By Lyn Wilson (Rated G)
The alarm woke me up to a house in absolute silence… meaning sometime in the night the power had gone out. “Wow perfect timing” I quipped to my cardiac alert dog Ginger Pie. (or Geepers! Depending on the occasion) Ginger had her own problems, with the power went the heat. I threw some wool socks on and went down a few stairs of my little house to start a fire in the fireplace just to thaw out some. Ginger gratefully curled up by the fireplace while I made a cup of tea.
I looked at the clock while grabbing a gluten free Biscotti. “Oh my gosh! Is that the time?” I said under my breath. I grabbed my makeup bag from my backpack and made my way to the bathroom. Normally I put my makeup on in what passes for my office in my bake shop in Bushwick. Ginny’s Cookie Jar was formerly owned by my Aunt Ginny until she passed 5 years ago. I inherited both the shop and this cute little house up in the hills behind the village of Bushwick. I said, as if Aunt Ginny could hear me, “What a morning Aunt G! I’m running late, the power is out, I’m meeting Bob this morning in the shop at 9. What am I going to do with my HAIR!” It really was quite a sight. I took a quick shower, wrapped myself in my big terrycloth robe and then began the makeup ritual. If this were an average day my makeup ritual would take 10 minutes from moisturizer eyebrow pencil but not today. Today was a bit special. However, I reached in my makeup bag only to find that I’d left my favorite eyeshadow, eyeliner, and eyebrow pencil at the shop! I improvised the eye makeup, then grabbed my lipstick. I pulled the lid off the lipstick only to have the thing fall apart into the sink. “OH, SERIOUSLY?!” I shouted. I took a deep breath. “Well, Aunt G,” I said aloud, “it’s going to be one of those crazy mornings” I laughed because I knew Aunt Ginny would have said something to make me smile.
I crossed the hall into my bedroom to dress for the morning. It was chilly in that room. I opened my closet to my selection of khaki pants and pastel colored, collared shirts. This is what passes for my usual uniform since I generally wear an apron over my clothes and my hair up in a bun with a white skull cap style baker’s hat (or Toque Blanche). My Aunt taught me everything I know about baking. Just like my Aunt, I wear a pretty tea towel tucked into the apron tie at my waist. I passed up the usual uniform for a button up, lace, mock turtleneck sweater with ¾ length sleeves in an antique white color and Khaki pants. I grabbed my usual white shoes as mandated by the health department then proceeded to the living room to snatch my jacket, backpack, lunch, and of course Ginger Pie.
Ginger Pie became my near constant companion ever since I developed a cardiac arrhythmia. She’s got her own room built on to the back of the shop.
As a service dog she’s never near the customers. People aren’t allowed to pet her; she can’t be distracted from her job. Of course the health department would never approve of her being in the kitchen. I had to get special permits to have Ginger in the bakery at all. I don’t know how but even when I’m all the way on the other side of the shop Ginger knows if I am having a “funny turn” as my Aunt used to say. She’ll bark out a warning. Usually all I need is a few moments to sit down. Sometimes it requires a little more help. My cousins and my Aunt Pauline help out in the bakery so I am never alone.
“Coffee with Bob!” I muttered under my breath. “What was I thinking?” Bob isn’t just any guy. His bakery was my biggest competitor in town before I had to take the bakery gluten free, and also a person I’d known since I was five years old. My family and his family had only two bakery shops in town for two generations. When I was in the middle of getting a degree in marketing my fiancee, and high school sweetheart died in a car accident. I say accident. Actually a drunk driver on the wrong side of the road hit Finn head on then drove away. I was 22 years old. Bob and his family were wonderfully supportive. They helped all of us cope by providing food for the many gatherings in honor of Finn at no charge. I’ve not had a serious relationship since Finn was taken so abruptly. Hard to believe that was nearly 20 years ago now. Meeting Bob for coffee would be the second “date” since that fateful accident.
“This situation is so surreal,” I thought to myself as I was packing the car. Ginger hopped up into her usual spot. “I mean really! Bob is the very last man.” My thoughts drifted off as I pulled the car out of the garage. I moved out of the narrow street on which I lived to the main street that would take Ginger and I to the village. In my head I was still thinking of my meeting with Bob despite all my efforts to push it out of my mind. Yesterday I was at the Bake-off with my team, today I was about to meet Bob for coffee. Twenty years I’d been going to that bake off… never once did I even look at Bob romantically. When we were kids Bob was a fairly normal guy, and a friend. Then he took over his family bakery. As the bakery’s business grew so did his ego. At least that was my opinion until yesterday. Ever since he attended culinary school at Paul Smith’s College he had become an overbearing, pompous, overly dramatic, male chauvinist, kitchen prima donna. Yesterday he proved me wrong. “How the devil did that happen? At no time had I ever considered Bob as a romantic interest,” I said to Ginger out loud. She looked at me as if she understood, sticking one ear out at the side of her head. “Exactly” I replied.
Yesterday was a big day for me, my shop, and the village of Bushwick. Bob and I tied for first place at the Applefield Country Christmas Cookie Bake-off Invitational. The festival is fairly prestigious in the area and is often covered by news outlets across the state. Bakeries from 50 miles around are invited to join in the bake-off. The invitations are hard to obtain, winning means notoriety for the bakery and the village. This year was the first time two bakeries would share first prize. My family’s bakery and Bob’s Best won. For two bakeries from the same village to win was very exciting. Bob and I shared a rather special moment after our win. That put the icing on the cookie, as-it-were. Bob, the normal, thoughtful guy I knew as a kid came flooding back. He opened up his heart to me. He said he had always admired me “but of course there was someone else” He was right. Finn was always there in my heart. It was true that I had closed myself off from other romantic relationships for fear of losing… tears began to fill my eyes as I drove into the village. I stopped at the stop light, grabbed a tissue and dabbed at my eyes and nose. I couldn’t ruin my makeup.
I looked at the dashboard clock: fifteen minutes early. It was 7:30 am. Bob was due at 9:00, but I still had to prep the kitchen. When I got there Aunt Pauline, Rachel and Bethann were already there decorating for the Holidays. Bethann had put the gingerbread cookies in the oven to bake. I put Ginger into her room then went into the kitchen to put on my apron, cap, and of course, my tea towel.
“Wow! You look great! Is that new eye makeup?” said Rachel. A big grin on her face told me I was in for quite a bit of teasing this morning.
“No, I replied, “I left my favorite eye makeup here on my desk so I improvised.” Everyone laughed. I shared my morning predicament, including my lipstick crumbling into the sink.
Aunt Pauline said, “Good grief, you have had a morning! Did you eat anything?”
“I grabbed a biscotti and a cup of tea.” I said as I walked into the kitchen to start making the frosting for a birthday cake. “Thankfully buttercream frosting is gluten free. No substitutions necessary.” I said under my breath. Bethann came in behind me to pull the gingerbread from the oven.
“Rachel and I will decorate the stars if you make extra buttercream. What time is Bob due?” She ran the sentences together as if inquiring about Bob was a totally natural segway.
I looked at her, hand on hip, and said, “You know exactly what time Bob is due, Bethann. Am I going to take a razzing from you three all day?”
She laughed, handed me a warm gingerbread cookie, and stated, “Yes, unequivocally, and absolutely, yes”.
I began whipping the buttercream adding a little blue food coloring to tint the frosting. I absentmindedly checked the clock. “Half an hour until Bob arrives. Plenty of time to finish this frosting then check my face” I thought. Then I caught myself. “Check my makeup? I’m checking my makeup for BOB?! This is so crazy. This is so crazy, it just might work.” I smiled to myself. I went into the back room where I had a small set of lockers and a full set of mirrors with lighting just for the purpose of tidying up and looking presentable for the customers. Meanwhile I hollered out “Is there fresh coffee?”
A male voice replied, “Of course.” It was Bob! He was EARLY! “Holy smokes.” I yelled to myself. I felt slightly faint as the butterflies in my stomach did a hyperspace jump. I checked myself over, sprayed some breath freshener in my mouth, checked my teeth, applied lipstick (which thankfully did not fall apart). Then walked out into the shop as nonchalantly as possible. I looked on the counter, Aunt Pauline had poured two cups of coffee and set out breakfast sandwiches. “Sly woman” I thought to myself. The closed sign was still on the door and everyone had faded from the shop, leaving Bob and I to sit at the counter with our coffee and sandwiches.
Bob looked very sharp in his suede coat, blue shirt and Khaki pants. His dark brown hair was a bit tousled. “I guess these are for us.” I said to Bob, with a big smile. “Please have a seat.”
He replied, “Let’s sit over here at the table.” The shop was still decorated in the style of the 1950’s including small, coin operated, jukeboxes mounted on the wall by the tables. I was about to take my seat when Bob hopped around the table to pull out my chair for me. I think I must have looked at him a bit surprised because he said, “Don’t look so surprised, I’ve waited a long time to be able to do that.” I was silent. I mean, what do you say after a line like that? On the chair next to me was a beautiful bouquet of Autumn colored mums. “These are beautiful, Bob! Thank you so much! You didn’t have to bring flowers,” I said feeling the pink rising to my face.
He replied with a grin that showed all his dimples, “Are you blushing?” We began eating our breakfast sandwiches. It’s always unnerving to have another baker try baked goods from your shop. The bread was Aunt Pauline’s recipe.
“This bread is amazing. Are you sure this is gluten free?” exclaimed Bob.
I said, “Oh yes! Scrupulously made by Aunt Pauline herself.” Bob just kept right on eating. I smiled to myself.
I broke the silence by mentioning the prize from the Bake-off Invitational. Bob looked at me. “I have a proposal,” he said with a twinkle in his hazel colored eyes.” “Okay?” I replied with a skeptical tone “We’ll meet for lunch at the house on the lake where we can discuss the prize in comfort. I’d love to learn how you cook gluten free, you know, for future reference. So you bring the ingredients and I’ll make sure every item to be used in the kitchen will be brand new. What do you say?” I sat back in my chair because I really never expected a first date let alone a second date. I didn’t know if I could trust him to keep this to himself. He’s not a braggart in the sense that some men talk about their conquests by the hour. That’s not Bob. He would, however, tell all his golfing buddies that the lunch thing was a date and I didn’t feel ready for the world to know. I wanted to protect my heart again, and that’s not the way relationships work. These thoughts flitted through my brain at lightspeed. “Okay you got a deal! When would you like to get together?” As if on cue, we simultaneously pulled out our cellphones. Snickering came from the kitchen. Bob looked at me, I pointed to the camera in the shop (the sound was turned off). We both waved to the girls in the kitchen. “You should have my schedule now,” he quipped with a smile. I sent my work calendar to his phone so we could see if any dates matched up.
“Well I see we both have days free in the middle of next month”. I joked. At that moment Aunt Pauline came out into the shop.
“Excuse me. I’m so sorry to interrupt but I can’t find the order for that cake”.
I reached into my apron pocket. “Here’s why! I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay! No worries, I got this covered.” Aunt Pauline smiled as she took the paperwork and walked back into the kitchen. While I was talking to Aunt Pauline, Bob got a phone call. He stepped across the room to take the call.
He walked back to the table. As he dropped down into his chair “That was my mom. I’ll have Saturday free because the Singer wedding was cancelled.” Bob said mournfully.
“Seriously? Wow I didn’t see that coming! Not good news for anyone involved!” I said in a sympathetic tone.
Bob said, “How about Saturday? I see your schedule is free.” I felt those butterflies again except these were more like blackhawk helicopters as the natural alarm systems were going off in my brain. Bob looked at me seriously.
“Lillian, I know this is hard for you. I wouldn’t push you under any circumstance. Since this will be a working lunch and not really a date, we’ll be discreet. We’ve been friends for many years. It does feel a bit unusual to change gears.” Bob remarked with genuine feeling. “I had hopes that someday you might see me as more than a friend. I realize that at some point you saw me with less than friendly eyes,” he continued. “I can’t say that I blame you. I find it very challenging to be the boss of my family business. To cover for the way I felt I became ‘super Bob’.”
I giggled. “Is that what you call him. That other guy with the ego.” Though I have to say inwardly I was surprised to hear him talk this frankly.
“Lil!” He exclaimed.
“Sorry, Bob, I couldn’t help it. To answer your question, yes, next Saturday will be fine. You can pick me up at 10:45 am, sharp.” I said to Bob looking him straight in the eye. “Obviously Ginger Pie will have to come but she’s a good girl and will love the lake.” I added.
“Obviously!” Bob said with a twinkle in his eye.
The clock read 10:30 am and I needed to open the shop for folks to pick up their orders. Sunday the shop is closed but I will take special orders. I knew Bob had several standing orders for their homemade bread.
“Bob I hate to do this but I have a customer coming in to pick up a cake for a baby shower at First Lutheran.”
“Baby shower?” Bob queried. I laughed out loud.
“Where have you been? Pete and Tyra are having their first!”
“Oh! Well, we both have work to do so I’ll see you on Saturday morning.” said Bob with a grin.
“Excellent! Thanks again for the flowers, Bob. They are beautiful!” I commented. Rachel popped out from the kitchen with a star-shaped gingerbread cookie in a box upon which the girls had written Bob’s name.
“A little something to take with you,” she said.
“Thanks Rachel and Bethann!” Bob waved to the camera and stepped out the door.
I stood at the door watching him walk down the sidewalk with the cookie box in hand. I flipped the sign over that read “open for pick-up”. I turned away from the camera, took a deep breath, shook my head, then walked back to the kitchen. I got mobbed by 3 hugs, and a happy bark from Ginger’s room.
“Okay ladies, no time to get the “vapors” as Aunt Ginny used to say, we have orders to get out.”
We had a good laugh and got down to business. I don’t think the smile I’d had since 9:00 am left my face all day. “At no time in the past 15 years had I been more excited about a ‘working lunch’”.