Though I protested that the key fit the back door just fine, Honey dragged me around front.
In moments, I found myself sliding the key in the lock of the glass door at the front of the restaurant I hadn’t stepped foot into since before Grandma died over two years earlier.
I opened the squeaky door and looked at the light from the streetlamp slant across the counters in the old place. “You’re crazy,” I told her. What had she been thinking? This would be a pain to adapt into a bakery. There was too much seating, not even close to enough cupboard space, and I’d need to add new equipment—who knew, I might even need to upgrade the electrical. The building had been around forever
She nudged me forward and flipped on the florescent lights. They didn’t improve the view much. Now I could see the three-years-worth of dust stacked on the counters, the ancient appliances my grandmother had always seen as perfectly serviceable. Had my whole career ended here?
“Sure it needs some work, but you can get it ready in no time. It has gas, electricity, a walk-in cooler and freezer. It’s perfect.”
“You forgot to mention the ancient grill and deep fryer. And I need ovens for baking,” I pointed out. “And even if I am crazy enough to consider your idea, there’s no way I’ll be able to get paperwork in place soon enough to do the cake for Analesa’s wedding.” I rubbed my neck, feeling a headache growing at the base of my skull.
“I told you to use the kitchen at the store. It’ll work until you get the business licensing and health department inspection done here.”
The grocery store bakery would work, I supposed. At least for this one wedding cake. I still had serious doubts that starting a business of my own was a good idea. “This place is a dump.” The old orange plastic fast food tables, faded blue paint, and drooping plastic plants were great examples of the kind of décor I was not interested in.
Tara waved the comment off, and nudged me into the building so she could close the door behind her. Putting a hand on my back, she pushed me further into the kitchen. “No problem, you’ll fix it up in no time. Just think about what you could do with this place.”
I did. Once you got past the thick layer of dust, the greasy walls, the florescent light flickering on and off above the stainless steel workstation—at least some of the kitchen equipment was useable—you had drab. I’d have to either sell or junk the grill and fryer, but once they were gone, there was room for shelves, a stove top and a commercial oven. I crossed the room, checking the pantry area, walking through the fridge—which despite its emptiness, stank of spoiled hamburger—to the freezer in the back, which was tiny, but serviceable enough for the kind of business Tara had in mind. Space was tighter than I preferred, but it would be adequate for a couple of people.
It would be a stretch to make it work, but not impossible. The cash layout would take a major bite out of my savings, but at least I already owned the building. If I sold my condo in Chicago, I might be able to get by for a few years, even if the business didn’t take off.
“You see possibilities.”
“I see a nightmare,” I corrected. How long would it take to establish myself as the person to go to if locals wanted cakes, cupcakes and….cookies? I wasn’t sure just how far I wanted to expand—if I was crazy enough to do this. The more variety I offered, the more complex it would get, and then I’d be stuck hiring help. I so did not want to be an employer—supervising my dessert staff at the restaurant in Chicago had been bad enough. “Even if I could make it work in here, think of the business stuff: taxes, insurance, business licenses, inventory.” Inventory wasn’t really an issue, I’d done it before, but the rest of it was enough to have me backing away.
I turned to leave, but Tara stood in the way. “You’re more than up for the task.” She stepped forward, put a hand on my arms, which were crossed over my stomach. “Just consider it. See how things go with the wedding cake and think about it.”
Thinking about it was all I planned to do. I nodded, and was grateful when she turned back to the door.
“Just consider,” she added as the bell ringing as it bumped against the wooden frame. “Your commute time would be all of fifteen seconds.”
I know she hoped to get me to smile with her observation, but it wasn’t happening. I could already see stressed office workers pounding on my door at six a.m., frantic because they needed something special for the staff meeting that day.
A ridiculous thought, I realized. Who would ever be so desperate?
Tara stayed around for another hour before returning home to make sure George managed to get the kids in bed. I smiled goodbye to her, and was almost grateful to have the evening to consider her suggestion—as she’d reminded me to do before she left that night. I’d rarely been back to Silver Springs since I settled my Grandma’s bills and everything after the funeral. Tara had told me more than once that I was avoiding the pain, and I’d feel better if I faced it all instead of staying away.
I hadn’t believed her, but now I was home again—and wasn’t it funny that I’d already begun to think of Silver Springs as home?—I found the ache of losing my last parental figure wasn’t what I’d expected. The intense pain I’d felt last time had softened a great deal, though the bittersweet pain of being around Grandma’s things now made tears spring to my eyes and long to have a chat with her. I decided I’d make a trip to the cemetery to visit her tomorrow.
I took stock of her cupboards—my cupboards—and made a list of things I would need to buy. Even a couple of weeks would require some serious shopping, since what was left was more than two years old, which meant it would have to go in the trash. There wasn’t much anyway, as I’d purged the majority after the funeral.
The phone rang and I listened to Marry Me by Train play through until it went to voice mail. I was still avoiding Bronson’s calls. If I didn’t answer, just let him leave message after message, all of them pleading, none of them sincere, would he eventually stop? I wasn’t sure, but I thought I’d give it a try. The last thing I needed right now was to deal with him. He had been the one to pick the ringtone for his number, the cheating, lying jerk. I’d actually thought it was sweet at the time. Gag me.
Bronson was another hurt I’d have to deal with, and maybe it was why I’d had to come home again. Isn’t that what people did when they had wounds that needed licking? Go home? I was sure there must be some primal draw to this place, even if it hadn’t officially been home at any point in my life.
Despite the comforting surroundings, the knife of surprise at walking into Bronson’s office to find him kissing someone else still sheared through me when I let myself think about it. Though he’d been trying to get me to agree to marry him for months, I’d only accepted a few weeks ago. Apparently he got what he wanted and was ready to move on. That hurt, even as I hated myself for thinking maybe he had an excuse. Maybe, just maybe, we could make this work after all.
No. Ignoring the calls was best.
It was late when I headed to bed, still smelling the sweet sachets Grandma always stuck in with her linens. It permeated the clean sheets I’d pulled out of the cupboard earlier. It was almost as good as having her arms wrapped around me.
* * *
The next night as I played with gumpaste in the grocery store kitchen, I had three people approach me, asking if the rumor they’d heard—that I was opening a bakery—was true. I wasn’t sure who to blame—Analesa, Tara, or someone else—but it had me re-evaluating whether I could make a go of it in this small town. Then again, I knew the power of gossip might be strong enough to lure people to act as if they’d patronize my business, when in fact they would be far too cheap.
Still, at the end of the night, with the bases for my flowers started and left to dry, I decided to take a break, drive the mile to Tara’s house and have a few choice words with her.
George greeted me at the door. He’d always been a wild contrast to Tara—the tall, muscular white man compared to his tiny, feminine black wife. “Hey, Tess. I heard you’ve been busy at the store.” He waved me in past the collection of Lego blocks and some structure which was either in the middle of being built or torn down. Past the collection of shoes and socks in one corner, the princess costume and little-girl jewelry on the sofa and into the kitchen—every surface of which held food or dirty dishes. A laundry basket full of towels sat nearby; I had no idea if they were clean or dirty.
I thought of the tidy apartment of Grandma’s—everything in perfect order, with not a thing out of place. Despite the good memories, it didn’t feel nearly this cozy.
Tara smiled as I approached. “How’s it going?”
“Great.” I shoved my hands in the pockets of my jacket and rocked back on my heels. “How many people, exactly, did you inform about my hypothetical business?”
She fussed with unloading the clean dishes from the dishwasher, not meeting my gaze. “One or two . . . an hour.”
I tapped my foot. “While I was there? Because they saw me working and wondered what I was doing?”
She snuck a sideways look at me. “I was, um, averaging. For the day.”
“Tara!” I turned around to appeal to George, but he had melted back into one of the rooms. The smart man must have been able to sense the brewing storm. I looked again at my former best friend.
“Look, you belong here, and I’d be happy to help you send out advertisements and spread the word because, when you think about it, our customers and your customers won’t be the same very much. Because we don’t have any intention of doing wedding cakes and the like,” her face brightened as she took a deep breath, “unless you’d consider coming to work for us!”
“Not happening.” I do have some pride. Renting space in a grocery store bakery for a few nights while I put my life together was a far cry from being an employee there. And how stuck up did that make me sound?
“Then you need to start your own business.”
“Come on.” My cell phone rang and I pulled it out along with a paper I’d stuck in my pocket earlier, and looked at the Caller ID, though it wasn’t necessary. I considered putting it back unanswered. Bronson didn’t deserve the time of day, but maybe he had a question about the upcoming order specs I’d sent him. After taking a deep breath to steal me for the conversation ahead, I thumbed the send button, and held up a finger to indicate to Tara to wait. “Hey.”
“Can you explain this fax to me?” Bronson demanded.
I fought to keep my tone even, matter of fact, but as I spoke, I realized there was an edge to the words. “I would’ve thought you could read plain English. Those are the plans and directions for upcoming cakes. Whomever you hire should be able to follow them fine, but they’re welcome to call me for clarification.”
“I know you’re upset, and you have reason to be, but quit playing these games and get back in here. This cake for the Gooblers is only three days away.”
I studied my fingernails, as if feigning nonchalance that he couldn’t see would translate into sounding like I didn’t care. I had looked forward to that cake, dang it, but sometimes you don’t get everything you want. “Yes, the flowers are all ready, so you should be safe there, even if you have Lenny do the cake—though you’ll need to find someone else who has more experience for the long run. He’s a quick study, but he still has a lot to learn about working with gumpaste.”
“This is three days in a row you’ve missed work. Much more and there will be serious repercussions. I’m sorry you walked in on Karen and I, but the restaurant needs you. You’re a valuable part of the team.” His voice turned to wheedling. “Can you be here in half an hour? There’s still time to get some baking done tonight.”
Was he serious? I laughed. “That would take quite a feat, considering I’m in Silver Springs.”
He swore long and loud. “What are you doing there? Get back here.”
“Or what, you’ll fire me?” I made appropriate pantomimes of distress for Tara, who had to squelch the noise when she laughed. “You seem to have a short memory. I quit, remember?” While I listened to him protest and bluster, I looked at the paper in my hand, turned it, read the names and numbers of the ladies who’d spoken to me about doing a cake for them, along with the dates and a quick note to myself.
I was rarely impulsive, but in that moment I decided Tara was right. I didn’t want to go back, even though it sounded like Bronson would be happy to welcome me into the open arms of the hotel—his arms were no longer of interest to me.
So the shop flopped. What was the worst that could happen? I take a job in LA or something next spring? I broke into his whining and cajoling. “It’s no good, Bronson. You’ll have to hire someone else. I’m staying here. In fact, I’m opening a cake shop in Grandma’s old place and I already have four clients.”
There was a moment of silence. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“Nope. Let me know if the new pastry chef needs any pointers or clarification. Ciao.” I pushed the END button and slid the phone back in my pocket.
Tara had her hands fisted tight in excitement by her chin when I looked up, and with a squeal she threw her arms around me. “I knew it! I knew you’d stay this time.”
I laughed. We hugged, did a little dance, and Tara went right back into planning mode for my new business.
When I pulled in at Grandma’s place after two o’clock that morning, I was still riding high with excitement.