Home > Time After Time (Sweetbriar Cove #14)

Time After Time (Sweetbriar Cove #14)
Author: Melody Grace


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Stella Hartley didn’t believe in fairytales, but she knew one thing: Prince Charming was running way behind schedule. In fact, her fairy godmother must have taken a wrong turn on her way over to Cape Cod, because how else had Stella wound up thirty-one, single, and up to her elbows in someone else’s plumbing?

Even Cinderella didn’t have to deal with this.

“I could have chosen differently,” she said, reaching around in something squishy. Sure, she had gloves, coveralls, and an extra-strength mask protecting her from the business at hand, but that was the point: Most careers needed a wardrobe of snazzy business separates, not a Hazmat suit. “There were a whole bunch of classes starting at the adult learning center that week,” she mused, reaching deeper into the garbage disposal. “Shorthand typing. Floral arrangement. But I had to go and listen to Hank. ‘Everyone needs running water,’.” She repeated his advice, straining to grab hold of whatever was blocking the pipe.

Of course, he’d been right about that. Stella was the first call on everyone’s ‘emergency’ list, booked up through summer with surprise toilet blockages, and winter with frozen pipes. She never wanted for work, and for that, she was definitely grateful, but still, she couldn’t help sometimes imagining some other, more fragrant life….

“If I’d just walked into a different classroom, I could have spent the past ten years coming home smelling of roses every night instead of… Well, industrial-strength hand sanitizer,” she finished, with a wry grin.

“Well, I for one am glad you answered the call of plumbing duty,” Summer said, laughing. It was her sink that Stella was currently rummaging around in, after the bakery plumbing mysteriously got jammed up. “Who else would I turn to before the whole place gets flooded again? And I need to get baking for the Cranberry Festival,” Summer added, glancing at the countertop almost overflowing with packages of sugar, flour, and bright scarlet berries. “I’m trying cranberry-tangerine scones with a zesty glaze. What do you think?”

“I think they sound delicious,” Stella replied. “But I can’t believe they voted to add another shindig to the schedule. It’s only a few weeks until Halloween!”

“Three whole weeks,” Summer corrected her, laughing. “That’s forever in Sweetbriar Cove festival time.”

“I really shouldn’t be surprised,” Stella agreed. “I’ve been here long enough to remember when they tried adding an extra event between Christmas and New Year’s. Funny enough, the Brussel Sprout Bash didn’t really catch on.”

“Poor, unappreciated brussels,” Summer quipped, reaching into the oversized refrigerator for a pitcher of iced tea. “When did you move here? I thought you were a local, born and bred.”

“Almost.” Stella replied vaguely, disappearing beneath the sink. She was used to everyone in town knowing all the details of her scandalous story. She never knew quite what to say when someone asked for more; so she gave Summer the simplest version of the truth: “We came here for summers when I was a kid, and I liked it enough to stay.”

“Me too,” Summer agreed. “Although, it only took me a weekend to spot this building and fall in love.”

“And I’m sure the hunky landlord had nothing to do with it,” Stella added with a smile.

Summer laughed. “Well… Maybe just a little.”

Stella’s hand closed around something thin and pointy, blocking up the U-bend. She twisted one way, and then the other. Almost… Almost… “Aha!” she exclaimed, holding an antique spoon up in victory. “Got it.”

“Lifesaver!” Summer exclaimed. “We live to bake another day. How much do I owe you?” she asked, reaching for her checkbook.

“Well, that depends…” Stella paused. “I forgot that there’s a PTA fundraiser thing tomorrow,” she admitted. “Apparently, I’ve skipped too many meetings, so they signed me up to the refreshment table. I was planning on making a mess of Betty Crocker’s finest box mix, but if you have anything to spare…” She trailed off, giving Summer a hopeful smile.

“Say no more!” Summer exclaimed immediately. She strode over to the walk-in freezer, and began pulling out frosty packages. “Would cinnamon rolls be OK?” she asked over her shoulder. “I have three dozen. Just defrost them overnight, whip them in the oven, and nobody will know they weren’t freshly baked.”

“Now you’re the lifesaver!” Stella said, grateful. The Sweetbriar Cove PTA was like a competitive sport when it came to these things, and Stella always came in last. She wouldn’t be surprised if her face was on some poster hanging in the hallway: Wanted: Stella Hartley, for dereliction of school booster duties.

“I’ll throw in a couple of lemon polenta loaves, too,” Summer added, stacking the packages higher. “I’ve been playing around with a new recipe, a rosemary cream cheese frosting.”

“Sold.” Stella said, her mouth already watering. “But those, I’ll be keeping for me.”

 

The bell over the bakery door soon began chiming with the afternoon tea rush, so Stella packed up her tools and the baked goods, and headed out back up the Cape. It was early October, and the leaves were a blazing riot of color against the clear blue skies: reds, and orange, and gold, whirling together on the breeze. Fall was usually her favorite time of year, all brisk morning chill and chunky knit sweaters, but they’d been having an unseasonable heatwave all week, and now her thin T-shirt was sweaty and her hair was sticking, damp, to her face.

Stella rolled the windows all the way down to get some air, and blasted a Fleetwood Mac cassette as loud as it would go, singing along as she drove the winding coastal road with the ocean glittering blue on the horizon. The rattling old truck was practically an antique, but it hadn’t let her down yet, and – fingers crossed – it would make it through another winter without leaving her stranded and shivering on the side of the road. Although, maybe one of the rich summer folks would leave their pipes in their fancy beach house to freeze, and she could bill enough hours to afford a new (used) one by Spring…

Stella slipped into a pleasant daydream of heated seats and air conditioning before snapping out of it with a rueful laugh. A new truck wasn’t even tenth on her windfall wish list, not with the roof still leaking, and the mortgage due, and her son, Matty, hitting an awkward teen growth spurt, seeming to need new sneakers and jeans every other week. The truth was, despite what she’d told Summer, Stella could pin-point exactly when her life had shifted course, and it wasn’t walking into Plumbing 101.

No, it was the day she saw those two little lines on the pregnancy test, the week before her eighteenth birthday.

Up until then, Stella hadn’t really realized what a charmed life she’d been living. Private schools, and riding lessons; an ivy-covered house in the best neighborhood in Boston. Perfect grades (thanks to her private tutor twice a week). Perfect teeth (thanks to Dr. McGarry). Perfect brand new BMW on her birthday, the envy of all her friends. She’d made her debut in the ballroom of the Plaza hotel, followed by a reception for two hundred of her parents’ closest friends, all cooing over how much potential she had; how far she’d go.

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