Home > The House of Hope & Chocolate (Friends & Neighbors Book 1)

The House of Hope & Chocolate (Friends & Neighbors Book 1)
Author: Ava Miles

 

 

From the time she was a little girl with a chocolate stand instead of lemonade, Alice Bailey dreamt of opening a chocolate shop. After all, chocolate heals everything, from heartache to woes.

 

If Alice has learned anything recently, it's that life is precious. It’s now or never—carpe diem time. She's ready to put down roots and live her dreams.

 

Only opening up a chocolate shop in this close-knit community proves harder than she imagined, especially when other neighborhood businesses are experiencing hard times. She's not only an outsider, but resentment over her circumstances breeds distrust among some of the other business owners.

 

But Alice believes in one absolute: chocolate can heal anything and it’s a great way to make new friends. And as she struggles to heal and rebuild, she shows her new friends and neighbors that life offers more richness than they realize.

 

 

To Mr. Rogers and those who continue to share his wisdom.

 

 

To Paul Terracciano, for reminding me what it means to make a friend Mr. Rogers style.

 

 

And to all the people in my neighborhood (“they’re the people that you meet each day”), but most especially those in New York who inspired this book: Frank, the original Vinnie, Jimmy, Emily, Jack, Jeff, Dylan, Anthony, and countless others, too many to list, which in my world, is an absolute blessing.

 

 

Warren watched Alice cross the freshly mowed yard and dash across the street toward his lemonade stand. He was already smiling. Alice Bailey was a “smile inspirer”—everyone from their neighbors to their kindergarten teacher said so. She could even make stiff-necked Principal Hendricks smile, and that was a downright miracle.

Warren liked her because she always knew how to have fun, from the funny faces she made in school to her wild ideas, like the time she’d suggested they put paper crowns on their heads like Vikings and sled down the snowy hill on the playground in the toboggans the gym teacher had bought for the older kids.

The hot sun beamed down on his head as he poured her some lemonade. He’d already decided he was going to give her a glass for free. They were friends and neighbors, and that’s what you did sometimes. His dad called it good business. His mother called it kindness. Warren figured they were both right.

Alice’s big brown eyes sparkled as she approached him, and he slid the paper cup her way. That look told him she was about to blurt out another fun idea. “Hey, Alice.”

“Hey, Warren.” She plunked her skinny elbows down on the card table his dad had dragged up from their basement.

“Hey, guys!” Sarah hollered, slamming her screen door behind her. Her blond braids bobbed up and down as she ran across the street to join them. Even though she didn’t talk as much as Alice—no one in the world could do that—Sarah still played crazy games with them, so she was cool. “What are you up to?”

Alice slid Sarah her lemonade so Warren poured another. Because he cared more about hanging with them than making a profit. “I was about to tell Warren my idea. It’s going to take his lemonade stand to the next level. It involves chocolate. You’re going to love it.”

“I love chocolate!” Sarah said with a grin, slurping the lemonade.

Warren poured himself a glass, and they all drank together. Whatever idea Alice had was going to rock. He smiled and held out his hand to her, like his dad told him a man did in business. Because whatever Alice had in mind, he was on board. He was going into business with his best friends.

“I’m in.”

 

 

Chapter 1

 

 

Hope wasn’t simply Alice Bailey’s goal. It was her mission.

And she intended to coat it in chocolate, like one of the new mocha indulgence truffles she and her business partner had created for their new store, the House of Hope & Chocolate.

Alice gazed down at the newly framed photo of her, Warren, and Sarah standing behind their neighborhood chocolate stand the summer they went into business together. Warren’s grin showed his missing front teeth, and Alice had her arm around Sarah. Their handwritten sign was on butcher paper Alice’s mother had found, and she and Sarah had drawn it in crayon because even then Warren’s penmanship had been illegible.

God, she could still feel their excitement that day. That chocolate stand had brought their entire neighborhood together in ways no one could have imagined. They’d run it for ten years, starting with simple offerings and adding more to the menu as the years went on.

Alice found a nail and hung the frame on the robin’s egg blue wall behind the counter of their shop. She wanted it front and center—a reminder of the power of hope and determination. Sometimes she needed one. This summer, when her career of working for an international financial consultant for the Fortune 500 had come to an end—hello, pandemic—she’d come up with a brilliant idea: resurrect the chocolate stand, only make it a full-blown store. While Warren had his own finance career outside of Chicago, where they’d all grown up, and wasn’t interested in leaving it for a chocolate shop, Sarah had quit her accounting job to go into business with Alice and their third partner, Clifton Hargreaves, who’d just retired from his long-time profession as a butler. Wasn’t this the moment to follow a long-cherished dream? Heck yeah, it was.

Sarah had suggested they launch the shop in Orion, New York, the town she’d called home. Since neither Alice nor Clifton had a real home base—he’d made his home with his boss, Clara Merriam Hale, and she’d followed her boss, Francesca Maroun, around the world—they’d been happy to oblige. It didn’t hurt that Orion was nestled on the Hudson River and bursting with small-town charm. Some of Alice’s favorite memories were of visiting Sarah here before everything had changed. They’d pushed forward with their plans, all of them full of anticipation and hope, and then the unimaginable had happened. Sarah had contracted Covid three months ago, and after a quick fight for life at the hospital, she’d died.

Clifton and Alice had only just moved to Orion, both in temporary housing, when Sarah first came down with symptoms. They had both tested negative, likely a testament to their agreed-upon safety protocols for working together.

Putting up this photo of Sarah made it feel she was still a part of the shop, and Alice wanted her friend’s presence to always be around them…even if it was sometimes painful. Their shop was about making a stand for hope, even when it seemed elusive. Especially then. Sarah had given them her blessing—she’d even left Alice her beloved home—and Sarah’s parents had offered their encouragement too.

“Sarah might not be here in person, Clifton, but I know she’ll always be watching out for us,” Alice said, blowing her friend a kiss before turning around. Her chest tight, she took a deep breath to ease it, focusing on the crisp October air floating in through the open door. She smelled chimney smoke, reminiscent of the smoky Earl Grey tea perfuming their shop, along with an undercurrent of fresh paint. Comforting smells. Ones she could sink her teeth into.

Clifton stood behind their empty glass display case. “Her memory and energy will always greet our customers. We will tell them her story. As you like to say, people will be drawn in because of the brightly wrapped products on the white bookshelves and the scores of chocolates in our cases, but it’s our connection with each other, and the relationships we’ll form with our customers, that will keep them coming back. Much like the three of you did when you were children at your chocolate stand.”

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