She would open her store one last time. She would let her dream live on for one more day.
For the first time in a long time Nadine couldn’t find the will to get up. Had she been awake for thirty minutes? An hour? She lay in bed, the dim light of streetlamps in the predawn darkness filtering through her bedroom curtains. Her alarm went off; she had it set to a tone of chirping birds, the same sound she’d used for years. It usually made her smile, to hear that excited little tune—a small morning joy of many yet to come.
But how could she be excited for today? It was the day her dream was set to die. Maybe she shouldn’t even go in at all.
She reached over and turned off the alarm on her phone; her hand brushed by her small, black journal. That’s right, she’d been flipping through it the night before. Remembering. She picked up the book, the gridded pages worn at the edges from the number of times she’d flipped through her own notes, sketches, and recipes.
The spine folded effortlessly open to the page she revisited the most. The sketch she’d made after signing the lease seven years ago. Curved, recessed shelving behind the counter, walls bright white with sky blue accents, and a display case full of braided bread and colorful pastries. She had even sketched in an antique looking cash register sitting on top of the case. In neat handwriting above the image, she’d carefully blocked out the name of her dream: Sugar Street Treats.
Nadine smiled, remembering the way she’d leapt up in the middle of a movie she was watching with her sister to scribble the name of her soon-to-be bakery down. The moment she had the name was the moment she had known—the dream had to become more than that. She would make it real. And she had.
She got up out of bed. It was decided then. She would open her store one last time. She would let her dream live on for one more day.
The shop front was silent, like it always was in the early morning hours when she baked. It smelled warmly of yeast; Liz must have decided to come in for the last day—she would be kneading bread dough in the back. Liz had been a high school senior when she’d first come into Nadine’s shop looking for a job. Now she was almost halfway through college. Nadine wasn’t old, but the echo of the ambitious optimism during her own college years made the melancholy coursing through her now feel raw. It made her soul feel aged.
Time had played a trick on everyone this past year. It had been endlessly new and ancient. The coronavirus swept across the world in a great torrent of sorrow and isolation, curling around everyone, as senseless and unstoppable as a hurricane. But a hurricane drove people together for shelter. This virus had driven them apart for shelter instead. It was a force of nature that slid its way through people’s skins; causing a deep rift in the social contract that Nadine had set both her joy and livelihood upon.
The silence of the shop stood as stark testament to that reality. The café seating, once cozy, now seemed oppressively close. After everything had opened up for ordering again, Eva Fields, gray hair styled in short curls like always, had come in and gotten her usual scone and coffee. Then she had gone to sit down at the small table by the window like she always had. Nadine had nearly cried when she told her she had to leave with her purchase instead. But she would have cried harder if anything had happened to Eva.
Nadine went into the back room and found Liz there, headphones in, punching down a batch of dough for its second rise. Liz finished draping a damp towel over the bowl and looked up. The dark mask she wore across the bottom half of her face was peppered with flour. She went to the sink to wash her hands then pulled her earbuds out.
“You didn’t have to come. I don’t even know if I can pay you for today,” Nadine said. She slipped her own mask on in the doorway to the kitchen. It was printed with doodles of flowers and cupcakes.
Liz shrugged. “I know… but it’s Sugar Street! It’ll be gone after today. I didn’t want to miss the goodbye.”
Nadine ran her hand along the floured counter and stared down at the white flecks on her fingertips. “Yeah. I didn’t want to miss it either.”
“I baked a batch of cupcakes while the bread was rising. They should be cool enough to frost.”
Nadine nodded and Liz popped her earbuds back in.
Frosting was Nadine’s favorite thing about baking. She loved all of it—the careful measuring of ingredients for the batter, the warm scent that danced through the shop while her creations baked, the shapes of cupcakes and pastries after they had risen into perfect domes and flakey bubbles of puffed dough. But decorating was like sketching; she went somewhere else while she did it. The flow of frosting as she built up flower petals and twirled out cursive messages of love and happiness brought her to a place she wanted to take everyone, and every time someone pointed down at one of her cakes or cupcakes in the display—whether they purchased it or not—she knew they glimpsed that place of creation, if only for a single moment.
She would miss that the most.
The small bell at the entrance chimed and Nadine put down her piping bag. Without even looking she knew who it would be—right on schedule, Eva Fields was here to get her scone and coffee.
Nadine set the order down just as Eva stepped up to the counter. “You know Eva, I don’t think you’ve missed a single day I’ve been open.”
“What can I say? I’m a creature of habit. So, you’re really going to close her down? You’ll be missed when everything picks back up.”
Eva looked the same as she did every morning. If Eva Fields went out one day without curling her hair and wearing a tracksuit for her morning walk, well, that might just be the final sign of the apocalypse. Her sweater was bright pink today and she wore a matching mask.
“The way things are now, it’s tight, but I could do it. Only…” Nadine hesitated. She really didn’t want to trouble anyone with her problems.
The old woman raised an eyebrow. “Only what…?”
“…I was closed for two months. I’ve been trying to pay off those old debts, but there just isn’t enough. Also, there was that whole thing with the sandwiches. Had everything ready to go a week before I had to close. I don’t even want to think about all the deli meat that went bad,” Nadine shook her head ruefully and looked past Eva at the arched lettering in her front window. “I’m sure they’d come back. If I stayed. I just can’t hold on that long.”
Eva rested her papery hand on Nadine’s. “Of course they would. I’d like to pay you for the scone and coffee, dear. It’s the least I can do.”
“For you Eva? On the last day? It’s on the house.”
But Eva wasn’t listening. She pulled out her checkbook and started writing in neat cursive.
“Oh, Eva, you really don’t need to write a check for it. It’s for so little!”
“I think I know what’s worth paying for,” she said. She tore the check out of her checkbook and handed it over to Nadine.
When she looked down at the number she felt as if her feet were no longer attached to her body. “Eva, this, this says—”
“I know what it says. It’s the price I’d pay to get a scone and a coffee every day for as long as your shop stays open.”
“Eva, this is worth at least ten years of daily scones and coffees!”
“Well, you’ll need to stay open for at least ten more years then I expect.”
Nadine laughed, but it turned into a choked sob somewhere in the back of her throat. “You’re too much.”
“Your shop is the beating heart of this street.” Eva said, the corners of her eyes crinkling in a smile. “I think twenty-thousand dollars is a small price to pay to preserve a beating heart.”
“My bakery means that much to you?”
Liz was leaning in the doorway to the back kitchen, arms crossed. “It’s not just your bakery, don’t you always say that it’s for everyone?”
Eva nodded. “A life savings is meant to pay for what’s important in life. I still have plenty. I want you to have something too.”
“I-I mean… yes but there has to be something more important!” Nadine could feel the pressure building up back behind her eyes. She blinked, trying to keep herself from dissolving into outright tears.
“I’ve been taking morning walks for years. Used to walk right on by this empty little place in the middle of the street every day. Made me sad, you know? Here was this perfect little shop that nobody wanted. Then one day you were there, holding your little black book and drawing out everything you saw it could be. Maybe I’m just selfish, but I’m not giving that up.”
Nadine’s phone vibrated and she looked down. There was a photo of her standing across from Eva, check in hand, eyes wide and glassy. She looked over at Liz and the younger girl was busy on her phone. “Did you just post this?”
“Well, as your assistant I thought I’d update Sugar Street’s profile. I didn’t think the closing post was a good look anymore. You’re gonna have to hurry and get that check cashed boss, we’re gonna be swamped with orders in about thirty minutes if it’s already got this many likes. You might want to give Kelly a call.”
“Oh! I can call Kelly! I-I can pay you both.” The possibilities that this small piece of paper now offered unfurled in her mind’s eye.
She could make it to a time where people would sit at every table, drinking coffee and eating confections. The world would change, it always did, but now Sugar Street would live on to change with it. The shop itself seemed to glow with that vivid realization, just how it had glowed for her the first time she’d set foot inside. Before the walls were painted, the kitchen refurbished, and the tables set, she had known what it would be. Now that she could see this new future, she had to reach towards it with just as much resolve.
Eva nodded in approval. “See you tomorrow Nadine. I expect you’ll be open at the usual time?”
“Yeah. The usual time,” she said, eyes fixed on the check.
“Take care Liz, you’ll be in tomorrow too?”
“Yup, tomorrow,” Liz called back to Eva. “Maybe you’ll see Kelly in too. I think we might be a bit busy!”
As if it were nothing more than her everyday order Eva took her scone and coffee from the counter and continued on with the rest of her walk. The door chimed again as she slipped out and strolled down the street.
“I think I have a new favorite word,” Nadine said.
“Hm? Which word?” Liz asked, eyes fixed back on her phone screen as she typed responses to the growing number of comments on the store account.
Nadine looked at the recessed shelves she’d filled with ceramic cake stands and figures, the bright white and blue walls that she’d hung with art purchased at the local craft fairs over the years, and the display case now holding freshly baked bread and the flowered cupcakes she’d just finished decorating.
It would still be here. It would all still be here.