About the main character: they love the sea (strongbabe2907), observant (karasunodeity), a lesbian (nicolejones277)
The opening sentence: There were pressed flowers on the table. (en_ole_hyttynen)
A/N: I wrote this story because I was feeling super stressed out and stuck. Writing this helped me a lot! I hope it can bring you some calmth as well <3
There were pressed flowers on the table.
That was important, she felt.
It was both a summary and a conclusion of this place; nothing could grow here. It wasn’t meant to be a place of growth anyway. Van Dijk’s Antique Store was meant to be browsed, to be leafed through like a fascinating magazine filled with pictures you didn’t understand when you first looked at them. Van Dijk’s many aisles were filled with old reading chairs, yellowed, half-finished diaries, and fragile tea cups missing their saucers.
Anne van Dijk stood inside her grandfather’s overflowing antique store, and all she could look at were the pressed flowers on the table.
Yesterday, she’d earned a promotion that would require her to travel abroad. It meant long hours, short flights, and a medium salary. She was not particularly looking forward to it, but had wanted to celebrate nonetheless. Unfortunately, there had been too much work to take the evening off. And then she’d gotten a phone call. Her grandfather had died and left her his antique store.
Anne picked up the dried flowers.
The leaves were brittle, and broke underneath her fingertips.
What use did she have for an antique store when she already had a job? She should sell the place. Use the profit, if there was any, to save for the future. What that looked like, she had no idea. More work, probably. A bigger salary, perhaps. A girlfriend who looked like Kristen Stewart, hopefully.
Anne hadn’t been able to say goodbye to her grandfather. She’d only seen him a handful of times when she was younger, before her father and grandfather had a fight and they stopped visiting.
But she could say goodbye to the store.
She resolved herself to walk through every aisle, so that’s what she did, occasionally reaching out to pick up an old book or trail her fingers along a piece of furniture. She was surprised there wasn’t any dust. She thought dust was like salt to an antique store; you needed it for flavor.
The cabinet was hidden behind a large dresser, yet Anne recognized it immediately when she walked past it. On one of her few visits, her grandfather had been cleaning the cabinet. She’d asked him where it came from and he’d told her that he didn’t know. It could’ve been here before he bought the shop.
“Or perhaps it came from another world,” he’d said with a secretive smile.
Anne sucked in her stomach and squeezed past the other furniture to get to the cabinet. She felt around the back. If she remembered correctly…
Her fingers soon found the little door. She opened it and retrieved a plain, metal key.
“Look, Anne,” her grandfather had said. “With this key, you can travel to the world of the cabinet.”
But before Anne could try, her father had intervened. He’d picked her up and handed her to her mother, who said they would wait outside the store.
Looking over her mother’s shoulder, Anne saw her father’s angry expression and her grandfather’s tired one. She caught a bit of their conversation before they went outside.
“We don’t want Anne to believe in fairytales,” her father had said. “What good will come of it? None. The world isn’t fair, and it’s better she learned it sooner rather than later.”
It was because of this belief, ingrained in her by her parents, that she felt stupid when she put the key in the cabinet door and paused.
What was she waiting for?
After all, magic wasn’t real, fairytales were sexist, and the world wasn’t fair.
When Anne turned the key, she expected nothing from it, really.
Nothing but a disappointing answer to a question she’d had since childhood.
“What’s in the cabinet, grandpa?”
The smell of salt,
the cries of birds,
and the calming sound of the ocean.
“Another world, buttercup.”
The room Anne found herself in when she opened her eyes was, shockingly, not Van Dijk’s Antique Store.
It was a quaint little room with white walls. A bed with a metal frame and a colorful quilt was in the left corner. On the right was a writing desk—the type you’d find in an antique store.
Faded blue curtains moved gently in the wind, because, Anne saw, the window was open. As if in a dream, she moved to close it, but her hand froze when she saw the ocean in the distance. She knew the ocean was nowhere near Van Dijk’s Antique Store, yet she could hear it as clear as day. A soft, rushing sound that brushed sweetly against her ears.
The door swung open.
Not the door that Anne had come through, or the door of the wardrobe, but the door opposite the window. It now contained a squat little woman with dark skin, lots of wrinkles, and a tuft of grey hair that she’d tied up in a bun.
Anne felt caught for some reason.
“Welcome,” the little woman said. “How long are you staying?”
“Staying?” Anne repeated.
“Ah. For a day, then.”
“What? No, I’m not—I mean, I can’t stay.”
The little woman didn’t seem to accept this. She threw Anne a pair of gloves, where she’d got them from, Anne didn’t know, and said, “Come.”
Anne didn’t catch the gloves. They fell from her hands before she could grasp them. She quickly picked them up, then hurried after the woman.
She entered a hallway with many doors and many stairs. There was one going down, and one going up. Anne leaned over the railing and was surprised to see at least three more staircases going up. How high was this building?
“Don’t get lost!” the little woman yelled at her, and with a start, Anne realized she had already disappeared from sight.
She ran through the hallway, which contained more doors, and followed the woman down the staircase. And down another. And another.
Finally, they came into a tall kitchen with blue painted cabinets and bright yellow curtains. It looked like an eccentric aunt, the kind who always had the best stories at birthdays.
“I’m Sachine,” the little woman said. She was pulling bowls and burlap sacks out of the cupboards.
She didn’t ask for her name, but Anne gave it anyway. “I’m Anne.”
The woman nodded, but didn’t stop grabbing a whole array of stuff from the cabinets.
Anne took the opportunity to walk to the kitchen door. It led into a herb garden, which was fenced in with a white picket fence that was just slightly tilted. The path through the garden continued over a dune, and would probably lead to the sea.
“Where is this place?” she asked.
“Does it really matter?” Sachine asked. Though her answers were short, her voice was soothing. She spoke in an unhurried way, like a warm breeze on a lazy summer day.
“Yeah?” Anne said. “Are we still on earth? Did I get transported to another planet, or another time? What is this town even called?”
“Town? I’m sorry, buttercup, but you won’t find a town here. Not unless you are prepared to walk for half a day.”
Anne turned, surprised. The little woman had called her buttercup, just like her grandfather had.
“Sit down,” Sachine said, and gestured at a wonky wooden chair. “We’re going to make bread.”
Anne blinked. “I always buy my bread from the store.”
“Well, I’d say now is an excellent time to learn.”
“I dunno…” Anne looked out the window, then back to the little woman. “I should probably be going, I have a flight tomorrow morning. I got promoted yesterday, so I can’t throw away my first assignment.”
Sachine put three mixing bowls on the table. They were all a different size and color; one had little blue flowers painted on its sides.
“I’m not going to stop you from going,” Sachine said. “I run a bed and breakfast, not a prison.”
With a little spoon, she put something inside the mixing bowl that smelled very strongly of bread. If Anne had known how to make bread, she would’ve recognized it as yeast.
“I’ve never had freshly baked bread,” Anne said hesitatingly.
Sachine peered up at her, a small smile on her lips. “It really is quite delicious. Good for the heart, you know.”
Anne took a step towards the wonky kitchen chair, then paused. The flight tomorrow. She couldn’t miss it. And she had to prepare for the consecutive meeting too. The schedule was quite tight. She could maybe make some extra notes in the plane, but it was best to do them beforehand, which was to say, now.
“How long does it take to make bread?”
“Ten minutes or so for kneading,” Sachine said, pouring a massive amount of flour in her bowl. “Then comes the rising, the kneading, the rising, the kneading, the rising, the—”
“Kneading, I get it,” Anne said.
“No, the baking.”
Anne let out a laugh. “Alright.”
A little something sparked inside her chest. It was light and bouncy and a little warm. It seemed to grab her hand and pull her excitedly towards the chair, asking her if she was going to sit, asking her if she was going to learn how to bake bread.
Anne was surprised by this feeling.
She had been following the same routine for months: wake up, eat breakfast, work, work, work, watch a movie, then fall asleep on the couch.
She’d forgotten what curiosity felt like.
She let the feeling guide her to the chair, still a little dazed by it all, then looked at the assortment of bowls and ingredients.
“Where do I start?” she asked.
Sachine gave her a warm smile. “Why, at the beginning.”
Kneading dough was an odd feeling; sticky and heavy and quite unlike tapping away on a phone or writing on your laptop. When they were done with the first round, Anne felt a curious sort of accomplishment as she put a gingham towel over the mixing bowl and put it on the window sill, in the sun.
“I guess that’s it,” she said, eyes drifting past the yellow curtains to the sand dunes in the distance. “I should get going.”
“You said you’d never made bread, right?” Sachine asked. “I can assure you, the process is quite wonderful. It would be a shame to not see the result of your efforts.”
That was true.
The light and bouncy feeling in her chest was quite adamant she follow through with the bread, and Anne was hesitant to ignore it. It had been too long since she last felt anything like this; all those days of the same routine had unwillingly made her chest heavier.
“Alright,” she said, and turned around. “What do we do while we wait?”
Sachine cleared away the last of the ingredients, except for the burlap sack of flour. Just then, the sun appeared from behind the clouds and drifted through the small kitchen windows, shining on the wonky little table and the wonky little chairs and the wonky little woman.
“We clean the house,” she said.
Anne’s curiosity wilted. “Oh.”
Sachine gave her an admonishing look. “Don’t look at me like that. Cleaning is good for the heart, you know.”
That might be true, but all Anne could think about were the six staircases and many more doors she’d seen.
Still, she followed Sachine out of the kitchen and into what she presumed was the main hallway. There was a little cupboard underneath the staircase that was filled with so many things, Anne didn’t know which to look at first; the handwoven baskets, the many blue buckets, the small pots of paint, or the faded calendar hanging on a nail.
“You want to clean the entire house?” she asked instead.
Sachine reached for two blue buckets. “No, buttercup,” she said. “Don’t start a task you can’t finish today. It’s bad for the heart.”
“That’s not true. Sometimes I have to work on a big report, and if I never started it, it would never be done.”
Sachine handed her a blue bucket and a bright yellow sponge. She gave her a sad look. “I imagine that must be straining. And of course you must start big tasks, but thinking about them as big has never helped anyone. Even a big report like that can be split up in smaller tasks, can’t it?”
“I suppose, yes. There’s different parts to the process.”
“Well, there you go.” Sachine threw a blue and white patterned towel over her shoulder, closed the cupboard door, and walked resolutely up the first staircase. “We won’t clean the entire house. That task is too big. Today, we’ll do the first floor. After all, we have an hour to fill before our bread is ready for its second knead.”
Anne’s chest immediately felt lighter. The first floor wasn’t so bad.
She followed Sachine up the stairs, taking her time to observe the pictures and frames hanging on the walls. There were multiple paintings, a few yellowed photos, and a few letters. Anne didn’t read the letters, but she peered more closely at the photos. Some were of a very tall and slightly wonky white house, with the ocean in the background; Sachine’s bed and breakfast, she assumed. Others were of people Anne didn’t recognize, though one of them was sitting in the blue and yellow kitchen and smiling up at the camera. Visitors of the bed and breakfast?
Without preamble, Sachine opened the first door on the first floor. Anne opened her mouth to ask where she could get water, when she saw that Sachine’s bucket was already sloshing. She paused. Sachine hadn’t left her sight. How was her bucket filled with water?
Before she could ask, Sachine pointed to the left. “There’s the bathroom. I got a piece of soap right here.”
Anne shook her head, perplexed, and put on the gloves Sachine had thrown at her.
They worked in silence for a good while. Though Anne could faintly hear the sea. The rushing waves didn’t push or pull at her; they simply moved along with her hand as she cleaned the floor. It was calming. Peaceful. And satisfying when they stepped back and looked at the gleaming floors and smelled the fresh scent of flowers. It was so clean.
Anne sighed, satisfied, her chest feeling so much lighter.
“See?” Sachine said. “Good for the heart.”
Anne nodded, but as they walked to the second room, she couldn’t help but ask, “Is this what you do all day everyday? Clean and bake?”
“Some variation of it, yes,” Sachine said, dipping her sponge in the soapy water.
Anne had a hard time picturing that kind of life. “But doesn’t it drive you mad being inside this house all the time? Not talking to others? Being completely by yourself? I think my thoughts would drive me insane.”
Sachine sat back and looked at her. “I’ll admit some days aren’t easy. Just like I imagine your busy days aren’t always easy. But I appreciate this life and all it offers me. There is peace to be found in being by yourself and simply being yourself.”
Anne frowned. “But don’t you want to move forward?”
“Not all the time. I’ve never been a fan of running, so I don’t see my life as a race, but rather a stroll through a beautiful park. Some days, I need to catch my breath and sit on a bench and just enjoy being.”
Anne mulled over her words while they cleaned the remaining two rooms, all white-walled and charming in their simplicity. The satisfaction of leaving behind a clean and fresh smelling room didn’t lessen, though Anne’s body soon found herself ready to rest.
“Let’s see how our breads are doing,” Sachine said.
They descended the stairs and walked into the tall kitchen with blue cupboards and yellow curtains.
The sun had fully come out now, and was shining on the wonky kitchen table and the wonky kitchen chairs. Anne longed to fall into one of them, but her curiosity pulled her towards the gingham covered bowl.
“Are you ready?” Sachine asked.
Anne nodded, and pulled off the towel. A huge, surprised smile spread on her face as she saw that her dough had risen to double its size. It was huge and bouncy when she poked it with a finger.
“That’s amazing!” she exclaimed. She had made that. She had made that happen with her own hands.
Her excitement didn’t let up as they sat down to knead the bread a second time. Sachine also seemed satisfied. She hummed a song that Anne’s grandfather always used to sing, so after a while, Anne joined in and they sang together.
Their bouncy doughs went back into the bowl, back underneath their gingham towels, and back on the window sill.
“Grow lots, my baby,” Anne whispered to it, then laughed at herself; something she hadn’t done in a while. It was hard, after all, not to take yourself so seriously, especially when work demanded you be serious all the time.
Anne turned to find Sachine still sitting on the chair, her eyes closed, enjoying the sun.
“Alright, what’s next?” Anne asked. “What else is good for the heart?”
When Sachine opened her eyes, they sparkled. “Something unexpected!”
They walked up two flights of stairs this time, and stopped in front of the room Anne had arrived in.
The unfamiliar but not unwelcome lightness in Anne’s chest shied away from the room, and she felt a reluctance to return. But her work! Her flight!
With a start, Anne realized she hadn’t thought about her work in some time now. That wasn’t good… was it?
“What time is it?” she asked.
Sachine didn’t look at a clock as she replied, “Around three, I’d say.”
“Around three?!” Anne felt her heart sink, taking the lightness with it. “I should probably be going if I want to get anything done before tomorrow’s flight.”
Sachine looked at her with keen eyes. “If that is what your heart needs.”
“I have no idea what my heart needs,” Anne answered honestly. “But my wallet needs me to show up to work.”
Sachine let out a laugh. “You’re quite right. But isn’t it a dreadful thing to think about on a quiet day such as this?”
Anne bit her lip.
Wherever she was now, she should really be going back to her own country, her own city, her own home, so she could finish the notes in time for the meeting tomorrow.
But what about the bread? her heart asked.
And what about the unexpected thing Sachine wanted to show you? her newly awakened curiosity whispered.
“Alright,” Anne said. “What are we going to do?”
Sachine smiled and gestured for Anne to walk into the room. It was the same as how she left it a few hours ago. The same white walls, writing desk, and metal framed bed.
From the open window came a warm, soft breeze that smelled like the sea.
“What is your favorite color, Anne?” Sachine asked.
Anne thought about it. “I don’t know,” she said truthfully. “I’ve always liked blue.”
Sachine nodded, not in a sense that she thought it was a good answer, but in a way that was encouraging. Then she disappeared, only to reappear so quickly she couldn’t have gone far. In her wrinkly hands, she held a pot of paint, a tray, and a large paint roller.
“You’ll find old t-shirts in the wardrobe,” she said.
Anne stared at the supplies in Sachine’s hands. “You want me to paint?”
“Yes!” Sachine let out a delightful laugh. “Turn these white walls into something wonderful, please, buttercup. I promise you, it’ll be good for your heart.”
Anne doubted it. It was way more practical to leave the walls white and neutral, in case Sachine had other guests. Guests who did not like blue. Yet Sachine hadn’t lied to her so far, so she fetched an old, oversized white t-shirt from the wardrobe while Sachine put old newspapers on the floor.
Anne peered at the newspapers curiously. They came from all over the world. While she couldn’t read them, she recognized the languages and some of the pictures. Most were bad, in the sense that newspapers usually bring bad news. It felt quite good to put a large pot of paint on them and block out their bad news for a little while.
The color Sachine had chosen was light and bright. With the soft sounds of waves crashing the shore, it reminded Anne of the ocean in the early morning.
They moved all the furniture out of the room, and then it was time. Anne dipped the giant paint roller into the color, hefted it towards the first white wall she could see and splash! Painted a bright blue stroke over it. It was oddly satisfying.
Anne let out a startled laugh. “Oh gosh. What am I doing?”
“Something unexpected,” Sachine said.
That was certainly true. With vigor, Anne got to work painting the walls blue. Halfway through the job, Sachine left the room only to return with some fruit and two pieces of cake.
Hands and arms speckled with blue, Anne ate with pleasure. She hadn’t noticed she was hungry until she put the first slice of refreshing, slightly sour apple in her mouth.
“That does the trick,” she sighed.
“I have a friend who runs an apple orchard,” Sachine said. “She sends me apples from time to time.”
“Do you go to visit her?”
“Not often. But we send each other gifts with little notes. It’s not as good as sitting opposite each other, of course, but it’s nice. Keeping in touch with your friends is good for the heart, you know.”
Anne thought about the last time she’d seen her friends, but it had been a while. She’d been so busy with work lately. Before she knew it, a month had passed.
She should send them a message and schedule a date to meet up. Do something nice. Something unexpected.
“Alright,” she said, moving to her feet. “Only one more wall to go.”
“And then more kneading,” Sachine reminded her with a smile.
Anne laughed. “Yes, though I wonder if you made all these bread-making steps up to keep me here longer.”
“Nonsense,” Sachine said. “Bread needs to be made with love. That’s why it takes a long time.”
“Or it loves the attention.”
Sachine let out a little laugh. “Very true.”
With renewed energy, Anne went to work on the last wall. When she was done, her arms burning slightly from the work, she took a step back and looked around the room. Everywhere she looked was blue. It was beautiful.
She went to the window and opened it even further, letting in the sounds and scent of the ocean.
When she looked at the light blue walls now, she could imagine she was floating in the water, gently being pushed and pulled by the waves.
Anne closed her eyes and breathed in deeply.
“It’s beautiful,” Sachine said quietly.
“It is,” Anne agreed. “I wish I had painted my apartment in this color.”
“You still can.”
“Nah, it wouldn’t look very mature.”
Sachine made a noise that sounded very much like pah. “What are you talking about? Age has nothing to do with colors. Even if you were my age, you could still paint your room blue. It doesn’t matter what others think, buttercup, what matters is what makes you happy. What matters is what makes your chest feel lighter.”
Anne had to admit it’d been a while since she last felt this… relaxed. “How old are you anyway?” she asked.
“It’s time to knead our bread one last time,” was all Sachine said about that topic, but Anne caught her secretive smile before she turned and disappeared into the hallway.
The sun touched the tops of the sand dunes when they returned to the kitchen. Soft orange sunlight brushed past the yellow curtains and gently warmed the gingham covered bowls.
Anne excitedly grabbed hers and peeked at the dough. It was even bigger and bouncier than before.
“You’re so beautiful,” she cooed as she poked it.
Sachine put two round tins on the table, then sat down with a satisfied sigh. “We knead them one last time before putting them in the bread tins. They don’t need to rise long after that, just a couple of minutes before they’re ready to go in the oven.”
Excited, Anne grabbed her dough from the bowl and revelled in the strange texture. It was so gooey and springy, and quite unlike anything she’d ever touched before.
“I can’t wait to taste it,” she said.
Sachine hummed. “I should make a soup to go with it. I have fresh carrots, celery, and potatoes. And I think I have some tomatoes too…”
“Oh, that would be so good.”
“Have you made soup before?”
“Nope,” Anne said. “My work hours are so long that at the end of the day I just want to sit on the couch and eat pasta. However…” She looked at the dough underneath her hands. “Maybe I should try a new recipe sometime, actually make something from scratch.”
“You don’t have to cook from scratch if that brings you no pleasure, Anne. I myself find cooking and baking quite relaxing for the mind,” Sachine said. “But my friend, the one who owns an orchard, swears by knitting and embroidery.”
Anne thought this over while she shaped her dough into a round, flat ball so it would fit in the tin.
She admired that Sachine was focused on what was good for her heart and mind, but it was easy for her to be, wasn’t it? She ran a bed and breakfast by the sea. She lived in another world. Literally. Anne couldn’t very well stop working. The long hours were awful and exhausting and left her with little time for anything but eating and sleeping, yet she couldn’t simply say sod it all. Fairytales weren’t real. Happy endings needed to be earned.
For the last time, Anne put a gingham towel over the bouncy dough and put it on the window sill.
The sun was slipping behind the sand dunes already, like it was running on bare feet through the sand, hurrying down towards the water.
In the distance, a bird cried out.
“Do you want to watch the sunset?” Sachine asked, beside her.
Anne hadn’t heard her come closer. She looked at the little woman, who really only reached her elbow, then back towards the sand dunes.
She should be going.
She didn’t want to.
The curiosity in her chest reached for her hand and gently tugged her forward, asking her what was beyond those dunes.
“Yes,” Anne said.
The sound of waves reached her first. Water lapped calmly, gently, at the beach; a soft push and pull that momentarily washed away the concerns Anne had and left only excitement.
They reached the top of the dune behind Sachine’s bed and breakfast. Stretching before them was a small beach that embraced the sea in a small crescent. The water sparkled. The sand looked light and soft. Sachine nudged her and pointed to her own feet, and Anne saw she’d already taken off her shoes.
While Anne reached down and untied her own, Sachine made her way to the water.
Above, a bird closely resembling a seagull let out a cry. It was twice as large and had a bluish sheen to its feathers, and if Anne had really looked at the bird, she might’ve paused and stared up at it with an open mouth. But she was too excited to feel the sand beneath her feet that she only vaguely registered its presence.
She stepped onto the beach.
Her feet sank in the sand, which tickled her skin. Anne let out a laugh.
In the distance, Sachine had sat down and was watching the waves. Anne made her way over, then paused, and looked back at the bed and breakfast.
It was exactly the same as in the picture. Tall and slightly wonky. Yet the colors were better than in the black and white picture. The bed and breakfast was painted in a bright blue shade with white trimming.
It looked like a breath of fresh air,
a place for breathing,
for simply being.
Anne let out a deep, contented sigh. Then she made her way over to Sachine and sat down beside her.
The sand was slightly warm from the sun. Anne buried her hands in it and wriggled her fingers, feeling the grains move between them.
Sachine said nothing. Deep orange rays of sunshine rested gently on her face and arms, as if the sun had wrapped a warm blanket around her.
And Anne could see it, then.
The appeal of a life where you appreciated all the little things. Where you appreciated—or at the very least accepted—taking a rest on a bench, even though it meant you weren’t moving.
The appeal of simply being.
“I love it here,” she said.
“I do too, buttercup,” Sachine said softly.
“I don’t love my job. And I don’t think it’s good for my heart.”
Sachine put her hand on top of Anne’s. Her skin was warm from the sun. “Find the things that are, Anne. Find them and hold onto them. They will lighten your heart and help you continue this horrible job.”
Anne felt tears prick her eyes. “To be honest, I don’t even get paid that much. I have very long hours, but I never get compensated for them. And now I have to travel abroad and work even longer hours, and have even less time for things that make me happy.”
“Anne, I am sure you can do it. You might be in an uglier part of the park right now, but if you keep walking, you’ll eventually find yourself in a field of flowers.”
Tears fell over Anne’s cheeks. “I don’t know if I can.”
Sachine tightened her grip on Anne’s hand. “Then maybe you’re following the wrong path. Maybe the flowers are to the left, and not the right.”
The sun slowly sank beneath the waves, like it was reluctant to leave them alone. Anne watched it disappear, little by little, and wondered if she could. If she could quit her job, if not now, then soon.
She hadn’t looked for other jobs. Perhaps she should.
She wiped her eyes and laughed when she rubbed sand all over her face in the process.
“I think it’s time for dinner, don’t you?” Sachine asked. “A warm belly is good for the heart.”
They put their breads in the oven, then sat at the kitchen table to chop and peel vegetables for the soup.
“Where are the other guests?” Anne asked, while peeling a potato.
“It’s just you and me right now,” Sachine answered.
Watching Sachine cook was very interesting. She pulled ingredients and spices from every cabinet in the kitchen—and there were many. Soon, the kitchen smelled delicious. The comforting scent of vegetable soup mixed with the warm smells of fresh bread made Anne’s stomach growl.
And then it was time to get them from the oven.
Sachine handed Anne two oven mitts; a blue one and a yellow one. Excited, Anne opened the oven door and was blasted with hot air and delicious smells and finally, the sight of her first homemade bread. It was puffy and crispy and golden brown in color.
“It’s beautiful!” she exclaimed.
They cut into the breads almost immediately, and Anne let out a sigh of happiness when she took a bite. Words could not describe how soft and fluffy and crunchy and perfect her own bread was.
“I can’t believe I made this,” she said, dipping the bread into the soup. “I was so sure it would taste awful, but it’s the best thing I’ve ever eaten. As is this soup, by the way.”
Sachine smiled. “I hope you don’t mind that we share it with others.”
Footsteps walked down the stairs and closer to the kitchen. They were hesitant and unsure, like Anne when she had first arrived.
“Hello?” a woman asked, peering around the corner. She had short dark hair and a beauty spot near her left eye. “I hope I’m not intruding, but I smelled food and I hoped there were people here. I think I’m lost. I found the key to a wardrobe in my grandmother’s attic and it brought me here?”
Sachine gestured to the chair next to her. “You’re welcome to sit and eat with us. We made the bread and soup ourselves.”
The woman smiled. “Honestly? That sounds really good right now.”
They ate dinner together. Anne flushed when the woman, who introduced herself as Jee-un, complimented their bread very sincerely. She seemed to really like it.
At the end of the meal, Sachine made them tea, and they talked about life; not in the sense that adults do, which is to say: complain about it. No, they talked about life very rebelliously. They talked about it as if it was, indeed, a walk in the park.
“I wish I could sleep here tonight,” Anne said. “But if I don’t go now, I think I’ll stay here forever.”
Sachine smiled. “I once said the same thing.”
“Thank you, Sachine. For everything.”
Anne gave her a hug, a soft, warm thing, then walked into the room she had arrived in. The bright blue walls greeted her cheerfully. Just like Anne, they had undergone quite a change. A change for the better.
Anne reached in her pocket and grabbed the plain, iron key. Her heart felt a little heavier when she put it in the cabinet’s lock, turned it, and opened the door.
Van Dijk’s Antique Store was the same as she had left it.
It was still filled with old reading chairs, yellowed, half-finished diaries, and fragile tea cups missing their saucers.
And a cabinet that led to another world.
She wondered if her grandfather had gone; if he’d told the truth when he had promised her an adventure. If he had known all along that magic was real, life could be good, and fairytales were meant to make your heart a little lighter.
Anne’s heart already yearned to go back to the bed and breakfast. She looked at the cabinet, and vowed to herself that she would.
This goodbye was not forever.
She pocketed the plain, iron key and walked through her grandfather’s antique store. What had once looked like trash, now looked like a love letter to life. Perhaps that chair had been someone’s favorite. Or maybe it hadn’t; maybe they had always disliked how it looked in their living room, so they chose to make their heart lighter by giving it away, in the hopes that it would become someone else’s favorite.
Anne walked to the front of the store,
and saw the pressed flowers on the table.
That was important, she felt.
It was both a summary and a conclusion of this place; nothing could grow here, yet that was okay. There was beauty to be found in simply being.
“You know,” she said to the flowers. “Maybe I’ll keep the store. I was looking for another job, anyway.”