Montana Cherries

By: Kim Law

chapter one

Twenty cupcakes, purple sprinkles, princess wand,” Dani Wilde muttered to herself as she peered into the box on the counter, the homemade treats aligned with military precision. She closed the lid and laid her niece’s sparkly wand across the top. “Perfect.”

Turning from the cupcakes, she surveyed the rest of the kitchen to ensure that all was in order. Only to find a pile of women’s dry cleaning dumped on one end of the ten-person table. She stared up at the ceiling as if she could see right through it. Most likely, Michelle would claim another headache and wouldn’t be able to run her own errands again today. Including delivering the cupcakes to the preschool for Jenna’s last day of day camp.

Dani sighed, grabbed the pile of mail for her clients and the flyers for the summer sale at The Cherry Basket, and shoved it all into her Cinderella tote. Jenna had given her the tote last Christmas. The four-year-old loved Cinderella above all else.

Then Dani headed for the stairs.

When her father had moved into town six years earlier, stepping aside and leaving her brother, Gabe, to manage the family orchard, Gabe and Michelle had taken the opportunity to move into the master suite. But having Michelle in her parents’ room often reminded Dani of her mother. Carol Wilde had suffered from headaches, too. Only . . .

Dani shut off her thoughts. Possibly Michelle really had migraines. Who was she to say?

And if they were anything like Dani’s mother’s had been, then driving a car was the last thing she needed to be doing. That had been proven by the accident that had brought Dani back home from college.

Reaching the far end of the hallway, Dani knocked on the closed door and waited for a reply.

“Yes?” a muffled voice answered after several seconds. Dani cracked open the door to find the Vera Wang bedspread pulled over a slim mound in the middle of the bed and the shades drawn on the windows.

“Do you need me to take the cupcakes to the school?” Dani asked quietly.

“Do you mind?” Michelle didn’t even lift her head.

Guilt tugged at Dani. The woman was probably experiencing severe pain, and here she was being judge and jury. “I don’t mind,” she admitted. And she didn’t. She loved being there for Jenna. “There’s dry cleaning on the table . . .”

“Gabe took it down for me. Can you drop it off?”

Michelle rarely left the house in anything that didn’t need to be dry-cleaned.

“No problem.” Dani glanced at her watch. “I need to run in to see Mrs. Tamry anyway.”

Mrs. Tamry was one of their best customers at The Cherry Basket, but had been unable to come in for the last few weeks due to chemo treatments. Her husband would be happy to stop by for his wife’s favorite treat, but Dani preferred to take the fresh cherry scones herself. The weekly errand was the least Dani could do.

There wouldn’t be a lot of time for visiting with the Tamrys today—not with needing to drop off Jenna’s cupcakes—but adding in a run to the dry cleaner wouldn’t cost her more than a few minutes.

“Anything else I can do for you while I’m out?” Dani asked.

Several seconds of silence passed and Dani decided that Michelle had gone back to sleep, but then the covers shifted and she peeked out from behind her silk sleep mask. “Will you take care of Jenna tonight? I don’t want her coming in here and bothering me.”

The words cut Dani in a way that almost bent her over. She so wished she had the power to do something about Jenna’s mother. That was the only worry she had about her upcoming move from Montana to New York. She would be leaving her niece on her own. And this request wasn’t uncommon in the girl’s life.

Dani had never understood why Michelle had decided to conceive if she didn’t want to be a mother.

“Sure.” She nodded, even though Michelle had already disappeared back under the covers. “I’ll make sure we do something quiet once we’re back at the house.”

Everything about that sentence bothered Dani.

She shouldn’t have to keep Jenna quiet. She shouldn’t have to take care of Jenna.

If Michelle were a decent human being, she’d have an actual interest in seeing her own daughter grow up. But so far, that didn’t seem to be the case. What Gabe had ever seen in his wife, Dani had no idea. Or any sense as to why he continuously put up with her.