(Loosely based on 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs')
Bang. Bang. Bang.
The whole cheese shop shook, the noise blasting through the air.
"That's it!" Brie White slammed her hands down on the countertop. "I've had it. Doesn't she realize this is Saturday?" She grabbed her coat and yanked it on in one quick motion. "Watch Tala and the shop," she said to her brother, Roman. "I'll be back."
Roman grabbed her arm. "Don't do anything stupid. Dad's tried and tried to stop that monstrosity across the street and he can't do anything. Just put up with it. It'll be over before long."
"I could be dead from a headache by then."
Tala, Brie's five-year-old adorable niece, grabbed Brie's coat sleeve. "Aunt Brie, take me with you. My head hurts, too. I want to tell her."
Brie had to grin. Tala looked just like the rest of the White family with dark hair, blue eyes, and very fair skin.
Brie knelt down in front of the girl. "You stay here and help your dad. He doesn't know how to be nice to the customers so you need to teach him."
Tala laughed, glancing up at her dad. "Be nice, Daddy."
"Sure." But Roman was looking out the door. "It's snowing already."
Brie stood up. "Welcome to autumn in Wisconsin. I'll be back." She stormed out the door, the snow just a flurry. Northeast Wisconsin didn't usually get a lot of snow before November, so she wasn't concerned.
After running through the cheese shop's parking lot, she looked both ways and crossed the two-lane country road to the huge home across the street from her family's farmhouse. The beautiful brick home sat back from the road beside a gigantic enclosed amphitheater being built on hundreds of acres of land. At least that's what the sign said outside the building. She guessed it must open up in the summertime, to make it a true amphitheater. The noise was horrible the closer she got to the home, making her hold her ears. Sounds such as nail guns and saws irritated Brie, so she moved a little faster across the street.
Once she reached the front door, she rang the doorbell and knocked, trying to get past the awful noise in the air. Marytown, which was about 35 minutes or so southeast of Green Bay, used to be such a nice small place to live. These days, it seemed to have been sold to the highest, noisiest bidder. Her parents had moved out from Green Bay to escape the noise, before any of her siblings were born. However, Brie's world had now been invaded by city folk and she wasn't going to stand for it.
She kept knocking, wondering if anyone was home or if they could even hear her. The older woman who lived in the home seemed to be able to cope with the sound, according to Brie's dad. It just made Brie angrier, the force coming out in her hand as she knocked. Just when she began to pound harder on the door, the lock clicked and the door opened.
But it wasn't the older woman. A man stood inside the outer glass door, more handsome than Brie could imagine. He had brown hair and the bluest eyes, illuminated by an overhead light in the foyer, since the afternoon sky was overcast.
"Yes?" His voice was deep and soft, just as the noise ceased.
"I'm here because…" She swallowed hard, just staring at his face as he moved closer. "Um…" The pounding and noise started up again, even louder than before. She held her ears, and with her headache, she felt the tears filling her eyes. "The noise!"
He opened the door, holding it outward, with his hand on the upper glass. "Come inside, please?"
"Gladly." Brie kept her hands on her ears and walked inside the foyer. He shut the door behind him and all she could hear was silence. It was utterly peaceful, something she'd barely known her whole life, with her seven brothers and parents. She could even lower her hands.
His arms folded across his chest. "So what are you trying to sell me?"
"Nothing." She pointed toward the farmhouse. "I live with my family across the street and we usually deal with the owner—an older woman with a big brown bouffant on her head." She lowered her hand. "Do you know where she is?"
A small smile crossed the man's lips. "That's my stepmother, Della. She's not home right now, so this place is up to me. I'm the owner, so it really isn't her place to deal with anyone, but she never told me you stopped by."
"Well…" Brie felt the anger building. "So you let your own stepmother take the heat and don't handle the problems yourself?"
"What problems? I haven't heard of any problems. The foreman usually lets me know what's going on and I've heard nothing."
"The noise!" She moved closer. "It's horrible. Today's Saturday and I thought I'd be able to have silence over at our cheese shop." She pointed again, so he'd understand. "But no. It's worse than ever. I take it you don't really live here, or you'd notice how your head hurts after a few minutes of the constant noise."
His expression turned confused. "You have a headache?"
She let her arms drop and blew out a breath. "Constantly."
"Have you seen a doctor for your headache? That doesn't sound right."
"My whole family has headaches and my brother, who's a doctor, blames it on the noise. Our house is old, so we don't have good insulation against the noise." A loud noise sounded out on the road and her hands flew to her ears. "I can't deal with it anymore! Do you have to build that monstrosity?"
"Monstrosity? Hardly. It's an indoor amphitheater for Christian rock bands. We call it an amphitheater so more people will be interested than just a plain old 'concert hall.'" He pointed to racks of literature behind him. "I have the gift shop here for now, if you're interested."
She moved her hands away from her ears. "Unbelievable. I'm here to complain and you want to sell me books? I'm not even a Christian anymore and you think I'll bow down to buy your books when I don't even approve of this or the noise? You've ruined the silent country sense in this town and now, we'll have so many tourists that it'll be too much for everyone in this town and for our cheese shop."
"I'd think it would bring more people to your shop."
"For cheese? Who would go to see a Christian rock concert and say, 'Oh, I think I need some cheese for my concert?' Are you insane?" She spun around. "Good day. I see I have to talk to the town council about the noise issue." She threw open the door and walked out into the snowy air, heading home.
Brie made a plan in her mind to bring this problem to the town council on Monday, two days away. She just needed to figure out how to get in touch with the people in charge of the town.
"Wait." A hand on her arm made her stop before she stepped onto the street.
She turned, seeing the mean Christian behind her. "What?" The noise started again and she covered her ears, making her head hurt even worse. Tears filled her eyes and her head ached. She was in no mood for someone hawking their wares for their own benefit, while she felt miserable.
"Come with me, please?" he asked.
She looked into his very blue eyes as the tears rolled down her cheeks. "Where to?"
"Out of here. Someplace quiet but close by. I promise it's safe."
Could she trust the man? At this point in time, she didn't even care, her head hurt that much. She made a snap decision. "I have to call my family and let them know—"
He pulled his phone from his pocket and handed it to her. "Call them right now while we leave. You need some downtime and it's my fault." With his hand moving to her upper back, he directed her to his silver SUV and helped her into the passenger's seat. Her head ached, but she managed to dial the number to the cheese store. She waited while it rang, watching the man get into the driver's seat.
"White Cheese Company," Roman said.
"It's Brie. I'm going to be away for a while to talk to the neighbor. Hold down the fort for me."
"Away? Where? Brie, is she giving you a hard time?"
"No." She glanced toward the man as he pulled out onto the street, not wanting to tell her brother she was going out with a man. "But my head's killing me. I'll be back."
"Tala's head hurts, too, and mine's not much better. If you find any medications, bring some back with ya."
"Check the medicine cabinet in the back. I'm sure there's something there for headaches."
The man driving the car glanced toward her, appearing more than confused.
"Hurry back," Roman said. "If you're not back in half an hour, I'm calling this number—"
"Sure, Roman. I'll be back." She ended the call and handed the phone to the stranger, then put her head back on the headrest, closing her eyes.
"So everyone at your place has a headache?"
"Yeah, including my five-year-old niece."
"Have you checked the air at your place?"
"It's fine. We have to, by law. It's just the noise. I live with it all day long, and with my seven brothers—"
"Yes." She opened her eyes and glanced toward him. "I'm the baby of the family. We're all named after different types of cheese, because Dad is a cheese fanatic."
"That's kind of odd."
"Yeah." She smiled. "You have to know my dad. What's your name, anyway?"
"I'm Ryan Prince. Your name?"
"Brie White." She paused for a moment. "You aren't related to Prince Snow Blowers, are you?"
"Yep. That was my dad's business. He sold it a few months before he died. He died about a year ago, after they started building the amphitheater. He left everything he had to pour into the monstrosity, as you so nicely put it, and my stepmother's not happy. That's Della, the woman you probably already met."
Brie felt guilty, but couldn't let it show. "Not really, but she's been described to me. My dad met her and wasn't too happy with her."
Ryan pushed his fingers through his hair. "No one's too happy with her. That amphitheater was my dad's dying wish and his will made sure it would happen. I can't change that and I'm trying to make them get it done before the big snowstorms." He pointed out the window. "I might be too late." He slowed the SUV and pulled into a small coffee shop parking lot. "I really want to pay you back for what you've been put through."
He got out of the car and she joined him, taking a deep breath. "No noise," she whispered. "Do you hear it?"
He took her hand and led her to the door. "It should be quiet in here, too, or we'll leave and go to a park to drink our coffee, even though it's cold and snowing a bit."
"You're really a nice guy. I'm so sorry for getting upset."
He dropped her hand and held the door for her. "Don't worry about it. You're frustrated, and rightfully so. How's your head?"
She stopped and thought. "Better, actually. It doesn't hurt nearly as much." She walked inside, followed by Ryan.
He put his hand on her upper back and leaned toward her ear. "It sounds like you either have a tension headache or a headache caused by the environment."
"Yeah. A noise headache." She had to smile. At least she could cope with the pain when it wasn't noisy.
He directed her up to the counter. "What do you want?"
"Nothing. I don't have my wallet with me."
He leaned closer. "It's on me. I owe you at least this much."
She couldn't be rude. "I guess I'll have a latte."
He faced the clerk. "Two of your biggest lattes."
"Biggest?" she asked, touching his arm.
He just nodded. "It might help your headache." He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out some aspirin. "With this."
"You thought of me?"
He nodded again, then pulled out his wallet and paid the clerk. What a nice man, nothing like the men Brie had dated or even known in the past.
"As soon as we get this coffee," he said. "I want you to take two and see if that helps. I'm really sorry, but I'm having the workers rush the roof so the snow won't fill the inside. They're almost done, and soon, the whole thing will be finished."
"How soon?" Whatever he said wasn't soon enough in her mind.
"In about a month. But once the roof is done, which should be today, the rest will just be inside work and much quieter. They have a lot of that work done already."
The clerk handed him two giant lattes. He gave one to Brie, and then ushered her to a small condiment station where they both added sugar. When they were done, he guided her toward a table in the back of the sparsely filled coffee shop, where he sat down across from her.
He handed her the aspirin bottle. "Tell me about yourself?"
She opened it and grabbed two, then handed it back to him. "Thank you." She threw the pills into her mouth and sipped the coffee, finally able to wait for relief for her head. "Well," she said. "I'm the youngest of eight kids. I have seven brothers and we're all named after cheeses. Dad's a little eccentric, so it makes sense since he has a cheese business. We make cheese in the back and sell those cheeses and imported cheeses in the shop."
"Your story sounds like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." He smiled. "You even have the right last name."
"Yeah and the coloring." She pulled a few strands of dark hair in front of her face to show him. "But I have no poison apples or evil witches in my life." She chuckled. "However, I do have a few brothers who seem to fit the bill."
"I see. You've told me about your work and family, but what about you?"
She sat back a bit. "Me? What about me?"
"Other than working at the shop, what else do you do? What do you do for fun?"
"I work. That's about it." She took a sip of her drink, thinking back to her life. "I lost my opportunity for fun about eight or so years ago."
"I was in college, studying to be an elementary school teacher. I went away to college, out to Eau Claire. During my second semester, Dad had a heart attack and I had to drop out of school to handle things here. My brothers had other jobs so it was up to me to pull it together for him. Since then, a lot of my brothers came to work at the shop, but it's too late for me to go back to school. I'm stuck and will never get to work with kids. They're so much fun, too, but I doubt I'll even have any children of my own. I never go out anymore and when I dropped out of college, I lost the man who wanted to marry me." She set her jaw. "He wanted me to ignore my family and live for myself, but I can't do that. They needed me and it was my duty to be here."
"You wanted to work with kids." Ryan looked down at his cup as if he felt guilty. "I work with kids."
"You do? But you're building that monstrosity…I mean amphitheater." She leaned closer. "An amphitheater should be outdoors, you realize, by definition."
He grinned. "It also should have a central stage, which it doesn't." He shook his head. "That was my dad's thing, not mine. I'm just following his orders. He said an amphitheater would bring more people than a concert hall and no one would know the definition of amphitheater. It was like his little joke, so I let it stay that way." His blue eyes studied her face. "Actually, I work with kids all the time. I'm a pediatrician at the hospital."
She felt her stomach fall, wondering if he knew her family. "Which one?"
"My brother works there, in the E.R. Do you know Colby White?"
"Colby?" Ryan's eyebrows lifted. "Yeah. I've fixed him up with a bunch of dates in the past. He's your brother?"
"Yes. He's the doctor in our family, the one that I told you about. He's the oldest."
Ryan studied her face. "I see the resemblance, but you're a lot prettier than he is."
She had to laugh at him. "Very funny."
"How's your head now?"
"A lot better. Thank you." She lifted her cup. "And thanks for the latte. I want to pay you back for this."
"No way. I have a question for you. Would you like to come to opening night at the amphitheater with me? It's the Friday before Thanksgiving and the band is amazing. They're coming up here from Texas."
She wrinkled her nose. "Country music?"
He laughed. "No, but I do like country music, too. This is Christian music. I think you'll like it a lot."
Brie crossed her arms. "No, I don't think I will. Will they all be Christian musicians?"
"Yes." He studied her face. "Why don't you like that idea?"
"Because of my brother's wife." She played with her cup, wondering if he needed to hear about her family. But it made sense and explained a lot. "After my dad had his heart attack, my brother Romano, also called Roman, got married to a wonderful woman. Her name was Kim. We all thought the world of her and I finally had another woman around, other than my mom. Kim got pregnant about a year or so after they were married and they had Tala, my niece. Right after Tala was born, Kim started getting headaches. They told her it was from hormonal changes with the pregnancy and let her go like that for over a year. Here she had a brain tumor. Even Colby questioned the doctors, but they wouldn't change what they thought. She died when Tala was two, which was three years ago. Roman was so upset, he went out on his motorcycle and had a bad accident. He was in a coma for three days before waking up. He hasn't been the same since. God let my family down for a reason and it all started when Dad had his heart attack. My job now is to help Roman raise Tala, because he's clueless. He and Tala even moved back home and I have to stay here now, to help. I'll never get out and never realize my dream. I think God must hate me."
The sadness of the thought filled her heart and even though she tried not to let the tears fill her eyes, she couldn't stop it. She swiped them away, but they kept falling. Her life hadn't gone as she planned, and there was only one explanation. God really did hate her.