Fiction by L.K. Campbell

Aunt Eve's Last Bite

The aroma of baking apple turnovers beckoned Celeste along the path from her cottage to the hotel kitchen. Upon entering the building, she saw Henrietta taking one pan of the pastries from the oven and inserting a second pan. Her part-time cook didn’t wear a chef’s uniform. She wore a floral print pinafore apron over a gray house dress. It reminded Celeste of her hometown church ladies at the fall plate sales.

“Good morning, Henrietta.”

“Morning, Mrs. Adams.”

“When will you start calling me Celeste? You’re a few years older than I am, but I feel as if we’re contemporaries.”

In the linen closet, Celeste found a clean white apron to wear while handling and serving the food. She tied it around her waist and slipped on her rubber gloves.

“But you’re the boss,” Henrietta said. “And it’s hard to change what you’ve been taught all your life.”

“That’s true, but it’s not impossible.” Pulling the cord, Celeste raised the shade covering the passthrough window. “Promise me you’ll try.”

“Okay, one day I’ll shock you and call you by your first name.”

Celeste laughed and rolled the cart containing paper plates, napkins, and disposable utensils into the café. She placed those onto the serving table under the passthrough window. On the other side of the room, a wet bar acted as the coffee and beverage station. She started two pots of coffee brewing—regular and decaf. A small refrigerator under the counter held bottles of assorted juice, including Granny Belle’s Apple Juice. She took out several bottles and set them next to the coffee cups.

“Food trays are up,” Henrietta said.

On the window shelf, Henrietta had placed trays of scrambled eggs, link sausage, toasted bread, three plates of assorted, sliced fruit, and the apple turnovers. Celeste took them down and arranged them on the serving table.

“Mrs. Adams, I hear someone knocking on the kitchen door.”

“I wonder who? I’m certainly not expecting any deliveries today.”

She went to the kitchen door, and Lucas Penny’s smile greeted her on the other side.

“I apologize for coming to this door. I know it’s only for staff and deliveries,” he said. “Uncle Arnold wanted me to join him for breakfast and according to your sign, the front door requires a guest key card to unlock it before eight a.m.”

She stood aside for him to enter.

“You’re welcome to come in this way, but the video doorbell at the front rings to an app on my phone. I would’ve let you in that way, too.”

“I’ll remember that,” he said. “It’s just now seven. Have any of my family come down for breakfast yet?”

“I don’t think so,” she said. “But go ahead and serve yourself. The coffee is fresh, and I’ve put the food out.”

“Did you see my sister arrive last night?”

She shook her head. “No, but I didn’t stay to greet everyone yesterday. I left them in Maddie’s capable hands.”

“Her text said she had a bombshell to drop on me,” he said. “With Sarah, excuse me, Tazewell, I’m not sure whether to be excited or worried. Let’s hope she hasn’t published another exposé on Granny Belle. I don’t think Aunt Eve could take it.”

“Likely not,” Celeste said with a chuckle.

She followed him into the café and helped him push three tables together. After he arranged enough chairs for the family, Lucas surveyed the buffet.

“Are these apple turnovers made with our apples?”

“Yes, we wouldn’t use anything else,” Celeste said. “Henrietta bakes them every Saturday morning.”

“They smell wonderful, and I’m not waiting for my family to taste one.”

Other guests entered the café, and she excused herself to greet them. Grateful to have a full house for Easter weekend, she took a moment to welcome each person and point them to the different entrees. Her good spirits plummeted a notch when Eve Tolliver entered the room complaining.

“My bed was comfortable enough, but the shower’s water pressure is so high I couldn’t get a decent lather out of my shampoo.”

Lucas ushered her to the tables he’d set aside for the family. “I wish I had high pressure at my house, Aunt Eve,” he said. “But we need to practice water conservation, too.”

Hugh moved next to Celeste. “Don’t worry, Mrs. Adams. Mom always finds something to criticize.”

“We had a few bad reviews concerning low water pressure,” Celeste said. “So I installed special shower heads to compensate.” She lowered her voice and whispered, “It’s almost impossible to please everyone.”

“Some more difficult than others,” he said. “Please keep in mind she’s in the middle of a divorce right now.”

Celeste noticed Eve walking toward them.

“Are you discussing my divorce with Mrs. Adams?”

Nothing wrong with her hearing.

“No, Mom,” he lied.

“I could’ve sworn I heard the word divorce,” she said. “And I’m the only one currently with a broken marriage unless there’s something you and Lacee haven’t told me.”

“Don’t get your hopes up,” Lacee whispered loud enough for Celeste to hear her.

Hugh’s wife had come down to breakfast clad in leggings and a jersey tunic top. Though she wore less makeup than the previous day, she’d still taken time to apply foundation and lipstick. She had piled her dark blonde mane into a bun on top of her head.

“Lacee, even at seven in the morning, you look impeccable,” Eve said. “I wish you’d share your secret with me.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Tolliver. There’s no secret. I just take a little extra time in the morning.”

Her smirk didn’t escape Celeste’s eye nor did Eve’s follow-up comment to Hugh.

“I guess she has to be ready at all times if any paparazzi pop out of the bushes.”

Hugh held up an index finger. “Mom, don’t be ugly.”

Eve leaned toward Celeste. “All I’m saying is if her singing career didn’t take off when she was twenty, how does she expect to recapture it at forty-eight? And the money they’ve spent…”

“Mom, please, I don’t want to hear about this all weekend,” Hugh said.

Lucas waved an apple turnover under Eve’s nose. “Please, try one of these, Aunt Eve. They do Granny Belle proud.”

“Please try a bite, Eve,” Celeste heard Arnold say. “I bet you’ll like it.”

Taking Arnold’s arrival as her cue to make a discreet exit, Celeste said, “If you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to the kitchen.”

On her way, she picked up an empty tray from the table and deposited it in the kitchen sink. “Your turnovers received high praise from Lucas and Arnold, Henrietta.”

“I’m glad I made plenty,” she said. “The café is filling up.”

“This year has started off well,” Celeste said. “If it keeps up through the Spring and Summer, it might be our best yet.”

“Mr. Adams would be happy. You’ve done him proud.”

She swallowed the lump in her throat caused by Henrietta’s praise. “Do you have more sausage ready?”

“Yes, ma’am, it’s on the shelf.”

Celeste carried the tray to the table. Hoping to recognize Lucas’ sister from her website photo, she scanned the room for Tazewell and her husband. They hadn’t joined the family for breakfast yet. I guess Lucas will have to wait for his bombshell. She gave the buffet a quick look. We need more scrambled eggs, too. She returned to the kitchen and prepared another tray only to almost drop them on the floor when she heard an ear-piercing shriek in the café.

Henrietta spun toward the window. “What in the world?”

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ISBN-13: 9798201937973 

Language: English

Words: 49,067

Published On: Dec 26, 2023

Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » General Fiction » Mystery & detective » Cozy