Her Christmas Bake-Off

Chapter 1

Sanders, Alabama August 1957

“I tell you, a man has no place owning a bakery!” Abby Hudson said.

Abby and her best friend June stood in shadows near the large plate glass front window as they looked out across the street. Not yet open for business on Friday morning, the only lights burning in Abby’s bakery were in the back of the shop.

“Have you met him?”

“No, I haven’t.” Abby fumed. “Only watched him help unload some of his furnishings. And I don’t need to meet the man to know I don’t want to meet him.”

June sought to calm Abby. “In all the big cities, the chefs are men.”

“That guy is no chef. He bakes cookies, for goodness sakes. This town isn’t big enough for two bakeries, especially across the street from each other.”

“Look at it this way—better to be across the street from you, so you can keep an eye on his business.” Abby turned away from the window, mumbling as she made her way to the back of the bakery. She came in early every day, enjoying the peace and quiet before opening the store. Using the time alone, she filled her orders scheduled for pick up that day and constantly replenished the stock of baked goods in her showcases. Rather than complain, Abby was grateful for the customers who daily repleted her inventory. June came by most mornings to chat briefly before going on to her job at the bank.

June hurried to follow Abby from the front of the store to her workstation situated behind a wall whose upper half consisted of glass. Even while decorating her baked creations, Abby could view the entire store from that area. She pulled open a drawer and withdrew a handful of metal flower nails on which she would design roses with icing.

“You working on an order?”

“Yes, a cake for Mary Jean Townsend’s tenth birthday party tomorrow and a dozen cupcakes. She wants the top of the cake completely covered with roses so every girl at her party will be sure to get a flower on their piece of cake. I remember when that child’s mama brought her home from the hospital. Seems like children grow up so fast these days.”

“Were we ever that young?”

“Yes, of course we were. After meeting in kindergarten, we’ve grown up together, almost inseparable. Strangers occasionally mistake us as sisters instead of best friends. And here we are, thirty years old.”

When Abby looked up to smile at June, she glanced toward the front of her store. She dropped the handful of flower nails, and as they rattled across the floor, Abby stomped her foot.

“No!”

When Abby bent to pick up the scattered flower nails, June helped her. “What’s wrong, Abby?”

“That man across the street…he’s walking straight toward my front door.”

They stood and focused their attentions on the door. “Looks like you’re going to meet the man whether or not you want to.”

After putting the dropped nails in the sink, Abby and June stayed still as mice as the new man in town knocked on the glass front door.

“Aren’t you going to the door?”

“No.”

The man shaded his eyes with a hand to peer through the door, then knocked again.

“Abby?”

“Oh, all right!” She trudged toward the front door, not at all pleased with the unwelcomed interruption of her early morning.

June followed.

Abby turned the dead bolt and pulled open the door. The man in her doorway wore a scruffy T-shirt over faded blue jeans held loosely in place by a worn leather belt and oozed the scent of pure masculinity. Red shoelaces harnessed his brown work shoes. Hard-work sweat beaded his forehead, and he held a thermos bottle in one hand.

“Say, look, sorry to disturb you. I’m Dave Cameron, the new owner of the storefront across the street. I saw some activity over here a little while ago and thought you were open.”

Abby squared her shoulders and tried not to gaze at the damp T-shirt hugging his chest. “Good morning. I’m Abigail Hudson. I own this bakery.”

He flashed her a broad smile that spread across his face and showed in his eyes. “Congratulations…well, my store’s utilities aren’t turned on yet, and I wondered if I could bother you for water to fill my thermos. With no air conditioning either, I’m almost parched from the August heat.”

I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. She took a deep breath to hopefully slow her heartbeat. “Sure.” Abby took the thermos he reached toward her, accidentally grazing his fingers with hers. At their touch, a shiver vibrated up her arm. She quickly stepped backward and abruptly turned, almost colliding with June. “Oh, this is my friend, June. I’ll get your water.”

“Please come inside,” June said, “so I can lock the door. The bakery’s not open yet.”

“Thank you, ma’am. Ah, the air conditioning in here feels great.”

“I’ll go see if I can help Abby. Wait right there.”

June hurried to the back, where Abby ran tap water into Dave Cameron’s thermos. Abby twisted the top onto the thermos, then tore off a plastic bag from its roll.

“What are you doing?”

“I thought he might like some ice to cool this water.” She pulled an aluminum ice cube tray out of the refrigerator’s top freezer. A squeaky-cracking sound filled the empty shop when she pried up the tray’s lever to free the cubes.

“Oh, how promptly your attitude toward the new man has changed,” June said.

“I’m only giving the man some water. My opinion of him owning a bakery hasn’t changed.”

“Of course.”

Abby offered the thermos and ice to June. “Here, take this to the man, and lock the door behind him.”

“Not me. As a business owner, you need to be cordial to him.”

“Oh, okay, but I won’t overdo the pleasantries.”

Back at the front door, Abby gave the man his thermos and the baggie of ice cubes.

“I really appreciate this. You’re a lifesaver.” He gifted her with another of his heart-throbbing smiles. “Say, is it always this hot here in mid-August?”

Abby crossed her arms in front of her. “Yes, it is.”

“I’m not from around here. Guess I’ve got a lot to learn about your town. Maybe you can give me a tour sometime soon.”

“A tour?”

“Yeah, you know, show me around the town, maybe introduce me to some of the residents and other business owners.”

His comment sparked her suspicions. “Why would you want me to do that?”

“Well, I’m the new kid on the block, so to speak, and thought you might help me fit in. I just want to be sociable. But if that’s not something you’d be comfortable with, I apologize for bringing it up.”

Do unto others… “No, no, I’m okay with that.”

He transferred the bag of ice to the hand holding the thermos, then touched her shoulder. “I appreciate your kindness. I really do.”

“You just tell me when you’d like to take a look around town, and we’ll set up a time to do that.”

“That’s great.” He held up the thermos and ice. “Say, Abby, thanks again for the ice and the water. Maybe I can return the favor sometime.”

“You’re welcome.” She opened the door and watched him dodge the early morning traffic on his way across the street. Finally, she turned the deadbolt and returned to her workstation in the back of the store.

“Well, that was a lengthy goodbye,” June said.

Abby cleared her throat. “Yeah, I thought he’d never leave. I’ve got to get started on these roses for Mary Jean’s birthday cake.”

“And I need to leave so you can get that done.”

They walked to the front door. “See you later,” Abby said.

“How about I pick up a late lunch from the café? Think you could take a break about one o’clock and eat with me?”

“Sure thing. Get me something—you know what I like and don’t like.”

Abby locked the door after June walked away but remained there and looked across the street. Her emotions over the last several minutes had taken a rollercoaster ride. Enjoying her friend’s usual early morning visit, then aggravation at an interruption, excitement at the appearance of a new man in town, and finally upset with herself for allowing anything other than her bakery to awaken her senses.

Mentally scolding herself, Abby returned to her work counter at the back of the store to begin making roses for Mary Jean’s cake. She put plenty of buttercream icing into a bowl and added a dab of red food coloring with a toothpick. After stirring to achieve a pale pink shade, she put a metal tip into the small end of a pastry bag. From the opposite and larger end of the cone-shaped bag, she filled the bag half full of the pink icing and then twisted the bag’s open end closed.

Abby placed another handful of clean flower nails onto the counter. She grabbed the pastry bag of icing in her right hand, tightening the twisted end securely. Picking up a flower nail in her left hand, she twirled the nail between her thumb and index finger while forming pedals of icing one at a time, each round’s pedals bigger than the last. As the flat surface of the flower nail’s top filled, and with a slight move of her right wrist, Abby rolled the pedals of the last round more outward, artfully creating a perfect pink rose. She slipped a small metal spatula underneath the rose and carefully transferred it to a parchment paper-lined pan.

After finishing only a few roses, Abby’s motivation lagged. She sat on the high stool at the work counter and laid a hand against her chest. Feeling the wedding band beneath her blouse on its golden chain helped to calm her.

She preferred to create her decorations while standing, as her mama had. Oh, that woman fashioned lovely cakes the folks in Sanders, Alabama, ordered for every occasion. And Abby had inherited her mama’s talent and love for the bakery.

Abby remembered when her mama brought her to the bakery when she’d turned twelve and began teaching her. First, she’d learned to make basic borders around the base of cakes, then she created leaves and simple flowers. It took a while for her to write well on the tops of the cakes, and by the time she was sixteen, Abby had mastered making roses. Her mama had been so proud of her.

Along with her mama’s bakery talents, Abby also inherited the bakery when her mama passed away a few years ago. She’d upheld her mama’s reputation in the business, and the bakery continued to thrive. But what would become of her business when the new bakery opened across the street? She looked up to gaze out the front window. The new owner helped unload another new display case. She hadn’t watched closely enough to know how many cartons he’d taken inside.

He’d probably have all the latest and greatest innovations in the bakery world. Would her modest but tried and trustworthy bakery business be able to compete with his? Surely her regular customers would remain loyal to her. Oh well, the matter was out of her control. She would continue running the bakery as she’d done for years and hope for the best. Standing again, Abby resumed working on Mary Jean’s roses.

♥ ♥ ♥

Abby had just rung up her last sale from the lunchtime rush when June arrived. She carried two cups of coffee and joined June at one of the four small tables for customers who wanted to have coffee and a sweet treat.

“What are we eating today?”

June fished into the paper sack and withdrew a wrapped parcel. “Ham sandwiches.”

“And pickles, I hope?” Abby asked.

“Of course.” June dived into the sack again and came up with two whole kosher dills.

“So, what’s been going on across the street all morning?”

“I’ve hardly had time to look up between my cake decorating and the lunchtime crowd.”

June gave Abby a dubious look. “You’ve not kept up with your potential competition?”

Abby felt a blush move across her cheeks. June laughed aloud.

“What? I’m not spying on the man or watching for him like I’m in junior high school.”

“I have an inkling he made an impression on you this morning. Am I wrong?”

Abby laid down her sandwich and gave thought to her friend’s question. “I will say, if—and I’m saying if—I was looking for a man, I might be attracted to Mr. Dave Cameron. Did you notice how genuine his smile was and how it traveled to his blue eyes?”

“Abigail Hudson! You admit you remember the color of his eyes? That’s a first for you. All the times I’ve tried to get you interested in some man, here you are noticing a complete stranger. You don’t even know whether he’s available.”

Abby sipped her coffee. “Doesn’t matter. He asked me if I’d show him around town and introduce him to other merchants. So, I’ll do that much, and then that’ll be the end of Dave Cameron.”

“Oh, I doubt that. He appears to be a hands-on person who will become involved in all our town’s activities. You’re bound to bump into him again after your guided tour.” June stuffed her sandwich wrapping back in the sack.

Abby laid her hand on her chest. 

Copyright 2022 Jo Huddleston

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