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Elowen sighed tiredly, scrolling through the list of bills on her email. Really, it would have been nice if she could have gotten at least one letter that actually interested her. But, as she continued scrolling through more and more bills and random alerts, the prospect seemed improbable. It occurred to her that her parents were too busy to contact her, although that seemed unlikely, seeing as they were retired, and did not—to her knowledge—have any notable plans in near future.
Coming across an email labeled Recipe for You, the young woman perked up slightly, and quickly opened it up.
Saw this online, and thought of you, Maple had written. Although the message was brief, Elowen was pleased to know that, as usual, her best friend was always there for her when Elowen needed support; whether it be someone to look after her kids, or help with a new recipe she wanted to try, Maple was always there for her. Elowen returned the favor, of course, looking after Maple's children when she needed it, and listening to her rants about her latest problem at home or work, and not to mention baking her cookies to help her feel better. If there was one thing Elowen thought helped a situation seem less drastic, it was home baked goods.
Clicking on the link her friend had sent her, Elowen waited a couple seconds for the window to open up, and began to read the cheesecake recipe with interest. A couple minutes into her reading, a voice interrupted her.
"Mom?" questioned the voice. Elowen turned in her chair to face her fifteen-year-old daughter, Olympia, who was leaning in the doorway, red hair flowing over her shoulder, her green eyes only half awake.
"Good morning, honey," the woman greeted her daughter.
"'Morning," Olympia returned, bringing up a fist to muffle her yawn. "Are you making breakfast today?"
Elowen glanced at the clock on the wall of her office: 7:12, she had about an hour before the kids had to be at school, and little more time before she had to head to the bakery.
"Of course I will. Will you wake your brother up for me, please? And make sure you let Bubblegum out."
The redhead gave an exasperated sigh and rolled her eyes toward the ceiling. "Fine," she agreed, and left to heed her mother's requests.
Before heading for the kitchen, Elowen pulled out her touch phone and checked the date on her calendar. She had time, she soon concluded—it was Iris' turn to open shop today, and Elowen had made it perfectly clear last night that she would be eating breakfast at home this Friday.
The brunette-haired woman locked her phone, and placed it on her desk, where she could pick it up later. Standing, she allowed herself a moment to stretch, and to check that her bun was in place, before she headed downstairs. "Get up already!" she heard Olympia's annoyed voice exclaim as she descended the stairs. She shook her head with a slight smile, and continued to her destination.
Not long after Elowen had started making breakfast, Bubblegum padded her way into the kitchen, having been let back into the house by Olympia. Bubblegum was a small, fluffy white peekapoo dog, with large black eyes, and a tiny wagging tail. She was quieter than some dogs; apart from when people arrived at the house, she tended to patiently wait for people to tend to her, or, if need be, give them a gentle reminder. She sat down serenely in the kitchen, and cocked her head at Elowen, waiting to be fed.
Smiling, Elowen leaned down, patted Bubblegum on her head, and then stood up, washed her hands, and continued to make breakfast.
By the time Elowen had one pancake on the stove, Olympia and her younger brother, Anden, had entered the kitchen; the latter seemingly still half asleep. His hair, which was always spiky on a normal day, was more unkempt than usual, sticking in every possible direction; a force of nature in and of itself, Elowen mused. He would need a haircut soon, though he'd simply request that the hairdresser cut it in his preferred haphazard style.
"Good morning, hun, did you sleep well?" Elowen queried; the only response she got from the twelve-year-old was a sort of grunt.
Her expression quietly amused, Elowen turned back to the task at hand.
"So, you know you're going to your father's house tonight, right?" Elowen said later as she placed breakfast on the table, after giving Bubblegum her own hotcake.
"Uh-huh," Olympia confirmed, already reaching for a pancake with a pajama clad arm.
"'Kay," Anden said, also preparing his plate. Elowen grabbed her own pancake, pouring syrup on once the kids were done with it.
"So, are you driving us there or...?" Olympia questioned after taking a bite of her hotcake.
"Maple is busy today, so I'll drive you, then head back to work," Elowen informed her children. Bubblegum hopped into the woman's lap, having finished her meal.
"Y'know, we could walk," Olympia suggested, "it's not like Dad's house is that far."
"Not today, Lia, it looks like rain today."
Olympia groaned. "It always looks like it's gonna rain," she muttered, but put up no further argument.
After the trio had finished eating, the three of them all went to finish preparing the day ahead before Elowen drove her kids to school—leaving Bubblegum at home, as was their usual routine. During the drive, Elowen noticed that it did, indeed, look like it was going to be a miserable Friday, but, like Olympia had mentioned, this was not exactly uncommon. After all, the town was named Misty for a reason; most of the time, the sky was overcast with the chance of rain just around the corner. Misty was not known for its sunny days, which were few in number.
"See you later, Mom," Olympia bid once Elowen had parked in front of Misty Composite School. The school itself was rather small—it had only one floor with classrooms, a gym, auditorium and a basement for storage. From the outside, one could tell that the school had few hallways. Of course, it was to be expected that Misty would have such as small learning center, as small and unknown as it was.
"Have a good day at school," Elowen said as she returned her daughter's brief embrace. "Anden!" she called quickly as her son started to exit the car. When he turned to face her, Elowen smiled and reiterated her earlier words: "Have a good day."
Anden looked at his mother briefly, then looked down and muttered, "You too," and stepped out of the car.
Elowen stared wistfully at her son's back as he walked towards the school. The poor kid was still getting used to the fact that his parents were no longer married. Both children had taken it hard when they had learned that their parents had decided to split up, but Olympia had handled it much better than her brother, perhaps it was because she older than Anden--Olympia had been fourteen at the time; Anden had been eleven--or maybe she had simply seen it coming. After all, it wasn't like Elowen and Jereth were the quietest when they fought, despite their intentions.
Sighing to herself, Elowen put her car in reverse and drove to the bakery—Elowen's Baked Goods.
The moment Elowen opened the door to her bakery; she was bombarded with the smells of Iris' baking, giving the air a warm and homey feeling. Elowen's mouth watered as she proceeded to the kitchen, half wishing she could grab one of Iris' creations for a quick bite. Even after all these years of working together, Elowen never failed to appreciate her partner's cooking.
"Good morning, Iris," Elowen called, standing in the doorway of the cookery.
"Good morning, dear," responded Iris, setting a batch of freshly baked cookies on a cooling rack on the white counter and removing her oven mitts. She gave Elowen a brief, kind glance as a greeting, and started to grab some ingredients for her next batch of goods.
Iris MaCaa was an elderly woman, who looked as if she were about to retire at any minute. She was thin, with a slightly pointed face, and had hair and eyes that had dulled with age. Her thin face was covered in lines from age, laughter, and wearing her typical stern expression. Iris' age did not make her any less kind, however, nor any less willing to work. At eighty-one years old, one would think that Iris would have retired ages ago, which she had at one point—until Elowen came along. When she had offered to be Elowen's business partner all those years ago, saying no had simply not been an option, especially when Iris was dead set on helping the younger woman.
"I can take over from here," Elowen offered, grabbing her apron from its hook. "Why don't you start putting stuff in the display cases?"
"In a moment, dear," Iris agreed, dusting her hands on her white apron. "There is a cake in oven two that will need to be taken out in about a half an hour, and our lunch is in oven one." One of the many things Elowen liked about Iris, whenever she was the first to arrive at the bakery, she always made Elowen and herself lunch, whether the young woman protested or not.
"What did you make?" asked Elowen, grabbing some ingredients out of one of the cupboards, making a mental note that she would need to buy more flour later.
"Chicken pot pie," Iris replied as she cut brownies into neat squares. "It was quite simple, really."
Elowen said nothing as she gathered the ingredients for this week's special: mocha java cake. Years ago, Elowen had tried to insist that Iris did not need to go through the trouble of making them lunch; or if she did, at least take the leftovers home with her, but it had been to no avail. Iris MaCaa was nothing if not tenacious, and she was rarely swayed from her decisions.
The two women continued to work in relative silence, occasionally breaking it to ask the other to pass a certain appliance or ingredient, but other than that, they said nothing. Once Iris had finished cutting the brownies, and preparing some of the other foods, she started to make trips in and out of the kitchen, setting up the display cases for the day. And, punctual woman as she was, Iris opened the bakery for business at nine o'clock on the dot. Elowen remained in the kitchen for another three hours.
After their lunch break, Iris and Elowen switched places; Iris cooking once more, Elowen manning the till. The day was rather uneventful; the regulars came in, as well as a few people who were simply passing through the town. Misty was the kind of town that was rarely seen on maps, considering how small it was. The town itself was based in the United States, located in a kind of middle-of-nowhere area; most of the people that were "passing through" had not known of its existence until they were driving right through the town.
So yes, the day was mostly mundane, the only really interesting thing happening when the Graders visited the bakery.
"This is quite a bit you're ordering today," Elowen commented as she set the couple's order on the counter, placing the various goods in a white to-go box.
"Yes, well, we're hoping to take some with us to our new home," Mrs. Grader informed the younger woman, placing her wrinkled hand on her husband's arm.
Elowen glanced up at the couple in momentary perplexity, before her brown eyes widened in understanding. "Someone bought your house?" she asked with a mixture of excitement and disappointment. The Graders were an older couple, and had decided some time ago that it would be best if they moved to a larger town, where Mr. Grader could start living in a senior home; Misty was simply too small of a town to have one of its own. Though Elowen knew it was best for the couple if Mr. Grader received the help he needed, this did not mean she would not miss the two elders; sometimes, change could be difficult for a small community.
"Yes," Mrs. Grader confirmed, "and by quite a nice young man, too, don't you think, dear?" This last part was directed at her husband.
"Yes, definitely nice," agreed Mr. Grader, his slight nod causing his goatee to jiggle. He was what one would call a man of few words.
"That's great," Elowen said with a sincere smile. Then, looking at the calculations on the cash register, she added, "Okay that will be thirty-four, ninety-five."
"Here you are, sweetie," Mrs. Grader said as she handed some money to Elowen, adding, "Keep the change."
Elowen smiled once more. "Thank you, Mrs. Grader."
"Anytime, Ellie," the old woman said kindly. "Well, we'll be off. Have a good day." Mr. Grader gave Elowen a nod and a smile.
"You too," Elowen returned. And with that, the elderly couple departed, letting in a cool breeze as they opened the door.
A couple minutes later, Iris exited the kitchen with a batch of muffins.
"I think that is enough baking for today," she informed Elowen as she placed the pastries in the display case. "If I make any more we'll have too many leftovers tonight."
"Did you know that the Graders sold their house?"
Iris straightened, and blinked in surprise. "Did they?"
"Yeah, they were in here just a few minutes ago," Elowen affirmed.
"Oh, really, I'm sorry I missed them," murmured Iris, looking disappointed. "Did they say who bought their house?"
"No, just that some nice young man bought it."
The older woman frowned thoughtfully. "Come to think of it, I did see a young man in town a couple days ago. I thought he was just passing through," she mused. Iris stood there thoughtfully for another moment, before seeming to come out of her stupor. "Anyway, I'll go wash the dishes."
"Iris," Elowen called before the woman could depart. "Why don't I do the dishes? I wouldn't mind a break from counter duty anyway."
"Alright, then," Iris conceded, and handed Elowen the oven mitts and muffin pan.
After that, Elowen went about her day normally; cleaning up the kitchen, going out to buy needed ingredients from the grocery store, and, when she had time, keeping Iris company at the cashing machine. When she eventually left the bakery to pick her kids, Iris firmly told Elowen that there was absolutely no reason to return to work, saying that the bakery would be closing in about two hours anyways, and she could handle closing up herself. Needless to say, Iris won that argument, as she always did. However, Iris did agree to visit Elowen the next day; Elowen always got a bit lonely when the kids were not in the house.
On the drive to Jereth's house, Anden was in a noticeably better mood than he had been in the morning, which Elowen was grateful for. He even told Elowen about his day; how he'd spent his entire break playing video games with his friends on their hand-held devices, and watched what he claimed was a boring documentary on wildlife during science. At his complaints, Olympia turned around in the passenger seat and told him he was just lucky he didn't have ridiculously difficult formulas in his class. They had a good-natured banter for the rest of the ride.
"Hey, Dad," Anden greeted when the three arrived at Jereth's house.
"Hey, Andy, it's good to see you, bud," Jereth said to his son, giving him a brief hug. He then turned to Olympia and hugged her as well. "How have you been, sweetie?"
"I'm good," Olympia said, returning the embrace. Pulling back she asked, "You?"
Jereth smiled down at his daughter. "Better, now that you're here."
From where she was standing, about ten paces away, Elowen saw Olympia roll her eyes halfheartedly at her father. When Jereth looked past his daughter's shoulder, his gaze landed on his recently divorced wife. Turning back to his kids, Jereth suggested, "Why don't you two head inside, I'll meet you there."
"Okay," Olympia concurred. The teenaged girl turned away from Jereth, went back to her mother, and embraced her. "See you next Friday, Mom," she said into Elowen's ear.
"See you," Elowen conceded, squeezing her daughter once more before releasing her.
With that, Olympia released Elowen and started to head into Jereth's house, but not before grabbing Anden by the shoulders and forcing him to face Elowen.
"Anden, say goodbye to Mom," she ordered.
"Olympia, don't manhandle your brother," Jereth butted in.
Olympia looked at her father and gave him a dramatically innocent look, her eyes widening and a hand pressing against her heart, while still gripping the younger brunet with the other. Her freckles only added to the performance.
"Manhandle him?" she questioned in an exaggeratedly blameless voice. "I would never dream of doing such a thing."
"Olympia," Elowen cautioned.
The redhead sighed. "Fine," she acquiesced, and released Anden.
Anden jerked himself away from his sister and gave her an indignant glare. "Don't do that," he muttered, mood visibly worse than it had been earlier. He turned to Elowen. "'Bye," he stated flatly, then quickly entered Jereth's house. With one more look at her parents, Olympia followed.
Jereth stared at the closed door of his house for a moment, then turned to Elowen. "He's still not taking it too well, huh?"
"No," Elowen agreed, thinking sullenly of how he'd tried to avoid saying goodbye to her despite his earlier mood, "he's not."
For a couple seconds, neither of the adults said anything to each other. Elowen's gaze flitted around, taking in the green grass in front of Jereth's house, the cloud-covered sky. She thoughtfully observed the stone exterior of his house; anything to avoid meeting his eyes. When she finally forced herself to look directly at the older man, Elowen couldn't help but notice he'd shaved recently, any traces of his red beard nowhere to be seen. Jereth was the first one to break the silence.
"So, how are things at the bakery? Iris doing okay?"
"Yes, Iris is fine; the bakery is doing well, too." After a pause, Elowen added, "You know, you can come whenever you want, it's not like you're banned."
"Yes, well..." Jereth trailed off, his hands in his pockets.
Another awkward silence fell between the former couple. Ever since the divorce—or, before it, really—things had been strained between the two adults. Their marriage had started out fine—fantastic, actually—but had slowly gotten worse over the years. Jereth and Elowen had, at some point, started to grow apart, which had eventually led to pointless fights. The divorce had taken about a year to actually finish, but Jereth had moved out long before that. He did, however, make a point to stay in Misty, where he could live close to his children.
"Did you hear about the Graders' house?" Elowen inquired, once again shattering the tense muteness.
Jereth shrugged his shoulders, hands shoved in the pockets of his jean jacket. "No, not exactly," the red haired man admitted. "But I did notice they had taken down their 'for sale' sign." Another thing about Misty, it was the type of town where everybody knew everybody.
"Yeah," Elowen agreed, even though she hadn't noticed this particular fact herself. "Well, I should probably get going."
"Yeah, okay," Jereth concurred. "I'll drop the kids off next Friday."
Elowen gave a small smile of agreement. "Friday," she echoed. With that, Elowen walked away, got into her truck, and drove home.