Contemporary American Romance

She closed her eyes.

Gently, as if enveloped in a sweet melody, she breathed the heady, earthy aroma rising from her mug. The quiet rustle of newspapers and the soft burble of voices formed a backdrop to the occasional clatter of ceramic against a metal countertop. Bright morning sunlight filtered through the shop window, casting crystal rainbows across the patterned floor.

Martha took a sip, then languidly opened her eyes. She smiled at the man sitting across from her. His bemused smile telegraphed his delight.

"I'm always surprised at how comforting a drink could be," she sighed. She settled back, letting the supple leather of her wheelchair cradle her body.

Her companion nodded to the cup in her hands. "The shipment came in last week from Jamaica. I met the grower myself. Mateo. His farm is amazing! His plantation is stretched out on the slopes below Blue Mountain Peak. Have you been there? We walked around for hours and I think I saw every yellow-billed parrot on the entire island! The farmhouse has a fantastic view of the falls below. He has hired his extended family to help him care for the crop, and he's training his nephew in bookkeeping and marketing. They want him to take over the family business when the time comes. The boy's aunt is their horticulturist and his father is their chemist. Mateo has built homes for everyone and they all pitch in to care for the crop. It's a real success story, bringing prosperity to an entire family."

Bram suddenly looked embarrassed. He held his own cup in both hands and looked into the dark waters. "Oh, I'm sorry, I'm prattling on. I don't mean to bore you."

Martha smiled back at him. "No, no, you're fine. It's wonderful to hear someone who is passionate about their work."

Bram seemed to shuffle. "Um … can I get you a Danish? It’s on the house."

"Sure," she replied, laughing softly as Bram put on his storekeeper "hat". 

Bram stood, suddenly looking very tall and imposing. He took another sip of his drink and then sauntered toward the counter. He walked like a linebacker. Martha’s eyes followed him as he spoke briefly to the cashier. He washed his hands and pulled down a small plate, turning to the pastry display case.

Martha took another long meditating sip of her drink. Someone enthusiastically turned a newspaper to a new page. The dulcet chime of a bell rang as the shop door opened to reveal another customer.

The shop went silent. Martha opened her eyes. 

Standing beside the open door, a dark form stood. He was hard to see with the bright sun behind him. But the pistol in his hand was unmistakable.

"Everyone down," he ordered. 

Martha froze. What was going on? Who was he? How could he disturb this moment? This is the WEEKEND, FOR GOD’S SAKE! 

"I said down. Now. On the floor!" 

A cup dropped and broke into shards as people pushed their chairs back and clambered to the floor. A woman somewhere whimpered. Bram pushed his cashier below the level of the counter, but he remained standing. He raised his hands in the air.

"Hey, buddy, it’s ok. What do you want? Just be calm, please."

The gunman stepped into the store. The bell chimed again as the door closed behind him. He waved his gun at Bram.  "Cash. Open the register. Give me your cash."

Bram moved to the register. He reached into his pocket for the drawer key.

"Hands up!" the gunman yelled, pointing the gun at Bram’s face.

"I need to get the key," Bram offered. "It's in my pocket."

"Get it and be slow about it." The dark figure was masked and wearing a dirty gray hoodie. He smelled of filth and his hands shook.

Martha trembled. She unlocked her wheelchair and pushed back from the table. It thumped against the glass window. The gunman turned and pointed the gun at her. 

"I said ON THE FLOOR!" he yelled. 

"I’m trying." Martha’s hands trembled, suddenly weak. "Don’t shoot, please don’t shoot." 

The dark figure crossed the distance in a heartbeat. He grabbed her collar and tried to yank her out of her chair, but the wheels slid. It rolled into his leg, barking his shin.  

He released her, then drew his arm back and struck her across the jaw. Something went bang.

Suddenly, the pain imploded on her. She blinked, trying to clear her head, but her hand went to her shoulder. It was warm and wet. She looked at her fingers – they were painted red.

There was a moment of crystal clarity, frozen in time. The warm sunlight. The smell of the roaster. The look of surprise from the gunman. The look of horror turned to violence on Bram's face.

Martha’s blood dripped down her arm and pooled on the floor.

Time started again.

Bram threw the plate he was holding. The gunman raised his arms to protect himself and the plate shattered, knocking the gun out of his hand.

Bram vaulted over the counter and tackled the man. They both went down with a thud. Bram growled like an animal as he punched him three, four, five times. The dark figure’s head rocked back and forth, no struggle left in him.

Sirens could be heard in the distance.

The cashier came around the counter and rushed to the wheelchair. She pressed a towel to Martha’s shoulder. "It’s ok, it’s ok. Help is coming," she murmured. But tears were streaming down her face.

Four officers rushed into the building, guns drawn. Looking around, seeing the results of the chaos, two secured the attacker while the other two stood guard. Martha passed out before Bram got to her side.


Martha woke up two days later as the night nurse bustled in with her medicine cart. "Oh, good, you're finally awake." The nurse adjusted the drip and checked the needle in her arm.

 She didn’t remember the ride in the ambulance with Bram at her side. She didn’t remember being wheeled into the operating room.

Martha's brow furrowed and she blinked as she tried to put her brain to work. The sounds of the evening rush hour filtered in through the open window, accompanied by a cool breeze. Dinner plates clattered in the distance, echoing against hospital walls. Martha's arm was trapped in a sling.

A hand laid on her foot surprised her. Bram was at her bedside. 

"Why are you here?" she asked and then grimaced at how accusatory that sounded.

"I couldn’t let you just die on my floor. What would the customers think?"

The previous events slowly crept back. The blood, the pain, the fear. The utter helplessness. She looked to the corner where her wheelchair was folded. It was clean. None of the trauma was evident.

She looked back at Bram. "Thank you. You may have saved my life." Her cheeks turned pink, then crimson, as she continued to look at him.

Bram stood and then performed a courtly bow. "When a fairy princess rolls into your establishment, it is the duty of every knight to rescue her when needed." He winked as he sat down on the edge of her bed.

"What about your shop? Don’t they need you there?"

"I have more important things to take care of." He reached out and tentatively touched her hand. "If you don’t mind."

Martha smiled. "No, I don’t mind at all."

September 19, 2023 01:59

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Mandy Davis
11:41 Sep 26, 2023

I enjoyed this story as the varied elements came together in a positive ending. I loved the surprise inclusion of diversity. The descriptive narrative really aided the imagination.


Sue Schroeder
21:58 Sep 27, 2023

Thank you, Mandy. There isn't enough representation for diversity. This felt just right to me.


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Lester Yocum
15:53 Sep 25, 2023

Oh, I love the depths of emotion in this story. Wonderful twist; warms and cool, bright then dark. The wording shifts as the arc progresses. Very well done.


Sue Schroeder
21:47 Sep 27, 2023

Thank you, Lester. I'm so glad you liked it.


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