Vegan Baked Alaska

vegan baked alaska

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chapter-1

drop-cap-in Erin’s dream, it was dark. Pitch black. She was feeling around, trying to figure out where she was and how she had gotten there. Her stomach roiled and sweat dripped down her face and ran down her back. All she could feel around her was rock. At first, she could stand up and walk along the long passageway, but the roof kept getting lower and lower until she was crouching, and then crawling on her hands and knees, worrying about how she was going to slither along on her belly if it got any lower. How was she going to get out if the tunnel dwindled down to nothing?

How had she gotten in there in the first place? She couldn’t remember, but her mind flashed back to the time that she had been hit over the head and left bound and unconscious in the endless mazes of underground caves when she had first moved to Bald Eagle Falls. Had it happened again? Or was she somehow back there? Every thought she tried to focus on slipped away from her, as they did in dreams, slithering away along the tunnel into nothingness.

Then it started to get lighter. At first, there was just a faint grayness that Erin barely even registered. But as she continued on, it got gradually brighter and brighter, until she could finally see the walls around her. Rather than getting lower, the ceiling started to rise and, eventually, she was able to stand again, looking around her in confusion. She was in her kitchen at the new Auntie Clem’s Bakery. Was there another underground tunnel leading into the bakery? But how had it led into the bakery kitchen, which was above ground, rather than into the basement? Erin shook her head and looked around the way she had come, but was unable to identify the door she had come in.

When she turned around again, she screamed. There was Vic, her lovely bakery assistant, sprawled out on the floor, unmoving, just where Mr. Oglethorpe had lain. Her silky blond hair was spread out on the floor around her head.

“Erin! Erin, wake up!”

It was a few seconds before Erin could make the transition from the nightmare to the real world, where Terry was shaking her. She stopped screaming. Or stopped the strangled sobbing that had escaped her in the midst of the dream.

“It’s okay,” Officer Terry Piper soothed. “It’s okay, it was just a dream, Erin.”

She was shaking. Her whole body was vibrating. She melted into his arms, snuggling in close to his warm body and trying to calm herself down.

“Just a silly dream,” Erin acknowledged. “It’s fine. It was just a dream.”

“That’s right.” He stroked her short, dark hair soothingly.

She breathed in the smell of his body, familiar and comforting, as she pressed her face into his chest. Terry wouldn’t let anything happen to her. He wouldn’t let her get hurt or kidnapped or trapped in a tunnel. All of that was in the past. Her future in Bald Eagle Falls was bright. Bright and normal, with no more murders or investigations.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Terry murmured.

“I was in a cave… and then in the kitchen, and Vic was there,” Erin didn’t want to put it all into words, afraid that if she said them, they would somehow become more real. “She was… on the floor…”

She didn’t explain any further. Terry held on to her, his grip tightening a little. He kissed the top of her head.

“Victoria is just fine. She’s at home sleeping, just like you.”

“She’s okay,” Erin repeated. The memory of Vic and her other friends being trapped in a collapsed mine was still too fresh. It was still all too familiar, that knowledge that something awful had happened to them and they might not get out alive. Erin had been swallowed up by that dread, waiting for the rescuers to drill through the rock and find out what kind of condition her friends were in. The whole time, she kept trying to block out visions of their dead bodies in her mind. Buried by rock.

Erin let out a long, shuddering breath. She turned her head to look at the clock.

“I don’t know if I can go back to sleep.”

Terry shifted around to look at it himself. It wasn’t even light outside, but Erin was used to keeping baker’s hours and, even on a day off, her body still expected to get up before dawn to start doing the day’s baking. The nightmares often took place just before rising.

“Stay with me just a little longer,” Terry suggested.

Erin couldn’t turn him down. She nodded and snuggled back down into his embrace.

“Thank you,” she told him.

“You just stay there and relax. It will all be okay. It wasn’t real.”

“I know. I just… it feels real. I get so freaked out.”

“Yeah.” She wondered whether any of it bothered Terry. Just because he was a police officer, that didn’t mean that he too wasn’t affected by the deaths and accidents that they had experienced since Erin moved to Bald Eagle Falls. Even first responders could end up with PTSD. Not that Erin had PTSD.

Terry kissed the top of her head. “When I’m not here…” he trailed off.

They didn’t live together. Even if they had, Terry wouldn’t be able to be there all the time, because he frequently had to take night shift or answer calls. Bald Eagle Falls had only a tiny police department, so he was often needed. He and Erin still kept separate residences, and though she did stay occasionally at Terry’s, most of the time it was Terry who came over to spend the night with Erin. There was little point in doing it during the week when Erin was baking, since the hours that they would actually both be in bed at the same time were so few. So, they were practical and only slept together on the nights that they could both get off, when they could actually spend time together.

“Do you have dreams when I’m not here?” Terry asked.

“Yeah… of course…” And without him there to wake her up from them, the dreams seemed to go on forever. Sometimes it seemed like she was battling her demons all night. Waking up in the morning was a relief, even if she felt like she hadn’t had a good night’s sleep. She just wanted the nightmares to end and to get on with life.

He gave her a little squeeze. “Have you thought any more about counseling? You’ve been through a lot and it could help.”

“I know.” Erin sighed. The last thing she wanted was more hours in a therapist’s office. But she was growing more desperate to end the dreams. She had thought they would just fade away as the memory of the mine collapse and the other traumatic events that had occurred in Bald Eagle Falls grew more distant. But so far, that wasn’t happening. She supposed it could take months, even years. People dealt with PTSD or other disorders for a long time. “Maybe. I really… I just don’t like doctors. I’ve done enough of that in the past. My social workers were always insisting on different kinds of therapy or counseling. Any time I had a hard time ‘settling into’ a new family. It was just a… a farce. Some of them were so stupid… I knew the drill better than the professionals did. I could have given them therapy. ‘Tell me about your feelings.’”

Terry chuckled. “I bet you’d make a good therapist. You’re good at making people feel better.”

“That’d be the carbs,” Erin laughed. “Donuts really do soothe the soul.”

“Well, they certainly don’t hurt,” Terry agreed.

Erin could hear the smile in his voice and could picture the little dimple that would appear on her Officer Handsome’s face as he was speaking.

She shifted restlessly. While it would be nice to fall back asleep in his arms, she knew that it would just begin another cycle of nightmares. She didn’t want to keep dreaming. Her body was more than ready to get up. She would let Terry sleep for a few more hours undisturbed.

“I’ll see you later,” Erin whispered. She kissed him briefly and slid out of bed, not wanting him to be so wide awake that he wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep again. His normal schedule did not have him getting up so early. If he got up with her, he would be shorting himself by several hours.

“Good night,” Terry murmured. “Come back and get me if you need anything.”

“Shh,” she told him, and she slipped quietly out of the room, shutting the door quietly so that he wouldn’t be disturbed by the sounds of her moving around the house.

Orange Blossom had jumped down off the bed and was trying to squeeze through the door as Erin shut it, letting out a yowling protest when she caught his tail.

“Oh, Blossom!” Erin held the door ajar for a moment to make sure he was all the way through, and then pulled it shut. “You’ve got to be quicker if you want to get through the door before I shut it.” She bent down and held her hand out for him. It was dark, but not too dark for her to see his shape in the hall as he considered whether to approach her and get his pats and ear scratches or whether to remain aloof and express to her how she had injured his pride by shutting his tail in the door the way she had.

Pats and ear scratches won out and he slid his body under her hand, turned, and returned rubbing his jowls against her fingers. He made little inquiring noises as she patted him and scratched all of his favorite places. Erin whispered to him, careful not to wake Terry any further.

“There, that’s nice, isn’t it? All is forgiven? I’m sorry I shut your tail in the door, but you really do need to be more careful. Maybe you should sleep in your kitty bed instead of on my bed when Terry’s here.”

He made a chirruping sound, as if to ask why he would want to sleep on a cat bed when he was obviously a human. Erin laughed and showered him with affection. Then she stood up.

“I need to use the commode and then let’s decide what we need to do today. I’ll make coffee and we’ll start a list.”

He allowed her to use the bathroom all by herself without pushing his way in or yowling outside the door. He was affectionate and expressive and, in the early days, had frequently disturbed the neighbors with his demands for attention. But he had mellowed. Like a clingy child, he had eventually been soothed by her routines and gotten used to her comings and goings.

But he was standing right outside the door when she came out of the bathroom, nearly tripping her.

“Come on,” Erin ordered. “Coffee. Kitchen.”

He stared at her like he had no idea what she was talking about, but Erin knew better. He recognized a lot more words than he liked to let on, and sometimes gave away that he understood a lot more of what she said than a cat had a right to. Erin gave him a little nudge with her foot.

“Go on, don’t block the doorway. We’re going to the kitchen.”

He allowed her to push him out of the way, but still gave no indication he understood her.

“Do I have to promise you a treat before you’ll go?”

Orange Blossom took a few steps toward the kitchen and looked back to see if she were coming. Erin laughed.

“Uh-huh. I should have known. It’s a good thing you don’t have fingers, or I’d never be able to get you to do anything.”

She followed him into the kitchen and after turning on the light, grabbed the treat can from the pantry. She picked out a few treats and sent them sliding across the floor, laughing at Orange Blossom skittering after them on the polished floor. She heard K9’s almost-ultrasonic whine and, when Orange Blossom was finished his treat, she let Terry’s furry partner out of his kennel. He waited politely for a doggie biscuit and lay down with it between his front paws as he gnawed on it. Marshmallow lolloped in on almost-silent feet, then kicked the cupboard with a hind foot to make sure she knew he was there and waiting for his treat too. Erin gave him a carrot from the fridge, which he started to gnaw on loudly.

Erin put on the coffee and sat down with a notepad to plan out her day. She was still getting used to the idea of having days off like a normal person. The extra money she had made from wild ginseng meant that she could afford to hire a couple of workers to cover the Saturday shifts and some afternoon shifts during the week so that neither she nor Vic would have to work long hours six days a week. The short Sunday shift for the ladies’ tea didn’t really count, since all of them, even Charley, took turns at that.

Erin had a hard time turning off her business owner’s mind on days off. There were promotions and advertising to plan, experimenting with new gluten-free recipes for the bakery, and working out employee shifts for the coming weeks. She tried to schedule time for herself as well, reading Clementine’s old journals and thick family history books and files and spending time with Terry and her friends, rather than letting her time fill up with housework and errands.

By the time the coffee was ready, she had several rough lists going. K9 had finished eating his biscuit and was lying companionably beside her, while Orange Blossom was glaring at his rival from across the room, washing his face and pouting. Marshmallow nibbled delicately on what remained of his carrot, watching Erin with one eye.

I hope you enjoyed this sample of

Vegan Baked Alaska

By P.D. Workman

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Comments

  1. Pat Navarro says

    Cute story.

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