Love in a Hopeless Place
The All About Cookies Company is a company where speed and efficiency is key. No-one there seems to slow down but one woman there tries to be mindful. A demure young secretary in a blue-green brocade dress that is setting up the tea cart for the executive meeting. Her name is Petra Finn and she is carefully lining up the latest chocolate chip oatmeal cookies on the tray. She instinctively knows that her mixture of apple cinnamon with matcha green tea would be the perfect pairing with the cookies. She sets the silver teapot to the side and sets the tea cups in the bottom shelves of the cart.
Taking a quick minute to look at herself in the reflective tray, she straightens out her thick brown curled hair and checking the light make-up on her big brown eyes. Image is very important to the company and to Petra. Despite the exotic sound of her name, Petra thinks her physical appearance is unremarkable. Not like those models with green eyes and red hair or blonde hair and blue eyes. That’s why she makes it up with bright colored clothes in exotic prints to give herself some kind of personality. It did not help that her boyfriend of seven years left her for being dull. As she put the tray back under the teapot, Petra decides that her look will have to do. Now she must take the cart to the meeting.
She enters the boardroom with the trolley and can see that one the executives is already taking a pointer to a chart. By the miserable looks on all the faces in the room, Petra can see that this meeting is more serious than her supervisor, Janette had let on.
Petra pays no attention to Janette as she eyes her suspiciously pouring the tea. Petra considers Janette model material as she is physically beautiful. A slender woman with her long blonde hair meticulously pulled back and icy blue eyes that could hypnotize anyone. Sadly, her miserable personality matches that pristine grey suit of hers. Petra can feel that horrible stare of Janette’s as she serves the tea and cookies to everyone.
“Janette!” Yells the executive speaking. “Are you listening to me?”
“Yes. Our sales are down.” Janette says evenly.
“Right.” Says the CEO as he takes a bite of his cookie. “So what do we do about that? I mean this cookie is fantastic especially with this tea.”
“Well what if we give suggestions on pairing tea with the cookies?” Petra pipes up impulsively. It’s not like her and she feels her cheeks go hot as soon as all eyes are on her, including Janette’s. Never-the-less, she continues. “I mean, cookies always go best with tea and I think the public would like to know what cookie goes with what tea.”
The executives look at her and nod. It looks like they are putting some serious thought into what she suggests except for Janette who is giving her the bitchiest look. She clearly isn’t impressed with Petra speaking up. The CEO turns his chair to look at Petra and smiles.
“That isn’t a bad idea, Miss Finn but we don’t sell tea nor are we partners with any tea company.” He says kindly and points to her. “But I like that this is a different idea and not the usual cliché that I keep hearing around here. Good job!”
Petra arrives at her apartment later than usual due to Janette’s berating her for speaking up. She really didn’t care what she thought though. The executives complimented her on pairing the tea with the cookies and the CEO told her that she did a good job. Why would she be ashamed of that? The only thing that bothers her is the fact that she has to live in this old building. Thanks to her bastard ex Jake who cheated on her, this is the only place she can afford to live. It is a dark and cold looking building with its peeling wallpaper and creaky floorboards. There is nothing pretty to look at in the hall and to call it depressing is an understatement.
Petra sighs as she counts the water spots that are splattered here and there on the walls. She does this every time she enters the hall. Despite everything wrong with this place, she can’t help but be grateful that she has it. It is totally worth being there as opposed to still being with Jake. Her eyes trail the walls to land on a man with slightly messy black hair and fierce green eyes. He had a well-toned body, lightly tanned skin and a light dust of freckles on his nose. He looks like someone straight out of a romance novel.
Petra stands still and modestly gives the man a little wave. He seems very upset but he looks at her, lets out a grunt, and strides away on his long legs. Petra puts her hand down and watches him go down the stairs.
“Wow!” She thinks as she rolls her eyes and goes inside her apartment.
On a bright Saturday morning, Petra is kneeling outside the building sprinkling wildflower seeds out of an envelope. She wants to create some kind of beauty to a not-so-nice looking place. So, she got permission from the landlord to plant a few flowers around the apartment outside. She walks along the walls of the building until she reaches the front stoop. There she sees the brooding handsome man from the other evening. He is just sitting there, looking dreamily out to the distance. Suddenly, he looks over to Petra and gives her a little smile.
“Hi.” He says kindly, looking so gentle.
“Hi.” Petra says sounding surprised.
“What are you planting?” He asks.
“Just some wildflowers from one of those envelopes.” She answers meekly.
“Good call.” He says. “This place could use a few niceties.”
“I agree.” She pipes up. He stands up and walks towards the front door. Before she could stop herself, the words already come out. “Would you like to come over for dinner?”
He looks over his shoulder and gives her a bigger smile. “That would be nice. My name is Elijah.”
She walks over to him, smiles, and gives her hand for him to shake it. “I’m Petra.” She says as Elijah shakes her hand. “Is 7:00 PM okay?”
“Yeah. See you then.” Elijah winks and continues to walk up the steps.
Petra chuckles at herself. She’s never asked anyone out on a date before but now she meets a sexy mysterious man and they are having dinner tonight. This day has just gotten a lot better. She shakes her head, picks up her watering can, and goes inside.
She thought vegetable lasagna with a garden salad and homemade dressing would be the perfect dinner for the two of them. She already had a shower and changed into a dark blue dress with lots of colorful flowers on it. Going over her mental checklist, she remembers that she has white wine chilling in the fridge and the pasta in the oven. She tosses the salad again for the tenth time until she hears a knock on her door. Petra scurries to her hall mirror to check and make sure that she looks perfect for the evening. Her hair is perfectly in place thanks to her barrettes, her make-up is smudge-less, and her dress straight. She smiles to herself and goes to open the door.
“Hi!” She greets him smiling and looks down at his hands to see a bouquet of yellow daisies. “What beautiful flowers. Are those for me?”
“You bet.” Elijah says smiling and gives them to her. “Thanks for having me over.”
“Thank you for coming. Come on in.” Petra says as she stands aside and lets him in. As he walks past her, she sneaks a sniff of the flowers just to relish in the moment. She can’t remember when she got flowers from a guy.
“The lasagna is just about ready.” She brushes past him to grab a vase and fill it with water. As she places the flowers in the vase, Petra asks him. “Would you like some wine?”
“Love some.” Elijah says simply. Petra nearly abandons the flowers to reach up to her cupboard but he stops her. “Oh! Don’t worry, I can get it.”
“Okay.” She smiles at him and takes the vase to put it on the table. She turns and sees that he is holding the two glasses of white wine and gives her a glass.
She could not help but notice how close he is to her. Their bodies are nearly pressing and Petra feels her pulse race with anticipation. His scent is a dizzying mixture of sweet plums and a pine forest. Then there were his beautiful green eyes that are seductive and sensitive at the same time. Petra opens her mouth slightly and Elijah leans a fraction forward only for the two of them to be interrupted by the ding of Petra’s oven timer.
“Our main course is ready.” Petra whispers blushing.
“Okay.” Elijah says softly.
Petra walks into her kitchen, puts on her oven mitts, and takes out her lasagna. It smells cheesy, spicy, and perfect. It is the kind of dish to warm the heart and fill the belly. Petra smiles and brings the dish over to the table. She lightly sets the hot dish down and looks to Elijah who is already sitting down.
“Here we are.” Petra says and sits beside him. “Bon Appetit!”
The dinner is going beautifully. The wine is flowing, the dinner is delicious, and the conversation is light. Elijah is being a complete gentleman, asking her all kinds of questions, and making her feel important. She is actually having fun and able to relax.
“So what do you do for a living Elijah?” Petra asks.
“I’m an artist.” He tells her. “I paint a lot of landscapes and portraits.”
“Wow!” Petra smiles at him with interest. “Do you sell in galleries?”
“I’m trying to but mostly it is on the street, in festivals, the Farmer’s Market sometimes.” He tells her.
“Cool! I love the Farmers Market.” She says. “Would you like some tea? I made a special blend of my own Moroccan Mint After Dinner Tea.”
“Sure.” He says enthusiastically and she stands up to go to the kitchen. “You really make your own tea?”
“Yes.” She calls from the kitchen and comes back to the table with a tray. “I know it’s kind of boring but tea is my passion. I love making it and pairing it with dishes and desserts.”
“That doesn’t sound boring. That’s fascinating.” He says as she hands him a cup and he takes a sip. “Mmm. This is really good and I’m a coffee man. So why are you a secretary and not running a tea shop?”
“Sadly, I can’t make a living with tea.” She says looking down in her tea cup as if to make a wish.
Elijah reaches across the table and takes her hand in his. “Hey I get it. It’s important to eat but don’t ever give up on your passion. Passion creates amazing things and happy lives.”
He gently strokes her knuckles with his thumb and gives her a friendly smile. She sends a smile back at him and blushes a little bit. He presses his lips on her hand and stands up.
“Thank you for dinner. It was the best meal I have ever had.” He says placing the napkin on the table and she stands up with him. “Sadly, I have to get back to work but I would love to help you with the dishes.”
“Oh, you don’t have to…”
“I insist.” Elijah interrupts. “You cooked and I’ll do the dishes.”
With that, Elijah cleans the dishes as Petra brings them to the sink. It takes no time at all with two of them. After they finish the chore, Elijah wishes her a good night and gives her a wink. She gives him a shy smile and a wave as she watches him go. Her heart is beating a million beats a minute. Petra hangs up the tea towel, walks over to the flowers and buries her face into them. Inhaling the sweet smell of them and feeling the soft petals on her face transport her to a place of pure happiness.
The next morning, Petra with her breezy attitude has just come back from the Farmer’s Market. She wanted to get some fresh groceries and ingredients for making some more tea. That is only one of the reasons why she went. She had hoped to catch Elijah there but sadly didn’t see him.
She climbed up the stairs and looks at his door. She can’t help but think of that exciting mysterious artist that she had a wonderful dinner with. She is fighting with herself on whether or not she should knock on his door. She wants to but at the same time, she doesn’t want to come off as too eager. With a sigh, she heads to her own door, opens it and brings in all her shopping bags. As she starts putting away all of her groceries, Petra hears a knock on her door. She isn’t expecting anyone. She goes to her door, looks through the peephole to see Elijah standing on the other side of it.
She smiles and giddily opens the door. “Hi! What a wonderful surprise.”
“Hi.” He says smiling at her and lifts up a tool box in one hand and a blank canvas in the other. “I brought you an afternoon activity that I think you might like.”
In a couple of minutes, Petra changes into an old white dress and joins Elijah in her living room. He had set up a long, clear, plastic tarp on the floor with the canvas, paints, and tool box placed on top of it. She chuckles and walks over to Elijah who is still setting up the paint brushes.
“What’s all this?” She asks amused.
“Special equipment for a special project.” He says but as he sees Petra’s somewhat confused expression, Elijah explains. “We are going to make a painting together. You shared your passion with me last night and now I want to share mine with you.”
Petra smiles and kneels beside him to get her first lesson in art. He gives her a brush with red paint and shows her how to properly hold it. With their hands touching the brush, they make their first stroke on the canvas. Laughter fills the afternoon, as Elijah tries to guide Petra on the canvas. They make different brush strokes together and end up making a complicated, messy, abstract painting that neither one of them understands.
Looking at it, they both have teas in their hands and Petra brings out a dozen macarons from the Farmer’s Market for them to share. “It is very unique.” Elijah says.
“Is that art-speak for ugly?” Petra asks sipping her tea.
“No art is ugly. It’s interesting, unique, even confusing but it is never ugly.” Elijah explains while taking a bite out of the chocolate macaron.
Just as she is about to turn around and pick up her dessert plate, she spins around and nearly trips over Elijah. He quickly catches her and they both glimpse into each other’s eyes. He lightly traces his finger to a stand of her hair and tucks it behind her ear. With that one touch, Petra is lost. Slowly their lips touch and their arms wrap around each other in a passionate embrace. Their kiss deepens and the world gets lighter like the two of them are floating.
Their lips part momentarily but their eyes remained locked onto each other. Elijah gently lifts her up and carries her to the bedroom. For the first time in her life, she feels like she is in a fairy tale. As Elijah lies her gently on the bed, she pulls him close, and does what she hasn’t done in too long, enjoy the moment.
The next day, Petra is in the coffee room dreamily stirring her tea with a goofy lovesick look on her face. She thinks about that kind, sensitive, and loving man that she had just made love to. Even just after one night, she can see herself spending the rest of her life with him. Suddenly, Janette walks into the room and shoots her an annoyed look.
“Shouldn’t you be making copies, unloading the dishwasher, or whatever it is you do without that idiot look on your face?” Janette says sharply. Petra’s smile just widens and she walks away from Janette unphased. Janette on the other hand watches her go with an offended scoff. “Rude!”
Petra goes to her desk and starts typing up emails. She can’t help but feel her luck with men has finally changed. With Jake, it wasn’t horrible nor was it that great. Every time she tried to share something with him, he would either evade her or fall asleep. With Elijah, not only did he listen but he loved hearing what she had to say, he also shared his love of art with her. Jake never shared what he liked with her. In fact, she doesn’t even know what Jake likes outside of his work. Elijah makes her feel safe, cherished, and strong enough to do anything she wants. The world couldn’t get any better.
After she finishes her typing, Petra goes back to the kitchen and gets Riley’s “lucky” confetti cookie with a pomegranate white tea with hibiscus and apples. Petra is sure she will love this combination. Riley is another executive but one that is good to the people around her. Riley looks up at Petra as she brings her the cookie and tea. Riley gives her a silent greeting and continues to pour all over her paperwork. Petra turns and goes back to her desk. She takes a bite of her cookie and a sip of the tea. Riley feels herself melting with pleasure. She looks over to Petra who is busy on her computer.
“Petra.” She calls and Petra looks up. “Can I see you for a moment?” Petra walks up to her with a file and Riley continues. “What is this tea you gave me with this cookie?”
“It’s my own special blend of white tea with pomegranate, hibiscus, and apples.” Petra answers. “This blend with your cookie tends to go great together.”
“You are absolutely right.” Riley says. “I have an opportunity for you. My book club is meeting this Saturday and I would like it if you brought a tea to match with some triple chocolate cupcakes that my friend Lisa likes to bring.” Petra is about to speak up but Riley interrupts her. “I can pay you $125 for the afternoon and bring you a sample of the cupcake if it helps.”
Petra feels excitement rush over her. She shakes her head and gets a big grin on her face like she can’t believe what is happening right now. “I’ll take it.”
“Great.” Riley says as she writes down on a piece of paper and gives it to Petra. “That’s my address and I will bring you a sample cupcake on Friday.”
“Will do.” Petra says professionally. As Riley gets back to work while Petra walks back to her desk and does a silent scream of exhilaration.
She can’t wait to go home and tell Elijah. This time she will knock on his door and bring a bottle of sparkling wine to celebrate. Maybe they’ll order a pizza and she can see more of his art. She also hopes to spend the night at his place and make love again. That would be the best way to celebrate her new business venture.
With the bottle of pino/moscato sparkling wine in her hand, Petra climbs the stairs and walks with a spring in her step to Elijah’s apartment. As she walks over to the door, she reminds herself that she can do this. She will knock on his door and tell him everything. Just as she lifts her fist to knock, she hears raised voices inside.
“I don’t have anything for you!” She hears Elijah shout.
“You will pay!” Yells the unknown voice. “You back out of this; you are a dead man!”
“That’s it! deals off!” Screams Elijah.
Crashes and thuds start inside the apartment like Elijah is fighting for his life. When she hears him scream like he is in unbearable agony, she reacts by getting angry. She summons all of her strength, and kicks the door in. She bursts through the door with the prosecco raised, ready to fight until she gets the shock on her life. Elijah nor his attacker are there. There are no lights on, no furniture, nothing. Petra can understand that as an artist, he is not a wealthy man and therefore he wouldn’t have a lot of objects but there should be his paintings and art supplies around. But there is absolutely nothing. Petra still is shock when the landlord pops his head in through the door.
“Hey! What the hell is going on?” He asks sharply. “Why the hell did you break into this apartment?”
Petra slowly lowers the bottle in her hand and shakily starts to say. “I heard Elijah scream and someone was hurting him. I was trying to help him.”
“You know the previous tenant?” He asks her with a confused look. “I don’t know how you could. He’s been missing for several weeks.”
Petra turns to him in disbelief. “Several weeks?”
“Yeah.” He says and clearly realizes that he has to tell her what he knows. “The last tenant in here was an artist. He was an orphan turned drifter. He never had a home or a family and from what I hear, he puts himself in danger a lot. I heard him talking on the phone once. He played a poker game with the wrong guy and by the sound of it, lost. After that, I don’t know what happened to him.”
Petra says nothing to the landlord. She storms out of the apartment and he yells at her. “Your paying for a new lock!”
“Fine!” She screams at him as she slams the door to her apartment. She can’t believe what she just heard. Still holding onto the bottle of prosecco, she leans against her door and sinks to the ground. It can’t be true. The landlord must have made a mistake.
The next evening, Petra returns home from work and looks over to Elijah’s apartment. She keeps hoping that she would see him there and everything she heard last night is a crock. She half-heartedly opens her door and walks into her apartment.
After changing into some sweats, she opens a can of soup and starts eating it as she turns on the TV. The news is on and she barely listens to what it is saying until a special news bulletin comes up about a man found in the Bow River. This has her sit up and listen.
“Twenty-eight-year-old artist, Elijah Bennet was found in the Bow River hours ago by a citizen walking their dog.” The anchor woman says. “Forensics say the man was beaten to death and thrown in the river by an unknown assailant. He has been dead for at least two to three months. Not much is known about the victim but police are searching for leads on the criminal activity.”
As Petra sees the picture of Elijah’s face on the screen, she feels her heart not only break but turn into dust. She finally believes what the landlord has told her. Elijah never was a person. The man she has met and fallen in love with is a ghost. Petra curls up on the couch and cries herself to sleep.
Too devastated after seeing that news bulletin, Petra makes a point to call in sick at work. She didn’t care if she gets an earful from Janette. She is too devastated to go into work today. So, she put the phone to her face and luckily, she isn’t talking to Janette but Riley.
“I’m sorry Riley but I can’t come in today.” Petra says and when Riley asks her why, she could not help but burst into tears. “A friend of mine died.”
Petra couldn’t say anything more than that but Riley is very understanding. “Okay just take some time and come back when you are ready. Do you think you will still come on Saturday?”
“I don’t know.” She says tearfully.
“Well whatever you need. Take your time.” Riley says comfortingly.
Petra thanks her and hangs up. She stands up from the couch and turns to look at the painting that she and Elijah did together. It is facing the wall and she didn’t remember leaving it like that. Never-the-less, she walks towards the painting, kneels down and finds a hand-written letter on the painting. She takes the letter and sees her name on it. Without thinking, she opens the letter and reads what it says.
I can’t tell you how sorry I am that I didn’t tell you. You’ve brought me so much joy, hope, and love that I will treasure always. I’ve made some bad decisions and now I have to pay for them but it isn’t to late for you to find the happiness that you have given me. Follow your passion, live your best life, and know that I truly love you. I am so blessed to have had you even for the shortest time. This painting is how I see you and I hope you can see how beautiful you are both inside and out.
I love you forever,
Petra does what the note instructs her to and turns the painting around. She gets a wonderful surprise. It is not the goofy abstract painting they did together but a beautiful portrait of her pouring a cup of tea. Her heart swells and she tearfully laughs at the painting. It is the best gift she could have ever gotten. She looks back down at the letter and sees that there is more.
“P.S. Look outside your window.”
Listening to the letter again, she looks outside and sees nothing at first. She trails her eyes all around until she looks straight down and sees the wildflowers that she had planted. They have grown and are in full bloom like some kind of miracle. She laughs, cries, and finds her heart swell at Elijah’s one last gift.
Petra realizes that the two of them found each other when they both were not in the best place. Before she met Elijah, she felt like she isn’t worth much but meeting him showed her everything. She felt a hope that she never had before, a joy that can’t ever be replaced, and a love that she will take with her forever. Although he is a ghost, she and Elijah found love in the most hopeless place. That is the biggest miracle of all.
Special Thanks to:
Zen and Accessories : For the beautiful broade dress. Eau Claire Market, 200 Barclay Parade SW, Calgary, AB T2P 4R3
Naked Leaf Tea Shop: For their delicious teas and beautiful tea sets. 1130 Kensington Rd NW #200, Calgary, AB T2N 3P3, https://thenakedleaf.ca/
Prince Island Park: for their glorious flowers. 698 Eau Claire Ave SW, Calgary, AB https://www.calgary.ca/csps/parks/locations/downtown-parks/princes-island-park.html
Macs and Custard Food Truck : For the best ever macarons! https://www.facebook.com/macsandcustard/
She Bakes Bouquets : For picturesque and delicious desserts. The Calgary Farmers Market. 510 77 Ave SE, Calgary, AB T2H 1C3,
Calgary Farmers Market: For the best local businesses and beautiful atmosphere. 510 77 Ave SE, Calgary, AB T2H 1C3 http://www.calgaryfarmersmarket.ca/
Irana Afroz: For the use of her beautiful paintings in this post. I urge all art lovers to check out her website. https://www.iranaafroz.com/