Bread and Promises: A Thornton Vermont Christmas Story

Previous: Part 2: Juliet

Part 3

Photo by Jill Heyer on Unsplash

A sullen drizzle rolled in on the heels of the recent snow, warming the air and turning the charming snow to wet, cold muck. It wasn’t unlike home.

Hamish gave Kate a token argument when she invited him to stay with her for the holiday. He’d be in the way. They were newlyweds (at which Kate had snorted—they’d been married four years). He’d turned up unannounced… But in the end, it felt good to land somewhere for a while.

Waking to an empty house on a Wednesday, he spent the morning by the fireplace with a hot mug of coffee and his laptop, but by the time his belly rumbled for lunch, he’d worked up a craving for fresh bread.

The bread might be ready for a late supper, and in the meantime, Kate had a well-stocked kitchen.

He was rummaging in Kate’s kitchen, pulling out a twelve quart tub and a scale, seeking out her bin of flour and warming the water, when a brisk knock surprised him. He dropped the copper bowl Kate used for salt, scattering fine grains across the marble counter. He absentmindedly tossed a pinch over his left shoulder to ward of a devil he didn’t believe in, and made his way to the door.

Standing on the porch, shaking rain from an umbrella that looked like a Tiffany lampshade, was the woman he’d knocked down on the street a few days before.

“Hello.” Just the sight of her made him smile. He couldn’t have said why any more than he could have explained with words how scone dough should feel. 

The woman stepped back, blinking. “What are you doing here?”

Unlike Kate’s effusive reception days before, this time the same question pierced his chest like an arrow. His smile cooled. 

“I’m a guest. They’re out at the moment.”

A small furrow formed between her perfectly shaped brows. “I’m sorry. That was rude. I’m Juliet. Chen. I’m supposed to meet Kate here…” She let the sentence slide away, only making Hamish more curious.

He’d never been one to hold a grudge, so he gallantly swung the door open to usher her inside.

“I’m early,” she said. “It didn’t occur to me that Kate might not be home.”

“I’ve no idea where they are. I slept in.” Hamish followed her, suddenly aware of his ratty sweatpants and faded t-shirt from Fiona’s former band.

Juliet hung her coat on a hook in the entryway before wiggling her feet out of black wellies. She kept her bag close, but Hamish realized she’d been to the house before. She knew Kate preferred no shoes in the house when the weather was bad.

“Can I make you a cup of coffee?” Hamish volunteered, suddenly wanting to improve her impression of him.

“I’d like that. Thank you.” Juliet set her bag on the floor next to a bar height chair at the marble-topped island, but didn’t sit. Instead she peered at the wet mass of flour and water in the bin. “What are you making?”

“Bread,” he said, scooping grounds into the filter basket. “I wanted it for lunch, but since I didna think to start it until just now, it’ll have to wait for supper.” He winced inwardly. The Scot was slipping out a bit. “D’you mind if I…” He gestured weakly at the bin.

“Oh, no. Please.”

The coffee maker began to gurgle, and Juliet took a tentative seat opposite him. Hamish filled a bowl with cool tap water and dunked his hand  before reaching in to mix the flour and warm water together.

Juliet regarded the wet paste in the bin with pursed lips. “You mix it by hand?”

He winked at her, saving her from his personal philosophy on artisanal baking. “Saves on dishes. So, what brings you to Kate and Ewan’s house?”

“What brings you to Kate and Ewan’s house?” She brought her fingers to her lips with a tiny gasp, as though her blunt question surprised even her.

“Fair enough.” He rinsed his hand and wrapped a shower cap over the bin. “I studied baking in Paris wi’ Kate. I’m having a bit of a personal crisis of late, so I left Edinburgh to travel the world. I was fresh out of a student rideshare from New Brunswick when I crashed into you the other day.”

He’d avoided looking at her face while he confessed his wandering, but now he looked up from his work, rinsing out the bowl and drying his hands. She blushed a hothouse rose color, high on her wide cheekbones.

“I’m writing about Kate… I’m a journalist. I—” Her eyes widened, and Hamish was certain he saw tears glisten there before she mastered herself.

“Dinna fash, Juliet.” He put on the Scot, sounding for all he was worth like something from Outlander, sending her a reassuring grin. He knew the cure for tears. “The coffee’s ready, and I’ve a sudden notion to make scones.”

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