“WHAT IS it now?” Ian Wallace looked up from the cake decorations he was working on for his traditional Scottish black buns. The moment those words fell from his lips, he was upset with his tendency to talk to himself. He was irritated by the tinkling sound coming from the sales area of the Scottish Bakehouse, a third-generation family-owned bakery he was hoping would one day become his to manage. He liked customers, he really did, but they tended to interrupt his work when he and his father were alone in the shop. On a Sunday morning, with fewer customers than on a weekday, it was usually quiet enough for the two of them to handle things. Plus his father, for whom penny-pinching was an art form, refused to pay the higher wages a nonfamily member would have required.
“Go see what they want.” His father’s gruff voice from the big work area in the opposite corner of the industrial-size kitchen reminded Ian who was boss. Gordon Wallace ran his business with an iron fist, making sure anyone working for him knew he was in charge. And that included Ian and his younger sister Senga, who were the only full-time staff on the payroll. His older sister Aileen had escaped this fate by getting married and having three gorgeous, if usually demanding, children.
“Yes, Father.” Ian sighed as he wiped his hands on a slightly moistened towel to remove the flour and icing from his hands. His father acted as if Ian didn’t know what to do when the old-fashioned bell over the bakery’s entrance rang. Ian had spent most of his life here—first as an apprentice when he was a young boy learning the trade by his father’s side, at least when he wasn’t in school or doing homework. Then for the last ten years he’d been an assistant baker, after completing a one-year certificate course in culinary arts at the community college in Casper. His father hadn’t thought it necessary for him to go to college, but Ian had quietly insisted on completing at least some sort of formal education after high school. He’d argued it would increase the bakery’s standing to have a “certified baker” working there. It was one of the few battles he’d ever won.
Once his hands were presentable, Ian quickly took the few steps through the swinging doors and out into the customer area, regretting every second he had to spend not focused on the black buns. Traditionally the pastry-covered cake wasn’t meant to be decorated, but he’d found sales increased when he added a thin layer of icing—in the blue and white of the Scottish Saint Andrew’s Cross, or Saltire, of course. He’d also introduced two smaller cake sizes to encourage people to try them, and to take into account smaller households that might not appreciate a huge cake. Ian liked working on his creations, and he wanted to get the cakes ready for sale now that New Year’s Eve was only three days away. His American customers called the pastry-covered yumminess—made from raisins, currants, almonds, mixed peel, and other goodies surrounded by flaky pastry—New Year’s cake, much to Ian’s father’s disgust. The man was a traditionalist, but Ian was more open. There might be a relatively high percentage of Scottish Americans in Casper, Wyoming, but the bakery needed customers with a wider range of ancestry if they wanted to survive. And since the customer was always right, people could call the cakes whatever they wanted, as far as Ian was concerned—as long as they kept buying them.
“Hey, man, hard at work on a Sunday?” Matthew Tadman, one of Ian’s friends from high school who had stayed in touch over the years, stood right by the glass-covered shelves displaying today’s specials. His unkempt dark hair and sparkling green eyes made him seem much younger than his thirty years, and his comfortable jeans and slightly wrinkled shirt under the black woolen winter coat only confirmed he wasn’t a man paying too much attention to appearances.
“Matthew! It’s good to see you!” Ian was as pleased as he sounded. He didn’t have much time for a social life, and a visit from Matthew was always fun. The guy might have become sort of a competitor when he took over a local restaurant with its own bakery—courtesy of his generous father when the man got elected mayor five years ago—but Ian and Matthew had never let that stand in the way of their friendship.
“Same here.” Matthew grinned, but his gaze went right back to the goodies waiting to find a home. He examined the display but started to frown before he looked up. “Any chance for some of your amazing New Year’s cake? I can’t seem to find it here….”
Ian grinned. Trust Matthew to be predictable. But Ian refused to react to the subtle jab of Matthew using the “Americanized” name. Ian lifted his right hand in a hold-on gesture and turned to walk back into the kitchen, where he grabbed the set of four minicakes he had set aside in a festive box and left before his father asked him what was going on.
Matthew’s eyes lit up as soon as he saw the box.
“There you are. I kept some just for you.” Ian handed over the container and watched as Matthew opened it carefully, sniffing the contents with his eyes closed and nose scrunched.
“Absolutely perfect.” Matthew opened his eyes. “I don’t think they’ll make it to New Year’s Day, by the way. Not that we’re a traditional Scottish family celebrating Hogmanay anyway, but even if we were, I don’t see how I could stay away from them for another four days.”
“Don’t tell my father, but I don’t think the majority of our customers buy them for Hogmanay either.” Ian smiled. “People just aren’t into visiting their neighbors after midnight to celebrate the New Year. And there’s no longer much demand for the symbolic gift of a black bun to ensure the receiving family doesn’t go hungry during the forthcoming year.”
“I know, right? They do still serve it to guests visiting their home, Hogmanay or not. Our neighbors started doing it last year, saying it was tradition to serve it with whisky. I told them as long as it was real Scottish w-h-i-s-k-y and not the Irish stuff, spelled with an e, like they’re used to, they were safe from your wrath.” Matthew shook his head. “It’s funny how people pick up some parts of traditions and not others.”
Ian laughed. It was so typical for Matthew to comment on people’s strange behavior.
“Speaking of traditions….” Matthew pulled his wallet from his pants.
“No payment required.” Ian would make sure to ring up the purchase and put his own money in the till once Matthew had left. He didn’t want his father to accuse him of nepotism or worse—giving something away for free.
“Thank you!” Matthew smiled and let go of his wallet. “But actually, that wasn’t the tradition I was referring to. I’ve got some great news for you.”
“Oh?” Ian could do with some great news. Even good news would be, well, good.
“Yeah, my dad has been working on the official Casper activities and events calendar for next year and has decided, in his infinite wisdom, that we need some more ‘diverse’ holidays so we can attract more tourists outside the current February sled dog races and all the summertime festivals and rodeos.” Matthew paused to dramatically roll his eyes. “So guess what he came up with?”
“I wouldn’t stand a chance, so I’m not even going to try.” Ian leaned forward, putting his hands on the gleaming counter. This might be his only excitement for the week.
“Tartan Day.” Matthew pursed his lips, trying to look smug.
“Tartan Day?” What the hell? Ian shook his head. “You’ve got me there. I need a bit more information.”
“It’s a celebration of Scottish heritage on April 6, the day of the declaration of Scottish independence made in a letter to the pope in 1320. Some people say it’s because the American version was modeled on it, and almost half of the signers of our Declaration of Independence were of Scottish descent. But that may just be a theory.” Matthew drew himself up to stand straighter, his ready-to-lecture pose closely resembling his dad’s—not that Ian would ever tell him. “Some event in New York in the early eighties started it all on this side of the pond. The celebration spread to Canada in the next few years but didn’t really become official here until the Senate okayed it in 1998, followed by Congress declaring April 6 ‘National Tartan Day’ in 2005. Then there was a presidential declaration in 2008. It’s celebrated with parades, pipes, drums, dancing, food, and whatever else people come up with.”
“Wow.” Ian shook his head. “It’s embarrassing to admit, but I’ve never even heard of it.”
“Well, so far it’s been mostly limited to big places like New York City, Washington, and places in some of the states with a higher percentage of people with Scottish ancestors.” Matthew shrugged. “Dad thinks it’s time to bring it to Wyoming, since we have a fairly high percentage of Scottish Americans here. Also, April is a nice midway point between February and the summer stuff, so it suits him.”
“I’m guessing he wants food to be a part of the festival?” Ian sort of liked the idea. He might even get to wear his kilt without feeling embarrassingly out of place for once.
“Totally!” Matthew nodded. “He wants to make it a competition, similar to an agricultural or country fair, and he said it will be limited to members of the younger generation. To show we all have a future, or something.”
“A competition?” Ian frowned. “You know that’s not my thing.”
“Come on, it’ll be great advertising for the bakery. And your stuff is totally competition-worthy. Besides, my dad is really counting on you, well, your family’s bakery, to participate since you’re so well-known already. What with all that brilliant secret ingredient marketing your father keeps doing, you’re bound to win.” Matthew bounced on his feet like a little kid in his enthusiasm.
“I’ll have to check with my father.” Ian’s frown deepened. “He’s never shared the secret ingredients with me, and I’m not sure he will now.”
“Not even for something that’ll bring you guys a lot of business?” Matthew was such an optimist, always had been.
“It’s worth a try, I agree.” Ian squared his shoulders. “You never know.”
“Exactly!” Matthew looked at his watch and raised his eyebrows. “Time to go. Jenny’s expecting me back for lunch.”
“Of course. Please tell your wife not to be a stranger. She’s welcome here anytime.” Ian knew Matthew loved any excuse to come see him, but still. Jenny was a nice woman, and Ian didn’t want her to feel excluded.
“Sure.” Matthew gathered his coat around him. “Let me know the decision soon, yeah? My dad wants to finalize the plans as soon as possible so he can make a big announcement early in January.”
Ian nodded and watched Matthew leave the store and step into the snow outside, his friend holding on to the small carton box as if it were a major treasure. Ian sighed. He liked the idea of getting the business some exposure, but he hated being in the limelight. And convincing his father it was a good idea and getting him to reveal the secret ingredients wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. Ian shuddered at the thought of a confrontation. He’d have to wait for the exact right moment if he wanted to stand a chance.