Stepping out of the truck into the sunlight, stretching my legs, I knew one thing. I was never going back.
The sun beat down on the asphalt and I wiped the sweat gathering on my brow. I looked around the small town, watching people bustle in and out of shops getting on with their day. I didn’t know a soul here and they didn’t know me—just the way it should be.
After parking, I walked down the main road a bit glancing in at the shops. I wasn’t quite sure what my next move would be but not having a plan was wildly exhilarating. My whole life had been structured by exceedingly high expectations. To be the best in school, sit up the straightest at etiquette classes, smile the brightest in pictures, obediently listen to every life direction my father laid out for me.
My whole life has been planned out since I was four when my father, Antoine Philippe Gregor Marie de Castellane, the to be successor of the Duke de Mouchy, and my mother, American Heiress Adelaide Elizabeth de Castellane dé Ellenberger, arranged my betrothal to the crown prince of Greece, HRH Alexios Nikoli Oikonomou. Alexios was nine years old when I was four and was a bully. I never liked him. Somehow, I was able to convince my father to push back the marriage until I finished university, which I then pushed further until I completed my master’s in education and child development. But when I hinted at continuing for a PhD, my father went off the walls claiming a princess had no need for degrees as I would be too busy following around Alexios for whatever state event he had. Above all, I was expected to be the obedient wife who produced more heirs for the Greek royal family—an expectation I had no desire fulfilling.
As I looked about me and noticed all the people milling about on this warm August day, a delicious smell wafted my way. I sniffed a bit more to determine where the smell was coming from when I looked across the street to see a boutique bakery. Looking both ways, I quickly jogged across to the other side. I was famished and something sweet and sugary was bound to do the trick. I opened the door to hear a little bell jingle alerting the owner a customer had walked in. The bakery wasn’t excessively crowded but it did have a good amount of people inside; purchasing items, chatting with friends in the booths and tables, preparing their morning coffee on their way to whatever errand they had to run. The picturesque Saturday morning in a small town.
I made my way to the display case and took every ounce of will I had to not smash my face up to the window. Everything looked utterly delicious and mouthwatering. I wanted every single item behind the case and was mentally counting what was in my wallet when a voice spoke.
“Well, hello darlin’. Never seen you round here. What can I get ya?”
I immediately jolted up, startled by the new sound and in the process smashed my nose into the case causing a squeak to escape my lips. A hearty laugh rang throughout the shop. I looked up, rubbing my nose, to see a hearty fellow, to go with the hearty laugh, with his head thrown back laughing. He had silver hair and a beard to match. His apron, covering a flannel and jeans, was covered in flour, sugar, and what looked like chocolate.
“Oh, darlin’, pardon the laugh,” he chuckled. “I didn’t mean to scare such a sweet lil’ thing.”
A blush crept across my face. “No, it’s quite alright. It’s all my fault really. I was so lost looking at all the wonderful treats.”
“Well you ain’t wrong there, darlin’. Anything ya fancy? My treat, for scaring ya so much.” He winked at me, “and with a cute little accent like that, too. Don’t hear something like that ’round here often.”
Without a doubt my blush deepened. And a hint of anxiety hit my belly at him noticing my accent. Would I be able to stay hidden here? “Oh, no no. Sir, I can pay, Thank you, though.”
“Sir? Who’s this sir? Sweetheart we may be in the South but ya don’t have to call me sir. Silas will be just fine.” He smiled a megawatt smile at me. I immediately liked this guy and if I planned to stay around, we’d be great friends.
“Well, Silas, thank you for the offer but I would be more than happy to pay.”
“Then what’ll be darlin’?”
“What do you recommend, Silas?”
“For a sweet lil thing like you? Oh, definitely the behind the counter surprise. My wife’s specialty.”
“Behind the counter surprise?” His smile broadens at my skeptical tone.
“Yup, my wife’s idea. Every day she makes something special and doesn’t tell anyone. So ya have to order to see whatcha gon’ get.”
I smiled back at his accent and unusual phrases. Mother would be abhorred at the informality being tossed around. “That sounds delightful! Well, I will have one behind the counter surprise. And a coffee to go.”
“Coming right up darlin’. Go find a seat and I’ll bring it out to ya.”
Silas walked away as I shouted out, “Silas! That’s to go! To go! Silas?” He wasn’t paying any attention to me. So, with a huff, I sat down at a small table in the corner next to some bookcases waiting for my ‘surprise.’
As I looked about the quaint space, Silas brought over my order. Before I could say anything, Silas pulled out the other chair and took a seat with me. In front of me was a cup of coffee and what looked like a vanilla cupcake. “Now, be prepared. It may look like vanilla but wouldn’t be much of a surprise now would it.” He had a slight smile on his face as he waited for me to try the cupcake. I eyed him carefully. He simply nodded his head, encouraging me to try to treat.
I peeled the rest of the wrapper off and took a huge bite, feeling utterly scandalous. I can imagine Madame Priscilla’s bird-like face gasping at my lack of using a knife and fork. As the spongy cake and creamy frosting hit my tongue, I noted it definitely wasn’t vanilla. A variety of flavors exploded into my mouth. I tasted honey, lemon, lavender, and…tea? I took another bite as I quizzically looked at Silas, who just had a giant grin on his face. “It’s my wife’s favorite recipe. She came up with it when she planned a trip to London.”
“London?” I was able to get out with half a mouth full. I finished swallowing. “You went to London?”
“Well, no, not quite yet. My wife has planned numerous trips to places all over the world for when we get the chance. When she researches places, she comes up with new recipes.”
“Hmm kind of tastes like…”
“Tea?” Silas prodded.
“Yes! It is quite unique, actually. And lovely.”
“I’ll make sure to pass on the compliment. Helen calls it a London Fog. Whatever the hell that is,” he chuckles. Just then a woman, I presume Helen, walks about and smacks Silas on the back of the head.
“Silas Daniel McKannon, you watch your mouth. This young lady does not need to hear your vulgar words.” I couldn’t help but chuckle at the scene. The plump woman’s kind, grey eyes turn to me with a smile that beams love. “Don’t mind my husband. He said we had a special visitor and I just had to come over and meet ya.” Helen extended her hand to me, “I’m Helen McKannon, this goof’s wife.” I took her hand into mine and gently shook it. These were both such lovely people.
“Lovely to meet you, Helen. This cupcake is delicious. London fog for a cupcake is quite creative.”
“Well, thank you dear. And what might your name be? You got such a cute lil’ accent there.”
Well, crap. A quick google search of my name would clearly show results of who I am. But they wouldn’t just google a random person’s name, would they? How had I not thought of this before? My own name! I had always been Cora Rose Penelope Alexandre Marie de Castellane. My family called me Cora, after my maternal grandmother, but I didn’t want to be Cora anymore. Think Cora, think. I knew I was taking way too long to answer such a simple question.
“Penelope!” I yelled way too loud for just telling someone my name. “Um, yes, Penelope. You can call me Penelope…uh, Penelope Alexander? Yes, that’s my name.” I could tell by their eyes I didn’t quite fool them. But they just kept smiling at me with such warmth.
“Well, Penny Alexander, welcome to Athens, Georgia. We’re sure glad you’re here, darlin’.”