Eugene Thompson sat at a table, taking small, deliberate bites of his rocky road brownie sundae. The combination of chocolate and caramel, salt and sweet was almost too much for him. In a good way.
“Can I warm up your coffee, Eugene?” Mirabelle asked.
The older gentleman shuddered, obviously startled by the young baker’s voice – a sound he found almost as sweet as the sundae.
“Sure, sure,” he said, sitting back in his chair and adjusting his short-sleeve Tommy Bahama shirt. “I can never turn down hot coffee.”
“I’ll have to remember that,” Mirabelle replied with a chuckle. She picked up the white ceramic mug from the table as she pulled away to slowly fill the cup. “You got big plans today, Eugene?”
“This was my big plan,” he said, gesturing with his spoon to the brownie. “It’s so good that it deserves its own day.”
“Well, thanks. I’m afraid you might be the only one who thinks so,” Mirabelle said, looking around at the empty seats just decorating the room.
“Don’t worry, Mirabelle,” he said. “You’ll be OK.”
Mirabelle nodded and walked away, saying a small prayer that Eugene was right. The past two days, the two days since the slasher hit Parkview Field, had been quiet. Her stream of Saturday customers had been a trickle, and the Sunday morning rush for cinnamon rolls was a family from Bismarck, N.D., staying at the Hilton down the street. Her frustration caused her to nearly throw the coffee pot on the burner as she headed back to the kitchen.
“Hey, Peaches,” April said. “What’s going on out there?”
“Nothing. That’s what’s going on.”
“No one?” April questioned.
“Just Eugene, nursing his sundae,” Mirabelle said. “It’s been quiet for the past two hours.”
“It is Sunday,” April justified. “I bet people are still in church.”
Mirabelle just looked at April. She had always been the “still half of the cupcake left” one in the friendship, while Mirabelle was “there’s only half left.” The perfect pair, she thought. Two girls – each with half a cupcake.
The thought made her smile – just slightly.
“That’s my girl!” April exclaimed. “Now come over here and steal a bite of these grapefruit shortbread cookies. They’re for an order for Swinney, Todd & Blazer – the law firm down the street. The guy wanted 20 cookie baskets – one for each employee – to celebrate a big win. Due bright and early tomorrow morning.”
“Well, at least that’s something,” Mirabelle said as she pulled a stool up to the work station where April was packaging cookies. She stole a cookie, broke it in half and put it in her mouth. The cookie crumbled as she chewed, and the grapefruit zest was a bright burst in her mouth. And in a few months, when grapefruits are actually in season, these will be amazing, she thought.
Mirabelle sat there for a moment, listening to the crackle of cellophane as April worked swiftly. Last week, she would have pushed herself off the stool to help her friend and partner. But today … not today. Mirabelle could feel waves of crankiness wash over her until it was as if she was drowning in the middle of the kitchen.
Mirabelle quickly finished her cookie and stood up.
“Would you mind if I left for a bit? Went for a walk?” Mirabelle said. “I’ll bring back some iced lattes.”
“I was about to say ‘no,’ but once you mentioned the latte,” April said, “let’s just say you know me all too well.”
Mirabelle unbuttoned her chef’s coat, revealing a white cotton tank top, and tossed her coat in the office as she grabbed her wallet and headed out the back door.
The July sun streamed between the downtown buildings and greeted Mirabelle like an old friend. She closed her eyes and smiled as the heat hit her fair skin before making her way down the alley to Calhoun Street.
Mirabelle walked down Calhoun, pausing in front of Queen Pin to see Eugene’s chair pushed out and an empty plate on the table. She continued down the empty street to Jefferson, turning west with no real purpose. She took a moment to see who would be making a stop at the Embassy – noting that the Broadway series could be interesting – and decided to walk north on Webster to the library, the only place she was likely to find iced lattes on a Sunday afternoon.
A couple blocks and $8 later, Mirabelle was ready to head back to the bakery. She clutched the two lattes, standing frozen in front of the library door. As much as she loved her bakery, she couldn’t bring herself to make the way back.
“Get out of the way, lady,” Mirabelle heard a man mumble as he jostled around her.
Mirabelle looked up to catch a glimpse of the man who had been so rude, but he was already across Washington and walking through the parking lot at Webster.
She began to move quickly, down the steps of the plaza and across Washington. She wasn’t really following the guy. In fact, she wasn’t sure where she was going. It was as if her feet were taking her somewhere undiscovered.
When her feet had carried her as far as they seemingly would go, she looked around. Mirabelle was in the middle of the parking lot at Parkview Field, in a sea of abandoned cars. Tow truck companies were still working to remove the vehicles. Mirabelle looked at each car, wondering about the owner. Mirabelle wondered how someone could manage such a feat of vandalism without being noticed.
And that’s when she saw him. The person in a baseball cap. At the far corner of the parking lot, he was watching her. Mirabelle could feel him looking at her. The hairs on her arms stood up, and despite the summer heat, chills went up her spine.
The lattes, which she forgot she was holding, slipped from her hands. The sweet brown liquid splattered on the asphalt. And Mirabelle stood there, in a puddle of coffee and ice, staring at the corner of the lot.