At this exact moment, Olive Snook was twenty-nine years, four months, one week, two hours, and fifty-two minutes old. Her day had been happier than normal and so she'd decided to stop by the drugstore for a box of chocolate. As she made her way down the street, the blonde's gait became distinctly bouncier as her thoughts strayed back to her extraordinary day. Or more exactly, to one particular moment and the wonderful hours that followed.
It was around ten in the morning, the Pie-Hole's normal slow time. There was only one couple in the shop, and they were happily enjoying their pie and what looked like a very romantic conversation. Not wanting to interrupt, she'd retreated to the kitchen to see if there was anything she could help Ned with.
But before she'd even gotten out her customary 'hiya', the stove's buzzer rang out for attention. As if it was the most natural thing in the world, she walked over to the appliance and pulled out the freshly baked pie. Sliding it onto the cooling rack, the waitress turned back to her boss. She hadn't asked if he wanted or needed her help. She was only doing what seemed obvious to her. The waitress thought he would be pleased.
Olive, however, hadn't planned on seeing him stare at her. Feeling guilty under his steady gaze, the blonde couldn't help but think she'd done something horribly wrong. Unconscious of the fact that she was holding her breath, she waited for Ned to scold her or send her out of the kitchen. Taking a step back towards the cooling rack, the waitress had to grab onto the metal bar to keep herself from running into the diner for refuge.
His voice seemed to hold as much surprise as her heart did fear. And though she tried to hide it, there was no stopping the sigh of relief that slipped over her lips. Trying very unsuccessfully to turn the breathy release into a 'you're welcome,' the blonde felt her cheeks blush scarlet.
Carefully placing one foot onto a green tiles, she took a hesitant step forward. Unsure of what to do, Olive twisted her fingers together nervously. "So, whatcha doin'?"
As the man smiled softly, the blonde all but ran to stand next to him at the large surface he used to prepare his pies on. Looking at the granite to try and hide her excitement, Olive noticed a small pad of paper with various pies listed on it in very neat and controlled writing.
"I'm working on today's orders." Consulting his list instead of looking at Olive, Ned reached over without looking to grab something. But instead of finding the fruit required for the first pie, his hand brushed over the woman's bare forearm. Lingering in shock, his knuckles stayed on her skin for a fraction of a second before he snatched them back.
Frozen by the contact, Olive's skin began to tingle. Her arm seemed to be extra sensitive, burning at his touch, and it was almost more than she could stand. Lightheaded with joy she wiggled her toes as they began to tingle. It was far too much and she wanted more. As her thoughts began to spin out of control, the blonde once again found herself gripping the nearest surface for support. This time, however, it was the cold stone of the baking counter that Ned loved so much. She'd never realized it before, but touching the surface was almost like touching the pie-maker by proxy. Almost.
Slipping through her veins, the cool shock of the stone seemed to bring her back to earth. And with the renewed sense of sobriety came Ned's voice, warm and clear. He'd made a simple request, 'please pass the raspberries,' but to her, it seemed like the world.
By asking her to hand him something, the man had consciously included her. They were baking together for the first time ever. And it was heaven.
They didn't share little smiles or things like that, but they would occasionally bump elbows. Sometimes on accident. Sometimes not. Every now and then, she would need to check on the couple in the diner, but other than that, Olive Snook enjoyed a perfectly pleasant few hours alone with Ned.
Stopping in front of the drugstore, Olive perused the latest headlines plastering the small newspaper booth. The blonde's gaze quickly found that every paper was covering the story of the week. "Lonely Tourist Charlotte Charles Is Finally Home." It was a very sad story; a young woman went on a cruise by herself for the first time in her life and returned home dead. Killed at sea all alone. It was awful really. Shaking her head at the heartbreaking article, Olive made her way into the store.
Yes, the story was sad, but her day was bordering so close to perfection that she found she didn't care. After all, she didn't know Charlotte Charles. Nor would she ever given the woman's current status of deceased. So really, there was no point in being upset, as the situation didn't (and would never) pertain to her.
The facts were these… Olive Snook would buy herself a very large box of chocolate from the store that night. And upon returning home, she would eat most of the candy while taking a very long, luxurious bubble bath. The rest she saved as an after dinner treat. She would head into work the next morning feeling absolutely wonderful about herself and what might happen between the pie-maker and herself. Her head in a flurry of Ned-shaped clouds; she would be completely unprepared for the effect "Lonely tourist Charlotte Charles" was about to have on her life.
Four months, one week, thirteen hours, and twenty-nine minutes later, Olive was once again wishing never heard of Charlotte Charles. What's more, she was wishing as hard as she possibly could that the girl named Chuck would just crawl back into her grave. Far, far away from The Pie-Hole.
Standing behind the counter, Digby was happily curled up on the floor by her feet. With nothing better to do, the waitress was watching the booth by the door with her head in her hand. The scene before her was one that was becoming all too common around the diner. It was also one that she was never invited to join in on.
Watching Ned, Chuck, and Emerson talk about whatever it was they talked about, the blonde consoled herself with an amusing thought. The P.I. didn't look happy with the seating arrangement either. She and the detective may not have been close, but they did share a common dislike for Ned's new… girlfriend.
From where she stood, it looked as if the man was pressed as close to the wall as possible. As if he were trying to avoid contact with the brunette. Chuck, however, didn't seem to notice Emerson scooting closer and closer to a wall he was closer than close to already. As usual, her sappy doe eyes were trained on Ned. And of course, the pie-maker, Olive's pie-maker, was staring lovingly back.
It was enough to make her nauseous.
Ever since the brunette had started hanging around the diner, all attention had turned to her. It wasn't that Olive had been particularly popular before. Emerson was always grouchy, demanding pie then shooing her away. And Ned… Ned barely ever gave her any attention as it was. But he would ask her to watch Digby on a regular basis, and there was that one glorious morning where she'd helped him in the kitchen.
But now… now it was like she didn't matter at all.
Even the dust bunnies seemed to get more attention than her.
It was like… She was invisible. And all she wanted was for things to go back to normal. To the way things were before Chuck waltzed in with her random holidays and cup pies.
Heaving a frustrated sigh as another couple walked into the diner, the waitress grabbed a couple of menus and led them to a table. But before making her way back to the counter Olive stopped by Ned's table on the pretext of seeing if they needed anything. It was a feeble excuse, but the blonde was dying to know what was going on. She wanted to be important, in the thick of things. Like Chuck.
Chuck always seemed so perky and perfect. No matter what. It was as if the sun shone only for her while Olive was stuck in the cold shade of the unloved. Even Emerson's nasty remarks and glares seemed to bounce right off of her. Since the brunette had started helping out at The Pie-Hole, there had been Halloween decorations (despite Ned's hatred of the holiday), menu changes, and worst of all…
A happier Ned.
It wasn't that she didn't want the pie-maker to be happy. No, she just wanted the shy man to be happy with her and not some new girl. Olive had worked so hard to get Ned to open up to her. To get him to notice her as something other than a waitress and Digby sitter. And save for that one perfect morning they spent in the kitchen together, she hadn't made much headway. And now, that little bit of progress was gone.
The appearance of Charlotte "Chuck" Charles had washed all of her hard work down the drain along with the customer's leftovers. She wasn't back at square one either. She was five spaces behind it.
Whenever she stopped to think about how everything had changed since Chuck had arrived, the same sentiment came to mind. It wasn't fair. It just wasn't fair. It was a selfish, self-pitying thought, but she couldn't help it. And considering that there was no one around who cared about her, Olive figured she was allowed a self-pitying thought or two.
Putting on her cheeriest smile, the blonde stopped at the booth by the door. But before she could get out a perky 'hiya', Emerson was giving her his meanest go-away-now glare. Noticing his frown and artfully ignoring it all at the same time, Olive pressed on unfazed. "So, what's the haps? What's the skinny?"
Bouncing hopefully on the balls of her feet, the waitress looked expectantly from Emerson to Chuck and then finally Ned. The pie-maker, however, was still looking at the brunette giving her a smile the blonde had never seen before. Fighting back the jealousy, Olive turned away from the sickening sight. It was simply too much for her to bear.
Instead of looking at Chuck again, she turned her attention to Emerson. His face was twisted into frustration, and as their eyes met, he was shooing her away with one hand and an irritable, "off you go". When the happy couple didn't jump to her defense, Olive turned huffily on her heel and stamped away.
It had been a bad idea to go over to their table. She'd known it before taking one step around the counter, and now she wished she hadn't. Grumbling to herself, Olive Snook imagined all of the ways she could get rid of Chuck, each one more satisfying than the last. (Some of them included "accidents" with her precious gruyere crust pies and a variety of poisons. Others featured dark alleys and heavy objects.) Despite the fact that the two women had formed an, albeit tentative, friendship, Olive still harbored a deep-seated dislike for the woman.
A dislike that always reared its ugly head whenever Ned was around. Or even mentioned.
With her mind working its way through murder number thirteen, she failed to notice Digby coming to greet her arrival. Looking for something to do and embarking on murder number fourteen, the blonde ended up walking around herself in an angry and confused circle.
In her haze of frustration, Olive didn't have time to cry out when the backs of her knees collided with the faithful golden retriever. Falling to the ground as if in slow motion, the blonde was frozen in shock. As the Pie-Hole slipped further and further away, the only thing she could think of was Ned. It was ridiculous, but his handsome face was all she could see. It didn't really surprise her though. His face was all she could ever see anyway. As the back of her skull collided with the green and cream-tiled floor with a sickening thud, the last thing she saw was a explosion of stars before everything went dark.
A sharp stab of pain shot through Olive Snook's head as her consciousness slowly returned. At first, the only things she was aware of were the pounding headache quickly setting in and something wet stroking her face. Something that happened to have very bad breath.
Wincing as the cherry-shaped lights above the counter encouraged the throbbing in her skull,
the blonde carefully opened her eyes. Not even trying to hide the low groan of pain, she rolled onto her side and used Digby to sit up. The dog obliged, taking a few steps back to help pull her up. As soon as she was seated, the golden retriever laid down next to her, his head in her lap.
Reaching one hand around to feel the knot forming on the back of her head, the woman quickly regretted it as a fresh wave of stars erupted before her eyes. Waiting for the pain to subside, Olive noticed, for the first time since waking up, that there was no one asking how she was or running to get ice. As usual, Digby was the only one there for her. But she'd been knocked out. Surely that warranted some concern or attention. Didn't it?
However, there was no Ned with concern in his puppy dog eyes. Or Emerson looking huffy but helping her all the same. Chuck wasn't even there. And she was always the first to see if someone was ok. It was… strange, and Olive couldn't help the chill slipping down her back that told her there was something wrong.
Not sure if she wanted to know the answer, the waitress grabbed a hold of the counter and stood up. Ignoring the wave of pain and nausea that had taken over her petite frame, the woman looked around the diner. The Pie-Hole that met her eyes was not The Pie-Hole she had walked into that morning, and it gave her the chills. The cherry-shaped lights were dimmer than normal, and even the tile had taken on a dingy cast. The brightly colored paint and vinyl décor seemed to have dulled as if all the cheer had been sucked out of the shop. Looking around she noticed other things, but the most disturbing was the pies in the display cases next to her.
The Pie-Hole had always prided itself in fresh treats baked daily. So fresh in fact, that the filling was usually still warm when it was served. But the desserts on display looked as if they'd been sitting for a few days. Their crusts were cracked, and the pies that had been sliced had a film over the exposed fillings. The sight and what it must have meant took her breath away.
Shocked that Ned would allow pies like that to sit on display, the blonde looked around the empty diner once again. She had noticed the lack of customers, but it wasn't until now that she noticed the "open" side of the door sign facing towards her. And that meant that the "closed" side was facing out. The Pie-Hole was closed in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday.
The Pie-Hole never closed without a reason. Never.
A quick wave of panic flooded through the woman's petite frame as her hands began to shake. Something was definitely wrong. Very wrong.
She had to find Ned. Now.
The moment her hand connected with the door leading into the kitchen, the phone's shrill ring cut through the quiet diner. Snatching the phone off of the receiver as it rang again, Olive found that she'd never been happier to hear Emerson Cod's voice. Feeling slightly relieved, she pressed the phone tightly to her ear as if it would bring them closer.
"Well, where is he?"
"Emerson! Oh, Emerson. I'm so gla-"
"Blah. Blah. Blah. Where's Ned?"
Stung by the man's reaction, the already upset woman fell silent. It wasn't uncommon for the investigator to call up looking for the pie-maker. It also wasn't uncommon for him to walk all over the petite blonde. Right now though, she really needed someone to be nice to her. And so, she tried again.
"Emerson, what's going on?" Her voice was serious, softer than usual. And though she tried, Olive couldn't keep the pleading tone out of her voice.
"What are you talking about?" He sounded about as confused as she felt. While his voice was still sharp, he had softened slightly. "Dead Girl's dead. Is there something wrong with your brain?" Huffing slightly, he tried to control his frustration. "You were there when it happened." The momentary kindness was gone and once again. Emerson sounded fed up with her. "Now, where -"
The receiver dropped from her hand. Emerson's words were lost as she ran through the double doors leading into the kitchen. She knew Ned was in there. He was always there. What she saw on the other side of the doors stopped Olive in her tiny tracks.
Slumped over the baking counter was Ned.
But not as she knew him. Instead of standing at the counter, the pie-maker was perched on a rickety looking stool. The normally pristine counter was coated in a fine layer of flour. The only thing marring the perfect layer was a half empty bottle of wine. From the pies in the display cases out front to the state of the kitchen, it was obvious that nothing had been baked in a few days.
"Ned?" Olive's voice was tentative, afraid of what would happen when she finally saw the man's face.
"What?" Ned's tone was harder than she'd ever heard it before. However, what bothered her the most was the soft slur that tainted his response.
"Are… Are you drinking?"
Lifting a glass to his lips, the pie-maker swallowed what was left of the liquid in one gulp. Pouring himself another, he was answered the woman's question with a quiet 'yes'.
Taking a few careful steps farther into the kitchen, Olive longed to see Ned's face. But part of her was terrified of what she might find in his handsome features. As far as she knew, in addition to being a vegetarian, the pie-maker never drank. Drinking and getting drunk was a loss of control, and the pie-maker was all about being in control. "Since when do you hit the bottle?" It was a stupid question, but with nothing else to say, she'd decided to go with it.
"Since…" Ned lifted his wrist, checking the watch there, "about an hour ago." Lifting the glass to his lips once again, the pie-maker took another long swallow.
"I killed her Olive. I killed Chuck." He sounded desperate, as if he actually believed he'd killed the woman.
"No, you wouldn't. There's no way. You love her." Emerson had said she'd been there when Chuck died, but for the life of her, she couldn't remember it. Or anything prior to her fall for that matter. She was searching for memories that didn't seem to exist, and it was terrifying. What if she had been there? What if Ned had killed Chuck? But that all seemed so impossible. "How -"
"I touched her." Ned's voice was barely above a whisper, but it managed to fill the entire kitchen.
"There's no way. You can't kill someone by touching them." Her tone was gentle, much like the one her mother had used whenever she'd scraped her knee as a child. It had always made her feel better and she knew it was her turn to use it. One of the things she loved the most about Ned was that he genuinely cared about things. The downside of that, however, was that he tended to worry about everything. He also thought that things he had absolutely nothing to do with were his fault. Like Chuck's death. It simply wasn't possible to kill someone by touching them.
"I didn't mean to. I barely touched her. I just…" As Ned continued to talk himself out, Olive steeled her courage. She had to see Ned's face. "It was an accident. We've never had an accident before. And the look on her face -"
Finally facing the pie-maker, Olive's breath was taken away but his appearance. There was a few days growth of stubble covering his jaw and upper lip; his eyes were bloodshot and puffy. It looked as if he hadn't left the stool in days. Never before had she seen him looking anything but perfectly handsome.
"She… She looked like… like she blamed me." Large tears began to slip unashamedly down the pie-maker's face. "I just, I didn't mean to do it." The tears slid down his face, and though Olive longed to reach out to him, she couldn't. "And now, I have to bury her in the middle of the night, because everyone already thinks she's dead."
As the tears turned to sobs that shook his shoulders, the blonde couldn't stop herself from crossing the few feet that separated them.
Olive had planned to place her hand on Ned's shoulder and nothing more. Day after day she'd imagined herself being free to touch the pie-maker however she pleased. Small kisses to the tip of his nose. Her finger gently through his hair. Simple, innocent touches that now felt obscene given the situation. But the grieving pie-maker seemed to think otherwise. Her hand had barely brushed over the fabric of his t-shirt when his arms reached out and pulled her body close to his.
Sitting on the stool, Ned and Olive were closer in height than they'd ever been before. Greedily pulling at the back of her dress, Ned's fingers scrunched the fabric desperately. But for some reason, the blonde could tell he wasn't actually touching her. The pie-maker was just reaching out and grabbing onto whoever was nearest. Taking the hugs and pats that he'd been denied all his life.Her hand was still hovering over his shoulder when Ned placed his face in the crook of her neck. So close she could feel his heart beat pounding in counterpoint to her own.
As the stubble of his unshaven face scratched at her bare shoulder, the blonde thought back to the wonderful morning they'd shared together baking pies. His fingers had barely brushed her elbow, and she'd felt as if the world exploded in a shower of happiness. But now…
With Ned's body pressed flushed against hers and his tears slipping down the exposed skin of her chest…
She felt nothing.
And it broke her heart.
Each new sob wracked the pie-maker's body and shook the blonde's petite frame along with his. A wave of nausea that had nothing to do with the movements and everything to do with the pie-maker was quickly settling into the pit of her stomach. It wasn't until then that she realized her own hands were still hovering above Ned's shoulders.
She had to get out of there. Now.
Trying to pry herself away from the pie-maker's needy grasp, Olive realized that escape would be impossible without touching the man. Gathering up all the courage she possessed, the blonde did the one thing she never thought she would do. She pushed herself out of the pie-maker's arms. It killed her to leave him the way he was, but she couldn't take it anymore.
He didn't protest or try to pull her back, and Olive was thankful for that. She did, however hear one last slurred comment as her small hand pushed at the double doors.
"Go ahead, leave me. Just like everyone else." His voice didn't contain the angry bitterness of a drunk. Instead, it sounded empty and dispassionate. Almost as if he'd resigned himself to being alone for the rest of his life.
Looking back one last time as she pushed the door open, Olive Snook didn't see Digby pacing back and forth on the other side of the door.
The moment she collided with his furry body, her heeled feet began to slip across the tile. The blonde knew there was no hope. She was falling backwards; there was no way to catch herself. No way to lessen the pain that would soon be coursing through her body. And for some reason it gave her an odd sense of déjà vu.
Falling to the floor, Olive couldn't help feel as if she were moving in slow motion. One long moment that should have been graceless was instead full of poise as she floated to the ground. Watching the Pie-Hole slip away, she didn't have time to think before the back of her head connected with the floor. The sickening thud of scalp against tile was the last thing she heard before slipping into unconsciousness.
What could have been seconds or years later, Olive Snook felt herself waking up on the floor of the Pie-Hole. The first thing she was aware of was something cold and wet pressed to her throbbing forehead. Her first thought was of Digby, but as there was no accompanying dog breath, she knew it couldn't be him. Carefully she opened one eye, leery of the pain that was sure to come when the light hit her pupils.
Through one half-opened eyelid, she could see Ned bending over her looking concerned. No longer caring about the pounding in the back of her head, Olive flung both of her eyes open. Any other day she'd have been ecstatic to see Ned looking at her with some emotion on his face but right now… The only person she cared about was Chuck.
For the first time since she'd met the brunette, Olive was desperate to see the woman's sparkling eyes and sweet smile. Any other time, the sight of Ned's girlfriend in her perfect clothes and with her bubbly personality made the waitress want to throw knives. Chuck was always nice to her, nicer than she needed to be really. Lying there, wishing to see nothing but her smiling face, the blonde couldn't help but feel like it was more than she deserved. She had, after all, never been… accepting of the woman.
Struggling to find the Lonely Tourist, Olive twisted around on the tiled floor causing Ned to move away. Normally she'd have mourned the loss profusely, but neither that nor the blinding pain exploding behind her eyes bothered her right now. The waitress knew her head would make her regret it later, but it was nothing she wouldn't be able to handle with a bottle aspirin.
Struggling to sit up, Olive felt the cool rag that had been pressed to her forehead slip away. It wasn't until the cloth had been taken away that she realized someone had been holding it in place. Spotting Emerson leaning on the counter with his cappuccino in hand, the blonde realized that there was only one other person it could have been.
Whipping around to sit on her knees, the waitress found the brunette looking at her with the same concern as Ned. A wave of relief swept through her body at the sight of the woman, and without thinking, Olive threw her arms around Chuck's neck. Pulling away just as the other woman had begun to return the hug, the blonde placed her hands on the brunette's face. Almost as if she wouldn't believe what she was seeing, Olive began to search her face with her eyes.
"You're alive! I've never been so happy to see you before." Once again Olive Snook threw her arms around the neck of Charlotte "Chuck" Charles, who seemed to be too stunned to speak.
Emerson, however, was not too stunned to speak. From her place on the floor, Olive could just make out the P.I.'s grumpy drawl. "Yeah, ya' look like ya' just seen a ghost."
Though no one replied, the blonde, still clutching Chuck, could feel the brunette turn to look at the other man. Despite the fact that she could see nothing but Chuck's hair, she had the sneaking suspicion that Ned and Digby had turned toward Mr. Cod as well.
But none of that mattered. It probably would later. But not right now.
The girl name Chuck was alive and well. And therefore, Ned was happy. (Or as happy as he could be anyway.) He wasn't accusing himself of killing Chuck with his touch or sobbing drunkenly in the kitchen. And that was good enough for her.
For now anyway.
The facts were these… After an unfortunate bump to the head, Olive Snook had gotten the second deepest wish in her heart. (The first being Ned's undying love for her.) Chuck was dead, gone, and the pie-maker was once again hers.
Or, she thought he would be anyway.
What she hadn't expected was for Chuck to have an even greater hold on Ned in death.
And so, if she ever wanted the pie-maker to be hers, she would need to keep the Lonely Tourist alive and pray for something else to separate them. It would happen eventually. Chuck and Ned's romance was the stuff dreams were made of. And all dreams must come to an end. Eventually.
She just needed to make sure she was there when Ned woke up.
Squeeka Cuomo's Notes
- This was originally written for Challenge #7 at the lj community "pdfichallenge". (Theme: Be careful what you wish for.)
- Quack – Thank you so much for busting out the Red Pen of DOOM. I really appreciate all of your hard work and dedication. :duck: