Holiday Delights

fruitcake_1This is a fun little story I’ll share with you.  I originally wrote it for the December Writers’ Group meeting. Enjoy!!

Holiday Delights
May all your wishes come true!

The bell on the door to the tidy little bakery chimed as a pregnant woman moved into the shop. Christmas garlands twined with bright red bows draped display cases holding tempting trays of cookies and other treats, and millions of tiny lights twinkled on and off. The warm atmosphere inside was redolent of spices and fresh dough.

“Julia is that you? Get in here! It’s a disaster!” called a voice from the back room.

“Alexis? What’s wrong?” Julia asked, dropping into the chair across from her friend’s cluttered desk.

A red-haired woman sat there, a wad of Kleenex clenched in her hand. “We’re finished! Done!” she complained, her hazel eyes still damp from tears.

Julia’s eyes popped open wide. “Oh, no! What’s happened?”

“I think … “ Alexis drew an agonized breath, “I think one of my fruitcakes killed someone!”

“A fruitcake?” Julia stared a long moment, wondering what had come over her usually level-headed friend. “That’s just nonsense! Your fruitcakes are made with all natural wholesome ingredients. Everyone loves them!”

Alexis shook her head. “It’s true. A woman is dead because of one of my fruitcakes.”

“Are you sure?” Julia’s brow wrinkled in confusion. “Maybe someone just started a rumor. You know how competitive the fruitcake business can be. And your business is growing. We get more orders every year.” She nodded. “Someone’s just jealous.”

“No. A woman is dead be … be-because of one of my fruitcakes,” Alexis stammered. “The business is ruined! We’re finished!”

“I don’t understand,” Julia complained. “How do you know a fruitcake killed someone?”

Alexis drew in a deep shuddering breath. “Listen to this.” She punched the replay button on the answering machine. A woman’s voice came out, clipped and professional.

“Alexandra Sweets? This is the law firm of Harcourt, Williams, and Black. We’re representing a Mrs. Delia Friedman, recently deceased. We understand she received one of your fruitcakes shortly before she died. Someone from our office would like to speak with you about that. Will 9 am on the 4th be convenient? Please reply to 407-342-8675. That’s 407-342-8675. Thank you.” The disconnect clicked loudly.

Alexis stared across the desk at her very pregnant friend. “One of my fruit cakes killed this woman!” she pronounced. “They’re going to sue us for everything we have. Everything! And then some.

“Good grief, Alex, you don’t know that! Who is Mrs. Friedman anyway?”

“She was my high school culinary arts teacher. She was a wonderful woman. She was the one who taught me to make my first fruitcake. And so, I sent her one every Christmas from the time I started the business.”

“That doesn’t sound so terrible.”

“But it is! She was responsible for starting me on the road to success! She was my mentor, and now she’s dead because I … because I killed her … with a fruitcake!!!” She sniffed back tears.

“You know, it doesn’t sound good,” Julia conceded slowly, thinking over the alternatives. “But on the other hand, there might be another reason they want to see you.”

“What else could it be?”

“There has to be another reason,” Julia said. “Go home and sleep on it. You’re exhausted. Things will look better in the morning.”

“I’m way past exhausted. We shipped almost 10 thousand fruitcakes this year. And I still have to get the Christmas cookie orders out.” She paused and blew her nose. “Or not,” she continued. If they sue us, I’ll have to close the business. And right at the busiest time of the year.”

“Tomorrow. You can start on the cookies tomorrow. It’s almost 6 now. You need to get home. I need to get home.”

“Oh, God, tomorrow! They’re coming tomorrow. Julie what will I do?

“Well, we’ll find out tomorrow, won’t we?”

“Damn. How could this happen now!  On top of everything else. I Wish … I wish …” her voice trembled into silence.

“You wish for a handsome man to come and sweep you away from all this?” Julia suggested.

“Just because you’re happily married doesn’t mean everyone else wants to be!” Alexis complained.

Julia laughed at her. “Okay, so what would you wish for?” she demanded.

“I was thinking more like a million dollars to upgrade the kitchen and hire more help. Except now I just want to keep my business and not be sued!” she complained.

Julia smiled. “And may all your wishes come true!”

* * *

The morning sun glistened off the new fallen snow making the little shop look like something on a Christmas card. The eves were decorated with green garlands tied with big red bows. Holly wreaths hung from the door and windows, and everything sparkled with colored Christmas lights. Alexis took a moment to appreciate the scene before she unlocked the front door. She was going to miss it, she thought sadly.

The warmth and scent of fresh baked bread told her that Billy, her assistant was back in the kitchen getting the day’s loaves, bagels, and rolls ready for the first customers.

And here they were: a tall man in a business suit followed her through the door.

“Give me a minute to get the coffee ready,” she told him, stripping off her jacket and gloves.

“I can wait,” he said pleasantly. “It smells great in here.”

She had to smile back at this good-looking stranger. He had the bluest eyes she had ever seen, and right now they were appreciating her and her pretty little shop.

She chucked her garments into the office and went to turn on the big urn that had been ready since the night before. Soon the smell of coffee joined that of baking bread. Three more customers wandered in.

“Just coffee,” the blue-eyed man told her. “I’ll wait ‘till you’re finished with the other customers.” He settled onto one of the wire-backed chairs around a tiny table in the corner while Alexis waited on the other customers who were picking up bagels and pastries on their way to work.

“So, what can I get you,” she asked the stranger when she finished the last sale. Now that she had time to take a good look at him, she had to admit he was a delight to the eye. Even without his well-cut suit, and a rich-looking over coat he was movie-star handsome. His dark hair was worn a little long, but it was well cut and looked good on him. But most compelling of all were his blue, blue eyes, and brilliant smile.

He smiled showing dazzling white teeth in an engaging grin. “You know, I really didn’t come for the bake goods, but it certainly smells wonderful in here. And your coffee is terrific.”

“Thank you.  So, how can I help you?” she asked.

He rose to his feet and held out his hand. “I’m Brian Harcourt. I know I’m a little early, but your shop is on the way to my office, and I thought I’d stop in and see if I could catch you early.”

Alexis’s knees gave out and she dropped into an empty chair, ignoring his hand.  “You’re here about Mrs. Friedman?” she said, a distinct tremor in her voice. “I am so, so sorry about what happened,” she said quickly. “But I didn’t mean it. I didn’t mean to kill her,” she stammered.

Brian stared at her in complete bewilderment. “What are you talking about?”

“Mrs. Friedman.”

“Well, yes. I’m here at her request.”

Alexis frowned. “What?”

He studied her for a moment, noting her nervousness, and confusion.  “You have no idea why I’m here?” Brian asked.

“Well I … no.  I mean, I thought I knew. It’s about my fruitcake, right?”

“Fruitcake plays a part, yes. But that’s not the main reason.”

“You’re here because my fruitcake killed Mrs. Friedman,” Alexis blurted out. “I know. It’s horrible, and I’m just devastated. But you’re not going to sue me over it, are you?  I mean,” she continued quickly, “it was an accident. It had to be.”

Brian sat stunned by the outburst, then slowly a smile spread as he held back laughter.

“What!” Alexis demanded. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Is that why you think I’m here? You think one of your fruitcakes killed my aunt?”

“You aunt?” Could this morning get any crazier, she thought?  “Mrs. Friedman was your aunt?”

“She was more like my mother. She raised me from the time I was eight.”

“Mrs. Friedman?”

“She often spoke of you. Especially around the holidays.  She really looked forward to receiving one of your fruitcakes every year.”

“My fruitcakes?”

Brian stared at her. “Are you all right?”

“No. I’m not all right.”

Brian smiled and Alexis’ heart did funny things in her chest. Maybe she was having a heart attack.

“Why don’t I explain,” he said, his voice like warm chocolate. “My aunt, Mrs. Friedman, lived a good long life, and died quietly in her sleep at the age of 94.”

“She died in her sleep? Not because of my fruitcake?” Alexis repeated.

“No. Her death had nothing to do with fruitcake.”

“Oh, thank God!” Alexis exclaimed. “You have no idea what I’ve been going through since I got that phone call.”

“You really thought your fruitcake killed my aunt?”

“Yes. I did. I couldn’t think of any other reason a law firm would be interested in me.”

“Well you should have been more optimistic.  We a practice a very specialized form of law that has nothing to do with suing people.”

“Are you sure?”

“Well, not very often.”

“Oh.”

“And not over fruitcake.”

Alexis ventured a tine smile. “It’s really good fruitcake.”

“Yes, I know. Aunt Delia and I enjoyed it every Christmas. I’ll miss your fruitcake.”

“I could put you on my mailing list,” Alexis ventured.

“I certainly hope you will. And the reason I’m here is that my aunt left you a bequest.”

“Me?”

He handed her an official-looking envelope. “Open it.”

She lifted the stiff flap and drew forth a check.  “Oh. My.” She raised her eyes to his. “Is this right?”

“Even though my aunt supported herself as a teacher, she carefully invested her money, and when she died she was, well, pretty comfortable.”

“Comfortable?” Alex repeated, hardly able to take her eyes off the check. “Yes,” she added faintly. “Yes, you could say she was comfortable.”

“And she really appreciated your thoughtfulness over the years,” Brian continued, his blue eyes sparkling with laughter.

“But this check,” Alex protested. “this check … it’s a …”

“… a million dollars. I know.”

She raised her eyes to his. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Say yes.”

“Yes?”

“Will you have dinner with me tonight?” he blurted.

She smiled. Under the circumstances who wouldn’t! “Yes,” was all she said.

And who says wishes don’t come true?

 

 

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