“He’s not like that,” Phoebe protested.
Emma knew otherwise.
“You’re not upset with me, are you?”
Emma considered the question. “I guess not.”
“If our situations were reversed, you’d have done the same thing for me,” Phoebe said. “Now tell me what’s going on in Yakima.”
Emma looked out the window and noticed that Oliver had walked across the street, presumably to get an updated weather report. “At the moment we’re stuck.”
“Together?” Phoebe asked with an inappropriate amount of amusement.
It figured she’d see this unfortunate situation in a humorous light. “For now, and trust me, I’m not happy about it.”
“You should be. Oliver and Walt get along really well. He’s a cool guy.”
The problem was he knew it. Emma didn’t bother to comment. She chatted with Phoebe a few minutes longer before ending the phone call.
The waitress refreshed Emma’s coffee and took the money she’d left on the table. While she waited for her change, she read over her notes from the interview with Earleen Williams. But it wasn’t the older woman who dominated her thoughts, it was her own mother.
Pamela Collins had wanted the very best for her, Emma knew. What she could never understand was why her mother had stayed in the marriage as long as she had. From as early as Emma could remember, she’d known her father was having affairs, betraying his wife and family. To this day, her father didn’t get it. Her mother had been so forgiving; Emma wasn’t. And she was too smart to be taken in by a man who had all her father’s worst traits—and all his appeal.
She couldn’t imagine what her mother would think of Oliver. No, she could imagine exactly. Her mother would think he was wonderful and treat him like a king, the same way she’d done with Emma’s father whenever he’d seen fit to bless them with his presence.
The café door opened and Oliver returned, his leather jacket splotched with damp. He walked across the room, sliding into the booth. He handed her a sheet of paper.
“What’s this?” she asked.
“The weather report. You aren’t going to like it.”
Emma’s heart sank. “How long are we trapped here?”
He hesitated as if weighing how much of the truth he should tell her. “Overnight.”
The word echoed in her brain. “No!”
“Have you looked outside lately?”
Emma hadn’t. She stared out the window now. Thick flakes of snow drifted down; already the sidewalks were covered and the sky had grown darker. No wonder his coat was wet. She closed her eyes. “What are we going to do?” she whispered.
Oliver shrugged. “It happens, especially this time of year. I don’t like it any better than you do, but I try to make the best of it.”
“I don’t know what you’re planning, but I’ve already got a line on a poker game. I don’t suppose you’d care to join us?”
The snow fell fast and furious as the afternoon wore on. Although Emma strongly suspected Walt wouldn’t be willing to reimburse her, she broke down and rented a motel room near the airfield, using her credit card since she was almost out of cash. Her knight in tarnished armor had disappeared inside one of the hangars with three other pilots for a poker game, and she hadn’t seen him since.
The motel room was about what you’d expect for $39.95. The mattress and pillows were thin and no matter what she did, Emma couldn’t get comfortable on the bed until she marched down to the office for extra pillows, which she propped up to support her back while she used her laptop on the bed. Her fingers flew across the keys.
Lessons from Fruitcake: Earleen Williams
by Emma Collins
For The Examiner
Earleen Williams of Yakima bakes masterful fruitcakes but she’s the true masterpiece.
It’s no surprise to anyone who has tasted one of her fruitcakes that Earleen and her recipe have achieved national acclaim. With a shy smile, she’ll laughingly say that her secret ingredient is stored in her liquor cabinet. But there’s more to it than that.
Now Earleen’s recipe has been chosen as one of the twelve nationwide finalists in Good Homemaking’s fruitcake contest. The winner will be announced December 20th on the magazine’s Web site. The January issue will feature a profile of the winner. That winner might be Earleen Williams.
Earleen admits her life hasn’t been easy, not that she’s complaining. She was married to her first husband, Larry, for sixteen years, but as she says, he was more trouble than she could handle. They parted, and in her pain and loss she returned to the days of her childhood and the happiness she’d known, surrounded by family and love.
Earleen’s parents had little money for frivolous things, but there was an abundance of love in the home. And somehow, through good times and bad, there was always fruitcake at Christmas. It was this spirit of love, laughter and joy that Earleen sought to recapture in making her own fruitcake. Adding local apples, cooked down into a sauce, and using only ingredients of the highest quality, she began with her mother’s recipe and expanded on it. When asked, Earleen was happy to share her secrets—liquor and apples. In the years since her divorce, her fruitcake has become a holiday staple for family and friends.
The former bartender continued baking through two subsequent marriages. Discussing her three husbands, Earleen commented that none of them appreciated her. Each pursued other women—or sought escape in a bottle. Over time, Earleen says, she gained perspective on her life and learned to recognize that her husbands’ infidelity wasn’t due to any lack in her.
Earleen Williams creates a moist, succulent fruitcake—a baking masterpiece. But she, too, is a masterpiece, just the way she is.
This was a draft, but Emma felt it was a good start. The more she read over her notes, the more she realized that the interview hadn’t been about fruitcake as much as about Earleen. Briefly she wondered if all the interviews would be the same. Lessons about life, wrapped up in a fruitcake recipe. She hoped so.
By now it was past four o’clock; dusk had begun to fall in earnest. The room had grown chilly and Emma was ready to stop work for a while. The heater below the window belched and coughed before it sent out a blast of hot air. When she turned on the television, all she got was a blank screen and some strange noise. Bored and restless, she threw on her coat and wandered out to the office to complain.
The middle-aged woman at the desk looked up when she appeared. “The television doesn’t seem to be working,” Emma told her in a friendly tone.
“We’ve been having problems with the cable,” the clerk said.
“I’d really like to watch the news.” Listening to the weather report was vital at this point. She wanted out of Yakima, and the sooner the better.
“I’ll send Juan over to see what he can do,” the clerk promised. “He’s our handyman. He knows what he’s doing, but his English isn’t very good. I’ll do my best to explain it to him.”
“Thanks. I’d appreciate that,” Emma told her.
Since Oliver didn’t know where she was, Emma decided she’d better inform him. If there was a break in the storm, he wouldn’t appreciate having to search for her.
Unsure where to find Oliver, she stepped out of the motel office and turned toward the hangar where she’d last seen him. Pulling her wool coat more tightly around her, she trudged across the snowy street. Fortunately, Oscar trotted over to her, happily wagging his stub of a tail.
“Where’s Oliver?” she asked the terrier, then followed the dog as he led her to a hangar not far from Oliver’s Cessna.
When she walked inside, shaking the snow from her coat, Emma found Oliver sitting at a table with his poker-playing friends. Two were dressed in beige overalls, and Emma assumed they must be mechanics. Oliver sat across from a third man who wore a leather jacket similar to his. Probably another pilot.
Oliver pulled his gaze away from his cards, glanced up and frowned, almost as though he couldn’t remember who she was.
“I wondered where you’d wandered off,” he mumbled, returning his attention to his hand.
“I got a motel room.”
At the mention of the room, his three friends stared at her. From her, they turned as one to Oliver. All speaking at the same time, the men made suggestive comments.
“Way to go, Oliver.”
To her dismay, Oliver played along, grinning from ear to ear as if it was understood they’d be making wild, passionate love as soon as he’d finished his poker game.
Emma wasn’t letting him get away with that. If he wasn’t going to explain, then she had no qualms about doing so. “The motel room isn’t for him,” she said coldly. “There’s absolutely nothing between Oliver and me.”
One of the mechanics laughed. “That’s what all the girls say.”
“I’ll be back shortly.” Oliver set his cards down on the table and stood, his movements casual.
“Take your time, ol’ buddy.”
“Don’t hurry on our account.”
Emma glared at the men as Oliver took her by the elbow and steered her out of the hangar. She peered over her shoulder on her way out the door, strongly tempted to put them all in their place. That would be a waste of time, she realized. Besides, any argument was only going to encourage them.
“You got a motel room?” he asked.
“That’s what I said, isn’t it?” she muttered irritably. Then, repenting her sharp tone—at least a little—she added in a more conciliatory voice, “You said it would be morning before we’d get out of here.” She hadn’t wanted to spend money on the motel, but there was only so long she could sit in Minnie’s Place, otherwise known as MICE.
“That was probably a good idea.” Oliver looked both ways before jogging across the street, Oscar at his heels.
“I wanted to see the weather report. Unfortunately, the television in my room seems to be on the fritz. The manager sent a repairman.”
“I wouldn’t mind getting a current weather update, either.”
“The only reason I came to find you was so you’d know where I was.” She wanted to make it clear that she hadn’t gone searching for him because she wanted his company. She was being considerate, nothing more.
He nodded. “I’ll see about getting a room for the night myself.”
While Oliver filled out the paperwork, Emma went back to her room. She opened the door to find Juan, the repairman, sitting on the end of her bed, gazing intently at the television.
Emma took one look at the images flashing across the screen and gasped. He was watching the pornography channel. Obviously, a lack of familiarity with English was no impediment to following this kind of movie—not that there was much dialogue to worry about.
He grinned at her as if he’d managed some spectacular feat. “I fix,” he said, beaming. He flipped off the television and handed her the remote on his way out. Emma stared at him openmouthed as he disappeared into the snowstorm.