It’s been a while since I’ve posted another part of my story, The Rose Garden, so here is the next part. I have been working on the edits, and now I’m on to a brand new story that utilizes the same cafe and bakeshop.
If you’ve been reading along but need a refresher from last time, you can read part 8 here. If you are new to this story, you can start from the beginning.
I feel like I’m in the movie Ever After where Drew Barrymore arrives at the masquerade ball and encourages herself to “Breath. Just breathe.” I can’t believe I’m standing in front of Sweet Hope Cafe & Bake Shop. All this just to avoid going out to lunch with my friends. Sure, I could have stayed home; it was a lie, after all. But when my eyes connected with Aly’s before she left, I felt as though I had to go through with it. I don’t know why.
As soon as everyone left this morning, I went back to my laptop and Googled the name of the cafe. To be honest, I was hoping it would turn out to be impractical—too far to walk and not on a bus line—but once it showed up in the search results, I realized why it sounded familiar. It wasn’t that far from my apartment, about a twenty-minute walk. I don’t go out for coffee much, but when I do, I head to the shop right on Main Street, just down the road from where I live. Everything is on Main Street, really. Aside from work and the rare drive to the mall two towns over, everything I need is right here. Chinese, burgers, pizza, barbecue, and the occasional garbage plate.
Finding out that Sweet Hope was so close, I knew I had no choice but to go. I don’t know why I’m so nervous. For all I know, Rose won’t even be inside. Does she realize she didn’t tell me when? Obviously, she doesn’t know the basics of an invitation. Who. What. Where. Why. When. Rose answered the who and where, but nothing else was explained in those four short lines.
It takes me a few moments to gather up the courage to make the first step toward the door, and as I do so I take stock of this bakery and coffee shop I’ve never really paid attention to. Sweet Hope resides in an old converted house with minor changes—I doubt those picture windows are original. It seems to be the thing to do here: take the old and make it new. It’s a simple white house with blue shutters, mimicking, almost, a Chionodoxa Forbesii, a “Blue Giant,” rising up out of the ground. The double doors, painted in goldenrod yellow, look simultaneously inviting and intimidating.
I begin my ascent up the three small steps to the porch that stretches the entire width of the house and notice tables and chairs situated on either side of the doors. They’re empty now but ready for those customers willing to brave the chilly spring air. As I open the door on the right-hand side and step inside, the scent of fresh baked goods and percolating coffee, smells indicative of this type of shop, overwhelm me. There’s something else in the air that my nose begins to pick up, cutting through the predictable. Allowing my eyes to wander I notice a vase on each table, each filled with flowers. I start walking to one of the empty tables to find out what flowers they are, and if they are real or fake, but a sound stops me in my tracks.
I search for the sound and find an elderly woman with short, white curly hair smiling and waving at me from a two-seater table against the wall left of the counter. Is that? I look closely.
“Nicole! Over here!”
It is. Rose. She is actually here. My heart begins to pound and I can feel tiny beads of sweat forming on my forehead and neck. I close my eyes, willing that when I open them again she will be gone. No luck. When I open my eyes, I see Rose walking toward me.
“Hey, Nicole. I’m so glad you made it.”
“Um, hi,” I manage quietly.
“Come on. I have a seat over there.” She points to the table where I first saw her sitting and starts to walk in that direction, assuming I will follow her. Which of course, I do.
“Sit, sit,” she says eagerly once we arrive at the table.
I cautiously sit down on the chair across from her, my back to the front door, to my escape back outside, through the village, and back inside my apartment. Rose asks if I want to order something, but with the way last night went, I don’t think it’s wise right now.
“I’m so glad you’re here. How are you feeling? It’s so great that we live in the same town. When the nurse told me your name, she also told me you lived here—she found that information on your license. As soon as I heard that you lived here, I knew God was definitely working in this.” Rose prattles on excitedly. I’m having a hard time keeping up with her.
“How did you know I would come?” I ask when there’s a long enough pause.
“I didn’t. Not really. But I was hoping you would.”
“But you didn’t even write a day or a time.”
“And yet, here we are.” Rose exudes confidence. How does she do that?
“Listen, I’m really sorry about yesterday. I didn’t mean to—
“I know. Thank you, but it’s okay. Really.”
For a moment, we’re both silent. I take this opportunity to check on the flowers in front of me. To my surprise, they are real. Fresh cut carnations in minimalist white, cradled by a clear glass vase. I breathe in their scent of sugar and cloves. This is the scent that had made its passive-aggressive attempt to be noticed when I first arrived. My breathing slows and I start to relax.
“Let’s put yesterday behind us. Everything has been taken care of, so we no longer need to worry about it.”
I look at Rose, or rather, through her, trying to process what she just said. “What do you mean everything has been taken care of?”
“Oh! April didn’t tell you?”
“April?” Who was April?
“The nurse. At the hospital? While you were getting your tests done I told her I was going to take care of the police report and the insurance. That’s why I wasn’t there when you got back. I felt bad that I couldn’t stay, but then I figured this was a little more important.” Her eyes soften and she cocks her head to the side as she poses the next question. “Didn’t she tell you?”
Did she tell me? I don’t think so. I didn’t even know her name. “No, she didn’t,” I respond.
“Well, that’s all right. It’s done, and now you know.”
I try to formulate the words in my head before asking why she would take care of everything when this whole thing was my fault.
“I’ve made choices in my life,” she responds thoughtfully, “both good and not-so-good. When you get to my age, you realize that you can’t dwell on the things you’ve messed up. Just ask forgiveness and move on. And you have to forgive yourself. That was hard for me, but I was able to do it a long time ago. And I never begrudge the forgiveness that someone else needs.
“Oh! That reminds me.” She places her purse in her lap and reaches inside, searching for something. When I see what she produces, the calm I had allowed myself to feel washes away, taken out to sea by a rogue wave.