Hot, foreign tears threatened to spill down Jeannie Butler’s blanched cheeks as she scanned the page, trying to see beyond the bolded date of October 1, beyond the panic-inducing mention of foreclosure that popped up every few sentences. The tears threatened to spill, but she wouldn’t let them. Not this time. She’d had this feeling before. Two years earlier. The day she got the call. What was it that he said to her? I’m in trouble, honey? She cried the day she got that call—furious, crazed tears. Tears of dreams shattered, of love lost. She cried until there was nothing left. No tears, no anger, no love…and she hadn’t cried since. Jeannie squashed the final notice into a tight wad and hurled it across the room. It hit the wall then rebounded back at her, rolling to a quick stop in front of her bare feet.
When she looked back, she had to admit the signs were there even before she walked down the aisle. Jason liked to spend money on himself, and on her, and it made her giddy with ecstatic disbelief when he did. She’d grown up not knowing if her mom would have enough money to put food on the table since her father drank most of it away, so when Jason took her out to eat on a daily basis, bought her the clothes she’d never been able to afford on a teenage waitress’s pay, it didn’t enter her naïve mind at the time that gambling might be involved. By the end of their third year of marriage, six months after she took a second out on their dream home to finance the downpayment on the café, it was evident by the collection notices arriving on a regular basis that he was draining their savings account, not for paying bills as he claimed, but for some shady reason. Then the call came, and the next thing Jeannie knew, her husband was serving a seven year prison sentence for embezzlement and she was stuck paying off all his debts. He’d stolen almost everything from her, and now the bank was taking the last two things she held dear to her heart: her home and her beloved café.
Jeannie sighed and reached down, snatching the ball at her feet. She unrolled it as best she could and stretched it out, running the wrinkled sheet across her thigh in a lame attempt to iron it out. She folded the single sheet and stuffed it back into its envelope, then tucked the envelope and its contents into the front of the file cabinet beside the fridge, along with all the other letters. But this one was different. There would be no more letters after this. No more warnings. This was it.
She glanced at the pile of bills on the table, then to the picture of her, her three sisters and her mom at the grand opening which she’d attached with a rooster magnet to the side of the fridge. The original was on the wall at work, of course, in a fancy pewter frame she’d paid too much for. This was just a copy she made on her scanner, but it didn’t matter. Reading the caption still brought a bittersweet smile to her lips. Jeannie Butler, new owner of The Tip Top Café. She felt so proud at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Finally, she had something of her own. Something she could be proud of. A tear escaped. She brushed it away with a flick of her finger. One month. How could she tell them? What she needed was a miracle, because it was going to take a miracle to save the café, let alone her house.