Monday, November 17th
A few stray leaves crunched under her feet as Audrey Seever shivered her way home by streetlight. The brisk November air broke through her lightweight jacket, raising goose bumps on her arms. Several more leaves rained down on her as a gust of wind swirled around her shoulders.
Ahead, a young boy—Aiden Cox if her memory of local boys’ coats served her well—shuffled along the gutter, his shoulders and head drooping. Audrey waited until he almost reached her before she captured his attention. “Evenin’. What are you doing out here? Won’t your mom be watching for you? Should be about dinner time…”
Aiden pulled a five dollar bill out of his pocket. “Mom told me to go to the store.”
“Ice cream for dessert?” The minute she asked, Audrey regretted it. The boy’s expression answered before he did.
“Nah… gotta get milk.”
A new thought came to her and Audrey tried to keep her expression and her tone as nonchalant as possible. “Well, I’m glad I saw you. Can you give your mom a message for me?”
“Sure.” The tone, while pleasant enough, still managed to indicate boredom.
“I ruined a batch of cookies—a special order. Can’t sell them either. Who wants a bunch of blue baby buggies that say Zoe on them?”
Aiden grinned. “Supposed to be pink?”
“Lavender. I forgot to add some pink. Just got on a roll…” Audrey winked. “Sometimes I get in the zone and that’s when I usually make expensive mistakes.” Before Aiden could derail her, she continued. “So anyway, I started to toss them and thought maybe someone would come in and want them. Then I saw you. So, if your mom wants them for your lunch or snacks at home or something, tell her she can just stop in or send you down.”
“Really?” The boy frowned. “You’re not just saying that because Dad lost his job?”
“I didn’t know he had. I’m sorry about that.”
For whatever reason—one beyond Audrey’s mental abilities after a long, hard day—those words brightened Aiden’s countenance. “I’ll tell Mom. She’ll like that.”
Audrey started to mention the day-old bread and occasional cakes she gave to the last customers of the day and decided against it. She could talk to Kelly Cox about that herself. “Well, I’m cold and your mom’s waiting for you. See you ‘round.”
At Bramble Rose Drive, Audrey turned and leaned into the wind. Row houses lined both sides of the street—their small front yards bringing the neighbors closer together than the rest of the town. Lights glowed in windows and the unmistakable scent of coming snow mingled with Oscar Merkins’ customary Thursday night chili.
“It’s too early for snow,” she muttered to herself as she trudged up her walk and to the steps. The old houses, reminiscent of those in San Francisco’s Nob Hill, had once been large, grand affairs, but in recent decades, owners had converted them into two or four family condominiums. One street over, several had been chopped into six studio sized flats. As much as it had made sense to save the money, Audrey liked the space of her duplex.
The scent of slow-cooked Italian chicken greeted her as she hung her keys on the rack by the door. That one ritual made her smile. Despite her inherent lack of order, she did have one die-hard, never deviate from the plan—plan. Too many mornings of searching frantically for her key had taught her. Hang ‘em first thing.
The living room almost swallowed her with disheveled décor. A basket of clean laundry, a stack of half-read newspapers—Audrey stepped back outside to retrieve the day’s news and tossed it onto the pile—and several dirty dishes littered almost every available surface. Audrey’s eyes slid toward the mail basket before she turned away again. “After dinner. Shower first.”
She took the stairs two at a time—for the first two steps. Then, with a grunt of disgust, Audrey dragged herself up the remaining steps to the second floor. An unmade bed surrounded by a floor decorated with most of a week’s worth of bras and panties, not to mention yoga pants and workout tops, greeted her. Why she did, Audrey didn’t know, but she raked her hands through mostly-empty drawers in search of something clean. The dregs of her wardrobe offered little that was comfortable and nothing she wanted to wear.
Clean clothes awaited her—downstairs. She glanced at the stairs and whimpered. Grumbling about the insane distance between bath and living rooms, Audrey shuffled to the stairs and forced herself not to pout at each exhaustion-inducing step.
Though not soon enough for her, within minutes, Audrey stood beneath the powerful spray of her new super-powered shower head. The water pounded her shoulder blades, kneading out the stress of the day’s work. As always, the middle of October had ended the “back-to-school-lull” and begun the holiday influx, but this year’s increase had been almost exponential over the previous years’ orders. Her day began earlier and earlier and ended later and later.
As the water cooled, Audrey cranked it up once more, but the water slowly cooled until she shivered. “I really need one of those tankless heaters,” she muttered as she briskly rubbed her skin, trying to re-stimulate the warmth that disappeared as the water heater tank drained.
She’d never do it, and she knew it. The guilt over removing the low-flow washer from her new shower head nearly ate her alive each time she thought of it. At least the water heater tank limited her in some way. Without it, she’d stand there until she fell asleep on her feet each night—not exactly the most eco-friendly decision.
Slightly rejuvenated, she half-jogged down the stairs and scrounged for a clean dish. A pie-plate and a workout water bottle later, she gave up and washed a fork before digging dinner from the slow-cooker and piling it on the plate. That sight gave her an idea. “Be good in the oven with biscuit topping—like a pot pie almost.”
She groped for a pen in the cup by the back door and grabbed an old envelope from a credit card offer and scribbled, Make Italian chicken into a pot pie. Biscuit topping and—a new thought occurred to her as she wrote–make sure you add asparagus and maybe artichoke hearts.
On the couch, Audrey shoved stuff out of her way and reached for the remote. Thursday night—best TV night of the week as far as she was concerned. The nightly news shared half a dozen grizzly stories about murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, and the encroaching human trafficking problem in Rockland. Audrey hardly heard it. She ate her dinner, closed her eyes, and fell asleep until the theme song for her favorite nighttime drama blared through the living room.
Audrey stretched, her hand whacking the lamp behind her and rocking it against the wall before it settled back into place. Bleary-eyed, she glared at the clock on the DVD player. “Midni—oh. Two o’clock. Ugh.” She dragged herself off the couch and stared down at the dirty dishes on the coffee table. “Better soak that ice crea—oh no.” A glance in the kitchen confirmed her dread. She’d left the ice cream melting in the container on the counter. “The good news—it is a great recipe. I’ll sell it until I’m sick of it. Still, the Coxes would have liked it. The guys at the fire station would have loved it. How wasteful.”
Dishes tempted her—taunted her. The pile of clothes by the washer outright mocked her. However, the call of her king-sized super-soft mattress won out over duty, responsibility, and even common sense. Scarlett O’Hara had it right. “Tomorrow is another day.”
For twenty-five years, Audrey has kept a secret from everyone in her family, her town, her life. But when someone from her past appears, her life turns upside down.
November 15-December 24–the busiest time of the year for most businesses, and The Confectionary owner, Audrey Seever is no exception. Buried in new ice cream flavors, bon bons, pies, breads, cakes, and other tempting treats, Audrey hardly has time to sleep, much less do things like cook for herself, clean up after herself, or do any holiday decorating.
So when Kelly Cox stops in to pick up some promised treats, her offer to do housework in exchange for goodies throughout the holiday season tempts Audrey beyond her ability to refuse! But what started as a simple housecleaning job quickly becomes a mystery as Kelly discovers a secret that Audrey has kept for almost twenty-five years!
Though she knows it’s none of her business, Kelly can’t help investigating, and before long, finds herself in the middle of more drama than she’d ever imagined possible. Will Audrey ever forgive her, and even more importantly, will history repeat itself?
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