Bailey Cameron sipped sweet tea garnished with a fat lemon wedge as she leaned against the porch rail and tilted her face toward warm, late-afternoon sun. Though her heart felt light with the thought of long spring days ahead, she fought the urge to cry.
Oh, how she missed the mountains of East Tennessee…and Nick Dalton. Snagging the job of her dreams with Magnitude Engineering was a great boost to her ego, but at what cost? Bailey couldn’t nudge Nick’s look of utter disbelief from her memory as she’d explained to him she’d be leaving Knoxville—and him—just a few short weeks following their graduation from the University of Tennessee. His blue eyes, round and so full of love for her, had grown dark and shadowed with disappointment.
“If you have to go, Bailey, I understand,” he’d murmured as he brushed a calloused knuckle across her cheek, though his gaze told her otherwise. “I know you worked hard for this opportunity, and you have to take it.”
But now Baily wondered…did she? Long months had passed, yet her love for Nick remained strong, despite the distance between them. She’d flourished at her job as a computer programmer while Nick took over his family’s construction business back in Knoxville. Still Bailey felt empty inside—like a huge piece of her was missing.
The slam of a car door drew her gaze from the house-pocked valley beyond, and she turned to find a delivery truck in the driveway. She set her tea glass on the porch rail and rushed to meet the skinny, teenaged boy who leapt from the driver’s seat.
“May I help you?”
“Bailey Cameron?” He checked a note attached to his clipboard as she nodded. “I think I have a delivery for you.”
“But you’re not sure?”
He shook his head. “Our computer crashed, so I know you’re supposed to get something, but I’m not sure which package is for you.”
“How many are there to choose from?” She peeked over his shoulder and into the cargo area of the truck. Cartons in a variety of sizes were stacked floor to ceiling. A few had toppled to the floor.
“Oh, two or three.”
The first package held chocolates wrapped in shimmery gold and pink foil. Bailey quickly shook her head.
“It can’t be those.” She crossed her arms over her belly. “I’m still trying to lose my freshman twenty…five years later.”
“How about this?” The delivery boy handed her an invitation sealed with an embossed silver emblem. She didn’t recognize the handwriting on the envelope or the initials on the emblem.
“Uh uh.” Her blonde ponytail bobbed as she shook her head once more. “What else do you have?”
“Let’s take a look-see.” The boy swiped unruly dark hair from his eyes and reached into the truck again. “It’s gotta be this one, then.”
Bailey’s heart raced at the sight of brilliant long-stemmed red roses arranged in a delicate emerald vase. Nick—it had to be. She remembered what he’d whispered to her the last day they were together, as he loaded her belongings into her car and she slid into the driver’s seat to crank the engine.
He’d leaned into the window and kissed her gently. “When it gets too much, Bailey—when I miss you so much I can’t stand to be away from you another minute—I’ll send you the most beautiful red roses you’ve ever seen, to let you know I’m on my way to you.”
Bailey gasped and scanned the length of the quiet, tree-shaded boulevard. Widow Robbins and Sara Hunter were both busy in their yards across the street, pruning the flowerbeds. Kenzie Kincaid burst through her front door and danced down the steps toward the other women, an envelope clutched in one hand. Soon Nick would be here, as well. The thought made Bailey tremble with longing.
“I’ll sign for these.” Bailey took the roses from the boy and pressed her nose to the petals. The sweet fragrance of love surrounded her—love in full bloom.
The dance was as familiar as a Southern California sunrise. Stove to sink. Sink to refrigerator. Refrigerator to pantry. Jennifer Hunter gathered supplies and stirred pots, flowing into her pastry baking exercise with effortless precision.
But a decided lack of heart.
She tightened her grip on the hot pad she held, going taut when that realization took root. The defensive response came to her automatically now. A glossy, hardcover book, featuring pastry recipes, rested open atop the spacious granite counter where she worked. Looking at it caused tears to build, stinging against the corners of her eyes, threatening to spill over.
“Nothing doing,” she snarled into the empty space of her kitchen.
After a few vision clearing blinks, Jennifer squared her shoulders. Near the book, a large glass bowl stood at the ready, filled with heavy whipping cream and powdered sugar. She added a couple teaspoons of vanilla extract. Taking out her mood on the mix, she beat the combination into suitable stiffness for a crème Chantilly filling.
Her gaze rested on the book once more. There was an inscription inside the front cover which she knew by memory—right down to the dips and curves of the handwriting:
Jenn ~ Don’t ever let sweetness dissolve from your life. Love, Anthony
Her throat constricted. In answer to that reaction, she increased the stroke and intensity of her whipping. The filling for her mini cream-puffs—called profiteroles in the land of France—firmed up nicely.
Her heart? Not so much.
Jennifer set aside the bowl and wiped her hands on the front of her apron. When had her life taken this sad and soul-draining turn?
She knew the answer and looked it squarely in the face. The cataclysm had occurred just four weeks ago, when she boarded a jumbo jet headed back home to California following a thrill-of-a-lifetime trip to Paris. It was then that a piece of her spirit became severed. Thousands of miles distant, and leagues away from her grasp, a part of her remained in that magical and gorgeous city.
The temperature indicator on the oven emitted a sharp beep and she jumped. The oven was warmed to the requisite 400-degrees. Blowing out a breath she forced herself away from the memory of curving, cobbled streets, rose-colored sunsets, the stark white domes of Montmartre.
Chilled pastry dough awaited her hand. In practiced motions, she formed the dough into small balls, settling them onto a baking sheet. Moments later she placed them in the oven and set the timer.
‘My plans for you are beyond imagining…’
She nearly flinched at how filling, how real those words felt, and the impact they possessed. She lifted her chin, determinedly ignoring the summons of that calm, clear voice that slid through her spirit with increased frequency of late.
‘If you but have the faith of a mustard seed.’
Jennifer’s shoulders slumped. The tears came back. So did the ache of longing, that sensation of being somehow apart from everything she wanted the most.
Oh, Lord, she answered in sad silence, if only it were that simple.
The faith of a mustard seed! came her reply—this time with greater intensity.
While the pastry shells baked, she prepared to make chocolate syrup from scratch. Drizzled chocolate would form the culminating touch to her creation. Rooting for cocoa powder in the pantry, she next unearthed a clean mixing bowl and began to measure.
Normally, the process of crafting pastries and losing herself in the art of baking filled her with joy and a sense of connectedness to her God-given gifts. Her parents had given her the trip to Paris so that she might hone her craft under the expert tutelage of world-renowned chef Maxwell LeAndro.
The classes had been intensive and exhilarating. She learned much, refining the passion and skills she had discovered in high school and honed in college.
It was there, in Paris, that she met Anthony Sordonne, an American expatriate and fellow student in her pastry class. Most of the people enrolled in her session were older than her 24 years, so the handsome, similar-aged man immediately caught her eye. From the first day, they struck up an easy friendship and paired up naturally.
They shared so many interests—baking, of course, and a passion for French culture and history. But not until she discovered his faith in Christ—a faith that mirrored her own—did she fully release her heart into his care. Early on, abandoned to the beauty of her feelings, she had failed to consider her looming departure. She would only be in Paris for three months, after all—but three months, at that point, felt like forever.
A cool breeze, flavored by hyacinth and lilac, drifted through the kitchen window of her ground-level apartment, ruffling the edges of the tied-back cotton drapes. Jennifer closed her eyes and breathed deep, continuing to drift…
She recalled baguettes and strong, rich coffee; she remembered looking into his dark brown eyes, leaning across a small metal bistro table as he held her fingertips and stroked them in a slow caress.
“So when you leave Paris, what will you do?” he asked.
Sadness layered the question. She hated the idea of separating as well, but at the same time, she rejoiced that he felt the same way. “My mom owns a catering business in Southern California. I want to do my part to keep it a success.” A tingling, restless urge left her wanting to reach up, and smooth her fingertips through the dark, well-styled waves of his hair, or sculpt the angles and planes of his jaw with a fingertip. “What about you? I know you’re an ex-pat, but do you think you’ll ever return to the States?”
Will you ever return to the States…ever return to the States…return to the States…?
The timer went off with a loud buzz. Jennifer’s world jarred, ending the painful echo of those words. The shells for her mini-crème puffs were ready to be pulled from the oven and cooled.
Anthony’s answer was ‘No.’
His life was in France, and would be for the foreseeable future as he sought to create a career of his own in the world of pastry baking. Jennifer’s reasons for returning home were equally compelling—her mother needed help running the business, and there was the added anxiety over her father’s recent job loss due to downsizing.
Jennifer’s chin quaked and her chest went tight. She tried to keep from crying, and failed. Tears splashed her hand as she braced against the counter. Tension performed a slow-build, starting at her shoulders, working up her neck as another memory swirled into place.
Hand in hand they traversed the curving, lamp-lit streets of central Paris. Pausing at the center of an arched bridge, they indulged in the simple, yet profound, pleasure of snuggling tight against a soft breeze that skimmed across the waters of the Seine. Cast in the glow of a radiant, pastel hued sunset, just being with him swept her away all over again.
But this was her last night in the city.
“Please don’t let this go, Jenn. Please.” Quiet urgency layered his words, reflecting a need that spoke to the farthest reaches of her soul. She trembled when he moved behind her and rested his hands on her shoulders.
“My life is in California. My dreams are—”
“Yes, Jenn. Your dreams. What are your dreams?” He turned her. Looking into his eyes nearly unlocked the barriers she had built around her emotions. Without them in place, she’d never be able to say good-bye.
My dream is standing right here in front of me, but you’re only three months old in my life! This is way too fast, and way too intense. You’re Paris, I’m America. But none of that seems to matter. My dream is you!
She wanted to shout the words; she wanted to fling herself into an embrace with Anthony that would have no end. But she didn’t. Instead, she tried to step away. He didn’t allow the distance; he held her secure and shook his head.
“Don’t turn away just because it’s the easy thing to do. Don’t turn away out of fear of leaving behind what’s familiar. What you’ll gain in return might make the rest of it seem insignificant.”
“My family isn’t insignificant. The partnership I have in my mother’s company isn’t insignificant. My homeland isn’t insignificant. My parents have given up so much to make sure I have a chance to fulfill my potential. I can’t turn my back on them. Especially when my dad’s professional future is in turmoil. I’m confused—about everything!” She took a moment to gather herself.
“Are you confused about me? Do you have any doubts about the love I feel for you?” Fading sunlight kissed his hair with golden rays.
“No. I’ve fallen in love with you.”
“Then consider what we’ve found together and look at it through the eyes of faith. Christ’s truth is an important part of what we share. What about the trust you’ve told me you place in Him to direct the longings of your heart, and the pattern of your life? What about all of that, Jenn? Doesn’t it count for anything? What is your faith telling you right now?” He peered intently into her eyes, unwavering.
His head dipped; his intent was sure, his possession swift, yet tender when he drew her in. His lips touched hers, and she melted. When the kiss deepened, going ripe with the sweetness of everything they had found together, she felt warm tear tracks travel the length of her wind-chilled cheeks. He eased back slowly and she tilted her head up, lost to him, wishing she could somehow capture this moment and suspend it in time forever. He kept an arm tight around her waist.
“Don’t just listen here,” Anthony’s fingertips traced lightly against her forehead. “Listen here.” His hand came to rest just below her shoulder, right above her heart.
Even through her lightweight jacket she felt the warmth of his flattened palm. She wanted to sink to her knees in sorrow. “It’s not that easy.”
He didn’t blink, he didn’t move back. He was resolute. “Yes, it is—if it’s what you want.”
The flutter of a bird near the window drew Jennifer back to the place where she didn’t want to be—a suddenly empty life in California. The finch, of a cheery, vibrant yellow, perched on the outer sill of the window and chirped away.
Lifting her chin, she forced herself to finish the dessert offering for her mom. She cut, filled and assembled the confections. Her motions lacked zeal, though. Now, even her passion for creating the most succulent pastries imaginable waned and evaporated.
Dissolving. Just like he had warned.
She had to find a way back. She had to find joy, and recapture a sense of happiness again. She had no other choice.
After plating and wrapping the pastries, she drove the short distance to her parent’s home, in the neighborhood where she had grown up. She navigated the horseshoe drive, noticing her mom chatted happily with a couple of the neighbors. Jennifer’s arrival prompted waves from Paisley Robbins and Bailey Cameron when she stepped from the car. Then, up swept her mother, who offered a hug. Sara Hunter fairly glowed with happiness, which made Jennifer smile.
“Sweetie! I’m so glad to see you! Wait ‘til you see what your dad got me! I had to take it inside, but I’ll show it to you in just a minute.” Jennifer couldn’t get a word in as her mother took the plate of crème puffs and exclaimed, “Wow! These are gorgeous—must have taken you hours!”
“No, not at all. It was my pleasure.”
“Come say hello to Paisley and Bailey. Kenzie Kinkaid was here, too, but she had to head in. She’s primping for a surprise, romantic dinner at Café Parisian!”
Just what I need right now, Jennifer thought. Reminders of Paris. Her heart thudded and she swallowed back a lump of sadness. Anthony…I love you so much—and I miss you desperately.
Jennifer went to greet the neighbors, eager for any kind of distraction. Her arrival sparked a new round of chatter just as a delivery truck ambled down the road and shuddered to a stop in front of the house. Out stepped the driver who carried a large, clear box of some sort. Looked like it had gold paper inside it—and it was festooned by a pink ribbon.
Bless his heart, the poor guy had ruffled hair, a dazed look in his eyes, and the most frazzled expression on his face. He stepped up with determination, an electronic clip board in his grip and he addressed Jennifer’s mom. “OK, so, I went back to the sorting station, and I think we’ve figured it out. Sorta.”
Jennifer stifled the urge to giggle at the young man’s flustered behavior. What was going on here? “It looks like you’ve had a rough day.”
The driver shook his head and sidled her an imploring look. “You don’t know the half of it.”
Jennifer now noticed the box he carried contained chocolates that had been individually wrapped in gold paper. The box, which she recognized, was secured by a large, pink ribbon emblazoned with the name of a very high-end, exclusive chocolatier. She knew the trademarks of this company very well. It was located in Paris.
She began to tremble.
The driver shifted to address Jennifer’s mom. He offered her the box. “These belong at this address. We verified it with the shop in Paris where it came from.”
“Paris?” Sara asked, sliding a glance toward Jennifer.
Jennifer’s breathing went shallow and prickles of heat danced along her arms and neck.
The delivery man nodded. “They’re supposed to go to a Jennifer Hunter, but your name is Hunter, and this is the address specified.”
Jennifer’s hands shook. She studied the scripted, gold-lettering that covered the front of the box. Gallianas Chocolatier. It was Anthony’s favorite shop in all of Paris.
“I’m Jennifer Hunter,” she finally said, and her voice wavered. Since her parents had paid for her tuition to the baking school in Paris, this would be her address of record. Could this possibly be real?
“Honey? Who are they from?”
With obvious relief, the delivery man forestalled any conjecture by wielding his clipboard. “Please, please just sign for it, so I can call it a day and be glad all these address glitches have been sorted out.”
Jennifer stood frozen, staring at the array of luscious chocolates. Was there a card?
She took custody of the package while her mom signed. Sure enough, taped securely to the enormous silk ribbon was an envelope Jennifer tore into like a woman possessed. Meanwhile, the driver reentered his vehicle and drove away. The truck shuddered and pushed forward, belching diesel fumes along the way.
Jennifer pulled the card free:
Jenn~ I’m coming to California next week. What we found in Paris is a gift from God, and I can’t live with only half a heart. I can’t wait to see you. All my love ~ Anthony
She gasped, covering her mouth with trembling fingers. Tears trickled, then flowed down her cheeks. The women, her mom included, stared and exchanged wondering glances, but no one interrupted the moment.
No one but God.
‘For I know the plans I have for you, Jennifer…’
That’s it for Love is Blooming! We enjoyed being a part of LASR’s Spring is Bustin’ Out All Over blogfest! If you’d like to see more of our work, be sure to check out our web sites or find us at White Rose Publishing. God Bless all and Happy Spring!