Chapter 1: Cookies & Spice
The girl in the green cardigan with the rolling cart makes her way down the main street in the village of Durbin. This is the Durbin of the out-of-the-way, of where Starbucks is unlikely to penetrate, a place pleasantly apart. Down the street she rolls, looking this way and that for where hope rests, a gathering expectation in the form of the Bella Rosa Bakery, a name that somehow struck her fancy. On the East side of the square her friend told her, just after she was forced to gently evict her, no longer having room for what is almost a vagrant girl, down now to her last few twenties. The girl, a baker of beautiful cookies, luxurious in their swirls and colors and in the overall heavenliness of their taste, has a talent that can sustain her, if only she can find a place to bake and hungry people to buy her cookies. In the cart, a book of glossy pictures show the work of her thin nibble fingers–the shiny-eyed wonder of her youth and imagination: Will anyone believe these pictures–what this slender, rosey-haired woman–still a girl really–all curls and freckles, radiant with hope and unquenchable enthusiasm, can do?
The little sign, a wood carving of a fat loaf of bread over which the words Bella Rosa curve, is hard to see nestled in the shade of a big red maple growing by the curb. She first sees the three or four small tables tucked in the niche of a storefront where two windows of gleaming glass angle inward to frame a green door in their center. Looking up, there is the sign, here is the bakery, dappled in shade, on this sunny auspicious morning in the first days of autumn: A big breath, a straightening of strong, slender shoulders, and in she goes.
“Hello!” She is greeted by a young woman and a skinny teenage girl, both grinning, standing side by side, looking at her expectantly. They saw her on their street, looking this way and that, rolling her cart, intent. Nellie thought vaguely of someone familiar; her niece Madeleine, of a long lost friend, although she would never have used those words for such a whimsical notion so quickly forgotten, just a fleeting wisp of something, a whisper in the wind.
“Hi!” the girl says, all smiles.
The teen runs over to her. “What a neat cart! The wheels are so cool!”
“I painted them myself, this is my little really ‘green’ car.”
“What’s in the cart?” the teen asks. By now the woman has joined them so that the three of them are standing together, comfortably, if not unaccountably, chatting like new found friends.
(How do strangers instantly know, just so, that there is to their meeting a destiny true, a place from which in hazy profile, by a tide true, where selves float back then forward into this real life, like these three souls chatting amicably, warmed by sun beaming through the shiny window of the Bella Rosa Bakery?)
“Come sit down!” The woman says, taking the girl’s hand. “I’m Nellie–this is my niece, Snooky” and grins, “her real name is Madeleine.”
“I was named after the cat I used to chase in the back by the storeroom.” Snooky says and takes her other hand, leading her to a table by the window, where they sit.
The teen peaks into the cart. Nellie laughs, “Nosey!”
“My name is Janie, Janie Irving.” The girl says and in playful formality shakes the teen’s hand. “Want to see my cookies?’
“Cookies?” Nellie says, interested, as always, in all things baked. “I tried to make cookies–not too well, I’m afraid. They look so easy, but my brother, heartless bastard” she points her head to the back of the bakery, “never approved.”
“Oh,” says Janie, her shoulders unconsciously drooping, “too bad.”
“I’m just not such a good cook–he isn’t really heartless–or a bastard,” she giggles.
Snooky has already dipped into the cart and is holding a red photo album, on whose cover, in a flourish of hand painted script curves, “Cookies to Die For.”
“Snooky…” Nellie says.
“Let me show you!” Janie says. She takes the book from Snooky and opens it onto the table. The three of them gather around it, heads close. On the first page, row after decorated row of perfect cookies present themselves. On the next few pages, closeups show the beautiful detail of delicious looking cookies: corkscrews, swirls, towers, buttons, and bows, all of an original, if not, whimsical design. They are bathed in bright colors, a rainbow of cookies of all shapes and sizes, little works of art.
“I love cookies,” Nellie says, wistfully, “If only I could make them better…”
“Nice designs!” A baritone voice says from over Nellie’s shoulder. “Did you make those?”
“Yes!” Janie says, “It’s my specialty!”
“You bake cookies…” Snooky says, her eyes flitting from Nellie to the baritone.
“Yep–all these, for a few years now.” Janie says.
“Where do you work?” asks Nellie.
“I’d like to work here.” Janie says simply, laying it on the line, heart aflutter.
“Oh, good!” says Snooky, wrapping Janie in an unabashed hug.
“Hmm,” says the baritone as Nellie adds an encouraging smile, turning her head to the man behind her who now takes a seat at the table opposite them, his eyes moving between the casino şirketleri pictures and the girl. Janie turns the book in his direction.
“So you bake,” he says, as she narrates what the cookies are made of, how they are made, and what some of their unique ingredients are, including this secret ingredient and that, her phrasing very clearly a baker’s shorthand that causes the man to smile.
“I’m Roscoe,” he says, “and this” his eyes rest playfully on his sister, Nellie, and Snooky, his daughter, whom he introduces, ending with a wave that captures the room “and this is the family bakery.”
“May I bake my cookies here?” Janie asks, holding her breathe.
Snooky takes her hand and squeezes it, big eyes looking up at her father. And Nellie puts a possessive arm around Janie’s shoulder, “Cookies would go well with the coffee…’
Roscoe, liking the girl’s spunkiness, is well aware of just how insistent his daughter and sister can be when they dig in, decides on compromise, “We can’t eat a picture! Bake us some samples…but no promises.”
“Right now?” asks Janie, excitedly, her mind already whirling through her favorite recipes.
“Why not, the bakings done for today and the ovens are still warm. Maybe Sis can show you were everything is.” Roscoe says.
“I’d love too!” Nellie says squeezing Janie’s shoulder.
“Me too!” Snooky says and they get up, almost skipping back to the ovens, leaving Roscoe to look at the pictures, shaking his head, wondering what he got himself into.
The girls spend half the day baking and laughing, giggles bounce off the walls, past the hot ovens, to careen around the long room painted in mauve, with highlights of purple and burgundy–a woman’s touch that complements their chattering voices.
Nellie is telling Janie how they want to put in a classy expresso machine up front to bring in the morning coffee crowd and to add business throughout the day, hence the idea of cookies to nibble on. Janie is tasting one of the demi loaves of bread and telling Nellie how good it is, describing the crunchy texture of the crust and the mellow doughy smoothness of its center. “Hardly needs butter,” she remarks as Roscoe smiles, recognizing a fellow connoisseur of well-baked bread. He is leaning against the counter as the first batch of decorated cookies is presented for inspection. Behind Janie her loyal troops are assembled–won over in a single exuberant session of fun-fun whirlwind baking.
Roscoe looks keenly at the plate of cookies. They are artfully arranged on a large oval platter on which a white paper doily lays. Along the edges are the button cookies in tricolor–American, French, Portuguese, Mexican and Italian colors (make the green brighter Snooky told Janie as they were mixing the food coloring for the Italian cookies). The tricolors frame more elaborate swirls, curlycues, wafers, and exotic ganaches, and madeleines (which Snooky took extra delight in). Taken together they form an appealing mosaic. Roscoe stares at the prodigious effort, impressed, “I hate to take one and ruin the design.”
“It’ll be OK,” Janie says, and brings out another tray where many of the same cookies are arranged in uniform rows for easy picking.
“Ah, good,” Roscoe says taking one of the cookies, “a madeleine, I believe, we don’t see too many of these,” winking at Snooky. He stops then to savor the swirling taste of cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, and butter combined with–what?–ah, he remembers now, a hint of anise. The cookie melts in his mouth, leaving a fine flavor without a hint of aftertaste. As he stands there savoring the light texture, out comes another tray–how could she have done all these cookies in such a short time? This tray is spectacular: Cookies combined to create the bakery’s sign, the words Bella Rosa and the loaf of bread in remarkable detail, the cookies designed expressly for the sign.
“Wow,” Roscoe says, “that was quick! The cookies are great!” and takes another one from the serving tray. “It’s hard to put this together in just a few hours. Especially something as professional as this.”
Janie nods shyly, the ‘professional’ bringing a big smile to her face and the faces of her helpers, who are now at her flanks clearly expecting good news.
“OK, then” Roscoe says, “lets talk pricing and profit sharing.”
“Half!” Nellie says, “The girl’s got to live.”
“Half it is, then, but only of the profit. The cost of goods comes out first.”
Janie nods her head, “You could have had more…”
“Naw” says Roscoe, “we want you to have a reason to bake good cookies day in and day out. After a while that could be a struggle if you’re not making any money.”
“That’s great,” Janie says, “I can probably afford to pay my able assistant, if she’s not too busy with her homework” and nudges Snooky.
“Think of Snooky as your apprentice.” Roscoe laughs, “She gets paid by the bakery to learn.”
“Me, too!” Nellie says, “Free labor: Your overhead is just hard work and imagination. And maybe a little hourly wage until her cookies catch on…?”
“Fair enough,” Roscoe says, “although it cuts into your profit Janie.”
“Oh, thank you! Thank you!” casino firmaları Janie says her eyes misty, as Nellie and Snooky hug her and Roscoe offers his hand to seal their agreement.
‘Let’s try a few samples on our unsuspecting customers,” Nellie says and the girls begin arranging the smaller cookers on a doily clad plate to sit on top of the glass display.
“Come on,” Snooky says after they are done, “let me show you your room.”
Roscoe looks at Nellie, his eyebrow raised, “I’m sharing my apartment upstairs until she gets settled.” Nellie says with a big smile.
“Sharing, huh?” and Roscoe winks at Nellie as the girls tromp up the steps like a herd of wildebeests. Behind the counter in the corner by the cash register, sits Janie’s little cart, colored wheels and all, on top of what looks to be plastic bags of clothes, sits her red cookie book. Roscoe shakes his head, wondering again about this whirlwind of a girl that has just breezily blown through his bakery like a warm wind on a cold day…causing giggles and, he senses, goodwill all around.
Chapter 2: Rooming With Friends
Upstairs, the girls stand together in the middle of Nellie’s messy attic apartment, looking at the sloped ceilings, the little nooks within which dormer windows present a blue sky, the shiny wooden floors–what you can see of them for all the clothes cluttered about–that angle toward a small Pullman kitchen next to which is an even smaller bathroom.
“It’s cozy,” Nellie says, “but there’s plenty of room for two. I once had six girl friends staying her for a week. That was fun.”
Snooky points to the extra bed in the corner and pushes an end table from one of the niches next to the bed. “Walla!” she says with a flourish. “Now all we need is a privacy screen and you’ll have your own bedroom. You might need it since your room mate has a girl friend, huh, Auntie!”
“Shh!” Nellie says blushing, “It’s true, but we won’t disturb you. Irma won’t bother you at all–Snooky is just trying to shock you.”
“It’s true,” Snooky says, holding Janie’s hand, “Irmy is a real pet, you’ll like her!”
The girls spend the next few hours cleaning the apartment and settling Janie in.
“You haven’t told me what the rent is Nellie,” Janie says. The three of them are sprawled out on a big fluffy round rug in the center of the attic. Janie is on one elbow looking seriously at Nellie.
“Oh, I don’t know…” big pause eyes roaming the room, “not much more than $1000 or so” and then giggles when Janie frowns, only to be interrupted when Snooky tickles Janie’s feet and Nellie pokes Janie in the ribs.
“Let’s not have any rent for now. After all, you’re teaching my niece to bake beautiful cookies. Imagine what a fancy-pansy culinary school would charge for that privilege!”
“You’re sure?” Janie says, “We don’t even know if the cookies will sell…”
“Then we’ll give them away until the customers are hooked. That’s what Roscoe did with those demi loaves you liked. He made them even smaller and kept handing them to folks. It took maybe two weeks before he had a loyal following of freeloaders and then another few weeks before they began paying for them.”
“I don’t want to be a freeloader…” Janie frowns defensively, worried about all this generosity and, shyly, about all the easy acceptance, feeling like she is in a dream.
“Not you, sweetie.” Nellie hugs her, “Just look at all the work you put in to making those cookies. It’ll take a few months before you’re profitable. We’re just protecting our investment in our secret cookie master.”
Roscoe calls up for Snooky who gives Nellie and Janie a friendly kiss before she runs down the stairs, yelling over shoulder, “See you after school!”
When Janie finally takes a long overdue nap, Nellie goes downstairs to the little kitchen in the back to make them a dinner of salmon patties and salad. (She could have cooked up stairs, but decides the girl needs her rest so she is willing to put up with Roscoe’s frown from the fishy smell. ‘I put the exhaust fan on, Ros!’) She puts the food on a tray and adds more of the little loaves and brings them upstairs. She sets the table adding wine glasses. Then she looks to the nook where the girl still slumbers, her face peaceful. Nellie smiles feeling enormously protective as she wonders wickedly what her girlfriend Irma will say.
Before she fell asleep, excited by her new job, Janie thought of cookies baking and of people smiling, customers eager for her yummy cookies. She dreamed of Nellie and Snooky, the baritone voice of Roscoe, and that odd wink he gave his sister. Now just before Janie opens her eyes, half asleep in and out of dreamland, the image of smiling Nellie, Nellie of the warm hug, her blond hair flowing, shimmering down a yellow silk nightie, its front open at the throat, admitting the swell of rosy breasts, inviting… Janie wakes up then and looks around amazed to be here in a strange new room, tucked under a blanket. With a luxurious stretch, she smells dinner and sees the nicely set table, presented to her by the blond angel still fresh from her dreams.
“Hi,” Janie says from her corner, untangling her legs, güvenilir casino “something smells good.”
“I made us a little dinner.”
“Hmm, that’s nice…”
“Wine, too, just a light red.”
“You’re spoiling me.”
“Just welcoming you.”
“How long have you lived here?” Janie says smiling.
“About six months now–after I moved out of Irma’s.”
“You moved out?”
“We had a fight.–I love Irm dearly, but living with her is trying. She’s even more sloppy than I am and she insists on bringing stray girls home.”
“She does, but I thought…”
“Yes,” Nellie says, “we’re in love but sometimes Irmy can’t help herself, she’s just not what you’d call the faithful kind.”
“You’re OK with it?”
“Sure, once you understand how needy she is, you forgive her faults. Fidelity isn’t all its made out to be,” Nellie pauses to pour the wine. “Irma is loyal–in her own way. She keeps trying. It’s about clinging and ego and what it means, in the heart, to be loyal. You don’t expect an innocent baby to run before it can walk…”
“Irma comes here a lot?” Janie asks.
“Yes, but not so much that it should bother you–I hope.”
“I’m just happy to have a place to get on my feet–or off them–that bed is nice and comfortable. At my friends house, I slept on the floor–the dog and I!” Janie laughs, “I miss the dog, but not the floor.”
“And I’m happy to have the company. I’m thinking that Irmy will be a little jealous–probably be good for her.”
“How long have you been together?”
“About three years now,” Nellie says, gently twisting her hair, softly smiling. Janie thinks she looks almost like a mother thinking of a small, naughty child, a little miss easily forgiven.
“How did you meet?” Janie asks shyly.–She does indeed want to know these tantalizing, exotic details but remembering her strange dream she is also afraid of being drawn into this new, possibly tempting world of women who love women.
A little more wine is poured, the meal nearly done, as Nellie laughs and begins her tale of seduction. She picks up Janie’s hand and strokes it gently, “A few years ago, I would never even dream of picking up another woman’s hand and stroking it–even as a friend–like I’m doing now.” Janie blushes but does not move her hand, instead she sits absorbed, a little worried at how willingly she enjoys being touched and hugged–even kissed in that friendly way Nellie has. “Then along came Irma, thundering into my life on her motorcycle with her wild hair and her infectious hugs… I guess those hugs have rubbed off a little.”
Nellie pauses to look directly a Janie. “Sorry if I’m too demonstrative…”
“It’s OK,” Janie can’t help but smile, beguiled by the thoughtfulness in Nellie’s worried frown. “It’s been along time since someone’s hugged me…”
“Not too long I hope,” Nellie says, “I get lots of hugs from my brothers and my family, but until Irma, I didn’t get many of ‘those’ hugs. Irma’s hugs are different: friendly or edgy, you won’t quite know until you step back to breathe. Irma’s a big hugger–you’ll find out soon enough.”
“Anyway, sometime after Roscoe rescued Irma (someday Irma will tell you about that, just let her tell it when she’s ready).” Nellie continues, “I went to this dance with a guy that turned out to be a real thug. He tried to force me into a broom closet by the ladies room just as Irma was coming out. I’m pushing the jerk away and he’s resisting. Irma holds the door to the ladies room open and nods to me, I duck under his arm and try to twist away from his grip, but he’s strong…at least he was until Irma kicked him in the balls and pulls me into the ladies room! Irma braces herself against the door as he angrily hammers on it from the outside. That drew attention. The hammering stopped. Finally, we hear some girls outside saying “it locked!” Irma peaks out and he’s gone from the hallway. So out we go until we get to the ballroom where the fast dancing is in full swing. We see him standing in the shadows waiting. Irma takes my hand and out we go onto the dance floor.”
“Did he follow you?” Janie asks, they have taken the wine bottle and their glasses and are now sitting on the couch. Janie leans back and lays her arm along the top of the couch, her legs tucked under so that she can watch Nellie.
“He did, but a single guy on the dance floor was too weird for him. So we kept dancing, fast dances and then slow dances, keeping an eye out. The slow dances are where it get’s interesting. It’s one thing to fast dance with a girl, its another to slow dance. That didn’t bother Irma. I was too scared to care…and I didn’t know anybody there–the place was his choice. Still, we did get a few stares. That was her first hug, she just stepped in, put her arms around me, and folded herself into my curves, all warm and cozy and well sexy too. It was so…so hot, like being pressed into something wonderful, so new and exciting I was swept away as they say. One slow dance, then–thank God!–another, and a few fast dances just to cool us down. By then we didn’t care about the thug, we were invincible together. She took me home that night on the back of her big black motorcycle, deep rumbling motor, long dark streets, fleeting street lights, going blindly to an unknown place, hair flying every which way, me pressed into her back, willing arms wrapped tight across the bareness of her flat warm belly.