Authors: Maggie Marr
Tags: #FIC027020 FICTION / Romance / Contemporary; FIC044000 FICTION / Contemporary Women
THE CHRISTMAS WISH
A Powder Springs Novel
By Maggie Marr
This book is dedicated to Linda Henderson.
Your joy for Christmas is unparalleled and lights the season.
Thank you for creating beautiful memories every Christmas for our family.
The end of the day was never as busy as the beginning. Since childhood, the sweet, homey scents of sugar and cinnamon and flour meant mornings. Mornings were meant for baking. Brinn liked the mornings, but now it was evening. Darkness fell around the swirling snow and the bakery settled into its late-day routine. The ovens cooled. The bread dough rising for tomorrow. Ma doing her final tour of the kitchen and making certain all was ready for three a.m. when she’d arrived to make sweet baked creations.
“Brinn?” Ma rounded the corner from the kitchen. “Why aren’t the sugar cookies for the Powder Springs Press Club holiday luncheon iced? Dom is delivering them tonight.”
“They want them un-iced. Everyone is going to decorate their own Christmas cookie.”
The look on Ma’s face indicated she thought perhaps the entire world had lost its mind. That a cookie would leave Bea & Barbara’s Bakery without icing was anathema to Ma.
“Crazy people. Un-iced cookies? What’s next? We’ll be putting our cake mix in a box and selling it at the counter?”
Brinn pressed her lips closed. Actually, she’d been thinking of suggesting that very thing—selling Bea & Barbara’s Bakery mixes for cakes, cookies, and even breads both at the bakery and over the Internet. Ma would think the idea was nuts and the first step in bankrupting the bakery.
“You’ll drop the chocolate torte to the Emersons’ on your way home?”
“Yeah, Ma, no problem.”
Ma had worked in the kitchen since three a.m. and then at the front counter once the bakery doors opened, yet her apron was spotless. Brinn’s own apron was a diary of her workday. Flour was scattered about her entire chef’s whites and black checked pants. A smudge of chocolate started at her left shoulder and was a diagonal streak to the right side of her apron. Raspberry cream was splotched just above her navel. Egg was at her cuffs. Was that a chunk of hazelnut above her pocket?
Ma lifted her apron over her head. Beneath, she wore a cashmere sweater and a houndstooth skirt. Her only concession to being on her feet all day was a pair of Dansko clogs. Schlubby wasn’t a part of Barbara Bartoli’s vocabulary or wardrobe.
“I hear Chuck O’Malley is home for the holidays.” Ma folded her used apron into a perfect square. She’d never wad it up and toss it into the laundry bag as Brinn did every night. “He’s visiting his parents for the next two weeks. Also that John Tolliver you went to high school with? I heard his divorce is final. You know he has a good job at the high school, with benefits. Plus with a teacher you have summers off.”
“What?” Ma lifted her left shoulder as though her words were innocent and helpful. Which they were meant to be, but Ma’s incessant tossing out of potential candidates for Brinn to date, wed, and breed grated. “I’m just saying there are men in Powder Springs.
men. And you? You refuse to go out, you go home, you don’t socialize—”
“I socialize.” Brinn opened a pink bakery box and transferred crescent-shaped almond cookies from a tray into the box.
“Bunco with your grandmother and her friends twice a month is
socializing.” A sigh crossed Ma’s lips. “You’re still young and
”—Ma glanced at her own reflection in the metal paper-towel holder above the drop sink—“and that doesn’t last forever.”
Ma wouldn’t call Brinn beautiful. Ma had never used the word beautiful to describe Brinn. Deborah, yes, but Brinn, no. Brinn had inherited her looks from her father’s side of the family. The Bartoli side was thick, sturdy, and had a head full of untamable black curls. Brinn wasn’t beautiful. She was solid and handsome and attractive. All words that one would use to describe a good-looking house or perhaps livestock.
Now Deborah? Brinn’s younger sister, the entire family agreed, was beautiful. Deborah favored their mother’s side of the family with her swanlike neck, patrician nose, almond-shaped eyes, and long, wavy black hair. Deborah could not be described as handsome or merely attractive. No, Deborah was always described as a knockout, gorgeous, and drop-dead-beautiful. A distinction that had burned Brinn during adolescence but seemed to cause less and less heartache for her as she aged. Except when her mother started to discuss husbands, and children, and wedded bliss. Then Brinn’s heart would hurt and the worry that she’d never be pretty enough to be married surfaced. Throw in the San Francisco debacle and pain pitted Brinn’s stomach over the current topic of conversation with her mother.
Brinn closed the pink box with the Bea & Barbara logo stamped across the front, a honeybee circling a honey cake. She tied string around the box and set it on the counter, turned, and walked the empty tray to the dishwasher.
“You can’t let what happened in San Francisco define your life.”
Brinn held tight to the words that jutted around the lump forming in her throat. She wasn’t the first woman to ever suffer heartbreak, and Brinn hadn’t returned home to Powder Springs just because of what happened in San Francisco. She’d come home to help Ma. To take over the bakery and to give Ma time to relax. When was the last time Ma had slept past four a.m.?
Brinn slid the tray into the soapy water to soak. She turned. There stood Ma, small and compact, a ton of power and discipline packed into that petite frame. Ma grasped Brinn’s chin. A maternal and yet possessive touch, one that conveyed which woman still thought she was in charge. Brinn slid her gaze away from her mother’s eyes. But Ma turned Brinn’s face to hers until Brinn was forced to look at her.
“Your sister is so happy with a family. I want that for you. I want you to experience the joys of marriage and creating a family.” Ma’s gaze softened and contained a longing. “Don’t let the time slip by.”
Brinn’s heart beat faster and heat flamed through her chest. Finding the right person to make a family with wasn’t so easy. Brinn forced a calm feeling into her chest. Ma loved her. She was just worried. “Thanks, Ma.” Brinn forced the words out of her mouth and a smile to her face.
Barbara released Brinn’s face and she bent forward and slipped the clogs from her feet. “I’m going home.” She carefully placed the clogs in her locker for the night, then put on a pair of black pumps with two-inch heels. “I’ll be here at three and Dom will be here at four. You’ve got everything you need for tomorrow? You’ll be at the Grande by five?”
A thrill pulled through Brinn. She’d looked forward to this since deciding to move home last March. She was taking over the family tradition of building the fifteen-foot gingerbread house that would stand in the center of the Grande Hotel lobby until after New Year’s.
“Everything is ready. Hans approved the sketch, and one of his pastry chefs will be there to help.”
“Give me a kiss.”
Brinn leaned toward Ma and pressed her lips to Ma’s cheek. The familiar smells of flour mixed with hints of Chanel No. 5 clung to Ma.
“See you late tomorrow.” Ma pulled on her heavy boiled-wool coat, which draped to her ankles. “Don’t forget, the chocolate torte goes to Mrs. Emerson.”
“As soon as Alison arrives, Ma, I’m on my way out the door.”
Barbara nodded and pulled open the heavy back door. A blast of cold air slammed through the kitchen. “They say seven inches,” Barbara called over the wind. “I say more like seventeen.”
The headlights of Ma’s SUV cut beams through the swirling snow. Dom had started and scraped Barbara’s car when he left fifteen minutes before, a routine the two of them had shared for years. Tomorrow morning Ma would have the coffee ready for Dom when he arrived at four a.m.
Ma climbed into her car and waved. Brinn waved back. The wind stung her eyes and tickled her nose. She clasped her arms over her chest as Ma pulled out of the parking lot, then stepped back from the cold and swirling snow, and the heavy metal door slammed shut.
Alone for the first time since she’d arrived that morning, Brinn closed her eyes. Hot tears flooded her eyes. Ma meant well. Brinn willed the tears not to fall from her eyes and the lump to leave her throat. Building her life when she returned home to Powder Springs should have been easy, but it wasn’t.
Had she made a horrible mistake by chucking everything in San Francisco and running home to work in the family business? When she’d made the decision, coming back to Powder Springs and Bea & Barbara’s seemed like a positive choice. Her life in California having crumbled under the weight of Marco’s lies.
Brinn walked through the swinging doors from the kitchen and stopped at the front counter. Outside the front window of Bea & Barbara’s Bakery, the wind swirled snow along Main Street. Daylight had given way to darkness. There was no place more beautiful than Powder Springs at Christmas. Bright white lights decorated the old-fashioned gas-lamp light poles that lined Main Street. Thin wires strung with lights and garland danced in the wind. Giant holly wreaths strung over the street swayed with each gust. Even the courthouse lawn was decorated for the season with a menorah and giant Christmas tree.
Perhaps the busyness of the season could keep her mind from drifting back to her lost fairy tale of a life. A fairy tale she’d believed much longer than anyone around her had. She’d been a fool. Late nights. Excuses. Business trips without her even though she and Marco owned the business together. Even Deborah had made an offhand remarks about Marco’s continued absences and unwillingness to set a date for the wedding. Plus his never-ending interest in forever helping their baker’s assistant, Hannah.
Brinn wiped the counters near the coffee bar and forced away the vision of Hannah and Marco together.
Focusing on the small wins she’d achieved since returning home to Powder Springs was healthier than rummaging through the past. Win number one was when she dodged her mother’s insistence that she move back home and into her childhood bedroom. Instead she moved into a cozy little house just four blocks from the bakery. Her grandmother, Nonna, had helped with pacifying Ma by insisting that since Brinn was meant to take over the bakery she needed to live closer than the family home, which was a mile from the business. Flawed logic? Yes. But Ma had acquiesced, simply wanting to get Brinn back from California and away from that chooch Marco as Nonna had nicknamed Brinn’s former boyfriend.
Win number two? A smile spread across Brinn’s face. Her eyes glanced over the bakery’s remodel and small coffee bar. Ma had grudgingly approved. The small change, though difficult for Ma to accept, had been a jolt of adrenaline to the little bakeshop on the square. Brinn had chosen the warm ochre color that decorated the walls, and the lovely little mismatched chairs, tables, and couches. She’d created with furniture and warm-colored rugs of amber and red tiny nooks where people could come in and not only buy a slice of pie or cake but feel good, too, about eating it at Bea & Barbara’s. Original artwork from local artists decorated the walls. Even a sculpture from the well-known Savannah McGrath sat in the front window of the coffee shop. An angelic fairy with delicate wings sniffed a bleeding heart in a Rocky Mountain meadow. Such an intricate piece for a bronze. Every time Brinn’s eyes gazed upon the statue, she found another tiny detail her eyes had previously failed to catch.