Sweeter Than Chocolate: A Novella Part 1
Saturday was a busy day for the small chocolate boutique Sinfully Sweet and owner Liz Fairholm was happy. It was a family weekend in town and there were live bands and artists in the streets. All the shops stayed open until nine or later to accommodate the customers and to capitalize on the extra business. She sold more Divine Peanut Butter Brownies in one night than the whole month. It was a good thing she had plenty of samples and extras made, individually wrapped for the night. The delicacy was a big hit with men and women alike; who could blame them for loving the tasty dessert? The round brownie with a peanut butter candy on the top, similar to the insides of buckeye or peanut butter cup candies, was rich and tantalizingly sweet. It looked as good as it tasted. It was only one of the many new favorites introduced to the small town in the year since Sinfully Sweet arrived.
A successful business owner at twenty nine years of age, Liz knew how to appeal to her customers. The store was as visually seductive as the smell. The display cases were spotless and clean. They were artistic and made people want to touch the items and if they touched them they would buy them. She had red tablecloths on the oak tables and red and white accents throughout the store. The store looked like Valentine’s Day every day. Choosing red because it was the color of passion, she wanted people to be passionate about her chocolates and other confectioneries. It was her job as a chocolatier to help them fall in love with the wonders of chocolate. Although, she was now more on the sales floor than in the kitchen, she still had her hand in all aspects of the business.
Martha Duncan was the top kitchen help; Liz relied on her to be there in the wee hours of the morning, coming in usually at 3 a.m. to “start the art” as Martha liked to say. She was in her fifties and loved to be done with her job by 10 a.m. Martha had a handful of kitchen crew under her command and it was a well-oiled group.
Sinfully Sweet’s sales floor team was a good one as well. The manager was Jennifer Wetzel; the young woman driven like Liz. Jennifer had long blond hair and wore stylish clothes. She was very professional and the male clients tended to lean in her direction. One of her other top employees was Jennifer’s younger sister, Emma. She was the opposite of Jennifer in coloring and tended to be less refined. She had plump cheeks and short dark wavy hair. She had a fun bubbly personality which grated on Liz’s nerves sometimes because Emma Wetzel was perpetually happy. She was great with the clients, especially children, and what’s good for the clients is good for business.
Tonight Liz was nervous as she cleaned up the back and emptied the trash from the office. Emma had taken it upon herself to plan a blind date for Liz with one of the customers. The sales clerk felt sorry for Liz and her nonexistent social life. Emma asked a man, who was a regular, if he would be interested in the date with Liz. She never asked Liz if it was something she would enjoy. Liz knew the man and thought he seemed sweet; he was an attractive man but still she was annoyed that Emma had conspired against her. She did not have any desire to date the man but she did not want to upset the customer either.
She was having a double date with Jennifer and one of her love interests. They were all meeting at the store at closing. She looked at her watch; five minutes until she could lock the front doors. She overheard Jennifer speaking with a male customer and ringing up his purchase. She stared in the mirror on the wall. She looked clean, that was a good thing; no melted bits of chocolate anywhere on her black pants red shirt. She smoothed down shoulder length brown hair. Her feet ached. She did not feel like going out on the town.
Jennifer was closing out the register and counting money when Liz rounded the corner. There were two men standing near the door sizing each other up. She smiled over at them casually and then she started checking the dates on the bottom of the Divine Peanut Butter Brownies and the Chocolate Chocolate-chip Muffins. If they lasted more than two days on the sales floor then she took the old items to a children’s recreation center and one local fire department that was within walking distance.
Jennifer kept glancing over at the guys and smiling. Excitement apparent in her eyes. She took the money and receipts into the back with Liz. Jen picked up her purse and said to Liz, “Have fun!” and she turned towards the back door.
“Wait, where are you going?” she asked confused. “Aren’t we having a double date?”
“I have a date but it’s with my new boyfriend. I’m not going out with you. Looks like you’re the one with double the dates tonight.” She repeated with a smile, “Have fun.”
Liz grumbled something nasty under her breath aimed at Jennifer’s little sister. She went back to the store’s sales floor. “I think there’s been a mix up here.” She looked at James, the man she knew. “You are here to see?” He pointed at her with a smile. “And you?” she asked the man wearing a dark brown cowboy hat. He pointed at her also. She drug her hand down her face and mumbled, “When she said ’double date’ I had no idea she meant this.”
Liz kept calm and weighed her options. She could dismiss them immediately or they both could join her on a brief walk. She could not send one away and not the other without causing embarrassment or discrediting the store so she decided to try something brave. She walked behind the counter, picked something up then she returned to the men.
James had piercing blue eyes. He was handsome, charming and had a self-confidence that made him appealing. He was probably ten years her senior. His hair was brown, receding and extremely short. His warm smile added to his charm.
The other man looked familiar to her but she could not place him which probably meant he had been in the store. He was taller than James and wiry. His hat made a shadow fall over his eyes. His hair was light brown and needed to be cut. It hung low over his ears. His face seemed young and she could not tell if he even shaved. He wore jeans and a long sleeve gray Henley shirt. There was a mysteriousness about him that made her curious about his origins.
She took a breath. “I’m sorry this happened. Ms. Wetzel must have been confused. I don’t know when or how she approached you but I’m really sorry about this.” She handed each of the men her business card. “For the record, I have never been on a date with either of you. If you call me I promise I will schedule a date with you, individually.”
The tall mysterious man extended his hand to James and said, “Ian Sarto.”
With a smirk, James took his hand. “James Riley.”
Liz picked up the basket of goodies and told the guys her plan. They were both welcome to join her but she had no intention to force them to stay with her or each other. She decided this was the best option for the night. They exited and she locked the door behind them. She hesitated looking through the glass, trying to remember if the backdoor was locked, then turned and headed down the street. Each man flanked one side of her. After she dropped off the items at the recreation center Ian said he would leave them to enjoy their evening. He seemed anxious to leave and doubled back the way they came.
Liz visited the firehouse and then asked James if he would excuse her for the evening. She was extremely tired and needed to get off her feet and rest. He tried to talk her into drinks but eventually headed, alone and mumbling, in the direction of the live music.