12. Stranger

12. Stranger

A Chapter by Lynaelee

*One year later, back to Clara's POV*


As I finish taking an order for a special occasion cake, the bell above my door rings again. "I'll be sure to have your cake ready in two weeks, Miss Evensin. I'm sure you, Mr. Granell, and all your guests will love it," I promise as she ducks out the door and wraps her arm around her fiancé who was waiting for her. "If love is like that, I'm glad I'm alone. Three marriages in three years; I don't get it. Then again, I'm considered too old to marry off now. It's probably for the best. I have my business; a man would take away from that," I think as make eye contact with my frazzled looking employee as she rubs her stomach. "Hey, Catherine. Everything okay?" I ask in a concerned tone, worried that maybe labor started or something for her.

"Oh yes. All is good. I was just letting you know you sold out of bread again. That and I'm hungry again. This little one seems to have a bottomless stomach already. You should consider yourself lucky that you don't run a grocery store! I would put you out of business. And no, I didn't eat it. You made quite the profit," she remarks as she walks around my front room with an empty basket and a wad of money. I grin and take them away from her so it could be put away. As I'm tallying up the total, I study her again. 

"Well that's good news. I'm glad we sold out and I have you to thank for that. So why do you look glum?"

"Because I didn't make enough to last the whole day! I barely made enough to go to half the doors in town. I'm not good at this, Clara," she pouts. I grin and guide her back to the kitchen area, making her sit down for a spell.

"You're doing great. There is too much work for me to do around here to sell door to door like you suggested. We've been going off my numbers of people who come in here to buy things. So we'll make more for next time. Next week, I'll show you how to make all sorts of sweets, like this peanut brittle and the fruit scones. I'm just thankful you came to help me out so I can have a wider assortment of delectables to offer up," I relpy.

"After your spill last year and the whole town unable to eat your bread for like a whole month so you could recover, my husband said we just can't do without the bread again. Since I didn't have anything else to do and James helps his father with all of the patients, I offerred to step up and help you. I'm glad I did. I needed to learn something besides childbearing and cleaning. You've been most gracious and kind. I've enjoyed this experience and have gained a great friend in return," she remarks.

"You're a natural with the guests and I'm happy to have you here too. I cherish our friendship," I praise as my bell rings again. "We can sell the remaining scones and turnovers I have now. They'll have to come back tomorrow if they want bread. Do you want to deal with this customer?" She looks out, scowls, shakes her head, and stuffs her mouth full of what I have been secretly calling my beaver tails. I nod and make my way out there. As I pass through my entryway into the front room, my cat runs in between my legs chasing a ball of yarn. "Leo, bad kitty!" I scold as I catch myself from falling over. I adjust my skirt and look up as I hear soft laughter. I gasp at the tall stranger who stands at my counter with two large bags draped over his shoulders. My throat dries up, my heart races, and I feel suddenly lightheaded as I meet his honey-brown eyes and approach the counter. He smiles warmly, drops one of his bags on the counter, and sticks out his hand. My mouth drops open and I shake his hand.

"I was going to apologize for my presence and offer a peace offering, but now I think it'll be payment for my rudeness. You are not very convincing with your rebuking; your cat pretty much got away for making you misstep. If you aren't careful, you'll hurt yourself," he remarks as he sets our hands on the counter. All I can do is nod. 

"Clara!" Catherine yells. "Get rid of him. You need to show me how to make this brittle." 

"Forgive my help. She's nesting and hormonal," I state.

"I met her; I may have scared her the other day. My apologies. So is this how you greet everyone in town? You have quite the grip. By the way, it's Buck. Buck Danvenshire," he states as he squeezes my hand gently. I shake my head and withdraw my hand.

"My apologies. I'm Clara Hatten. Welcome to my bakery and home. I'm sorry. Have we met?" He chuckles and raises his eyebrow.

"Ever live in a town west of here? I've never been to this town," he replies.

"Forgive me. You're right. It's unlikely that we met before. You said peace offering? Wait! Why do you need a peace offering? What did you do to Catherine?"

"Nothing. Not directly anyways. However, I may have yelled at her and the other gawkers to help or leave me alone. I'm your new neighbor. I'm sure you noticed the building going up next door," he replies.

"Uh. No. Sorry. I've been too busy in here, but I have heard the town gossip about a tall stranger trying to take roots. My apologies for not coming over to say hello yet. I'm horrible at the neighborly things. I would have said hello once I stepped outside," I state sincerely.

"Don't worry about it. Having one person out of the whole town that waits until I settle in helps me. I have a short temper and just want to get my work done. Since you didn't come say hello, I didn't have to stop my work to make small talk. Speaking if interrupting work, am I disrupting yours?" Buck inquires. I shake my head.

"I'm done baking today. Everything left on my shelves is all I left for supper or dessert tonight. I was just taking a break and enjoying some peanut brittle with my assistant," I tell him sincerely.

"Ah. Well I have a few more logs to collect to finish my house, but I'm far enough along that I can start working in the next day or two. I figured I should make my rounds and give fair warning before I start getting some business. I'm afraid I won't be very quiet and the smells might be overwhelming sometimes. Since you are my closest neighbor, I owe you the biggest apology in advance. I'm a blacksmith," he remarks with a smile. I am unable to look away from his eyes; I just feel like I've seen them before.

"Uh. Good. A blacksmith, huh? Good. I guess we need one. Too many horses get hurt because their shoes fall off. Anyways, don't worry about your business being too smelly. I can make it smell pretty good usually and can overcome almost any odor. I think I can handle the stench you might put out. Worst case, I'll have to bake more," I state as I walk over to my sweet shelf and grab something off of it. "Welcome to the neighborhood. On the house. I would have been more prepared had I known you were coming by," I remark as I hand it over.

"Thank you. What do you call this, kitten?" My eyes widen; I've heard that phrase uttered to me before I'm sure. Or at least the nickname. He offers me a broad smile, and part of me expects a wink to come with.

"An apple turnover," I state as I give him a curious look; he just winked at me! Delayed reaction or am I imagininging things? I shake my head. "Yep. That is definitely an apple turnover. You may eat here. I don't mind."

"Thank you. I'm not looking to see if perhaps its a peach cobbler made to look like an apple turnover. No. I'm genuinely curious. What do you call this treat?" He repeats as he takes a bite. He smiles at me and swallows. "This might be the best thing I have ever tasted! Thank you. Anyways, most people I know that excel in a trade, don't keep calling things what they're meant to; it gets too mundane. For example, making and repairing horseshoes, I've started to look at them as clipity-clops, not horseshoes. I almost want to giggle when I get another customer in for clipity-clops. And according to you, I should have my hands full of clipity-clops soon enough," he insists and I can't help but snicker softly. "See. It sounds more fun. Your food is not bland, so I would like to assume that you call it something better than just a plain ol' turnover. So tell me, what is Clara Hatten's term for an apple turnover? Do you call them, oh I don't know, topsie-turvies?" I giggle and shake my head. "How about, uh inside-out-pies?"

"A scone would be closer to an inside-out-pie than a turnover would. Cougar bites. I call them cougar bites," I whisper, looking down.

"Cougar bites?" He repeats in an amused tone. I nod but don't look up. He strokes my jaw and lifts my chin. He is grinning at me and his eyes twinkle. "What's the reason behind that, kitten?" My heart beats faster as he withdraws his touch. My face feels suddenly cold.

"I don't know. I guess just because I can," I stammer dropping my gaze again. "I hear them up on the mountain, but I never see them. They have the claws and strength to maim and destroy, but they don't seek us out. Humans: the easiest and slowest of prey. Yes we have swords, and now that you're in town I'm sure we'll have more, but I think those great cats can get past them and still hurt us if they wanted. I respect them. The strong flavor from the apples and cinnamon, rolled inside a protective dough casing, topped with honey reminds me of them. The strong flavors make me think of their remarkable strength. The honey reminds me of the color of their fur. I'm sure they can be sweet and sour, like my kitty Leo. However, as a whole they are remarkable creatures." He chuckles and takes another bite.

"Like your remarkable turnovers. It's fitting. This is delicous and I love the name. Be sure to save me one everyday," he remarks.

"Fine, but only if you order it -by name- with a straight face," I demand. He finishes his turnover and winks.

"I will happily ask for cougar bites, bear claws, topsie-turvies, or whatever you come up with. You just have to share with me the names, kitten," he orders and I blush. "What?" I hold up a finger and duck back into my kitchen where I grab some peanut brittle, a blueberry scone, some raisin bread, and some divinity from my personal reserve so I had something fresh to eat too; it was always stuff that was burned a little or not as pretty to serve to others. Catherine looks at me curiously but I don't explain as I head back out to my counter. Buck smirks at me as I meet his eye again. I hear Catherine scuffle behind me, but I don't look.

"It's odd that you mention bear claws. Messy paws with a powerful punch," I murmur as I push the scone forward. "Beaver tails. They have many uses, but they are hard and rough, yet feel like leather. Which makes them interesting to me. However, I've never seen one up close in person without it being dried up. I don't think they're brittle, but I can only think of my peanut brittle as a beaver tail. Don't ask me why; I'm sure it doesn't make lick of sense," I explain as I hand over the peanut brittle. He chuckles softly and meets my eye as I hand over the raisin bread, making our hands brush. "Doesn't matter if I use raisins, cranberries, huckleberries, or dried cherries. Hawks have exceptional vision and can see food even through the mess of a field. So I call any fruit bread hawk eyes because the dried fruit is mixed into the grain and is like a pop of flavor that only your tongue can find. Some of the richer grain hides the fruit better, so it really is only like the tongue can find it. My divinity I call blunder dogs. I don't know why," I murmur and give him it all. He politely takes a bite of each item before going back for a second bite. I watch silently with baited breath as he eats my food.

"I don't think I'll be able to stay away if everything you make is this tantalizing. The names are fun and fitting," he praises and licks his fingers. I giggle and look down as he starts to open the bag on the counter "And I know that I brought you the right peace offering gift then." I grin and pull out several buckwheat plants. "You know what that is, don't you?" I nod and meet his eye again.

"Buckwheat. It's-"

"The chocolate of grains, versatile, can be eaten raw, and has many uses," he interrupts. I nod and giggle again.

"Thank you," I murmur.

"Don't thank me yet," he insists as he puts the second bag down. "Open it, kitten," he whispers. I do as I'm told.

"Raspberries!" I gasp as tears start to fill my eyes. "They're my favorite but I can never find them. Thank you! Again, welcome to the neighborhood. It is truly a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Danvenshire. My apologies for not having a proper gift in return. Clearly, you'll be the better neighbor."

"Just leaves room for improvement. I'm quite satisfied with the assortment of goodies you gave me. I have one simple request. Call me Buck, Miss Hatten."

"Only if you call me Clara," I reply with a blush. "I guess I don't mind kitten either. Only from you; it sounds so natural and right. Anyone else and it would just be weird," I add silently. He grins and looks down at the counter momentarily. Slowly he looks up and holds my gaze.

"Of course, Clara. Thank you for the treats. Until next time," he murmurs softly before he turns and leaves. All I can do is stare at the door as it closes behind him.

"So you met the newest member to the town. I found him to be rude. He hardly spoke to me; too busy I guess. However, he seems friendly enough with you. Maybe it's just because he's not stressing about getting his home built. Henry is excited we have him here. We've been needing a skilled blacksmith," Catherine remarks as she comes back into the front room. She waves her hand in front of my face. "Clara?"

"I think I need to close early today. I don't care if I don't sell out of my items tonight," I whisper, feeling like my heart had stopped. I walk over to my door and look out. "I have to close," I insist and lock my door. 

"What's wrong, Clara?" Catherine asks in that concerned mothering tone as she guides me to a chair.

"I don't know," I whisper as I look down at my dress and adjust my apron. 

"We'll, it's only tea time, but you need to eat," Catherine orders. I simply nod as she pours me a cup of coffee and makes me some soup. After eating and tidying up, I look down at my outfit again. 

"Excuse me." I duck around her and up to my bedroom where I change into pants and into more comfortable shoes. When I come back down, she looks at me sympathetically but full of distain. She thought I was crazy for turning my tattered dress into pants, but after her husband -Henry- and son -James- found me, they agreed that I most likely slipped on my dress. My pants were more suitable for climbing the mountain and less likely for me to snag. Henry and James tried to stop me once, but then decided against it after I refused to stay in town to get my fresh fruit. I convinced them once and for all after I made them fresh blueberry muffins using a batch of berries from the market and a batch of berries from the mountain; they agreed my mountain berries were better and refused to stop me from going up there again. However, after my spill last year, everyone in town agreed to come find me and I always had to give a time frame of how long I would be gone. It bothered me, but I liked that people cared and finally welcomed me as one of them, despite my different eyes. 

"Pants? How long are you planning on adventuring? Surely you know we don't need any more fresh berries at this time?" Catherine asks with a sigh. I nod.

"I know. No berries this time. I need to go for at least a day. The lake always clears my head," I whisper. She pulls me in for a warm embrace.

"I'll send my Henry up if I don't see you by nightfall tomorrow," she promises. I nod and put some goodies in my basket and start filling up a second basket.

"Take him the rest of the turnovers. You have worked hard and I'm proud to have you as my helper but more so as my friend," I tell her truthfully.

"Thank you, Clara. We're glad to have you in our lives too," she states as my cat jumps on the table and nuzzles her protruding belly. "And my baby can't get enough of the delicious goodies you make."

"Take care of Leo for me please. He seems attached to that baby already," I whisper as I hug her. She nods and scoops him up as she scratches his belly. I tuck the second basket around her arm. "Thanks, Catherine. For all that you do. I'll see you soon. Feel free to open on your own tomorrow. You've mastered several types of bread. Keep the money that comes in; you've earned it." She follows me out my back door and I lock it then give her the key. One more embrace and I take off towards the mountain as I quickly as I can; I have to make as much progress as possible before the sun sets because I plan on going beyond my usual stop. I make it to the lake in record time, pause long enough to catch my breath and get a drink of water, and head up the mountain more. I look up at the sun as I go; I have roughly four hours of daylight remaining and I have no idea how far I have to go. "Onward," I whisper as I turn off the beaten path, taking a new game trail that had been blazed by the wildlife. I am completely unsure of where I'm going now. I just feel like I'm being pulled that way. "That scared ground has to be up here somewhere. I will find it. I just gotta. I need answers," I state with sheer determination.

© 2017 Lynaelee

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Added on August 9, 2017
Last Updated on October 9, 2017



Sometimes I feel like I need an outlet to express myself. I have never been good with verbal communication, but I have always found an out in writing. I hurt. I bleed. I make mistakes. I cry. Yes,.. more..

If only If only

A Book by Lynaelee

1. *Prologue* 1. *Prologue*

A Chapter by Lynaelee