No Longer Incognito – Fast Fiction by Joy DeKok
Hello! My name is Simone. I own Cups & Cupcakes at 2511 Main in Uffdah, MN. I lease the first floor of a large, beautiful old home owned by Octavia June Baldwin. It’s my honor to introduce you to her. She’s on her way down the curved walnut staircase now.
Watching her, I am amazed at her grace and quiet elegance. She’s lived in this one-hundred-year-old building all her eighty-five years.
She smiles and says, “Good morning, Simone. What is my favorite cupcake flavor today?”
This question hints at the little girl she once was. Green eyes sparkle, her white hair is styled in a short pageboy, and her Elizabeth Arden lipstick is a lovely shade called Tulip. I know because I get it for her when she needs a new tube. Her sweet dog, Poppy, is tucked under her left arm as she glides down the stairs. Her left hand barely touches the banister.
Today she is wearing her soft, well-worn ballet slippers, which indicates all of us in my little bakery are about to be blessed. I am thankful for my early morning habit of dusting her baby grand piano and polishing the brass pedals.
Her voice is strong, and her delivery gentle. She asks me, “Shall I play first or after?”
Christopher, a young author who is here to write and drink strong black coffee, and lots of it stands, pulls out the piano bench for her and says, “Perhaps you’ll join me for a cupcake with sprinkles after?”
He holds out his hand to her, she accepts and they walk to the alcove where her piano stands. My heart warms again as they finish their almost courtly ritual. She settles in on the red velvet upholstered bench, does a few hand exercises, and clasps her hands in her lap. As her head bows, Christopher and I retreat. Our friend always prays before she plays.
Her warm-up song is Marching to Zion, which she plays with so much gusto her bottom sometimes raises slightly from the bench.
A customer not familiar to us walks in and stands behind her. He is a robust man about her age. I startle startled when he picks Poppy up, kisses her on her doggie head, and without a moment of hesitation, starts to sing the words, his enthusiasm matching hers. The hymn comes to an end none of us says a word, and there is no spontaneous applause because they mesmerize us.
I feel like I’ve been to church, and someone should pray. It is a holy moment.
She turns to face him, and he asks, “What is your name? Surely, I’ve heard you play professionally.”
The blush that crosses her cheeks is only slightly softer than her lips. “My Daddy used to call me June Bug, but you can call me June. Almost everyone does. I have three more songs to play. If you know the words, feel free to join me.”
After His Eyes is on the Sparrow and In the Garden, the concert ends with How Great Thou Art. Elvis would have bawled. Edgar, my head baker, hands me a tissue and blows his nose in one himself.
The singer gives Poppy another kiss on her silken head between her sweet pointy ears, comes to the counter, orders a cupcake with chocolate frosting and sprinkles to go while I deliver June’s sprinkles-only cupcake.
On his way out the door, he says, “Your talent is still amazing, Octavia.” My breath catches. He knows her real name. Only a few of us do.
She says, “And so is yours, Charles.”
He bows low and lifts her hand to his lips.
Her voice holds a quiver when she asks, “Will you come again soon?”
The man called Charles nods, “I will.”
The door closes behind him, and she motions for me to join her and Christopher. Her eyebrow arches, and she asks me, “You want to know who the singer was?”
I nod but ask no questions because she prefers it that way.
Tears fill her eyes, and she reaches for my hand. “Charles is my beloved cousin. I have not seen him for a very long time. We sang together in our younger days. I’ve hoped I would see him again soon.”
Christopher doesn’t hesitate to ask, and for some reason, she doesn’t take offense on this day. “Why?”
June uses one of her favorite avoidance techniques and takes a big bite of her cupcake, chews as if she is eating beef jerky, takes a drink of her tea, and wipes her mouth with a napkin. I’m afraid she will leave and take Poppy upstairs with her.
Thankfully, she stays and changes the subject before we can probe deeper. “Which one of you is taking me to church this Sunday?”
I break her no questions rule. “You want to go out?” It’s been years. I am Poppy’s part-time caregiver and take her for potty breaks and long walks. Never have I seen June leave the building.
June looks me straight in the eyes. “Last night, I asked God for two things.” “Yesterday, you told me again Jesus loves and asked me to read the Gospels. I told you I didn’t have a Bible. You gave me yours, and I accepted it and read all day and into the night. Before falling to sleep, I asked Jesus to save me and to send Charles to me soon. At that moment, He answered the first prayer, and today He sent me Charles. I made God no bargains with that prayer, but a sweet desire to be with God’s people is rising in my heart. I know both of you go to church, so which one of you will it be?”
Christopher jumped right in. “It will be a privilege to escort you, June.”
I felt a sting of jealousy and hope it doesn’t show.
The young man stands and puts on his backpack. “Simone and I go to the same church, so I can pick you both up if you’d like.”
I accept. To hide my emotions, I take Poppy for a quick outside break. Back inside, I walk my lovely friend to the stairs. Her sweet dog nestles back into the crook of June’s arm. They both yawn, and I know a nap is in their very near future.
Behind me, I hear our dear Edgar clear his throat. Octavia smiles up at him and asks, “Have you been praying for me too?”
He nods and wipes his tears on his apron.
At the bottom step, my fingertips tingle when June says, “You may call me Octavia. As of today, I am no longer living incognito. God and Charles have found me.”
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see
Lyrics written by John Newton – Public Domain
I hope you enjoyed this story as much as I did writing it!
Until Next Time,
P. S. Here’s a flash fiction story I wrote a long time ago.