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Emily Chambers stood on the wooden decking that surrounded her cafe watching the tide slowly come in. Just over a year ago, she would have chuckled bitterly at anyone who dared to tell her that this is where she’d be. At that time, she was at her weekly hospital appointments fighting the feelings of hopelessness and disappointment.

Still, here she was, relishing another day at work whilst being able to look out at the sea. Technically it was not the sea, it was the Thames Estuary but the town was called Southend-on-Sea, it had a beach that you could walk on, sit on and sunbath on and people regularly swam in the waters, in Emily’s mind it was the sea.

The Lemon Sherbet Cafe had been open for three months. It was born out of two loves. Lemon Sherbets, that reminded Emily of her dear nan. She always had a bag of them wherever she went. Then there was the beach. Through her darkest times, the beach had been her constant friend. She would often walk along the stretch of sand or sit for hours thinking. The past few years had been complicated and tough. It was the calmness of the beach and the water that had provided some light in Emily’s life. The Lemon Sherbet cafe was a refuge, not only could you get your usual teas, all manner of coffees and food but you could listen to music, watch films and talk books. Emily wanted it to be a place that would be part of the community and mean something to everyone.

The cafe had floor to ceiling bifold doors along the back and down the sides, which opened fully on warmer days welcoming the beach inside. The floor was tiled and in one corner there was a wall mounted TV surrounded by multi-coloured bean bags and shelves full of old books that people donated. On every table there were daffodils and yellow and white stripped napkins to match the parasols out on the decking, the cafe was brightened with evergreen plants and paintings from local artists hung on the wall. The Lemon Sherbet Cafe, in Emily’s opinion, was exquisite and everyone wanted to sit and enjoy the serenity around them.

“It’s beautiful isn’t it.” Juliet, the assistant manager came and stood next to Emily. “I’m taking my grandchildren down the pier after my shift today, perfect weather for it.” 

“Hmmmm, it is.” Emily replied dreamily and Juliet carried on checking the tables. Emily stared at the pier that was sat to the left of the cafe. Some of her best memories had been walking to the end with her parents and sister, sitting together having chips and ice-cream and then excitedly getting the train back. The pier was an institution in its own right, it was the longest pleasure pier in the world. Like Emily, it had experienced its share of disasters and turbulent moments, there had been many fires in the past, not to mention it had been hit by bombs and fishing boats too. Emily and the pier were still standing strong and unwilling to go.

Emily’s dark green leather strap watch, the last gift from her partner Devon, read 6:55am. Five more minutes and the doors would open, she hoped Devon would visit today. She had invited him when the cafe opened, it hadn’t seemed right that he wasn’t here to share all this with her. When they were trying for a baby they had often spoken of owning a cafe on the beach together, another shared dream. After 4 long years of trying they were still childless, in the end it had all become too much. They had lost themselves and neither of them understood what their relationship had become. Emily knew she had let the bitterness take over and twist her into a different person, she was angry and in pain and often Devon got the brunt of it all. Emily forgot that Devon too was suffering.

“Shall I open the door?” Juliet called across.

“Yes, let’s get this show on the road. I can already see some dog walkers milling around waiting.” Emily smiled, the cafe brought a joy to Emily she never thought she would feel or deserve.

Juliet turned the sign round to read open and waved at a regular walking with their dog.

“Excited for this evening?” Juliet asked. “I finished the book last night, I’ve been telling my George all about it, I’ve told him he has to read it.” George the ever-patient man thought Emily to herself.

“Anxious to tell you the truth. I hope it all goes to plan.” Emily said honestly, it was important that their first book event went well. Marianne, a local author, who Emily’s oldest sister went to school with, had said she would be happy to come and talk about her new book and support The Lemon Sherbet Cafe. Marianne was somewhat of a local celebrity, currently five of her books had been published, she supported the community through various projects and generally she was known to everyone as one of the nicest people they had met. In short, Marianne was a bit of saint.

“Look at what you’ve achieved so far in such a short space of time. It will be another success just you wait and see petal.” Juliet smiled and warmth radiated from her.

“I hope you’re right, maybe Devon might come tonight.” Emily said wiping down the top of the bar for the third time that morning. She cleaned a lot, it settled her nerves when they threatened to take over.

“You two are meant to be, I’m sure of it. If not tonight, he’ll come back soon.” Juliet tapped her arm and wandered into the kitchen.

Emily had emailed Devon to let him know about the book event and again apologised for the way their break up had transpired. She felt guilty and was desperate to reach out to him, to have him back in her life again. When they split, she convinced herself it was what she wanted but as time went on, she realised with such clarity that Devon was the one for her, she had let trying for a baby overtake everything, she had been consumed with it. Towards the end of their relationship both were exhausted, it seemed the only conversations they ever had were about having a baby, they went to countless doctor appointments, visited the hospital many many times, a round of IVF, it was their entire focus. When it all failed, Emily assumed the next step would be to break up, to give Devon a chance with someone else. She shut down the conversations of adoption, surrogacy, she didn’t want to talk about it anymore, she abandoned the idea of going on holidays, taking a break together. Emily was emotionally, mentally and physically worn out and hid away from the world and all things Devon. 

There was never an argument as such or an official statement that they had broken up, Emily just left. The first couple of months were a blur and Emily barely remembers what she did, everything was on autopilot. One morning while sitting on the beach sipping coffee and admiring the view, Emily thought about the past, of her and Devon trying for a baby and how selfish she had acted and felt ashamed at how much she took it out on Devon, who only ever loved and supported her. From that day forward, Emily fully accepted her situation and moved forward, life was to be enjoyed and she was still young, only 32. There was a whole life time in front of her, maybe with children and maybe with Devon. She could only hope.

The early morning customers started to trickle in and take their places, the aroma of coffee mixed with the salty air filled the cafe. So many of her patrons had at one time or another expressed how much they loved this place, it filled Emily with pride that one of her dreams had come true and that people appreciated it. Emily and Juliet together started working through the customers taking orders, serving and reminding them of the event that evening. The morning disappeared and as Emily predicted the cafe was busy, with many people waiting outside for a table to become available for lunch. 

“The day flies by when you’re having fun!” Juliet said to Emily when they were both behind the counter getting drinks. “You must be the most popular cafe around here.”

“It’s crazy, I never thought it would be loved this much. Ah, here’s Ben.” Emily said and they both waved him over. Ben was the newest recruit and the youngest at the tender age of 18, he was brought in to work the lunchtime and evening shifts although the way things were going Emily would be able to offer him more hours. They would need all the help they could get through the summer.

“Wow, it’s packed today.” Ben said grabbing his apron and looking at Emily for his directions.

“I’m going back to the kitchen so can you work the tables with Juliet please?” Emily asked.

“Sure thing.” Ben said and gave Emily a lopsided smile.

The day continued to pass by at speed and after closing for two hours to set everything up for the evening, Emily put the black placard outside welcoming the guests for the author event. Emily herself had changed into a smarter outfit and had done her hair and make up for the evening, she wanted to impress Marianne.

Emily poured 3 glasses of champagne and handed a glass each to Juliet and Ben.

“Cheers!” Emily said and clinked their glasses, the cold champagne slid down her throat and awoke the butterflies in her stomach. Juliet dimmed the main lights and all three admired the ambiance. The fairy lights which hung across the cafe glistened and twinkled, from the outside Emily imagined the place looked magical.

“She’ll be here soon.” Juliet said excitedly and knocked back the rest of her champagne in one.

“Everyone has been talking about tonight.” Ben joined in on the excitement, although he had admitted five minutes earlier that he had never heard of Marianne or read any of her books. The three stood awkwardly waiting for Marianne and guests to arrive, the movie night last month was the same, the calm before the storm. The moments of silence and peace before everyone descended and they would be rushing around for the rest of the night.

“oooohhhh Marianne is here!” squeaked Juliet and rushed to pour the champagne.

Marianne walked through the door, a picture of elegance and grace, draped in a red flora maxi dress with her long dark hair flowing down to her waist. Emily heard Ben’s breath catch as he caught sight of the goddess. Behind Marianne was her plus one which she had told Emily would be accompanying her this evening.

Emily smiled her biggest smile and started to walk over to greet them, she suddenly felt her insides turn and her heart pound.

“Devon” Emily whispered.

 

The End

 

Bio:

Alicia is an avid reader and traveller and her writing is fuelled by these two loves as well as a lot of coffee.  Alicia loves the beach, paddle-boarding and of course writing, she only started writing two years ago when she was on maternity leave and hasn't stopped since.

 

 

 

 

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