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For Love & Coffee
Matchmakers' Book Club - Book 1

Lois

One year ago

 

“I would like to call this meeting of the Matchmakers’ Book Club to order. Let’s get the business out the way and then focus on the fun.”

The ladies’ chatter decreases upon my announcement, and they gather around the dining table.

I continue, “For those of you who are new to our group, allow me to share our purpose. Initially, our group started as a gaggle of nurses and EMTs to de-stress from the rigors of our professions with book club and girls’ night in. Over the years, it evolved into a girl gang of epic proportions. Not only do we host charity events for the local children’s charities, but we keep tabs on the most eligible bachelors in our community. Our club and list of eligible bachelors was created in good fun, and the tradition has continued for the last five years. Along with the purpose of our group, the rules for inclusion on the list has evolved.

“Smoking hot is a must,” one of the newest members shouts from the back of the room.

The remaining members laugh at her statement.

“I agree. As I was saying, inclusion is a few factors balanced against one another. First, as our sister stated, a handsome face and strong physique are a must. Also, candidates and admitted bachelors must be a member of our first-responder community, including police officers, firefighters, and EMTs. Most importantly, those included on the list are kept secret until after he has been legally wed.”

Chatter erupts around the room.

I silence them by introducing a new face. “This evening, I would like to welcome our newest member, Willa Cappelli.”

A chorus of “Welcome, Willa” echoes around the room.

“It has come to my attention that a few younger members of the YPD are aware of our group and have attempted to learn the inner workings. So far, they’ve failed. The secrecy must be maintained. The last thing we want is our fun to be thwarted. Now I open the floor to all members to suggest changes.”

Carly, a bubbly blonde member, speaks first. “I suggest we add female first responders. While there aren’t many of them in our area right now, there’s at least one in each department who may warrant discussion and inclusion.”

“All in favor, raise your hand,” I request.

Each voting member raises her hand.

“The motion is carried. Please put forth your name for each department,” I request.

“Lacey Ransom for the EMT list, Mia Arden for the fire department, and Piper Montgomery for the police department,” Carly replies.

I open the floor to objections, I ask, “Any issues with those nominees?”

The room is silent.

“The motion to add women is carried, and those three are the inaugural honorees. As a side note, the list shall be expanded to five per department. One of which must be a female. In the event there are no eligible female honorees, the spot shall remain vacant. Agreed?”

“Agreed,” the members reply in unison.

I now open the floor to suggestions for our next person to be matched.

“Landry Reed,” one member suggests. “He would be the first fire firefighter we’ve attempted to match.”

I look for further nominations.

“I suggest Zachary Smithson,” Kelsey adds. After a group discussion, we decide to vote silently on the way out. The chairperson will then enlist members to foster the selected honoree.

“There’s one last bit of business. I’ll be stepping down as chair of this group to free up time for travel. I nominate Carly Reed as my replacement. All in favor?”

All members vote positively.

“Congratulations, Carly!” I motion for her to join me at the head of the table.

“Thank you, Lois. The members and I will carry on this group you created to give us an outlet—a group that has also given rise to lasting friendships and marriages along the way. Let’s raise our glasses in celebration of Lois and our amazing group.”

“Hear! Hear!” We clink our glasses together and dish on the latest dating gossip and our book selection.

“Before I go, I’ll add the newest members to the list, recite the names, then turn the book over to Carly,” I state before inscribing the three female members into their places in our book.

“The current list for the York Police Department reads as follows: Santino Gugliotti, Zachary Smithson, Lachlan Hagen, Donovan Davis, and Piper Montgomery. Former honorees are William Ramirez, Grant Washington, and Luca Cappelli.”

Kelsey Ramirez, Maggie Washington, and Willa Cappelli smile as I read their husbands’ names.

 “The York Fire Department list includes Bradford Collings, Alden Rhodes, Aidan Madden, Landry Reed, and Mia Arden. No former honorees to date. Lastly, the EMTs in York County include Séamus Penn, Jude Pascal, Hollis Booker, Lexington Soren, and Lacey Ransom. No former honorees to date. It has been a pleasure spending time with you ladies. I look forward to peeking in on you in the future. Best of luck.” I wander around the room and hug these women who have become my friends despite our age disparities and differences in opinions over popular books.

 

 

Chapter One

Zachary

 

Today’s patrol shift was boring and makes for a long day. I shuffle into the locker room before heading home.

“Hey, Smithson, got plans tonight, or you coming out with us for some burgers and brew?” Craven slams his locker closed. Craven is a solid guy and has been with YPD for more than two years at this point.

“Yeah, I have things to get done.”

“No worries, man. Next time.” We bro hug, and I exit the precinct quickly, hoping I don’t run into anyone else.

Until recently I would’ve joined Craven and the guys. However, none of the guys know what’s going on in my personal life.

My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about a year and a half ago. Given my hectic schedule and need to be on call frequently, my sister, Nadine, has been handling most of our mother’s care. Unfortunately, my brother-in-law, Trevor, took off recently. Now single, my sister can’t manage our mom’s care, her twins, and her two jobs. We moved our mom into my townhouse a few months ago and hired a caregiver.

“Hi, Gladys. I’m home.” It’s a bit later than usual. My schedule is anything but consistent and predictable. Ideally, I arrive home by six each night, especially since I haven’t gone out since Mom moved in.

Gladys accepted the job as my mother’s caregiver with the slimmest of margins—just two days. Two days before I would’ve needed to take time off from work to care for her myself. She provides care around the clock and uses one of my guest bedrooms. However, she’s only contracted for three months. I have yet to find a suitable replacement, and I’m rapidly running out of time.

The guys have taken to ribbing me about Gladys’s daughter leaving here early in the mornings when I’m not on shift. Essie stops by once or twice a week to refresh Gladys’s meds or bring things she needs from her apartment. While Essie is gorgeous, with caramel skin and pin-straight hair, she’s also married. A sparkly diamond band surrounds her left ring finger—a fact I’m surprised my coworkers, who should be keen on details, seem to miss.

“Hello, Zack. How was your shift?”

“Not bad. How is she doing today?”

Gladys drops her head. “I’m sorry, Zack. She’s been asking for your father all day.”

I scrub my hands down my face. “Not your fault. Thank you.” My parents, Saul and Carol, were childhood friends who fell in love. Most of the time, my mother does recall her husband of nearly thirty-five years passed away about four years ago.

Rounding the corner, I greet my mother, who is sitting in a chair in the living room. “Hi, Mom. How was your day?”

Typically, I get only two responses these days. Either she doesn’t recognize me at all, or she sees my father. Except for my imposing stature, I look more like her than him.

“It was a good day, Saul. How was work at the plant?” My father used to work at a steam plant long before I was born.

My chest tightens. There’s nothing more I can do for her as far as her deteriorating mind is concerned. “My day was good. Did you eat?”

“Yes, your daughter brought me a lovely dinner from the diner down the street.”

There’s absolutely no chance her memory is accurate. The diner is near our childhood home, and Nadine lives thirty minutes away.

“Great. I’m going to wash up. I’ll be back soon.” I exhale sharply and leave the living room. I can only imagine how difficult being trapped in your mind must be for her. I take the stairs two at a time, strip out of my clothes, and shower. Gladys is working with Mom on her nighttime routine when I sit down to eat.

Once I finish, I boot up my laptop and scan my email for replies to the job posting for an overnight caregiver. There are two responses. I return both inquiries and set up phone interviews for tomorrow on my lunch break. Content I can’t do anything else, I trudge upstairs to bed, though there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to sleep all night.

Thankfully, the night passes peacefully, and my alarm shocks me awake at five. I tug on running clothes and shoes before peeking in on my mom as I pass by. I’m not the praying type, but I hope she has a better day today. I slip out the front door and run toward the exit of my complex.

It’s a bit chillier than normal for this time of year, but I don’t mind. Early spring temperatures are hard to predict. Some days the weather is downright frigid, others it’s balmy. Shortly after five in the morning, there are only a few diehards I may see along the trail. The converted railroad track is a four-mile loop. With the added distance from my front door, it’s a tad shy of six miles. As I round the corner, I encounter the first diehard.

Captain Ramirez is running at a decent pace with two dogs beside him. Bear and Knox are their names, if I recall correctly. Cap and his wife, Kelsey, live on the far side of the loop with their two kids, Benjamin and Valentina. Kelsey owns the Perk, a coffee shop and catering company. “Morning, Cap.”

“Smithson,” he replies and continues past me toward his home.

I check my watch and slow my pace to near seven minutes a mile. I don’t need to be exhausted before my shift starts. In the last quarter mile of the loop, Washington and I acknowledge one another but keep running. He and his wife, Maggie, met at a traffic stop. They have two kids as well. I finish my run and down a water as I approach the entrance to my complex. I climb the front steps and hear screaming. I step inside and join them in her bedroom.

“No, no, no! You aren’t my Nadine.” My mother is shouting at Gladys. Her arms are flailing, her head furiously shaking side to side.

“Easy, Carol. Let’s take a seat and regroup,” Gladys attempts to soothe her.

“Morning” is all I can muster.

Mom’s head snaps in my direction at the sound of my voice. “Zack, you’re home. Where is Nadine?”

“Mom, Nadine doesn’t live here. She’s lives with her husband and kids. We can call her after breakfast if you want.”

“Okay.” Her voice is soft, childlike even.

Placating her was almost too easy. My arrival was clearly at the tail end of her episode this morning.

Given the relief rolling off Gladys, I’m likely correct. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” I would like to say I’m a stellar son and I’m able to care for my mother. I’m not. Handling her personal care is not something I’m equipped to do. After her diagnosis, she was adamant about not spending the end of her days in a memory care facility. Nadine and I agreed to keep her home as long as possible. I’ll admit, she’s been here for two months, and the strain on me is significant with a full-time caregiver. How my sister survived with her kids and work is beyond me. Despite our promise, I don’t know how long I can keep her here with a nurse. It isn’t about the money but about the quality of care and providing a safe space for her. Hopefully one of these interviews pans out for a night nurse.

“Go ahead, or you’re going to be late for work,” Gladys ushers me away.

I immensely appreciate her understanding of my career demands and my lack of ability to care for my mother’s personal needs. It’s one thing for me to be present and spend time with her. The rest is something else. I nod and bound upstairs.

Within twenty minutes, I’m showered and clad in my uniform for the day. I hustle into the Perk and take my order from Becca. “Thanks, Becca. Always on point.”

“Have a good day!” Becca smiles. 

I leave as quickly as I arrived at the quaint coffee shop. I have a standing order for the same time every morning. Kelsey bills me monthly. If I don’t arrive within ten minutes of it being ready, they put the next customer’s order on my tab.

I park and take my place at the front desk. Each of us takes at least one monthly shift at the desk to interface with the public. Normally, I don’t mind it, but my brain is still working on finding a caregiver for my mom. I send a quick text to my sister before the line grows.

Me: I may not have asked before, but how did you handle it for so long? This is hard. She’s not really there.

Nadine: It wasn’t easy. I know, it’s heart-wrenching. Her condition has deteriorated more rapidly in recent months from the reports I’ve read.

Me: I’m interviewing two people at lunch for the night shift.

Nadine: Good luck. Love you.

Me: Thanks. Love you back.

I exhale and handle a few complaints from concerned citizens. After a lull, the stream of people increases until I’m relieved by Greyson for lunch.

“Hey, Rook. Thanks for the assist.” Probably shouldn’t call him “Rook” anymore. He’s officially off probation.

“No worries. Go, I’ve got this,” Greyson informs me.

I don’t wait for him to change his mind. I grab my jacket and hustle outside to the food trucks.

Once I have my food in hand, my phone rings. “Hello.”

“Hi, this is Michael. I’m calling about the night caregiver job.”

“Great. Thank you for your prompt call.” I explain the duties of the job, including the live-in requirement, which was clearly stated in the ad.

“I can’t live with you,” he states emphatically.

I bite back an annoyed comment. “I appreciate your time, but the job requires overnight hours.” Once I end the call, I drop my head. In the following fifteen minutes, I scarf down my tacos and hope the next call is better.

I answer on the second ring, and she’s already talking. “Hi, my name is Valerie. I read about the job. Are you the same Zack who helped me with my car accident last year?”

How did she connect me personally, my job, and this ad? “I don’t know.” I set for the parameters of the job.

“Like all night?” Her response isn’t promising.

“Yes, the job is from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.”

“Yeah, I can’t do that and keep my other job too. Sorry.” She ends the call abruptly.

Me too. Distraught and frustrated, I chuck my trash and meander back inside to relieve Greyson.

“Hey, Smithson, Cap wanted to see you before you take over for me.”

I acknowledge him and make my way to Cap’s office. “You wanted to see me?”

He motions for me to take a seat. “Everything okay with you?”

“Sure, why?”

“Over the last few months, you’ve been arriving on time by the skin of your teeth, and you’re out the door as soon as you can. What’s changed?”

Perhaps I should’ve shared with Cap sooner. “My mother moved in with me a few months ago. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about eighteen months ago. Until recently, she was living with my sister and her husband. He took off, and my sister asked for help.”

“I’m sorry,” Cap offers.

“Thank you. I’m in the process of finding a permanent night nurse. I’ve been striking out though.”

Cap steeples his fingers like he does when he’s considering each possibility for a scenario. “Have you tried posting for a student nurse at the hospital?”

“No, that’s a great idea. Who handles the postings?”

“Willa Cappelli.” The look on his face shows he’s tickled he can help.

“I’ll give her a call.”

“Next time, please give me a heads-up. I don’t like wondering if my guys are okay.”

“I hope there isn’t a next time, but if there is, I’ll let you know.” I leave his office and immediately dial the hospital.

“York Memorial. How may I direct your call?”

“Willa Cappelli, please.”

“May I ask who is calling?” the perky receptionist asks.

“Zack Smithson.”

Hold music, which I believe is Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” plays while I wait for her to answer.

“Hey, Zack. Everything okay?”

“Hi, Willa. Yes and no.” I explain what I need, and she indicates she’ll get the post out today.

I thank her and return to the front desk. Even though the job isn’t filled, I feel slightly unburdened.

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