A sigh of relief ran through me when I saw the SUV pull up outside my house. I knew it was Tess Martinez and her family.
It was warm, but not too warm for June. I ran outside and greeted them. Ana had grown over a foot since I last saw her, but she was still petite like her mom, and Nina was as adorable as ever and about to tower over her older sister. But this was the first time I’d laid eyes on Joey. I expected to see a dark-haired clone of his father. Instead, he had blond hair like his mom, and those dark eyes like his dad’s. Ana’s little arms wrapped around my waist, as Nina hid behind her father.
Rumbling in the sky, told me that a thunderstorm was approaching. I hurried everyone inside. “Who wants food?” I asked. “I’ve got a delicious cream of lettuce soup, and pulled pork for sandwiches.”
“That pork sandwich sounds good, ” Jose said. “I’m hungry.”
“Great! I’ll fix dinner as you guys settle in. Make yourselves at home.” I listened to the two not-so-little girls squeal with delight when they discovered their room and the gifts I had wrapped and left for them. Having children in the house was going to be fun.
Tess looked adorable. After giving birth to three children, she still had her figure. Her short, blonde hair was cut in almost the same style, as it was when I saw her last. Jose looked as if he’d gained a few pounds, but he wasn’t overweight. He looked bulkier and his shoulders were broader. I was trying to remember how long it had been since I’d seen them. It must have been the summer before they had moved to the farmhouse. That was at least five years ago.
Ana remembered me, and that made me feel good. I wasn’t just a name on a Christmas package or a birthday gift.
Everyone thought I was crazy when I bought this big house and the coffee shop on Main Street. But I wanted a place where family and friends could gather. So far it’s been ideal. Having my Goddaughter and her family stay with me for the wedding was going to be great.
A flash of lightning lit up the sky and was followed by a loud rolling boom. Now I was grateful that Tess had called when they were just a few miles away. The table was set and the food was ready. Another flash of lightning and my lights flickered with it. Oh no! Oh, yes. My pretty copper candelabra, hanging over the table, flickered off, as did the coffeepot and every other electric item in the house. It would stay light until almost nine in the evening, if the sun had been shining, except the storm had darkened the sky.
In the pantry, I found some fat candles and Sterno. I placed three candles on the table and two on my kitchen counters. I set the little Sterno fueled warmer in the counter, lit the Sterno, and placed the glass coffee carafe on it before lighting the candles. As I transferred the milk from its paper carton to the ceramic pitcher, shaped like a fire hydrant with a hose attached, I heard the pitter-patter of feet.
“May I help, Auntie Eez?” Ana asked. It seemed all the children had picked up my husband’s nickname for me and used it. Eez has very little to do with Elizabeth and a whole lot to do with the number of e’s in my entire name. But all these years later, I’m simply Eez to close family and friends.
“Yes, you may.” I handed her the container of half and half and the cute little cow pitcher to pour it in.
Nina hung back and looked around the room before making her way to the large windows that circled the table. Water ran in sheets over the panes, distorting the view beyond. She jumped when another bolt lit up the sky but seemed more ready for the loud thunder that followed.
I was grateful they had made it here before the storm hit, and they weren’t trying to drive in the downpour. I let Ana help with setting the food on the table. A few minutes later, everyone was sitting around my big antique table chatting as they fixed their plates. Slowly, Nina was coming out of her shell, but Joey didn’t have an ounce of shyness in him.
“Did you buy the eggs and the other supplies?” Tess asked.
“Yes. It’s all at the coffee shop. I figured it would be better for you there than here with the children. Your stuff is in the big walk-in, and it’s clearly marked.”
“Great. I’ve called Samantha a dozen times and sent her photos of cakes. I know exactly what she wants.”
“She stopped by the coffee shop the other day and she was a nervous wreck. She wants everything perfect, and she’s worried it won’t be.”
Tess shook her head. “That’s Samantha. She’s been a perfectionist all her life.” Tess ate a forkful of potato salad. “I’ve got everything packed in that SUV, including punch bowls.”
“You are welcome to anything I have at the coffee shop.”
“Thanks, I appreciate it. Any chance I can go over there tonight and get my bearings?”
“No problem, we can scoot over after dinner or after the children are in bed.”
Tess turned to her husband. “Do you mind keeping the kids?”
“You go. I stay.”
I smiled at Jose. English was his third spoken language and he tended to be a man of few words. “In the cabinet, below the TV, there’s a ton of DVD’s for children, if we get our power back on and it’s not too late. Who wants homemade ice cream for dessert?”
“I do,” three young voices said in unison, followed by an echo of please.
I looked at their almost clean plates. Tess was doing a fine job raising these children. Normally, I would have lifted the ice cream tub from the unit, but since the lights were out, it was better to keep it in the unit surrounded with all the ice. I removed the top and scooped generous amounts into my old-fashioned sundae glasses. Tess cleared the table and served everyone. There was barely anything left over and without power, it wasn’t worth opening the refrigerator to save what little there was.
“There’s microwave popping corn in the pantry. If our electricity returns, make yourself at home, Jose.”
“I don’t think we’ll be very long on Main Street. If the power doesn’t return, I’ve got a fire pit and we can make kettle corn.”
“Really?” Nina’s big brown eyes grew wide.
“There are board games hiding in that old chest in the living room. Go find one. Jose, there are several oil lamps in there, if you dare to light them around the children.”
Tess and I carried flashlights as we walked to the coffee shop. The air smelled wonderful, all green and wet. Normally, I would have used the back door entrance, but I wanted Tess, to see exactly where everything was, since the revitalization had taken place on Main Street.
“Here’s the florist and I’m right next door.” I pulled the key from my pocket and slipped it in the lock of my door. It opened with a clang of the little overhead bell. I walked across the old wood floor and punched in the security code so that I didn’t set off the alarm. There was still plenty of light, but I lit an old oil lamp and put it on a table. “I bought beverage carriers. I’ll make the coffee and fill the carriers. You can pour from the carriers into the big electric urns.” I handed her a cardboard box filled with a special bag for holding hot liquids.
“They are perfect! Were they expensive?”
“Not cheap, but not too expensive. I intend to use them here. That way people can buy a gallon of brewed coffee.”
She followed me into the kitchen on the other side of a set of swinging doors that separated it from the public areas.
“Oh, this is perfect. Will I be in your way?” Tess opened the big commercial oven door.
“I made extra muffins this morning, and I have strawberry shortcake fixings in the walk-in.” I opened the door to the walk-in refrigerator. “Here’s everything from your list.”
Tess was already looking in the big box with her name on it. “Auntie Eez, you are the best. Samantha is so lucky. It might be a small wedding, but it’s going to be lovely.”
“I’d say Samantha is lucky to have you for a friend. Not many young women get a professional cake and all the catering for free.”
“Make that cakes. I’m going to do a Groom’s Cake, too. It’s my gift to her.”
“I’ve enlisted some help tomorrow for the front, so I’m free to help you.” I went into my storage room and pushed a stainless steel cart from the room into the kitchen. “Check this out. Two cold and three hot.”
“I brought my big chafing dishes with me, but this is so much better. We can set this up on their back porch.”
“That’s what I thought.”
I watched Tess breathe a sigh of relief.
Suddenly, the lights flickered and the electricity returned to Main Street. It was my turn to sigh with relief. Keeping three children occupied without electricity had worried me. But trying to help Tess create a perfect wedding for her very bestest friend, as she used to call Samantha when they were probably younger than Tess’ own girls, has worried me more.
Tess’ father was part owner of the small nursery on the outskirts of town. And he was loaning the Hunter’s a yard full of plants. There were a lot of people trying to make sure that Samantha’s wedding would be special. I just hoped that it would be the perfect wedding. But are any weddings really perfect? Maybe.
I thought back over a few of them that I’ve attended in the last few years. They say that the average wedding costs around twenty thousand dollars. Personally, I think that money would be better used for college or to pay down college loans. This wedding was being put together with shoestrings. It was going to be modest, very modest, but Tess was determined to make it wonderful. “By the time you’re done, there are going to be a lot of people who will want you catering for them. Are you sure you want to stay in River City?”
Tess laughed as we walked to the front of the coffee shop. “I love my parents, but Jose and I belong in River City. He’s got a great job and I’ve got more work than I can handle. I had to turn down a job to do this for Samantha.”
“I think I’d better make kettle corn tonight. I wouldn’t want to disappoint Nina.”
Jose and Tess Martinez live in River City in an area known as the lake district. Her cakes are delicious and positively gorgeous. What started as a little dream while she was still pregnant with Joey has bloomed into a full business, complete with a truck. She’s got a kitchen Jose built for her that is separate from the old farmhouse that they rent from Mac McGuire. She’s been known to cater some big jobs, but it’s her cakes that have made her successful.
I hope everyone visits River City and falls in love with the city and its people. Look for all my River City novels on Amazon, B&N, iTunes, and other favorite retailers of fine books for e-readers.
I’ll be back here on the June 12 to set up for the wedding and you’ll get to read about the beautiful cake that Tess will make for her best childhood friend. May everyone have that one special friend who will stand on her head to make sure something is exactly what you want.