PART TWO - Chapter 16

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Emma

I strolled down the sidewalk toward the bakery, feeling like the bright blue skies existed just for me. I got to do more baking today, and I was even going to get paid for it. Not much could be better than that.

My phone rang, and I tugged it out of my pocket. My heart flip-flopped at the word 'Dad,' and I almost answered, but then decided to let it go to voicemail. I didn't want to hear his voice yet, not until the words he'd said at the party faded a little more. For now, they still hurt, and I didn't need him making that worse.

Just like yesterday, my spirits lifted at the sight of the pink and white bakery awnings. And then I realized that I'd been in such a hurry to go inside, I hadn't even noticed the name of the place. Patisserie Claudine. Simply perfect.

I stepped inside and felt my smile fade. There stood Thayer, clearly waiting for me. On my first day? Really? So far, he'd hit on me twice, and I just couldn't deal with more of that.

"Hey," I said, trying not to sigh.

"Good morning." His smile looked a little different today, slightly less creepy. "You're very prompt. That's a great thing for a baker."

"Not my first pastry rodeo," I said, then took a deep breath. This was going to be a very long, unpleasant day if I let myself get snarky. "Sorry. I haven't had enough coffee."

His smile widened. "I totally get that. And really great coffee is one of the best things about working here. Let me get you some."

I watched him pour, then nodded as he held up the cream, and then the sugar. After a quick stir, he brought me a steaming mug and offered it with a little bow. "Shall we run through bakery operations while you drink?"

"Sure," I said, a little stunned at the change in him. "Lay it on me."

For the next hour or so, we walked the bakery. Thayer made sure I was familiar with every piece of equipment and, if we came across anything I hadn't encountered before, he walked me through the steps. Then he talked me through the various time schedules, oven rotations, and quantities for each item. He spoke precisely and patiently, and I found myself a little in awe of how much he knew, right off the top of his head.

When we finished, he turned and looked me in the eye, his expression serious. "I owe you an apology," he said softly.

I didn't know what to say. I couldn't have been more surprised if he'd said they added frogs to the macarons. I opened my mouth, but he held up a hand.

"Just let me get this out, okay? I know I've made a fool of myself in front of you—twice, actually. I just want you to know that's not who I am, and I'm even more embarrassed to say I'm not sure why I acted that way." He paused and took a deep breath. "It's important to me that you feel comfortable working here. I swear I won't be a jerk."

Relief washed over me. Now we could move on—as long as he was telling the truth. "Thank you for that," I said. "It makes a huge difference."

He hung his head a little. "Also, I have to confess that I ate two more of your eclairs after you left. They were amazing."

For the first time, I gave him a real smile. "Shall we get to work?"

***

I lugged the groceries up the two flights of stairs, not thrilled about the climb but excited to make a nice roast for dinner and sit down with Zach to talk about our days. Almost like he'd timed it, I got a text from him just as I preheated the oven. Studying with Kennedy, don't wait up.

I tried to let the kissy face emojis—which really showed an unusual effort for him—make me feel better, but it was tough. I'd probably never not be unsettled by him spending time with Kennedy. Seriously bummed, I stared at the roast and tried to decide what to do. Since it was too much for just one person, and I really didn't feel like going to the trouble anymore, I stowed it in the refrigerator and grabbed my purse. There were dozens of restaurants in our neighborhood I was dying to try, and if I waited for Zach to join me, I'd be waiting forever.

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