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IT WASN’T SO MUCH THE sight of my husband’s bare ass that would become permanently etched in my memory, but rather the rhythmic sounds of the German brass band oompah-ing in the background, coupled with the strong, but delicious smell of grains steeping in the mash tun.
I shouldn’t have been in the pub anyway. It was my day off, but instead of spending it in the late summer sun, I had opted to tinker with a new recipe I’d been working on. A few minutes into the brewing process, I realized I’d forgotten cinnamon. Mac, my husband and brewmaster for Der Keller (the Cellar if you don’t sprechen sie Deutsch, as my mother-in-law likes to say), was nowhere to be found. Typical.
“Otto,” I called to my father-in-law, the patriarch of our family and an award-winning brewmaster. “I’m running to grab some cinnamon. Can you watch the wort? I’ll be back in a few.”
“Ja, Sloan,” Otto replied from behind an eight-foot copper kettle. “I will wait with ze beer.”
I grabbed a twenty from the register, tucked it into my pocket, and weaved through the crowd of regulars kicking back with midafternoon pints. Country air greeted me outside on the cobblestone streets. I hurried along Front Street for two blocks, passing flowerpots and window boxes stuffed with red geraniums, an authentic fifteen-foot-tall cuckoo clock in the town square, and rows of antique streetlights. A-frame rooftops lined the thoroughfare like gingerbread cottages. The sound of Steller’s jays squawking greetings to each other overhead made me pause and look up.
Gently sloping peaks rose around me in every direction. The nearby mountains sheltering our village stood at five to eight thousand feet, like gentle guardians watching over us. I smiled at the thought and noticed how the first signs of fall were beginning to creep in. A scattering of yellow and orange leaves dotted the otherwise dark green mountainside.
Continuing up Front Street, I saw that more preparations for fall were under way. Workers were installing crimson Oktoberfest banners, and shopkeepers were adorning their front windows with garlands of gorgeous foliage and yellow twinkle lights. Oktoberfest was right around the corner, which meant that soon our sidewalks would be packed with merry revelers toasting with overflowing beer steins and dancing to accordion music. Even the grocery store, with its brocade façade, looked like it should be nestled in the German Alps, not the Pacific Northwest. Like everything else in our small town, it was fashioned after a Bavarian village.
I stepped inside and weaved my way through aisles of imported chocolates, gummy bears, and sauerkraut until I found the cinnamon. Then I paid quickly and hightailed it back to the pub. Beer making is an art and a science. Timing is everything. I knew that Otto would keep his eye on my new creation, but this batch was the result of months of experimenting, and I wanted to make sure nothing went wrong.
“What’s your rush, Sloan?” the owner of The Nutcracker called as I hurried by. She positioned a miniature nutcracker wearing forest-green lederhosen and holding a stein in the window.
“The beer won’t wait.” I grinned and continued on.
As promised, Otto was dutifully watching my batch when I returned. His wiry gray hair stuck out in all directions. He looked more like a mad scientist than a jovial beer-loving grandpa (or Opa). Ursula, his wife, stood shoulder to shoulder with him.
“Sloan, we must go.” She pressed a timer into my hand. “Your beer is smelling good.”
She had to stand on her toes to kiss my cheek. In her prime, she’d stood not much taller than five feet. With age, her shoulders had started to slump and her walk had turned to a shuffle. She was the only mother I’d ever known, and watching her get older was sometimes more than I could bear. No tourist would ever have thought we were a family. Otto and Ursula, with their fair German skin, short stature, and matching gray hair; me with full lips, huge pores, and jet black hair. One of my foster moms once told me that my mother was Greek. It would fit. The sun loves my skin. Fifteen minutes outside, and my skin looks like a nut brown ale. Mac, on the other hand, is burnt to a crisp and glowing like a pint of amber in five minutes.
His ass certainly hasn’t seen the sun—that was the first thought that flashed through my mind when I walked to the back office to grab my notes and swung the door open, and there stood Mac with jeans slouched around his ankles and the twenty-three-year-old barmaid we had just hired sprawled on my desk.
My hand flew to my mouth. I dropped the spice jar on the floor. It broke and sent shattered pieces of cinnamon stick in all directions.
“Sloan!” Mac jumped and whirled around. “This isn’t what you think.” He yanked up his jeans and coughed.
Yeah, right. I couldn’t think of what to do next, so I pointed to the cinnamon shards on the epoxy floor, dusted off my shirt, and said, “You’re going to need to clean this up.”
I turned and tried to keep my composure as I walked away. The smell of wort enveloped me as I sprinted toward the fermenting tank. Usually the scent was comforting, but at the moment, it made me want to vomit. My hands shook. My knees felt like they were about to give way. I clutched the ladder at the base of the copper kettle.
Don’t make a scene, I told myself while trying to ignore the woozy feeling working its way up the back of my neck.
Years in the foster care system had taught me that making a scene gets you sent to bed without dinner or sent packing. I wouldn’t give Mac the satisfaction. I sunk onto the ladder. What an ass—literally.
I’d suspected for a while that Mac had been fooling around, but I’d never been able to prove it. The twenty-three-year-old barmaid, in my office? That, I never saw coming.
Copyright © 2017 by Kate Dyer-Seeley