3: Breakfast at Marco's

Zoe sighed as she leaned against the front counter, almond-shaped eyes focused on what was quickly becoming a normal occurrence. Concern laced her deep brown eyes, which did not go unnoticed by her coworker. The cashier, who Zoe was standing near, turned to see what Zoe was looking at.

"Geez, Jayce is here again," the cashier commented, green eyes watching Jayce now too. He shook his head, somewhat disappointed at the sight. Like all the other employees at the café, he loved having Jayce there, but having her there as she was now just screamed that something was wrong. It was written all over her demeanor, obvious in her eyes, even though she tried to hide it behind a cheerful smile.

"Every day at nine exactly. She got fired," Zoe replied, sounding quite dejected. From the sound of her voice, it seemed like she was the one who was fired.

The cashier, a short teenage boy with a cream-colored baby face, blond ponytail that went to the middle of his back, and two piercings in his eyebrow, looked skeptical that such a thing could happen. He knew that Jayce was a hard worker and he knew that she was beyond competent. After all, she had given most of the employees and the restaurant owner money advice at some point. Very good money advice that had saved an ass or two…or more. It did not make any sense for her to get fired.

"How do you know that?" he asked curiously, turning his mouth up a little.

"She told me, jackass. I talk to her everyday since I'm not stuck behind the counter and there are lulls in my section every now and then. She basically comes here because she knows she'll get the peace and quiet to look for a new job and get advice on what to do about her mother, who's trying to take Princess from her and giving her all kinds of hell every minute about it too," Zoe reported with a sigh. It was as if she hurt for Jayce, which she really did. It pained her that someone as sweet as Jayce was going through such horrible things.

His mouth dropped open, ready to hit the ground, but he started talking first. "Get the hell out! Why would she take Princess? Jayce loves that kid like she gave birth to her! From what I've seen with her father, I'm shocked he didn't try to give her to Jayce days after she was born anyway," he proclaimed, moving his hands wildly as he spoke, like that would somehow make sense of everything that he was hearing.

"You're preaching to the converted, Sam. Hell, I'm the one that told you all of this," she pointed out, making a hand motion between the two of them.

He nodded. "Do you think her mother will do it?" he inquired, some fear shaking his voice as he glanced over to Jayce and the baby again. He hated to think what would happen to Jayce if someone took Princess from her. It was so clear that Jayce loved Princess with all of her heart and he thought only a monster would want to break that bond. Only a monster would take Princess away from such a caring, loving, kind individual too, he silently concluded.

The waitress shrugged. "From what I can tell just from looking in her eyes when she talks about it, she's really scared that her mother will succeed. She's not getting much help, even though she's looking really hard. Her mother's got a lot of clout apparently and doesn't mind trying to move Heaven and Earth to show she's got power. I think it comes from her father. He used to be a banker or something and had a lot of powerful clients. Sad thing is, as great as her father was and as big as he was around here, when she graduated school, she couldn't get an accounting job anywhere. It was like she was blacklisted before she even started. I hope that changes now," Zoe said with another sigh. Although it did not seem to be changing because, from what she could see, Jayce was no closer to being employed than ever before.

"Not if her mother is the bitch you make her sound like. Her life sucks," Sam stated the obvious, sucking his teeth as he did so. A frown settled on his smooth, youthful face, hating that Jayce's own mother could be such an asshole toward her. "Why doesn't she just do this at home, though?" he asked. He figured that it would be better for Princess at the least if Jayce stayed home to do whatever it was that she did while she was at the bistro all day.

Zoe scoffed dramatically and made a show of rolling her eyes. "Extra-bitchy girlfriend," she answered in a biting tone.

Sam shook his head and snorted. "Damn. Her life really does suck."

"That's putting it mildly," the waitress muttered, folding her arms tightly across her chest, slightly wrinkling her pristine lilac-colored uniform shirt.

"You wanna treat her to a muffin?" Sam proposed out of the blue. It was the only thing that he could think of to show his support and try to get their regular to feel better. He figured it would at least remind Jayce that there were people that cared about her. Sure, most of them were just high-schoolers or college students, but they were people, who all agreed that she was several kinds of pure awesome.

"She's unemployed in a custody battle with her bitchy mother and getting no support from her girlfriend and you want to buy a muffin for her?" Zoe inquired in disbelief with an arched eyebrow. She cut her eyes to him, almost as if she was calling him an idiot in her mind.

"Blueberry muffin?" he added, almost as if to correct his mistake of daring to suggest just a regular muffin.

"Better make sure it's warm."

Sam nodded and went to work on that. Zoe delivered the muffin, which earned her a tired smile and small thanks from Jayce. Zoe stayed a while to give Princess some attention and get her out of the high chair. The baby clapped and cheered, beyond happy to be freed from the confines of the chair. This got another smile from Jayce.

The happy expression did not disguise the exhaust carved into Jayce's face. There were dark circles around her eyes. Jagged, worry lines marred her tanned face, cutting the corners of her mouth and just underneath her eyes. Her hair was fuzzy, as if her weariness had caused a static build up on the top of her head. Even her clothing seemed to be fitting her funny thanks to all of the stress in her life.

"If I have spend another week here, Princess'll probably run to my mother to never have to see another high chair again," Jayce commented, forcing out a laugh. Her eyes belied her true fear, though, which was that her mother was going to get Princess no matter what she did. She swallowed down some nervousness and it settled in her stomach, causing a burning sensation there.

"Princess knows you're doing your best for her, so she'll be here for you, like you are for her, even if it takes a year of you sitting in here," Zoe remarked while swinging Princess, earning lively giggles from the baby.

"I hope it doesn't take that long. My butt wouldn't be able to take it," Jayce joked, chuckling for the first time in two weeks. It was a forced chuckle, but it was better than nothing. At least she had tried to crack a joke, which Zoe took as a sign that there was still some fight in Jayce.

"Me and Sam won't be able to afford muffins for that long either," the waitress chimed in with a grin. She hoped that it lifted Jayce's spirits a little more, but it seemed to have the opposite effect as the unemployed woman's shoulders slumped.

Jayce's head dropped and her dark eyes fell to the floor. "I'm sorry if I'm in your way. I could just go home…" she murmured, sounding as defeated as she felt. Could I be any more of a loser?

Zoe scoffed. "Jayce, don't be an idiot! We love having you here and you're not in the way. This is your damned table and everything. We just wished you weren't hanging around because you can't go home without Jannie screaming her head off at you about getting fired. Not like it was your fault anyway."

"Well, Jannie's not going to believe that. I think the bitch that got me fired was her sister," Jayce sighed, shaking her head. The attitude certainly had a strong family resemblance as well as the appearance. There sure was a hatred of babies that they had in common too, or at least a hatred for Princess.

"Her sister?" Zoe gasped, eyes going wide from surprise. A family of assholes apparently. Poor Jayce, having the displeasure and poor luck of meeting both of them.

"She looked an awful lot like Jannie and they had the same last name. I remember a while ago, Jannie said she was going to try to help get me more clients and she'd start with her sister, who owns a couple of businesses. She never told me if worked out or not. I couldn't figure it out since I didn't know her sister's first name or what businesses she ran. Whenever Jannie talks about her, she always just says 'my big sister' and goes on from there. I just assumed nothing came of it, especially since Jannie never said anything. But, now that I think about it, I guess something did come of it. The only reason I don't think it was Jannie's sister is because Jannie hasn't been acting differently this week." Since Jannie had not thrown the greatest tantrum of all time and called her every name in the book, Jayce assumed her girlfriend was unaware of the fact that she lost her job. This was one thing that kept Jayce from believing that was Jannie's sister that got her fired because surely Jannie's sister would have said something to Jannie.

"Maybe it was just coincidence. Tucker isn't a crazy surname or anything like that. I'm sure plenty of people have that as a last name," the waitress said in a hopeful tone. It would be nice for something to work out for the former accountant, she thought. No matter how small.

Jayce nodded. "You're probably right. I mean, if that was Jannie's sister, I'm sure she would've said something to Jannie about having a fucked up accountant that was stealing money from her."

"I still can't believe she accused you of stealing from her. What an asshole!" Zoe huffed, a tight frown cutting across her face. Jayce was about the most honest and nicest person that she ever met and it really pissed her off for someone to even imply otherwise. Obviously that woman did not know Jayce at all.

"Watch the language in front of the Princess," Jayce requested, nodding toward the baby, who was now watching the adults intensely. This was mostly because Zoe stopped swinging her more than anything else.

Zoe laughed a little. "You should take your own advice. I think you swear more with her around than without. Do you mind if Princess helps me with my rounds? I'm not going to take her anywhere that you can't see." She knew that Jayce never let Princess out of her sight and even though she was sure that she could talk Jayce into letting her take Princess out of view, she did not want to cause Jayce that type of stress.

Jayce nodded and waved the waitress off. "It's fine, Zoe. It'll give me a chance to make a few phone calls and try to get a new job quickly."

Zoe nodded and took the baby to give Jayce a few minutes alone. Everyday since she had been fired a week ago, she came to the café and tried to find a new job. Thankfully, her favorite hangout spot had free wireless, so she could get a lot of work done. She had her laptop with her, working on her resume and sending out emails. She also contacted lawyers, trying to find someone to help her fight off her mother to keep Princess in her custody. So, far for both legal help and employment, she was just getting the run around.

She had anticipated that was going to happen, but that did not make the blow hurt any less. Her mother's talons reached far out and Marion Newton seemed to love nothing more than to use those talons to claw at her daughter. And of course if she could tear Jayce down while "helping out" her beloved son, it was all the better for Marion Newton.

The former accountant was not going to give up, though. Princess' life hung in the balance as far as she was concerned and she would be damned if she was going to let something happen to an innocent baby. So, she searched on, day in and day out. The progress was the same everyday—none. She tried her best not to let it discourage her, to put on a strong front, and to convince herself that she would make it through this crisis for Princess' sake.

The café was like Jayce's unofficial office. She easily admitted that she liked it much better than her old office. The people were much friendlier and more likeable at the café and she never had to bother worrying about Mister Huntington breathing down her neck anymore. The one problem was that she was not being paid to sit at that corner table by the window everyday. In fact, she was losing money by sitting there because she ordered food every hour out of guilt for taking up space.

The little bell on the door rang as a customer walked in. Jayce had learned to ignore the noise quickly, so she did not even bother to look up from her computer. Princess, who was sitting in a high chair next to her aunt, turned her attention away from her oatmeal cookies and cheered, but that did not get her aunt's attention either. Every now and then, Princess made some sort of sound when a patron entered the establishment. Jayce thought it was just a part of Princess' upbeat, happy personality; the baby just liked to see people. Other regulars, who knew the baby's habit, would wave and cheer back, which just drove Princess mad with delight.

"Uh…excuse me…" A familiar voice said, causing Jayce to turn her attention away from her laptop screen to her unwanted visitor.

At first, Jayce expected to see someone that might ask her if someone was sitting across from her. It was not unknown for the café to get very crowded at certain times and for strangers to sit together, but now should not be one of those times. In fact, she was certain that it was not one of those times when she saw who was addressing her. It was the unforgettable Miss Tucker.

"Hi, I'm Gus Tucker. I'm not too sure if you remember me—" Miss Tucker started, sounding very cordial and mellow. Her hazel eyes shined with a gentleness that was lacking when they first met. Somehow, she gave off an aura that still seemed to take up the whole room, but it was not the same as before; it was not menacing or malicious.

"Oh, believe me, a couple of weeks doesn't make me forget a woman who accused me of stealing," Jayce snapped, her eyes hardening like chipped obsidian. No, she definitely would not forget a woman that soiled her good name, did not seem to like Princess, and helped her lose her job.

Gus winced a little from the bite in Jayce's tone. She scratched her eyebrow with her pinky for a moment, which got Jayce's attention. It could be a coincidence that she does that just like Jannie does, Jayce thought.

"Look, sorry about that. I had just had the day from Hell. Actually, it was more like the week from Hell. Maybe even month. Anyway, finding out all of that money was missing and my accountant hadn't caught it was pretty much the final straw, so I figured I'd take it out on her. Well, you know that since I took it out on you. I really shouldn't have done that. I should've looked into things much more carefully than just assuming you were stealing from me. So, please, forgive me," Miss Tucker implored the smaller woman. Her light brown eyes begged for forgiveness.

Jayce could not help rolling her eyes and turned her attention back to her laptop. "Fine, whatever. Goodbye," she said, waving the businesswoman away. I don't have time for this shit.

A scowl cut through Gus' cocoa face and all of the earlier tenderness was wiped out of her gaze because she felt like she was being dismissed. "That's all you have to say? I'm trying to apologize here," she growled. The air around her seemed to crackle as her mood turned to anger.

"Accepted. Goodbye." The politeness that dripped out of her mouth upset Gus even more.

"Look, listen to me—" Gus pointed at the former accountant, who did not even bother to glance at her.

"I have. Goodbye," Jayce repeated, her voice final. The conversation was over.

Gus opened her mouth to say something, but Princess beat her to it. The baby shouted something that sounded suspiciously like "go!" but could have easily just been "ga." Either way, the noise cut into the conversation and ended it all.

Gus did an about-face, the scowl not leaving her tense, chocolate features as she headed for the front counter. Inside, she seethed, not used to being dismissed and deciding that she did not like it very much. Not to mention, she still felt like an ass from before and Jayce did not really seem to accept her apology. Now, she pretty much felt like pure shit and she blamed the unemployed accountant for that.

"Bitch," she said in a perfectly clear voice before turning her attention to the person working the register, who happened to be Zoe. "Hi, let me get—"

Zoe cut her off. "No," she stated in a hard voice while leveling a heated glare at the wannabe-but-not-gonna-be customer.

Gus blinked in surprise and some bemusement. "No? What do you mean 'no'?" It seemed to be a day of firsts. First she was dismissed and now she was being refused service. Nothing like that had ever happened to her before.

"I'm not going to serve you and when the regular cashier gets back from his phone call, I'm going to tell him not to serve you too. In fact, if our second cashier miraculously makes it here for the first time in days after getting knocked on her ass by the flu, I'll tell her not to serve you too," Zoe informed the older woman as if it was the most logical thing in the world. A smug look overtook her face, but venomous fury settled in her almond-shaped eyes.

"Who the hell are you to refuse to serve me? I'm a customer here just like anyone else," Gus huffed, rage hardening her eyes. Her jaw tensed as soon as she finished talking. God, I feel like I'm going to have to hit someone today or something! Hadn't I filled my quota for bullshit this month?

"I have the right to refuse any customer I want and I refuse to serve you. I'm also going to make Sam refuse when he comes back, so you might as well just go somewhere else," Zoe said, calmly and decisively. It sounded simple enough to her, so she could not figure out why the tall woman before her was still standing there.

"I'm not going anywhere else. I'm here now and I want to order from here," Gus stated with the force of a woman not used to being told "no."

"Hell, no," Zoe replied and dismissed the woman with a flick of her wrist. Before Gus could retort, Sam returned to his post and immediately noticed that he stepped into a cold-war zone.

"Uh…what's going on?" the young man inquired curiously, silently hoping that the pressure from the thick tension did not kill him. He also hoped that he did not get drawn into the problem just from asking a simple question.

"This lady was just leaving," Zoe answered in a clipped tone, looking at Gus as if she was short and as if she loathed the taller woman.

"Excuse me…" Gus paused to look at the cashier's nametag. "Sam, do you think you could get your manager for me?" she requested in a collected, polite manner.

"Uh…" Sam glanced at Zoe.

"Go ahead and get him," Zoe told her coworker. She then cut her eyes at Gus. "Not gonna help you get service around here," she promised in a haughty tone.

Sam was happy to have an excuse to leave, even if it was only for a moment. He decided to hang back when he returned with the manager. The manager, a lanky man in his late twenties with a crooked tie, folded his arms across his chest as he turned his attention to the two women.

"All right, what's going on over here?" the manager inquired with patience in his tone despite the defensive nature of his stance.

"This…woman…refused to serve me," Gus replied, sneering in Zoe's direction as if the young woman disgusted her.

"Zoe, why are you making trouble so early in the morning? Why don't you go play with Princess and leave the adults to work?" the manager teased the Asian woman. He was hoping to defuse the situation and save face for both ladies. The way neither female moved, though, told him that things were not going to be that easy.

The young waitress rolled her eyes. "I'm not making any damn trouble. It's this…" Pausing, she turned to look Gus in the eye and said the next word with deep hatred, "…bitch that's make trouble. She called Jayce a bitch for no reason after bothering the shit out of Jayce for no reason. You know Jayce doesn't need this shit, trying to find work and get her mother off of her back. Things have been hard for her since she got fired after that bastard boss of her accused her of stealing from a client."

"Fired…?" Gus muttered, glancing over at her former accountant, who was buried in her laptop. Jayce looked up for a second, but her attention was on her niece, not that scene at the counter.

The manager put his hands up. "Whoa, calm down, Zoe. Okay, I can see why you're all bent out of shape, but you don't have to serve her," he pointed out. He was sure that easy solution had not escaped her, so he could only wonder what why she was still standing at the register.

Zoe frowned. "I don't think we should serve her at all. She's an asshole."

"Zoe, look, I like Jayce as much as the next person. I'm glad she's always in here, but we're not going to turn away business just because you're outraged and someone hasn't taken to Jayce like we have. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Maybe there's a reason this woman doesn't like Jayce," the manager reasoned in a calm tone.

"How can you not like Jayce unless you're some sort of asshole?" Zoe countered quite seriously. From all the time that Jayce had been coming into the café, they all knew that it was a rare day indeed for someone to dislike her. The only person that seemed to constantly and consistently detest Jayce was her mother. Often ex-girlfriends even turned into friends for Jayce. Hell, people that tried to pick Jayce up and got turned down often walk away from her with a smile. So, Zoe could not figure out how a person could not like Jayce unless there was something seriously wrong with that person.

Gus did not even hear being called an asshole again. Her attention remained on Jayce and the guilt that she felt from before seemed to intensify with every passing second. She suddenly walked away from the counter, away from the discussion, leaving a confused manager and a triumphant Zoe in her wake. Gus wandered back toward Jayce, eyes locked on Jayce and shoulders heavy with the consequences of her actions. She loomed over the accountant, who did not turn away from her computer.

"Hey, can I talk to you for just a moment?" Gus requested in a soft, remorseful voice.

"Why don't you just leave her the hell alone?" Zoe huffed, speaking loud enough for Gus to hear her. She was ready to charge over to the hazel-eyed woman and yank Gus away from her good friend. Sam and the manager held her back, telling her that she needed to mind her business.

Gus glanced over her shoulder to look at Zoe, but then dismissed the Asian woman by turning back to Jayce. "Okay, look, I deserve the cold shoulder. I didn't realize my bad day and my actions would actually go so far as to get you fired," she explained, voice still humble and apologetic. But, as she spoke, she realized how idiotic she must have sounded.

Jayce scoffed, near-onyx eyes turning to Gus laced with disbelief. "You complained to my boss about me stealing from you and you didn't think it would get me fired?" she inquired incredulously.

"I never said specifically that you stole from me. I just told your boss that money was missing and you didn't catch it," Gus replied. So stupid! Of course my complaints got her fired! Underneath it all, I knew that too. I just didn't care at the time. Okay, maybe I was an asshole then, but I'm not being one now.

Jayce rolled her eyes. "It doesn't matter anyway. It wasn't your fault," she replied with a deep sigh, waving the whole matter off with a flick of her wrist.

Gus arched a thick, dark brown eyebrow. It was her turn to sound incredulous. "What the hell? How the hell wasn't it my fault? I, the client, went to complain to your boss about your actions and on that same day you lost your job. So, how the hell is not my fault you got fired?"

The ebony-haired woman sighed, sounding annoyed and frustrated. She finally turned to look at Gus. "Look, my boss was a jerk-off. He's got the hots for my mother and gave me the job in the hopes that it would get him closer to her. Little did he know, my mother hates me and was not pleased with him for helping me, not that she ever plainly said that. But, eventually he figured that much out and he's been itching for an excuse to fire me ever since. If you didn't provide him with the excuse, someone else would have, especially considering the fact that I had Princess in all of those meetings that day. That would have been more than enough for him."

"Still, it wasn't my intention to get you fired. I suppose looking back on my complaints, I can see how it would progress to that, but I didn't mean to do it. It was such a pissy day, though," Gus huffed, shaking her head a little. Such a pissy life really! Damn it, Amanda, you've still got me acting like an asshole.

"We all have them." I've been having one for the past two weeks.

Gus nodded in agreement. "Still, most don't involve getting someone fired. I've had my head up my ass since I got here and this is just what I needed to get it out. Look, I know I probably can't get you that job back, but if there's anything I can do to help, I would like to," she offered with a pleading look in her eyes. She was begging to help.

Jayce smiled a bit, a sincere expression that made it to her eyes. Very lovely eyes, Gus silently noted. Jayce waved the offer off. "Thanks, but I'm fine on my own."

A skeptical look took over Gus' face. "Fine on your own? Is that why you were taking a baby into work with you before?" she asked, not meaning to sound as condescending as she did.

"I don't think that's any of your business," Jayce said in a clipped tone.

"I've gone and put my foot in it again, haven't I?" Gus asked, even though she knew the answer to that. She scratched her eyebrow with her pinky again, trying to figure out a way to stop being a jerk to the shorter woman.

"Indeed. How about you leave while you're ahead? I've got a lot of work to do and I'm sure you'd like to figure out who did steal that money from you," Jayce replied, sounding calm and polite again.

"Oh, that's already been found out. This is why I was a little shocked that you were fired. I went to your boss the day after I accused you to explain that I did find out what happened to the money. The manager at my spa was skimming from me," Gus explained. "Are you sure I couldn't talk to your boss and straighten everything out?" she sincerely offered.

"Trust me, nothing you can say or do will get me that job back. Now, if you don't mind, I need to finish this up," Jayce said, motioning to her computer.

"Don't you think it would be easier to work if you left the baby with a babysitter? Or even worked at home?" Gus asked curiously.

"I don't believe I asked for your opinion on the matter."

Gus yelped slightly, realizing that she had once again put her foot in her mouth. Deciding to go before she gnawed off her whole leg and made a complete jackass out of herself, Gus retreated from the café, not even bothering with breakfast as she had planned on. When she got into her car, she sat silently in there for a few minutes.

"Shit, she doesn't seem that bad and I've gotten her fired. Jannie didn't say anything about it, but then again, I've only talked to her once since I got here. Hell, I didn't even tell her I moved here yet. I'll get to her in a second and I guess we'll have a lot to talk about it," Gus muttered to herself. She then finally started her car and drove off.


Next time: Gus continues to cause waves in Jayce's life.

End of preview! To see more of this story, you can purchase it on Amazon as an ebook or paperback, under the title Please Baby by SL Kassidy. Details are on my profile.