Her eyes travelled the kitchen, which bore Josef’s mark as if he’d always been the chef in residence, although he hadn’t taken the position until three years ago. His wife Karen had died in a freeway car wreck on her way from Los Angeles to home (Portland, at the time). When Stefanie – the sunshine of the entire Haldemann clan – had proved inconsolable for weeks, Joe had taken two weeks leave from his job at an upscale Portland restaurant and brought their five kids down to his parents. Six days into his stay, the inn’s chef had quit unexpectedly to take a job on a cruise ship. Joe had stepped in for the remainder of his vacation and had been in residence ever since, with the exception of two weeks when he went back to Portland to serve out his notice.

Stefanie had recovered her ebullient nature, but not after many tears had soaked Sarah’s shirt. She had worried that Stef, in her grief, would latch onto her as a mother substitute, but it had proved to be an empty concern.

As though her thoughts had conjured her, Stefanie bounded into the kitchen, all long legs and strawberry-blonde pigtails, her young face showing none of the effects of staying up past midnight playing video games with her aunt.

“Hey, Aunt Sarah! Do I smell coffee? Gotta get a cup…” She rummaged through a cupboard for her favorite mug.

Josef popped his head out of the pantry. “No coffee, young lady. You’re only ten.” He vanished again, leaving Stef grimacing.

“How does he do that?”

“Do what?” Sarah asked.

“Hear me even though he’s buried in the pantry. Or out in the garden. Or asleep in his room.”

“It’s the magical powers of a parent,” Joe called from the depths of the pantry. “You won’t understand it until you have kids of your own.”

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