The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe

By: Mary Simses

Chapter 1

A Cold Welcome

Don’t move, it’s not safe!”

I heard someone yell, but it was too late. The wooden planks of the dock sagged beneath me and then gave way. Boards splintered, rotted lumber snapped, and I plunged ten feet into the frigid Maine ocean.

Maybe there was a second when I could have seen the man running onto the dock, calling out for me to stop. If I had just turned twenty degrees to my right I would have noticed him racing across the beach toward the pier, waving his arms. But I had the viewfinder of my Nikon camera pressed against my eye and I was zooming in on something across the water—a statue of a woman in a ruffled dress holding what appeared to be a bucket of grapes.

As I fought my way to the surface, my arms and legs scrambling, my heart banging in my chest, and my teeth chattering from the cold water, I knew I was moving and moving fast. A strong, swift current was spinning me around and pulling me away from the dock. I came to the surface coughing, the sea around me choppy, foamy, full of sand. And I was still moving, heading away from the dock and the beach, waves hitting me, filling my mouth and nose with salt water. My arms and legs began to go numb and I couldn’t stop shaking. How could the ocean be so cold at the end of June?

I tried to swim against the current, giving the Australian crawl my best effort, kicking as hard as I could and pushing the water away until my limbs ached. I was going into deeper water, the current still moving fast.

You used to be a good swimmer when you were at Exeter, I tried to remind myself. You can swim to shore. The little voice in my head was trying to sound confident, but it wasn’t working. Panic raced to the ends of my fingers and toes. Something had happened in all those intervening years. Too much time spent sitting at a desk, dealing with legal briefs and acquisitions, time not spent practicing the butterfly stroke.

Suddenly the current that had grabbed me stopped moving. I was surrounded by mounds of black water and foamy whitecaps. In front of me lay the open ocean, dark and infinite. I turned and for a moment I couldn’t see anything but more hills of water. Then I bobbed up to the crest of a wave and the dock and beach appeared, far away and tiny. I began the crawl again, aiming toward shore—breathing, stroking, breathing, stroking. It was tough going and my legs felt so heavy. They didn’t want to kick any longer. They were just too tired.

I stopped and began to tread water, my arms so exhausted I wanted to cry. I felt a searing pain in my chin, and when I touched my face there was blood on my finger. Something had cut me, probably during the fall.

The fall. I didn’t even know how it happened. I had only wanted to see the town from the water, the way my grandmother must have seen it when she was growing up here in the 1940s. I had walked across the beach, opened a gate, and stepped onto the dock. Some of the boards were missing and a few of the handrails were gone, but everything seemed fine until I stepped on a plank that felt a little too soft. I could almost feel myself free-falling again.

A wave slapped my face and I swallowed a mouthful of water. I felt the Nikon twist and turn against me and realized it was still around my neck, like a stone dragging me down. The camera would never work again. I knew that. With my hand shaking, I lifted the camera’s neck strap over my head.

A memory of my last birthday flashed through my mind—dinner at the May Fair in London, my fiancé, Hayden, handing me a box wrapped in silver paper and a card that said, “Happy Thirty-fifth, Ellen—I hope this will do justice to your amazing talent.” Inside the box was the Nikon.

I opened my hand and let the strap slip through my fingers. I watched the camera drift into blackness and felt my heart break when I imagined it at the bottom of the ocean.

And then I started to think that I wasn’t going to make it back. That I was just too cold and too tired. Closing my eyes, I let the blackness envelop me. I heard the swooshing sound of the ocean all around me. I thought about my mother and how terrible it would be never to see her again. How would she cope with two deaths barely a week apart—first my grandmother and then me?

I thought about Hayden and how I had assured him before leaving this morning that I would be in Beacon for only one night, two at the most. And how he had asked me to wait a week so he could go with me. I had said no, it was going to be a quick trip. No big deal. It’s Tuesday, I had said. I’ll be back in Manhattan tomorrow. And now, just three months before our wedding, he would find out that I wasn’t coming back.

I could feel myself letting go, letting the water take me, and it felt calm, so peaceful. An image of my grandmother standing in her rose garden, holding a pair of pruning shears, fluttered through my mind. She was smiling at me.