Bethany Bunuel stood with her forehead pressed against the window gazing out onto the sweeping majesty before her. Just like a picture postcard, she thought, as she took in mist-shrouded inlets, craggy coasts and massive trees. Bethany had fallen in love with the rugged Australian Outback during a trip a few years ago. It had only taken her six months to decide to pack up her life in New York and come back for good.
Cranking open the casement window she luxuriated in the hit of oxygen that rushed to her lungs. The early morning sun was high overhead and her feathered friends-a red-capped robin and white-winged fairy wrens-were alighting on the bird feeder outside her window. Behind her the teakettle beckoned. Barefoot, Bethany padded back into the kitchen, where the smell of freshly baked bread greeted her. Taking the kettle off the stove she poured a cup of green tea and peered through the glass oven door at the golden brown dough.When the telephone rang, she knew it would be Carmine, owner of Dough Ah! Dear, the store that carried her baked goods.
"Good morning, Carmine," she chirped, feeling as lighthearted as the birds outside her open window.
"What?" Because he was deaf in one ear, Carmine tended to yell. "Who else do you have in your life?"
"So, I’m a loner," Bethany said.
This wasn’t entirely true as of late, thankfully. With the help of Dr. Kate, her great therapist, Bethany was learning to incorporate plenty of activities and new folks in her life, but she was being selective.
"You’ve got that spot-on," Carmine said, mimicking strine, the Aussie dialect. "Are you going to bring me the goods, or what?"
Bethanycradled the phone under her chin. She opened the oven and peered in. Done to perfection! She turned off the stove and opened the door to let the bread cool.
"I’ll be there. I made sprouted rye berry with olive oil. Are you paying the usual consignment?"
"I’ll add thirty-five cents a sale for the olive oil. But would you hurry, Beth? I’ve got customers waiting as we speak. Listen." He paused, and Bethany could make out a tumult of voices engaged in friendly chatter. Carmine came back on the line. "You heard?"
"I did. Sounds like a packed house."
"What? Hold on, Bethany. Paul just walked in. Hey, buddy." There was a murmur of male conversation on the other end. When he got back on the phone, Carmine said, "Paul wants to pick you up. You still at the place on Striped Bird Avenue near the waterfall?"
"I have my bike."
"Baking and biking don’t mix. This way you can get here without wear and tear on the merchandise."
"Hold on a sec," she said. "I just need to get the bread out of the oven."
Putting on baking mitts, Bethany lifted the sprouted rye berry bread out of the oven and carefully laid it on a cooling rack. Taking exquisite care, Bethany packed the piping hot loaves in the three pre-opened bakery boxes she’d laid on the counter. She knew she really should take Paul up on his offer. One time, she’d arrived at the Dough Ah! Dear with clothes dripping wet after a fall on her bike. She hadn’t spotted a rock nestled in a stream. Of course, the bread had been too soggy to sell. Now, closing the cardboard boxes, she tied them with red-striped string.
"Paul wouldn’t mind?" she asked. "The last thing I’d want to do is impose on someone I hardly know."
Paul was Carmine’s business partner: good-looking, a bit straight-laced, but always Johnny-on-the-spot. "The most dependable partner a man could ask for," Carmine always told Bethany. If Bethany had been in the market for a single man, she supposed she could do worse than to look in Paul’s direction. Carmine guffawed.
"Paul mind? Not a bit." He lowered his voice. "He’s got a thing for you." He spoke again in his usual voice. "Hold on. Paul wants to tell you himself that he doesn’t mind picking you up."
A deep, sonorous voice replaced Carmine’s.
"Bethany? If it’s all right with you I’ll be there in fifteen minutes."
"Hello, Paul. If I’m not here, I got tired of waiting and skedaddled on my trusty cycle."
There was silence on the other end. "I can’t tell if you’re kidding, Bethany," he said.
"I’m kidding. See ya later." she said and hung up
Bethanyrinsed her hands and headed for the bathroom. Having been up since 7:00 she’d already showered. She had on her red and white gingham dress, the one with the big heart pockets. She knew she looked like someone’s idea of a Kansas farm girl, but she had never been one to worry about image, and at 44, she had nothing to prove.
Bethanyglanced in the mirror: a face with finely sculpted features framed by ringlets and wide brown eyes peered back. She piled copper-colored hair atop her head and lassoed it into place with a few dressy pins. A glance at the clock told her that Paul would be arriving any minute.
Moving into the kitchen Bethany went in search of her house keys. She’d never needed a car while she lived in Manhattan where she’d either walked, boarded the subway or taken the occasional taxi. Once she’d relocated, she came to rely on her trusty Trek mountain bike. Made of a lightweight frame with sturdy rubber treads, the bike was easy to maneuver over rock-bound valleys and streams.
Where were those keys? She looked under the dishrag, then tried the pile of magazines. Finally, she rummaged through the basket of clipped recipes on her kitchen table. "Bethany Bunuel, one day you are going to have to make de-cluttering a priority," she said out loud.
Just in time, she spotted the keys behind the opened bag of flour on the kitchen counter. Outside, the blast of a car horn sounded. Bethany slipped on creme-colored sandals and stepped out onto the landing, squinting into the sun. Paul waved up from the open window on the driver’s side of his red Land Rover and got out of the vehicle. His long legs took the stairs to her door two at a time. He stopped in front of her.
"Hi," he said.
Bethanythought she saw him blush. "Hi," she said, intrigued.
He’s got a thing for you, Carmine had said. She led the way into the kitchen and together they picked up the three boxes.
"Got everything?" he asked looking over his shoulder. He carried two of the boxes and Bethany carried the third. She placed the box on the landing for a moment while she locked her front door.
"Think so," she said, gingerly lifting up the box again. She followed down the stairs.
Paul had left both back seat doors open and Bethany slid the one box inside. Paul positioned the other two boxes alongside the first.