After a month, the novelty of the many EVs that took advantage of the new rapid car chargers in the parking lot of Sophie’s Cove had worn off for Sophia.
But this was different.
This was a Porsche Taycan, an immediate attention grabber. The woman who exited the car was petite, elegantly dressed and exuded confidence with every move she made as she attached the charging cord. With hair colored to an even slate grey and expertly coiffed, she could have been any age from a trim, fit beautiful 45-year-old to a breathtaking 75-year-old.
Yet, nothing in the woman’s manner suggested the arrogance that some owners of expensive cars exhibited. Rather, as she dusted off her hands and began walking toward the entrance to Sophia’s Cove, she gave off the vibe of someone who’d risen far from humble beginnings but never forgot where she was from.
Sophia took an immediate liking to her.
Upon entering the antique and tea shop, she stopped just inside the door and took several deep breaths. Finally, she let out the last breath with a slow contented sigh and turned to look at Sophia who stood behind the counter returning the woman’s curiosity about the other, the latest listing of estate sales forgotten on the counter before her.
“I think,” said the woman, “I’m home.” She then approached Sophia and put out her hand. Taking it, Sophia was pleased with the woman’s genuine warmth.
But it was a warmth tinged with sadness.
“I would know you anywhere,” said the woman, taking Sophia’s hand in both of hers. “My sister kept your picture with her everywhere she went. She told all her friends how you saved her life.”
“Your sister?” Sophia said.
“Yes. Barbara Anderson. I’m her sister, Janice. Please, call me, Jan.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Jan. But you’re referring to your sister in the past tense. I hope that doesn’t mean . . .”
“I’m afraid it does. Barb died.”
“What? No. When?”
“A week ago. Cancer. I’m sorry, Sophia. I didn’t mean to spring it on you like this but it was a surprise for all of us. She hadn’t told anyone she was sick. Her boyfriend of the past ten years, Adam, knew she didn’t want my brother and me to worry, I guess. It was only after things took a sudden turn that Adam felt he had to call us. I hurried down to Brookings from Seattle and only barely managed to speak to her before she died.”
“I am so sorry,” Sophia said. “I had no idea.”
“Well,” said Janice, “that’s the way she wanted it. She did ask, just before she died, that I drive up and see you. She told me that I needed to see the southern Oregon coast. And you, she said I needed to see you.”
“Ah,” Sophia said. “I see now. May I offer you a cup of tea, Jan? I have a lovely estate-grown Ceylon up in our apartment. Would you join me? Please say yes. I could use the company.”
Janice heaved a shuddering sigh that Sophia felt all the way to her toes. “Sophia,” Janice said, “I can’t think of anything on earth that I need more than a cup of tea right now.”
Since moving to the central coast of Oregon and opening Sophie’s Cove, Sophia had only invited a few close friends into the upper floor of the store that she and Chris had turned into a small and tastefully appointed apartment.
As they entered, Sophia said, “Please ignore the breakfast dishes in the sink. I’m afraid it was Chris’s turn to make breakfast and my turn to do the dishes and I’ve been shirking that duty in favor of scouting out our next estate sale.”
“Your apartment is lovely,” Jance said, looking around. “I love it.”
As Janice sank into a chair at the kitchen table, Sophia filled the kettle with filtered water, and said, “Tell me more about Barbara, Jan. I’ve only seen her once since she left LA. That was years ago when Chris and I left the city ourselves to come up here and open the shop. We stopped off in Brookings to take her and Adam to dinner.”
Staring out the second story window at the grey skies, across highway 101 and past the sand dunes at the grey Pacific waters, Janice nodded absently and muttered a quiet, “Good. She would have loved that.”
“I’d always planned to make it back down there but we were always so busy getting things going here that, well,” Sophia paused, “that sounds like such a lame excuse now. We talked on the phone regularly though. I’m surprised she was able to keep her illness a secret from me.”
“At least you have an excuse,” replied Janice as she turned to Sophia. “I don’t think I’ve spoken to Barb more than five times in the last three years.”
Sophia put two steaming cups of tea on the table. “May I ask why?”
“No. Yes. I don’t know. I just . . . .“ She stopped and looked out the window again as she enveloped the warm cup in both hands.
“Why do you suppose Barbara wanted so much for you to meet me?” asked Sophia.
Janice’s only answer was a shrug as she stared into her cup of tea.
“Any idea why she said you need me?” pressed Sophia.
Janice’s eyes hardened. “Need you?” She picked up the cup and took a sip. “Mm, that’s delicious.” Sophia said nothing. Janice looked out the window yet again and, after a time, she exhaled another shuddering sigh much as she had earlier. “It could have something to do with our father.”
“Have you been to Astoria, Sophia?”
“Of course. Chris and I have just about covered the state by now, looking for treasures.”
“We were raised there.”
“Oh? I don’t remember Barb mentioning that.”
“She wouldn’t. But the few times she called and I actually picked up, she tried talking to me about that time, the time we were young and living with our parents.”
“We had problems, Barb and I.”
“What kind of problems?”
“Dad.” Janice took another sip of tea. “It was always about Dad. We were a blended family. Dad was my biological father but he seemed to take to my step-mother’s twins, my brother Tony and Barbara, more than to me. We, my father and I, had always had personality clashes, especially after my biological mother died. But once he married Sally, Tony and Barbara’s mother, things just got worse.
“I suppose they just clicked with him on some level. And Barb became his pet. She doted on him. Waited on him hand and foot. But I wanted to ask him questions. Serious questions. I wanted to learn things, to know things. But my questions just seemed to infuriate him. I rebelled, went a little wild. But, mostly, I took it out on Barb. I was so jealous.
“Finally, I moved into Portland. Got a job. Worked my way through PSU. Got my degree in finance and economics. From there, got my masters at Stanford and got into high tech. Ended up in Seattle. Through it all, there was this huge rift between Barb and me. She’d always call and bug me to call Dad, to treat him with respect, to make an effort to understand him. He’d had a rough childhood, true, but that was no excuse to my mind.
“Finally, Barb married this local boy with big dreams and no sense who convinced her to go with him to LA. The inevitable happened. She ended up working two jobs while he waited for one hairbrained scheme or another to make him rich.” Pausing, Janice drained her cup.
While Sophia made her a fresh cup, Janice sat silently staring out the window. After Sophia set the tea before her, Janice again wrapped both hands around the cup.
“Are you cold, Jan? Do you want me to turn the heat up?”
Janice gave her head a quick shake no. “She was severely depressed by the time Barbara met you. You were a major stockholder in a startup that was just taking off but she told me how you took notice of the overworked temp in her little corner of a sea of desks. You invited her into a conference room. Who was going to say you couldn’t, right, with all the stock you owned? You made her a cup of tea, naturally.” Janice smiled. “That seems to be your universal cure all, Sophia. You even apologized that you hadn’t brought in one of your special blends from China. Barb remembered that for the rest of her life. You made her feel special.”
“She is . . .” Sophia checked herself at the word. “I guess I should say was but I’m having a hard time getting my head around the fact that she’s gone.” Sophia drained her own cup and rose to make herself another cup. When she returned, she sat, smiling at Janice, waiting for her to go on.
“Well, you know the rest. You offered your support, got her some counseling. It saved her. She knew she had to leave her husband or he’d destroy her. She left and headed back to Astoria where our brother has the old place. Only got as far as Brookings, though. She stopped for a bite at a brewpub where Adam waited on her. Their eyes locked and that was that. He tried so hard to find a cure. They did everything they could but nothing worked. The cancer won. He’s devastated. He really loved her.”
“Well, there is that, then. She deserved to be loved.”
“Yes, Sophia, she did.”
“And your father?”
“Did you ever reconcile with your father?
“No. Never. He died more than 20 years ago. Emphysema from smoking. His liver was pretty well shot from drinking too. That’s how Tony ended up with the old place. Barb wanted to stay in Brookings with Adam and I wanted nothing to do with that place. Tony says that, while Dad was still alive, Barb called every Sunday afternoon like clockwork. Dad wouldn’t drink at all on Sunday. He wanted to be sober as a judge when his darling Barbara called.”
Sophia raised an eyebrow at the venom she heard in Janice’s words. Janice noticed and twisted her lips and shrugged. “I know. I shouldn’t be feeling the way I do. She was sweet and got all the attention from Dad but so what, right? What difference does all of that make now?”
“Obviously, quite a lot,” Sophia replied.
Janice winced and tried to smile at Sophia.
“Maybe,” Sophia said, “that’s why your sister wanted you to come see me. Is that possible?”
Again, a shrug. “I have no idea.”
“Do you know why people confide in me, Jan? Even complete strangers. It might seem strange, at first, that they do, but it makes perfect sense when you understand it.”
Janice had been about to take a sip of tea but put her cup back on the table and straightened up in her chair. Looking Sophia full in the eye, she said, “Is it because you like to pry into people’s personal lives?”
“Not at all, Jan. But, it’s simple, really,” Sophia said. “It’s because they want to confide in someone. And because I can sense when people are hiding something, especially from themselves. It’s why Chris and I did alright for ourselves in venture capital. I could sense when someone was hiding something, when they didn’t want to open up and be honest with us or themselves. But, I also knew when people were completely honest. Those that were in trouble or those just starting out, it didn’t matter, if they were straight with us, I’d know it and we knew just the people to put them in touch with or bring in on a contract basis to solve a particular problem. Or in personal matters, the right professional to help them with those inner issues we all have.
“It’s the same now when people come into Sophie’s Cove. People seem drawn to the place, to me really. Chris spots them too. He knows when someone needs me. You need me, Jan. Barbara knew it and I can see it written all over your face. I feel it whenever your body language or the microexpressions around your eyes send me certain signals. But, Jan, you are not being honest with me. Will you give up the charade please so we can get on with it?”
For several minutes, Janice sat stock still in her chair but now she stared at the wall. Finally, she said, “I suppose it could be the place. The place in Astoria. Tony will be back up there by now and he’s invited me to come stay with him and his wife. For some reason, the very thought of it scares the crap out of me.”
“Do you, Sophia? Because, if you do, I wish you’d explain it to me.”
“You said your father had a rough childhood of his own, right?”
“Your father had no self esteem so he took what he could from others. Your sister gave him the affection and admiration he craved and to reward her he showered her with what she, and you, misinterpreted as love.
“On the other hand, your questions made him feel small. You asked questions he couldn’t answer because of his lack of education, I’m thinking. Am I close?”
“He quit school at 15 and went out on his own. He could always find someone who would give him some kind of work under the table or a place to stay.”
“So, he too came from a place where there was very little or no love at all?”
“Probably the latter. His father was a drunk. A mean one at that. So, are you saying that Barb was right and I should have expressed some form of compassion and forgiveness for his neglect? For the screaming? For the put downs that gave me my own self-esteem issues that took years of counseling to overcome?”
“Let’s not get ahead of things, okay? The way your father was raised was not his fault. But what was his fault was not doing something about it. By not getting the help he needed through counseling or self-help books or anything else that might have helped him... and, Jan, he perpetuated the family tradition of dysfunction. That’s on him.
“The fact that you haven’t done something about your resentment and anger at him and your sister, that would be your fault. Go to Astoria, Jan. Walk the place. Face whatever comes at you and say goodbye to it all. It’s done. I’m going to give you the name of someone you need to talk to. In her office or online, she's good, very good. Tell her everything you told me plus everything you haven’t. Listen to her. No one can do it for you but we can be here for you as you work things out.”
Janice stared at Sophia long enough that Sophia felt it becoming a test of wills she wasn’t sure she was going to win.
“You were much more gentle with my sister,” Janice said.
“I am not a one sized personality that fits only one type of person. As you mentioned, Barbara was severely depressed, perhaps suicidal. She needed nurturing. But I’ve watched you from the time you drove up and hooked up your car to the charger. Smart, hardworking, no nonsense. You drive hard and get things done. You’re in sales, right?”
Janice’s eyes widened. “I’m an Exec VP of Sales and Marketing.”
“Would the approach I used with your sister have worked with you?”
“Pfft!” Janice scoffed. “Not a chance.”
“And now you're suddenly vulnerable, aren’t you, Jan? If I was to guess, I’d say you made it this far from Brookings on your way to Astoria but were beginning to have doubts. Were you going to skip the Astoria visit and take the cutoff to I5 so you could head straight up to Seattle?”
“Ninety percent. You were nearly there but you stopped in here to see me. You didn’t have to. Your Taycan charges very quickly. You could have avoided this whole thing. But that last ten percent was driving you crazy.”
Janice shifted in her chair. “I can tell you’re going to be a pain in my butt aren’t you?”
“If we are going to be friends, yes. You want us to be acquaintances only, fine. I’ll stop bugging you right now and test my own sales skills. I’ve got a few items downstairs I haven’t been able to get rid of. You look like a possible victim for my considerable sales ability.”
Janice laughed. “I doubt that.”
“Well,” Sophia said, “it’s your call, Jan. Which will it be? You put a sizable dent on your black card downstairs or I get that name and number for you while we have another cup of tea. It’s your call.”
“You don’t even know me, Sophia.”
“I knew Barbara. She loved you and saw something good in you and I think I see it too. Will you do it?”
A smile split Janice’s face. She leaned back, shook her head and chuckled. “Hm, it looks like I’m going to be making regular trips down from Astoria and drinking tons of your tea, Sophia. The Porsche will be done charging by now. Might as well have another cup now for the road.”