Must Love Coffee releases Tuesday, so I thought it might be fun to share with you the first chapter of the book! So without further adieu…
MUST LOVE COFFEE. I frowned at the words on the screen. Those three words were the only ones I could think to list in my “wants” section of this stupid online dating site. For the last half hour, I’d been staring at the screen, trying to come up with something better. Apparently, having an addiction to caffeine was the only thing I wanted.
That wasn’t totally true, but it’s not like you can say, I’m looking for someone with big tits and who’s great in bed. Women don’t care for that. I had to be serious. I needed to list things that reflected who I was. What was I besides a coffee shop owner?
Therein was the problem. No chick in their right mind was going to love a balding, four-eyed guy in his mid-forties, who had no aspirations outside of waking up in the morning without a hangover.
Twenty years ago I could have bragged about my dreams of starting a band and traveling the world. But now, my guitar sat collecting dust in my perpetual bachelor pad. I was no longer the sort of guy a girl would be jumping up and down to meet, let alone date.
That’s not to say I was this hideous creature from a horror movie. It’s just, over the last ten years or so, I’d become…average—nothing to write home about. The sort of person you’d pass on the street and not even notice.
Somehow, I’d become an adult who couldn’t even keep a house plant alive. A few years ago, that idea didn’t faze me in the least. Staring down the barrel of middle age terrified me. I was going to die alone if something didn’t change.
Hence the dating sites. I needed to branch out of my tiny town of Bucksville, New Hampshire. Because, as my sister, Jackie, had so eloquently put it: “You’ve slept with every woman in a ten-mile radius over the years. Online dating is your only option left.”
That wasn’t true. Well, not really. I hadn’t slept with all the women in this town, just a dozen or so…several times over. That wasn’t my fault, though. There weren’t a lot of options in a small town.
Maybe that’s what started this sudden mid-life panic. The old standby girls just weren’t doing it for me anymore. I was craving…I don’t know, something more.
“What’s wrong with one-night stands, Finny, old boy?” my pal Joe had asked one night at the bar, wiggling his thick eyebrows. Joe had been my dad’s best friend and was in the pub more often than in his day job, it seemed. His face was always red from drink, which stood out against a bad bleached-blond hair dye. It was a look that may have made him attractive back in the day, but now made his bloated face stand out like a stop sign.
I’d known Joe since I was a kid. After Dad passed, Joe sort of stepped in, thinking I needed a father figure. Or maybe he just wanted a drinking buddy. Dad had never been a big drinker, but I sure was after his death. Joe had seen some of my darkest days. He cleaned up my drunken messes more times than a friend should, I’m ashamed to admit.
“Finn, you’re in the prime of your life,” Joe had said the other night. “This is when you should be going out and buying a convertible, banging some college chick, or moving to Paris. It’s not the time to settle down!”
Joe was talking out of his ass. He was happily married, and as far as I knew, as faithful as they came. Still, he was getting older and likely wanted to live vicariously through my bad life choices. And boy, oh boy, did I make a few of those.
“I gotta grow up sometime, Joe. I’m not in college anymore,” I said, nursing the last of my beer.
College. Man, back then, there had been no shortage of women vying for a spot on my arm. All the sorority girls wanted to date the hunky grunge rocker who played free gigs at their parties. It didn’t matter they didn’t know my name or even what my major was. The truth was, I didn’t care about theirs either.
After college I had plans—epic, backpacking through Europe plans—except, I didn’t have the cash to do it. So, I’d decided I’d earn my way there by taking on a few shifts at my folks’ shop, Must Love Coffee. A summer job. That turned into working just a few months after the season ended. Then, months turned into years, and all my grand aspirations of a better life outside of the snore-inducing Bucksville faded away, right along with my hairline.
Things were monotonous until Ma was killed by a drunk driver, and I went into a tailspin when Dad died of a heart attack three months later. From that point on, life pretty much sucked.
I was thirty-five when they passed. A full decade had slid through my fingers…and what had I done in that time? Other than keeping the shop open? Nothing. I hadn’t even moved out of the stupid little apartment above the shop I’d had when I was in college. I had made no attempt to better my situation, so it was my own fault. And yet, I was still bitter with the universe that my life hadn’t magically morphed into something meaningful all on its own.
“You just haven’t found your purpose yet,” Jackie had told me one morning over the phone.
“My purpose?” My eyes practically rolled out of my head.
“Yes. That thing, or person, who’s going to make you want to be a better man.”
I snorted. “You don’t think I’m a good man now?”
Her voice dropped to a whisper. “I think you have the potential to be so much more than you are.”
I wasn’t convinced of the potential part, but I did feel like I was stuck in a rut. For the last ten years, I’d been on autopilot, surviving from day to day. I woke up, went to work, headed to the bar, and then back home. That was it.
There had to be more to life than that. Right? I found I was craving someone to come home to at the end of a day—someone to talk to, to hold, and grow old with. It was sappy, but it was the truth.
I suppose that’s why I relented to my sister’s endless suggestions of online dating. So far, however, no one was turning my eye in the surrounding towns.
I deliberately left out the area I lived in on my search because besides knowing everyone here, there wasn’t anything exciting about Bucksville. We had a population of just over a thousand people. There was one grocery store and one fast food joint but three gas stations. Why we needed so many, I had no idea.
About the biggest excitement we had in Bucksville was that we had a movie star who vacationed here from time to time. She lived up in a big-ass mansion on Miller Street. The town went nuts when she bothered to show her face to the locals, but thankfully, that wasn’t often. My staff still liked to talk about the day she had come into the shop for coffee. I definitely didn’t want someone as high-maintenance as her. I wanted a woman who’d look hot in both heels and sweats and who’d steal a slice of pizza out of my hands. It wouldn’t hurt if she loved hockey, either. Could I say that in the ad? Probably make me look like a jackass.
I shook my head at the waiting cursor on my computer screen and blew out a breath of defeat. This was getting nowhere. I closed my laptop and focused on the waiting pile of bills on my desk. I shouldn’t really call it a desk. It’s a card table tucked into the former walk-in pantry I’d converted into an office. It wasn’t pretty, but it did the trick.
As I cut checks, I fought off a yawn. It was late. The shop had long since closed. I wanted to go home, have a beer, maybe watch some porn, and go to bed. That was the sucky part of being a shop owner. Bills had to be tended to regardless of what I wanted.
I spent several aggravating minutes shoving paid invoices into the overstuffed filing cabinet in the corner. I cursed myself for not going digital. One of these days, I’d take the time and do it, but I didn’t have the patience to learn a new way when the old one worked just fine.
Christ, I’m starting to sound like my dad.
When I reached the bottom of the waiting envelopes, I noticed it wasn’t another bill but rather a letter. The envelope only said “Finn” on the outside.
Tearing it open, I adjusted my glasses to read the small handprint, which looked like it was scribbled down in haste.
I recognized the writing as Kenny’s. Kenny was my only full-time barista. He was the real reason the shop did so well. That man knew how to make a mean cup of coffee. Kenny trained all the other part-timers how to use the machines, but none of them were particularly good at it. I knew I should give him a raise, but the funds weren’t there.
Curious about why he’d write me a letter versus talking to me in the morning, I tore it open and skimmed over his words. I clutched my stomach as it rolled over. It was his letter of resignation. He’d taken a better paying job at a shop the next town over. It was closer to his daughter’s school and offered him medical coverage.
I couldn’t counter that offer.
The letter was his two-week notice. I had fourteen days to find a barista willing to work full-time for a measly minimum wage job with no benefits.
Opening my laptop again, I went to our community bulletin board website to post a help-wanted ad. I began it with the line MUST LOVE COFFEE.
Want more? You can preorder it here!
And don’t forget, Doppelganger (another love story set in the same town is on sale!)
Danielle Bannister, Author, and chapter sharing fiend!