The next morning, Mattie woke early and went to work. She got to Winslow’s around 3:45 am and met Joan at the door. Her boss looked like she had been awake for hours and showed no signs of sleepiness. Meanwhile, Mattie was still rubbing sleep from her eyes and obviously yawning. Joan greeted her with a warm, albeit sympathetic, smile.
“Good morning, sunshine.”
“Thank you for coming in early. I really needed the help. John got sick yesterday and isn’t able to help me with the morning baking before the cafe opens.”
“It’s no problem.” Mattie entered the front of the bakery and put down her coat and purse. The front of Winslow’s was a small cafe for quick take out items. The shop only had two tables and four chairs and was a local favorite for a cup of coffee and muffin on the way to work. Their primary business was catering events and weddings with all different assortments of baked goods. Mattie worked a lot on cakes and cupcakes, but loved decorating cookies and baking.
She went in the back and began preparing the kitchen. She looked over the inventory list and saw that she needed to bake a variety of muffins. About an hour and half later, she had chocolate chip, cranberry, and coffee cake muffins cooling in their racks. Noticing that there were not many croissants in the case, she went looking for the dough prepared yesterday that was likely cooling in the refrigerator. She rolled it out, sliced it into triangles, rolled them into perfect crescents and placed them on baking sheets. She brushed them with egg and put them in the oven at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes.
“It smells great in here,” she heard Joan’s voice float in from the office, “I finished my paperwork. Do you need any help before I get the doors open?” Mattie shook her head no and continued cleaning her work space. “Okay,” Joan continued from the door, “Selene should be here within the next few minutes to get the shop open and the coffee made. Let me grab you the sketch for the Morrison cake.”
They reviewed the sketch together. The cake was being designed to celebrate a 30th anniversary. The client wanted something that was rather simple in design but elegant overall. The flowers would take some time to make, but it wasn’t very challenging work. Selene would probably be able to help with some of the work as well. Mattie had been working on the flowers diligently when she saw a mug of coffee slide toward her.
“Thank you, Selene.”
“You’re welcome,” Selene said, “You were working so intently, I don’t think you realized that I came to work. So, I made you a cup of coffee to let you know I’d arrived. Just milk. No sugar.”
“I got wrapped up and a bit lost in these flowers.”
“I can see that.” Mattie took a sip of the coffee offered from Selene and felt her shoulders relax as she inhaled the warm aroma and enjoyed the sensation of warmth spreading through her body. She took the opportunity to take a break and look down at her work.
“How long have I been working on these?”
“About an hour. You should have enough by now from what I can see on that sketch. Maybe a few more. Want some help?”
“Sure.” Mattie welcomed the chance to have Selene help her. She took it as a way to relax for a minute and also help coach Selene while she was practicing. Watching her coworker create little pieces of edible art was cathartic. Selene had gotten very good at it over the past few months and at this point, didn’t need much guidance.
“You seem upset today,” Selene observed.
“I’m not. Just sleepy.”
“Yeah. I’m okay,” Mattie said, but she knew she wasn’t. Working on a cake for a couple celebrating 30 years of marriage had her thinking about Anna and Chris most of the morning. She wondered what they would be like in 30 years. Would they be together? Would they have children? Or would her sister’s spontaneity lead her to a likely and not surprising divorce? Most of all, she couldn’t shake the upset caused by the fact that Anna hadn’t told her about Chris. She had wondered if and when they had drifted apart and what would make her sister want to keep such important details secret.
Selene asked if she could start to add flowers to the cake and, with Mattie’s permission, started placing them on the white fondant covered sponge. Mattie’s thoughts drifted back to her sister and their relationship. They didn’t have a great bond with their dad and had lost their mom when they were in college. For a long time, they didn’t get along very well but became close as they realized they only had each other. Sunday dinners became a tradition as long as they were within driving distance of each other. Because of this, Mattie felt really let down by her sister’s surprise announcement. She had thought they were closer than that. Lost in her thoughts, Mattie jolted a bit when she heard the bell from the front door chime.
“Do you want me to get that and you can keep working on placing some of the dried flowers?” She asked Selene.
“That would be awesome. Thanks, Mattie.”
“Sure,” Mattie said as she rose from the table. She walked through the swinging doors and started to greet her customer, “Hello. Welcome to Winslow’s. How can I--” She stopped short in her greeting when she realized that she was face to face with the man she crashed into at the supermarket the day before.
“Hi,” he said while smiling.
“Hi. Uhm...what can I get for you?”
“Your insurance information would be useful. I have an awful pain in my back from our accident yesterday.”
“You can’t be serious?”
“I’m not,” he said with his hands up defensively, “it was a joke.”
“How did you know I work here?”
“I didn’t. I just wanted a cup of coffee.” Mattie silently cursed to herself that she was so presumptuous and moved toward the carafes.
“Cream and sugar?”
“No. Just milk.”
“That’ll be $2.75,” she said handing over the coffee with one hand and punching in the sale at the register. He handed over a five dollar bill and she counted out his change. This close, she was able to get a better look at him. He was just about six feet tall and had an athletic build. He was dressed well in a slate gray suit and camel colored overcoat. She noticed that he introduced a different scent to the bakery and smelled like pine and fresh air.
“Thanks,” he said and tipped his coffee in acknowledgement, “my name is Ian, by the way.”
“Mattie,” she replied with a tight lipped smile.
“It’s nice to meet you, Mattie. Have a good day.” He turned to leave and gave her a wave as he backed out of the bakery and onto the sidewalk. Mattie felt shaken and excited by the exchange and felt awkward like she didn’t know what to do with her hands.
“Who was that beautiful man?” Selene asked, startling Mattie at the register.
“Geez, Selene. You can’t sneak up on me like that.”
“I’m sorry, but seriously. Who was that?”
“Just someone I bumped into at the grocery store. His name is Ian, I guess.”
“Ian is mighty fine,” Selene said appreciatively.
“Okay? Just okay? Mattie, did you even see him?”
“Yea. I did. He’s okay,” Mattie replied, picking up her coffee and heading back into the kitchen, “now how far did you get on this cake?” Mattie scrutinized the work Selene had completed and nodded approvingly. “Good job. This is better than last time. Be careful about how you place decorations, though. You’re really close to being off center here,” she pointed to a spot on the second tier, “we can add another flower or two and it should balance out.” The bell on the front door rang again and Selene went to help the customer.
Mattie got back into finishing up work on the cake and a little while later Selene returned sporting a sly smirk. Mattie looked up from her work and asked, “What’s that shit eating grin you’ve got going on there?”
“Language, Matilda,” Joan said emerging from her office.
“Joan, please don’t--”
“I know! I know! Please don’t use your full name,” Joan conceded, “I am trying, Mattie. I’m trying.” She looked over to Selene and pointed to the piece of paper in her hand. “Selene, what is it that your holding?”
“It’s for Mattie.” She handed over the note and when Mattie looked down to read it, her hand almost hit the floor. It felt heavy and cumbersome. Like trying to carry in multiple bags from the store down a long hallway. Mattie looked up at Selene who was staring back with a hopeful gleam in her eyes. She looked back at the note and read the message again.
It was nice meeting you, Mattie. I’m happy that our only run in wasn’t just at the grocery store. My number is below. I’d love to hear from you. --Ian