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Created by Diane Brown, Buena Beach is an online soap opera, giving up all the juicy details of some of the hottest guys and gals of Buena Beach, a small town in Southern California. Check back everyday for a new episode here on HelloBeautiful.com.

The Voice

Closing time at the café always brought a certain amount of satisfaction to Alice. Counting the twenty-dollar bills down to the nickels, dimes, and pennies signified the culmination of another day as “business owner” or “entrepreneur” or “cool café chic”. A part of her, however, was just waiting for everything to crumble – for the City to revoke her business license due to some sort of technicality; or for the crowds to suddenly disappear, opting instead to head to some other trendy new restaurant that served iced coffee with warm doughnuts or had the best red velvet cupcakes ever baked; or that an earthquake would hit, shaking the historic building in which the café occupied the bottom floor down to a pile of bricks. She knew her negative thoughts weren’t healthy but at least, she reasoned, that she’d never let her guard down; that she’d always be ready for an unannounced inspection from environmental health or that any spills in the shop would be mopped up in under 45 seconds to avoid potential lawsuits from any litigious caffeine addicts with fortuitous timing. She’d thought of and planned for everything, and hoped that was good enough.

The one factor, however, that she had almost no control over was her business partner, Chris. Although he provided an important ingredient to the success in the form of charm and charisma, his business acumen left more to be desired. Too many times he’d neglected to turn off high-wattage equipment before closing up or scheduled too many staff for a shift or otherwise wasted their profit. But he did bring in the customers. With fraternity brothers from Cal State Long Beach and connections to City employees and other social networks, Alice had to credit Chris with garnering a loyal group of morning coffee and bagel folks, the lunchtime sandwich bunch, and the dinner crowd. With its reasonable prices, the restaurant had also become a popular spot for evening study sessions. It was better than Alice could have ever imagined.

So as far as she was concerned, there was just one thing missing in her life. “Hey, Chris,” she asks, finishing up their paperwork for the night while Chris swept. “Have you ever been in love?”

The question’s out of nowhere, but so have been her feelings lately. Chris stops sweeping to take a seat, as if he’d really like to contemplate this for a moment. “Maybe. I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?”

He shrugs. “Well, I guess ‘I don’t know’ means no, huh?” He laughs at himself and then asks Alice, “What about you?”

“I was once. A really long time ago.”

“Couldn’t be too long ago, Alice. You’re just in your mid-twenties.”

“I know. I guess it just feels like a long time ago. I don’t know. I guess I miss that feeling.”

Chris is intrigued, enjoying the topic and happy for an excuse to slack off a bit in Alice’s presence. Taking a cue from her, he decides it’s okay to get a little personal. “So, is there someone that you’re thinking about?”

Alice smiles with her eyes, unaware that her cheeks are flushing.

“Awww, c’mon. Tell me who it is – someone I know?”

Shaking her head, she tells him that she didn’t think he knew the guy; but that his name was Eddie, and he was a teacher at her school, who also deejayed on the weekends.

“Yah? Where at?”

“Some new club in downtown Long Beach – Stone Cold.”

Before he even had a chance to suggest it, Alice knew what he was about to propose. That the two of them drive up to Long Beach right now for a couple of drinks and a little dancing at this Stone Cold place. And before she had a chance to say ‘no’, he offers to drive and buy the first round. “But we’d better hurry. It’s 12:30 already.”

She’s coming around, exaggerating a bit with her stalling face. And then finally agrees, doing the unthinkable by stating that she could finish sweeping in the morning.

“So, what about you, Chris?” she asks him a few minutes later in his car as they drive up Pacific Coast Highway towards the club, listening to The Killers. “Are you diggin’ on anyone these days?”

The smart answer would be a resounding ‘no’, so that the chapter on his love life could be closed for the night, no further questions asked. But his heart overruled his brain. “Yah. Sort of.”

“Really? Tell me about her.”

And that’s when it hits him that he can’t possibly tell Alice about Jen, his teenage girlfriend who also happens to be one of their employees and is the daughter of Chris’s day-job boss, Danny. So there’s no other choice but to get creative. “Oh, she’s nice. Real nice girl.”

“Where’d you meet her?”

“Umm. Facebook.”

Alice reaches over and turns down the volume on the stereo. “Chris…you’re seeing someone you met online?”

“Well, she’s really nice.”

Alice laughs, shaking her head. “Jen was trying to get me to sign up for one of those online dating services. I don’t know. Maybe one day. I know she’s met a couple guys that way.”

Immediately, Chris’s heart beats faster. He’ll have to work really hard not to sound reactive. “Jen? Wow. She doesn’t seem like she’d need to meet people online.”

“I know, but that’s just Jen. She’s seeing some new guy now, but she didn’t meet him online.”

“Oh, yah?”

“Micah. They’re in the café all the time. They study there together after her shifts. Real nice guy.”

Chris realizes he should do a better job playing along. “That’s right. Micah. I’ve seen the guy a few times.”

“Well, I know they’re really young and all, but they seem to be getting pretty serious.”

“You think?” he asks.

“Definitely. She brought him home for dinner last weekend to meet Danny – and you know how your boss can be, so that’s a big step. And tonight, they went to the Chris Brown & Rihanna concert.”

Chris swerves, yanking the steering wheel back to center when the truck he almost hits honks at him. In total shock, he asks Alice to repeat herself, pretending he didn’t hear. Instead of answering him, she asks “Are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine. I’m fine. So you said a concert?”

“Yah,” she tells him. “At Staples Center. She told me the other day that she really liked this guy, but once she told me she was going to see someone as mainstream as Chris Brown. I mean, I love Chris Brown, but that’s just not Jen. So I figure she must truly be in love. I’m happy that at least someone is.”

Chris can’t take much more. His palms are drenched in sweat, and his forehead is trying to catch up, beads of perspiration gathering with each rotation of the tires. Finally, he decides that he can’t do this. “Alice, I’m sorry,” he tells her, already putting on his blinker to make a U-turn and head back to Buena Beach.

“What’s the matter?”

“Actually, I don’t feel very well. I thought I’d be okay, but I think…I think I’m getting a fever.”

Alice squints in the darkness, able to get a better glimpse of him with the help of a streetlight. “Really?” She’s disappointed, but figures it would be selfish to try to pressure him to put his illness aside and just make a quick stop at the club to say hi to Eddie.

The drive back is short and silent. Chris tells Alice to drive home safely, waiting for her to get into her car, buckle up, and take off. Once her car is out of his sight, Chris takes out his phone and dials Jen’s number, hoping that his call wakes her up rather than interrupts a date. When he gets no answer, he knows there’s only one thing left to do – drive down to the gas station and fill up…because it’s a long drive to the Staples Center.

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