Rebecca sat in the kitchen stirring sugar into her cup, contemplating the end of her marriage as she tapped her teaspoon. She had spent 24 years with her husband Sean, during which time she had grown to love him with her heart and body; he meant more to her than just a spouse – he was the person she trusted completely. “Maybe that’s the real reason for our divorce,” she thought. “I dissolved into Sean just like this sugar in my teacup, Without a Trace, as if I never existed.”
Rebecca had spent all this time living Sean’s life, putting her own interests to the farthest corner. She used to have many friends, go on hiking trips, and lead an active lifestyle with them. But with Sean’s appearance in her life, everything began to revolve only around him.
They met at a dance; Rebecca had just graduated from culinary college and got a job at a local Chocolate Factory. Somehow, the young people immediately understood that they couldn’t live without each other. Soon, Sean proposed to Rebecca, but at the same time, he put one condition: “I want my wife to be a homemaker and take care of me, our home, and our future children,” he said. “A careerist doesn’t suit me.
I think it’s purely a male prerogative. So if you intend to climb the career ladder and work from morning till night instead of spending that time with your family, then we’re not a match. That’s how my father lived with my mother, my grandfather, and great-grandfather too. I’m not going to change the established order. Combining family and work don’t work. I’m warning you now so that we don’t have misunderstandings and disagreements later. Either you accept this, or we break up.”
“I agree,” Rebecca confidently replied, and she was sure she was doing the right thing. She didn’t argue with Sean because she loved him with all her heart, and her relationship with him was more important than anything else. Soon, the lovers had a modest wedding, and a month later, Rebecca learned that she was expecting a child. One after another, three daughters were born into the family.
Rebecca enjoyed her profession as a pastry chef, but with three children, it had to be put on hold, and this fact did not particularly depress her because family values were always a priority for her. Nevertheless, the lessons at culinary college weren’t entirely in vain; the skills she gained came in handy in the household. She often treated her loved ones and guests to various homemade pastries, and without force modesty, it could be said that her New York cheesecake, black forest cake, or lemon éclairs were much better than store-bought ones.
At every family celebration, Rebecca prepared something special; her baking invariably became the main treat at all her daughters’ school activities. “Your food is always so delicious. It’s evident that it’s cooked with heart, and most importantly, the homemade ingredients are natural – no chemicals, taste enhancers, or other harmful additives. That’s such a rarity these days,” the parent committee members and teachers always praised.
Rebecca’s cooking helped her relax and relieve stress; it was a kind of meditation for her. She belonged to the category of people who fear change anywhere but not in their own kitchen. In ordinary life, Rebecca was an indecisive woman, but at the stove, she transformed into a fearless innovator who loved to experiment and discover something new.
Rebecca and Sean lived well, peacefully, and harmoniously; there was warmth, trust, and love between them. Each of them fulfilled perfectly their assigned roles – he as the breadwinner and she as the homemaker. Rebecca always felt that their marriage was strong and exceptionally successful.
Years went by, the children grew up, started their own families, and flew away from the parental nest. That’s when Sean suddenly changed. Rebecca began to notice unpleasant changes in her husband. Once when her husband was getting ready for work, she brought him a freshly ironed shirt. Sean took it in his hands, scrutinized it critically from all sides, and frowned. “What kind of old stuff is this? Why don’t you throw it away? This model is no longer in fashion. I need to buy a new one,” he said.
“What do you mean, old stuff, Sean? I gave it to you a couple of months ago,” Rebecca said, surprised. The husband nervously threw the shirt on the floor. “Only old men wear this kind of thing. Everyone in our office is dressed to perfection, and I, thanks to my wife’s lack of taste, have to wear all kinds of junk,” Sean quipped.
“Well, but you said you liked it,” Rebecca said, biting her lip. “That means I didn’t look at it properly,” Sean said irritably. “This shirt is useless; you can use them as rags. I won’t wear it; I’m ashamed to wear something like this to work.”
Rebecca didn’t blow things out of proportion and wisely kept quiet, blaming her husband’s mood on stress. Sean had a lot of work lately; he often stayed late and was just tired. He was overworked and overwrought, she reasoned.
On Friday, they took their grandson and went to the summer house. At the end of the day, as usual, they sat side by side on the porch to have a cup of tea while their grandson was swinging on the swings. Rebecca told Sean about a funny incident that happened to her at the supermarket the day before.
Sean nodded, but Rebecca felt that he wasn’t listening, and even though her husband was sitting next to her, mentally, he was somewhere very far away. “What are you thinking about? Work?” she asked.
“Listen, why don’t you go to the gym or do some yoga?” her husband unexpectedly asked. Rebecca burst out laughing. “Sean, come on, what yoga? Children, grandchildren, cooking, housework, gardens, and in the fall, the canning, pickling, and jam making – that’s my fitness, so many chores I have to keep turning around.”
But judging by her husband’s gloomy expression, Rebecca realized that he didn’t find her response amusing at all. “Is that all you’re interested in?” he asked seriously. “Well, not everything. I love movies, books, and music,” Rebecca began to explain.
“What kind of books?” interrupted Sean. “Those cheap, sentimental, and primitive romance novels?”
“Why primitive? Don’t generalize; there are different kinds of books,” Rebecca tried to defend herself. “And what do you get from them? Tell me, what do you gain from reading them?” Sean grew more agitated. “We’ve been sitting here for half an hour, and we haven’t even had a proper conversation. You’re telling me all this nonsense about the store, thinking that anyone else besides you is interested,” his words hurt Rebecca’s heart. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she made every effort not to cry in front of her grandson. Oppressive silence hung in the air for what seemed like an eternity to Rebecca.
Sean finished his cigarette and left the house without a word. That night, Rebecca couldn’t sleep. “What’s happening to him?” she wondered. “Why did he talk to me so disdainfully? Has he stopped loving me?”
The next day, Sean acted like nothing had happened. He played with his grandson, helped his wife in the garden, and everything seemed normal. But Rebecca’s heart was still uneasy. She felt that something was wrong, and as it turned out, she was right.
The weekend was over, and the couple returned home. On Monday evening, Rebecca prepared dinner for Sean’s arrival, but he caught her on his mobile and warned her that he would be late at work. “Don’t wait for me, don’t set the table. I’ll eat at the office. Go to bed; I’ll probably be late,” he said.
Rebecca couldn’t calm down because she felt that her husband was lying. Her intuition told her that he was anywhere but at work. After an hour of agonizing thoughts, she finally decided to call Sean’s office directly. She introduced herself under a false name and asked to be connected to the head of the finance department.
“Mr. Koenig has already left,” the secretary told her. “He’ll be here tomorrow morning. Can I give him a message?”
“No, thank you,” Rebecca answered and hung up. Her worst fear was confirmed – her husband lied to her. “If Sean isn’t at the office, then where did he disappear to?” she wondered. She desperately wanted to call her husband and ask him this question directly, but in that case, she might hear an answer that she wouldn’t like. She wasn’t mentally prepared for that.
Sean returned home at the beginning of the third night. Rebecca didn’t go to meet him as she used to but pretended to be asleep, even though she couldn’t sleep at all. When her husband undressed and lay down next to her, she smelled alcohol and strong, nauseating women’s perfume. A lump formed in her throat; Rebecca had read so many scenes like this in her books that she couldn’t believe it was happening to her in her own happy family.
“Maybe he didn’t really lie to me. Maybe Sean really had a business meeting with female colleagues. Maybe he sat next to one of them and got lost in her perfume, and then they could have gone somewhere to have a drink to relax a little after a tense day,” what’s criminal about that,” Rebecca mentally justified her husband.
In the morning, she didn’t dare ask Sean directly where he had been last night, but remaining in ignorance was no less painful. All these thoughts about infidelity were buzzing in her head like annoying flies. Rebecca wanted to put an end to it before she went crazy with suspicions that could turn out to be completely baseless.
After much deliberation, Rebecca decided to go to her husband’s office. She didn’t understand why she needed to do this; what did she want to find out? What was she expecting? Rebecca had no answer to these questions. Her feet carried her to the business center on their own; she trusted her intuition, which told her that she needed to be there. And as it is known, he who seeks shall always find.
As soon as Rebecca approached the building where Sean worked, she saw her husband through the glass doors, and at that moment, something inside the woman seemed to break.
Her husband tightly hugged a tall young woman around the waist and whispered something in her ear. She laughed loudly, throwing back her pretty head with small red curls. She looked about 25 years old. “How she’s almost the same age as our eldest daughter,” flashed through Rebecca’s head.
The woman was at a loss, standing in indecision, refusing to believe her own eyes. “I need to leave here quickly before they notice me,” flashed through her foggy mind. But she was too late, her husband noticed her. He quickly said something to his companion, who turned towards Rebecca and gave her an evaluating look with a haughty smile. The woman understood perfectly that Rebecca was no match for her. She turned and disappeared into the other room. Sean did not follow her; instead, he headed straight for Rebecca, his face obviously filled with anger.
“What the hell are you doing here? Why did you come here? Who invited you?” he exclaimed.
“You’re spending time with her when you tell me you’re staying late at work, right?” asked his wife. Three men in suits passed by, looking at Rebecca and her husband with interest. Sean greeted them, took Rebecca by the elbow, and led her away as if she were a disobedient child.
“I’m waiting for an explanation. Is this your mistress?” she insisted.
“Don’t create a scene. Please go home now, and we’ll discuss everything tonight. Can’t you see people are looking at us? Do you want to embarrass me in front of my colleagues and subordinates? I’m asking you, don’t humiliate yourself even more. It’s enough that you came here,” Rebecca looked into Sean’s eyes, which once were warm and dear to her but now showed no pity, compassion, or remorse. There was nothing to betray the fact that he was once a close person with whom she spent over two decades. Her husband’s eyes looked cold and cruel. Rebecca felt that she could hardly breathe. To avoid crying on the spot, she obediently turned around and hurried away. Only when she had safely hidden herself in some alley did Rebecca sit down on a bench and let her tears flow.
“Why are you crying?” she suddenly heard a little girl’s voice. “Did someone punish you? I cry too when I get punished.”
Rebecca looked up and saw a small blonde girl on a scooter. “No, little one,” Rebecca answered, “something very unpleasant happened in my life.”
“My grandma says that everything happens for a reason,” said the little girl, and then she rode away on her scooter.
Rebecca walked home in the evening. Her unfaithful husband came. She noted to herself that, for the first time in months, he did it on time and didn’t stay for a minute at work. But instead of explanations, Sean opened the closet and began packing his things.
“What are you doing?” the bewildered wife asked. “What does all this mean? Are you leaving me?”
“Our children have grown up, and there’s nothing left between us,” Sean said. “It’s over. We loved each other, but it’s gone. However, I still want to live. Do you understand? Don’t I have the right to be happy? After all,” he asked, packing his suitcase.
“What about me?” Rebecca cried out. Those words slipped out of her unconsciously and hung in the air like a beggar’s outstretched hand. Sean paused for a moment in the doorway and looked condescendingly at his wife, “Rebecca, you’re a good woman. I’m truly grateful to you for the years we spent together and for our wonderful children. We’ve gone through a long and difficult journey together, yet everything comes to an end. Now our paths diverge, and we can’t give each other anything more. I hope you’ll meet a worthy man who can appreciate you properly,” Sean dryly said and slammed the door behind him.
Rebecca was left alone in an empty apartment and had no idea how to live on. Everything lost its meaning overnight. It’s scary to even imagine what would have happened to her if it weren’t for her children and grandchildren. Rebecca’s sons-in-law took a neutral position in this situation and tried not to comment on what was happening, and her daughters supported their abandoned mother and scolded their deceitful father.
“No fool like an old fool,” beside the eldest daughter, “he needs to think about his soul. He’s fixated on this gold digger,” added the middle daughter.
“I suggest we boycott him and not speak to him until he comes to his senses,” the youngest suggested.
“He left me, not you,” Rebecca remarked, “and you shouldn’t blame him. They say that in a breakup, both parties are always at fault. Maybe I really did dissolve into your father too much. He was everything to me. I left for his interests, forgetting about my own. Who was I to him all these years? A maid, a cook, a nanny. Anyone but a woman. I’m to blame for that. I turned into a shadow of myself. But, Mom, you didn’t sit around twiddling your thumbs. You raised three children,” the daughters reminded her.
“After you grew up, I should have picked myself up and moved on,” she sighed. “Mom, stop blaming yourself,” the eldest daughter said, “you’re definitely not at fault for someone else’s promiscuity. You were a wonderful wife to Dad. He’ll regret it.”
“Indeed,” the middle daughter agreed, “you’re one of a kind. You’re kind-hearted and loyal, and you cook so well that it’s finger-licking good,” the youngest daughter added, changing the tone to flattery.
“Traditionally, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Probably your father’s stomach was tired of my cooking, no less than Sean was tired of me,” Rebecca noted sadly, “and now he wanted to try something spicier. In Rebecca’s opinion, that’s precisely how her husband’s new colleague was – bold, vibrant, and decisive, used to getting everything she wanted in life and not knowing the word ‘no’.
Perhaps she became like a breath of fresh air in a stuffy room for him, like an exotic dish after eating homemade dumplings, Rebecca reasoned. Maybe he was drawn to her individuality, imagination, burning eyes – everything that I no longer have. At what point did I get stuck in this swamp called domesticity? I too should have found a hobby – for example, take up Latin American dances, painting, or at least enroll in a motor school or learn a language. Maybe then Sean would stop seeing me as a cleaner and nanny and finally see my personality, my individuality. I blame myself for that,” Rebecca blamed herself, and waited for Sean, thinking he would return.
The woman had already decided for herself that if he came back repentant, she would forgive him. She would not look back, but they would live differently now. She would prove to him that she was better than that other woman, that she could be interesting and not banal too. Whatever she became, as soon as the opportunity arose, she would show him that she was worthy of his attention if only she had that chance.
And so when Sean unexpectedly called, Rebecca was ready to jump to the ceiling. “We need to talk seriously,” he said. “Come home, and we’ll talk,” Rebecca suggested. Sean had promised to come over in the evening after work the next day.
Rebecca was preparing carefully for this meeting. She made a layered chicken pie – her husband’s favorite – and bought a new dress. She even decided to make a drastic change to her appearance and went to a hair salon, getting a short fashionable haircut that suited her very well. But Sean didn’t pay any attention to the changes in his wife’s appearance. He didn’t even touch the meal, immediately getting to the point.
“I want to tell you that I filed for divorce,” he said. Rebecca felt like she had been hit in the head with an ax. At that moment, she felt like a complete idiot sitting at a festive table in a beautiful dress. The woman realized that there was no going back. The flickering flame of hope for a happy family reunion went out.
“That’s not all. We also need to discuss something else. I want to sell this house. We can’t live together, and we need to figure something out. We’ll split the money evenly – half the money from the sale would go to you, and the other half to me,” Sean continued.
Rebecca couldn’t believe her ears. She couldn’t imagine that one day she would have to part with her cozy home where they brought their daughters from the maternity ward, where they took care of them and raised them, and where every inch and every corner reminded them of their past happiness.
“But, Sean, I don’t want to sell it. This is our family home,” protested Rebecca.
“What are you talking about? There hasn’t been a family or a home for a long time. Stop talking nonsense,” Sean retorted.
“But our daughters…”
“Our daughters have grown up. They’ve moved away, and we’re strangers to each other,” Sean got angry. “Wake up and stop living in the past. I’m starting a new life, and I strongly recommend you do the same. We’re getting a divorce. I’m putting the house up for sale, and that’s not up for discussion anymore. Be thankful that I’m not throwing you out on the street since you haven’t earned a penny. Everything here is thanks to me and my work. Look around carefully – this sofa, this dining table, wall clock, chandeliers, and even electrical outlets. There’s nothing here that was bought with your money.”
After closing the door behind Sean, Rebecca burst into tears once again. She didn’t expect him to blame her for becoming the kind of wife he had once dreamed of, that she didn’t have much time to mourn her bitter fate. She had to think about how to live on, or rather what to live on. For many years, Sean had supported her, and Rebecca hadn’t thought about making ends meet. Retirement was still far away, and she needed to find a job. She didn’t want to be a burden to any of her daughters.
Rebecca’s daughters had their own lives and their own problems. One had a mortgage, another had a car loan, and the third was still a student and paying for her own education. Rebecca categorically didn’t want to become a burden to any of them. She didn’t have much choice, so she decided to return to The Confectionary Factory where she used to work.
The next day, Rebecca went straight to the Personnel Department. “I’m sorry, but I can’t offer you anything,” said the stern woman in glasses.
“Why not?” Rebecca was surprised. “You have vacancies. I saw it in the newspaper, and there’s even a big announcement on the front door saying that the factory urgently needs professionals, and I’m one of them. I’m a confectioner.”
“You are professionally unfit,” the recruiter said categorically.
“What do you mean? I’m unfit. You must be confusing me with someone else. I studied at a culinary school. Look, I have a diploma,” Rebecca protested.
“Well, you could say that you studied in the time of Abraham Lincoln. Do you think everything is the same as it was a quarter century ago? The entire production technology has changed 10 times over the years. You need to be completely retrained from scratch. And who is going to do that? Tell me. We are not a training center here. We are a factory. Everyone is in their place and busy with their work,” Rebecca was on the brink of despair. She never expected such a turn of events.
“So am I completely useless to you?” Rebecca asked. “Maybe there is some position?”
The recruiter reluctantly looked into a notebook, “We have a janitor’s job if you want. You can start.”
Rebecca said, rejecting her failing benefactor’s generous offer. It was not about pride; Rebecca reasoned that she could always get a job as a cleaner. She felt that it was not her way out.
Rebecca returned home feeling upset. Another unpleasant surprise awaited her in the mailbox: a summons to court for divorce. It seemed that Miss Fortune followed her at every turn. The woman entered her empty house, collapsed into her favorite armchair, and began to think about what to do if she can’t get a job in her field.
“Maybe change my profession completely,” she wondered. “Take some courses, for example, become a hair stylist, nail or makeup artist, or maybe even a programmer.” Rebecca considered various professions in her head but rejected each one. None of them were for her; all she knew and what her soul was drawn to was cooking.
Her eldest daughter caught her in her thoughts. She came with her husband and son to visit her lonely mother. Rebecca was very happy about the unexpected visit from her relatives; otherwise, she would have been crushed by all these life’s setbacks. They all sat down to drink tea with almond cookies that Rebecca had baked the day before.
Her daughter unexpectedly suggested an idea, “Mum, I was thinking, what if you worked from home?”
“What could I do from home?” Rebecca asked in surprise.
“A pastry chef,” her daughter replied. “It’s elementary. You post an ad on the internet, clients contact you, and you cook to order. It’s very in demand and popular right now.”
“Great idea,” Rebecca’s son-in-law said, supporting his wife. “With your culinary talent, you won’t have any shortage of clients.”
“Oh come on, it’s just nonsense. There are so many cakes in the stores. Any whim for your money. Who needs this homemade baking?” Rebecca replied skeptically.
“No, you’re mistaken,” the daughter said, shaking her head. “Well, Mum, we’re going to my friend’s anniversary this weekend, so you prepare something delicious to amaze everyone. We’ll take it with us as a gift. There will be many people; it will be good advertising.”
“I don’t know,” Rebecca hesitated.
“Come on, Mum, make up your mind. After all, what are you losing, except maybe your time, but now you have plenty of it, don’t you?” Her daughter continued to persuade her.
Finally, the woman decided to take the risk. The cake prepared by Rebecca was appreciated by the guests at the anniversary. A couple of particularly enthusiastic tasters took the phone number of the mom confectioner from her daughter. However, customers were not rushing to place orders.
The daughter continued to insist on placing an advertisement on the internet, but Rebecca was procrastinating. She was not confident in her abilities and deep down was afraid of another fiasco in her life.
Meanwhile, Sean found a buyer for the house through a real estate agency. Soon, the deal was made, and Rebecca was forced to move from her comfortable nest to a small one-bedroom apartment located in an old five-story building. Everything here was strange to her; everything was different – neighbors, courtyard, and the landscape outside the window.
“Well, apparently life is hinting to me that it’s time to leave the old habits in the past; it’s time for change,” she reasoned. Rebecca decided to listen to her daughter’s advice. Before starting work, she wanted to prepare thoroughly. She watched a lot of videos and read countless useful articles. After a month, she honed her skills in modern techniques; she created and created without a rest.
“People say that success will come where you are interested,” she said to herself. Having collected enough quality photos for her portfolio and gained courage, one fine day, Rebecca decided and published an advertisement on a popular site.
Three days passed before she received her first order. The client asked for a sponge cake with mascarpone cream for a children’s party. Rebecca was very nervous working on this order, as she wanted everything to be perfectly smooth. After all, this was her debut, and a lot depended on it. If the client was disappointed and left a negative review, the whole idea would be ruined.
“Easy and simple, it would be for people if everything in life could be achieved like this, by following a recipe with the right ingredients,” she thought, carefully beating the dough. The client was delighted, “Rebecca, your cake literally melted in my mouth. The kids ate everything in a matter of minutes. You’re simply a magician. Next time, I’ll only come to you for dessert,” she gushed with compliments.
At first, Rebecca had very few orders, but she didn’t waste any time and mastered new recipes. There were many sleepless nights and culinary experiments, and her efforts did not go to waste. Now even the simplest baked goods Rebecca could turn into a real confectionary masterpiece. Word of mouth worked wonders, and soon there was no shortage of customers.
Rebecca was surprised to find that her hobby could bring not only moral satisfaction but also income. She wasn’t making a lot of money yet, but it was enough for the essentials, and her main job distracted her from sad thoughts. Rebecca no longer had time to be sad about her broken family boat because her gingerbread cakes and lemon eclairs required all her attention.
Rebecca planned to spend her first Christmas as a divorcee with her children. She prepared for the holiday in advance, bought groceries, but the day before Christmas, her daughters called one after the other and informed her that, unfortunately, they could not come to visit.
The elder daughter’s child fell ill, the middle one was herself suffering from a high fever and cough, and the youngest daughter’s flight was canceled due to bad weather. Rebecca was certainly very upset. She had prepared so much delicious food and was looking forward to treating her loved ones to all of it, but what saddened her the most was that, on this holiday which she considered the most family-oriented of all in the year, she was completely alone.
There are people who easily cope with loneliness, but that was definitely not Rebecca. For her, loneliness was akin to a catastrophe, and if on ordinary days, she gradually got used to it, then being alone on Christmas Eve was something new for her. All the festive mood instantly vanished, tears welled up in her throat, but she took a deep breath and decided not to succumb to melancholy.
To distract herself a little, the woman wanted to take a walk. Rebecca put on warm clothes and went outside; the fresh, frosty air hit her face. There was so much snow that it blinded her eyes. Rebecca looked around and suddenly noticed an unfamiliar man on a bench near the entrance. Although Rebecca moved here only a few months ago, she managed to get to know her neighbors. However, she had never seen this person before. At first glance, he looked quite decent.
“Well, let him sit there. It’s not a big deal. Perhaps he came to visit and is waiting for the hosts,” Rebecca thought as she headed towards the park.
After an hour of walking, her feet began to freeze. She decided to put an end to her promenade and return home. To her surprise, the stranger was still sitting on the bench.
“Is he doing outside for so many hours?” wondered the woman. “And isn’t he cold, sitting in the frost for so long? It’s not May outside.”
Rebecca took out the key to the intercom to open the door. The man rose from his seat and walked towards her, evidently intending to enter the building.
Rebecca was cautious and blocked his path, asking, “Which apartment are you from, sir?”
The man looked confused and stammered, “Apartment 40.”
“You’re lying. No one lives in 40th,” Rebecca replied.
The man shamefully lowered his gaze and said, “I’m sorry. You’re right. I lied to you. I just got cold and wanted to warm up a little.”
“I know people like you; they showed it on the news last week. They warmed up somewhere and then robbed off the whole floor,” Rebecca said, immediately regretting her careless words. The man did not look like a thief at all; on the contrary, he had a very intelligent appearance, a neat beard, a well-groomed mustache, but what touched the woman the most were his eyes full of sadness. “I’m so cruel; I offended a person,” thought Rebecca, feeling a pang of conscience. “Who knows what sorrow he had, and here I am with my suspicions.”
“Okay, come in,” she said loudly, giving up. “But keep in mind, I remember you well, and if something happens, I can describe it in great detail.”
“Thank you, but believe me, my photo robot won’t need anyone,” the stranger assured her. He entered the building and stood next to the radiator while Rebecca walked up to her second floor and hesitated in front of her front door. She didn’t know why, but the image of this stranger flashed before her eyes, so lonely and lost. This completely unfamiliar man reminded her of herself. Rebecca hesitated for a couple of minutes and then went down to the first floor. The man was still standing by the radiator.
“Hey, do you want to eat?” she suddenly asked him.
The man looked up at her in surprise. “To be honest, I’m starving,” he said quietly.
“Then come to my place,” said Rebecca, and the stranger obediently followed her. As they climbed the stairs, Rebecca scolded herself for dragging the first person she met, and maybe this man just looks decent, but in reality, he’s a thief, a recidivist. Now he’ll hit me on the head, and bye-bye, her mind began to paint her pictures, one more frightening than the next.
In the hallway, Rebecca’s unexpected guest neatly hung his coat on the hangar and took off his shoes. He looked impeccable, a snow-white starched shirt, trousers with creases. “He doesn’t look like a criminal,” the woman thought. “Let me introduce myself. My name is Peter,” the man said, smiling broadly. His smile was so genuine and kind-hearted that Rebecca’s heart told her it cannot belong to a bad person. Her heart felt a little lighter, and she said, “And I’m Rebecca. Wash your hands, Peter, and come to the kitchen,” the hostess briskly commanded.
Soon, they sat down at the table, and Peter’s eyes widened at the variety of treats. “Tell me, Rebecca, why do you cook so much if you live alone? Are you such a gourmet?” he asked.
“On what basis do you assume I live alone?” the woman asked, surprised. “Maybe my husband will come home soon.”
“Unlikely,” Peter remarked. “There are only your slippers in the hallway, and there’s only one toothbrush in the bathroom.”
“Wow, you’re quite the detective,” the woman whistled. “To some extent, answered Peter, “I’m an auditor. I expose the dirty deeds of others.”
“You must be a terrible auditor if you have nowhere to go on Christmas Eve,” Rebecca sarcastically remarked.
“Your assumptions are incorrect, Rebecca. Don’t take it the wrong way, but I’m the best auditor in this city. However, unfortunately, even the best sometimes have nowhere to go. Happened to you? Did you have a fight with your wife, and she kicked you out?” The hostess guessed once again.
“You’re wrong. I had a wonderful wife, but she passed away two years ago, and our only son recently got married and brought his young wife into the house. Honestly, I’m not a confrontational person, but I can’t stand untidiness. I’m used to cleanliness, not only in documents and balance sheets but also around me. And my daughter-in-law turned out to be so wayward, doing nothing all day but painting her nails and being on the phone. Today I made a remark to her that it’s Christmas, and she could at least clean up for the holiday. She immediately burst into tears and ran to my son, saying, ‘Your father is mistreating me. He’s a good guy, but he’s too easily influenced.’ Of course, we had a big argument, and I got offended and left.
Then I realized I overreacted, but I have nowhere to go. The office center is closed for all holidays, so that’s not an option. I left in a rush and forgot my wallet, so the hotel was out of the question. I could have gone to friends, but then I’d have to tell them about my family troubles, and I absolutely don’t want to do that. I don’t like to air my dirty laundry in public. I wanted to find shelter with close friends, but they had gone away, and pride wouldn’t let me turn back.”
“So I wandered around until I was completely Frozen. Rebecca sympathetically shook her head and added a serving of salad to Peter’s plate. Young people need to live separately, she said. You need to move out with your son and daughter-in-law, and then peace will come. You’re absolutely right; I understand perfectly well that I should let go of my son, but deep down I don’t want to. Maybe I’m an egotist; to be honest, I’m terrified of being alone,” Peter confessed.
“I know how you feel,” said Rebecca. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of. You know, I too have grown accustomed to hearing children’s laughter, footsteps, and conversations at home. I need someone to care for; otherwise, I cannot live. But my husband left me for someone else, my children have moved away, and now I don’t even have anyone to drink tea with. There’s nothing but emptiness around me.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about getting a cat for company; at least there would be some living beings nearby. I’m trying to get used to all of this and adapt to the new reality. I need to come to terms with the fact that my daughters have their own lives now, separate from mine, and that I no longer have a husband. To be honest, it’s very difficult, but I don’t have a choice. You also need to let go of your son, realize that he’s grown up and is no longer your little boy, but a grown man. You have to do this if you want him to be happy.”
“That’s what I want more than anything in the world,” Peter said sadly inside. Heavily, Rebecca looked at the clock; the hands were approaching midnight. She didn’t even notice how time had flown by during their heartfelt conversation.
“Listen, it’s Christmas today; maybe we should open a bottle of champagne. It’s a holiday, and we’re sitting here with sad faces like we’re at a funeral,” she suggested.
Peter supported Rebecca’s idea, uncorked the bottle, poured it into crystal glasses, and made a beautiful toast to the hostess, praising her beauty, kindness, and culinary talent. Half the night, Rebecca and her guest talked about life and poured their hearts out to each other.
Rebecca saw that Peter was burdened by the quarrel with his family, that he couldn’t find his place because of this stupid conflict with his only son and daughter-in-law. “Leave all the grudges and start the new day by taking the first step; call your son,” she urged her guest. And Peter gave in; he dialed his son’s number, apologized, and his son was pleased to hear from his father and also apologized to him. “We are beside ourselves trying to find you; we were so worried. We spent the whole Christmas sitting by the phone and calling friends and hospitals. Thank God you’re alive and well. Give us your address; we’ll come pick you up now,” his son said to his wayward father.
Twenty minutes later, their car was parked in front of Rebecca’s building. “Thank you for your kindness, for your responsiveness, for this wonderful evening, for the beautiful table and treats. You cook amazingly; you have a real talent. I haven’t eaten this well since my wife was alive,” Peter said, bidding goodbye, kissing the hostess’s hand, and left.
Rebecca closed the door behind her unexpected guest, and her soul immediately felt empty. She had enjoyed being with this man so much; it was so calm and easy, so warm and cozy. Apparently, his departure made her feel loneliness even more acutely, as if someone dear had touched her soul and disappeared. “It’s a pity he left so soon,” the woman thought. “He’s such a good man, intelligent, educated, and emotional.
It was so good, so easy to be with him. It’s wonderful how simple human happiness is; all you need is to be close to a kindred soul, and it doesn’t matter what you do together—wake up, have dinner, go for a walk, watch TV, or just be silent. The main thing is to be close to someone who really matters to you.” Rebecca looked at herself in the mirror; in the reflection, she saw a mature but still attractive woman.
“I wonder if anyone could still be interested in me, could someone fall in love with me?” These thoughts flashed through Rebecca’s mind. “Peter said I was beautiful; I wonder if he made that compliment out of politeness or if he really saw an attractive woman in me.” Long-forgotten feelings stirred in her heart; she wanted to be liked by men again, to flirt.
But after a few minutes, the feeling of euphoria was replaced by sadness. “What a silly girl, dreaming at your age about love,” scolded Rebecca. She lay in bed, tears rolling down her cheeks. Tired of crying so many times, she promised herself she wouldn’t shed a tear again, but she couldn’t help herself. Rebecca mourned her lost youth, which could not be brought back—the happy years of marriage, her husband whom she trusted so much but who betrayed her so cruelly.
Rebecca woke up when it was already done; she washed her face and went to the kitchen to make coffee. While she was preparing breakfast, she called her daughters; everyone had plans and things to do, so Rebecca had to figure out what to do in the coming days. Maybe go to a museum or exhibition or visit a school friend, she wondered. There were no orders for baking these holidays, and Rebecca was ready to do anything, not just sit in four walls giving in to nostalgia and melancholy.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door. Rebecca assumed it was her neighbor who had come to congratulate her on the holiday without any ulterior motives. She opened the door but, to her great surprise, instead of the elderly neighbor, she saw Peter smiling on the doorstep, in his hands he held a one-and-a-half-meter Christmas tree.
“Peter,” she exclaimed, “what are you doing here? Or just stopped by to give you a gift, after all, you don’t have a tree.”
Rebecca’s joy knew no bounds. After drinking freshly brewed coffee together, they took out the toys from the closet and started dressing up the tree. This simple activity made both of them feel warm and happy, like in childhood, as if they had received a long-awaited gift.
From that day on, Peter and Rebecca began to communicate a lot. Their approachment was slow and cautious. Rebecca didn’t know any other men besides her ex-husband; she needed time to get used to Peter, to his courtship and affection.
“Listen, I was thinking, why don’t you start your own business?” asked Peter when their romance was in full swing. “I already have a business; I’m a home care worker,” Rebecca reminded him. “Why do I need another one when I talked about business? I meant not your stove in the kitchen, but your own confectionery. Come on, that serious business. It’s not just about taking a pot with a mixer, mixing everything together, and baking it. It’s all about paperwork, bills, accounting, and business plans. I’m a confectioner, not an economist. I don’t understand anything about it,” Rebecca admitted.
“Well, I’m ready to take care of all the accounting myself,” Peter assured Rebecca. “Besides, I have many useful connections that could be helpful for this business.”
“But besides that, we need to find a suitable place, purchase ingredients and equipment. All of this costs a lot of money, and I don’t have it,” Rebecca admits.
“You don’t have to, but I do,” boasts Peter. “Have you forgotten who you’re talking to? I’m the best auditor, and my work is generously paid. I’ve managed to save up a tidy sum lately, so why let it just sit there?”
“Well, Peter, I can’t just take your money; it’s impossible,” protests Rebecca.
“Okay, if you don’t like that idea, let’s become partners,” the man suggests with a smile.
“But what if it doesn’t work out? What if we fail and go bankrupt?” Rebecca worries.
“In that case, you’ll lose all your savings because of me. I’ll never forgive myself for that,” Peter says.
“I’m sure our business will be successful. Can’t your cakes leave anyone indifferent?” Rebecca decides to accept Peter’s daring idea, but before putting it into action, she decides to strengthen her skills. She is no longer satisfied with the knowledge she possesses; she thirsts for development and improvement. Rebecca decides to become one of the best, if not the best, in her field. She enrolls in various culinary masterclasses in her city and beyond; there, she meets interesting recipes and craftsmanship secrets from professionals from all over the world, just as obsessed with pastry as she is.
After a year of careful preparation and hard work, Rebecca and Peter open their own pastry shop with freshly baked gingerbread cookies, gingerbread donuts, cakes with various fillings, chocolate muffins, and so on. The pastry shop is still minimal, but Rebecca is terribly proud of her first creation. Things are going up; the pastry shop is extremely popular among the population, and soon Peter suggests to Rebecca to open several more of the same pastry shops in other areas of the city.
“I believe that we shouldn’t stop at what we’ve achieved; we need to expand. I suggest organizing a whole family network,” he said with a smile.
“A family network?” The woman was surprised.
“Yes,” he nodded. “Because I want you to become my lawful wife. Say yes to me, and you’ll make us the happiest people in the world.”
“It seems like I have no other choice. I agree,” Rebecca exclaimed joyfully and threw herself into her beloved’s arms.
This was Rebecca’s second marriage. Just like Peter, they had planned a quiet registration, but their children insisted on a celebration. The bride and groom had to agree, especially since they could afford to have a lavish party. Preparations for the wedding celebration were in full swing. Peter and Rebecca rented a restaurant, arranged for a questionnaire, hired a host, photographer, and sent invitations to guests.
Rebecca didn’t want to wear a white dress at her age, so she decided to appear at her party in an elegant sky-blue suit that she saw on the cover of a fashion magazine. She found a suitable studio to sew the same one on time. She was coming home from a fitting when her mobile phone vibrated. She thought it was someone calling about a salesperson vacancy for her new confectionery, but to her surprise, she saw her ex-husband’s number on the screen.
“What do you want?” she asked.
“I heard you’re now a businesswoman,” he said smoothly. “You opened your own pastry shop. Who would have thought that you, a housewife, would become an entrepreneur? Honestly, I’m amazed; I didn’t expect that from you. Congratulations.”
“Thank you,” Rebecca replied. “I too didn’t expect many things, but life changes everything, as you can see.”
“Unfortunately,” Sean remarked.
“Why unfortunately? Because not all changes make us happy?”
“You mean you’re not happy,” Rebecca clarified.
“Yes, exactly. I am deeply unhappy,” Sean admitted quietly.
“What about your new love? You are so in love with that girl.”
“We broke up, or rather, she left me. She used me to advance in the company and left me after achieving her goals and acquiring the necessary connections. So, you can gloat about it.”
“I have no desire to do that. All I can do is sympathize with you,” Rebecca replied.
“I made a big mistake, and I admit it,” Sean said and sobbed into the phone.
Rebecca didn’t know what to say; there was an awkward pause. Gathering courage and thoughts, Sean said, “Let’s start over.”
“What?” Rebecca was surprised. “What do you mean? Are you suggesting that we get back together again?”
“Why not? After all, we have so much in common. We lived side by side for more than 20 years – you, me, our children, and grandchildren. We will all be together again as one big happy family. Everything will be the same as before.”
“All of this is good, of course – family, children, grandchildren. The thing is, I don’t want it to be as if it were before,” Rebecca interrupted him. “I am pleased with my new life, and I don’t want to go back to the past. Every day now is bright, fulfilling, interesting, and productive. I feel like a full participant in the game, not sitting on the bench like during our marriage. Remember what you told me when you left? ‘We can’t give each other anything anymore.’ Well, you know, I entirely agree with you; our paths have diverged and will never converge again. You wished for me to find someone who would appreciate me, and I am very lucky; I am now with such a man, and I am going to become his wife soon.”
“You mean you’re getting married? Don’t make me laugh at your age,” Sean sadly smirked.
“I am at a wonderful age, believe me; it is never too late to be happy,” Rebecca replied with a smile.
Saying all of this just to spite me because you’re angry with me, and let’s not lie, I apologize for what I have done to you. I made a massive mistake,” Sean had been waiting for these words for so long. How many times had she imagined this moment of truth in her fantasies? And when it actually happened, she felt no joy or triumph of justice – absolutely nothing. She simply didn’t care.
“No, you’re wrong,” Rebecca replied to Sean. “I’m not angry with you at all. I’m even grateful to you for your treacherous act. If you hadn’t left me and forced me out of my comfort zone, I would never have known that there was something more to life than cooking, cleaning, and vacuuming. I lived for many years at your expense, and now I am an independent, self-sufficient woman who doesn’t need to ask permission to buy something. I decide for myself how much money to spend and on what, and I really like it. Goodbye.”
Rebecca pressed the hang-up button and couldn’t help but smile. She remembered the little girl on the scooter; now she was absolutely sure that everything that happened in their lives was for the best, and even the bitterest disappointments can turn into happy new encounters, and crushing defeats into brilliant victories.