The Book of Sorrel
“Please tell me another story, Daddy,” Sorrel entreated her father while snuggling in closer to him on her canopy bed.
David looked over at the Minnie Mouse clock on his daughter’s nightstand before he kissed her head, knowing exactly what she was doing. She loved nothing more than to prolong story time so she didn’t have to go to sleep. “Little girls need their rest so they can grow tall and strong.”
“I’m not little anymore—I’m five years old,” she stated with authority.
David laughed deeply. “All right, my big girl.” He could never tell her no. “I’ll tell you one more story.” He paused to think of which story he should tell her. One came to mind, but she was too young. Or was she? Sorrel was the most precocious child he had ever known. Perhaps she was ready. “Sorrel, my little love—”
“I told you, I’m not little, Daddy.”
“You will always be my little love.” He tickled her.
She squirmed and giggled. “Is Mommy your big love?”
He tapped her nose. “Mommy and you are the loves of my life.”
“Will I have a love of my life too?” she asked so innocently.
As David had thought, she was older than her years gave her credit for. “Yes, my sweet Sorrel, you will have a great love, but . . . ,” he hesitated, “you must be patient and brave.”
Sorrel puffed out her pink silk–covered chest. “I am brave. I jumped higher than anyone off the swings at the park today.”
Silently he prayed that she remained courageous throughout her entire life. “You are a brave girl. And I want to tell you a story about a brave girl. A story you must always remember. This story is about a princess named Sorrel.”
“Her name is just like mine,” Sorrel squealed with delight. “I want to be a princess when I grow up.”
He wrapped an arm around his daughter and squeezed. “You, my love, are meant to be a queen.”
“Can I wear a crown?”
David laughed. “If you want to.”
“I do.” She settled against her father.
He held her close, wishing she could stay little, that he could always protect her. “While Princess Sorrel didn’t wear a crown,” he began, “she had beautiful chocolate-brown hair and eyes as blue as the ocean, just like you. She also had a special book.”
“Yes, just like Mommy’s book. This book was very special. Princess Sorrel had to do everything she could to keep the book safe. She could never show it to anyone except to whomever the book told her to. And she had to obey the book. If the book told her to hide, she had to hide. When the book told her who to marry, that’s who she had to marry.”
“Why couldn’t she pick her husband?” She sounded almost indignant.
David smoothed his tenacious five-year-old’s brow. “Because, sweetheart . . . Sorrel was cursed.”
“Did her wicked stepmother curse her, like in Snow White?” Sorrel asked.
He hesitated before whispering, “Her mother cursed her.”
Sorrel looked up into her father’s eyes, begging him to tell her it wasn’t true. “Why would she do that? Mommies are supposed to love their children.”
“Her mother loved her very much.” He tenderly kissed her head. “She didn’t want to curse her, but she had no choice.”
Sorrel blinked several times, not understanding.
David thought for a moment about what to say. “Even though she had no choice, like with all curses, this curse could be broken.”
David’s thoughtful brown eyes bore into his daughter’s. “By obeying the book even if it scared her; and most importantly, she had to follow her heart.” He pointed to his daughter’s heart. “Because she had the best heart, just like you.”
Sorrel smiled. “Did she break the curse?”
David pressed his lips together. “She did her part. And . . . ,” he swallowed hard, “you will too.”
Sorrel’s blue eyes swirled, understanding slowly dawning. “Am I cursed, Daddy?”
He pressed a lingering kiss to her forehead. He hated telling her but knew the best way to keep her safe was to tell her the truth. “Yes, my love. But never forget, you have the power to break this curse.” He leaned back and held her beautiful face in his hands. “Promise me, Sorrel, promise me you’ll always do what the book says. Promise me you’ll break the curse.”
With the resolve of a woman ten times her age, she placed her hands on top of her daddy’s and firmly declared, “I will be brave. I promise.”
Twenty-Five Years Later
“Sorrel, Sorrel, I have the best news,” Annalise drawled while she practically dove over the counter to reach for me, pushing several other customers out of her way.
I caught her before she took a nosedive into my freshly baked chocolate cupcakes with strawberry frosting just waiting to be put in the display case. “Whoa there. This must be some news.” I struggled to right her and push her back over to the side where customers belonged. Though I considered Annalise more a friend, really, those pesky health codes got in the way. You never knew when one of those sneaky inspectors would pop in, and heaven forbid I had anyone besides a paid employee come back here. I mean it wasn’t like she was going to lick the cupcakes. Well, on second thought, maybe it was better she stayed on the customer side.
Annalise exhaled loudly while smoothing out her I Was Born to Love Luke Bryan T-shirt. She was a huge fan of the country singer. She had proudly been to twenty-four of his concerts to date. When Annalise composed herself, she reached out her delicate hand that was riddled with faded bruises from IV lines. I held back my grimace. It wasn’t the doctors’ fault that what they were taught in medical school was often barbaric and simply wrong—not everyone was lucky enough to be cursed like me.
Annalise took my latex-covered hand. “I’m in remission. They can’t find any trace of the cancer in my colon. It’s a miracle,” she cried. “And for some reason, I feel like I need to thank you.”
I cleared my throat and squeezed her hand. “I didn’t do anything.”
She smiled so big her dimples sucked in half her face. “Well, maybe you didn’t cure me, but ever since you gave me that energizing tea to drink every day, I’ve felt like a million bucks and some change. I can even eat without throwing it all back up.”
“I’m so glad.” I released her hand. “How about a cupcake, on the house, to celebrate?”
Her green eyes zeroed in on the chocolate-strawberry cupcakes on the rolling cart near me. “I’ve been dying,” she giggled, “almost literally, to eat your goodies again.”
I swallowed hard, thinking about when she told me about her diagnosis a few months ago. My mother taught me to be careful not to intervene in “mortals’ lives.” To never draw attention to myself. Yet my father taught me to follow my heart. I couldn’t let Annalise die. And I was tired of living a life set by a bunch of rules that I wasn’t even sure really existed. “How about I box up half a dozen for you to take home?”
“Ronnie would love that. I think if you’d agree to it, he’d leave me and marry you, just for your cupcakes alone.”
I laughed off her silly insinuations while I prepared a box filled with an assortment of our line of berry cupcakes that were popular in the spring and summer. The strawberry, raspberry, and blackberry cupcakes with swirls of varying shades of pink and purple frosting topped with real berries looked so pretty in the box. I hated to cover them with the lid, though I had to say I loved my Love Bites logo. The O and the B were pink hearts, and next to the black letters they really stood out.
I handed Annalise the box. “Enjoy, and make sure you keep drinking that tea. Let me know when you run out and I’ll prepare another batch for you.” Her body, though healed, would need the extra “nutrients” while it recovered from all the chemicals her well-intentioned doctors fed her for weeks.
She eagerly took the box. “You’re a doll. Thank you, darlin’. Thank you for everything.”
While watching her walk out the door to the jangle of the bells, a sense of peace and purpose encompassed me. Maybe being cursed wasn’t all that bad. I looked around the bakery at all the customers who filled the pink chairs and booths—I was obsessed with pink—and thought it wasn’t a bad life. I made people happy.
Someone who could always make me happy popped in carrying a ridiculous number of balloons, including a giant three and zero, telling everyone how old I was. She had the smirkiest of smirks on her gorgeous oval-shaped face. I was
seriously jealous of her high cheekbones.
Josie began singing “Happy Birthday” in her sultry alto voice, which almost made me feel like I should be slowly removing my clothes. I’d always teased her that she’d missed her calling in life. Instead of a wedding singer, she should have been working in a strip club. She worked the song like she was Marilyn Monroe. It was fitting since she looked like her, too, with curly blonde hair, curves for days, and red, pouty lips.
Several of my customers joined in, embarrassing me, which I was sure was Josie’s plan. She knew I wasn’t overly fond of my birthday, though she didn’t know the half of why.
While the crowd serenaded me, I pretended to be overcome with joy, even putting my hands to my mouth, all while giving Josie an evil eye. She flashed me a mischievous smile as she neared and finished singing, making sure to prolong the last “you.”
While everyone clapped and shouted their birthday wishes, I took off my latex gloves, tossed them in the wastebasket, and asked Leann, one of my employees, to man the counter. I walked around the display case and met my best friend and occasional partner in crime. We did a lot of weddings together—I supplied the cake and she the entertainment.
Josie met me and wrapped me in her arms, engulfing us both in a sea of Mylar and latex balloons, all in varying shades of pink and red. She knew me so well. Or at least she thought she did. If only I could tell her all my secrets. A cursed life was a lonely life, no matter how many friends you had.
“These balloons are giving my hair a bad case of static electricity,” I half-heartedly complained.
“Well, you’re welcome. Happy birthday.”
“Thanks, Josie.” I began to untangle myself from the ribbons and balloons. It was easier said than done. I felt like we were in a labyrinth. It didn’t help when we started laughing so hard at the silliness of being trapped by balloons.
Once we had extricated ourselves, Josie placed the balloons on a nearby white hand-painted table. She immediately began to smooth out the flyaway hairs on my head. “How do you get your hair so shiny?”
“Um, it’s a new shampoo. I’ll make some for you, too, if you want.”
Her brow quirked. “What else do you cook upstairs in your little ‘lab’?”
It wasn’t a lab; it was more like a test kitchen.
She held up her hand. “Please don’t tell me if it’s like meth or something. I don’t want to have to testify against you.”
I smacked her hand away. “I’m not cooking up illicit drugs.”
She faux wiped her brow. “Phew. Except, it kind of makes me hate you. I thought maybe you’d come up with some drug that prevented aging, and I was going to beg you for some.” She petted my cheek. “How is it that the past few years I’ve known you, you haven’t changed one bit? It’s like you’re eternally twenty-seven. And I’m over here using concealer like a weapon to fight the crow’s-feet that keep assaulting my eyes like some freaking ninja warrior.”
I rubbed the back of my neck. She didn’t know how close to the truth she was. “You’re gorgeous. Half the guys in here right now want to date you.” That wasn’t a lie. I think I owed at least a quarter of my business to her. Many a man came in asking if Josie would be dropping in that day. The answer was usually yes. To make ends meet between her wedding gigs, Josie delivered food for one of those food delivery apps. She even delivered for me. Sometimes people just needed a cupcake or even an entire cake fix. I could relate. Like, as is in right now. I could use some sweet ecstasy.
Josie rolled her eyes. “I’m pretty sure all these guys come in here for you.”
“I don’t think so.” I had turned down every guy who had asked me out since I moved here. Not because I wanted to but because I had to break the curse, and never falling in love was the only way I knew how. Hence the name of my bakery, Love Bites. I thought the double meaning was clever, even if I was the only one who knew the snarky meaning behind it. Everyone else just thought it was a cute name for a bakery that sold wedding cakes.
“Oh really?” Josie sang. She turned my head toward the door, leaned in, and whispered, “See Mr. Tall, Brooding, and Handsome who just walked in here? He can’t take his eyes off you.”
I looked down at my pink, frilly apron, guessing that was why, except when I lifted my head, I was hit with the most enigmatic aqua eyes I’d ever seen. They drew me in like Scotty was beaming me up. I wouldn’t have minded at all to be stuck on the starship Enterprise with the achingly beautiful, olive-skinned man whose square face and strong jawline made me want to skim my finger across his shaved skin and run my hand through his dark hair. His tailored black suit and trim haircut gave off the air of someone who wore an invisible barrier. It was both sexy and relatable.
The reasonable, curse-breaking side of me said to look away, though every other part of me begged to go to him. It was as if my feet, of their own accord, started walking his way. And partly it was Josie, who gave me a push. All I knew was that it wasn’t me, because I was never this bold. His tractor beam eyes lured me over. Never once did those gorgeous things stray; it was as if he knew the power he held.
The stranger stood impossibly still at the door, waiting for me even when other customers came in and out. In my head I kept saying this was weird, but that didn’t stop me from walking his way. I didn’t even know what I was going to say. When I finally reached him, I took a moment to gaze at him. Up close he was even more attractive. An almost animalistic urge came over me to kiss him. It was like every fiber of my being called out that he would be the father of my children. That’s when I came to my senses. I would never be allowed to choose who to love. And my kind only ever had one child—a daughter. A daughter that, I swore to myself, I would never pass this curse on to. I took a deep breath, trying to clear the daze I was in.
The man tilted his head and studied me. He probably thought I was a nutjob. He wouldn’t be wrong after my bizarre behavior. Then he stepped closer. Some invisible thread between us wanted to stitch us together. Or so it seemed.
Whatever it was, it made us both take a step back from each other.
“I’m so sorry,” I blurted. “I thought you were someone I knew,” I lied. “Excuse me.” I turned to go back to Josie, who was fanning herself and grinning bigger than the time she’d run over her ex’s foot on “accident.”
“Are you Sorrel Black?” a seductive baritone voice asked.
I swallowed hard and turned back around. “I am. How can I help you?” Please say it’s to check if your breath is bad. I would do a thorough job. What? Why did I think that?
“I’m here with the Atlanta Daily Post,” he snarled.
Oh crap. I’d totally forgotten I was being interviewed by them today. But wait . . . “Where’s Raine? She was supposed to do the interview.” I’d made her wedding cake for her nuptials last month, and let’s just say she was intrigued with my reputation for bringing out the truth in my couples during their wedding cake tasting appointment. I’d had more couples break up in here than all the seasons of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette combined. It was just an added service that I provided, unbeknownst to my clients. I figured I was doing humankind a service and saving a lot of heartache. Just because I couldn’t be happily married didn’t mean I didn’t want others to be. I felt it my duty to make sure each couple I provided a cake for was meant to be. Thankfully, Raine and her husband were a perfect match.
I was hesitant at first to do the interview because of the attention it would draw. However, word was already getting around about the fantastic breakups that had happened in my bakery. And oddly, it was as if I could hear my father telling me to do the interview when Raine had suggested it.
“Raine,” the sexy stranger growled, “had to have an emergency appendectomy last night, so I was forced to take her place.”
Forced? We would come back to that later. “Is she all right?”
“I’m told she’ll live,” he sounded put off by the thought.
Wow, this guy was a jerk. Totally hot, but nonetheless a jerk. “I didn’t catch your name.”
“Okay, Eric, perhaps this interview should wait until Raine is recovered.” That’s what my mouth said, while my body was begging for him to stay. We won’t be seduced by a pretty package, I sternly told myself. We won’t be seduced by any package.
“I would agree, but like I said, I don’t have a choice. So, let’s get this over with, shall we? It won’t take long. How interesting can a cake shop be?” His eyes darted all over my sweet little bright and airy place—designed to induce feelings of bliss. Maybe the special ingredients in the cupcakes helped. Even so, no one would ever know.
I had to temper the ire building up inside of me, and the stupid urge to kiss him. “That sounds like a challenge, Eric.”
The corners of Eric’s lips twitched up, involuntarily, I would say, by how quickly he made himself scowl again. It was enough, though, to make him pause and assess me. Once his assessment was over, he folded his arms. “No one’s been
up for the task in years, but perhaps you’ll surprise me.”
“Well, Eric, get ready for the surprise of your life."