Authors: R. M. Webb
R. M. Webb
Copyright © 2015 by R. M. Webb
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Cover design Copyright © 2015 by R. M. Webb
Printed in the United States of America.
First Printing, 2015
Always for you.
The smoke detector shrieks at me from its post on the ceiling and the acrid smell of baked goods rolls into my bedroom. Shit! Here I stand in an explosion of clothing, wearing nothing more than my bra and panties and my cupcakes are burning. I might as well have set fire to my future. Golden flame licking up the edges of my life, blackening the corners. Bits of ash flaking away and floating off like snowflakes. Of all the days for me to get distracted and lose track of time... With one long stream of curse words, I race down the stairs, don an oven mit, and pull the smoking remains of my cupcakes from the oven. The baking tin hits the top of the stove with a bang and I get to work fanning the smoke detector with a pile of papers I swipe from the counter.
If I was one to believe in signs, I’d take this as a very bad one. That might as well be my hopes and dreams smoldering on the stove over there. I’ve got a meeting with some people who might loan me some money in a couple hours and those cupcakes were the main selling point of my presentation. See, I want to open a bakery, but I’m broke. Fresh college graduate with her shiny new degree and absolutely nothing to show for it. Same old story everyone’s telling these days, this is just my version. I could go get a job in some cubicle somewhere, but the thought makes me feel all gray and defeated. And I’m not accepting defeat without a fight.
I check the time. If nothing else goes wrong today, I can whip up a new batch and still be at my meeting in time, cupcakes in hand and a smile on my face. There’s no way I could live with myself if I didn’t at least try. I fly around my kitchen, yanking things from cupboards, banging bowls on counters, flinging spoons into the sink. Maybe it’s a good thing I wasn't already dressed because the flour is flying and anything I’d put on would be destroyed by the little detonations of cooking ingredients that go off while I toss utensils around. The kitchen looks as bad as my bedroom when I slide the second batch of cupcakes into the oven and dash up the stairs.
Now I’m faced with another problem - the reason my bedroom is strewn with clothes. Nothing I put on is good enough. I’ve got nice clothes, but nothing lives up to the importance of the day. I’m left staring at a closet filled with stuff that either doesn’t look professional enough or doesn’t flatter me or doesn’t quite pull off the look I’m going for. Whatever that is. It’d be nice if I had a designer business suit to put on, but you know, out of work college grad and all...
Oh hell. You know what? The business suit idea is a good one, but it’ll only look like I’m playing dress up in my momma’s clothes. I’m not just selling my cupcakes here. What I’m really selling is me. The girl behind the idea.
There’s a million bakeries out there already.
what’s going to make this venture work.
what these people are going to invest in.
I pick out my favorite casual little dress and pair it with a great pair of shoes, my chunky bracelets, and long dangling earrings that hang so well with my hair. I sweep on my makeup, not much, just a bit of shadow and mascara and give my long, brown hair a quick shake.
This is me. They can love me or they can hate me, but at least I’m going to be comfortable while they’re doing it. I take my time - as much as I can afford, that is - while frosting the cupcakes. That’s where they really stand out. My cupcakes are good, but come on, a cupcake is a cupcake. But once I frost mine, they’re more like a little edible work of art. As pleased with the final result as I am with my appearance, I slide them into a plain white bakery box and smile at the thought of my own logo scrolling across the top. This is it. This is my chance to make a living doing what I love. And what better way to get through life than by waking up happy each morning, excited to greet the day? I sling my bag over my arm and lock the door to my apartment.
One of the reasons I love fall is because night falls so early. I love the way the light of day disappears behind the city lights. When the sun goes down, it hides all the grimy spots on the street corners and all that’s left are millions of twinkling lights from signs and streetlights. People aren’t hurrying to get to and from work anymore, they’re hurrying to go out and find a good time. I love the energy here at night. It’s vibrant. Hopeful. With my meeting pushed to the very end of the work day, I have an excuse to be out during my favorite time of day.
As much as I’d like to walk, I’m running late, so I opt for a cab. The price will be astronomical, but I’ll make up for it with a few more nights of Ramen for dinner. My phone vibrates in my bag as a cab whips across the road to stop when I signal. I tell the driver my destination and choose to hold the box of cupcakes on my lap as the little yellow car darts back into traffic, eliciting an outburst of honking, angry shouting, and more than a few rude gestures. I do love the city.
I slide my phone out of my bag and smile at the text from Mia:
You’re gonna nail this. I’m sure you look fantastic. Just be careful … keep an eye out for vampires.
I can actually hear her voice while I read her words. It’d go from super sweet and supportive to totally worried and more than a little scared in time for the last sentence. Mia’s the reason I even have this meeting. She works at a hospital and got to know some people on the board during a charity event. I didn’t think they’d bite when she’d presented me with the idea to set up the meeting, but here I am, armed with cupcakes, ready to wow them. I shake my head and tap out a message in return:
Cupcakes in hand. Smile on my face. Vamps be damned!
I slide my phone back into my purse just in time for the cabbie to lurch us wildly around a corner. I grab the door handle with one hand and clutch my precious box of cupcakes to my chest with the other. Mia’s been scared ever since the world found out vampires were real last year. Me? The way I see it is that I spent twenty-one years of my life with vampires sharing this planet with me and I’ve never had a problem with one yet. All that’s changed is that I know for sure they exist now. I’m not going to let that scare me into hiding away and not living my life. If they want me, they’ll get me.
I’m definitely in the minority with that way of looking at things because it seems like the whole rest of the world went crazy. For a while, people were busy hiding and praying and acting like the world was gonna end. This reverend started this big church and it’s like he’s trying to recruit the entire world or something. He’s got all these billboards up. Runs commercials all the time. Has giant press conferences. It’s all a big show. Reminds me of a circus. Propaganda at its best. I can hear his voice now. Be strong with the Order of the Righteous Hand of God. I don’t buy it, but I guess the rest of the world does because everyone is flocking to his church. Even Mia has talked about joining, although she always blushes and starts acting like she was really just joking after she catches me frowning in her direction.
The cab lurches again and I can hear my precious cargo sliding around in the box. I can just picture them banging into each other, big smears of icing … You know what? I’m not risking anything else going wrong today. I’m better off relying on myself. Anytime I let someone else join the mix, well, that’s when problems start. I’m close enough that I can just walk the rest of the way and still be on time. If I finish this cab ride, chances are good that I’ll be on time, but I’ll be carrying a box of mashed up baked goods. Just another girl with a wish and a dream and nothing to show for it.
I pay the guy and make sure to tip decently. He speeds off in a huff anyway. Can’t please ‘em all, I guess. Not that I’d ever want to. I mean, I’m polite and well-mannered. I was raised well. But I’m pretty sure I’ll never be labeled as a people-pleaser.
After stepping up onto the safety of the sidewalk, I peek inside the bakery box and can’t help but smile when I see all twelve cupcakes in as good shape as they were when I left my apartment. My head’s all full of hopes and dreams and thoughts of the future when I submerge myself in the river of pedestrians. I can’t help but shake the feeling that this is the day everything changes. This is the day that sets my life on a different course, where I step away from my place among the masses and take my spot outside of it all. I’m not going to follow the whims of some nebulous boss, worn down from years of following orders from his boss, each of us cogs in the wheel of some nameless corporation, forced to rely on all the other cogs in order to be seen and heard. Nope. That is not for me. I’m going to be the master of my fate. I’ll sink or I’ll swim but it’ll be all of my own accord.
I’m paying more attention to the thoughts in my head than to what’s going on around me. Instead of looking where I’m actually going, I’m all caught up in where I’m metaphorically going. I collide head on with a stone wall of a man - my box of cupcakes crushed between us.
His hands are on my shoulders, helping to stabilize me as I stumble backwards. I’m too stunned to process what just happened. I just stare down at the crumpled box in my hands, shock slackening my face. The lid is all crinkled up and I can see all the icing just smeared across the inside - my fears from the cab come true. Cupcakes have toppled over and crumbs cling to icing, little pieces of chocolate cake that look like dirt.
I’m deflated. All my hopes and dreams go flying from my heart like someone letting the air out of a balloon. Cliché, I know. But it’s cliché for a reason. I’m angry and embarrassed and disappointed and I’m certain to be late to the most important meeting of my life. I can’t decide if I want to apologize to the guy in front of me or yell at him.
I’m probably gonna yell at him. Even if it
as much my fault as it was his. I sit back on my heel and lift my eyes to his face.
He’s gorgeous. The setting sun glints in his white blonde hair, making it come alive with its own strange light. His gray eyes study me with a complex mixture of apology and curiosity. I instantly feel exposed.
“Wait,” he says and all my thoughts go scurrying around my head. It’s like I’m just on the wrong edge of drunk and I can’t quite chase down what it was I wanted to say to him.
“Ok.” I’m not even sure why I answered. I look down at the box in my hands again. Ruined. Everything is ruined. But somehow, I don’t really care right now. Everything just feels … confusing. All the things that were important aren’t anymore. All that matters is this man in front of me and his voice and some strange sensation in my head - like my thoughts aren’t really my thoughts.
“I’m sorry about your desserts. I’ll buy you some new ones.”
Buying me new ones will do me absolutely no good whatsoever. I should tell him this. Instead, I meet his eyes again, my gaze traveling across the handsome planes of his face. “It’s no big thing,” I hear myself saying. “They’ll still taste just as good even if they don’t look so pretty.”
“Well, here,” he says and reaches into his back pocket, pushing his pea-coat out of the way, and pulls out his wallet. “There’s a bakery just down the street. Stop in there, replace those poor things, tasty as they may be.”
But that won’t work. It can’t be any old box of cupcakes from any old bakery. I need
cupcakes. So I can get
bakery. I’m caught in his eyes again and even though I try to tell him these things, the thoughts just float away and I find myself taking the handful of bills he holds out to me.
“Thank you.” I say it, but I don’t know why.
“No, my dear, thank you for being so gracious.” He takes my hand and bends to kiss it, his broad shoulders hunching forward, covering my hand from view. My pulse goes racing at the touch of his hand on mine. His skin is so cold. Hard. Like stone. A perfectly chiseled statue, strong and beautiful and deserving of some pedestal in some museum for people to stand around and admire all day.
But I have somewhere to be. Don’t I? “Ok,” I say for some reason or another and wipe a long strand of hair out of my face. “I should be going.” My feet start walking in the direction of the bakery he’d pointed out, totally without my permission. “Thank you again,” I call over my shoulder as he takes off in the opposite direction, shoving his hands in his coat pockets.
I’m not sure why I’m doing exactly what the tall blonde man in the pea coat told me to do, but I’m doing it anyway. I’m also not sure how I know he’s a vampire, but I know it as sure as I know my own name. And more to the point, I’m not sure how I know I’ll see him again, but I’m absolutely, cross my heart and hope to die, certain I will.