The Metro Corner Diner has been a cornerstone of downtown Bedford Springs since the 1960s, serving world-class omelets all day alongside of homestyle southern grub.
“I can’t decide what to order,” Clara debated the menu. “Everything here is so good! What are you ordering, Matt?”
“Hard call, but I am sticking with the All-Night Veggie Omelet and a side of their cinnamon toast.”
“Mmm,” Clara mulled the idea of an omelet. “I think I’ll try the pot roast with a side of caramelized sweet potato home fries.”
Sipping on the Metro’s signature ‘Cool Yule’ wassail, Matt and Clara enjoyed conversation.
“Tell me more about Clara,” Matt inquired. “I know the smart super baker, but outside of taking the cupcake world by storm – give me your background.”
“Nothing too serious,” Clara blushed, never one to enjoy talking about herself. “I grew up in Bedford Springs with my sister Emily. After graduating from high school, I attended the University of Washington.”
“Wow, I love Seattle, but what led you clear across the country?”
“My parents took us on a trip to Olympic National Park and Seattle during high school and I fell in love with the scenery. I was ready for an adventure and figured it would be fun to live on the west coast a few years. I originally planned to major in film but wound up as a business and marketing major. I got a tech job at a start-up and then eventually moved back to Bedford Springs and made a career at Data Dot” As Clara recounted, emotions bubbled up to the surface. Would her teenaged self – ready to the conquer the world approve of her current trajectory.
“I originally wanted to produce movies – write screenplays. I love classic movies and want to be the next Frank Capra. I was on the Bedford Springs High TV station,” Clara laughed. “In all honestly I’m glad my career shifted. I prefer baking and business to silver screen.
“Frank Capra is my favorite director, well other thank Hitchcock. What is your favorite Capra film?”
“It Happened One Night,” Clara enthused.
“I’m guessing It’s a Wonderful Life is your favorite holiday flick?”
“No, while I love that movie, my favorite Christmas movie is Holiday Inn with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire.”
“A must watch every-year.” Matt agreed. “When did you start baking?”
“Baking has always been an outlet for me. I used to bake sugar cookies with my grandma – she had a special recipe with a pinch of buttermilk. I started dreaming of owning my own bakery in college. I took some culinary courses at the community college, but I put baking professionally on hold when my tech career took off. I honestly let that dream go until now.”
“Well God has a way of resurrecting dreams,” Matt flashed his half-grin.
“What about you Matt Orsay – tell me about Bedford Springs top engineer and coffee grinder?”
“Too high of praises really. As I mentioned, my family has lived in Bedford Springs for two centuries, but I grew up in Atlanta. I moved to Bedford Springs after graduating from Georgia Tech to work at my Uncle Massey’s architecture and engineering firm. I’m on the urban development and revitalization team. I was the lead architect on the BPAC complex.”
“You are behind the BPAC – I am blown away as it is the premier venue for performing arts in the Piedmont. The facility is state of the art but maintains a character in keeping with neighboring art deco buildings in the district.”
“Thanks, I’m proud of that project,” Matt gleamed. “I actually have tickets to The Nutcracker next week. You are welcome to join me – if you’d like to?”
“How could I refuse, I’m Clara after all,” she teased with her silly sense of humor.
“It’s a date,” Matt firm in his assessment.
“A date?” Clara bit her lip. She liked the sound of it, but played it cool. “You mentioned that you started the coffee shop to help revitalize the district – it is obvious you have a passion for java. Tell me more…”
“I admit I’m a coffee snob and realized that the coffee options downtown was lacking. I got the idea of having a gathering space for community tied to coffee and conversation. I love architecture, but I was ready for a new challenge and the coffee shop is fun,” Matt paused, taking stock. “Funny thing is I thought I would just set up the shop and be more of a silent partner, but honestly the coffee shop is my focus. I love running it. In all honesty though, it has been hard balancing my role at the firm and running the shop.”
“You could hire a manager to help cover the weight of responsibilities.” Clara suggested “You’ll get burnt out otherwise.”
“I’m working on some ideas. I have considered taking a break from the firm. It’s a big decision.”
“I’m here if you need a sounding board. What you have done with Soulful Java is a gem, but your talent with architecture deserves time too -just find a balance.”
The pair enjoyed each other’s company until just after midnight.
“See you at the shop tomorrow,” Matt hung on the words, embracing every second in Clara’s sweet calming presence.
“Have the Reindeer Brew ready, I’ll need the caffeine.”
“Sounds good frosty.”
Saturday at Soulful Java was a fog – Clara baked over 100 cupcakes and 78 cookies for her clients and the shop. The coffee lined stretched out the door most of the morning as Rudolph Run 5K participants rushed in to fuel up after the race.
As she frosted her Nutcracker Sweets, Clara’s cell phone rang. She dusted off the flour from her apron and reached for the phone.
“Hi, it’s Maddy Webster at FinTech,” The executive of major local financial services firm boomed on the other end of the line.
“Ms. Webster, good afternoon,” Clara scrambled for words. Why was the head of the conglomerate calling her?
“Did I catch you for a quick second?”
“Yes,” Clara gulped. “How can I help you.”
“Your reputation in tech sales precedes you and when I heard you were let go from Data Dot I had to reach out. FinTech is expanding our digital division to launch a series of financial services apps and I need a Director of Sales – I thought you might be interested in the role.”
“I’m speechless, I’m honored that you would think of me. I’d love the opportunity to be part of FinTech.”
“I know it’s the weekend but are you free to stop by the office this afternoon to connect?”
“Unfortunately, I’m predisposed right now,” Clara looking at the rows of cupcakes to decorate.
“I understand you are busy with the holidays.” Maddy did not hide her disappointment. “I am eager to get the position filled…I don’t want to impose, but I could meet you somewhere if that easier.”
“I am beyond excited for the opportunity to work for FinTech, but to be honest, I’ve started a holiday baking business and I have dozens of cupcakes to deliver this afternoon. I can be free this evening or Monday?”
“You are Clara of Clara’s Cupcake Creations. I am impressed. I tried one of your cupcakes at the Chamber’s Christmas Party.”
“I started the business for the holidays,” Clara surprised that Maddy heard of her business. “I’m the official cupcake vendor for Soulful Java downtown.”
“A mocha sounds heavenly right now,” Maddy paused. “Why don’t I meet you at Soulful Java. I can enjoy a cupcake and a hot coffee while we catch up.”
Clara did not have time to object. The idea of meeting an executive looking like she had stepped out of the pantry didn’t appeal to her, but this job opportunity was perfect…or was it.
Clara knew she needed a so-called real job, but she had to admit that her heart was at Soulful Java.
“It smells like a Gingerbread dream in here,” Becca walked into the kitchen with her uncle.
“Hey, I have a fresh batch of cupcakes here.” Clara handed Matt a tray of sweets.
“I’m going to take Becca ice skating tonight -do you and Lucy want to come?” Matt offered.
“I would love to, but actually I have an interview.” Clara brought Matt up to speed.
“That is amazing Clara – director of sales?”
“I don’t have it yet,” she bit her lip.
“They’d be a fool not to hire you,” Matt encouraged. “I’ve already taken your advice about selling our coffee online with subscription services.”
Matt was happy for Clara, but deep down his stomach was knotting up – selfish as it was, he needed her at the shop…and in his life.
“Ms. Webster, welcome to Soulful Java,” Clara hid her nerves as she greeted the executive at the door. “Would you like a Peppermint Mocha or our Reindeer Chocolate Mocha.”
“Call me Maddy and peppermint sounds good.” The executive, perfectly dressed in a business suit with heels. “Which cupcake do you recommend.”
“The Winter Spice cupcake pairs well with the mocha.”
Lexie served the hot drinks, while Clara presented the cupcake.
“Scrumptious,” Maddy was obviously impressed.
“Thank you for taking time to meet with me.”
“The honor is all mine. Your work at Data Dot is legendary. I’ll cut to the chase Clara; I want you on the team. Digital services are critical for FinTech moving forward and you have brains and charisma to run the sales division for digital.”
“I’m grateful that you want me to be on your team. I know that we can build a culture of excellence drive the business forward.” Clara knew the right words to say, but as she sipped on her coffee, she felt the anxiety weighing on her. Data Dot had left her gutted emotionally.
“We need you to start ASAP. You will lead a team of fifty sales professionals and answer to me directly.”
“ASAP…as in after Christmas?”
“I’d like to onboard you this week, but I understand you have your hands full with the holidays and your current business endeavor. We could aim December 26th?”
“Less than two weeks,” Clara thought over the timeline. She had to take the job, there was no question – it was an answered prayer – but why did it seem so daunting to say yes. “That would work…Can I have twenty-four hours to think it over.”
“What’s to think about? You are an all-star and I want you on the team,” Maddy was persuasive. “If money is the concern, I think you’ll find this number rather convincing.”
Maddy handed Clara a proposal with a figure that made her weak in the needs. It was more than she ever could make at Data Dot…or selling cupcakes.
“I don’t see how I can refuse, but I need to review with my business partner,” Clara stalled.
“Welcome to the team, Clara.” Maddy gave her a hug before walking purposefully out of Soulful Java.
“It sounds like congratulations are in order,” Lexie refilled Clara’s mug.
“Yeah,” Clara visibly conflicted.
“You did just get offered your dream job, right?”
“Yes and no,” Clara sighed. “I am excited, and this is an excellent opportunity, but its bittersweet. I have enjoyed working as a baker.”
“You are an amazing baker and honestly I think you can continue to build Clara’s Creations into a successful long-term business, but I understand that you have to think about job security. FinTech is a big company,” Lexie encouraged. “Have you talked to Matt?”
“I mentioned the interview. He is supportive.”
“Well, he’ll walk to the moon for you. He is head over heels for you.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Clara protested. “We’re just friends.”
“And Rudolph doesn’t have a red nose.” Lexie rolled her eyes. “Matt likes you – yes he respects you as a businesswoman but is also attracted to you.”
“I don’t know,” Clara cheeks were redder than Rudolph’s nose.
“You like him too, but I get it – it’s awkward to say that to the ‘boss.’”
“We’ve never talked about our dating lives. Does he have a…”
“No, he is single. He did date a teacher for a few months, but they broke up and she moved to California.”
“He did ask me to The Nutcracker…”
“Whatever you decide Matt will support you – but he will be disappointed to see you go from the shop. He really needs to hire you on as a manager.”
“Lexie, you are too nice.”
“Seriously, Matt is way too busy working at the firm to manage this place fulltime. He needs a partner.”
Before they could continue the conversation, a crowd appeared.
Clara said a silent prayer for direction. “God guide my steps.”
“Clara is nice,” Becca noted as she laced her ice skates. Downtown Bedford Springs has an ice rink set up every December by the town Christmas tree. “I think you should marry her.”
“Becca,” Matt nearly choked with surprise. Kids can be blunt. “Clara is a friend.”
“I know you just work together, but I can tell you like her and she likes you. So, you should get married.”
“It is a little more complicated than that,” Matt laughed.
“Will you be sad if she takes the other job?”
“No Clara deserves to get the job -she is more than qualified.”
“If Clara takes that big tech job, will she be able to work at Soulful Java?” Becca genuinely concerned.
“Enough about Clara,” Matt’s brows furrowed, clearly embarrassed. “Let’s go skating.”
“She can’t quit – she makes magical cupcakes. Tell her not to quit, Uncle Matt.”
“For the record, I hope Clara stays, but that’s her decision.” Matt could see Clara had made quite an impression on his niece. “Race you to the candy cane bridge,” Matt hit the ice.
“The CEO of FinTech reached out to you?” Emily on the edge of her seat as her sister filled her in on the job opportunity Saturday night.
“Apparently she heard about my work on ransomware prevention in finance at Data Dot and thought I’d be the perfect fit.”
“This is a Christmas miracle – major raise, heading a sales team…”
“It’s a terrific opportunity,” Clara’s lukewarm reaction didn’t get past Emily.
“Then why the long face?”
“Starting a new job is just stressful that’s all…”
“It feels good to be baking again and owning my own business. I was married to Data Dot. For years all I focused on was work and it feels good to create something sweet and fun.”
“You are quickly becoming Bedford Springs Queen of Cupcakes.” Emily could understand the frustration. She often worried about Clara – she had witnessed her sister pour her entire life in Data Dot. Clara had avoided dating, hobbies, everything but work. “You don’t have to take the job.”
“I do, the salary is amazing, and I can make a significant impact at FinTech.” Clara reasoned. “I can still bake – on the side?”
“I understand that money is important, and you need stable employment – but don’t sell yourself short sis. You are talented and you deserve to be happy. Baking cupcakes or working as corporate expert.”
“Hi Aunt Clara, how is the cupcake business?” Lucy entered the conversation.
“It’s sweet. I wanted to see if I could name a new cupcake recipe after you. ‘Lucy’s Sweet Bread’ inspired from Saint Lucia Day in Sweden.”
“We learned about her in school,” Lucy smiled. “Her name means light and feast day is celebrated on December 13th to light the way to Christ. She helped bring food and aid to persecuted Christians during the fourth century in Rome. Her feast day is a big holiday in Sweden. Girls and boys dress up in white gowns and deliver yummy Christmas treats. Young girls dress up as Saint Lucy with a crown of candles.”
“This Lucy cupcake will have a sweet bread taste, similar to Swedish treats sprinkled with stars to represent light in darkness.” Clara explained. “You are a light in my life Lucy.”
“I can’t wait to try the cupcake. You should make jelly star cookies too, dusted with powdered sugar.”
“Future Master Chef here,” Clara hugged her niece. “I need to drop off a few orders before heading home. See you tomorrow at church?”
“Sounds good,” Emily walked her sister to the door. “I’m proud of you Clara and I support you whatever you decide.”
Sunday at St. Mark’s is a peaceful time for Clara to recharge. She prayerfully listened, preparing her heart of Christmas in the season of Advent.
“God, I need some direction. I am grateful for the job offer, but is it your will for me? Guide my steps.”
After Mass ended, the congregation migrated to the Parish Hall for coffee and conversation. Clara provided a platter of vanilla cupcakes and cookies.
“We love your cupcakes,” Lydia Williams, church volunteer coordinator tracked Clara down. “Any chance you can help us plan the Valentine’s Day Bake Sale. It raises money for the youth group and food bank.”
“Of course. I’d love to help,” Clara smiled, happy to give back.
“I heard what happened to you at Data Dot,” Lydia continued. “What a nightmare, but I’m so grateful you’ve rebounded. Your cupcake business is booming.”
“I’m starting a new job in tech job in January, but I have enjoyed Clara’s Creations for the holiday season.”
“I know Matt Orsay sings your praises. He calls you his Christmas miracle.”
“You know Matt?”
“He is my neighbor,” Lydia acknowledged. “He brings me coffee beans every week.”
“I’ve enjoyed working with him.”
“You have made quite the impression on Matt, I think,” Marjorie not one to mince words.
Clara excused herself from the conversation when she saw her niece at the church craft table.
“We’re making a Jesse Tree each ornament tells the story of Jesus’s coming.”
“Fun,” Clara picked up a set of crayons. Coloring was just the medicine she needed.
After church, Clara dropped by Soulful Java, hoping to speak with Matt about her new job and discuss options moving forward for Clara’s Creations.
“Matt’s not here,” Lexie sensed Clara’s disappointment. “He volunteers at his church food pantry on Sundays, but said he’d swing by after four.”
“How are sales today?” Clara shifted the subject.
“Busy! We have sold out of most cookies and cupcakes. Lots of clients buying beans for holiday gifts.”
“You know we should make a holiday gift display – by checkout. Mugs, tees, coffee beans, gift cards…”
“Good idea,” Lexie helped tweak the display. “I’ll tell clients to check out the gift table when check out.”
Clara spent the next two hours completing her next round of holiday baking for Soulful Java and a handful of special orders.
“Christmas is only twelve days away,” Clara thought as she blended the sugarplum mix. “I need to get caught on Christmas shopping. I still need to get Emily a gift…”
“Hey frosty, can I sample your latest creation?”
“Hi Matt, I’m glad you’re here. I hoped we could catch up.”
“Love to. Can I grab you a coffee?”
“I have been craving a jingle bell coffee.” The holiday blend is a vanilla latte with extra espresso, whipped cream with candy bell on top.
The pair found a table by the Christmas tree.
“Santa confirmed he can come to Soulful Java next Saturday. He is looking forward to your cookies and cupcakes.”
“I will have plenty of Santa cookies ready for the man with a bag.” Clara savored a sip of the coffee. “Lexie said we’ve collected a lot of presents for the toy drive.”
“That’s fantastic!” Matt realized he still needed to get Becca a gift. “Speaking of gifts, I could use your help. I need to get Becca a gift and I am clueless. Any ideas?”
“I need to swing by Animal Cracker Toys to buy a dress for Lucy’s doll. I could pick up a gift for Becca if you like.”
“Mind if I tag along?”
“Sure,” Clara gulped down the coffee. “Becca mentioned she is into art.”
“She likes to go horseback riding too…”
“We’ll find the perfect gift.”
“How did your interview go?”
“Um…I got the job” Clara struggled to look Matt in the eyes. “Director of Sales at Fintech.”
“Wow – congratulations,” Matt’s eyes lit up – happy for Clara, but inside his stomach twisted in knots.
“I’m excited, but to be honest, it is a big transition…”
“You will be amazing!” Matt encouraged. “I don’t want to sound selfish, but I will miss having you around Soulful Java every day. I do hope you’ll still spare some time to bake – Clara’s Cupcake Creations are a crowd pleaser.”
“I’d love to work here part-time; it just depends on my schedule.” Clara knew that the position would demand most of her time – and knew she would have to put her cupcake business on the backburner.
“I support you, but don’t want to lose you.” Matt furrowed his brow – searching for words.
“Don’t worry, you won’t get rid of me that easily. I have a coffee addiction.”
“I have some news too, and I’d like your feedback.”
“Let’s walk and talk,” Clara suggested. “Animal Crackers is only a few blocks.”
Bedford Springs is always festive at Christmas – streets adorned with colorful lights and storefronts decked with holly and cheerful displays. Street musicians played sax and violin versions of familiar carols.
Animal Crackers is located by the Children’s Museum. It is stocked with unique toys and board games.
“Becca would love this ‘Little Van Gogh’ art kit. It teaches her how to paint ‘Starry Night.’ I also recommend Ticket to Ride Junior.” Clara suggested.
“What about Rudolph?” Matt pulled a large Rudolph stuffed animal from the shelf.
“You can never go wrong with Rudolph.”
“What do you want for Christmas, Clara?” Matt pressed as they checked out.
“Nothing, but peace on earth and goodwill to humanity.” Clara dismissed. She preferred to give rather than receive.
“Well, if you think of anything let me know.”
“Your allowing me to sell my cupcakes at Soulful Java is the best gift I could ask for,” Clara pivoted. “What did you ask Santa for, Matt?”
“She’s standing right here – a baker who gets coffee.” He laughed.
“I’ll make you a dozen cupcakes with extra frosting,” Clara didn’t mind Matt’s arm being around hers. “You said you wanted to discuss something…about work?”
“I spoke with my uncle and the community college wants me to design and oversee their expansion project in January.”
“I read about the project on the Bedford Springs Herald website. It is the largest expansion in the history of BSCC.” Clara noted. “That is a wonderful opportunity.”
“Yes, it is, but I don’t think I can accept.”
“Because of the coffee shop?”
“A project this scale will prevent me from being a hands-on manager. I won’t be able to actively run the shop for at least six months.”
Clara could understand his dilemma, she had the same conflicted feelings in her own career transition.
“Soulful Java is your passion and I understand how hard it will be to take a backseat role in your business.”
“I don’t think I can physically do it. I don’t have a backup manager and to get someone trained will take some time.”
“I think you can ramp an assistant manager fairly quickly. I’m happy to help you interview candidates.”
“I actually planned to offer you the job, but I understand you can’t turn FinTech down.”
“Yeah,” Clara had a million things she wanted to say. ‘Yes, I want to manage the shop,’ but her reason sidelined her.
“If you were in my shoes, what would you do?”
“I cannot answer that for you, but I know you are super talented, and the community college project would be an amazing experience. If you can work, it out to find a qualified manager for Soulful Java – then you need to take it.” Clara paused. “But don’t give up your dream – Soulful Java is amazing, and I know it will continue to grow and evolve into the best coffeehouse in the state. You just need balance and to hire help.”
“I appreciate the advice.” Matt squeezed her hand. “Thanks for helping me find Becca the perfect gift. I gave her a ninja set last year and it was a disaster. At least this Christmas I’ll be cool Uncle Matt.”
“Becca adores you.”
“Well, she likes you too.” Matt didn’t go into details about Becca’s matchmaker plans.
“I better get home to feed Pumpkin Spice,” Clara noticed the time. “I’m catering an event tomorrow – but see you Tuesday?”
“Counting down the minutes, frosty.” Matt nearly leaned in for a kiss but decided to wait for mistletoe. ‘No need to mess up a friendship.’