Authors: Catherine Bruns
Mrs. Hendrickson shook her head and widened her eyes. "No. Why would we give out free samples? Cinnamon Sugar Bakery has been here for twenty years."
I shrugged. "I don't know. I thought the same."
Now that I thought about it, it hadn't even looked like an official e-mail a business would send out. Our name and brown, pink, and ivory striped header weren't on the e-mail.
"Do you need some help?" Mrs. Hendrickson asked.
I glanced to the mess and then to Amber.
"I'd stick around," my cousin said, "but I already ditched one class to show you the e-mail."
"Go get good grades, and I'll see you later." I kissed her cheek and watched her walk out. Then I turned to Mrs. Hendrickson. "Thanks, I'd love some help."
We grabbed the empty trays and returned them to the kitchen. Then we gathered a couple of dishrags and the broom and dustpan and went back out front. As I wiped down a table, I thought of Nathan Dearborn and his odd question.
Where do you want to do this?
My initial reaction had been that it sounded sexual, but maybe that was just my slightly perverted mind. I mean, I did grow up around an ex-Playboy bunny. I giggled at my joke. Grams may have loved to show off her assets with low-cut tops, but she was far from perverted. And she still had great assets.
"Is something funny?" Mrs. Hendrickson asked. She was sweeping crumbs from beneath a table.
"No, just the weirdness of the day. Nathan Dearborn showed up."
Her brows rose. "He came here? He hasn't left his house in years." She sounded as stunned as the crowd had appeared.
"Do you know him?" I asked.
A smile lifted the creased corners of her mouth. "I did. I can't say I still do. He was a part of the community theater years ago. Every spring the town would put on a production—everything from
A Streetcar Named Desire
A Chorus Line
. It didn't matter if it was a musical or not."
Jared sprung to mind. One year he had a small, nonspeaking role in the town's version of
Bye Bye Birdie
. "I remember that. It was a long time ago. They stopped putting on performances around the time I graduated high school, right?"
"Yes. We had some great shows."
I chuckled, not expecting to hear that. I couldn't imagine Mrs. Hendrickson wearing a costume and prancing around the stage, but the more I thought of it, the more sense it made. She was a Scorpio, and Scorpio personalities were magnetic, and sometimes even hypnotic. "You were a part of it?"
She giggled, and color crept up her neck. "I didn't act or sing. Oh dear no. I know my limitations. I was a part of the backstage work. The scenery and costumes. I helped where I could, but my favorite part was the costumes."
I had no clue. Despite knowing her all my life, we weren't close. She wasn't as warm and fuzzy as Grams. I bent down to scrape up a mashed chocolate chip off the floor. "And Nathan Dearborn helped with scenery too?"
"Oh no, he was the director."
I looked up, not expecting that answer. "Seriously?"
She stared out the front windows and smiled softly. "He was remarkable." Then she glanced to me. "He was an up-and-coming movie star in Hollywood for several years."
"What? No way." Not the man with the gut and the bed hair. I stood up and sat in the chair across from her.
She nodded. "Absolutely. He went by a stage name. Lee Stevens. He had roles in several different genre films, but he became known for noir mysteries. Very dashing."
The way she could no longer meet my gaze made me wonder if she had a crush on him.
?" I hadn't meant to emphasize my last word quite so much.
She stood and picked up the broom again. "We became friendly due to our time at the theater. I never saw him socially, if that's what you mean."
I hoped I hadn't offended her. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to insinuate anything."
Mrs. Hendrickson was a very traditional woman, and I believed her husband was still alive then. I doubted she would have had an affair.
She moved to the next table, and I jumped up to finish wiping it down so she could sweep the area. "It's fine, dear. Actually, Nathan was the reason the community stopped putting on the plays. He'd quit as director. Others stepped forward to fill the role, but there were clashes and arguments between the cast members and production. It became easier to let it go."
"That's a shame," I said. "Why did he quit?"
She shrugged. "I don't know, but it was about that time he started staying inside. So tell me about you and my grandson. Will your grandmother and I be planning an engagement party soon?"
I hadn't expected the abrupt subject change and caught my scoff before it passed my lips. "Will and I haven't been together long enough for a ring."
Now I fully understood the fear Tara felt this morning. Getting engaged one day to someone would be awesome, but I wasn't yet sure if that someone would be Will. We'd been friends all of our lives, but I hadn't thought of him in a romantic way until recently. We hadn't slept together yet, and I kinda liked to do that and make sure we were compatible before picking out china.
"Well, I'm sure he'll be asking eventually. He's very smitten with you."
I really hoped he wasn't confiding his feelings for me with his grandmother. A friend, someone his age, would've been fine, but not Grams' friend. That felt like all kinds of icky.
Mrs. Hendrickson wiped her brow with the back of her hand.
Guilt at having her help me when she would normally be home resting, or whatever she did, gnawed at me. She worked Monday through Saturday from three until closing. She didn't need to be here now too.
"You know, I can handle the rest of this on my own. Why don't you get going, and I'll see you later," I said, but I wouldn't. I would leave the bakery shortly after Amber arrived at three.
She leaned the broom against one of the chairs. "I think I will. Have a great day, Riley."
"You too." I watched her go to the door, pick up her canvas grocery bag, and then walk out.
An hour and a half trickled by before we had a customer. Elizabeth Ashby entered. She was a charming older woman with warm, gentle eyes and a demeanor that matched. Despite her being one of the friendliest people in town, I knew very little about her, except that she lived not far from Grams and me. A mysterious air surrounded her. She always had a book of fiction and a notebook with her and alternated between reading and taking notes. Was she writing down thoughts about her book or something else? It never seemed appropriate to ask, but I was curious.
She smiled at me. Her light-gray eyes twinkled. "Good morning, dear. I came in for one of your delicious cinnamon muffins. No other quite compares to yours."
A genuine customer. I smiled wide. This may have been only one sale, but she made my day.
"I'm so glad you enjoy them." I reached for the pair of plastic tongs and pulled out the muffin with the second most crumb topping. I carefully set it in one of our bags, then laid it on the counter.
As she reached into her tote bag to find her wallet, I caught a glimpse of a hardcover book. I smiled to myself. There was something comforting about her predictability.
After paying, she waved good-bye and walked out.
I glanced up at the clock. Amber would be returning soon. The extra-large coffee I'd just consumed, as well as the two during the morning, was wreaking havoc on my bladder. I wasn't sure I could wait until Amber arrived to use the bathroom. I didn't like the idea of leaving the counter unattended, but it was better than being in pain or doing the potty dance. I locked the register and stepped out from around the counter.
There were two bathrooms in the bakery. One for the customers and one for the employees. The public one was closer, so I hurried toward it. I pushed open the door and stepped inside. There were two sinks, mirrors, and stalls. The closest stall's door was semi-open.
I walked inside it and noticed a pair of black shoes peeking out from the next stall. No, it wasn't shoes. It was feet. Someone was lying on the floor in the next stall. As clean as I tried to keep this place, that was just plain gross.
"Are you all right?" I asked.
Wait, no one had been in the bakery, other than Elizabeth Ashby, since the mob. So how was there someone lying in there?
Panic filled my chest. "Hey, can you respond, please?"
I stepped out of this stall and hurried to the next. I didn't want to barge in on someone, but clearly this wasn't a normal situation.
I pushed open the door, but it didn't swing the full way. It stopped after just a few inches. I placed my shoulder against it and pushed with my weight, but it was no good. The person was definitely in the way, and I didn't want to hurt him more. So I pushed my head through the space to have a look and gasped.
It was Nathan Dearborn. He was sitting in front of the toilet, or more like slumped, and appeared to be passed out.
"Mr. Dearborn," I shouted. Please wake up.
I reached through, attempting to tap him on his shoulder, but I hit his head instead. It wasn't a hard tap, but he moved. His body leaned toward me.
I jumped back, and the door slammed shut.
Was he drunk? Oh my God, it wasn't food poisoning, was it? Maybe he'd eaten elsewhere before coming here, and it made him sick. This meant he'd been here all this time, just back here? I needed to get him help. I patted down my skirt pockets, but my phone wasn't in either of them. Now wasn't the time to misplace it, Riley.
For some reason I got down on my knees to tell him I'd be right back face to face. "Mr. Dearborn, I'm going to run out and call 9-1-1, okay?"
I laid my cheek against the cold, hard tile and peeked under the door. I couldn't make out anything but his legs, butt, and a limp hand. Wasn't he just awake?
"Mr. Dearborn, please answer me. You're starting to scare me." I got up with a groan and went back to the other stall. I placed one foot on the toilet seat, grabbed the top of the wall separating the stalls, and stepped up.
Nathan's head was angled so he was looking up at me. His eyes were open, red-and-white splotches decorated his full face, and his lips were swollen.
My body jerked backward, and I went down. One foot landed back on the tile and the other in the toilet.
Holy crap, Nathan Dearborn was dead!