Grace Sutton stared at the check Tony had left on his way to the city. She’d been so involved with setting up the shop for the day’s business she hadn’t had a chance to look at the amount. She reached for her cell phone and dialed his number. Moments later she heard his voice.
“Are you out of your mind? ” she asked.
He laughed. “Not today.”
“Is for the cupcake display at our wedding.”
“It’s too much. I gave you a fair quote.”
“And you’re doing this at your busiest time of the year. Consider any extra as a bonus. Oh, Lauren said to use some of the money for new tires for the van.”
“Soon, I hope. Sorry you can’t make dinner and the play on Saturday night.”
“Too much to do here. Like figuring how to finish all the holiday orders to be filled. I need a plan. Also choosing a selection for you to taste on Sunday. Then there are the books.”
He chuckled. “See you Sunday. You are your plans. I have a friend who plans his time step by step, too. What do you do when the plan nosedives?”
She hung up and stared at the check. Enough to buy the supplies for next month and to consider hiring a part-time baker. She jotted notes for an ad.
Another idea occurred. Bonnie, her clerk, was interested in learning about decorating. There were two girls at the group home who might like to work Friday evenings and Saturdays. The money they earned could help them save for when they aged out.
Pass the opportunity forward. She’d learned to cook at the home. The high school home ec teacher had encouraged her to try for a scholarship allowing her to attend culinary school.
“Coffee’s ready,” Bonnie called.
Grace left her office and joined her clerk. She filled a cup and sipped. “Perfect.”
Bonnie pointed to the empty space in the display case. “We need refills.”
Grace carried her mug to the office, finished most of the brew and entered the kitchen. Before opening the gleaming cooler, she donned gloves. She handed Bonnie a tray of cinnamon bun cupcakes, the steadiest seller. She carried a tray with three chocolate varieties. Chocolate Milk, Chocolate Heat and Chocolate Mint. “How are the Candy Cane, Winter Snow and Ginger Houses holding out?”
“We’re good there.”
While they stocked the shelves several customers arrived. Grace joined Bonnie in filling orders. When the rush ended Grace went to the kitchen to make several small batches of cupcakes she wanted for Sunday’s tasting. She set the trays in the oven to bake. Mingled aromas soon filled the air.
Working automatically, her thoughts drifted to the coming wedding. Though happy for Lauren, Grace felt a tad envious. She had dreamed of finding her own special love. Years ago, she’d thought she had found him but he’d disappointed her the way most people in her life had.
She’d been almost sixteen. He’d been two years older. Tall with dark hair and dark chocolate eyes. He’d been labeled a “bad” boy but beneath his smoldering anger she’d seen sadness and grief. She’d dreamed about him, spun fantasies until the day he’d climbed over the fence separating the two group homes. He’d kissed her and in crude terms told her what he wanted. She’d turned him down.
He had laughed. “Your loss.”
She thought, “not mine. Yours.” Grace’s hands tightened. She couldn’t stop the roll of memories from the past from forming. Drunken screams and laughter. Her mother and her guest for booze, drugs and sex appeared. Grace had vowed to have a different life but she feared the seeds had been planted years ago. She wouldn’t be like her mother. Could she hold this determination?
A buzzer sounded. Grace pulled on her long padded oven gloves and removed pans of cupcakes from the oven and placed them on the multi-tiered cooling racks. She filled more pans and started the cycle again. When the second batch cooled she entered the sales room. The number of empty spaces made her grin.
In a small way I’m a success. She prayed nothing would happen to poke holes in her ballooning confidence.
For a moment she considered the offer from Good Eatin’ Magazine. She’d been tempted but afraid. Growing too fast would see her dreams hurtling downhill in an avalanche.
Bonnie grinned. “Been a good morning and afternoon. Five orders for the holidays and look at the empty spaces.”
Grace looked at the clock. “Go to lunch. I’ll handle the front.”
“Want me to bring you something?”
“I brought a sandwich from home. I’ll eat when you return. This afternoon I plan to tackle the fruitcake recipe again.”
“How many times have you tried?”
“Maybe fifteen.” Grace pointed to the door. “Goodbye.”
Moments after the door closed behind Bonnie, the chimes announced a customer. Grace turned. Her hands tightened. Charlene? Why?
The bleached blonde sauntered to the display case. She ran a finger over the glass. “Good.”
“There are plenty of cupcakes. Mama needs two dozen. She’s entertaining some friends this afternoon.”
Tension gripped Grace’’s shoulders. Her foster sister had been a bully years ago. “What about the dozen I gave you last night?”
“The girls raided the pantry. Mama is so angry with them she’s going to punish them. I figured you would find a way to stop her.”
Charlene’s nasal voice made Grace’s stomach clench. She’d been fortunate when she’d lived at the group home never to face Mrs. Paton’s punishment. Lauren had too often been given meticulous cleaning chores and too often Charlene’s lies had been the cause.
“What do you want?”
“The cupcakes.” Charlene tapped the case with a blood red fingernail. “You owe Mama for taking such good care of you. You should make her a partner in the bakery.”
Grace shook her head. She owed the Paton’s but she’d given them money again and again. “Which ones?” She opened a large box and filled it with the other woman’s selections.
The bleached blonde carried the box to the door. “See you at closing time.”
Grace drew deep breaths. The group home had been a safe haven where she’d escaped her childhood fears. She’d learned to file nightmares in a mental storage block. Now she needed to discover a way to end the need to constantly repay the people who had saved her.
* * *