Once Sarah got back, I had her organize the new orders. Then she called to confirm those that had been placed more than a few days ago. Then she began basic prep for the morning baking session. She herself didn’t bake, but she could prep and was vital for other aspects of the business.
A couple hours later, the sound of the front door sliding open alerted me to someone entering the bakery. It had been four years, and I still hadn’t invested in any sort of bell. I had yet to need one. I always managed to find myself exactly where I needed to be when a customer came in.
“Good afternoon, Joanie,” Ashley, one of my regulars, said slightly out of breath.
“How are you doing today? How was school?”
She gave me a half-hearted smile. It wasn’t like her at all. “You make me feel like I’m back in school when you ask that. No one got sent to the principal’s office today, but I wrote out a ton of late passes this morning. I swear the nicer days lately have everyone stopping to smell the spring flowers.” She thumped her purse onto the counter.
“You okay? You seem a bit out of sorts.” Taking a better look at her, I noticed her blonde hair was hastily thrown into a ponytail, and she’d already wiped off her usually impeccable makeup, not that it made her any less pretty. Her bright-pink manicure had a few chips too.
“I feel out of sorts. And to top it off, I had to park down the street. I can’t parallel park, and the lot behind you is full of yogis. Actual yogis, not their cars. I jogged here. I definitely need my afternoon pick-me-up. What do you have?” she asked, not even looking at the case in front of her.
“I think I have what you need.” I ducked down and reached into the cookie case. I stood back up holding a hand-sized black and white cookie. “Here you go.”
“That is massive. You’ve really outdone yourself with the size this time, Joanie. I love black and white cookies.” She took the cookie from me and immediately had a bite.
“They called them half-moon cookies where I grew up.” I turned and grabbed a white paper bag for her. I didn’t think she’d be finishing it before she left the bakery and I didn’t want her to drop it on the way home. “The white part’s the moon, and the black part’s the sky.”
“I can totally see that.” She looked down at the cookie in her hands. It had likely dawned on her that she had nothing to put it in. I gave her the bag. “Thanks. You always know just what I need.” She carefully placed the cookie inside and then licked the remaining frosting off her fingers. “What do I owe you?”
“Two seventy-five. Tax is included.”
Ashley opened her purse, and her face dropped.
“Okay, I swear I didn’t put this in here. It magically showed up in there all by itself.” She pulled out an old hairbrush and placed it on the counter. “It just appeared on my nightstand last night and my dresser the night before. You want to know why I’m out of sorts?” She pointed to the brush. “That thing. It’s creeping me out.”
I pointed to the brush. “May I?” She nodded. I picked up the silver-plated brush and examined it. It was slightly tarnished but in otherwise good condition. The bristles, probably some type of synthetic material, were all intact. I flipped the brush over and studied the back’s intricate pink-painted rose design. It likely had a matching mirror at one point. My mom had a similar set when I was a kid. Probably still did.
“Is it yours?”
She shrugged. “Not really, but I guess so? It was mailed to me in a box with some other stuff. I didn’t recognize any of it. A lot of it was old. Older than I am, definitely.” She handed me exact change for the cookie and grabbed her purse off the counter.
I hadn’t been expecting that explanation. How strange. “Hang in there, Ashley.”
“Thanks, Joanie. I always feel a bit better after coming to see you.” She held up the bag with the cookie in it. “I think you really put magic in these things.” Ashley turned to leave.
“Hey, you forgot your brush.”
She spun around on her heels. “Keep it. That way it can’t follow me home. And if it somehow does, I’m burning it.”
“Um, okay. Thanks, I guess. Have a good rest of your day.”
Seeming lighter somehow, she smiled then walked out the door. She waved at me as she passed the storefront window. I considered her a friend. After four years of her coming into my bakery after work nearly every school day, I knew her pretty well. Plus, she was one half of my latest matchmaking endeavor.
On paper, they were perfect for each other, but for whatever reason, Ashley and Rich hadn’t made that final connection. Something was standing in their way, and it was my mission to figure out what so they could be together. If I could put my finger on it, I knew I’d be able to fix whatever was coming between them.
I glanced down at the brush in my hand and shrugged. It was an ordinary brush, pretty, but nothing special. I placed it next to my bag on the shelf beneath the counter where customers couldn’t see it. I was sure I could find it a home somewhere.
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