A few months ago, I gave up my regular toothbrush and started using one of those mechanical toothbrushes. Minnie kept nagging me about it and telling me how much cleaner her teeth were with the automatic brush. I have to admit, the first few times I used it, my teeth did have that nice “just left the dentist but in a good way” kind of feeling. But I’m still not a fan. I hate having to just stand there holding the toothbrush—it turns toothbrushing into a much more passive activity.
I wonder how John feels about mechanical toothbrushes. I’ll have to ask him. It seems like he’s got a prepared rant on about twenty percent of all things. Maybe he can say something convincing enough to give me an excuse to go back to my old brush.
While I’m spitting and rinsing, I hear my phone ringing in the other room. I wipe my mouth off and check: it’s Ted, requesting FaceTime.
Do I really want to talk to Ted right now? I’m so tired…
But then again, we haven’t talked in nearly a week. I should probably pick up.
I press “accept” and Ted’s face comes into view. He’s smiling, although there’s something a little strained.
“Hey, Kirby,” he says.
“Hey.” I yawn, maybe a little too loudly.
“What’s going on over there?”
“Not much.” I yawn again. “Sorry, I’m beat. I probably shouldn’t talk long.”
Ted’s blue eyes darken slightly. “Seriously? We haven’t talked in five days. You keep texting me that you’re too tired.”
“Oh.” I smile sheepishly. “Sorry. I’ve just been busy getting ready for the wedding.”
“Yeah? What have you been doing to get ready for the wedding exactly?”
I’m not crazy about the tone of Ted’s voice. Why is he challenging me like he doesn’t even believe me? Of course, I guess he’s right. I haven’t actually been getting ready for the wedding.
“I helped John pick out a tuxedo,” I say weakly.
“That was a week ago. Try again.”
I frown at him. “What are you saying exactly?”
The hard look in Ted’s eyes softens slightly. “Nothing. I just… we haven’t talked in a while. I feel bad that you’re always too busy or tired to talk to me.”
“I know,” I say sheepishly. “I’m sorry about that.”
“You know I’m coming there on Thursday, right?” Ted says.
My heart skips in my chest. What? “You’re coming here?”
“I’ve got that job interview in Manhattan, remember?” he says. “I figured I’d take a week’s vacation and we could hang out together.”
“Well, don’t get too excited.”
This FaceTime really isn’t going well.
“I am excited,” I insist. “I can’t wait to see you, Ted.”
“I miss you, Kirby,” he says softly.
“I miss you too,” I say. Although the second the words leave my lips, I recognize them to be a lie.
Minnie has laid out a selection of six different wedding cake samples that she’s made. She’s baked them in her tiny cake tins so that each two-layer cake is roughly the size of my hand. She’s been working on them ever since the bakery closed several hours ago (and after she took her afternoon nap). I’ve dragged John here to sample the cakes after we grabbed some dinner a few blocks away.
I wonder if maybe I shouldn’t have brought him here. If he really does have feelings for me, like Amy said, isn’t it cruel to take him along on wedding activities? Then again, I want him here. I can’t imagine making a decision like this without him.
“Which one would you like to try first?” Minnie asks John, waving her hand at the array of little cakes.
“I don’t know if these are going to work for a wedding, Minnie,” John says. “I really think the cake would need to be at least… twice this big.”
Minnie lets out an angry little huff. “You be nice, John. Or else I’m cutting off your supply of scones.”
John looks wounded. “You can’t do that! I’d die. I’d have to go to the hospital and they’d have to give me five-hundred cc’s of blueberry scones. Stat.”
“Kirby,” Minnie whines. “Can you tell your friend to stop joking around and help us pick out a cake?”
Whatever… Minnie adores John. She loves it when he comes into the bakery every morning and she’s always got something waiting for him that’s warm from the oven, because she knows he loves that. It goes without saying that she likes him better than Ted.
John ends up loving all the cake samples. It’s not too surprising because John thinks Minnie is the best baker in the history of the world. Even though he’s always willing to sample my cupcakes, I can tell the reason he loves this bakery is because of Minnie. I can’t even be insulted because I know she’s about a million times better than I am at baking. She’s got a magic touch—something that I doubt I’ll ever be able to replicate.
We finally settle on the vanilla bean cake with fresh strawberry buttercream frosting. It was my favorite too, so I’m glad that John agrees. “Ted likes vanilla too,” John says.
“He does?” I say.
John gives me a funny look. “Yeah. You didn’t know that?”
Well, it’s not like I need to know everything in the world about my fiancé. There are some things that I’m sure I’ll learn with time.
“Gosh, it’s late.” Minnie looks down at her watch, her eyes widening. “I’ve got to head out. Kirby, are you going to stick around?”
I nod. “I wanted John to sample a couple more things.”
Minnie gives me a look that makes me uneasy. I can’t entirely interpret that look, but I’ve got some idea what it means.
“I have to tell you, Kirby,” John says after Minnie has left. “My sweet tooth is a little burnt out right now.”
I don’t blame him. But there’s something I want him to taste that I’ve been working on all week. I literally can’t wait another minute.
“One thing I want you to try,” I say. “Then you’re off the hook.”
“What is it?”
I grin at him. “A bubble gum cupcake.”
He crinkles his nose at me. “Really? That sounds… um…”
“You can say it.”
“Disgusting. It sounds disgusting.”
“Right. And I’m going to change your mind.”
John looks skeptical.
I lift a pink-frosted cupcake off the display labeled “Kirby’s Kupcakes.” I put it down on the counter and slice it into quarters. It’s pink on the inside too.
John frowns. “Do I get a veto?”
“No! Just taste it.”
He scoops up one of the quarters of the cupcake with his fingers. After a brief hesitation, he pops it in his mouth. He chews for a minute while I watch his almond eyes. God, he’s cute.
“It’s….” I hear him swallow. “It’s actually really good.”
My shoulders sag in relief. “Seriously?”
“Yeah.” He nods vigorously. “I thought it was going to be really sweet and gross. But it’s actually just the right amount of sweet. It reminds me of bubble gum, but it’s isn’t like having a gross mouthful of bubble gum in my mouth.”
I make a face. “The highest compliment.”
“It’s really good, Kirby,” he says again, gazing up at me with those penetrating eyes. “I really love it.”
I squeeze my fists together as I meet his gaze. “You love it?”
He nods again. “I really do love… it. It’s something I wouldn’t have thought I’d love, but… I do. It’s surprising and wonderful at the same time. And…”
John seems unable to go on. He keeps staring at me and my heart is pounding in my chest. I remember how I felt at the tuxedo store when he was leaning against me, and I get this tingling in my whole body. I want him to kiss me. So badly.
“We should probably go.” John breaks the silence between us, his voice cracking slightly. “It’s really late.”
I nod. “Yeah.”
It is very late. I’ve never been to the bakery this late at night, and it surprises me how unsavory and desolate the neighborhood appears at this late hour. It always seems fine during the day or even early in the morning. I’m glad I’m not alone as we make the three-block journey to where John parked his Toyota.
“I hope Minnie is okay,” I say, feeling a flash of guilt at having let her leave alone.
John bites his lip. “I know. I wish I’d offered her a ride.”
“Well,” I say thoughtfully, “she knows the neighborhood better than anyone. And she only lives five blocks away.”
As if on cue, I hear footsteps behind us, growing louder. John doesn’t seem to notice and continues to wheel forward, but I turn in time to see a young man watching briskly toward us. I clutch my purse to my chest, unsure whether to be grateful we’re not alone or scared of this young man. I turn back to the street ahead of me, trying not to worry. I wish I’d taken my father’s advice and got some mace for my purse.
And that’s when it happens—so fast that I barely have time to think. The man comes along the side of John’s chair and shoves him so hard that the chair topples over, spilling John to the ground, his legs sprawled out at odd angles. I see the glint of a knife in the man’s hand and he growls at me, “Give me your purse or I’ll cut you!”
To be continued...