Authors: Kathy Cranston
Copyright © Kathy Cranston 2016
All rights reserved
This book is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
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The bus rounded a sharp bend and Jessie Henderson was thrown back several decades to carefree summer evenings. There was something about the first sight of Springdale that could do that to a person. Her breath caught in her throat.
“You’ve gone very quiet. Everything okay?”
Jessie smiled and nodded. She hadn’t realized it at the time, but she guessed she’d been talking non-stop at the elderly driver for the entire journey.
“Yeah,” she said, beaming. “I’m more than okay. I’m getting off here—you’ll get a moment’s peace, you’ll be pleased to know.”
He laughed and shook his head. “It’s been nice chatting with you,” he said.
Jessie smiled. She had grown used to living in the city, where speaking to a stranger often got you a funny look and baffled silence. It felt good to get back to the small town where she’d spent most of her childhood summers.
The bus came to a stop outside the old courthouse.
“Do you need help with your bags?”
Jessie shook her head and stood to pull her pack from the overhead baggage storage.
“No, thanks. I wasn’t kidding when I said I gave most of my belongings away to charity.”
As she lifted the pack onto her back, though, she felt more naked than liberated. Doubt crept into her mind for the first time.
What if I’m making a mistake?
It had seemed like such a no-brainer. She had always been restless in the city, but both she and her ex-husband had worked for big insurance corporations—living in Springdale simply hadn’t been an option. Still, that hadn’t stopped her from daydreaming about moving to Springdale and helping Aunt Bee with the café.
“You know,” the driver shifted around in his seat. “For a woman who’s wanted to move here her whole life, you don’t seem so eager to get off the bus.”
Jessie’s mind shot back to the present. “Yes, sorry—I didn’t mean to delay you,” she said, clipping her pack across her chest. “I’m ready.” She took a deep breath.
Am I? What if this was always a daydream that would never have worked in reality?
Jessie shook her head as she watched the doors hiss closed behind her and the bus took off with a roar of its ancient engine. She was beginning to wonder if getting divorced and losing her job in the same year had caused her to make a snap decision she might regret.
She forced herself to start moving along Spring Street. After all, it wasn’t like she had a choice now—the house had been sold and she’d sold or given away most of her possessions. She had nothing to go back to.
“It’s an adventure,” she murmured, telling herself she wasn’t crazy.
spent years dreaming of this. She’d just neglected to iron out the nitty gritty. Like what was she going to do for work? Sure, she could help out in the café for a while—but her help would mainly consist of balancing the books and cleaning up. Jessie was notorious for her
ability to bake—she was the only woman in her family who couldn’t make a sponge cake if her life depended on it.
She quickened her pace, not wanting to think about it anymore. Because even though she’d made the decision to move to Springdale, it hadn’t exactly been a choice—not in the strictest sense of the word. After all, she would never have been able to pay the mortgage by herself, and after she lost her job, she couldn’t afford to rent even the most basic apartment without making a large dent in her redundancy payoff.
Luckily, it was a beautiful sunny day in Springdale, and beautiful sunny days in Springdale had always been one of Jessie’s favorite things in the world. She felt her worries begin to evaporate as she saw the intersection with Main Street up ahead.
The town is looking good
, she thought.
It had been a couple years since she’d last had the chance to visit and she was pleased to see that new businesses had opened up in many of the lots that had been abandoned during the recession. It was more like the Springdale she had known and loved as a child.
She looked around. There were people everywhere, making the most of the beautiful weather. She watched as they ambled along the street, pausing to look in the quirky little stores that lined Spring Street.
She reached the corner and turned onto Main Street. A weight lifted off her shoulders. It was like her doubts evaporated the moment she looked up and saw the old-fashioned sign for Bee’s Bakehouse in the distance. She was home.
Jessie pushed open the door and gasped when the smell of freshly-baked cookies hit her nose. It conjured up such a mix of nostalgia and wonder that she momentarily forgot her plan to sneak in and surprise her aunt, who had no idea she was coming. But her mind was blank now, full of memories of carefree days spent running around Springdale with her cousin Melanie, giggling as they looted freshly-baked muffins from one of the cooling racks in the kitchen.
“Jessie Henderson,” a voice bellowed.
Jessie looked up. Her face broke into a smile as she registered the tiny woman who had just walked out of the kitchen.
“Aunt Bee!” she exclaimed, rushing forward. “I swear I went back in time the moment I came in here. It’s amazing how smells can send you right back to the past.”
Bee came around the side of the counter and enveloped her in a tight hug.
“My niece Jessie,” she announced to the café at large.
To Jessie’s surprise, the customers stopped what they were doing and smiled warmly in her direction. She hadn’t expected that, but it didn’t surprise her—Beatrice Martin was a Springdale institution.
She glanced around the café. It was exactly how she remembered it—the counter to the left with its large refrigerated display bursting with sweet treats. The shelf on the wall that was crowded with quirky floral teapots.
She loved everything about this place—the mismatched wood chairs and tables; the black and white tiles on the floor; the delicate floral wallpaper that was lined with framed pictures of Springdale citizens through the years. She sighed with pleasure. Then she caught sight of the shiny chrome coffee machine on the counter. That was a new addition since she’d last visited—before, there had always been two coffee makers: one for regular and one for decaf.
She took a step closer and looked at the signs on the cake-stands on the counter. She laughed.
“Espressos and cronuts, Aunt Bee? You’re keeping up with the trends.”
Bee’s hands flew to her hips—a gesture Jessie remembered well from her childhood. “Don’t you come in here and act like I’m some twee old lady.”
Jessie swallowed. If she hadn’t been able to see the smile on Bee’s face she’d have been very nervous. “I wasn’t, Aunt Bee. I just thought it was funny is all.”
“I’m sixty-two years old, Miss Big-City. Not a hundred. And I’ll tell you something.” She leaned closer as if she was about to reveal a deep secret. “Don’t believe it for a second when they tell you cronuts were invented in some hipster café in the city.”
Jessie raised an eyebrow and tried not to laugh. “Oh? And why is that?”
Jessie snorted. “I guess the French are lying when they claim the macaron?”
“You youngsters have no respect. No respect.” Bee crossed her arms and shook her head.
It was a gesture Jessie must have seen ten thousand times. She felt a surge of love and familiarity. “Oh Aunt Bee, it’s so good to see you,” she said, pulling her aunt into a bear hug. “Even if you are a pathological liar.”
“I suppose it’s nice to see you, even if you do insult me at every turn,” Bee said, wriggling free. “How long do I have you for this time? The town fair is on next weekend, it would be wonderful if you’re still around.”
Jessie raised her eyebrows. “Can we go in the back?” she whispered.
Bee’s eyes widened a fraction. “Is something wrong, Jessie?”
“Out with it, Jessie dear. You’re about as good at hiding things from me as your mother is.”
Jessie followed her through the swinging door that separated the spacious kitchen from the café floor. “It’s nothing, I promise. I just didn’t want to broadcast my business in front of the world at large.”
Bee turned toward the café and rolled her eyes theatrically. “If you don’t like other people knowing your business then you probably shouldn’t have come to Springdale. One can’t visit the restroom without the whole town knowing about it.”
Jessie grinned. “Nothing’s changed here then, huh?”
Bee shook her head. “Same as it’s always been.”
Jessie thought she heard an edge to the older woman’s voice, but she ignored it. Because they had a lot to discuss. She took a deep breath and exhaled long and slow as she thought about what she was about to say.
“There’s something you should know.”
“Go on dearie.”
Jessie sighed and leaned against the stainless steel counter. This was the part she’d been dreading. So much time had passed now that it would be more difficult that if she’d just been honest at the time. “Roger and I are divorced, Aunt Bee.”
Bee pursed her lips. It was a look Jessie had seen many times before, especially when she was a rebellious sixteen-year-old, determined to get into as much trouble as she could. Her mind raced. She’d avoided telling Aunt Bee for this exact reason. Even though she was a grown woman, she couldn’t stand the thought of Bee being disappointed in her. Her mom? Well, that was different. Her mom, Bee’s older sister, had quit her job as a realtor and run away to Europe to, in her words, become a bohemian.
Jessie opened her mouth to explain, but Bee beat her to it.
“Divorced, Jessie? Not separated?”
“Yeah,” Jessie said miserably. “Look, I can explain. I—”
“You didn’t think to tell me? You could have come down here; sorted out your head. That’s what they say, isn’t it?”
Jessie shook her head. “I didn’t want to worry you. And I had a feeling you might disapprove.”
Bee opened her eyes wide. “Disapprove?” she gasped. “No, child. Why the only thing I disapproved of was you marrying him in the first place.”
“What?” Jessie gasped.
“Well, I don’t want to speak out of turn. But I always thought you were much too good for him. He didn’t appreciate all you did for him.”
“You don’t disapprove, though? You’re not gonna make me wear a scarlet letter and parade around the streets?”
“Jessie Henderson. I’m disappointed in you for thinking such a thing.”
Jessie felt her shoulders relax.
Bee’s eyes twinkled. “I suppose you’ll want my help setting up your Tinder profile.”
Jessie gasped in shock and horror. “My
, Aunt Bee?”
“Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of it,” Bee said, bustling to the oven and opening it a crack.
Jessie’s mouth watered in response to the smell that was released. “Of course I’ve heard of it. I’m surprised you have, is all.”
Bee shot her a filthy look. “Just because I’m older, Jessie—”
Jessie held up her hands in mock surrender. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. But there’ll be no Tinder, okay? I’ll settle for whatever’s in that oven. Tell me my nose is correct and those are cheese scones.”
Bee grinned. “Cheese and spring onion. You can have one if you promise me one thing.”
“You don’t keep anything from me again.”