Love Below Zero

FOUR

I went in late Sunday night to start on cakes and croissant dough that I think I’m going to nestle chocolate pieces into. The smell of fresh flour is indescribable and every time I catch a whiff, it brings a smile to my lips. I know many won’t understand the feeling of crafting something that brings pleasure to the senses but this is why I wake up in the morning. With just one bite of our desserts, customers keep coming back for more and it helps me to keep creating, keep testing new recipes by trial and error.

While I’m lost in the rolling and folding, I hadn’t heard Ben come in. Ever the early bird. He specializes in pies, pies I haven’t even heard of and odd fruit combinations have found a way into my heart. My other employees London, Carl, and Saundra have macaroons, cupcakes, and cookies down to the letter. They put commercial brands to shame! It’s any wonder I haven’t gained a pound after many taste testings.

“Morning Leilani.”

“Morning. How was your weekend?”

“Quiet. My wife is five months into her pregnancy and she keeps asking questions that would lead to my death.”

“Was it, ‘does this dress make me look like a whale,’ kind of question?”

“Yeah, and I told her she looked beautiful. Then she just glowered at me. So, I shut up and went for a walk.”

“Smart man. Just don’t offer her any confectioneries from Wicked or I really will be reading about you in the paper.”

“Tsh. There really is no winning.”

“Nope, and after she gives birth, she’s going to pick at every little flaw about her body and you’ll be the blame for it.” I teased.

“Please stop. Let me make disc’s of pie dough for customers who don’t care about their waist lines.”

Before long, the rest of the staff filtered in getting right to work. Stepping away to my office, I retrieve my phone, turn it on and pull up Spotify. Soon we’re jamming to Kiah Victoria’s Tralala. We produced as many sinful delights before it was time to open the following morning. We were exhausted and our feet were beginning to get sore but it was well worth it. I offered to run out to pickup breakfast and they all but push me out the door and tell me not to come back unless I bring the most heart stopping artery clogging food I could find.

Well, they didn’t get grease on a plate, but I did run into a waffle house and who do I spot stuffed in a booth in the back? Dream killer. He wiped his mouth, tossed a few dollars on the table and got up. For whatever reason, I kept staring at him; he saw me, nodded and walked on by. Well, isn’t he an odd one, I wasn’t expecting a cold breeze to blow into my face.

“Ma’am, ma’am. Can I take your order?”

“Oh, yes.” I rattled off multiple orders and told him I wanted them to go. Before long, I pull up to the curb full of customers. It hadn’t seemed like I had taken that long. I hop out and greet everyone then head in side.

“Were you making our breakfast?” Saundra joked.

“As a matter of fact I wasn’t.” I add as I get behind the counter. “Rotate for breakfast. I’ll take lead until y’all are finished.”

They did just that as I prepared to let the first wave of customers inside. Today is going to be a good day, so let’s get this thing started!

Waves of people flood the store and it wasn’t until noon that I ate my first meal. I was grateful to be off my feet if only for a while. My steak omelette gave me sustenance to carry out the remainder of the day. Rocking back in my chair, I close my eyes and let a moment’s peace wash over me before gathering my thoughts together.

Okay, time to get back to work.

Humming along to the tune in my head, I replace Ben at the counter and take the next order.

“You know, that guy was just here.” I send Carl a questioning stare. “You know, that guy.” He pointed at the window in front of the store. There Jesper stood outside munching on a Danish staring right at me. I’m hesitant on what course of action to take but I decide to go ask why he was acting like Michael Myers. As I step forward, he begins to walk away and soon he was out of sight. First, he ignores me at the waffle house and now this. This man was a bit too strange for strange.

Pushing him out of my mind, I continue with the cycle of people until there was no one left. I release my staff then lock up and hole up in my office to begin payroll. I don’t know how long I stayed there but my stomach began protesting for nourishment. Closing the laptop, I push back from the desk and grab my purse eager to head home. But I halt to a cautious crawl and try to make out who was standing in front of my shops door. A knock thumped on the glass and white bags began to wave.

“It’s me, Jesper.” For the love of Christ, he had my heart pounding for a minute there.

“What are you doing?”

“I brought dinner. See?”

“I’m on my way home.”

“You’re actually going to reject a man who brought you food?”

“It’s late.”

“I want to have dinner with you, I have no one else.” Jesper added sincerely.

“I don’t like being a last resort.”

“It’s not at all like that.”

“I don’t think you know what you want.”

“Not true. But what I want and need is like looking for a lost ball in high weeds.”

“Why did you ignore me this morning and why were you standing in front of Wicked like a stalker?”

“I didn’t ignore you, I nodded. And as for your second question, I wanted to make sure you were still here.”

“I clearly said I wasn’t going anywhere.”

“Have dinner with me. I took the time to prepare this meal with my own two hands.” The way he was looking at me turned my already soft insides to mush.

“Okay,” I sigh. I unlocked the door and let him inside.

“Thanks. Where do we sit?”

“Follow me.” I led us to the rear of the shop to my office. Jesper chose to plop down on the mini sofa and by the looks of it, he wanted me right next to him.

“I hope you like Chinese. It’s as authentic as can be.”

“I like Chinese very much. But, you didn’t want to impress me with a dish from your homeland?”

“Next time I will. But for now, I want to move slow getting to know you.”

“Why me? What has you so fixated on me?”

“Fixated sounds too much like a fetish. I don’t have some weird obsession with you, it’s… I don’t know. You just seem different from what I’m use to.”

“And that would be what, exactly?”

“Ghosts.”

“What?” I scoff.

“Like I said before, people come and go from Clear Creek. Just when you think someone is in for the long haul, you find out otherwise.”

“So you what, stop communicating for fear of being deserted?”

“I wouldn’t call it fear. I don’t like wasting my time on someone short lived.”

“Well, don’t you think you’re wasting time with me?”

“Hmm, no.”

“But you’re not convinced I’m staying.”

“You said you were sticking to your guns.”

“I am. But I’m sure you’ve heard that line many times. What makes me so different than the others?”

“I’m not sure but I get the feeling you’re a stubborn one.”

“Persistent is more like it.”

Jesper nodded as he dug into his food and I followed suit. Silence fell between us but I could tell his mind was going a mile a minute. If I’m going to share my time with someone, silence between us can’t be a fear factor. People are used to noise around them and the noise in their minds serve as distractions. They are more comfortable with chaos than peace.

We sat quiet save for forks scraping against our plates. Jesper’s presence didn’t allow my mind to wander, I sat at full attention listening and looking for things unexpressed. He wasn’t always so easy to read, like now as he’s staring me right in my face. He makes no apologies for searching my face, or maybe it’s not my physical attributes he’s looking at.

I couldn’t break contact even if I wanted to. His slate grey eyes held me arrested. It has been too long since I ever felt noticed by a man. I’m not sure what he’s hanging around for but I hope at the very least we can be amicable towards one another in the future. I really haven’t had time to make new friends outside of work.

“I don’t mean you any harm Leilani.”

“Huh?”

“It’s only natural to think I’m up to no good based purely on the fact that I’m a man. I’m going to be upfront and tell you what I want every step of the way. I want your friendship for starters. I need you to help me trust again because I can’t do it on my own. I’d like to believe that there are still women that posses a good heart. I’m putting myself out on a limb and I’m hoping you’ll take up the challenge.”

Jesper couldn’t be anymore blunt and that put a smile on my face. It isn’t every day people tell the absolute truth. And as sad as that is, I’m quite refreshed knowing we’ll be starting somewhat on equal ground. So, of course I’ll take him on, I have nothing to lose by trying.

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