Cold darkness and the sugary aroma from the cake shop below surrounded Mattie as she slid a solid-colored dress over her head and tied her white apron in place. The Old Order Amish here in Ohio didn’t wear the black aprons—a difference she enjoyed—and only those involved with baking wore the white apron from the waist down. After brushing her hair, she fastened it up properly and donned her prayer Kapp. Who needed a light or a mirror to get ready for the day? She’d been wearing similar clothes her whole life, and the Ohio Amish pinned up their hair in much the same way as she had back in Pennsylvania.
Now, cake decorating—that required good lighting and great attention to detail. And her favorite season for making specialty cakes—Christmas—was right around the corner.
Ready to take on a new day, she hurried down the rough-hewn steps that led into her shop, lit a kerosene lantern, and pulled on her coat while going out the back door. Before getting to the woodpile, she paused a moment, enjoying Berlin’s lights. Illuminated white bulbs hung like beacons against the dark night. Although she missed her Mamm and Daed, this was home now, not Pennsylvania.
She scanned the silhouettes and shadows of nearby homes and shops. The golden full moon had a silky glow around it, a ring almost as clear and defined as the moon itself. What would it look like if she designed a cake with a halo?
Eager to make notes, she loaded wood into the crook of her arm and went inside. She dumped the logs in the bin and then stirred the embers in the potbelly stove and added kindling. Before her first customer arrived, she’d have the place toasty warm.
The shop was old and narrow, but Mattie loved it. When the previous owner, a man who sold saddles and such, decided to sell his place a few weeks before she moved here, her brother James had helped her buy and remodel it. They’d torn out all the old counters, workbenches, and shelving.
The ceiling, floors, and walls were made of unfinished exposed wood. She’d put in a huge display case along the left wall, and a couple of small tables sat to the right. A gas-powered commercial oven and stainless-steel sinks ran the length of the back wall, and her work station, where she pieced together and decorated her cakes, sat a few feet away. Even in cooler weather, keeping the place warm without electricity wasn’t much of an issue with the heat radiating from the oven and the wood stove. Hot summer weather was a little more problematic, but the many windows helped.
She began searching for her spiral notebook, which she often referred to as her brain. The pages of her combination sketch pad, scrapbook, and journal were covered with drawings, doodles, and pictures from magazines and newspapers. It’d been a gift for her twelfth birthday, and although the gift giver had broken her heart seven years later, she still appreciated the book. Her day planner was in the back of it, with the types of cakes she needed to make, due dates, and all her clients’ names and phone numbers. Without it she wouldn’t know how to run her store.
She knelt and looked under her work station. It was there, maybe two feet away. Reaching as far as she could, she touched the edge of the thick binder and grabbed it. Now where did she leave her pencil? Is it behind your ear, Mattie Lane?
Gideon’s voice washed over her.
She shuddered, detesting hearing him inside her head, especially with the added use of the pet name Mattie Lane. Lane was not a part of her given name or her surname. When they first broke up, his voice had played constantly in her mind, but after three years these whispers of the past were rare.
They’d been good friends most of their lives. He was three years older than she, and it had stung when he began dating at sixteen. But worse than seeing him with other Amish girls was seeing him with Englischer girls. At eighteen, he’d stopped seeing others and told her that he’d decided to wait for her.
Their first date had taken place on her birthday, Christmas Eve, and she’d attended her first singing with Gideon. The magic of Christmas seemed to surround both of them as their voices rose in celebration of Christ’s birth and the blessing of being together. Nothing in her life had ever compared to the emotion of that night, not even owning her own shop. For the next three years, they enjoyed the glorious Christmas singings together. And then she caught him.
Her heartbreak had been compounded by confusion. Nothing
had prepared her for his betrayal.
Pushing those thoughts away, she found a pencil lying on the sink and jotted down notes about the halo. Then she made herself a quick breakfast. Before she’d swallowed the last of her coffee, she had four dozen muffins and four dozen cupcakes in the oven.
The cowbells hanging on the door chimed numerous times throughout the morning, and by noon she had sold the usual amount of baked goods for this time of year and had taken three new cake orders—for a birthday, a bridal shower, and a summer wedding. She couldn’t think of anything more exciting than running Mattie Cakes.
She went to the phone and dialed her Mamm. One of the things she loved most about owning a shop was the permission to have a phone handy. She called her Mamm at least once a day.
Few women were as remarkable as her mother. She’d been forty-seven when she got pregnant with Mattie. But Mamm’s health issues progressed from inconvenient at the time of Mattie’s birth to life threatening by the time Mattie turned sixteen. Mattie had spent much of her life fearing she’d lose her mother. But when Mattie hesitated to move from Pennsylvania to Ohio, her mother had refused to let her stay in Apple Ridge.
After ten rings the answering machine clicked on. Since Mamm was seventy and her phone was in the shanty near the barn, Mattie rarely reached her on the first try of the day.
At the beep, Mattie said, “Good morning, Mamm and Daed. This is your adoring, favorite daughter calling.” Mattie chuckled. “Being the only girl has perks… Anyway, I’m having a great day, and I want to hear about yours. I’ll call back at two thirty. I hope you’re dressed warmly. Love you both.” If Mattie established a time she’d call back, Mamm never failed to be in the phone shanty, waiting to hear from her. Daed had set up a comfortable chair and a gas heater out there. She talked to her Daed too, but he didn’t stay on the line long.
The bells on the shop door jingled again, and a cold blast of November air burst into the room.
Mattie’s almost-five-year-old niece came barreling through the door, bundled up in her black winter coat and wool scarf over her prayer Kapp. She wondered if Esther had walked the half block from her house to the shop by herself or if the little girl’s mother was trailing behind, pushing her double stroller. Esther had four older siblings, but all of them were in school during the day.
“Mattie Cakes!” the young girl cried.
Mattie chuckled at Esther’s excitement. None of her nieces or nephews called her Aunt Mattie these days, but she found this nickname adorable.
Esther ran to her, clutching a silver lunch pail. “You didn’t come home to eat, so I brought you some food.”
“Denki.” Mattie wasn’t surprised when Esther held on to the pail. Her niece loved toting things.
Esther began her routine inspection of the store, beginning with the sink full of dirty cooking utensils. She enjoyed coming to the shop, and Mattie hoped that in seven or eight years, Esther might want to learn the trade. Esther’s older sisters didn’t seem to have any desire to make cakes.
Sol walked in, carrying a bow, a quiver full of arrows, and his camouflage duffel bag. He set it all behind her work counter, looking more confident than he used to. “Hi.” He flashed a quick smile before looking down. Sometimes shy, he didn’t keep eye contact for long.
They’d begun seeing each other on special occasions more than two years ago. Now they saw each other regularly, and unlike Gideon, Sol found getting along with young women a challenge. He was reserved and tended to mumble, but they liked being together.
When the bell on the door jingled again but no one came in, Sol hurried to open it for Mattie’s sister-in-law as she pushed the stroller into the room.
“Did you forget something, Mattie?” Dorothy asked. “Like coming home for lunch?”
Mattie glanced at the clock. “Sorry. I didn’t realize how much time had passed.”
Dorothy sighed. “I’ve heard that before.”