Joel left that Friday morning right after the last croissants came out of the oven. He took a loaf of challah bread with him. It was his favorite. Marie expected her soon to be ex would be making massive slabs of French toast slathered with the syrup from their sugar bush tomorrow morning. Challah was his comfort food. He explained between batches of anadama bread in their Vermont bakery kitchen that he’d found some “comfort” elsewhere since Marie didn’t wish to fully participate in their marriage. Fully participate? She poured herself a mug of French roast and sipped. What a load of crap for his indiscretions. What would you call getting up at 3 AM every damn day for two years to make “Rise and Shine Bakery” a success?

She slid off the stool and grabbed for the pistachio biscotti. Settling back in, she dunked and fumed. Fully participate? That stung. She was the driving force behind Rise and Shine. It had been her business plan all along. She found this old Victorian and worked with the contractors to convert it. She got the loan, painted, scrubbed and baked for god’s sake! If that wasn’t fully participating she didn’t know what was. She reached for a second biscotti and refilled her mug. All Joel had brought to the table was brute strength, a beat-up van and an ability to give amazing massages. The bell jingled and she glanced at the clock. She knew she’d have several crazy hours of breakfast traffic ahead of her. I’ll miss those massages, she thought as she rolled her head around a stiff neck. Swigging her coffee down, she hopped up to greet her early birds.

Hours later, she surveyed her empty shelves, and locked the door. She hadn’t had time to think about Joel at all during that feeding frenzy. No time to think about how to proceed from here. No time to think about how she was feeling. Heading back to the kitchen, she ladled a bowl of minestrone and sliced off a hunk of focaccia. The savory warmth of the soup soothed her. The focaccia’s tang of olives and dried tomatoes revived her. She took a deep breath and allowed herself to cry.

Blowing her nose to signal an end to her pity party, she pulled out the laptop, fired it up and went looking for scone recipes. Surfing the net for fresh takes on pastry always settled her. Finding two new savory scone recipes, she was about to leave the site when up popped a response to a blog thread she was in on a food website. She had shared her method of prepping pie crust. She squinted at the response.

Thanks for that amazing tip! The pie crust was a hit. Any more secret tips to share?

She sat back smiling, then remembered she had nothing to smile about. She leaned in and typed.

My well has run dry in every possible way. Sorry.

She stood up quickly and was about to slam the laptop shut when she heard a ping. She looked at the screen.

Oh, I doubt that. There’s plenty of water down there. It’s more likely that you have a crack in your well bucket. Decide whether to repair it or get a new one.

She stared at the response. She read it out loud a few times. What the hell? She sat back down and started typing.

My husband just left me for another woman. He said that I wasn’t “fully participating” in our marriage. Now I’m left to run this business by myself and I’m not sure I can do it.

She punched “Send” with more force than it needed, but really, why should she have to justify anything to this cyber gypsy?

I’m so sorry, but, were you? Were you “fully participating?”

What the hell? She’s going to sit in judgement of me? I don’t think so. Marie hammered back a response.

Listen! I have worked my butt off to make this bakery a success! I’ve done it 24/7 for 2 stinking years.

She hit “send” and realized she was feeling much better now that she was sputtering and not sobbing. She didn’t have long to enjoy the self-righteous moment before the response popped up. She braced, poised for a cyber face off.

I’m sure you’ve worked hard to achieve your goal, but I’m not talking about your business success, I’m asking about your personal relationship with your husband. How much time have you put towards that?

Alice may have tumbled down the rabbit hole, but Marie was pushed. Her heart sputtered. She sat back, folded her arms and looked around at the bread dough in varying stages of rising. They spelled love to her but love for whom? Maybe not Joel. This thought rose slowly like yeast in her breads, giving off a slightly acidic odor. She typed with a tentative hand.

I might love my bakery more than my husband. Not sure…

She bit at a hangnail. Her cyber muse weighed in.

How are you going to find out?

Marie got up and poured a cup of coffee, snagged an apple crumble muffin and sat back down. Breaking off the muffin top, she popped it in her mouth and sighed. Crunchy, warm and fruity. Heaven. She let the flavors linger, then leaned forward and typed.

I’m going to keep baking and see what rises.

Diane DiGennaro has pounded keys all of her life, starting with stories on her mother’s IBM Selectric typewriter. Her keystroke has lightened with each successive computer. She has freelanced for PrimeTime Cape Cod and The Burlington Free Press (VT). She has written for Flash Fiction Press and her poetry has been featured in anthologies for Chatham Writers @ 02633. Diane wonders whether the keyboard will be obsolete before she completes her novel. Maybe she’ll just talk to a screen and it will spit out the tale. She’ll miss those keys, for sure; they’ve unlocked a great many secrets.

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