Less than a year and she would be out of here.
It had become Eden’s mantra in the past few weeks, ever since Abigail and company had decided to push her to sign up for homecoming court. She had no use for it, but her cousin wouldn’t let it go until she inevitably applied and everyone voted her onto the court. And in the nature of Abigail Devaux, she would sign up for the sake of friendly competition, but would secretly hope to overcome Eden and become Homecoming queen.
School was, at the moment, a flurry of excitement for most students. Eden on the other hand was neutral on the topic, as she was about most. Especially when she had her grades to worry about and a job that needed her attention two times out of the week.
So when Abigail arrived at her side to follow her through the halls one late afternoon, Eden easily ignored the thrum of nerves coming from the girl beside her and instead focused on making her way out of the school. “Let me guess Abigail: you think it would be a good idea for me to sign up for court.”
Her cousin had been at her side almost constantly since Eden had been adopted nearly two years back, although Eden always had the sneaking suspicion that she was being used as a pawn in the taller girl’s plans to help herself. Eden thought little of it, knowing that she’d only have to deal with Abigail’s plots for less than a year. “You know it’s a good idea, Eden. And a little friendly competition with your favorite cousin doesn’t hurt either,” she replied. “Where are you headed in such a hurry? Doesn’t Bailey have lacrosse practice this afternoon?”
“Work. Plus Mary texted me earlier today saying that my dress was in and that I should go home and try it on so that we’re sure it fits. Wouldn’t want to return it with only a few weeks left until the dance,” She recited, her adopted mother’s words on her lips. Honestly Eden wasn’t worried about the thing. If it weren’t for Mary’s insistence, she would have simply gone to the tiny shopping mall in town instead of driving the almost two hours to try on dresses only to order one online that would, in Mary’s words, “look perfect on her.”
“Tell Aunt Mary and Uncle Rob that I said hey then,” Abigail requested, stopping when she reached her seventh period classroom. “And send me a picture of the dress when you try it on. I want to compare.” If compare meant try her very best to overshadow her cousin by making sure to get a more breathtaking dress, of course.
“I’ll try to remember. Have fun in class,” Eden called behind her, not pausing to turn around before she stepped out of the school doors and aimed for the parking lot.
Eden drove the same route to get home since she had arrived in Arcadia, Indiana two years before. She avoided any of the major traffic, using backroads until she spotted the dark brick house behind one of the numerous hills in the area. The lawn workers had already come and gone, leaving the grass and bushes in pristine condition, while Mary’s white Cadillac sat in the driveway waiting for her.
She didn’t take long to park, getting out with only keys and backpack in hand as she approached the front door. It was open before she even had a chance to touch the knob, fair skinned Mary standing behind it with garment bag already in hand. “Oh good, I thought you weren’t going to make it with enough time before work; hurry up to your room and tell me if it fits. We need to know so that we can help Bailey pick out a matching shirt.”
Patiently nodding, Eden grabbed the bag out of Mary’s hand – long enough that Eden was forced to hold the other end in hand so it wouldn’t drag the ground – before she walked up to her room. She deposited her bag at the door, quickly stripping down to her underwear before she finally opened the bag.
Inside was the dress Eden and Mary had agreed upon: it was strapless, a pale pink with a tight bodice that flared out below the bust and whose skirt was covered with a gauzy, chiffon like material. The top was decorated with pale gold beading, but was otherwise simple and contrasted with her dark, olive toned skin. Mary had loved it. Eden wasn’t exactly thrilled. But she was placated when Eden agreed with her on topics such as these.
She pulled on the dress in record time, hoping to finish the fitting early enough that she could get that extra hour at the bakery. When she finally looked in the mirror, she was forced to hold the front of the dress up since she couldn’t quite reach the top of the zipper. But Eden was satisfied, noticing that the flowing material fit her curves well while also following the length requirement.
“How does it look?” Mary called from outside her bedroom door. “Are you presentable?”
“Yes ma’am,” Eden called back, not reacting as her adopted mother entered and stopped short. “Does it look good?”
“It looks perfect,” Mary replied, eyeing the hem. “It’s a little shorter than I thought it would be. But I’ve seen pictures from other moms and it’s definitely not the shortest. The color fits you,” She complimented, hands moving to pull up Eden’s light brunette locks into something resembling an updo. “I’m not sure if you should do your hair up or down; it looks so beautiful either way.”
“We can decide that later,” Eden murmured, already searching through her room for her work uniform. “I think Abigail was talking about getting stylists to do our hair and makeup the day of, so we can decide then. But right now I’m going to get dressed and head to work early so I can get the extra hour on my check.”
“Okay,” Mary murmured, eyeing the pale blue visor sitting on the nearby desk. “Robert and I were discussing your job earlier this week, actually. We thought that maybe it would be a good idea to take a break from the bakery for your senior year.”
It was difficult for Eden to hide the sudden flinch, but it helped that she was partially hidden by the content of her closet as she searched for her uniform. “There’s no need; I’ve been able to keep up my grades since I’ve been in Arcadia. The job hasn’t hurt my schoolwork in the past.”
“Yes, but your senior year is meant to be fun. You won’t be able to do as much if you’re constantly scheduling around your job,” She retorted, arms crossed. “Your fath – Robert and I are more than willing to support you while you enjoy your last year of high school. You have plenty of money saved up to last you a little while in college.”
Yeah, there was money saved up. But a little more than six grand wouldn’t last very long when it came to supporting herself in college. At least not with what she had planned, Eden morosely thought to herself. “I only work a few days during the week. But how about I continue to work and if I feel like the bakery is taking too much time, I’ll think about whether or not I want to continue?”
“That sounds…good,” Her adopted mother reluctantly agreed, already growing weary of the topic as Eden finally emerged from her closet with uniform in hand. “When Robert and I decided to adopt a kid, I don’t think we expected to get a kid so worried about working hard.”
A laugh, on cue. “I guess you two got lucky then.”
Mary placed a hand on Eden’s shoulder, meant to be comforting, she thought. “Now we just need to teach you to relax more. Now take your time and rest for the extra hour. Maybe hang out with Bailey for a few minutes before you have to leave. I know he’d be happy to see you,” She replied, voice taking on a sing-song lilt that Eden simply laughed off.
“Fine, but you guys will have smaller Christmas presents,” She joked, forcing a smile as Mary slowly walked towards her bedroom door to leave.
“Please, as if we would ever let you pay for our presents. That’s what our credit card is for, Eden.”
Eden was deep in thought by the time she finally pulled up to the lacrosse field where Bailey was finishing up with practice. It was mostly thoughts of her adopted family – Mary and Robert, a middle aged couple who had decided that adopting a teenage child was a good idea, even when she had arrived with issues that would have seen her returned if it were most other hopeful parents.
She remembered the first day she had arrived at the Devaux home, how big she had thought it was. Gods, she could almost remember how emotional she’d been, although nowadays she felt very little in comparison. Eden could even remember being happy, although it was distant and foggy with age.
Abigail had been the first friend she’d made in Arcadia, although even in her rush to get situated at the time, Eden had known that it was for her own good more than hoping her new cousin was situated. That was how Abigail – and the rest of the Devaux family – seemed to behave. Eden was lucky enough that Robert, her adopted father and Mary’s husband, was kinder than most of his family.
A knock on her window pulled Eden out of her thoughts and back to the real world, where Bailey was waiting with a goofy smile just for her. She didn’t take too much time before her door was open and she was being pulled into a hug that almost completely enveloped her. Eden lifted her head just in time for his lips to capture hers in a kiss, letting it last a few seconds before pulling away. “I thought you’d be at work by now,” He murmured, words only loud enough for her ears. “What’s the special occasion?”
“I was convinced to relax until four,” Eden replied, leaning back against the car as Bailey followed, arms still around her. “Looks like it was a good practice.”
Bailey was the picturesque jock, six feet plus of lean muscle and a sun kissed tan from days and weeks spent out on the lacrosse field. His dark hair, usually kept carefully styled with gel, was now mussed and wet from sweat, sticking uncharacteristically to his forehead. He’d forgone a jersey during his athletic period, a rare opportunity since the temperature rarely reached high eighties in Arcadia even in the summer. It was an increasingly rare warm afternoon that would only become more elusive once fall arrived.
“It definitely was. With me and Grey on the team, I think we actually have a chance of winning state this year,” He informed her, mentioning Abigail’s current boyfriend. “Do you think you have enough time to get a bite with me before your shift starts?”
Eden nodded, jerking her head in the direction of their vehicles. “If you come to the bakery and get a bite there before my shift, we should have enough time. And at least I’ll eat something before closing time. But we need to leave in a couple of minutes.”
Bailey only smiled, leaning down to kiss her one more time before he pulled away, grabbing keys out of his pocket and heading for his own car. “I’ll see you there,” He called behind him, right as Eden returned to her car and pulled out with a sigh on her lips.
When Eden had started at St. Bernadette’s, she had only been a part of Arcadia for a month. She knew close to no one, save her adopted parents and what family she had met at a barbeque meant to welcome her into the Devaux and Weston families. And while Abigail had been a big boost to her needed social life, Eden had known that the only thing that would make her fit in more would come in the form of Bailey Stanten.
Bailey had been one of the first to introduce his self when Eden had entered St. Bernadette’s Academy. He’d been outgoing and friendly, a winning combination that didn’t come off as overtly desperate as some of the other students did. Eden didn’t blame the students who tried to gain her friendship, especially when Abigail had explained just how much pull – and money – the Devaux family had in the tiny town. But even with her ever dulling emotions, Bailey had caught her attention by his actions.
They’d been talking often for weeks when the first rose arrived in her locker. And it happened for days, until he finally showed up in person with a bouquet in hand, asking to go to prom with her. Of course she’d said yes; that was what reasonable teenage girls did when a cute boy asked you out.
It was how they ended up here, eating together while Bailey talked about his endeavors with school and sports while Eden patiently listened, stopping only to pull a pill bottle out of her purse. “You’re looking a little low; you want me to pick up your prescription on my way to pick you up tomorrow?”
Eden shook her head, swallowing the pill with practiced ease before returning the bottle to her bag. “Mary already picked up the next bottle from the pharmacist, although she’s thinking about sending me to my psychiatrist to make sure that I’m still taking the correct dosage.”
“You haven’t had a mood swing in a long time,” Bailey pointed out, idly snacking on what remained of his meal. “Is she just being paranoid?”
She shrugged, pushing her plate towards him as an open invitation to eat the last half of her sandwich. He willingly obliged. “It’s just been a while. I’m surprised she never made me go back for an annual check actually. She was really worried that it was going to affect my school performance when I was diagnosed so I’m stunned that she hasn’t made me go back sooner to check.”
“Well, I doubt the quack is going to tell you that you need to up your dosage,” Bailey managed between bites of her sandwich. “But you can tell me more about it later. I think your manager is glaring daggers at me for taking so much of your time when you could be working.” Eden severely doubted it, since Becca was one of the sweetest women she’d had the pleasure of meeting. But she allowed Bailey this quick escape, lifting her head back and accepting a quick goodbye kiss before he was waving goodbye.
Eden made quick work of what trash Bailey hadn’t picked up before she finally put on her full length baby blue apron over the light gray dress her boss had them wear as their uniform. She was okay with it, especially since it was long enough that she could bend over to pick something up without worrying about flashing someone. Her visor was already in place and her hair was pulled into a ponytail by the time she finally walked behind the counter to put her bag up and clock in.
Becca was the first to greet her, as always. The woman, middle aged and sweeter than most people Eden had met, was the wife of the owner and baked almost every treat that was sold in the store. While the girls served and made coffee, Becca was usually found in the back with flour up to her elbows and some kind of batter splattered across the counter and her person. “Your boyfriend always hurries out of here, doesn’t he?” The older woman asked, a fresh tray of cookies in hand.
She’d just finished clocking in when Eden turned to her manager, nodding. “He’s scared you’re going to fuss him for keeping me too long. Especially since I decided to not go in early today. He doesn’t believe that you’re as innocent as I say.”
Becca laughed – an authentic, full bodied laugh that was characteristically Becca. “He’s scared of me? Wow, just wait until my husband hears that one. I don’t think he’ll be able to stop laughing at that one,” She confessed as she put out the treats, freshly baked sugar, chocolate chip, and macadamia nut cookies. “Although I will admit, I was relieved that you didn’t come in early today. You’ve been working enough to make up for three of the girls and I didn’t know how to tell you that you deserve a break.”
“You sound like Mary,” Eden muttered, moving to take the tray from Becca’s hands; four months pregnant and the woman never seemed to stop. Although Eden would be the first to admit that she was barely showing, even with the ribbon sitting snug around her stomach. “She just tried to tell me that she and Robert thought it would be a good idea for me to take time off during my senior year. Which I’m not,” Eden quickly informed her, relieved when the woman only grinned in response. “But I did tell her I’d think about it if work, and I quote, ‘is taking up too much time.’”
“Eden, if half of the girls in here worked like you do, I think we’d be keeping them for longer than a couple months,” Becca complimented, clapping her hands free of flour that had managed to cling to her while baking. “I didn’t think I’d ever be saying this, but maybe you should take a break. I’m not upset with your performance, but most kids would kill for the opportunity you’ve been offered. And I know your parents are more than willing to pay for whatever you need.”
“They would,” Eden reluctantly grumbled, trying her best to focus on the cookies in her hand and not what she thought her boss was saying.
Becca nodded, leaning back on the counter while they had a spare moment. “You’re working five days a week, more when you inevitably cover for one of the other girls. In fact, I don’t know the last time you asked off.”
Finished with her task, Eden turned and headed towards the kitchen while Becca followed, not letting the conversation drop. “It’s not that I don’t want the break,” She really didn’t want it, though. “But I want to make sure I have enough money when I leave for college. And since you guys promoted me to manager, I’ll be making more and that means more to put in my bank account.”
“You talk about saving money as if your parents wouldn’t make sure you were provided for – wherever you end up going,” Becca pointed out, pushing Eden out of the way of the sink and taking over her cleaning duty. And she was just about to continue her speech when the bell chimed, abruptly ending their conversation. “Go ahead and get that, but our conversation isn’t over.”
Eden escaped, knowing that her boss wouldn’t close tonight without talking to her about it at least once. So instead she focused on getting her work done and serving her customers.
The afternoon rush had followed Bailey’s exit, bringing plenty of customers. Most were from the nearby schools, parents or babysitters picking up kids and stopping for a treat before going home to start homework. The older crowd was from the public high school only a block or so away, getting work done or waiting for rides in the café instead of the school parking lot.
In all honesty, Eden liked working. It was almost mindless; caffeine, baked goods, and smiling were the only things on her mind when she worked at Becca’s Baked Goods. She could forget about all the troubles waiting for her outside when she left at night. It helped that she was making good money for it, too. But Eden honestly loved the place. It would be one of the few things she’d miss when she finally left for college the coming summer.
Eden’s shift passed by in a rush of constant customers and running back and forth from register to the baked goods display. But it had gone well; no customers had yelled at her and she’d even been tipped twenty dollars by a generous older couple that had come through.
“It’s ten ‘til,” Becca finally announced from the front, peaking her head into the back kitchen to inform Eden and her coworker – a relatively new girl by the name of Sarah. “Eden, you can clean up out front. Sarah, I’m going to teach you how to set the ovens cleaning so that I won’t have to worry about it tomorrow morning. And Eden, don’t forget that I want to talk to you before you leave.”
How could I forget, Eden thought to herself as she pulled off her apron, depositing it and her visor on top of her purse before heading to the front of the store with rag in hand. But just as she was grabbing the cleaner from beneath her register, there was the chime of the front door opening and Eden looked up to find a young man entering, looking worried.
“Are you guys still open?” He asked, voice rough as if from lack of use, before barely managing to hide a yawn.
“It depends,” Eden replied, stowing her towel and cleaner beneath the counter before she plastered on a smile and approached the display case. “We’re not baking anything else but you have your pick of what’s left.”
As he got closer, Eden realized that he was tall; if she had to guess, she’d say he was probably taller than Bailey. But unlike Bailey, his hair was dirty blond and kept up on a bun that looked like it was on the verge of falling. As if he’d just woken up. “My roommate stops here when he comes back from home and said that I should try the place when I’m in town. But he didn’t say what’s good. Any suggestions?” He asked, green eyes flitting up and suddenly catching Eden’s.
Eden was enraptured – gods, she never thought she’d ever use the word enraptured, even in her dreams. But something about them was simply breathtaking and it wasn’t until she reminded herself where she was that Eden realized that he was still waiting for a reply. “Well, Becca’s well known for her muffins. Most people get chocolate – either triple or chip – but I like the blueberry and banana nut. If you don’t like those, we have cupcakes –”
“I’ll take three of each muffin,” He finally replied, eyeing what was left in the case. “My roommate will thank me at least.”
Eden packed up his order, grateful for the easy request – grateful enough that she even put in an extra, as a thank you – and moved back to the register. “That’ll be twenty-four sixty,” Eden informed him, waiting patiently as he pulled out two twenties and slid them across the counter.
“Keep the change,” He told her, grabbing for the box the same moment that she’d moved to pick up the bills and their arms were tangled together. But it wasn’t until Eden pulled back – a smile gracing her lips with unnatural ease – and her hand brushed gently against his that something strange and amazing happened.
Eden felt the flare of her magic for the first time in almost two years.
She pulled back with a jerk, nearly taking down a tip jar with her sudden movements. She saw a reflection of herself in the nearby display glass and caught a glimpse of herself, breathing hard and face etched with panic as she felt her heart beating against her ribcage. Her eyes were thrown wide open, pupils tiny. She shouldn’t have felt this. She couldn’t have. There was no way. It was impossible –
She looked up at the young man, shrinking back with unexpected panic, his mere presence causing her to pull away. She barely caught the stirrings of recognition on his face before she forcefully turned her eyes away, willing him to disappear. “Just – leave!” Eden barely kept herself from yelling, the oncoming panic attack threatening to send her into a spiral. “Take the damn muffins and leave.” She didn’t want to hear what he had to say, couldn’t.
Eden didn’t look up, only listening for the tell-tale chime of the door to mark his exit before she even allowed her eyes to open. Her heart was still pounding in her chest and she could still feel the panic attack simmering when she heard the kitchen door swing open and someone swearing loudly as Becca filled her vision, worry etched into her features as she checked over Eden with frantic attention. “E? Eden? Can you hear me, sweetheart? Are you okay?” She somehow managed to nod, eyes closed shut as she tried to control her ragged breathing. “What happened? Did that customer do something?”
This time, Eden shook her head with vigor, knowing where that route would lead. “What happened then?”
It took a few moments before Eden finally found her words and was able to unclench her teeth long enough to speak. “Something – something I did triggered a panic attack. It happens sometimes but I’ve got it under control.”
Becca looked skeptical, but nodded instead of pursing the matter further. “You’re white as a sheet, Eden. That decides it, you’re taking a break. Two weeks and I’ll call you when I start making the new schedule. You can’t run yourself ragged like this.”
Under usual circumstances, Eden would have fought the decision. But now, faced with the possibility of facing that boy again, she didn’t even blink before agreeing to Becca’s terms. “Let me just finish cleaning –”
“No,” Becca interjected, looking the picture of parental figure as she shook her head. “You’re going home. Don’t worry about clocking out, just go grab your bag and I’ll clock you out when Sarah and I leave. Your rest starts tonight.”
Left with little room for argument, Eden did as she was told. She ignored Sarah’s concerned gaze before she finally left, her keys held out in front of her as if they would do any damage if the guy decided to return. But he didn’t. So Eden got in her car and drove home, quietly entering the house and heading upstairs. She barely remember to slip out of her uniform before she was in bed, doing her best to ignore the dread that had settled in the pit of her stomach.