Authors: Sadie Grubor
With much to do, I focus on getting the pies and muffins started before Mrs. Dorn arrives at seven to start stocking the bakery cases in the storefront and writing out the daily specials on the chalk board.
"Momma," Alex calls through the baby monitor.
"Time to go get the little prince," Mrs. Dorn coos. "Or I could go up?"
"No, thank you. I've missed my little guy." Wiping my hands on the towel hanging at my waist, I walk out of the storefront and into the kitchen.
"I'm going up to get Alex and feed him breakfast." I slip the apron over my head and toss it into the hamper we keep in the kitchen.
"Momma, momma, momma." Each momma is accentuated by the sound of bedsprings.
"You better hurry before he bounces out of his crib," Ced calls out just as I reach the bottom of the stairs.
"Hey, wait!" she shouts. I look back at her. "Your first consultation is in an hour. It’s for a birthday. If you need me to come upstairs with Alex so you can make the meeting just call down, okay?"
"Yep," I shout over the sound of Emily starting up a mixer and walk up the staircase.
The staircase had been the final selling point on this particular building. With my lease coming up in just a few months, I really hoped to be new owner instead of just a tenant. Mr. Coleman and I have already discussed me buying the building, since he plans to move south to be near his son.
When I enter his room, he stops bouncing and smiles. Grabbing him under his arms, I lift him from the crib and nestle him on my hip.
"You know, soon you’ll need a big boy bed." I ruffle his hair and kiss the top of his head.
After years of working hard, at the age of twenty-four, I made the decision to have a baby. First, I felt as crazy as my friends and family thought I was, but it just felt right. No father, no attachment aside from my baby — it’s what I wanted. At twenty-six, I gave birth to the most beautiful little boy — my Alexander. Being a mother on my own isn't easy, just as I knew it wouldn't be, but I feel so lucky to have him.
My last serious relationship had been when I was twenty. Isaac was killed right after college in a motorcycle accident. We'd both been on the motorcycle, out celebrating my completion of two years of culinary school and my decision to try to make a name for myself as an instructor at the school.
The air had been cool and damp on my face. There had been a slick spot on the road and the motorcycle collapsed onto its side. Isaac pulled my left leg up as we fell over and spun across the blacktop. Slamming into the guide-rail, I was thrown, bruised, and concussed. Isaac and the bike finally stopped in the left hand lane of the road. He was pinned under the bike, but alive. Alive until a truck rounded a corner, slammed their brakes, and slid into him. I can still hear the screech of the brakes and the echo of my screams.
Christ, I miss him. I loved him so much.
Isaac died about an hour after reaching the hospital, where I had been trapped in a bed, hooked up to monitors, and IV drips. Tests were run and x-rays taken. Upon my release, I left with a broken wrist and several ribs, a concussion, bruises, and an unexpected pregnancy. I’d barely come to terms with finding out I was pregnant when I lost the baby. My last piece of Isaac torn away from me.
From the moment Alex was born into my gray world, he saturated my universe in bright, colorful moments. His first smile, steps, words, and watching him grow over the past eighteen months has been the largest joy in my life.
“Toast,” Alex blurts, pulling me from my memories. Playing with the bananas I put on the tray of his highchair, he giggles.
“You’re supposed to eat those, not smoosh them.”
Grinning, I flip a piece of French toast.
“Smooooosh,” he squeals, his face lighting up brighter than the sun.
With the French toast done, cut up, and placed on his tray, I start cleaning up the kitchen. The chime from my phone pulls me away from loading the last of the dishes into the dishwasher.
“That has to be your Aunt Ced,” I coo to Alex. “Though, her crazy butt could just call.”
Good morning, Mrs. Knyght. I trust you slept well. See you soon.
His message takes the breath from my body. My stomach knots as nausea sweeps over me.
I really need to talk to Alfonso soon. This guy may be crazy. A freaking crazy catrillionaire.
Ignoring the message, I turn my attention back to the dishwasher, then to cleaning breakfast off Alex.
“Did you get any of it in your mouth?” I tease.
“All gone,” he announces, wearing a proud smile.
After a quick baby wipes bath and getting Alex dressed for a day in the kitchen, we walk the flight of stairs toward the sweet smells and normal noises.
Stepping through the kitchen, I take Alex to the baby-proofed and gated area near Ced’s office. The minute he’s on his little feet, he runs for his workbench and picks up the bright red hammer. With the hammer in hand, he sits on the sit-n-spin, beating the top of it with the toy.
“Liv, your consultation is waiting at the table,” Mercedes yells from her office.
“Keep an eye on Alex for me, okay?”
As I walk by her office, she steps out, holding a clipboard for me to take.
“Like you have to ask,” she responds, walking the few steps to look at Alex spinning and beating the crap out of the toy. "Hey there, little guy, how are you this morning?" Ced coos to Alex. "Want to come make some phone calls with Auntie Cedie?"
"No," Alex responds before starting to pound again.
"I feel ya, little man."
The door closing behind me silences the rest of Ced and Alex's conversation.
"Hey, Liv," Mrs. Dorn greets with the same warm smile that has won over all of our customers.
"Good morning," I reply. Smiling, I walk toward the consultation table.
Extending my hand, I greet the newest clients, "Hello, I'm Olivia Harlow."
After the twenty minute consultation, I step back into the bustling activity of the kitchen.
"Another Alice in Wonderland cake," I announce.
Walking into Ced's office, I slip the clipboard onto her desk.
"That's gotten popular lately." Moving the clipboard closer, she begins filling out the official order form to attach to the consultation order.
"Yeah, well, I'm sure it has to do with all the cake shows now featured on television." I sigh.
"So, um, what are you going to do about you know who?" She whispers the last three words.
"Call Alfonso." I shrug.
"Today?" she squeaks, a hint of a smile playing on her face.
"Would you like to call his office for me?" I smile.
"Mayyybe," she drawls.
"Good, try to get an appointment to take care of this mess ASAP, please." Sighing, I stand up.
"What are you going to tell Erik?" Her brow furrows.
"The truth," I answer. Taking a deep breath, I head back out to the kitchen.
The remainder of the afternoon comes and goes with the normal workflow, along with the other consultations. It's close to closing when Ced calls out from her office.
"Liv, Alfonso said he'll stop by tomorrow to discuss your situation."
"Thanks," I shout back.
"Oh, and Erik is on the phone for you."
I groan, put down the icing bag, and stretch my fingers.
"Tell him I'll call him later. I'm in the middle of a cake."
Grasping the bag, I lean back over the cake and continue piping the second layer while Emily works on the bottom.
After closing up the shop, I trudge up the stairs with a hungry Alex in my arms, wishing I could just go lie in bed. Unfortunately, dinner, bathing, and playtime are in my immediate future.
Dinner goes well and Alex's playtime giggles put me into a much better mood. In the midst of his bath, the doorbell rings.
"Who could that be?"
"Door," Alex shouts, standing in the shallow water.
Wrapping him in a large towel, we answer the door.
"Hey, Liv," Erik greets with a kiss to my forehead. "Hey, big Al." He kisses the top of Alex's head.
"Erik, I was going to call you, but—"
He pushes by us, entering my apartment.
"I know, but I figured I'd stop by to see how your trip was and check in on you guys." Erik makes himself comfortable on my couch.
Closing the door, my earlier exhaustion suddenly returns. This conversation is going to be uncomfortable, to say the least.
"I'm gonna go dress Alex," I mumble, walking down the hall to his room.
Once Alex is dressed and on his feet, he runs off into the living room.
"Rik," he announces, rushing into Erik.
Erik reaches down and lifts him fully onto his lap.
"Toons." Alex pats his hands on Erik's chest impatiently.
Picking up the remote, Erik turns on cartoons for Alex. I take a seat in the large, overstuffed chair across from them.
"Well, at least Alex missed me," Erik grumbles, his attention focused on me.
Ignoring the comment, I stare, unseeing, at the cartoon. When Alex yawns, I start mentally preparing myself for the discussion I won't be able to put off any longer.
"Okay, baby, it's time for bed."
"No." Alex slips from the couch, ready to run.
"I really don't like that you've learned that word." Grabbing him under the arms before he can run, I lift him to my hip.
"Night, Al." Erik ruffles his hair.
It takes a few long minutes for Alex's aquarium crib toy to lull him to sleep. It takes me a few minutes longer to return to face Erik.
Erik stands from the couch as I re-enter the room and approaches me.
"I think we should probably talk—"
His lips firmly press to mine. His hands move to hold the sides of my face as his tongue grazes my bottom lip. I pull back and push on his chest to put some space between us.
"I missed you, Liv. Let me stay. We can talk in the morning." His hands move down my sides, grip my hips, and pull me closer.
"We really need to talk. Now." I push on his chest again.
"Olivia," he huffs. "I really need to be close to you tonight. I missed you so much and love—"
"Stop!" With a final push, I finally get space between our bodies. "Listen to me. You know I only want to be friends. And I’ve tried to be just friends, I really have, but you keep pushing for more. We just aren't more than that and we won't be."
Erik opens his mouth to speak.
"Please, let me finish. I love you, Erik, but it's not in the way you want me to or in the way I should. My love is a fondness and caring. I’m not in love with you." I search his face, hoping for understanding.
"Liv, I don't care. I love you enough for the both of us."
I take two more steps back, but he follows.
"I know it's hard for you. I know you always think back to Isaac. I get it, I do. But he's gone, Liv. And he’s not coming back."
I flinch at his words. I know Isaac is gone. I never meant for him to think Isaac is the reason I can't love him.
"It's fine. I can love you enough. I won't leave, or hurt you, or—"
"This isn't about him and that isn't how love works. Besides, I have a situation I need to deal with. It's one that won't make you happy at all."
"Situation?" His brows pull together in confusion. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing is wrong, per say. Something happened in Vegas that I need to deal with."
"What happened?" He steps closer and I can't retreat anymore; it would bring us too close to Alex's room.
I put my hand up, keeping an arm's length of distance between us.
He focuses on my hand. "Tell me what's going on." His eyes meet mine.
"Sit down first." I motion to the chair I recently sat in.
He sits. "Tell me."
"In Vegas, I met someone and—"
"You met someone else in Vegas?" he sneers.
"Calm down and let me finish."
"You fucked someone else in Vegas, didn't you?" He returns to his feet, anger contorting his features.
"There was a lot of alcohol involved and I ended up married." I rush the words out and stand completely still, waiting.
Erik's face instantly turns beet red, causing his typical baby face to contort further.
"You married and fucked some stranger?!" he yells.
"Shh, Alex is sleeping," I hush.
"Fuck you, Liv! Who are you? Are you some whore now, huh?!" His arms flail at his sides as his voice gets louder.
Anger I'll accept, I deserve it, but insults will not be tolerated.
"Get out," I growl. "You can be angry and hate me all you want. I made a mistake I have to deal and live with, but I won't be called a whore. Get out!" My own voice raises higher than intended.