Home > The Varsity Dad Dilemma(5)

The Varsity Dad Dilemma(5)
Author: Lex Martin

I’ve been trying my best to brush off that awkward interaction with my brother all week. The fact that he lives with Rider is annoying, but it’s not like Ben knows our sad little history. And when I say little, that’s likely an exaggeration. More like a blip on Rider’s radar. But that didn’t make it hurt any less.

When I push open the door to Rise ’N Grind, the rich scent of coffee hits me.

“Hey, Fanny.” I wave to my boss, who inherited this place from her father, who inherited it from his. Half-coffee house, half-book shop, its homey retro vibe makes it the perfect crash pad for students between classes.

She gives me a smile and a nod as she pours a drink. “Thanks for coming in today, doll!”

An hour ago, I got her frantic call that two of her staff had called in sick, so I booked it down here.

“Coffee or books?” I ask, waving between the two parts of the shop.


The place is packed, so I give her a thumbs up as I rush into the back where I wash my hands and grab an apron. Sixty seconds later, I hand Fanny the container of pumpkin sopapilla bars before I start ringing up customers. I don’t mind being slammed. It makes the day go by quicker.

“Do ya have any of those empanadas?” a gravelly voice asks, his words slow and rhythmic.

I’m used to that drawl because I was born in Texas, but here in Charming, it’s even stronger. As expected, I look up to see one of the locals.

“Sorry, Mr. Pearson. We usually just have those on the weekend.”

“But I promised Essie.” Brow furrowed, he hooks his thumb over his shoulder. I try not to laugh when I see the goat, his beloved Essie, nibbling some kid’s backpack on the sidewalk.

“Maybe she’d like a scone or bagel?”

“Nah. Those are too processed. I hear you girls make them empanadas from scratch.” His voice lowers to a whisper as he leans over the glass counter. “And I know for a fact that Fanny sometimes keeps one or two back there for emergencies.”

No doubt his promise to Essie counts as an emergency. Deep down, I’m unreasonably flattered to know his farm animal is enchanted with my sweet bread.

Ironically, I don’t cook much, but I love to bake, and after Fanny tasted one of my creations at the St. Patrick’s bake sale, she hired me to make pan dulce, sopapillas, and other sweet treats on the weekends.

I hold up a finger as I dart into the kitchen where I find one apple empanada. It’s probably a little stale, but maybe the goat won’t care. I wrap it in a box before I return to the counter. “Let’s keep this between us, okay?” I whisper conspiratorially.

Mr. Pearson closes his eyes and places his hand over his heart. “Always and forever.”

I chuckle as I watch him tuck that box into his overalls like he’s protecting Pentagon secrets.

As he ambles away, someone says, “No playing favorites, missy.”

“Adele!” I come around the counter to hug the older woman. She reminds me of Betty White in The Golden Girls, an old show one of my foster mothers used to watch. “I haven’t seen you in a while.”

“My grandkids have been a pain in my a-s-s.” She whispers that last part. “Been spending a lot of time down in Austin.”

She and Fanny chat while I ring up Adele’s order. I know some people hate the idea of small towns, but I love the familiarity that bonds the locals.

When the crowd dies down, I’m about to take a break and fill out Archer’s employment forms when my second least favorite person strolls into the bakery.

And just like that, my great day circles the drain.

Zoe Evans rolls her eyes the minute she sees me standing at the counter. I can’t paste a smile on my face, so I go for pleasantly bland. I’m guessing Fanny will get upset if I jump over the counter and strangle this girl.

“What can I get y—”

“Lemon scone and a double latte with organic soy milk. Three stevia, but only if you have raw.”

The entire time I ring up her order, I bite my tongue to keep from asking whether her goal last spring was to get me fired from my tutoring job or if that was just a nice perk to her enormous screwup.

But judging from her evil smirk when she walks away, it doesn’t matter because the end result was the same—I got canned.

I try to look on the bright side. At least I don’t have to work with Zoe Evans any longer.



Moral turpitude.

I have to look up some of the terms in this employment contract, and that one gives me pause.

Not that I’m planning to “commit an act or behave in a way that gravely violates the accepted standard of the community.” But jeez. Add that to the NDA I have to sign, and you’d think I was applying for a top-secret-level position with the FBI instead of wanting to answer phones and pour coffee. Although my Type A personality appreciates the thoroughness of this application process, the practical side of me wants to nail this down already.

“Those bars are delish,” Fanny says when she ducks into the kitchen. “Another family recipe?”

“Some of it was.”

“I might need you to add those to what you’re baking for me.”

I can’t do a cartwheel in here, but a piece of me wants to. “Be happy to.”

“How’s that fancy job of yours going?”

“Hasn’t started yet, but it’s just for one semester. I’ll be filling in for someone on maternity leave.” I motion to the mountain of paperwork I have to sign. “Their hiring process is intense.”

“Those snooty-snoots called me and asked a million questions about you.”

“You said I was your favorite employee, right?” I bat my eyes at her, and she chuckles.

“’Course I did. Told them how you stay late during finals to help me when all the other kids bail.”

Staffing at this place is really tough at the beginning and end of the semester, but I’m able to get time off in between to focus on classes.

“Aww, thanks. You’re the best. I’ll be honest—those discounts you give me on journals and pens help.” Next to vast quantities of caffeine, working at a bookstore has its benefits.

“Still hoarding pens, huh?”

“You say that like it’s a problem.”

She laughs as I head back out to cover the counter.

The front door opens and the noise level rises a hundred percent.

Rider and a handful of other guys stroll in. From the back of their entourage Ben gives me a nod. Rider has his hands full with that girl Miranda, who’s hanging on him like she’s Kate Winslet in Titanic and he’s the floating door keeping her from drowning.


Fortunately, they head toward the bookstore where I know they’ll hog the tables in the back or pile on to the couches, but at least I don’t have to see them. We serve food on both sides of the store, but this side is self-serve at the counter whereas the other side has waitstaff to serve customers.

Ten minutes later, I’m even more irritated when I end up being switched to the bookstore side, where I studiously ignore the football crowd in the back that’s swarming with fangirls. Thankfully, they’re not in my section.

I stomp over to the two guys who just sat at a small table along the wall of books. “What can I get you?” I bring my pen up to my order pad.

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