I grabbed my small purse from under the counter and slung it around my neck so it crossed over my body.
“Everything’s already boxed up,” Sarah said. “I’ll help you load it.”
She walked back into the kitchen, and I followed quickly behind her, untying my apron in the process and hanging it on the wall hook by the mixing station.
“Thanks.” I grabbed three packed and tied-shut yellow boxes and pushed the back door open with my hip.
“I got it.” Sarah held the door open, and I continued down the steps to the parking lot. I walked around the concrete stairs to where I parked my bicycle under the second-floor landing for the apartment above the bakery.
It was my second delivery of the day—I’d already dropped four dozen muffins off to the two town diners before the bakery even opened—so my bike was ready and waiting, tarp off and trailer hitched. I carefully placed my boxes into the trailer that reminded me of an old shopping cart, then took the two boxes from Sarah and put them in. She darted back into the kitchen and came out with another box, which she handed to me over the stair railing. I held on to it. I didn’t need my bike for my first delivery.
“I’m going to take lunch after the deliveries, so you’re on your own for the next two hours. Call if you need me.”
“Sure thing. I’ll take mine when you get back. Enjoy your ride. It’s a great day for it.”
I looked up at the sky. Not a cloud in sight. “It sure is.”
I walked across the parking lot to another back door that sat kitty-corner to the bakery’s. I knocked gently with my foot. The heavy white door swung open, revealing a skinny blonde in black yoga pants and a hot-pink sports bra.
“Wonderful! You’re here. Ladies, Joanie’s here.” Kim, the owner of the yoga studio, ushered me inside to applause from a small class full of women in clothing similar to hers.
“Good to see you, Kim.” I placed the box on an empty side table and popped the tabs at the sides so it opened up completely. I slid the tray out of the box and began to unpack the five dozen cookies.
When I was done, Kim handed me a check. “I’ll get the tray to you tomorrow before the first class. Thanks, Joanie. The girls really love cheat day.”
I slid the check into my purse. “Sounds good.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her how many of her clients stopped in after every class they took.
I exited the studio, then jogged over to my bike and hopped on. Libby would have a fit if I was late for tea. First tea, anyway. The inn had two every other day. I rode out of the parking lot, then turned left on Founder Street toward Mill River.
The road split into three, and I headed straight toward the paved drive of the Riverview Inn. The manicured lawn sprawled out on either side of me with large maples lining the driveway. In winter, Libby and her husband Billy tapped the trees to make syrup and sugar. I regularly tried to incorporate the maple products into my baked goods. Most of my special flavors had been maple based last month to celebrate their latest harvest. They were always some of my favorite treats of the year.
Libby was waiting for me on the porch of the stately brick home. A mini-mansion, really. It had once been the home of Heartwood Hollow’s founder. He’d made his money in the logging industry, building a factory, dam, and waterwheel downriver nearly a century and a half ago.
“You’re just in time,” she called as I pulled my bike to the side of the driveway close to the path for the stairs.
I waved. “Sorry, I had a customer come in when I should have been leaving, and it’s cheat day at the yoga studio.” I still had a few minutes before I would consider myself late. She liked to have everything ready with plenty of time for her guests to arrive and see the elaborate spread. Teatime was open to members of the public, not just guests of the ten-room inn.
“Isn’t every day cheat day?” Libby giggled as she hopped down the steps to wrap me in a motherly hug as she did every time I saw her, despite her being not much older than me.
I returned her hug and then reached into my trailer for two of the boxes. “It is for me.” I let out a slight chuckle.
“And look at you! So skinny! Too skinny if you ask me.” She took the top box from my hands and walked around the side of the inn toward the kitchen door.
I looked down at my frame as I followed her. Skinny wouldn’t be the word I’d use to describe myself. I was petite, sure, but perhaps she’d said that since I didn’t look like I snacked on sweets all day, even though I did. I was told once I started working with it day in and day out, I’d lose the taste for the yummy things I made. Four years into this business, plus four years baking in school and growing up baking for any and every occasion, and I still liked eating it all.
“So what do we have today?”
“Well, you have your typical variety of scones—ginger, blueberry, and cinnamon. We also have some spiced snickerdoodles, black and whites, and lemon drops.” I placed my box next to hers on the kitchen counter.
Libby busied herself with opening the first box. “Oh, I do love your lemon drops. Are you staying for tea this time?”
“Wish I could, but I still have to get to Town Hall and the real estate office.”
“Oh, new townspeople! I wonder which house they bought. There’s only a few for sale. Find out for me, will you? I love to know what’s going on, but the inn keeps me busy most days. We’ve got a full house today.” She moved on to the second box and began to arrange the cookies on plates she had already laid out.
“That’s great to hear. All the work you and Billy have put into this place really shows.” I turned for the door. “Any requests for Friday?”
“Surprise me. I trust you. Have a good day, Joanie.”
“You too, Libby.”
I pulled my bike back onto the driveway then climbed on. I still had two more deliveries to make and my stomach was already rumbling.
My next stop was Town Hall, where I had to drop off twenty-four pieces of mocha almond biscotti for today’s council meeting. There were six council members, and we’d learned that the biscotti was gobbled up during the afternoon meetings when they all had their coffee or tea to go with it. The combination mellowed them out a bit. Several townspeople had told me that meetings were much more entertaining to watch before I came to town. I chalked it up to the best discussions and decisions happening on a full belly. Everyone gets cranky when they’re hungry.
I grabbed the box of biscotti and pulled a bag out of the smaller box. Careful not to trip, I walked up the tall marble steps to the columned porch and waved at Courtney through the window looking into her office. She jumped up from her desk chair. Moments later, one of the large white doors opened, and Courtney held it for me as I stepped inside. I headed into council chambers and plopped the box down on the center of the table, where the council members would find it in a couple hours.
“Can’t stay today, Courtney,” I said as I entered my best friend’s office. “I still have another delivery to make, but I brought you something.”
“You are a godsend,” she replied. “Jill called in today, so I’m not going to be able to take much of a lunch break. This is just what I needed.” She took the white bag from my hand, opened it, and peered inside to see the hand-sized chocolate chip cookie. “My favorite! Oh, before you go. Drew and Megan had a baby, a little girl.”
“That’s wonderful, congratulations to them.”
“Thought you’d like to know since you got them together. That makes it—”
“Six now,” I answered for her. “Gotta run. Let’s catch up soon and do a girls’ night. It’s been too long.” I jogged out her door and then the building’s, waving toward her window before I carefully navigated the steps. I’d slipped once and never wanted to repeat that. It had hurt to sit for the next week.
I rode my bike down Main Street toward the real estate office at the end of the street. It was a quick delivery of two-dozen cookies as a welcome to the neighborhood present to celebrate a closing. It was one of the first partnerships I had made when I moved to town. Give the new people free cookies and hope to gain a customer from it. So far, it had worked well. I’d have to remember to tell Libby on my Friday delivery that the red house by the hospital had been purchased.
I circled back on Main Street and turned left on Founder Street to pedal over to Leafs and Grounds. I could see the corner of the bakery from the coffee shop’s entrance. The proximity had proven dangerous over the years. I was addicted to the marshmallow rice treats there. Sure, I could easily make them myself, but something about these was perfect, and who was I to try competing with perfection? I grabbed two of the plastic-wrapped treats off the counter as I placed my order. A creature of habit, I almost always chose the same thing. A pesto, tomato, and mozzarella panini with a bag of chips to go. Sometimes I got soup, but that was only when I could split a sandwich with Courtney.
I took my food back across Main Street to Founder’s Park, directly next to the bakery. It wasn’t so much of a park, but there were a few benches amongst the bushes and flower boxes. The park had a tourist info booth sitting in it, a free little library box, and it was where Santa’s cottage was placed the day after Thanksgiving each year for the holiday season. I rarely saw people using the park outside of the holiday season for any length of time, but this was one of my favorite places in town. I loved sitting outside and watching the people come and go along Main Street.
A man in a beige trench coat entered the little park with his dachshund and tipped his fedora in my direction, nodding slightly as he did. Quiet but always polite, he was another park regular. Came here every day at the same time, no matter the weather. I waved and smiled at him in return. He sat on one of the other benches and let the leash out a bit for his dog.
After finishing my lunch, I headed back to the bakery.
“You’re back!” Sarah exclaimed as I pushed through the door from the kitchen.
“I had a feeling you were getting hungry, so I didn’t stay in the park too long after finishing mine. How was it in here?” I finished tying my purple apron as I took up my place behind the counter. Sarah scooted around me. She already had her apron untied.
“Nothing I couldn’t handle. A few people came in.” She darted into the kitchen and came right back out sans apron but with her purse. “I’ll be back in a half hour.”
I waved her off. “Take an hour.”
“Are you sure?”
“It’s a beautiful day, go enjoy it.”
“Thanks, Joanie. That gives me time to go check on Jill. She’s sick today.”
“Oh right, I didn’t see her at Town Hall. Tell her I hope she feels better soon.”
“Oh, green tea with honey. That will help.”
“Thanks again.” She pulled the door open, then turned up Main Street as if she was any customer leaving my shop.
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