LuPine and St. Crown has been my home for the past six months. My bakery Wicked Temptations is still going strong thanks to faithful customers and bomb employees. I bought this building before signing a lease for a studio. Crazy, I know. But the investment within doing things out of the norm has paid off. Sacrifices, honey! I couldn’t have more dedicated employees who drag their butts out of bed just to keep this dream of mine breathing on the day to day. The one thing I know I do differently from other bakeries is allowing my staff to test their confectionary delights on the menu. There are must haves on the menu, but for the most part, I like to keep slots open for the next big thing. If desserts stay or goes, it depends on customer feedback and trust me, they’re not shy when it comes to their taste buds. But, at the end of each and every day, I need to know all my employees- no, family at Wicked Temptations are heard loud and clear and feel validated!
“Leilani, we are out of sugar!” Benjamin announced.
“You’ve got to be kidding me. Who was in charge of inventory?”
“Uh, well, I was. I swear I marked every item off that we had in stock.”
“Oh, Ben…” Leilani all but growled. “Wicked should keep working like a well-oiled machine while I’m gone. Got it?”
“Yes and sorry Leilani,” Ben lamented, touching his lips with the tips of his fingers.
As I trudged to the rear of the shop, I entered my office locating my purse casually tucked in the corner of my small leather chair. Purse in tow, I glided to the front and threw smiles at all of our waiting customers and thanked them for choosing our bakery for their source of guilty pleasures. Five days a week, Wicked was packed and a long line nearly wrapped around the shop. I’m speechless and humbled every day that I arrive to work.
As I get closer to my car, I begin grumbling over having to purchase less than stellar quality ingredients to get us over until I can order the next shipment for inventory. It was going to be an hour drive to the nearest big bulk supply store. It was amazing not a single Sam’s Club or Costco was in our city of Clear Creek, Minnesota. But Carmine’s Supply will have to do.
Just as I reach for the handle to my car, I hear some guy presumably a customer raving over our Key Lime pie we tested just a week previously. Trying to zero in on the voice, I lean back and forth, stand on the tips of my toes until I land on the guy’s endearing crooked smile. His two front teeth cross ever so slightly over each other. The only perfection I seek is in the kitchen, most things I can give a pass. But while the customer was over the moon about our creations, the man right behind him look none amused. Irritation nipped at the apex of his brows, a slight snarl crept over his lips and his jaws tightened, surely grinding his teeth into powder in order not to grab the annoying gnat by his collar.
I found it funny, the man’s deadpan expression until he looked up and our eyes locked. Crazy thing was, I think my lungs collapsed. He looked at me, really looked at me with some type of curiosity I haven’t seen before. Sure, I’ve had men ogle me, their eyes displaying every intention that their unimaginative minds could ever think up, but this man…
My feet mustered up a will of their own and I find myself walking down the sidewalk, ever closer to this tall lanky man with a streak of lightening white hair running along the side of his otherwise inky black hair. Looks like he’s not in the mood for a quick chat as he turned and walked away with his hands shoved in his worn brown leather jacket. Hmm, what was that all about? Unfortunately, I hadn’t the time to unravel his actions, I had somewhere to be. Returning to my car, I got in, secured myself and set off for Carmine’s. On the drive I had a programmed station play anything Audioslave, Soundgarden and the little popish diddy he collaborated with Timberland on. Never thought I’d read anything other than rock from Chris Cornell, but I liked it. It’s still unbelievable he’s gone but I hope he had a stockpile of recorded music like Tupac in a vault somewhere.
I love music and dance! What would life be without it? Bland, like no sugar for our gigantic sized drums we store unused granules in. Ben, I have to keep an eye on you. I can’t be too angry, he always on time, early even and is willing to stay until close. Shake it off Leilani, just shake it off. Jamming to mean riffs and thumping beats got me to my destination quicker than I realized. I firmly reminded myself I was going in for sugar and nothing else. Warehouses are the Devil, always tempted you to spend what you shouldn’t. I’m a strong willed woman, but I got in and out of Carmine’s leaving the cart wheels smoking as I pushed it safely into the stand.
Unlike most people, sweets aren’t my guilty pleasure, clothes are. But not just any close, tribal pieces speak to me, urging me to buy pieces of my heritage back knowing full well that mass producers didn’t care about the story behind them. I hate being torn between my personal wants and pride for my people. I have many, I’m a mutt as it were. So, instead of settling for department brands, I go straight to the source, check them out, listen to their stories then raid their stockpile. I’ve been lucky enough to travel around the world. I was born in Osaka, Japan then I found myself in Hawaii. I am an American citizen though but something always seems to be lacking here.
I’m thirty-five-year-old Black, Japanese, and Hawaiian woman who still has strong opposition to the melting pot theory. It’s just so fundamentally wrong. Hawaii is really the only pocket in the U.S. where one can be his or herself. No matter how large or petite you are, the mind, body, and spirit are celebrated. But enough about that, peering into my past will eventually take me to many unsavory memories. The drive back was quiet, very few cars were on the road and by the time I pulled up to the curb, the line had cut down to a sparse crowd of customers were left in the shop.
It was near closing time when I went inside to shoo everyone out the door. The kitchen was spotless as usual but Ben insisted on going over the inventory again and checking the books. I replied with a firm, no.
“Go home, Ben.”
“Get you hips home to your wife. It’ll be seven o’clock which should leave you plenty of time to have dinner and catch up with your family. They’d think I was keeping you hostage. Out I say.”
“Fine, fine. But let me know if I screwed up again somewhere.”
“Forget it. I have everything covered. I’ll see you Monday morning.”
After I saw Ben safely off, I flipped the sign to CLOSED and went back to my car. Five heavy sacks of sugar were waiting to crush my shoulders.
“Let me get that for you.” Spinning around, I caught the familiar face of the unamused stranger whose gaze pierced my soul.
“Are you stalking me?”
“No.” He stood with his hands jammed in his jacket pockets even now.
“We’re closed for the day but if you come back tomorrow, Wicked Temptations will have freshly baked desserts ready for consumption.”
“I’m not here for sweet treats, though I was curious about all the fuss people are making over this place.”
“Well, you’d have to try a pastry or two to find the answer to that.”
“Still need help with those sacks?”
“Well,” I chewed on my bottom lip, “sure, but don’t try anything or I’ll mace you.” I tapped my pant pocket just to drive the point home. A slow grin stretched across his face as he ducked into the back seat to pull out two sacks, one on each shoulder. For a tall and lanky man, he sure is strong and that white streak of hair…interesting. He went as far as putting them in storage after he hassled me into submission. I thanked him for his generosity and he nodded curtly before turning to leave. “Wait!” Thank the heavens, Ben or one of the other employees rounded up leftover pastries and boxed them. They know I give any leftovers to shelters on my way home.
“What is it?”
“As payment, we sometimes have extra pastries I donate to shelters and such. There are five boxes, care to take one home with you?”
“Hmm…” he rubbed his stubbled jaw. I scanned the contents after she lifted the lid from the boxes. “Guess it wouldn’t hurt. Thank you.”
“Most new businesses last for as long as you’ve been open. I can’t see you staying for much longer just as winter begins to assert herself.”
“Aren’t you a Negative Ned.” I cross my arms.
“I only speak the truth.” he shrugged his shoulders.
“One thing that I’ve learned is not to run when things get tough. Wicked Temptations is staying here and so am I and for future references, don’t take my sweet treats then diss my efforts of providing something vital to this community.”
“We’ll see how long your efforts can hold out against the brutality mother nature will dish out. If you make it through the storm, I’ll apologize, but until then, you have no real roots here. Thanks for the danish’s.”
I’ve met some rude bastards, but this guy tops even my parents. They were more covert with their disapproval but this guy just blatantly gave me the boot on my backside then graciously thanked me for my goodies. Well, he better strap himself in because he’ll be seeing more of Wicked Temptation and my smile facing. He’ll apologize alright, just he wait and see.
Love Below Zero part 2.