Liam greeted Penny at the rustic timber doors as she arrived at work the following morning. He was Dinkum Damper’s head waiter and usually arrived first, opening the café for the girls. Penny forever grateful that, unlike her, Liam was a morning person.
Liam was twenty-three, sweet and kind. He was what some would call a free spirit. He sold healing crystals at the front counter and had been trying to convince Penny and Chloe to join him at his weekly yoga class for months. It would never happen, mind you, as Penny was certain she could no longer get her legs up around her ears, nor was she willing to attempt this manoeuvre in public any time soon.
The café was popular with many regular customers. A local provider supplied a lot of the food, but the most popular offerings were homemade and included Penny’s scrumptious scones and Chloe’s fluffy lamingtons.
Penny knew the coffee orders of her regulars like the back of her hand. Mary, from the post office, had a latte with one. Emily, the real estate agent, always ordered a soy decaf flat white, and Troy, the butcher, took a skim milk cappuccino with extra froth. What if I can no longer remember their orders? She didn’t want her loyal customers to know anything was wrong.
Chloe sauntered through the door in her usual up-to-no-good demeanor and slapped Penny on the bottom on her way past. ‘Morning sunshine’. Penny wasn’t in the mood for their usual daily ribbing session. She made herself a long black and wondered how on earth she was going to break the devastating news to her oldest and dearest friend?
Looking down at her watch, Penny leapt into action. Shit, it’s almost time to drop Sally at the bus stop. It was a ten-minute drive from the café. Sally had always loved coming to the café before school, as she often got away with eating chocolate cake for breakfast. She had Liam wrapped around her little finger.
‘Darling, please finish that custard tart and grab your school bag. We have to go, or we’ll be late.’ Penny shot Liam a look on her way out. ‘What harm is a little custard tart? Besides, she said please.’
Sally fired questions at her mother with the ferocity of a semi-automatic rifle. ‘Are you too scared to teach anymore? Are you going to tell Mark and Emma?’ They were all questions Penny had already asked herself a hundred times since she had received the diagnosis. ‘I don’t know, sweetheart’, she whispered. She kissed Sally tenderly on her chubby cheek as she got out of the car and skipped across the street to the bus stop.
Three minutes later, the bus arrived, and Penny drove away. Those three minutes felt like three hours, with all the unsettling thoughts competing for space in her head. She scrolled through her music playlist for The Best of Cold Chisel to take her mind off it all, if only for a moment. She sang along to Cheap Wine at the top of her lungs to drown out her own thoughts of impending doom.
The sound of the aggressive horn toot behind her made Penny jump so high she hit her head on the roof. She had not noticed the traffic light turn green. It seemed the music was too much of a distraction. Taking her foot off the brake, she headed back to work. Still shaking from the fright.
How will Chloe react? How do you tell your best friend you think you are losing our bloody marbles? A gut-wrenching feeling worked its way up for the pit of her stomach as she pulled into the carpark, psyching herself up for the conversation.
‘Nice mornin, isn’t it, mate? Where are your partners in crime?’ Steve, the delivery guy, was chatting to Liam as he made him a mocha. Steve was a real Aussie bloke. A man’s man. He was tall with dark hair, well built, with a neatly groomed beard, and friendly emerald coloured eyes. Truth be known, Penny found him rather attractive. It was her little secret. Penny was sure Chloe liked him, too. She secretly enjoyed their innocent flirting.
Steve turned when he heard the relaxing sound of Liam’s dainty butterfly wind chime as Penny stepped through the door. ‘Good morning pretty Penny’, he beamed as he gave her a cheeky little wink. He always made the girls smile, and she most definitely needed some cheering up. ‘Oh Steve, you flatter me. Have a great day. I'm sorry. I need to find Chloe.’
Penny found Chloe in the kitchen preparing fresh damper. They served it hot daily, accompanied by Penny’s pumpkin soup. It was a colossal hit during the colder months. Penny placed her shaking hand on Chloe’s shoulder and whispered in her ear. ‘Can we talk in private? I have something to tell you.’