Eve left the main building a little after 6:30 the following morning and made her way down the dark driveway to the orchard. She had two stainless steel to-go tumblers of coffee in her hands. The stars were just beginning to fade in the sky and the air was cool. In half an hour or so the sun would begin to rise, and by noon the day would be sunny and warm.
A pair of small, stationary headlights shone in the distance. When Eve got closer, she could see it was a small utility vehicle with a cart attached. Elphin was unloading empty, wooden crates. He was wearing his usual Carhart cargos and t-shirt, this time with an unzipped hooded sweatshirt on top.
The orchard was surrounded by a tall wooden, split rail fence. Green moss and pale lichen clung to a weathered entrance gate that had been made out of fallen tree branches from the forest. The gate was currently open, giving easy access. Rose bushes flanked its sides. Inside the orchard, ladders capable of reaching the highest apples, were already setup next to trees.
“Good morning,” Eve called out. “I brought coffee.”
Elphin put the last crate down, looked up and smiled when he saw Eve. She was wearing fitted jeans, low trail hikers and a bright orange and black jacket with thumb holes. She must be a runner, he thought.
“Thanks,” he said. “You’re out early. Where’s Tess?”
“She’s not really a morning person. But she promised she would meet us in the orchard before noon.”
The smile widened.
Trouble, Eve thought. That smile is definitely trouble. “I met Julie Spartan this morning while I was making coffee. She seems nice.”
“Did you ask if she wanted to pick apples? She was really into the pear harvest.”
“No. She was collecting maps and books of the area. Said she wanted to go on a long hike today.”
“It’s going to be a perfect day for it.” Elphin took a sip of coffee, lost in thought for a beat over the idea of Julie Spartan researching the area. “It’s also going to be a great day for apple picking.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
“That’s the great thing about The Roost. Help is always needed.”
Eve and Elphin spent the rest of the morning picking apples from the trees and placing them in large crossbody bags. When the bags became full, or too heavy, they transferred the contents to the crates. The crates were carried out of the orchard and placed in the utility vehicle’s wagon.
At noon they decided to break for lunch. Three-quarters of the orchard had been harvested, Eve’s back was killing her, and the novelty of fall apple picking had worn off. Luckily her hands didn’t hurt bad enough that they would keep her from ringing Tess’s neck.
They drove the utility vehicle back to The Inn and began the task of unloading apple crates and carrying them into the kitchen through the delivery door. Tess was standing in the kitchen at a large, metal, counter height worktable. Next to her was a tall, beautiful woman, mid-30s, bold makeup and jet-black hair pulled back tight in a bun. Both Tess and the woman wore aprons. Tess’s apron was covered in flour, much like her face and hair.
“Darlink!” The woman said to Tess. “This is pastry for eat. Not board of card for box. Roll thinner!”
“Hey, Irma,” Elphin said as he put his crate down. “I see you guys got an early start on the pie making fun.”
Elphin put his arm around Eve’s shoulders and led her over to the table. “Irma is The Roost’s kitchen helper, and a trained pastry chef.
“Irma, I’d like you to meet The Owl’s Roost Inn’s new owner, Eve Jensen. If she’s half as good at running The Inn as she is at picking apples, we should all be just fine.”
Irma tilted her head toward Tess. “If this one twice as good at pie as wearing fashionable, yet inappropriate shoe, we still be screwed.”
“Aw, thanks.” Tess said, looking down at her flour covered, pink sequined, platform sneakers. “I even got them at half price.”
Irma finished kneading her dough into a perfect ball, turned her head towards Eve, and nodded slightly in acknowledgement. “Please meet you.”
“Same here. Wow. A pastry chef. Where did you work?”
“Cruise ship. Where I meet husband, Todd. Nyet! Nyet! Nyet! Roll circle, not triangle.”
Elphin took a step closer to Eve. “Maybe you want to stay and help with apple peeling. I can handle the last of the trees.”
Eve nodded. “Probably a good idea.”
“It can’t be bad idea. You! The Tess. Off dough. Peeler and bowl at end of table. Peel apple. Cut pieces. Put in bowl. Boss lady, apron on hook. You make flaky pastry with me.”
Eve and Tess washed their hands, Eve put on an apron and they went to their new stations.
Irma gave Eve some basic instructions on size and thickness of crust and handed her a ball of pastry dough. Eve rolled out the dough, praying she wouldn’t get nyetted.
“Nyet! The Tess, you are insulting apple.”
“Listen.” Tess said, hands on hips. “I Googled apple pie last night. This was how they cut them on YouTube.”
“Maybe in Los Angles where skinny, beautiful peoples full after one bite. This mountain pie. Peoples put in fork, pulls out apple.” Irma went to a drawer and rummaged through it. “Ahah! Magic slicer of apple.” She held up a simple round device that cored and divided all at the same time. She gave it to Tess to try.
In one quick push Tess had a perfectly cored and sliced apple. Her eyes glassed over with joy. “Greatest… invention… ever.”
“Yes. Yes. Now you do job good.”
By the time the sun had set, Irma had left, and Eve felt like she could sleep for a week. Tess had moved from crust to apples to assembly and was now in her element, bedazzling. She was cutting out tiny leaves and making berries out of leftover dough. She was doing basket weaves and perfect pie crust pinches.
Eve left Tess in the kitchen, trudged upstairs to their apartment, kicked off her shoes and instantly fell asleep on the bed. Tomorrow she would have a relaxing day of going over finances and learning the ins and outs of operating an inn.