Sour Cherry Turnover

Sour Cherry Turnover

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chapter-1

drop-cap-erin arranged the cupcakes carefully in the display case, carefully adjusting the space between them and making sure the icing shapes would all be oriented right-side-up for her customers.

“Well, if it isn’t your favorite person in the world,” Vic drawled.

Erin didn’t need to look at her assistant to know who was approaching. She raised her eyes to look through the glass of the display case to the young woman about to walk through the front doors of Auntie Clem’s Bakery, the muscles of her stomach clenching into a hard knot. She tried to school her expression to keep a pleasant smile on her face, and smushed the cupcake in her hand against the bottom of the shelf above it.

She groaned and pulled it out. It was a good thing there were no customers in the shop at that moment.

“Sorry.” Vic gave a little grimace and a shrug.

Erin grabbed a damp cloth to wipe the smear of icing from the shelf, then straightened to greet her half-sister.

“Hi, Charley.”

“Oops,” Charley looked at the cupcake in Erin’s hand. “Looks like that one didn’t make it.”

“No.” Erin chucked it into the garbage can. She put her hands on her hips, unconsciously retreating into a defensive stance. “What can I help you with today?”

Charley smiled. Having only recently met Charley, Erin still found it disconcerting to see the dark hair and delicate features she was used to seeing in the mirror on someone else’s face. And she knew that particular smile was just as fake as her own.

“I came to see if I could borrow a muffin pan,” Charley said. “Every time I turn around, there’s some other piece of equipment I am missing. The Bake Shoppe should have been fully-stocked. I’d really like to know who has been taking stuff home with them. If I could afford it, I’d hire help from the city instead of Bald Eagle Falls, just so I could be sure I wasn’t hiring back whoever has been helping themselves to everything!”

Erin wavered between sympathy and irritation. She knew that she would have been pretty angry if she’d found someone had been stealing from her, especially when the bakery was her livelihood, but she was also increasingly annoyed with Charley and dearly wished that she wouldn’t reopen The Bake Shoppe. And not just because she would be in direct competition with Erin’s bakery.

“You must be madder than a wet hen,” Vic said, without a trace of sympathy in her voice.

Erin avoided looking at Vic.

Charley nodded. “You bet I am. Half of Angela’s recipes use weights for flours instead of measuring cups, so you’d think there would be an electronic scale in the place, but do you think there’s any sign of one?” She sighed. “Anyway, I need to whip up some muffins before opening and I really don’t have time to go into the city to get a jumbo muffin pan, so I wondered if I could borrow one of yours just for a couple of days and then I’ll bring it back to you.”

Erin had already explained enough times that she shouldn’t have had to tell Charley again. “I can’t, Charley. They would be contaminated with gluten and I wouldn’t be able to use them again.”

“I’d clean them really well. And it would be cooked, so it shouldn’t cause a problem for your special clientele. Please, Erin, this will be the last thing that I ask for.”

“It doesn’t matter how well you clean it, there could still be microscopic traces of gluten or other proteins on the pan, enough to trigger a reaction in someone. None of the equipment I use has ever been used for gluten-containing batters. Nothing is cross-contaminated, so people who are celiac or allergic don’t have to worry about reacting to my baked goods, no matter how sensitive they are.”

“But like I said, it will all have been cooked anyway. So they shouldn’t be allergic.”

“Baking doesn’t denature gluten proteins enough for someone to stop reacting to them.”

“I had a friend who was allergic to eggs. She couldn’t eat them scrambled or boiled or fried up for breakfast, but she could eat cake and cookies that had egg in them, because baking changes them.”

“Some people can tolerate eggs that have been baked,” Erin agreed, “but it’s not the same with gluten. Or they’d be able to eat regular bread and there wouldn’t be any need for specialty baked goods! I can’t use pans that have been used for regular muffins. Even though you scrub the pans and they look perfectly clean, there could still be microscopic amounts of gluten that would get into my baking. I’m not willing to risk it.”

Charley folded her arms across her chest and pressed her lips together, clearly irritated. “Can’t you help me out just this once?”

“I’ll help you any way I can,” Erin promised, “just not in any way that will endanger the health of my customers.”

She suspected that, like a large portion of the population, Charley figured that anyone who claimed to be gluten intolerant was just trying to get attention, and that they didn’t really have any health concerns at all. While some people did avoid gluten some of the time just because it was a trendy thing to do or they thought it would help them to lose weight, Erin had customers who could end up in hospital if she glutened them. She wasn’t about to take chances with their health.

Erin looked over at Vic. As usual, Victoria Webster had her long blond hair put up and corralled inside a baker’s cap. Her makeup was perfect in spite of the Tennessee heat and she could have just as easily walked off a runway as out of the hot kitchen. Vic arched one eyebrow at Erin. She knew how much Charley had been driving Erin crazy as the reopening of The Bake Shoppe approached. Her advice had been to stop helping Charley. Family or not, Erin wasn’t under any obligation.

“So you’re going to make me drive all the way into the city to pick up new muffin tins, when you could just loan me a tray for a few days,” Charley accused.

“Sorry, I can’t.”

“Thanks loads.”

“Sorry.”

“You’re lucky you don’t have employees who steal from you.” Charley looked at Vic for a moment, then back at Erin. “If I knew who was stealing from me…”

Erin imagined the former organized-crime soldier could have made some pretty good threats, but Charley didn’t put them into words. “Do you think someone is stealing from you now, or is this stuff that disappeared before you got The Bake Shoppe?”

“It’s still theft, whether they knew they were taking it from me, or decided to take things home after Angela Plaint died and the bakery closed. It wasn’t theirs to take.”

“No,” Erin agreed. “You’re right. I just wondered whether you were still having stuff disappear.”

Charley shrugged. “I don’t know. All I know is that for what should have been a turnkey business, there are an awful lot of things missing!”

Erin nodded sympathetically. “Maybe you should do an inventory before you go into the city, make sure you get everything you need in one run.”

“The trouble is, I don’t really know what’s missing until I go to make something and it’s not there.”

Erin nodded. That was exactly her point.

“You should make a list,” Vic suggested. Her face was smooth, no sign of the laughter bubbling under the surface. She was always teasing Erin for her endless lists. But Erin couldn’t imagine trying to run a business—or her life—without them.

Charley rolled her eyes at Vic and didn’t bother to comment. While she didn’t bully Vic for her transgender identity like some of the Bald Eagle Falls townsfolk—knowing how Erin would react if she did—Charley clearly didn’t intend to take any advice from Erin’s eighteen-year-old employee, no matter how on-point it was.

“So that’s it?” Charley asked Erin. “That’s your final answer, you won’t help me out?”

“I can’t help you with your muffin tin problem.”

“Fine. You have yourself a nice day.” Charley shook her head and stormed out of the store, making the front door bells tinkle wildly.

Erin didn’t say anything immediately. She just stared after Charley. Eventually, she spoke. “Is it just me, or…”

“Is your sister on the verge of a mental breakdown?” Vic suggested, cocking her head.

“I don’t know if I’d go that far, but she does seem to be a little… stressed.”

“And you weren’t before you opened Auntie Clem’s?”

“Well, yeah.” Erin thought back to the days before she had reopened her late aunt’s tea shop as a specialty bakery for those with celiac disease or allergies. “I was pretty nervous… but I had my lists.”

Vic giggled. “She didn’t seem to appreciate the suggestion. Really, when I think about the two of you being sisters… I don’t know if I could find two people less alike.”

“Charley is a little… rough around the edges. She just has some… maturing to do.”

“She’s older than I am.”

“Everybody is older than you are,” Erin teased. “But you’re remarkably mature for your age. Charley is still in a sort of rebellious stage…”

Vic polished a few smudges off of the display case of baked goods. “I think my family would tell you I’m right in the midst of my rebellious stage too. Running away from home, coming out as a girl…”

“You being you is not a stage,” Erin said firmly, looking Vic in the eye. “Don’t let them get to you.”

Vic hadn’t said anything about having had contact with her family recently, but she normally didn’t mention them in conversation unless she’d heard from them. They weren’t exactly supportive of her transition.

“Thanks,” Vic said softly. She looked down at the glass and polished away another invisible smudge. “And my advice to you is to make sure all of your pans and equipment have your name on them.”

Erin smiled. “I’m not exactly worried about my employees walking off with them.”

“I was thinking more about Charley,” Vic said, with a nod in the direction of the door. “It would be a lot less work for her to raid your kitchen than it would be to drive into the city.”

“She doesn’t have a key.”

“Maybe not, but having worked for the Dyson family, I suspect she probably wouldn’t need a key.”

Erin thought about that. “Well… you might have a point there. Do you think Willie has engraving tools?”

“Sure. I’ll tell him you need him to mark everything he can?”

“Yes. It’s probably a really good idea even without Charley in the equation. If we had a break-in, or even did a catering job and left something behind, it’s a lot easier to recover if everything is marked!”

Vic nodded. She tapped her temple. “I’m putting it on my list.”

chapter-2

drop-cap-erin was more tired than usual at the end of the day and wondered whether she was coming down with something. Or maybe it was just the additional stress of having to deal with Charley and worrying about a competing bakery opening in Bald Eagle Falls.

She had said from the start that there was enough business in Bald Eagle Falls for two bakeries, but it had been a lot easier to stay in the black when she was the only one. People who wanted to get freshly-baked treats had to either go to her bakery and get gluten-free, or to go into the city. Now anyone who didn’t have special diets to deal with would have the option of a regular bakery, and Erin was a lot more worried than she let anyone know.

She didn’t have much appetite for supper, opting for just a day-old bun from Auntie Clem’s and a cup of ginger tea. Vic was out with Willie, so Erin didn’t have anyone to nag her that she needed to eat a well-rounded meal. Or at least as well-rounded as anything that came from a box in the freezer could be. She took her tea into the living room. Orange Blossom followed her to the couch and made a place for himself on her lap, meowing and yipping chattily about how he had passed his day in her absence. Erin encouraged his story with mm-hmms and ear scratches until he got settled. Marshmallow, the toasted-brown and white rabbit she had rescued nibbled at the pant leg of her pajamas and snuffled her bare toes, and then eventually flopped down on top of her feet.

Erin wiggled her toes. “Do you really think I need foot warmers in his heat?”

Of course, she had air conditioning, so it wasn’t like she had to put up with the outdoor temperatures. Marshmallow just stared at her out of one eye, his nose wiggling busily.

Erin tried to focus on the job at hand, which was brainstorming what areas she could specialize in; what reasons people had to choose Auntie Clem’s Bakery over The Bake Shoppe. The top ones were, of course, people who required special diets. Sufferers of celiac disease, allergies, and intolerances. Vegans. And… nothing else was coming to her. There were other untapped possibilities, such as those who followed special diets with acronyms like SCD or FODMAPS, who had PKU or other digestive enzyme disorders, were trying to lose weight or gain muscle, were sugar-free, fat-free, or low carb. But she couldn’t cater to them all.

She could possibly develop a low carb line; paleo recipes were popular, but they tended to revolve around almond or coconut flour and eggs, which were bad for her allergic clientele. She had been nut-free from the beginning and didn’t want to leave those who had potentially fatal nut allergies in the lurch. That meant she was choosing a smaller customer base over the larger one, which was not a particularly good business decision.

There was a knock at the door. Erin glanced out the front window and saw the squad car parked at the curb. Removing the animals from their comfortable spots, she got up to open the door for Officer Terry Piper—Officer Handsome, as Vic had been known to refer to him—and his partner, K9.

“Personal safety check, ma’am,” Terry said, affecting more drawl than usual, “just wanted to make sure you’re safe and secure.”

Erin laughed. Terry wasn’t usually so playful. She liked seeing that side of him. “I could use some personal protection,” she breathed, putting her arms around him and giving him a kiss. They stayed like that for a moment, just looking into each other’s eyes. K9 interrupted the tableau with a high-pitched whine followed by a low grumble, as if to say, “Oh, please!”

They both laughed. Erin drew back, allowing her personal protection to enter the house. He closed and locked the door behind him.

“On that note,” he said in a more serious tone, “I didn’t see you check the peephole before opening the door.”

“I didn’t,” Erin agreed. She motioned to the window. “I could see your car from the couch.”

“How did you know it wasn’t some other police officer?”

“Because my date with the sheriff isn’t until Friday.”

Terry chuckled. He took his place on the couch, making a motion to K9 that indicated he was allowed to lie down and no longer be on guard. K9 did so, sprawling like a teenager. He nosed Marshmallow, snuffling curiously. Marshmallow wasn’t in the mood to play, and kicked K9 in the nose with a back foot. K9 sat up, affronted, and sneezed. He looked at Terry and gave a snort.

“If you’re going to poke your nose where it doesn’t belong, you risk getting kicked,” Terry said unsympathetically. “You go doing that to a porcupine or skunk, and you’ll really regret it.”

“Or even Orange Blossom,” Erin contributed. “He’d probably take your nose off.”

K9 approached Erin. He bumped up against her leg and nosed at her hands. Erin scratched his ears and was rewarded with a lick, but that wasn’t what he was after.

“Oh,” Erin scratched his neck and chin. “You’re looking for a treat.”

Both Orange Blossom and Marshmallow perked up at this suggestion, looking at Erin to see if she were going to give them something.

“He doesn’t need a treat every single time he comes over here,” Terry pointed out. “You spoil him.”

“It’s my house, I’ll spoil him if I like.” Erin patted K9’s head and walked toward the kitchen. “Come on, boy. You can have a cookie.”

He went with her eagerly, tail waving back and forth in wide arcs. The cat and the rabbit followed close behind. Erin picked a gluten-free doggie biscuit out of the cookie jar for K9, some soft treats from a snack can for Orange Blossom, and a stick of celery for Marshmallow. She handed K9 and Marshmallow their treats directly, but for Orange Blossom, skimmed the treats along the kitchen floor, making him go careening after them in wild pursuit.

“Doggie treats,” she murmured as she went back to the living room and sat down next to Terry. “That’s another thing.”

Terry raised his eyebrows. “What’s that?”

“I was trying to think of all of the reasons people come to Auntie Clem’s Bakery, and that’s another one. Grain-free doggie treats. A lot of dogs are sensitive to grains and the grocery store doesn’t stock grain-free biscuits.”

Terry nodded. “Right. We’d have to go all the way to the city to get them.”

“And that’s not something Charley is going to want to stock, is it? She just wants a regular bakery, and most bakeries don’t do treats for dogs, gluten-free or otherwise.” She picked up her list and wrote the thought down.

“What else have you got on there?” Terry looked down at the short list. “What about the ladies’ tea?”

Erin had revived Clementine’s tradition of an after-services tea Sunday mornings for the churchgoing ladies.

“There’s nothing to stop Charley from doing a ladies’ tea,” she countered.

“Well, I suppose not, but people will go to yours because that’s where Clementine’s Tea Room was. Having it somewhere else wouldn’t be the same.”

“But you don’t think they’d choose Charley over me if she did offer one? Because I’m an atheist and she’s… not?”

“Charley isn’t exactly religious herself. Does she even attend services?”

“I wouldn’t know, since I don’t go,” Erin teased. “But seriously, no, I don’t think she ever has. And I don’t think she goes into the city or back to Moose River for services. But she’s Christian in name, and that matters to people around here. Better a Christian who beats his wife and goes fishing every Sunday than an atheist.”

“I don’t think they’re quite that bad.”

Erin considered. “Maybe not quite,” she admitted. She held up her fingers, pinched close together. “But it’s close.”

“Has someone been getting on your case?”

“No more than usual. I think they’ve adjusted to the idea that they’re not going to convert me, but they’re not happy about it and people still… make comments.”

“You’re never going to get people to stop talking.”

“No.”

They sighed in unison, then laughed.

“Does it ever bother you that I’m not a Christian?” Erin asked.

He raised his brows. “Me? Not a bit. Never even crossed my mind.”

“It doesn’t bother you that I’m not going to your heaven?”

“You might be surprised where you end up! No, it really makes no difference to me what you believe. I’m not entirely sure what it is that I believe. I’m born and bred Christian and have never considered myself anything else, but do I believe the whole thing?” He shrugged. “That the Bible and everything in it is meant to be taken literally? I don’t know about that. I’ll take it on faith for now… and see what happens.”

“Hedging your bets? Making sure you’re covered just in case it is all true?”

“Our society is built on the Ten Commandments and the Bible. That’s where our most basic laws stem from. So… yes. I’ll do my best to keep the top ten and uphold the law. Whether that will get me anything in the afterlife or just keep me on the right path in this life, I don’t know.”

Erin shook her head. “Okay…”

“What does that mean?”

“I thought one of those top ten was going to church on Sunday, and you don’t do that. You go to work like usual.”

Terry looked away, grimacing. “Well, it doesn’t exactly say that…”

“Oh.”

“It says to keep the Sabbath day holy, and I…” he trailed off.

Erin waited for him to finish. He didn’t come up with anything.

“You’ll take that one under advisement?” she suggested.

“Well, maybe I’ll do better at that one when I’m retired.”

“Sounds good to me.”

They sat in silence for a few minutes while the animals gathered back around them and found comfy places to nestle. Erin added the ladies’ tea to her list and read over it again. There still wasn’t enough there to keep a business running. If everybody who didn’t have to eat a special diet decided to go to The Bake Shoppe, Erin’s business was going to be in trouble.

I hope you enjoyed this sample of

Sour Cherry Turnover

By P.D. Workman

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Comments

  1. Jennifer Cann says

    A good read

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