The Grocery store is nearly devoid of people this early in the morning. There are a few mothers with their young children. I stop at the entrance frozen for a moment.
“What’s wrong Morgan?” Layla asks as soon as she realizes I’m no longer right behind her.
“I, um,” I feel my face heat up, “I have no money.”
Layla smiles. “I think I can spend a few dollars to let you bake us something home cooked.”
“Are you sure?”
She laughs. I like her laugh. It’s like Katha’s. “Of course I am.”
I take a deep breath and walk in. Despite the fact that there is no one here I still feel out of place. Queen Helena’s speech has had time to sink in. The mothers are whispering, worried for their children’s future. Some think war is necessary to secure the future. Others think it will break it. We make our way to the cooking isle with a cart. It seems so ordinary to me. But then I guess you can’t use your affinities for everything.
As I collect what I need Layla examines the other items. “Powdered milk? Who knew there was such a thing,” I hear her mutter. I guess she really doesn’t cook. Mom always did, no matter how tired she was. Grandma B too.
“Hey Mrs. Romero,” a familiar male voice calls down to us.
“Hey Theo,” Layla looks away from the spices.
I place a four pound container of sugar in the cart and give Theo an absent wave. At least they have brands I’m familiar with here. There’s one thing Grandma B has taught me. Don’t skimp where it counts.
“Morgan!” he bounces over. “What are you doing here? And why are you with Katha’s mom, no wait I know Katha’s still sleeping right?”
I nod as I place ten pounds of flour into the cart. Theo keeps right on talking until Layla interrupts him.
“Theo,” is all she says, but it quiets him down for a moment.
I pick up one of the large bottles of vanilla extract, cinnamon, nutmeg and a few other spices.
“So what are you doing?” He is watching me.
“She’s gathering ingredients for baking.”
“Baking?” Theo looks at me eyes wide. “You can bake?”
“My grandmother taught me,” I respond as we move to produce and I begin selecting apples. I don’t think I’ve ever seen apples as perfect as these. “I find it soothing to my nerves,” I continue trying to make Theo stop staring at me. It works, in a way.
“Nerves?” he bursts out as we move to the dairy section of the store. “Why in the world are you nervous?”
“She has a lot on her mind right now Theo.” Layla saves me from answering.
“Well it better not be the test, because if she failed then we all failed. And there is no way she failed.”
Finally we make it to the cash register. My eyes bulge at the total. I begin to apologize while Layla pays, but she shushes me. “I can cover this Morgan, after what Theo and Katha have told me about the Trials I think I owe you. Though,” she laughs as we walk out. “I’ll let you do the baking because I don’t think I could cook up anything eatable.”
The three of us carry the groceries back to Layla and Katha’s house. I suspect Theo is using his air affinity to help, seeing as he took the two heaviest bags leaving Layla and I the lightest. Before long I’ve got them peeling and slicing apples while I work on the pie crust and spice mix.
Theo starts talking again, but I pay no attention to the words that pass between them. I have entered the zone. I feel as though Grandma B’s hands are guiding mine. Or maybe it’s Mom’s. I wonder how she feels about Dad falling in love again. I think she’d be happy. I think she was sorry I didn’t meet him sooner. Funny how it was the ghost of the girl that broke them apart brought us together.
“What’s going on?”
I look up from preparing the second pie to see Katha standing bleary eyed on the bottom step of the stairs.
“Morgan’s baking.” Theo grins.
“So I see.” Katha mutters as she fishes around me for cereal and milk.
I turn back to baking. Someone takes a deep breath of the pie scented air. “Well good morning Mrs. B,” Dad chuckles as he ruffles my hair. As suspected the scent of a pie in the oven has roused him from sleep.
“Cereal?” Katha offers him the box.
“Naw I’ll wait for some pie, thank you.” I hear Dad pull out a chair and sit down at the table. “That first one is for us right?”
“Of course, I wouldn’t break Grandma B’s golden rule,” I laugh as I pull the first pie from the oven.
“I can’t believe I’m sitting here, about to eat a pie baked by the Council’s next Ollerond.” Theo inhales the scent of the pie as I set it on the table.
“What?” I look from Theo to my Dad. Dad looks a tinge ashamed. I furrow my brows at him. “What does he mean the Council’s next Ollerond?”
“You don’t know?” Katha has obviously woken up enough to be coherent. “How can you not know?” Everyone looks from me to my Dad.
“You haven’t told her yet?” Layla is astonished, her hand hovers over the pie ready to slice it.
“I haven’t exactly had much time to spend with Morgan since I met her,” he mutters at the table. Layla shakes her head and serves up the pie. Dad raises his head and gazes at me. “As the youngest of our family line, you will be the next Ollerond to sit on the council, when your grandfather passes away.”
“Oh,” suddenly Cecil’s dislike for me, becomes a little more obvious. “And if you had never found me?”
“It would have been me,” Dad sighs, resigned.
I know I haven’t known him for long, but it is easy to sense that he would have hated being on the Council. “Right, next thing you know you’ll be telling me I’m in line to succeed Helena as Queen.” I stand though I just sat down..
“Morgan you need to eat.” Dad’s voice is commanding and concerned.
“I will; right after I get three more pies in the oven.”
Dad laughs. “Okay Mrs. B. but who are they for? I don’t think we could eat that many pies.”
I smile. “Two for Cecil and two for Kain.” Hey if my grandmother can soften the toughest people up with her baking. There’s no reason I can’t try.
“Well it wouldn’t hurt,” my Dad mumbles through his bite, echoing my thoughts.