The Next Chapter
By Nandy Ekle
“Jeremy Dougan? Oh, yes, Jerry, I remember you! You were the little red-headed scrap of a boy from down the road. Come in, come in! Well, what a nice surprise! How nice of you to come visit me. Oh, my…. we have a lot of catching up to do.” The screen door opened and she grabbed his arm and pulled him inside to her warm kitchen. She plopped him into a chair with a plate of cookies sending their sweet aroma out to the neighborhood kids. She placed a napkin in his hand and a glass of milk on the table.
Feelings of comfort flooded over him as he looked around the room at the clutter of appliances, utensils, and cookbooks. He felt right at home. Jeremy had spent countless hours in this chair looking at the mixers and books, wooden spoons and measuring cups. A cat clock’s huge white eyes ticked eternally back and forth on one wall, and pictures of pink poodles decorated the wall around the window. Her cupcake canisters stood on the counter amid globs of batter, sparkly sugar, and flour dust.
She perched on the chair across the table from him and began pushing other treats in his direction. “Now, tell me about what has happened to you since you’ve grown up.”
“Well, I really need to ask you a few questions about Mr. Easley. I was told he rented a room from you.”
“Oh, yes, he did. I needed to make ends meet after Eli passed away.” She looked down at her lap in a quiet moment for her departed husband. “But I really want to hear about you, Dear. I remember you came over here nearly every day. Are you married? Do you have children?”
He grinned. “Miss Bitsy, I would have done anything for you to get a bit of those caramel brownies. I haven’t had anything like them since I moved away. Yes, I’m married but we don’t have any children yet. Did Mr. Easley ever tell you he was planning a trip?”
Grinning, she launched from her chair and walked to the pantry. “I happen to have a few caramel brownies right here.”
Jeremy thought drool would drip from his mouth as he watched her come back to the table with a plate of the gooey goodness. “Boy, I hit the jackpot today!” He nearly bounced in his seat as he grabbed one and put it on his plate. “Um, back to Mr. Easley,” he said. A glob of caramel stuck to his finger and sucked it off, not wanting to waste even a molecule of the stuff.
“Well, I can’t remember him ever saying anything about going anywhere. He just went to his classes and came back here. I don’t think he even had very many dates. Oh…. speaking of dates, you have to try my oatmeal date cake.” She turned and walked to the refrigerator.
Jeremy looked at the many school pictures of children and their drawings stuck to the refrigerator door by magnets. He didn’t recognize all of them, but in the upper right hand corner he saw his own young face next to Mark’s, his best bud eons ago. “Miss Bitsy, please…. you’re going to ruin my supper.”
“Nonsense. I remember how much you liked my desserts. It’s just wonderful to relive those old times.”
“When was the last time you saw Anton?”
“Oh, I guess it’s been a month or so. He’s such a sweet boy. I actually think of him like a grandson. He even gave me a Mother’s Day card last May. I think that’s the first one I got in a long time. I never had children of my own, you know. I guess that’s why I always enjoyed cooking for everyone in the neighborhood…. sort of my way of having a family to tend to. We wanted children, but it just never happened. Did you know I used to babysit some of the kids around here?”
“Oh, yeah. I remember Mark stayed with you some after his parents broke up.” Jeremy took a piece of oatmeal date cake.
“Well, I was much younger in those days. Anton and I have been good for each other. I can’t tell you what happened to him.”
“We’ll keep working on that mystery. This cake is wonderful! and the caramel brownies….I think I died and went to heaven. Miss Bitsy, you’re amazing.”
“Oh, thank you, Dear. It’s just the same old recipe I’ve always had.
“Now, you said you last saw Anton about a month ago?”
“Yes.” She stopped and looked up the stairs as if she’d heard a noise. Her expression changed to a dark frown, then back to her sweet, smiling self, as if a cloud had crossed her face.
“Miss Bitsy, are you okay?”