An Order of Coffee & Tears
An Amazon Top 50 Best seller!
Angela's Diner has the reputation of a safe haven where patrons find a moment of peace as they linger over coffee and tears. For one young runaway, Angela's is more than a place to tell your tale -- it's a place where with the magic of chicken and waffles, and a little bit of trust, may just save your life.
Gabriella Santiago used to be a typical teenager who enjoyed the usual teenage things. That is until a single day ended who she was and within hours she ran from home, never to look back.
Only when Gabby is cold, hungry and at her lowest, does she find Angela's Diner. Gabby embraces her new life and the family she has found in the midst of strangers and obscurity.
Acceptance is what she craves, but before long, Gabby realizes she's not the only one in the diner with something to hide. Her new family has a secret too, and some secrets refuse to stay buried.
"Lovely story with great characters and nicely woven plot threads. Some mystery, some danger, some coffee and tears. I read Coffee and Tears front to back, and a month later my recall of the story is very clear. If you read a lot, you know what I'm talking about. :) So two thumbs up for Coffee and Tears." ~ Anne Frasier - New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Hush, Sleep Tight, Play Dead, Before I wake, and Pale Immortal
"This book almost has the feel of a cozy mystery. It was not predictable at all and took me to surprising places. I was mad and angry and worried and sad. But I loved every bit of it. This was a heartwarming fast paced cozy sort of book...if that is your idea of a great book...you will love this one!" ~ Patty Magyar - Blog: Books, Thoughts And A Few Adventures...
"Featuring a small town and real people that become vivid in a matter of pages, the story proves both touching and resilient, capturing your imagination as if peeking through a window."~ Kindle Fire Department
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Miserable Mondays: that was what I called days like these, with gray skies and a cold northeast wind that bites at your skin. Thick sheets of rain drummed against the glass front of the diner where I worked as a waitress. Through the red letter print of Angela’s Diner, the outside view of cars and buildings was a lively blur, stretched and pulled by the rainfall.
I missed Texas, home. Sure, it had its share of cold, wet days, but with the warm gulf air, you rarely ever felt the chill. Big city air is different. The chill here reached your bones, and sometimes settled in them for the season. Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love (not sure why they call it that) was the city I called home, now—for the last year, anyway. Angela’s Diner was what folks liked to call a ‘throwback.’ A welcome carry-over, as some of my regulars said. I was told that the small restaurant was an original Jerry O’Mahoney dining car that had been bumped out years before. Who built the diner, and where it came from wasn’t much of a concern; At least, not when I first came upon it. Homeless and hungry, the Help Wanted sign in the window was all that mattered to me. Well, that, and the smell of food escaping out the door.
My name is Gabriella Santiago, but only my mother calls me Gabriella. To everyone else, I’m just Gabby. I didn’t grow up wanting to be a waitress—I doubt most of those who wait tables do. Home for me was growing up in the heart of Texas, the heart of country. There I lived with my daddy and momma, who were as vanilla average as the houses on our street. Good people, good family. And, I suppose, I was average, too. I was a typical teenager. I dressed my bed with stuffed animals, like other girls. I taped posters on my walls, like other girls. I even let Tommy Grudin get to second base with me while playing a game of truth or dare, like other girls.
There was a time when I had more about me to tell, but who I was once is only a glimpse of who I am. Much of my past is a blur, mostly because of my own doing. Somewhere between that first kiss and cheerleading tryouts, I lost my way. I’d left home in a run, and never looked back. I’m twenty-six now, and a lot of things have happened since the day I felt Tommy Grudin’s eager fingers fumbling beneath my sweater. From time to time, I think about that part of my life. Usually, though, I stay in today, since that is all we really have.
Closing my eyes, I listened to the eerie voice of the diner: a hollow emptiness. I found it unsettling. I forced a memory of the diner as I’d first seen it: like a carnival put up in a groomed field, it was bustling and beautiful. My eyes were lost in the silvery steel, the shades of green panel decorations, and the neon lights glinting off the glass. I think I might have giggled. In fact, I’m sure of it. The diner looked out of place next to the modern buildings, almost as though someone forgot it was there, and had built an entire new city around it. Maybe that was the appeal it had. Maybe that’s why it looked so warm and full of life, and persuaded me to go inside.
When I opened the diner’s door that first time, the smell of coffee, and waffles, and chicken, and everything else that is good to eat, hit me like a cozy breeze. Inside, the diner was abuzz with sounds and sights of dishes and dinnerware clanking, people laughing and talking. With nearly every seat taken, the booths along the windows were full. Children played with the mini-jukeboxes at the end of their tables as their families stirred coffee and sipped at milkshakes from tall fountain glasses. Round metal seats with greenish-yellow vinyl tops sprouted up through the floor like dandelions in spring. Two counters, separated by an old mechanical cash register, were covered with the perched elbows of folks dining alone. While the memory was fleeting, it was good, and it warmed me inside.
That Help Wanted sign saved my life. I know that sounds odd, but it’s true. I’d pulled the sign from the window and handed it to a hard-looking waitress, whose name tag read “Ms. Potts”. I remember how she’d shifted her feet and punched her hand to her hip before giving me a long, stern look. When her eyes fell to my Chuck Taylor sneakers, they stayed there. I was on the streets back then, and my sneakers were thread-bare, tattered, and worn, much like me. I remember the self-conscious pinch of embarrassment in my gut as I pulled one of my feet behind the other. A small miracle happened then: Ms. Potts kept the Help Wanted sign, and Angela’s Diner kept me. Miracles aren’t always a grand happening, like the kind I learned about in Sunday school. Sometimes they’re as small as giving someone a break. I went into the diner that night, and since then, my life has never been the same.
Ms. Potts and I worked the three-to-three shift most every day. We’re a good team, but, admittedly, it didn’t start out that way. I wasn’t just bad, I was terrible. I didn’t know a bus-pan from a black and white, or a pick-up from a clean-up. There’s patience, and then there’s whatever it is that Ms. Potts is made of. Unlike me, she is younger than some, and older than most. But that doesn’t stop her from running the place, something she’s been doing for a very long time.
Ms. Potts sat across from me, working a crossword, and seemed to be oblivious to the empty diner and heavy rains. She huffed an objection to a word she’d penciled in, and then stabbed an eraser at the paper. Her blue hair was home to a few more pencils, and her biggish glasses sat perched near the tip of her nose as she scratched a new word into the paper boxes. Turning toward the back of the diner, I expected to find Clark’s large silhouette, his broad shoulders moving as if in a dance while he worked the grill to fill orders. But there were no orders. None. Clark’s figure was absent, and I thought he might be snoozing on his cot. He had a small bed, which was cramped into the back room; a small area that was all his. When he wasn’t working the grill or helping clean the front, or doing anything else, you’d find him back there, sometimes reading, sometimes praying, and most times sleeping.
Listening past the rain and wind hitting the window, I could hear the soft static hisses and pops of the Jeopardy game show theme song. It was Clark’s portable black and white RCA Television. On the best of days, that little TV could get eight channels. Today, my guess was that the Philly locals were the limit: stations like three, six, and ten. And from the sounds of it, even Jeopardy was fading in and out.
Earlier, we’d seen a couple of our regulars who were off to their night jobs for the evening. For the day, I counted just a few dollars in my waist apron, and felt the round imprints of a quarter, maybe two. When you work at a diner, your tip money, more often than not, might be the same change you’re giving back. When it’s time to lean, it’s time to clean, I heard in my head, a favorite saying of the owner. And this diner was clean.
When I turned back to check the progress on the crossword, Ms. Potts was looking at me. No, she was staring. The interest she’d had in her puzzle had been lost. Maybe she’d come across a word she didn’t know, or maybe she’d finished it. But then a few seconds passed, and then a few more. Uneasiness settled in me, and I shifted in my seat. I was uncomfortable. Who liked to be stared at?
A heavy wash of rain hit against the window, pulling my eyes away from Ms. Potts. I saw a few blurred and distorted rain parkas, and some umbrellas racing by the diner. One of the umbrella figures, a bright yellow that stood out loud against the gray, slowed, and then stopped. A customer, I thought, and got ready to stand. But the yellow umbrella figure adjusted something, and then continued walking until it disappeared into the heavy weather. When I turned back to face Ms. Potts, she was still staring.
For a moment, a terrible thought crossed my mind. I thought that maybe Ms. Potts had died, right there across from me. She’d had a heart-attack, or a massive stroke, and the last thing she’d seen in this world was me. I didn’t move. For another moment, I didn’t move. But then the thought of her dying started to become more real, and I leaned in a bit as concern for her grew. When she blinked her eyes, I jumped. While it startled me, my heart lifted, as small relief settled in the form of a quiet sigh. The good thing was that I knew she was okay. But she continued to stare. Finally, I raised my eyebrows and shrugged my shoulders.
“What is it? Do I have something on my face?” Her stare broke.
She put her hands back on the table, and asked, “Girl, how long you been here?” Her expression remained fixed and stroke-like. I waited to see her display that familiar smile, or to see her fix her glasses before they slid too far down her nose. But she didn’t do either. And I think I knew where she was going, and that made me more uncomfortable than her staring had. This time, I didn’t have to let the heavy rain against the window pull my eyes. I forced myself to turn away from her and watched as a few who braved the harsh weather passed by the diner.
“Gabby? Hunny, I’m just asking a question,” she began in a softer, but more inquisitive tone. “You’ve been with us a year, and I ain’t never heard you say a word about family. We all got some family… somewhere. But never a word,” she finished.
“But you’re my family. You and Clark.”
“Sure, sure—we’s family. But what about your own mother and father? You say they alive, you just never talk about 'em. They’re your family, Gabby. And I’m sure they miss you. I know I would.”
This wasn’t the first time Ms. Potts had questions for me. She’d wondered before, and asked a few times. And, as before, I didn’t like it. What’s in the past stayed in the past. By now, I’d shared where I was from, and that I hadn’t been home or in touch with my parents in a long time.
Almost ten years had passed since I’d talked to anyone from my hometown. Ten years. That’s double digits. I’d never considered that length of time until now. I was just sixteen when I left. Leaving wasn’t a decision that came lightly; it wasn’t even a question or consideration I’d had that morning. I can still remember waking up in my old room that day, my dog at the end of my bed, the warm sun on my face, and the feeling of the comforter that I’d rolled myself up in. By that afternoon, all of our lives had changed forever, and, by the time the sun was setting, I knew I had to leave. There was no question. As the day ended, Texas grounds were under my feet for the last time, and I never looked back.
Before I could stop it, before I could control it, before I even really knew it had started, I was crying. And I was mad—mad at Ms. Potts for driving me to cry in front of her, mad at her for digging again, mad that she was looking for something that I’d buried. I had buried my past a long time ago. I’d buried my memories, and the people in them, too. And what people chose to bury should always stay buried.
“Oh, baby, I’m sorry. I just want to know what happened, is all,” she said, reaching across the table to hold my hands. I didn’t pull my hands back. I wanted to, but I didn’t. I couldn’t remember the last time someone had held my hands, or even touched me. Had it been ten years? Surely it couldn’t have been. It was this last thought that got me crying again. I just shook my head no, no, no, and fixed my eyes on Ms. Potts, pleading for her to not dig anymore. Not now. Not yet.
“Okay, baby. I understand. Gabby, I ain’t never had no one to call one of my own, but I come to think of you as close as I’ll get. I love you, girl—I just want what is best for you,” she finished, and rubbed my hands in hers. I pushed a breath out and felt a shudder from a tear as it went cold on my cheek.
When I was ready, I asked, “Why? Why do you need to know?” Ms. Potts stopped rubbing my hands. Her mothering eyes changed. She turned in Clark’s direction, and then back to me, her expression now stale and flat.
“Because, Gabby, I know how your past can drive you. Drive you every damn day God wills you a breath to live. I know it,” she said, and squeezed my hand.
It was my turn to look to Clark, but he was still in the back, watching his little TV. Ms. Potts pulled on my hands. She took my chin in her fingers so that my eyes met hers.
“Listen to me, girl, you gotta face your secrets. Secrets ain’t free: you gotta face 'em, or else you gonna be running from them the rest of your life,” she cautioned. And that is when I knew, I knew in my heart that my new home, my new family, they had secrets, too.