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Four AM….hand rubbed over tired eyes, streaks of flour painting her cheek like heavy handed highlighter. Petite form sat perched on the steel stool behind the baking table, enjoying the silence of the closed bakery.  She liked the night shift. She got to bake alone and once the stock for the morning was done… experiment.

 

Thick amber lashes drooped over the crimson orbs, sleep deprivation finally catching up on her as the breathing slowed. For a split second sleep grabbed her. Lulling…. Calming… Drowning…. always that tumultuous ocean and the angry captain swallowed her dreams.

 

Ding of the oven popped open her eyes, frown descending immediately. Hopping from the stool she slid on the mitt to pull the trays from the oven.  The room flooded with the scent of scrumptious bread as she pulled the door open, setting the hot trays on the metal baking table.

 

Why did that trip always haunt her.

 

She had barely managed to help the captain get the ship to shore without exposing her "grotesque" demon form… a little more ocean spray and the "rash" of red that had crept up her skin would have erupted into tentacles on his deck. As it was… she had managed to keep her secret.  There had been such hope for a moment… hope that she was not alone, that there would be someone she could talk to, share what she could do with…. but he was as different and cold as the others on this world. Wanting nothing to do with her the moment they were ashore.  He didn’t want to learn how to speak with these waters. She didn’t understand that.

 

It had been a rough year on this continent halfway around the world from Ireland. A victim of Outworlder Registration, she was scared to be seen, spending her time scrounging for food and hiding out in abandoned buildings through what was once Main, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. For all she was trying to stay hidden, over the year she was slowly making her way down to civilization.

 

She missed Ireland. There she had somewhat fit in. The fiery crop of waves attributed to an Irish heritage. On this side of the world,  in the dregs of towns and cities still desolate…. it got a few looks. It hadn't been until she reached New York that she finally seemed to manage a little anonymity. Women here came in all shapes and colors. Hair as vibrant as neon green had caught her completely off guard. Suddenly her bright red seemed tame.

 

The first three months she scrimped and saved, still keeping to the shadows… still afraid she would be hunted down. Odd jobs and sifting through trash eventually got her enough to replace clothes that were in shambles and usually two sizes too big for her. She was looking….. normal.

 

That was when she had gotten a part time job selling in the front of the bakery. One month later the owner took a chance and let her start working in the kitchen and in just two more months she was the Assistant Baker. It wasn’t the same like having her own bakery. Maybe someday she would again.

 

Fingers delicately poked one of the exotic brioche breads, smiling at the spring. She had finished all the pastries for the morning. This had been her experiment one. The bakery owner and head baker was an elderly Frenchman who had taught her a number of new recipes. This was a twist on the brioche she had learned last week. Popping them out of the trays she placed the small loafs in an arrangement on a white platter on the baking table. Jean Pierre would be in by 4:30 so they would still even be warm for him to taste. This had become a ritual of theirs. Plucking the extra one to take home for herself she hung her apron on the hook by the door and puller her coat on in its place, the blue wool 3/4 length hanging to booted calves.  Times like this, she was glad for her petite size, the wool swallowing her to keep of the bite of cold.

 

Locking up the back door as she left, she started the three block walk back to her small loft.  It was a single room efficiency that some might find claustrophobic, but she didn’t need much. Sometimes she wished it had a real kitchen for baking, but she got to do that at the bakery most days so… for now… it worked.

 

Hands shoved away in her pockets as breath swirled from her lips. Winters were worse here than in Ireland but she didn’t mind. She had lived in ocean depths far colder than this.   

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