The Baker of Brennan #3

On any other day, as soon as the last loaf of bread and pot pie was out the door, Rose would lock up and go home to her own dinner with Kent. She’d take anything not sold or promised and they’d have that with dinner and breakfast. An hour later, she’d go to bed. Then she’d be up again early the next morning and off to start her day. It wasn’t a life with a lot of room for hobbies or family.

Today was not any other day. Rose stood in the scrubbed kitchen, staring down at the wooden plate on which her latest cookie creations were artfully arranged. She made a baker’s dozen of these coffee cookies. Half of them were then slathered with a layer of caramel, and all but one got a second cookie on top, making it a sandwich. That last one, she sampled hours ago. It was a different sort of treat than the residents of Brennan were used to, and it was divine.

She picked up one of the cookies and set it on a separate, smaller plate. A glance back at the larger plate had her moving a second cookie. The rest, she covered with a towel and set inside a box to put out for sale tomorrow. Armed with the small plate of cookies and two loaves of bread, she hurried to the tavern kitchen. The room was empty, but she could hear the unmistakeable wet, squelchy sounds of Karen mopping the tavern floor. It was completely safe to leave the bread out in the open. The cookies, she wasn’t so sure about.

Poking her head out through the swinging doors, she spotted Karen immediately, slopping her mop back and forth under the tables. “Isn’t it early to be closed up?”

Karen stopped and wiped a sleeve across her forehead. “Molly’s been talking snow all day. Didn’t you hear?”

No one said a word.” Rose frowned and glanced back at the cookies. Still safe, and no children lurking about.

What are you doing here anyway?”

I made something special for the survivors.” She blushed. “For one of them, at least.”

Rose Macy Becker,” Karen said with mock sternness, “you know better than to go mooning after one of these idiot Pit divers.”

Oh, shut up. He overpaid for strudel this morning and was very polite. I’m just paying him back.”

Oh, yes, of course.” Unconvinced and amused, Karen started mopping again. “And you’re lingering because…?”

Rose stuck out her tongue. “Fine, I’ll go. It’s two cookies on a plate, sitting by the bread. I’m going to cover it with a washcloth so your urchins keep their hands off. They’re for the one man that isn’t pretty.”

Mmhmm.”

Rose rolled her eyes and backed out of the doorway again. “Good night, Karen.” She grabbed a clean washcloth off a stack in a cabinet and draped it over the plate, then left. After locking up the bakery, she hurried home. It was a shame she couldn’t stay to see his reaction. Or, for that matter, to find out his name. Actually, she could stay if she really wanted to, but she was hungry and it would mean enduring Karen’s looks and comments all evening.

Her house smelled wonderful. Kent wasn’t much of a baker, but he was an excellent cook. That was why she closed up the bakery herself every evening instead of having him do it. He’d been home for over an hour now, and the delightful scent of roasted chicken filled the air. The savory spices were less familiar to her, but she recognized rosemary with it, and carrots and potatoes.

Just two steps inside, Kent flew out of the kitchen to take the basket of rolls in her hand. “Mom stopped by.”

Oh? What did she want?” While unbuttoning her coat, she slipped out of her shoes.

Mostly to ask me if I’m tired of being your slave boy yet.” He grinned broadly.

Rose grinned, too. “And are you?”

Nah. I like being away from all the whiny brats.”

Chuckling lightly, Rose hung her coat on its peg and shook her head. “You should probably spend an evening over there once in a while. They are your brothers and sisters, after all.”

Yours, too.” He seemed torn between stubborn refusal and annoyed goading.

Don’t be an ass, boy. She’s your mother, she misses you. If my mother was still alive, I’d see her every day.”

Kent Becker

Portrait of a young man, half-length seated, in a white shirt and brown coat by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roucy-Triosson

Kent brought two plates out, each covered with small portions of chicken meat and large piles of mashed potato with boiled carrots. “Would you rather have pies or stew tomorrow?”

Pies.” She looked him over as he sat down and picked up his fork. “We’re not dropping the subject yet.”

Sighing heavily, Kent rubbed his eyes. “I already see her every day when she buys her bread.” He fiddled with his fork. “It’s not like I don’t want to see her. She’s always so busy. And tired. And you know how Pop is.”

The food was excellent, as always. Rose savored her bite and made sure her face let Kent know she appreciated his work. “Maybe she’s worried you’ll turn out like him.” He looked down at his plate and stuffed food into his mouth. “When was the last time you saw Pop, anyway?”

The defensive little shrug he gave told her it was probably a week or so. “Dunno. You?”

Not since you moved in. He was always spotty before that anyway.”

I saw him chatting up a stranger,” Kent admitted. “Around the back of the tavern. He mostly ignored me.”

Rose shoved a forkful of food in her mouth to keep herself from saying what was on her mind. Sometimes, she wondered what her own mother ever saw in Kevan Becker, but he was different before she died. She had fond memories of warm summer days when he wasn’t working. They went on picnics. He made her a toy bear out of rabbit furs. She gave him flowers. He smiled at her. Then her mother died trying to give him a second child (for the fourth time, so town gossip claimed).

I’m not going to be like him.” Kent looked at her like she could take his words and forge them into an unbreakable promise.

She reached over and put her hand on his, patting it. “I know you won’t. You’re a good man, Kent, and you’ll make some young woman very happy.”

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