Maddie swabbed the stainless steel counter, folded the dish towel, and surveyed her domain—coffee percolated, beans ground, mugs at the ready, chairs pushed against chrome table edges. Tucking a stray strand of red hair behind her ear, she admired the counter’s gleam. Each morning was like starting over, without the stains that bespoke unruly lives. She spotted an errant jam smear next to the napkin pile and erased it with her cloth.

She glanced out the front picture window at the pewter sky, darker than usual for this time of the morning. The clouds pressed like thick blankets against the surrounding spruce trees, their pointy tops all that kept the land from suffocating. They’d be busier than usual for a Tuesday. The threat of weather always brought people in, coffee warding off the loneliness that blows in on the toe of a storm.

Plucking one of the blueberry scones from the batch Judy had dropped off earlier, still warm from the oven, she set it aside and arranged the others neatly on a platter, careful not to mess their swirled lemony glaze as she handled them. Scones with dinged frosting were always the last to go, as if their tainted dressing was a talisman of interior shortcomings.

Ting-a-ling. Ting-a-ling, the bells hanging from the front door handle jingled.

Seven years of listening to those blasted chimes hadn’t changed the way she felt about them. They grated on her nerves and she’d asked Lottie a few weeks after starting work, if she could give them up. Lottie just raised her eyebrows in that ‘Where’d you come from?’ way she had and suggested Maddie think of coins rattling onto her palm each time the bells jingled, for nobody walked into Road’s End Café without spending money.

The bells never sounded like a reward for a job well done. On the contrary, they jabbed her, reminders she hadn’t mastered prior tasks: flawless iron-creased button-down shirts, Architectural Digest’s invitation to feature her home, perfect pitch singing children.

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