“Hey Cora, you’ll never guess who I saw today!” Keri shouted as she entered the small flat that she shared with her friend. Without waiting for a response, as usual, she continued in one breath, “When I stopped by the store to get more cereal I ran into Andy Eswein, and at first I thought he was going to ignore me, so of course I had to go over and say hello and ask him what he’s been up to since school let out, and unsurprisingly, he’s unemployed. Didn’t I tell him that he would never get anywhere with a degree in Mayan history?”
As Keri finally paused to breathe, Cora asked, “Did you remember to pick up the bread? Or were you too busy abusing Andy?” Though spoken in a soft voice, Cora’s mildly sarcastic question cut through the beginning of Keri’s next sentence.
“Of course I did,” she replied, faking indignation as she flicked her wavy black hair out of her face. “I need it for lunch tomorrow as much as you do.”
Cora laughed as she helped Keri put the groceries away. The two had been roommates in college, and now shared a small apartment just outside Raleigh, North Carolina. They were as different as could be, but got along marvelously most of the time, with bubbly, talkative Keri filling the silences left by calmer, quieter Cora.
Once Keri slid the last box onto the shelf, she skipped out into the main room and flopped down on the couch. “As much as I love the kids, watching them all day sure takes it out of you, and Mrs. Evett sure doesn’t help,” she complained with just the faintest hint of bitterness coloring her voice as she mentioned her boss. Mrs. Gloria Evett, who ran Gloria’s Home Away from Home, a local daycare center, did not have the sweetest of personalities, and Keri often wondered aloud about just why Mrs. Evett even ran a daycare, when she seemed to despise the kids and employees equally.
Cora joined Keri on the couch, curling up in the corner with a book, just one of the hundreds from her room that she had been collecting since childhood. “Aren’t you getting a new assistant this week? Adeline was it?”
“Yeah,” Keri replied with a sigh, “I thought she was supposed to start today, but apparently she’s not in until Thursday. I still have two more days of trying to convince fifteen kids to EAT their food, rather than throw it at each other.” While Keri loved working with kids and even wanted to be a teacher eventually, working the lunch shift alone was still a hassle. “Oh well, it is what it is.” Then with one of her typically sudden shifts back to her normal happy self as she asked, “And how was work for you? Any interesting customers?”
Cora worked at a small second-hand bookstore just down the road a couple of blocks called Deleo’s Hidden Delights. It was run by Antonio Deleo, whom Cora had known as a child. He had been a huge help to her through her rough childhood and her mother’s many boyfriends, and had been glad to offer her a job once she got out of college.
“Well,” Cora started, thinking back on her day, “We were fairly busy today; there are always a lot of people on Mondays looking for a new book for the week. Old Ms. Failla came in again, with her normal lack of fashion sense...in fact I don’t think she even bothered getting dressed this morning!”
“What did she have on?!” Keri exclaimed with a laugh. Ms. Failla’s ability, or lack thereof, to dress herself properly was a common topic between the two girls.
“Today she had bright green and blue plaid pajama pants and a pink and orange spotted t-shirt. Oh, and you can’t forget the fluffy purple slippers! I understand she only lives across the street, but still, how hard would it be to put on real shoes and pants at the least?” With that Cora and Keri dissolved into laughter.
Come Thursday, Cora woke early and, after making her own breakfast, poured a glass of cold water and slipped into Keri’s room. Playing through the daily ritual, she called out Keri’s name a few times to give her an honest chance to get up on her own; however, Keri continued snoring, so Cora splashed the icy water over her face.
“Do you have to do that every day?” Keri sputtered, bolting upright in bed. “Most people just gently shake each other to wake up.”
“And if a gentle shake actually worked, I would do so,” Cora retorted, “but in order to shake YOU awake, I would have to dump you out of bed!”
Keri really couldn’t say anything in the face of such a true statement, so she just muttered to herself as she headed to the bathroom for a nice, HOT shower.
Still snickering to herself, Cora headed back to her room to eat breakfast before the toast got cold.
Finally getting herself ready, Keri hurried out the door, barely making it to the corner in time to catch the bus. Cora just shook her head as she glanced around at the mess Keri had left in her path as she raced to leave on time. As she still had nearly fifteen minutes before heading to work, Cora always cleaned up after her friend in the mornings. Once everything was in order again, she too headed out.
The bus let Keri off right in front of Gloria’s Home Away from Home and she hurried in, hoping to size up the new employee and give her a few pointers before Mrs. Evett got a hold of her. Entering the back room, Keri looked around to see that she was the first one there. She put away her bag and tied up her hair, having long ago learned that her long locks were just too tempting to leave within reach of a bunch of toddlers.
As she finished, the bell on the front door jingled. Keri rushed up to the foyer to see a blond girl of about twenty looking around. Never one to shy away from strangers, she walked up and introduced herself. “Hello, I’m Keri Jordano; would you happen to be Adeline? I’ve been waiting for you.”
Slightly taken aback, the girl replied, “Yes, I’m Adeline Weber, but just call me Addy. Am I late? I thought this was when Mrs. Evett told me to report.”
“Oh no, you’re fine,” Keri assured her, “I was just hoping that you would get here early enough for me to show you around before the kids get here.” Keri led Addy off to the back room, talking a mile a minute the whole way.
By the time Mrs. Evett arrived, Keri had brought Addy up to speed on everything from which kids to expect trouble from to how to best deal with their boss when she took offense at something. Once Addy checked in with Mrs. Evett, the girls went into the playroom for a last check that everything was in order. A few minutes later they heard the bell ring, signifying that Colton, who was always first to arrive, was there. He came racing in to tackle Keri while his mother signed in with Mrs. Evett at the front desk.
Within an hour, all fifteen kids had arrived and Keri had already broken up two minor fights. While slightly intimidated at first, Addy settled in quickly. She explained to Keri, “Growing up I would always babysit all the kids in my neighborhood after school until their parents could come home, so I’m pretty used to dealing with kids.”
Keri laughed as she settled a dispute over a doll between Mia and Sophia and replied, “It does help to have a background with kids. I have eight siblings, so there were always screaming kids around.”
For the most part the morning went fairly smoothly, with Cole, the troublemaker of the group, only trying to escape once and no major arguments. This left plenty of time for Addy and Keri to get to know each other better and share stories of their childhood.
However, at Deleo’s Hidden Delights, the day did not go so smoothly.
Walking into the shop at seven, Cora immediately saw that she was going to have a busy day. A new shipment of books had arrived. Mr. Deleo had an arrangement with Cathy McCoy, who ran a nearby library, and received packages of older books on occasion. Most deliveries were no more than a box or two, but Cora quickly counted seven full boxes. The shelves had been emptying faster than they refilled recently, but she couldn’t believe that Mr. Deleo had convinced Ms. McCoy to send over so many!
Cora quickly shifted the boxes behind the front desk and opened up the store. She had just settled down in her seat and opened the first box of books when the door chime tinkled. Looking up, Cora saw Amber, one of her friends from college. She came in fairly often to look at books and chat with Cora.
“Hey Cora, guess what!”
Slightly surprised at her friend’s exuberant outburst, Cora asked just what she was so excited about.
Thrusting her hand towards Cora, she gushed, “Blake proposed! You’re looking at the future Amber Wolfe!”
“Oh my gosh Amber I’m so happy for you!” Cora slipped out from behind her desk to wrap her friend in a tight hug.
Amber went on gushing about her fiancé as Cora smiled and listened. Finally glancing at the clock Amber yelped, realizing that she would be late for work if she didn’t get moving. Calling goodbye to Cora, she hurried out.
A couple other customers came through on their way to work, either to pick up a book or just to talk with Cora. While she didn’t say much, everyone loved talking to her because she was a great listener. Mr. Deleo often joked that she brought in half their customers.
Eventually everyone headed off to work, leaving Cora with several hours before the lunch crowd came in. Mr. Deleo hadn’t left a note with any specific requests, so Cora started organizing the new books.
She managed to get through three boxes when the room suddenly went black. Short power outages weren’t completely unheard of in that part of town, so after a moment of fumbling about, Cora found her emergency flashlight. Using it to avoid tripping on the stacks of books, she made her way to the door. She looked outside and her mouth dropped open in shock. As far as she could see, all the streetlights were out and the surrounding buildings were dark. Even as she watched, a car sped down the road, only to crash into a car pulling off a side street. People came trickling out of the buildings, blinking as they stepped out into the bright sunlight.
By the time the power had been out for five minutes, rumors started spreading through the crowd. Ms. Failla finally came out of her apartment, wrapped in a floral house dress covered in cat hair, and joined Cora on the sidewalk.
“What’s going on? I heard some of the most insane stories!”
Cora calmly assured her, ‘I’m sure this is nothing more than a normal outage. It’s just lasting a little longer; the power company must be busy.”
However, fifteen minutes later the lights were still out. Mr. Deleo arrived, bringing with him several large lanterns. He had almost everything at his place and had heard about the trouble. With Cora’s help the lanterns were set up, illuminating the shop with their soft glow. People poured in, in glad to have somewhere to gather and pass gossip.
“I heard a squirrel ran across the lines and killed the power to our neighborhood.”
“No, no, someone hit a pole and took out the power to the whole city.”
“I heard someone blew up the power plant!”
Finally Mr. Deleo cut in, “Now now people, everyone just calm down. I’m sure it was just something minor and the power will be back on shortly.” His words weren’t quite so reassuring considering that nearly an hour had now passed.
Across town Keri had no idea what was going on as the day care was outside the blackout zone. The lunch hour had gone much smoother than normal with two pairs of eyes watching the kids. Keri was pretty sure that at least ninety percent of the food went into a mouth instead of being flung through the air to stick in someone’s hair or land on the floor. While there was still a bit of a mess, it wasn’t bad and Addy volunteered to clean up while Keri took the kids off and read them a story.
Once the story - “The Three Little Pigs” today - was finished, the kids ran off to play some more. Addy came over and commented, “If that was a good lunch, I can’t imagine what you went through on a bad day.”
“Yeah, it was a little rough. I was really glad when Mrs. Evett said she was finally hiring a second assistant. We used to get fewer kids, but recently the numbers have gone up, and we are supposed to get three new kids next week.”
“Wow, I’m glad I can help. I really do like working with the kids,” Addy added.
“The kids are the only reason I keep coming back. It certainly isn’t for Mrs. Evett.” Addy could understand that as Mrs. Evett had already shown her true colors that morning.
Just then the woman herself walked into the room to check on everything, and the girls quieted down and concentrated on the kids.
After lunch the excitement of the long blackout had worn thin, and many people headed back inside, finding flashlights to continue on with their day. Soon there were only a handful of people still hanging around, browsing the books.
Cora had gotten back to the boxes of books, making note of a few that she wanted to try to read before they were sold. The door chimed, and Cora looked up to see Ms. McCoy come in.
As she walked up the desk, Ms. McCoy asked, “Hey Cora, is Toni in? I wanted to talk to him.”
Noting the use of not only Mr. Deleo’s first name, but a nickname at that, she replied, “Yes, he’s upstairs shelving some of the new books.”
Ms. McCoy thanked her and headed up the curving stairs, and Cora couldn’t help smiling, glad that Mr. Deleo had finally found someone with similar interests. He had dated a few other women in the years that Cora had known him, but they had always felt that he thought too small, confined to his shop.
Suddenly a loud argument broke out on the other side of the room. Cora hurried over to find two men fighting over a single copy of a book. “Excuse me gentlemen, but what seems to be the problem?” Once again Cora’s soft but strong voice cut through the argument; however the men were quick to pick back up.
“There’s only the one copy and I was here first, but...”
“No you weren’t! I have just as much claim to it as...”
“Both of you, please settle down!” Cora finally raised her voice slightly and both men looked startled. “I could have you both kicked out for causing such a disturbance, but lucky for you I happen to have just gotten a second copy. Now act like the grown men that you are and shake hands and apologize.”
By now everyone in the store had stopped what they were doing to watch, and the men shamefacedly apologized, both to each other and to Cora.
After they had both paid and left, Mr. Deleo came over and congratulated Cora on such a nice job handling the mess. With a laugh she told him how she had actually used one of the techniques Keri talked about using with the toddlers. “It’s amazing how often grown men act like children!”
The power finally came back on just before five. Cora had been writing the sales down in a notebook, but once the computer came back on, she had to transfer all the information. By six the day’s sales were saved and Cora could head home. Mr. Deleo kept the shop open till seven most nights but worked the last hour on his own.
Keri beat Cora home and already had a pot on the stove. Although a decent chef, Keri didn’t cook full meals often because of the cost, so tonight was just spaghetti and meatballs. As soon as Cora opened the door Keri started talking about her day and everything that had happened and everyone that she saw. While normally Cora didn’t mind, letting Keri talk most of the evening, today she actually wanted to tell Keri about the ridiculous things that had happened at the store. By the time dinner was ready, she had tried to politely cut in several times, but for once Keri just ignored her and continued talking.
“So Addy and I found out that we actually have a lot in common! We both like the same movies and food and everything...”
“Cool Keri, but you’ll never guess...”
“...and I may get together with her this Saturday to hang out and go see a new movie or something...”
At this Cora finally snapped on her friend, ‘You do realize that you promised to come with me out to Umstead State Park to go hiking on Saturday, right? We made the plans a month ago, and I printed out the maps and programed the GPS and made sure we had everything!”
Slightly shocked by Cora’s outburst, Keri merely stammered, “I’m sorry...I didn’t realize...didn’t remember...”
Cora hardly listened to Keri’s sputtering and continued on, “I thought I could actually count on you, but I guess the world just revolves around you! I should know by now that I can’t trust anyone! Well I hope you have fun with your new friend!” With that Cora slammed her fork down on the table and ran off to her room, collapsing in sobs on her bed.
After staring in shock for a moment Keri followed her into the room, for once silent. She sat down next to Cora, simply saying, “I really am sorry.”
Cora looked up with tears streaming down her face. Keri reached a hand out to her, and she threw herself into Keri’s arms. Holding Cora tightly as she cried herself out, Keri said softly, “I really did forget and I’m sorry for that. I’ll let Addy know I’m busy Saturday and see when else we can get together. I don’t want to break my promise to you. I won’t abandon you.”
Over the years Keri had learned a lot about Cora’s childhood, and it wasn’t pretty. Her dad had left when she was ten, and since then her mom had had a string of boyfriends, none of which had paid much attention to Cora. She had been mostly left to fend for herself through the difficult years of middle and high school.
Finally composing herself, Cora glanced at Keri’s face and - satisfied with the sincerity that she saw there - replied, “It’s alright, I just had a long day and then when you started talking about Addy so much I couldn’t help but think that you were pushing me aside like my mom did.”
“Never,” Keri stated, “No matter what you are my friend and I will always make time for you.” As her stomach rumbled she added, “Do you think you forgive me enough that we could go finish dinner before it gets cold?”
With a choked laugh and the hint of a smile, Cora agreed.
When they sat down this time, Keri let Cora talk about all the absurd happenings at work and laughed when she explained the argument and how she handled it.
“See, you do learn something from my ramblings occasionally!”
Once Cora finished, Keri took over again, but was much more careful to listen anytime Cora said anything. By the time the evening was over, the two had put the outburst behind them and were back to being best friends.
Artist: Kristy Taynor
School: North Allegheny