Thank you all! :)
As they ate their dinner, Bree kept glancing at her mother, confused. Her mum seemed off somewhere else. She kept eating, but her eyes were staring at a random spot in the room. Seeing her mother wasn't paying any attention to her, Bree reached across the table and stole an extra slice of bread off her mother's plate. She waited to be scolded, but nothing happened.
"Mum," Bree said, waving her hand in front of her mother's face. Nothing. "Mum! Earth to Mum!"
At that, Anna blinked and looked to her daughter.
"What's wrong with you? You're acting like you've been possessed by an alien or something."
"Ha, ha," Anna deadpanned. "Eat your food."
"I am eating my food," Bree answered. "Are you sure you're alright?"
"Yes, I'm fine. My mind is just elsewhere, is all."
"Where is it?" Bree pointedly questioned. Anna shook her head and went down to reach for her slice of bread. Upon seeing it missing, she shot Bree a look. Bree gave her a sheepish smile and carefully replaced the bread onto her plate.
"Everything is fine, Bree. There's just a lot going on with the shop," Anna lied. In actuality, the shop was way less stressful than it had ever been. Between her and Thomas, they finally had it working like a well-oiled machine. It gave Anna time to ponder other things, things she had thought she would never ponder again. But she couldn't tell her daughter that. How would she tell her that she found a guy she might like, but that he was gay and so she couldn't date him, but yet she didn't really want to date anyone anyway, right? Anna groaned. Her thoughts were a mess.
"Right," Bree replied, noticeably not believing her. But even so, Anna had already faded back into her mind.
It was so strange. For years she had been sure that love was not for her, but then that feeling had overcome her so suddenly. The disappointment when she found out he was not into her and would never be surprised her.
Bree said something about being done and if she could be excused, so Anna just gave a small nod and continued in her thoughts.
Anna sighed. This was ridiculous. She was pinning over a boy like she was a teenager. Anna stood up and grabbed her plate, taking it to the kitchen and placing it in the sink over Bree's. She needed to snap out of this. Her life was already perfect, no need to ruin what they had.
It had been a month since he had seen her, so John was surprised when he found Bree standing against the building. Instead of being annoyed, he laughed. Bree heard him and glanced up, smiling.
"You missed me!" She said.
"No," John countered, the laughter still playing on his lips. "I had forgotten how annoying you can be."
"You missed me," Bree said again, giggling. "I gave you a month without me and I know you came by the shop a couple of weeks ago."
John's eyes narrowed. "How'd you know that?"
"I saw you arguing with Thomas," Bree simply replied. "Which, I get, he's easy to fight with. He can be incorrigible."
"Quite a big word for you," John told her.
"That's what Thomas says," Bree responded. "I'm top of my class."
"Doesn't surprise me," John replied, opening the door and motioning Bree to go on in. At the invitation, Bree went right ahead with a pep in her step.
As they got on the elevator, Bree continued, "Which I mean, makes sense, I have been reading for as long as I can remember. And my mum was reading to be before that. I'm not as strong in math, but I still do well enough to stay at the top."
"We can't all be good at everything," John added, when they reached his floor. The door dinged and opened.
When Bree stepped out of the elevator with John behind her, Ethel's head cocked curiously to the side.
"I thought she wasn't allowed," Ethel observed. John dropped the mail off on her desk and sighed.
"She's not," he said. "Unless, I say she is."
"Alright," Ethel replied, her eyes narrowing. As John had become more kind to Ethel over the past several weeks, he saw some of her spunk returning. And to be honest, he was enjoying it.
John opened the door to his office and allowed Bree to go inside. He debated closing the door, but decided it might be best to leave it open.
"So why are you here today?" John asked Bree.
"I wanted to see if you missed me and I was right, you do," Bree smirked. John shook his head.
"I do not."
"It's alright that you do; I am your daughter," Bree reminded him. John glanced out the door and grimaced, worried that Ethel had overheard that.
"Not so loud," John warned.
"You mean you haven't told her, yet?"
"Have you told your mother?"
"Well, no," Bree replied.
"Then why would I tell my receptionist?"
"Also, you are not my daughter," John stated to her once again. "I don't have any children."
"We look just alike," Bree stated. "Go and ask Ethel, ask her if we look alike!"
"Please, just see what she says."
"Absolutely not, Bree," John groaned, now regretting letting her back into his office. He then straightened up and organized some paperwork on his desk. "What exactly are you hoping happens here?"
Bree sighed and met his eyes. "I get a dad."
John frowned. "Bree…."
"Look, let's just do a DNA test, find out if we're related or not. Then this will all be over," Bree tried again. John opened his mouth to say no, but he couldn't.
"Okay." Bree smiled. "On one condition," John said, putting up his finger.
"You stop dropping by at random times."
"But….." John rose his eyebrows. "Fine. Can we have a specific time we meet up?"
"Sure, every other Tuesday. At 4:30. I'll tell Ethel you're allowed up, but only on those days."
She found herself flustered. The book orders that were supposed to arrive next week, arrived a week early. That would have been fine, except that another large order had been delivered the day before. There was nowhere Anna could store all of these boxes until they could be catalogued and placed on the shelves. She was going to have to put them out on the floor where the customers could see them and that would make her shop look unruly. It had always been her goal to make her shop look as spotless, but also as comfortable, as possible.
"Need some help?" A familiar voice asked her. As she lifted up one of the boxes out of the truck from the back, Anna looked up and saw John Bates standing at the edge of the shop.
"Yes, if you're able," Anna replied. "Can you carry boxes with your cane?"
"I can," John answered, placing his cane on his arm and walking over to pick up a box. "I only need the cane sometimes."
Anna didn't say anything in response. She had already walked in through the back door of the shop and went to find a place to put it.
"You can just set the box over there," Anna said, pointing to a corner of the shop. "This order was delivered early. I'm going to have to stay late and work on organizing all of this, so that it won't be a mess in here tomorrow."
John did as he was told and set the box down. He then followed her back outside to grab another one of the boxes. Anna turned to him and smiled.
"Are you here to speak with Thomas? Because he has today off," she told him. John's brows furrowed.
"Yeah, Thomas Barrow," Anna easily replied. "I didn't know you two knew each other."
"But then I saw you two arguing," Anna continued, "I wasn't meaning to pry…I just saw you across the street. How long did you two date?"
Flummoxed, John shook his head, "What do you mean….Thomas and I never….."
"I know Thomas can be difficult, but deep down he's got a good heart," Anna kept on, not hearing what John was saying to her.
"Anna," John broke in, stepping in front of her. "Thomas and I never dated."
"What?" Anna asked, confused. "But you two were arguing and the only time I've seen him argue with someone was when it was one of his past boyfriends."
"No," John replied. "We just disagreed over…." John paused, trying to find a good enough lie, "He tripped over my cane and blamed me for it." Anna's lips twisted and then she laughed.
"That does sound like Thomas. He can have a short temper." Anna chucked and then her cheeks went beet red. "Oh my god, I've done it again!"
"Done what again?" Anna's laughter was contagious. John caught on and was laughing so hard that it made his eyes twinkle.
"I've made an assumption about you and you know what they say about people who make assumptions," Anna said, still laughing, but embarrassed.
"No harm done," John assured her.
"So you're not…I mean…." Anna stumbled over her words.
"No," John simply replied. "I'm not gay."
Anna smiled, relieved. But she the shook her head and straightened up her back.
"We just have a few more boxes to grab and then we'll be done. Thank you for helping me. What brought you by?"
John inhaled and bit down on his lower lip. He couldn't tell her that he was hoping to run into her preteen daughter. Then she would believe he was some sort of creep.
"Mum! Sorry I'm late! I had to…." Bree's voice faded when she saw her mum and John laughing with one another. Her eyes lit up.
"Oh Bree, come back here! I want you to meet someone!" Anna called her to the back of the store. Bree slowly made her way and went to stand by her mother. "Bree, this is John Bates. John, this is my daughter, Bree."
"Um, it's, um, nice to meet you," John stuttered, reaching his hand out for Bree to shake. Bree glanced between her mother and John, before taking his hand.
"Nice to meet you too, Mr. Bates. Do you work nearby?"
"I do," John replied, his eyes narrowing. "Speaking of which, I should probably head back to work."
"Goodbye," Anna said with a sincere smile. "Thanks for the help, Mr. Bates."
"It was my pleasure," he replied, before exiting the building.
Bree watched as her mother kept her eyes on John leaving and then kept her eyes there even when he was already gone. Her lips curled up slightly and she felt a warmth spread through her frame. Her parents liked one another.
"Mum," she broke her mother's thoughts.
"Do you like him?"
"Well, of course, I like him. He's nice," Anna flippantly replied, returning her attention to the boxes.
"No, I mean, like him."
"Bree, seriously, of course not," she said with a shake of her head. "Now, come on, I need you to help me with these boxes."
"Alright, Mum, whatever you say."
To be continued...
When will Anna learn the truth? I think we still have a little while, got to let those feeling build up some more :) Thank you for reading!