69,108
07.03.2019

Me: Awesome. How’d it look?

Nat: You tell me. It was in the moving truck!

Oh, wow!

Me: I thought it was yours! I put it in your room!

Nat: Nope, it’s yours babe. You have a new coffee table! I gotta jet, see you soon. Love you x

Me: Love you more x

This is awesome because I never even had a coffee table to begin with. I walk into Nat’s bedroom and take a closer look at my gift.

It’s beautiful. It’s as high as my knee with a toffee brown finish. The hand carved pattern around the sides is of roses, stems, and leaves. The stems wind their way around; it’s so realistic he’s even carved the thorns into it. I love it.

My eyes mist and my throat tightens with emotion because I know this table is more than a gift. It’s a message from my dad. The message is to not worry about him because he’s okay.

Relief settles me while love warms me.

I wipe at my eyes, clear my throat and pick up my cell to call my father.

“Knock Knock!”

I lift my head from my schedule to see a smiling Tina standing in the doorway of my office. She’s holding a large white container.

I smile and ask, “Hey, what are you doing here?” I check my watch; its 11 am. Still got some time before my meeting.

“I was just in the neighborhood!” She looks a bit sheepish as she continues, “Well, I know you said you’ve got an important meeting so I brought something to sweeten the deal for them.”

My eyes widen. I ask, “Oh, yeah? What have you got there?”

She walks over to my desk and opens the container. There are twelve of the most delicious looking chocolate cupcakes I’ve ever seen. Half have chocolate frosting, half have a light brown colored frosting. The smell hits me.

Pow! Right in the kisser!

I can smell peanut butter. I’m salivating. I tell her, “These look so great”

Multiple footsteps approach the office. Max and Ghost appear. It’s like they can smell food from down the street.

Max smirks, “Hey Tina, what’s shakin’ baby?” Ah, Max, what a knucklehead.

Ghost lifts his chin to Tina.

Her skin flushes as she explains, “Well, I made some cupcakes for the sponsor meeting thing. I know it’s important and these babies can be really persuasive.” She turns to Ghost and says, “I don’t want to toot my own horn but these cupcakes,” her eyes narrow and she looks left then right like she’s trading inside information, she finishes on a whisper, “are the bomb.”

Her phone buzzes and ‘Thrift Shop’ by Macklemore blasts from the small device. She straightens and yelps, “Oh crud, I have to go!” She turns to me and says, “Listen, I know you said you can’t do lunch today but you still have to eat so I’ll pick something up and bring it to you.”

Is this girl for real?

“Ah…” I’m stunned speechless.

She lifts her brows and asks, “So what time does your meeting finish?”

I reply, “Around one.” Still stunned, still speechless.

She smiles big and says, “Great. I’ll bring you a turkey sub.”

I was going to get a turkey sub for lunch today. This is too weird.

Tina turns to Max and Ghost and asks, “You guys want subs for lunch?”

Max’s shocked face turns soft. He says quietly, “Naw, hon, that’s cool,” Ghost shakes his head. Max smiles as he continues, “But I want one of those cupcakes.”

Tina smiles back at him and tells him, “Have at it! But leave some for the sponsor.” She spins to face me and says, “Seriously, though, persuade the sponsors to try them.”

I’m still in shock so I just nod.

Just as she walks to the door Ghost picks up a cupcake with light brown icing. Tina turns, gasps, and runs back toward us. Like a Tennis player on crack, she slaps the cupcake out of Ghosts hand, hard.

Splat!

It lands on the wall and surprisingly doesn’t fall; it stays where it is like a wall decoration.

Her chest heaving from exertion as she yells, “Holy Cannoli!” She looks at Ghost and says, “I forgot to warn you not to eat those if you’re allergic to peanuts!”

Ghost grabs another chocolate peanut butter cupcake, tears the wrapper away and shoves the whole thing in his mouth. His eyes close in bliss. He slows his chewing and his head falls back. Shaking his head slightly he looks at Tina and mutters, “Not bad. I like crunchy PB, though.”

Ah, Ghost. Ever the ass.

Max unwraps a chocolate frosted cupcake, takes a bite and moans. Taking three steps toward her, Max wraps his arms around her shoulders and picks Tina up, he holds her there for a few seconds before he lets her back on her feet. Then he speaks with a full mouth so his words are garbled, “Oh my gawd, Teen, this is the best thing I’ve ever eaten.”

Tina looks up at Max with her huge smile on show. She blushes and says quietly, “Well, thanks guys. Don’t forget to save some for the sponsor.” She looks back at me and says, “I’ll bring you lunch at one.”

She goes to shut the office door behind her, as the latch clicks the cupcake on the wall lands on the floor with a plop.

Max starts to chuckle. Ghost joins in. I can’t help but laugh, too.

That girl is a Hurricane.

12:40 pm.

I better get a move on if I want to get lunch in time.

The sub shop down the street sells the most delicious and freshest subs. They actually cut the meat right in front of you and their t urkey is always moist.

Nik didn’t say no to turkey so I guess he likes it. He looked a little shocked when I made the cupcake offering. He looked even more shocked that I offered to get him lunch, but I figure if we’re going to be friends, I’m the one who’ll have to make the initial effort. Once we’re at a comfortable stage, I’m sure he’ll open up more, but already he fascinates me. I can’t seem to keep away. I want to know more about him.

Max and Trick like me. I know this because they make no effort to hide it. And I like them right back.

Ghost, on the other hand, hates my frickin’ guts. I’m not sure why but I can tell he doesn’t trust me.

Silvio is working the counter at the sub shop like always. He is an animated Italian and always really loud.

Slightly balding, he does what good men do and shaves it short rather than comb it over.

Silvio likes me because I eat. He always tells me to get a cookie with my sub and much to his delight I almost always do.

Silvio smiles with his normal greeting, “Buongiorno Principessa! What my get you today?” Silvio’s English isn’t perfect.

I say, “Hi Silvio, you’re looking good today! I need two of my regulars.”

He raises his brows at me, smiles big and claps loud. He responds, “Oh, very good gehl. I love you mangia! You get cookie, too.” This was not a request.

I chuckle at his antics and say, “You better make that two cookies. I’m taking lunch to a friend today.”

Understanding dawns on his face and he ups the dramatic hand movements with, “Ahh, this is a good. Friends make a laugh when mangia together!”

I bite my lip to stop my laugh; after two years of knowing Silvio his English could’ve quite possibly gotten worse.

Two subs and cookies in hand, I wave goodbye to Silvio and walk over to The White Rabbit.

The door to Nik’s office is closed; I check the clock in the hall: 1:05pm

I’m juggling quite a bit of food but luckily the door handle is a lever, not a round one.

Balancing the food on my lifted leg, I use my hip to push down the lever, I hear the latch open, and I walk backwards through the door.

I state ,“Whoa! That wasn’t as easy as I made it look. Here is your sub, Monsieur.” I turn and see Nik at his desk, eyes wide. There is also a very pretty woman sitting opposite him.

Eeeek!

Luckily, Pretty Woman wears an easy smile.

She stands and offers kindly, “Here, let me help you.” She takes the subs and cookies out of my hands and puts them on the edge of the desk.

I sputter, “Oh, thank you so much. I’m so sorry to bother you. I thought the meeting was over.” I shoot Nik an apologetic smile

“That’s fine,” she says, “We were just finishing up and I was just about to ask Nik where he got those delicious cupcakes from.”

Nik clears his throat and walks over to me. He stands so close to me my shoulder is in the crook of his arm. He explains, “Well, actually, Tina made those.”

I look closer at Pretty Woman and realize I’ve seen her before. I say slowly, “Wait a second. I think I’ve seen you in my store. You asked for my help and I recommended that Yellow sweater because it looked killer with your black pumps.”

The woman is smiling and wide eyed. She responds with a shocked and amused voice, “Oh my goodness. That was a while ago. I didn’t think you would recognize me. I love that sweater!” she chuckles. “I’m Vanessa.”

I’m genuinely happy to see her again. I reach over to shake her hand and say, “It’s so good to meet you, Vanessa. I’m Tina. If you ever need any help with something to wear, come see me again. And, by the way, if you liked those cupcakes I have the recipe on my work computer. If you give me your card I can email it to you.”

Vanessa smiles and says, “Really? I would love that.” She digs through her purse for a business card and hands it over. “My husband loves chocolate and I’ve never tasted anything like that before.”

I look up at Nik, who I haven’t even noticed has moved his arm around my shoulder. He looks down at me, eyes dancing.

Gahh, look at those beautiful eyes!

I shoot him a smug look that says See! I told ya! then take a huge bite of my cookie.

I’ll admit I forgot Vanessa was even there until she spoke again. She says, “If you don’t mind me saying, you two make a great couple.”

Nik’s arm tightens around me and he replies, “We certainly think so.”

What. The. Hell?

“Right, honey?” Then he leans down and kisses my temple.

I have a full mouth of cookie but I manage a, “Mmmpff” and a small nod.

Vanessa says her goodbyes to us both and takes her leave. I turn to Nik. He is staring at me and says, “I can’t believe the cupcake thing worked!”

“Like a charm, every time,” I confess. Then I narrow my eyes at him, “What was the couple thing all about, mister?”

He has the grace to look sheepish. He explains, “Sorry about that but I’ll do anything to get this client. And she seemed to really like you. I didn’t want her disappointed.”

Rolling my eyes at him, I sigh and respond, “Well, I’d better get back to work because I may have lied about having that recipe on my work computer. Luckily for you, I know it by heart.” My face turns serious, “I really hope you get it, Nik.”

His face softens and he says softly, “Thanks for the cupcakes, T. And the sub. Sushi is on me tomorrow.”

I nod and make my way to the door.

I have a recipe to email.

Chapter Five

Only in New York

Inventory day is the worst day of the month. I have Lola and Mimi in on inventory days because like a creature suffering photosensitivity, I will not see the light of day today.

Call me Smeagle.

The floor is not very busy so Mimi straightens up loose clothing items around the place and Lola takes calls and answers emails for me. They share the customers.

I hear the store room door open and close. I don’t think anything of it; I just continue my monotonous task.

Hands close over my eyes and I feel breathing next to my ear. “Guess who Bitch?”

I know that voice.

I jump up and down and squeal as loud as my lungs will let me. I stop squealing for a moment to turn around. There smiling back at me is my bff Natalie; 5 days early!

I jump into her arms and we both squeal loud for a full minute. I scream at the top of my lungs, “Oh my God!”

The door bursts open and Max barges in with a gun in hand!

Nat and I start squealing for a different reason and we both hit the floor and I cover my head.

“What the fuck is going on here?” Max booms; he looks angry.

I croak hoarsely, “Why do you have a gun, Max?”

He looks around the room and takes in the scene before him. Chest heaving, he lowers his gun hand to his chest. He speaks a strained, “Holy shit babe, you scared the fuckin’ shit outta me.”

I reply a shrill, “I scared you? I’m not holding a gun!”

He puts the gun in his waistband and holds out a hand to both me and Nat.

We take his hands and he pulls us both up. He puts him arms around both our shoulders and explains, “I was at the coffee shop and I heard you screamin’ like a freakin’ loon. I thought someone was hurtin’ you. I dropped my damn coffee all over Winnie’s floor and ran the fuck over here. That’s why I had my gun out.”

My face turns soft. I say, “It doesn’t explain about the gun but I’m glad you were ready to help me, hon.”

Max smiles, dimple and all. He responds, “Who would make me cupcakes then?”

Nat smiles as says, “Ahh, she got you with her cupcakes.”

Max looks down at her and exclaims, “Wow. You’re really pretty! I’m Max.”

Nat corrects, “Actually, I’m not ‘Really Pretty’. I’m Natalie. I moved from Cali to be closer to my best friend and that’s the welcome I get?” She chuckles, “Only in New York.”

Max looks properly chastened and apologizes. “I’m sorry, ma’am. It won’t happen again.”

Nat makes a positively ghastly face at him and spits, “You’re damn right it won’t! If you call me ma’am again I’ll punch you in the face.”

Max puts his arms up in retreat and utters, “Okay! Okay! Yeesh! Well, now that I know you ladies are safe and sound, I’ll be on my way.”

❮❯