Tim Gardner has worked hard to rebuild the family business after his older brother nearly destroyed it. He’s restored the clientele base and the restaurant's reputation. But if Rachel Martin can’t get her act together, she won’t fulfill his orders for the Gardner’s Gazebo signature dessert, a gold-leaf cheese cake, which also happens to be Rachel’s secret recipe. When Rachel Martin's partner abandons their bakery and catering business to study with the master chefs in Paris, she's left with nothing but bills and obligations-and no one in Portlandville seems able or willing to help her. No one except for Timothy Gardner, and she knows the handsome young man is only after one thing—her cheese cake. But as she gets to know him, during her time of need, she wonders if maybe there’s a little bit more in the mix. And as Tim gets to know Rachel, he finds himself wanting to be her Good Samaritan--permanently.
“A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” Proverbs 25:11.
“What do you mean, he’s gone?” Rachel Martin looked up from her menu-planner to her sister who waved an envelope in the air. She tapped her foot impatiently under the wood dining table.
“I mean,” Sandy said, tilting her red head and extending the envelope, “Davie’s gone, and he left you this.”
Rachel’s spine straightened, and she squeezed the bridge of her nose before taking the envelope. Willing her hands not to tremble, she opened the unsealed flap and shook out two crisp sheets of folded paper. While Sandy waited, Rachel began to read silently.
My Dearest Rachelle,
I’m so sorry to depart so abruptly, but I’ve accepted a once-in-a-lifetime offer to study under France’s top pastry chef. What an opportunity! I had to leave immediately or risk losing the position, and I apologize for everything, but I must find my true calling. Enclosed is a letter for the bank, giving you full access to the company account. Say farewell to dear Sandra for me, and have a wonderful life using your incredible culinary talents. You’ve been a marvelous partner, but this is what I must do with my future.
Au Revoir, Davie.
Rachel lowered the page. The smell of baking bread permeated the small shop, which she usually loved. Now it seemed to gag her.
What about what she wanted? Had Davie even considered that? What about her future?
“What are you thinking?” Sandy asked, studying Rachel through narrowed eyes.
Rachel sighed, jiggled her knees and pinched her nose again. What was she thinking? She mentally calculated the cost of the new equipment she’d just ordered, the large supply of goods on their way and the catering jobs lined up for the next few weeks. Silently she gave Sandy the note and pushed her chair back from the table with a scrape of wood across wood.
She paced from the counter to the glass front door, running her hand across the clean, smooth surfaces. Her stomach remained down near her toes and now burned with the adrenalin of panic. What was she going to do without Davie? This was his business, his life—he’d hired her right out of high school because she could decorate a complex, three-tiered wedding cake like a pro. Everything else she knew about food preparation, booking jobs, and organizing parties had come from him—had been his area of expertise.
“So what now?” Sandy’s brows knit together in concern, her worried expression fortifying the pounding in Rachel’s temples.
“I’m not sure.” Long moments passed with only the ticking of the wall clock and the refrigerator’s hum.
“Should we try to track him down? Make him listen to reason?”
Rachel considered it for just a moment, but shook her head. “No. If he wants to go off and start a new life, or improve the one he has, it’s not up to us to try and stop him.”
“Am I out of a job?” Sandy tapped the table with her long, pink-painted nails. “Are you out of a job? Are we closing Davie’s Desserts?”
“No!” Rachel whirled on her sister, a new thought striking her. She could run this place without him! “Absolutely not. I can keep this place going, I’m sure. And you know what? I’ll bet Davie’s back within the week. He probably just needs to get this out of his system.” She began to pace again. “He can’t live without this shop. It means everything to him. Why, he’ll probably return with fantastic gifts for us from Paris, with his hat in his hands, make that a beret, and—”
Sandy shook her head. “He’s not coming back. At least, not in time to help us with the Preston wedding, the Jones’s confirmation party, and the church fair.”
Bells tinkled over the door, and Mrs. Hutchinson entered with her suitcase-sized handbag slung over one shoulder. “Hi, dearies,” she called. “I need a pie or something for my daughter-in-law’s dinner tonight.”
Rachel watched as Sandy went to wait on the woman who always had a smile and a dessert for her loved ones. She listened as they chattered away pleasantly, but her own mind filtered out the actual words, intent on her own problems. Davie would come back to Portlandville, wouldn’t he?
The ching of their old-fashioned cash register punctuated her thoughts, and Rachel decided she needed to be pragmatic about the situation. Until she was certain she was alone, she had to keep things going. That included the finances. Pulling the foot-long ledger book from under the counter, Rachel flipped through pages of checks, following the balance line through the most current date. They weren’t in the red.
Rachel jumped when Sandy touched her shoulder. “We can do this,” she said. I’ll come in every day after school, and weekends. We can–”
“Sandy.” Warmth filled her heart at her sister’s offer, and she knew her voice sounded shaky. “I’m sorry, I’m as anxious as you are. But you won’t thank me when you’ve missed all the senior year activities. This is the last spring you’ll have before real life kicks in.” Rachel reached out and pushed Sandy’s bright red bangs from her forehead.
“No buts. I really appreciate your working here the past two years, but I’m not about to usurp your last few months of being a teenager. Remember, I was there only seven years ago, and I remember. You’re only seventeen once.”
Sandy opened her mouth to protest, but smiled instead and leaned down to hug Rachel. “There is this picnic I’d like to go to next Saturday.”
“And you will go. I’m sure Mom can stop by and lend a hand if I ask her nicely. I will work this out, don’t you worry.” She turned her thumb up in a positive gesture. “Now, why don’t you go see if the bread is done? I’m certainly glad that food aromas don’t have calories.”
“Sure smells fattening.” Sandy patted her flat tummy. “Good thing you and I don’t eat all this great stuff we make, or we’d not fit through the front door.”
Bells tinkled again over the door as if on cue, and one of her best, and cutest, customers entered the room. Sunshine from the windows made Timothy Gardner’s dark brown hair almost glow. She believed he must be at least six foot three. This was a man who certainly didn’t over eat bread or carbs, she thought as she noticed his flat stomach. Her face warmed a bit as she realized she was staring at his physique.
“Hi, Tim,” Rachel said. “What can I do for you this morning?”
“Good morning, ladies.” He acknowledged both of them and moved to the chest-high glass counter which showcased homemade pies, cakes, cookies, petit fours and other confections. Resting both elbows on the clear surface, Tim surveyed the variety and smiled. “I’d love to take home a peach pie along with my regular order.” He looked directly at Rachel. “Is it ready?”
A buzzing noise from the back signaled that the bread was done, and Sandy took off at a near sprint to ensure it didn’t burn. We sure can’t afford any wasted food now, Rachel thought, suddenly irritated with the situation her former partner had left her in. No use continuing to deny it.
“I have a shipment of pie boxes coming in by noon, so if it’s OK with you I’ll deliver your cheesecakes this afternoon.”
“By three o’clock?” Tim tapped the glass counter.
“Oh, sure.” Rachel could promise that, unless of course, one of the box-supplier’s partners had also dumped their job that day.
He nodded his agreement, but didn’t move for several seconds, then cleared his throat.
“Is there anything else?” Rachel had the fleeting thought that a man like Tim wouldn’t have run out on her and his business. Was he waiting for her to say something else?
“Rachel,” he said, in a quiet voice. “Can I at least get the peach pie? Pretty please? A few friends from my church are having a pot-luck supper tonight, and since I can’t be there I thought I’d drop one off for their dessert. Or do you want to bring that over later, too?” His forehead crinkled. “Unless you are totally out of pie boxes, of course. I don’t mean to put you on the spot.”
“Oh, of course, I’m so sorry. It’s just been a rough day.” Rachel opened a cabinet behind the counter and removed a piece of flat cardboard.
“And it’s only ten in the morning.”
She knew he was teasing, but Rachel felt her eyes well up as she recalled her first task of the day. Reading Davie’s note. She turned away quickly and proceeded to assemble the flat box.
“Are you OK?”
Amazed at how his voice switched from playful to concerned, Rachel took a deep breath and tilted her head back to make sure no tears fell.
Sandy returned, dusting flour from her hands and apron. Rachel grabbed the chance to escape with a bit of dignity.
“Oh, Sandy, would you get Tim a peach pie? It’s on the house.” She made her escape without meeting his gaze, or her sister’s, and fled to the security of the storage room beside the kitchen. She knew Sandy would be shooting her a questioning look. Why had she given away a pie when they were in such sudden financial straits?
Rachel wasn’t sure herself, but knew she felt the urge to keep Tim’s high opinion of her.
She took the lid from a cardboard banker’s box and sifted through the contents. Three years’ worth of bank statements, envelopes full of cancelled checks and stacks of work orders lay there, rubber-banded together, taunting her. The paperwork for the new oven she’d just ordered sat near the top, the words “Paid In Full” stamped across the invoice. Why had she insisted on paying cash for the thing? She’d managed to deplete the company’s cash-on-hand, in anticipation of a lot of cash coming in during the wedding reception season. And it still could, she supposed, if she could afford to hire a helper. Perhaps she could get a loan using the new equipment as collateral, she pondered, jiggling her knee against the side of another carton.
“Hey, Rach?” Sandy poked her head into the storage room. “Tim said not to be late with the desserts.” She entered the room and pulled up a stool. “He’s really attached to those things, isn’t he?”
Rachel nodded and sighed. Tim Gardner definitely seemed attached to what he called his restaurant’s “signature dessert,” which sounded funny to her since she was the one who made them. She topped silky, smooth cheesecake, on a graham cracker crust, with a layer of fine gold icing. Her secret recipe made the icing look like real gold, when it was really only a thin layer of gold leaf, and perfectly safe to eat. Stamped on each narrow slice sat a tiny gazebo image, to accentuate the name of Tim’s place—Gardner’s Gazebo Café.
“He’s really cute, isn’t he?”
Yes, he is. “Oh, don’t start, Sandy. If you and Mom had your way I would have been married years ago. Hmm, let’s see, there was Davie when he first hired me, Luke from the delivery service, John from the confectionary, Daniel from the culinary college...”
“OK, OK, I’ll stop.” Sandy laughed and pulled up a stool next to Rachel. “We know you’ll find the right guy someday, just like I will.”
They sat together in agreeable silence, for how long, Rachel wasn’t sure. Her mind was a jumble of dollar signs and expectant customer faces.
“Give me a warm and fuzzy hug.”
Rachel felt numb by the events of the day, but knew this would make them both feel better. Why, she wasn’t really sure. Her family had always been huggers of the warm and fuzzy variety. Not just when times were bad, but anytime. All the time. They seemed to be calmed by it, and it worked for them. Rachel had followed along until her father died, but after that she didn’t see the point.
After a brief embrace, Sandy squeezed her hand gently. It did feel nice, reassuring.
Rachel squeezed back. Something passed between them. She wasn’t sure what, but Rachel took a deep breath and felt stronger.
Door chimes in the distance forced them back to reality, and they hurried back to the shop.
A man in brown shorts waited, chewing gum and tapping a pen on his clipboard. “Delivery.”
Sandy moved toward the stack of cartons he’d brought, then turned and arched an eyebrow at Rachel. “There should be twice this many cartons.”
Rachel handed the man his clipboard. “What?”
“The cartons, there aren’t as many as we ordered. What’s going on?”
“Look, ladies, I just deliver the stuff. Give me a break. This is the number of cartons you are supposed to get from Delaware Cardboard.”
“I’ll go call them,” Sandy offered, a sigh in her voice.
Rachel nodded, with a sneaking suspicion that she already knew the problem.
Q1 How does the story mirror the Biblical parable?
A1 When Rachel is in trouble, she asks for help from several sources, including her mother, pastor and the local bank. When no one will help, Tim quietly decides to pitch in--despite the fact she is causing him trouble.
Q2 How did Rachel decide to help herself, when no one else would?
A2 She decided to alter her dream just a bit, by learning how to set up a business from home. This helped her move on without her former boss.
Q3 How did Tim treat his brother upon his return?
A3 Just as the brother did in the Biblical parable, "the Prodigal Son."