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Fresh Faith

By Elise Phillips

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"Oh you have got to be kidding me."

"No, Miss Abbott, I am not. You have inherited a bakery. Now let's discuss the terms of your grandfather's will."

"Can I have a minute? I need to process this."

The stiff and formal man smiled at me, kindness radiating out from him. John Coulter. I'd just met him but he appeared to be a stand-up kind of man. Perfectly sane and all that. Not someone who'd make up wild stories. He had to be making up what he'd just told me though. There was no way it was real.

"This is crazy."

"It's what Harry wanted. He left a video too. He knew you wouldn't believe the will alone."

Harry. My grandfather. I had never met him. Never even seen a picture of him. Clearly he'd kept tabs on me though and had some sort of love for me to have left me his bakery. It was all so surreal though.

I started to protest but John turned his laptop around to face me, a video of my grandfather appearing on the screen. His bald head shined in the sunlight streaming in through an unseen window on his left. I looked around and realized I was sitting in the same spot he'd been in, the same window was casting a square of light over my head, the same collection of paintings populated by flying duck and armed men in camouflage hung behind us both.
"Is this thing running, Johnny?" His voice was rough, each word clipped and short. He glared at the camera, grumpy at the world. For some reason that didn't surprise me at all. The very few times my mom had told me about her father she had made him sound like a difficult man, a cruel man. Grumpy fit more with the man I was seeing. Not awful, just gruff and surly. As he and John grumbled back and forth on screen I just stared. He was a stranger to me. His craggy face. His mouth framed with deep creases. He looked worn out by life. His eyes though -- bright green and clear. Those were familiar. Those were my mom's eyes. Those were my eyes. With a bit of familiarity to anchor me, I caught more similarities. The dent on the bridge of his nose. The little gap between his top two front teeth. I saw the same features in my own face each time I looked in a mirror. I wondered if he'd once had red hair too or if Mom and I had gotten that from my grandmother.

"Now you listen here, Joy Claire Abbott. I'm some of the only family you've got left and I'm dying." He paused, coughing -- a deep, ugly sound which made me wince. "Your mom took off with you when you were just a baby so I know you don't know who I am. I've tried to keep track of you both. I know she lost you when she got lost herself. I know you've also made a name for yourself as a better than average baker. If you're watching this, I've kicked it so now is your chance. This bakery has been in our family since it was built. It's yours now, but you've got to work for it. I want you to stay here, in Rio Verde, for a year. Run the shop. You know how, Abbotts have been baking for generations. It's in your DNA. So for a year you stay put. You run the shop. You make a go of it. After the year is up you can sell it if you want. For a year though you're going to try to do what your mother never could. Stay put and give this place a chance."

He started to cough again, going white. Mr. Coulter appeared on the edge of the frame, handing him a bottle of water. Harry drank and composed himself again.

"Get yourself to church too, girl. That is part of the terms as well. Write it down, Johnny. I want the girl to get to know the Lord."

The video froze and John turned the laptop back around, closing it. "There you have it, from the man himself."

"Is all of this really legal?" It was the only thing I could think to ask. My mind was full of questions. Questions I knew full well the gray-haired lawyer couldn't even begin to answer for me.

"It is. It is his estate. He could put any terms on it he wanted to. I've seen stranger demands."

I leaned back in the chair, the leather squeaking as I moved. For a while I just sat and thought. I couldn't believe the luck. Things like this never happened to me. I didn't trust it, but I was curious enough to want to know more.

"So what does all this mean?" I finally asked.

Mr. Coulter rested his arms on the desk, sliding the will toward me. "I think you know, Miss Abbott."

"I'm home and the newest owner of Abbott Bakery?"

"Looks like it."

A voice inside me whispered to just get up and leave. It was a familiar voice. It had kept me moving around, wandering the country, since I was eighteen. I took the will, laying it in the empty chair beside me. There didn't appear to be any way out of this -- at least not a way that I wanted to take. Of course I could just refuse the inheritance. I didn't want to though. In the past week I'd run out of options. Lost my job. Got evicted out of my apartment. I had maybe a grand in my bank account and everything I owned had fit into my old Bronco SUV a little too easily. I could go to Las Vegas, see if Mom was still living there. Staying here and running a bakery was probably much less likely to end in a fight or tears. It might be nice to have something steady for once. Something I wasn't renting or borrowing from someone else. It would be nice to have a safety net. I'd never had one of those.

"So what's the next step?"

"Let's head over to the bakery and discuss it. You'll need to see the condition of things in person. I'll just call Will and have him meet us there."

"Call who?"

"Will. Will Bell. He's the executor of your grandfather's estate."

"You mean you're not..."

"Oh goodness no. I'm not a money guy. Will took over Harry's finances a while back. He's great with numbers. From here on out you'll work with him. He'll handle the bakery's finances until your year is up and you assume ownership of everything."

As he picked up the phone, I grabbed the will and moved to see myself out. Mr. Coulter whispered to meet them at the bakery when I stood. I nodded in agreement then escaped the office, fleeing to the street below. From the front doors of the law office I could see Abbott Bakery. It sat on one corner of the city square. The center of the city. Beside it was the Rio Verde bank building, then a hardware store. A quick forty-five degree turn and another block of businesses. Then another and another. The square of businesses circled a grassy park crowned by a stone gazebo. The park held several huge trees, the leaves just starting to turn towards their fall colors. Everything looked old in this square. No, historic. It all looked like it had been here for generations. I turned back to the bakery. Two stories of deep red brick, it was a narrow building. The Rio Verde Bank took up the majority of the block, leaving just a sliver on either end for the bakery and the hardware store.

I walked closer, appraising the building as I crossed the street. The second floor was full of tall windows, each crowned with a white rectangle of stone. The white and red was a contrast I loved. I pictured a bright, open loft inside and hoped I was right. Over the front door on a white lintel stone was the date 1910. Over one hundred years old. From the outside it looked like it was still in good shape. The windows flanking the front door had sheets of plywood nailed over them and a closed for business sign was taped to the door itself. Goodness knows what was waiting for me inside. I stepped backward off the curb, look up at the front of the bakery. If it was possible, the place looked sad and a little lost. Both things I understood well. I hoped that for once, staying in one place for longer than six months wouldn't bite me in the butt. I hoped maybe, just maybe, I had finally found home.

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