Pinch of Love (9781101558638)

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Table of Contents
 
 
A PLUME BOOK
A PINCH OF LOVE
ALICIA BESSETTE is a freelance writer and pianist. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, novelist Matthew Quick.
 
“This story of a young widow edging warily back into the world is full of vivid characters and grace. Imbued with hope but blessedly lacking in sentimentality, it is a fresh, stirring take on the devastation of grief and the holiness of friendship.”
—Marisa de los Santos, bestselling author of
Love Walked In
and
Belong to Me
 
“An utterly charming read about love and loss and what makes people go on with their lives after tragedy. Ultimately uplifting . . . striking and evocative.”
—Patricia Wood, author of
Lottery
 
“Intricately plotted, peopled with quirky, small-town heroes that come alive on the page. Without shirking from the pain of bereavement and without wallowing in sentimentality, [
A Pinch of Love
] offers, as a counterbalance to life's sadness, the sweet taste of human connectedness and caring. Alicia Bessette's novel is tender and deft and full of heart, touched with good humor and compassion, a modern hymn to friendship and love.”
—Roland Merullo, author of
Breakfast with Buddha
 
“A sweet story of regeneration and hope, delivered by a writer of generous spirit and great heart.”
—Rachel Simon, author of
Riding the Bus with My Sister
 
“Readers will fall for the characters of this New England town who try to rescue the worn-through heart of one of their own. Told with equal parts warmth, hope, and humor, [
A Pinch of Love
] is destined to be passed among friends who've shared in each other's grief, and honored it with love and compassion. It's a triumph of the heart.”
—Amy MacKinnon, author of
Tethered
 
“In her wise and delightfully fresh debut, Alicia Bessette has composed a tender song that rises through the clouds of loss and grief until it bursts into a joyous celebration of the human heart. To read this story is to embrace life.”
—Beth Hoffman,
New York Times
bestselling author of
Saving CeeCee Honeycutt
 
“Newcomer Alicia Bessette has written a love letter of a novel. There's enough warmth here to fill your house on the coldest night. You'll wish you knew these people, this world.”
—Justin Cronin, author of
The Passage
 
“Nicely wrought debut . . . charming, with a dash of romance.”
—
Kirkus Reviews
 
“Fans of Cecelia Ahern's
PS, I Love You
will find a lot to like here. Strong, richly detailed . . . well worth the ride.”
—
Library Journal
 
“Tasty.”
—
People
PLUME
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A. Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) · Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England · Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.) · Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.) • Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi–110 017, India · Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, Auckland 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.) • Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Published by Plume, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Previously published in a Dutton edition as
Simply from Scratch
.
First Plume Printing, November 2011
Copyright © Alicia Bessette, 2010
All rights reserved
REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA
The Library of Congress has catalogued the Dutton edition as follows:
Bessette, Alicia.
Simply from scratch / by Alicia Bessette. p. cm.
ISBN : 978-1-101-55863-8
1. Windows—Fiction. 2. Grief—Fiction. 3. Girls—Fiction. 4. Baking—Fiction. 5. Single fathers—Fiction. 6. Friendship—Fiction. 7. Families—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3602.E783S56 2010
813'.6—dc22
2010008894
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
PUBLISHER'S NOTE
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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This book is dedicated to the friends who grew me up.
1
Zell
I
KNOT NICK'S CAMOUFLAGE APRON under my boobs, unable to remember the last time I wore a bra, or preheated the oven. That's my widow style.
The brown sugar's as hard as a cinder block, so I hack at it with a knife. But after that the preparation's pretty easy, and I stir my improvised ingredients into a smooth cookie batter. That's when I smell smoke, which is jarring because there's nothing in the oven.
Or is there?
I flick the oven light switch, but the bulb's dead. All I can make out through the little window is a dark object on the top rack. It shouldn't be there; that much I know. Maybe I was supposed to check for foreign objects before preheating.
“Shall I let it burn, Captain?” I kneel, and Captain Ahab joins me. Gently I tug his velvet triangle ear. He snort-sighs, like the snuffle sound that horses make. He's unaware of the unidentified flammable object in the oven, which, any second now, will be swallowed in flames. Or maybe Ahab
is
aware of the impending disaster and simply takes it in stride. He's Zen that way; it's his greyhound style.
“Aye,” I say in Captain Ahab Voice—that of a sloshed but kindly pirate. “Let it burn. Yer a saucy wench, Rose-Ellen.”
I pull
Meals in a Cinch with Polly Pinch
down from the counter and let Ahab sniff the magazine's special pullout section, where Polly's electric white smile and tanned, peachy skin shine. She's shown winking, her arms crossed, her head tipped coquettishly.
The winner of Polly's Desserts That Warm the Soul baking contest receives twenty thousand dollars. Twenty thousand. The exact amount Nick mentioned in his e-mail when he told me about the money he wanted to raise for the people of New Orleans as they rebuild after the hurricane and the floods.
“Now, tell me that's not fate. Yarr.” I kiss Ahab between his eyes.
An alarm screeches. A smoke alarm. A fire alarm. A saucy-wench-trying-to-bake alarm.
Balls.
The object in the oven is officially on fire. Its azure and orange wings shoot up as if inflated, as if ready for takeoff.
Minutes later, still on my knees, I yank open the oven door. Rolling, oily smoke engulfs me and Ahab. Something grips my shoulder, and I look up at a hulk of boots and helmet and axe.
“Get out of here, Zell!” It's Chief Kent. I recognize his gravelly voice. He hooks his thumbs under my armpits and hefts me to my feet. He pushes me through the now-roiling smoke into his second in command, either EJ or Russ; through the smoke, in their bulky black fireproof suits, they both look the same.
Here they are, Wippamunk's finest beer-gutted volunteer superheroes, extinguishing a fire at 111 High Street, the home of Rose-Ellen Roy (née Carmichael): Zell—me, the woman whose husband, Nick, died on their watch, in another world, another lifetime. Do they think I've done myself in? Torched my house intentionally? Do they think my head burst into flames?
“Get her out of here!” bellows this second rescuer. He shoves me into a third rescuer, who drags me through the kitchen, through the living room, out to the front porch, and down the cement steps. I scream, “Ahab! Ahab!” the whole way.
Somehow I slip and land belly up on my yard's thin, hard crust of snow. My attic, with its one boarded-up window, seems church white against the blue, blue sky. The attic I will not—cannot—enter.
 
 
RUSS SHEDS HIS FIREFIGHTER COAT, revealing spindly arms, a wifebeater undershirt, and reflective suspenders that flash in the sunlight. He kneels on the icy sidewalk that leads to my front porch. Shoveling was Nick's chore, along with car maintenance and—big surprise—cooking. I refuse to perform these tasks. I'll get to them later, I tell myself. For more than a year now, I've manually pumped my broken turn signal when turning left, eaten microwavable Polly Pinch meals for dinner, and stomped down two tire-width tracks in my driveway after every snowfall.
Russ holds a snout-shaped oxygen mask over Ahab's long nose. Ahab seems to think nothing unusual is happening, as if he's not breathing pure oxygen from a mask specifically designed for dogs that may have inhaled smoke. From time to time, he blinks.