The Union Street Bakery
THE UNION STREET BAKERY
Life can turn on a dime.
It’s a common cliché, and I’d heard it often enough. People die or move away. Investments go south. Affairs end. Loved ones betray us…
Daisy McCrae’s life is in tatters. She’s lost her job, broken up with her boyfriend, and has been reduced to living in the attic above her family’s store, the Union Street Bakery, while learning the business. Unfortunately, the bakery is in serious hardship. Making things worse is the constant feeling of not being a “real” McCrae since she was adopted as a child and has a less-than-perfect relationship with her two sisters.
Then a long-standing elderly customer passes away, and for some reason bequeaths Daisy a journal dating back to the 1850s, written by a slave girl named Susie. As she reads, Daisy learns more about her family—and her own heritage—than she ever dreamed. Haunted by dreams of the young Susie, who beckons Daisy to “find her,” she is compelled to look further into the past of the town and her family.
What she finds are the answers she has longed for her entire life, and a chance to begin again with the courage and desire she thought she lost for good.
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THE Union Street Bakery Excerpt
Life can turn on a dime. It’s a common cliché, and I’d heard it often enough. People die or move away. Investments go south. Affairs end. Loved ones betray us. Stuff happens.
In the light of day, I’ve always been able to acknowledge that life’s really bad curveballs are out of our control. I mean come on, who really wants cancer? Who expects lightning to strike a plane and send it plummeting into the ocean? And ladies, how could we really have known that Mr. Say-All-the-Right-Things was such a schmuck?
Bad things happen to good people. When I’m at the office carving into my to-do list, sharing a joke with friends, or running at a breakneck pace on the treadmill, I understand this concept. I really do.
Ask me those same questions during the darkest time of night when there is nothing to distract me, however, and my answer won’t be as philosophical. Without life’s distracting whirl and buzz, my rational logic quickly surrenders to shadowy emotions that lurk and wait to strike. When alone, the promise of control whispers that happiness is mine for the having only if I work very, very hard. Hold on tight. Run fast. Work hard. Dress right. If I can do everything right then maybe, just maybe, the herd, the clan, friends, coworkers, or whomever, will keep me close.
When I was a kid, this gut feeling translated into socks and lunch boxes. In grade school I believed that if my socks matched my dress, if I carried the right Barbie lunch box, and if I made all A’s, I’d have friends, charm teachers, be a success. I just knew if I could be perfect I’d somehow be more deserving of…love.
This obsession with belonging followed me from grade school through high school, college, and into the professional world. No detail was small enough to be managed. No problems were too insignificant to obsess over. My therapist once said, “Life listens to no master.” Good, sound advice that I really wanted to embrace but never quite managed to.
And so I did what I did best and focused more attention on all the details, no matter how tiny, believing that somehow I would remain a step ahead.
I’d earned a master’s degree in business administration and a Chartered Financial Analyst certificate and quickly established myself as a rising star in a Washington, D.C., money management firm. I also spent wisely and invested in my company stocks. Donated to the SPCA and the United Way. I had friends, a sub-lease on an apartment with sweeping views of Rock Creek Park, and jam-packed purposeful days that left little time for worry or second-guessing. Having done everything right, I fully expected that circumstances would never turn on any damn dime, and my life would not only be filled with love, but that the flock would always embrace me.
And then the chief financial officer of our firm swaggered up to the stock market’s metaphorical poker table holding two of a kind and bet most of the chips. The house, however, held a full house and with its better hand swiped the company winnings off the table. I, along with a few others, suggested that the CFO retrench. Back off. Don’t expose us so much. Unmoved by logic and seemingly imbued with confidence, the CFO raised the bet on the mortgage market. This time he held a straight—better, but not enough to beat the house’s royal flush.
The staggering loss knifed into the firm’s investment accounts, which quickly started hemorrhaging. No matter how hard the investment team and I tried to stop the bleeding, we could not. Soon, clients bailed. The CFO resigned. And finally, in a New Year’s Day panic, the firm’s big boss sold our investment shop to a larger bank, which quickly declared all the members of the investment team obsolete.
One second I was at my desk talking to a client, assuring him that my investments, though battered, remained tied up with the company like his. And in the next, the new CFO had me in his office and was spouting phrases like: This is no reflection of you, Daisy. We respect what you did.… Before I had time to shake off the shock, I had to stumble through a maze of gray cubicles toward the elevators, the buzzing fluorescents mingling with the whispers of coworkers. Tucked under my arm was a single box holding a plant, a framed picture of my parents standing in front of their bakery, a black mug, and my two diplomas. Someone had called out their best wishes to me but I was too stunned and too humiliated to turn. The elevator doors opened and I woodenly stepped into the car. In a blink, the doors closed on the last decade of my life.
Now, as I sat on the edge of the pullout sofa in my parents’ attic room and watched the shadows dance and sway over roughly hewn ceiling beams, I wondered for the hundredth time what I could have done differently to stop the explosion that rocked my life. I had seen the CFO’s moodiness deepen daily and had felt the weight of his stress. I had known something was wrong but had assumed his plight was personal, not professional. I should have pushed through my own worries and spoken to him privately. I should have muzzled my insecurities and demanded to see his trades. I should have stood up on my desk and screamed, Houston, we have a problem!
But I didn’t do any of those things. I kept my head down, basically obsessed over trimming the trees while the forest burned.
“Shit.” I swung my legs over the side of the sofa to the cold wooden floor. My toes curled and my heart drummed faster against my ribs as I stared at the fortress of crates, boxes, and suitcases crammed into the attic room. Beyond the barrier, my road bike leaned against one wall, stacks of books piled high on the floor, and my laptop rested on an old sewing table. All my worldly goods had been wedged into boxes and trash bags and stowed in every available corner.
I dug long fingers through my black hair and then pressed the heels of my hands to my forehead.
Though I might not have always loved my job, I had done it well and it had rewarded me with success and pride. Never had I once thought that the job was me or I was the job. We were two separate entities.
But as I raised my gaze to the moonlight streaming into the room’s single window, I had to concede that the job had wormed into my identity like sprawling ivy vines, which over time, slowly and carefully had burrowed into the mortar, brick, and foundation of my life.
With the job gone, I was left damaged and marked like bricks stripped clean of ivy. I was lost. Adrift. Who the hell was I if I wasn’t Daisy-S-McCrae-vice-president-Suburban Enterprises?
Panic scraped at the back of my head and made my skin crawl. It would be so easy to just scream and cry at the utter futility of this mess. But I’d learned at a very young age that crying never solved anything, nor did it calm the chaos.
“Shit.” I stared at my toes and the chipped red polish from a weeks-old pedicure.
Finance jobs in the area were few and far between in recent months and with each new no, not now, overqualified, under qualified, my sense of helplessness grew. Never in my life had I worked so hard and received so many rejections.
Soon, showers and a clean change of clothes had stopped being an everyday thing. My appetite vanished. I avoided friends and family. I couldn’t seem to untangle the net that had me trapped.
My cell phone, sitting on a makeshift moving box-turned-nightstand, shrilled an alarm that cut through the silence and startled me. I quickly shut off the glaring noise and checked the time. Three twenty-one.
I could barely think or function, and yet it was time to get up. Tears welled up in my throat, and as much as I wanted to pull my sleeping bag over my head and hide, I didn’t. I swallowed. No tears. Daisy McCrae did not cry. How did I get here?
Here was Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. My new—but I have been quick to say, temporary home—was the top floor apartment in my parents’ 120-year-old brick town house. It was the room I’d shared with my sisters as a kid, where I’d played dress up, dreamed of my birth mother, Renee, and traded secrets with imaginary friends. It was ground zero, square one of my life, and I was back.
Dropping back against the lumpy mattress, I did pull the sleeping bag over my head.