Home > To Sir, with Love(9)

To Sir, with Love(9)
Author: Lauren Layne

“You are,” she says, carefully setting the fairy piece back down. “I’ve always been jealous that you have a hobby you’re actually good at.”

A hobby. Some of the joy I feel at her praise fades. It’s never occurred to my family that my art could be more than a hobby, and it chafes more than I should let it, considering I’ve never told them I once wished it could be more.

When she turns back toward me, she’s still smiling, but there’s something else there—concern mingled with hesitation.

“Just say it,” I say with a sigh.

“I don’t want to overstep.”

That’s a first.

“Lily.”

My sister takes a deep breath. “Alec went to this fundraiser at the Guggenheim on Saturday.”

First I note the choice of words with interest. Alec went, not we went. Fundraisers at museums have always been Lily’s bread and butter. My brother-in-law, not so much. He’s a bigwig about town, but also an introvert. He’d take a bourbon and a book over a social outing any day, so the fact that he went without being dragged by Lily is… unusual.

“Apparently he ran into the son of one of New York’s most famous families…”

I close my eyes and pretend to snore, waiting for her to get to the point.

“The Andrewses.”

My eyes snap open. No. Not those Andrewses. It’s a common last name, one of the most common last names, surely…

“Gracie.” Lily’s voice is soft, chiding. “How could you not tell me and Caleb that there’d been an offer to buy out Bubbles? It’s our company too.”

And yet, this is the first time you’ve stepped foot in here in months. Caleb hasn’t been here in years.

But my frustration at my siblings pales in comparison to my anger at Sebastian Andrews. The insufferable man didn’t get what he wanted from me, so he went to my brother-in-law?

Of all the chauvinistic, snakelike moves…

“I’ll kill him,” I mutter.

Lily’s eyes widen slightly. “Whoa. What am I missing?”

I lean heavily against the counter. “It’s a really long story.”

“I’ve got time,” Lily says, lifting a finger. “Hold.”

She goes to the refrigerated section, sliding open the glass door, and comes back with a bottle of Pol Roger. She digs into her purse, comes out with a sleek black envelope, and pulls out a fifty-dollar bill. She starts to go around to the cash register, opening the laptop. I know she means to record the transaction, but I place my palm on the laptop. The store’s numbers are still up, and they’re ugly.

“I’ll take care of it later.”

She blinks in surprise at the sharpness of my tone, but she shrugs, then picks up the champagne and begins twisting the wire cage with expertise. Dad always used to joke that his kids knew how to open champagne bottles before they were off their milk bottles, though he was old-fashioned in that he didn’t let us drink the stuff until we were eighteen, and then only little sips of whatever he was tasting.

The real lesson came on our twenty-first birthdays, when he’d open a bottle of Dom Perignon. Our lifestyle was modest. We were not Dom Perignon people. But on twenty-first birthdays, we pretended we were, and it was magical. Though in hindsight, it was rather unfair of him. Having something as decadent and fabulous as Dom as your first proper glass of champagne is rather ruinous. The sparkling wine that is in my budget can’t hold a candle to it.

I pull out two of the glasses we keep in the tall, old-fashioned curio behind the checkout stand. My dad had taught us sparkling wine should be drunk out of proper stemware, or not at all. Robyn supports this philosophy wholeheartedly, which I suspect is half the reason she got the job. She’d wooed Dad with talk of nose and bouquet and aroma and damaging the bubbles.

Personally? I think it’s rubbish. Sure, the science probably stands up, but as far as I’m concerned, wine isn’t about science. Wine—especially the sparkling kind—is about the moment. A ten-dollar sparkler sipped out of plastic cups to celebrate an engagement beats the pants off a three-hundred-dollar bottle of Cristal sipped from a crystal glass by someone bored by life.

“These are new,” Lily says admiringly, picking up one of the tulip glasses I’ve pulled from the cupboard. She expertly fills one glass, letting the bubbles get to the very top, but not overflow, before moving to the second. She repeats the process until the bubbles settle to drinkable level.

I’ve had this particular champagne—a reliably good one for the price—dozens of times, but I lift it to my nose anyway out of habit. Lily does the same, but neither of us swirl the way we might with a robust cab. It’s sacrilege to swirl bubbles.

“So,” she says, taking a tiny sip of the champagne and fixing me with her big-sister stare. “Sebastian Andrews.”

“Ugh. The worst. A troll in a suit.”

Her dark eyebrows lift. “I’ve met him. Just briefly, a mutual acquaintance’s wedding last year. But he seemed perfectly polite. And even as an old married lady, I can see he’s ridiculously handsome.”

“He’s ridiculous all right. Ridiculously smug, thinking the world should bow to his every whim.”

“His current whim being buying out the lease here?”

I nod.

Lily sips her champagne. “I hope you told him to suck it.”

“Lily!”

“What? It’s our family legacy. It pisses me off that some corporate drone, even a handsome one, just waves a big check and doesn’t think twice about trying to snuff out a locally owned business.”

I sip my wine to carefully hide my resentment. It’s one thing to defend a family legacy with words. It’s another to have to be the one putting in the work.

Oblivious to my frustration, Lily picks up one of the fancy mint tins and smiles. “You ever wonder what Dad would think about all the stuff you added?”

“All that stuff is the only thing saving the business.”

She looks up in surprise, though I’m not sure if it’s at my words themselves or my tone. I’ve always been the one who had smoothed out the sharp edges of my stubborn father, bossy sister, and impulsive brother. I used to take pride in being the good-natured, easygoing one in the family, but lately I wonder if I haven’t also been a bit of a doormat.

“Is the store doing okay?” she asks.

“It’s doing okay,” I say, purposefully repeating her word. “But it’s not doing great. It’s not even doing good. For all Dad’s insistence that a personal touch and exceptional customer service will save the day, it’s hard to fight the power of the Internet and free delivery.”

She taps her nails. “We could lean into the e-commerce space. Have Caleb redo the website, let people buy online.”

“I’ve asked Caleb about five times to redo the website,” I say, sipping the champagne. “He always says he’ll get to it, but in between his paid projects and playing lumberjack…”

“But—”

“I know you want to help,” I cut in gently. “But respectfully, I’m the one who’s been managing the day-to-day. I’m the one who’ll figure out how to handle Sebastian Andrews.”

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