Better Choices
Chapter 7 - When Opportunity Knocks

Shane Ellis just wanted to get ahead for once. And if that meant breaking the law for a cool ten g's, so be it. What he didn't expect was a job offer...

Shane Ellis.jpg

When Opportunity Knocks

 

It wasn’t as if they had planned it or even really discussed it. And after all the bad luck they had encountered, the next few weeks were full of surprisingly good luck. Enough to give them hope before it was ripped away again by reality.

Stepping into the donut shop that morning in the pre-dawn hours had been the best damn luck Shane had seen in years. The owner, a wizened old man hobbling about, his left leg in a cast, looked up as they entered.

“We aren’t open yet,” he barked.

“Oh Louis, stop it. Yes, we’re open, we’re just…” An equally wizened woman stepped out of the back room. She held an enormous bowl full of yeasty dough in her hands. “… running behind a bit. Sit down, sit down, I’ll have something done up in a jiffy. I’ve got coffee if you want some.”

At that moment, Abby woke, her tiny hands pushing the blanket aside as she blinked in the harsh incandescent lights. 

The older woman smiled broadly, cooing as she thrust the bowl of dough into Shane’s hands, and reached for the baby, a hopeful question on her face. “Oh, she is beautiful!” 

Anne smiled in return and handed Abby over, looking slightly relieved. She massaged her arms, and Shane realized that she had been holding her baby for hours without a break.

He stood there, the bowl of dough in his hands, unsure of what to do. The old woman was too busy cradling the baby and peppering Anne with questions to spare a glance his way.

“Bring that over here,” the old man said, and pointed to a stove with a large pot. “You mind working for your breakfast?”

Shane brought the dough over and shook his head. “Don’t mind at all. If you talk me through it, I’ll be happy to help.”

Anne had sunk down in a booth, her entire body betraying her exhaustion. She leaned back, a weary smile on her face as she watched the old woman play with Abby. 

“Oh, you two have made something truly beautiful here.” The baby cooed in response to the old woman, reaching out a tiny hand to pet her lined face. “I’m Grace, by the way.”

“We’re not…” Shane began to say, and Louis interrupted him, gruffly pointing at the empty counter.

“Put the dough there. Just scrape it all out.”

As Shane followed the old man’s directions, Grace rocked the baby and kept a running commentary punctuated by kisses. Shane soon learned that Louis had broken his leg after slipping on the stairs and their lone employee had left unexpectedly to visit her ailing mother, leaving Louis and Grace to handle the store on their own.

“She’ll probably need to stay there in Chicago until her mother recovers,” the old woman had said, shaking her head. “Poor dear, she was so upset when she got the call. It was a rather severe stroke, and her mother is in the intensive care unit right now.” 

Grace glanced over at Anne, who looked wiped out. Her eyes kept fluttering open before slowly shutting again. “Jackie was down on her luck when she ended up at our door. I guess being here, across from the bus station, we see more than our fair share.” She met Shane’s eyes. He had finished rolling and cutting the first batch of doughnuts out and they were glistening with oil, ready for a coating of sugar or melted chocolate. “I’m guessing you could use a helping hand as well?”

Anne jerked awake, her face a study of exhaustion. “We can work. I mean, I can, I’ve had experience working in IHOP and also waitressing.” She sat up straighter, tucking several stray hairs behind her ears.

Grace laughed, “Honey, I don’t doubt you, but right now, the only thing you should be doing is resting. We have a spare room above the shop. I’ll show you where it is and you can get some rest while your man here helps out.”

Anne began to protest and Shane cut in, “Honey, why don’t you go and rest. You need it.” He shot Anne a look that he hoped she understood. If they thought he and Anne were a couple, fine. It made them a safer bet, and he and Anne would work something out.

She took his cue, nodded, and let Grace show her the way upstairs to the spare room while Shane prepared more donuts. The sun was barely over the horizon and there was a stream of customers coming through the doors when Anne returned two hours later, looking somewhat refreshed.

She took Shane’s place at the register. “Grace is taking care of Abby. Here, let me take over the register.”

The days and weeks that followed fell into a steady rhythm. The spare room had a two twin-sized beds. “It was our boys’ room,” Grace said by way of explanation. “Neither of them wanted anything to do with running the shop or living in a small town,” she said, smiling wryly. “Tom is in L.A., and Lou just settled in Portland.”

Shane and Anne didn’t really discuss it all. And they fell into the roles of husband and wife easily enough to pass general scrutiny. The employee they had replaced had sent word she would remain in Chicago. Her mother was out of the hospital now, but needed constant care.

“The job is yours if you want it, room and board as well.” Grace offered. It wasn’t much, but it was enough for now. The two of them had their reasons for hiding, and the donut shop was as good a place as most. The only concern was their proximity to the bus station.