Almost Eight Years Ago
One knock on the door, and my entire world was changed forever.
I’d prepared for that moment since Adam slipped the wedding band on my finger back when I was eighteen years old, young and naïve and invincible. I felt like I’d aged two decades in the past six years.
I would age even faster after the knock on the door. Every cop’s wife thinks about that moment, steels herself against the fear that her husband won’t return from his shift. Each time Adam left, I held my breath, wondering if this would be the time he wouldn’t come back.
When I saw the officer in dress uniform standing in the doorway, I knew all there was to know. I didn’t need to hear anything else after those words, even if I could have heard the rest of what he said over the sound of my own sobbing.
Adam Nelson. 1984-2008. Killed in the line of duty.
One sentence to sum up a whole life.
One knock on the door, and I was a widow at twenty-four years old.
I hadn’t told Adam I was pregnant. I had just found out. I was saving the news until after the first trimester.
He died not knowing he was a father.
It wasn’t until later that I found out everything I knew about Adam had been a lie.
“Shit.” I mutter the word under my breath as I glance up at the clock, wiping my flour-covered hands down the length of my apron. Why am I always running late? "Not running late" should be next years' New Years resolution. Of course, acquiring organizational skills and eating fewer cupcakes should probably be up there on the priority list too. In fact, if I had better organizational skills, I’d write that down on a sticky note or put it in a planner so I remembered the next time I was making resolutions.
“Opal, are you absolutely sure you’ve got things covered?" I ask. "I hate to leave you here manning the front and back of the store at the same time. We could easily shut down early.”
Opal rolls her eyes at me as she walks through the kitchen, headed toward the front of the store. My kitchen. I bought the bakery a few months ago, yet it still feels strange to think about this place as my own. I’d never owned anything before this, not even a house, and here I am running my own business. Cupcakes and Cappuccinos is my store, a combination coffee shop and bakery. "It's Monday. This place isn’t exactly teeming with activity,” she says as she breezes past me, the door swinging behind her.
"I have the Peterson anniversary cake," I call, hanging my apron on a hook and following her to the front. "I'll drop the cupcakes off at Chloe's school and then I'll be back to decorate it."
"Take your time. The bakery won't burn down in the hour or two you're gone." Opal tsk-tsks me the way she always does before slowly meandering around with a cloth in her hand to clean the empty tabletops. A handful of customers are scattered throughout the front of the store reading newspapers and typing on their laptops.
Opal shakes her head at me because I can't let go of my city roots, the rush-rush-rush of life that people in West Bend, Colorado just don't seem to possess. Everything moves slower here, and everyone seems to like it that way. I'm the odd one out, too high strung for this place, perpetually juggling a hundred different things and feeling like I'm failing at all of them.
Opal has been here since I bought the bakery. She came with it, a carryover from the prior owners. She was the only employee who stayed after I bought it – and not by my choice. I wanted to keep the other existing employees as well, but she was the only one who wanted to stay and work for me.
I came to West Bend, far removed from Chicago and the weight of my husband's name, in order to shed my past. Within days of my and Chloe's arrival, rumors spread that we were hiding something – that we were in the witness protection program or fleeing from an abusive man, or even that I was a felon evading the authorities. Town residents decided that I was a woman to be either hated or pitied.
All of the residents except Opal.
Opal just shook her head and clucked her tongue, all too aware of the drama apparently inherent with living in a small town. She's a fixture in West Bend, born and raised here, and is probably the most even-keeled person I've ever met. “People in this town got no business poking their nose in your past,” she’d said. “Glass houses and all that. Besides, we all got pasts. Don’t let it bother you. They’ll come around eventually. People always do.”
The first month, I cried myself to sleep most nights convinced this entire thing was a mistake. I could count the number of customers on one hand that came through the bakery that month. But then, by the second month we were here, customers began slowly trickling in and we started to build up regular business.