Pepper’s dog, Trixie.

None of this was helping my current financial situation. In fact, it was quite the opposite since I picked up the tab on lunch, but we don’t always get what we want.

* * *


Like some of my other multi-part stories, I’m turning off the ratings until the last chapter is released. If you make it to the end, you can give it all the stars in your heart. But, until then, comments are most welcome.

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