The Cookie Sheet Factory

This little, confectionery business is the only bakery in all of Marlton Cove. Now, is that because the town does not need more than one pastry shop or because The Cookie Sheet is home to two of the world's finest mercenaries for hire? As long as there are contracts to be made, and enough pretty macarons to go around, who cares?

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3. Cheesecake {1}

 

Marlton Cove, The Cookie Sheet Factory

8:20 a.m.

 


 

     "Six months already? Guess that means we're finally home free." Speaking clearly so that I could get his attention. When he didn't turn around I arched an eyebrow, spooning my cereal absentmindedly. It wasn't that I actually cared about the day itself, but if anniversaries could be classified as holidays, then they'd be Carter's favorite. Normally, he would've made a big deal out of such a milestone: breakfast in bed, taking the entire day off, ending it with an intimate, candlelit dinner. He was into cheesy things like that. So, understandably, it was a little concerning to see him this mellow. "Babe, you okay?"

     He nodded, continuing to wash the pile of dishes that had accumulated the night before.

     At that, I released my spoon, letting it clank against the ceramic rim of the bowl. Crossing my arms, I leaned into the chair, unable to determine what could be weighing on his mind. Our relationship was built on unspoken rules and countless understandings. There were no skeletons hiding in the cupboards and we never lied to each other; that's just how things were. Well, how things were supposed to be, but, just like in every relationship, there was always that occasional secret or a misleading story to fuel the afternoon drama. To each their own. Getting Carter to talk wasn't difficult though. I didn't like to brag, buuut he did have the most obvious weak spot for me. So, to mend the situation, I decided to skip the formalities and use our ultimate icebreaker. "Carter," My lips gradually began to curl up into a smirk. "I love you." 

     The abrupt attack seemed to have blindsided him completely. "You can't use that straight out of the gate!" He protested, dropping the pot into the sink as he turned around to finally face me.

     But I persisted. "No, that's not how it goes; you have to say the rest of it!" Lurching forward and leaning over the island countertop as I jabbed a finger forwards to point at him; all in one fluid motion, of course. Theatric, I know. "Say it back!" The smile only overtaking more of my face.

     "This isn't fair; you're twisting my arm here!"

     "Nonsense, all is fair in love and war!"

     "Phebe." He warned, clearly trying to hold back a serious case of the chuckles.

     "I love you." Mimicking his false tone of seriousness. I knew that my insistence would be well worth the probable tickle torture.

     He was likely searching for something, anything, to help worm his way out of this one. Losing a battle of this magnitude meant losing the whole war as well. "You're ridiculous." He muttered, watching as I wiggled my eyebrows in a caterpillar motion. Unsurprisingly, his struggle was futile; he'd never really had a talent for saying 'no' to me. The more I thought about it, the more spoiled it made me feel. Finally, begrudgingly, he surrendered. "And I adore you."

     Satisfied, I slipped off of the bar stool and strode towards the big softy, grinning all the more when he responded to my victory waltz by crossing his arms loosely over his chest, successfully blocking any and all access to my favorite pillow. "Why can't you ever lose gracefully?" Halfheartedly prying at his blockade.

     "Excuse me?" His laugh was dry, and at that point, he had failed to keep his amused expression to a minimum. "I don't lose, I just save my victories for another day."

     "Pft, sounds like losing to me.." Finally giving up on ever getting inbetween his arms; instead, I held onto the bottom of his shirt as my gaze rose up to meet his. Though he had always encouraged me to be forthright, I had never gotten used to the idea of being so blunt. Working up to things felt much more natural. "And since you lost, that means I win something."

     His response to my statement exuded caution. "That's usually how it works, yes."

     Why did he seem so standoffish? I could clearly see him trying to shrink back further into the counter, his arms tightening ever so slightly as his line of sight started to float around the kitchen. He looked anywhere but at me, which meant he was definitely hiding something. "At ease, soldier, jeez; I just want a little information. You um, you doin' alright? Anything on your mind? Something you maybe want to tell me about?" Concern slowly tore through my expression.

     "What?" Sounding as though simply talking about this was taboo. "How did you jump to that conclusion? Actually, no, where did that even come from in the first place?" He was rambling, still doing his best to avoid my gaze, though he did take a few glimpses after every other word. "Forget the puppy-dog-look, my heart is literally going to become pudding if those gems of yours stare at me any longer." He murmured, planting a kiss between my eyes.

     "Carter." My patience was wearing thin. Soon, I wasn't going to be asking politely for an answer.

     "You're imagining it.." His voice was even smaller this time around, and his desire to end this conversation was made apparent when he unfolded his arms to instead swallow me up in them, resting his chin atop my head with a mellowed sigh. "It's nothing, really."

     The hug was unexpected, but definitely not unwelcomed. In fact, it wasn't long before I was resting against his chest, perfectly content with the idea of spending the rest of the day like this. The bakery hadn't even opened and he already smelled of royal icing and cake batter, along with his usual, winter-air scent. Carter was the type of person who often left a bad first impression; even I had wanted nothing more to do with him when we'd first met. It wasn't too long ago that he had redyed his hair back to his signature, cherry red. With his towering stature and unexplainable need to glare at any and all who got a little too close, I could understand why people were normally unwilling to approach. His quick temper was legendary within our social circle, and despite my numerous attempts to correct it, profanity was still his favorite use of the English language. Think before you speak? Yeah right. He always went straight to the doing part. Except for moments like these; he overanalyzed our relationship far too much, we both did, and that's why we ended up in situations like this so often. "It's not nothing to me." Something he should already know, but it never hurt to be sure.

     Carter was quiet for the longest time, and I couldn't tell if that was because he still didn't want to talk about it or because he was doing his best to turn his thoughts into words.

     A couple minutes passed before I came to the conclusion that he most certainly didn't want to talk about it. Great, now things were unbearably awkward. "Hey.. I didn't mean to push--"

     "Your door was locked."

     "Huh..?" I wished I could see his face, but he refused to budge.

     "Your door. I went to wake you up this morning, but it was locked."

     I was having trouble following. "And that matters because?"

     He went silent again.

     Oookay, so we were playing this game today. Think, Phebe, think. Knowing him, the door probably signified some deep, interdimensional bond that was now severed because I had performed the traitorous act of locking him out, or some insane madness like that. Granted, I knew he was touchy about these sorts of things. He tried not to show it, but I could see how much it bothered him whenever I passed on a cuddle or told him I needed space. We lived in the same house, yet there would be times I'd sit in my office for days on end, sifting through paperwork and only interacting with him when he brought in a meal to make sure I hadn't started decomposing at my desk. Alright fine, so I could maybe see now why the door being locked mattered so much. "It didn't mean anything; I just.. I was changing and probably forgot to unlock it before I went to sleep." Trying to shrug it off best I could. The real reason I'd locked it would have given him a heart attack; no need to escalate the situation further.

     "Probably forgot? Phebe, you only ever lock your door when you're pissed." He sounded like he could smell bullshit. "Or scared."

     Curse this gorgeous man and his freaky intuition. In fact, he was so perceptive, that at times, I couldn't help but wonder if he really did have a third eye. "There's a first time for everything..." I was hoping he would use some of that perception to perceive just how much I wanted this interrogation to be over.

     "Oh really now? Then why don't we test that theory of yours and start sleeping in the same room?"

     Whoa wait wait wait, I changed my mind, go back to the previous conversation.

     He removed his chin from my head of hair and looked down at me with a challenging squint, his arms now loosely hanging around my waist. "Too much? Then maybe we could start by having you leave your door open at night. That way you won't forget to unlock it." Smiling all sorts of sarcasm.

     Deep, deep down, I knew he was teasing me; trying to rile me up so that I would confess to whatever his suspicions were. It was working. Fortunately, Carter had always been very mindful of the walls I had put in place. Not so fortunately, he had also made a habit of tearing them down, and I wasn't ready for him to demolish this one. Panic poisoned my veins, making it difficult to think rationally. Before I could regain control of my frazzled mind, my body went into defense mode and shoved him away with an unnecessary amount of force. "No." I hadn't yelled at him, thank god, but my current, startled expression probably wasn't much better.

     It took him a moment to make sense of what had just happened. After that moment passed, he just nodded, frikin' nodded as though this was a perfectly normal way for me to communicate.

     I wanted to apologize, the prouder part of me wanted him to apologize, but instead, I took the opportunity to switch tactics. "We should start preparing for tonight, we don't want to miss the train."

     He gave me a quizzical look. "Train? You mean the contract on that university kid? I thought we weren't taking that job."

     "Money is money." Usually, these decisions were a joint effort. We never took jobs if one of us had an off feeling about it, and this one, in particular, had made both of us uneasy. A mysterious recommender; four, anxious clients; a moving target. Nothing about this gig was appealing, especially since they were only paying the bare minimum. However, it suddenly seemed like a great idea when compared to the alternative: hours of alone time with my own thoughts. "What? It's not like we had anything planned for today, right?"

     He looked away again, with an expression that made me feel a twinge of guilt. "Right."

     "Perfect. I'll go draw up the paperwork and contact the clients." Starting my journey out the kitchen. Our bakery also functioned as our apartment. It had an upstairs with three other rooms. The front of the house was his jurisdiction, and the office upstairs was where I firmly held the reins. "What should I name the file?"

     "Phebe, I really don't think this is such a good idea." Obviously the voice of reason, but I was not in the mood to listen.

     "I can pick the name if you want."

     And with that, he seemed to relent. Though it took him a second, he eventually granted me the title for this particular case. "Cheesecake. Because instead of baking the cake, like we normally do, we're making a chilled one. Like idiots."

     His analogy both upset me and made me hungry. "Cheesecake it is." Flashing him a chilled smile of my own. We were professionals; what's the worse that could happen?

     

 

 

 

Sorry, we ran out of ingredients..!

To be continued.

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