Sophie shook her head, opened her mouth to refuse, but before she got the words out, her friend, Amy jabbed her in the ribs, smiled and said, “We would love to join you, Mr. Jones.”
“That’s great! You ladies can show me a good local spot.” Brad looked at Sophie and added, “I’ll be spending a lot of time in the neighbourhood, and I’d like to get to know the people.”
Amy and Brad continued chatting as the three made their way North on Church. Local businesses had begun putting up Christmas decorations and the local business association had decorated the lamp posts with garlands, pine cones and twinkle lights. Red bows and mistletoe topped some of the doors, inviting people to join in the holiday cheer. Sophie wondered what her friend was thinking, having coffee with the enemy; although she had to admit, Mr. Jones was a “hunk,” as Amy said. Over six feet tall, broad shoulders that said he didn’t just spend time in offices and meetings negotiating on behalf of his employer. Amy stopped in front of the Glad Day Bookshop. “You can’t beat Glad Day for coffee, cocktails and books,” she smiled at Brad. “It’s open late, and you’ll meet a lot of good people from the neighbourhood.” “That’s exactly what I want,” grinned Brad, holding the door, “After you ladies.”
Sophie and Amy grabbed a table, and Brad went to the counter to place their order. “What’s the idea, Amy?” asked Sophie, raising her eyebrows. Amy put her hand on Sophie’s arm, “Relax, Sophie. He’s easy on the eyes, we can ask more questions,..and I think he’s interested in you.” Sophie looked at Brad as he waited for their order, “He probably wants to know if I’m a crazy, protesting resident after my embarrassing question at the meeting? He’s just doing his job to make sure nothing stands in the way of the development.” “I don’t know, Soph, the look I saw, was not about his job. Put a smile on your face, here he comes.”
Brad handed Amy her tea, Sophie her hot chocolate, and sat down with what Sophie thought must be a craft draft beer. “This looks like a great place, thanks for the introduction,” smiled Brad. “I gather from the staff, they used to be over a couple of blocks…” “Yeah, until they got forced out,” replied Sophie. Amy glared at Sophie and quickly added, “But I think they’re really happy with the move. They have more room for their books and readings, and expanded into a super coffee shop, bar and restaurant.” Brad looked at Sophie, “I can tell you care a lot about the area and the local businesses. Ask me anything.”
Sophie stared at her hot chocolate, “I’m sorry for being so forceful and bursting out at the meeting. I do care. The people here are like a family to me. The small businesses don’t make a lot of money, and the chains are beginning to move in, not to mention the condo developers. And I’m sure it’s hard for the landlords not to cash out when you guys come calling.” Sophie took a sip of her chocolate and looked up at Brad, who reached across the table, “You had foam on your lip.” Amy turned from Sophie to Brad and back to Sophie, “I think I’ll be on my way,” looking pointedly at Sophie, “I’ll stop by the shop on my lunch. Thanks for the tea,” adjusted her scarf and hat, and headed out the door.
“I should be getting home too,” sighed Sophie. “Please, not before you tell me more about yourself,” asked Brad. “I gather that you have a business or live in the area,” he questioned. “Both. I rent an old house further North in the area. My business is on the first floor, and I live on the second with my best friend, Izzy.” Brad wondered if her best friend came with benefits. “What kind of business do you have?” “I own pet shop. I help rescue animals.” “Does Izzy help in the business?” Sophie chuckled and smiled. Brad noticed how her smile reached her eyes, and her blonde curls danced on her head. “Well, you could say Izzy helps…She’s who I named the pet shop for, My Best Friend, and she was my inspiration ever since I rescued her from a shelter.” “So Izzy is a…” Brad asked. “Izzy’s my four-pound, fully grown chihuahua. The runt of the litter, that no one wanted. I had to put a ferret harness on her until she was about a year old. People used to think she was a rat when they first saw her. The owners hadn’t even started her shots. At least they didn’t just throw her out in a park.”
Brad sat back in his chair, “So, it’s just you and Izzy, then?” “Except for my friends. My mom raised me on her own. I was a latch-key kid. She worked hard to support us. I knew I’d never have siblings, but she let me ‘adopt’ a stray dog. Roxie was my friend. She waited for me outside the school, and made sure I got safely home. When she died, I vowed I would find a way to help rescue animals; so I worked and saved for years until I could open my shop. I still hang on by a string, but friends and the neighbourhood have been good to me. I love what I do, and I would hate to leave. But I’ve talked a lot about myself; who are you, Brad?”
Leaning forward, Brad took one of Sophie’s hands. “I had a different start in life. Both my parents are still alive and together, and I have two brothers and a sister, who is both irritating and loveable. I finished university knowing I wanted to be part of the development of Toronto. I’ve worked for a couple of developers, and think I’ve found a good fit with TRM. I like working in the downtown core. Mr. Toddingham’s a good boss, and I meant what I said when I talked about working with the businesses and the development being part of the neighbourhood.”
Sophie didn’t pull her hand away, and thought Brad seemed like a nice guy, but she knew TRM would do whatever it needed to do to make as much profit as they could from the development. “Unless we offer to help the staff get ready for tomorrow,” Sophie rose from her seat and reached for her scarf and hat, “I really must get home.” Brad held her coat and smelled the freshness of her hair, a hint of vanilla bean. “I’ll walk you home.” Sophie started to refuse, but Brad cut her off, “No debate. My mother raised me better,” and smiled.
Brad offered Sophie his arm as they made their way up Church through ankle-deep snow. “What’s the frown for?” Brad asked. “Just hoping there isn’t a lot more snow when I get up to shovel in the morning,” shrugged Sophie. “Your landlord doesn’t have the sidewalks cleared?” questioned Brad, sounding surprised. “Naw, and if he did, it would cost more than I’d want to pay. Besides,” she chuckled, “I figure it saves me a gym membership.” They walked the next two blocks in silence, Sophie wondering how long it would be before she could have a life outside her pet shop; and Brad wondering how he could convince Sophie to let him know her better.
“Here we are,” grinned Sophie, as she looked at the Christmas window filled with toys, sweaters and coats on dog mannequins, colourful leashes and harnesses, beds and cat trees. Brad pointed to a notice advertising the next pet adoption weekend. “How often do you do this,” he looked closely, “and where do you find the room?” “I hold pet adoption weekends once a month, in my back yard…It gets a little hard in the winter, but we put tarps up, and the rescue organizations I work with are always here to help. There’s even more need in the winter after the holidays when some families suddenly decide the cute puppy or kitten they got for their kid is more work than they bargained for.” Sophie reached in her bag for her keys, “Thanks for walking me home. It’s really pretty safe around here,” she smiled. “You can tell your prospective buyers not to worry.” Brad put his hand on Sophie’s arm, “Here’s my card. I’d like to get to know you better, Sophie. I won’t bother you, if you’d rather not, but if you would, I hope you’ll call.” Sophie took the card and watched Brad turn back the way they’d come. Inside, she tossed the card on her desk and gave Izzy a hug. “Lots of talk, girl, and more changes to come. We’ll just have to hope our landlord doesn’t sell out for a long time. The developer’s site manager seemed like a decent guy…” Izzy barked. “That’s right girl, no matter how nice or handsome he is, we don’t consort with the enemy.”