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Authors: Joanne DeMaio

True Blend




Snowflakes and Coffee Cakes


Blue Jeans and Coffee Beans


Whole Latte Life


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


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Copyright © 2014 Joanne DeMaio

All rights reserved.

For Mary, always


THE WISHING FOUNTAIN SPRAYS SILVER water droplets arching high above it, looking like liquid stars. Grace wants to toss in a coin, eager to watch it loll back and forth down through the water until it settles with the other coins below. In that pool of shimmering wishes, small hopes and secrets are gathered together. Amy lifts her onto the low stone wall circling the fountain and wraps her arms around her daughter’s waist. She bends, her mouth near Grace’s ear, her breath tickling loose wisps of hair. Her fingers find Grace’s palm and press a penny into it. “Make a wish,” she softly says. There is only the sound of falling water then as Grace drops the penny in, silently captivated by its descent, and Amy wonders what she might wish for, if she even knows what a wish is.

They linger at the fountain, and Grace reaches up to touch the misty spray before Amy takes her small hand. Together they walk across Addison’s town green to the library and find fairy tales and animal stories, each illustrated to bring the words to life.

“Can you give the lady your book, Grace?”

Her daughter lifts a storybook about kittens onto the counter, her fingers staying there, splayed lightly on the edge, waiting for the book to be in her hands again. “Kittens,” she says, turning back to Amy. “My kittens.” She looks uncertain, and worried. This is something new: When anything she loves is out of her sight, out of her grasp, Grace comes close to tears until it is returned, until her arms hold it near. It’s funny, what we keep from sadness, from loss. Grace only wants to hold her father again, Amy just knows it. She takes the new stack of books, part of the stack of stuff she uses to fill her daughter’s life, and they leave. So grief whispers in again, like it does sometimes, until the library door opens onto the spring day and birdsong as they walk to the SUV outside.

“Swing? Want to swing,” Grace says from her car seat.

“We will, sweetie. After the bank, I promise.” Behind the wheel, Amy puts the key in the ignition and adjusts her denim skirt beneath her legs. A song is in her head, one about sunshine and happiness. Maybe she’ll get a coffee-to-go after the bank and have it at the playground. The sand pail is in the back, in case Grace wants to play in the sandbox. It’s good for her to be near other children, to socialize.

With a few minutes to spare, Amy takes the longer route, driving past the old stable and the pretty horses grazing; cruising by imposing historic colonials with potted purple and yellow pansies sitting on the stoops. Finally she drives into the bank parking lot early, like she does every Monday morning, pausing to listen to the end of an easy love song on the radio. “Come on, Gracie,” she finally says as she puts her keys in her purse. “You can draw with the pencil now, okay? Julie will be waiting for you.” She gets out and opens the back door, unlatches Grace and tightens one of her daughter’s ponytails before lifting her out.

*  *  *

A driveway winding through a thicket of white pines sets the condominium complex far off the road. George Carbone checks his watch at the living room window. When his brother’s gray sedan approaches, he slips into his windbreaker jacket, the glimmer of his father’s ruby ring catching his eye.
Clothes make the man
his father always said, tugging the white cuffs of his shirt. Then he’d take George’s mother in his arms and dance her around the room tenderly, the same way he loved her. He had set the bar high on marriage, on caring. George wears his father’s ring today for luck.

“Ready to beat the odds?” Nate asks when he reaches across the front seat and clasps George’s hand in a quick shake.

“To a point. What’s with the gloves?”

“You like them?” Nate holds up a hand clad in a thin black leather sport glove. “Driving gloves. Everybody’s wearing them.”

“Yeah, they’re all right.” George sits back while Nate adjusts the rearview mirror. A bead of perspiration lines his brother’s face. Morning rush hour has passed and traffic is light. George turns his father’s ring on his pinky, thinking he’ll risk a hundred on the slot machines. “We meeting the others for coffee first?”

“Not today,” Nate answers, adjusting the rearview mirror again, tapping its angle.

“Why not? We always do.”

Nate shakes his head. “I’ve got to run a quick errand so we’re catching up with them at the casino. We can stop for coffee on the way.” He unzips his black sweatshirt and shifts in the seat.

“What’s the matter?” George asks. His brother’s fingers drum incessantly while they wait at a red light. “You planning on dropping a barrel of money at the tables?”

“The usual. You know.”

The light changes and Nate precedes every turn, every lane change with the proper signals. Every stop sign warrants a complete stop. The speed limit is respected. It is almost exaggerated, the care he takes driving early this May morning.

“But maybe it’s time to up the ante today, take some chances,” Nate adds. “What do you think?”

“Not me. I’ve got a couple hundred to lose, tops, and I’m done. Have a nice steak dinner and call it a day.”

“Come on,” Nate insists. “Live a little. You’ve got to loosen up sometimes.”

A quick smile crosses George’s face. “Loosen up? Cripe, you’re the one wound up today.” He looks out the window when Nate pulls into a local shopping plaza. “Hey, there’s no coffee shop here. And nothing’s open until ten, except the bank.”

“That’s where I’m going.” Nate cruises down the sloping parking lot and stops the car near a small Italian restaurant and a fireplace accessory shop two storefronts beyond the bank.

“Why are you parking so far away? Get closer, let’s get a move on.”

Nate pauses, then reaches over to the back seat and hands George a black sweatshirt. “I’m blocking the view. Here, take this.”

“Blocking the view. Of what?”

“Of witnesses.”

George lifts the large hooded top before dropping it back in his lap. “What are you talking about? Witnesses?” His eyes stop then on a forty-five caliber gun his brother lifts from beside the seat. “Jesus Christ, Nate.”

“Okay.” A nondescript black vehicle drives slowly behind his parked car. “Look. We don’t have much time. Something’s going down here and I’ve got all the bases covered. Just go with me on this.”

“What’s wrong with you?” George asks.

“With me?” Nate looks long at him, as though gauging a decision. “Nothing,” he says, then jumps when his cell phone rings. “Everything’s good.”

The cell rings again at the same time that an armored truck turns into the parking lot, heading directly to the front of the bank.

“She just pulled in?” Nate asks, glancing up toward the entranceway at the top of the sloped parking lot. “Okay, let me know.” He slips his phone into his pocket and reaches beneath the seat, pulling out a handful of what looks like hosiery of some sort. “Shit. This is it.”

“Whoa, whoa, what the hell?” George asks as Nate hands him leather gloves and a nine-millimeter handgun while rapidly reciting orders. Something about George being a show of strength, he only has to look the part and stand near the armored truck when they give him the word. Keep his face covered with those nylons. The gun is loaded, but don’t worry. He only has to stand there. And don’t talk, at all. Don’t do anything that will identify him. George’s mind reels as it puts together and resists what is happening. His eyes never leave the armored truck.

“So put the gloves on and get ready to pull those nylons over your head,” Nate continues, his voice monotone. He’s come under a spell, one George recognizes as Nate checks the mirrors and wipes his brow. He’s seen it before when the pot grows large or the game slick and the gamble courses through his veins. “They’re tight, but you get used to it. Your face always has to be covered, George.”

George tries the door handle, joggling it roughly when it doesn’t give. “Unlock the God damn doors.”

But Nate’s trying to keep up with the perspiration, swiping at his forehead. “There’s no time. No time! We’re taking down that truck and you’ll be set for life. Do you hear me?”

“Is this a joke? What happened to the casino? Are you crazy?”

“The casino’s happening, too. Later.” He wipes his face, his eyes, the perspiration coming like tears. “Put on that sweatshirt. And the gloves, damn it, the gloves.”

Cut the shit now. I don’t believe you. You’re not doing this. Not you. I own a business. I’m in the Chamber of Commerce, for God’s sake. I’ve got a good life. And so do you.” He tosses the sweatshirt and hosiery on the floor, sets the nine-millimeter handgun on the seat and pulls and shoves at the locked door.

Nate looks up from stretching out the hosiery he is about to pull over his head. “Don’t you get it? It’s too late.”

George follows his gaze to the black car, where two passengers sit in the front seat. “This is for real?”

The cell phone rings again.

“Leave it,” George says so quickly, Nate pauses. “Just leave it. Let’s get out of here. Now,” he persists, still in disbelief. “It’s not too late. We’ll leave together. We can blow them off.” He thinks he might convince him, that Nate wavers. His eyes change. George sees, in the flash of seconds, Nate travelling back in time to riding bicycles together with baseball cards clipped to the spokes; to tagging along with George in high school hallways; to paddling the old rowboat through the lagoon at Stony Point, a fishing line dropped in the salt water; to playing on the same baseball leagues during hot summers, dust rising around a stolen base. In those seconds, Nate will listen, he has to, and he’ll start the car and take off with his big brother, maybe laugh about it when they get on the highway toward the casino, like they planned. A day playing cards and the slot machines with their poker friends. All he has to do is turn the key in the ignition. “Let’s book.”

When the cell phone rings again, George fumbles with the door lock, but Nate grabs his arm before he gets the door open.

“They won’t let you go, George. Trust me.” There is regret in the lowness of his voice, as though on some level Nate knows he has gotten in too deep and there’s no climbing out.

George looks at his brother, trying to understand what happened to this day that started so normal, so mundane. They do it every few months, spend a day at a ballgame, or fishing, or at the casino, having a good meal, a few laughs. “No one gets away with a crime like this.” He yanks his arm from his brother’s grip.

“You’d be surprised,” Nate says. “And those two won’t let you walk away now.”

“I can at least try. You coming with me?” He tosses the leather gloves aside and gets out of the car, then leans back—half in, half out, ready to bolt. An occasional car drives by far up on the street, unnoticing, distracted with cell phones and coffee and talk-radio. “You can’t do this, Nate.” But his brother is lowering the hosiery over his face. The distortion of his features, flattened and twisted beneath it, is appalling. George backs away.

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