Disclaimer: I don't own Dead Poets Society
Much Ado About Muffins
Neil came to New York to be an actor. He went to audition after audition, from broadway to off broadway to off off broadway and off off off broadway. Finally after being rejected for a small part in an experimental play he decides that maybe being an actor isn't for him. He leaves the theatre, dejected and angry and just tired of it all. Tired of working four jobs and still making almost nothing, tired of holding up his dreams all by himself, tired of being a failure at the one thing he was supposed to be good at.
"Hey!" A girl calls after him sounding just slightly winded, Neil turns and he recognizes her instantly. They must have gone to at least half a dozen auditions together. She's petite with a dark shock of hair. "Hi, sorry, I'm Ginny." She sticks out her hand for him to shake and her grip is surprisingly firm considering that she'd probably only come up to Neil's shoulder if she was on her tip toes.
"This is going to seem like a strange question," She says looking him straight in the eyes, "But have you ever wanted to be a baker?"
Three years and a few thousand pastries later Neil Perry is the proud co-owner and head baker at Much Ado About Muffins Bakery. And most days he loves his job because he gets to hang out with his best friend and make delicious baked goods for his nice customers.
Today is not one of those days.
"Ginny!" He calls because she's probably off on her phone and not minding the front counter at all and she knows, she knows he hates having to mind the counter. His place is in the goddamn kitchen.
Ginny looks up from where she is, predictabilty, texting on her phone. "Ya huh?" She says not even bothering to look up, "What's up Neil-io?"
"This is not an order." He says thrusting the slip at her, which has in her untidy scrawl the words, 'Surprise me'.
Ginny lowers her phone slightly, "It's what he asked for, just pick something out." And Neil loves her, he really does and he's never really regretted going into business with her but sometimes he wants to slap her.
"What if he's allergic to something, what if I surprise him and he hates it. What then?"
"Okay, turn it down a few notches there. Look, if it's such a big deal why don't you go ask him, he's sitting right there?" She jerks her thumb in the direction of a table and returns to her phone, probably updating something on the bakery's facebook page or emailing a client so he can't even act like she's not working.
Neil huffs out a breath, jutting out his bottom lip. Ginny's usually the one who deals with the actual customers, Neil just hides in the back with his cakes. It's not that he doesn't like people, it's just that he gets almost too attached to them. Back when they first opened he knew all the regulars by name, but after nearly having a breakdown when a handful of them had moved on or moved away Neil didn't let himself get that close to them. People he makes baked goods for were not his friends, they are just people he makes food for.
Only it's not just people, it's Todd, and Neil doesn't even know he's Todd yet, doesn't know what that even means but he knows the moment that he sees him that he's important. He's so fucking important. He's important in the way that Neil knew acting was important the first time he picked up a script. The way he knew Ginny was important when she shook his hand. The way he knew baking was important the first time he managed to make a perfect souffle.
He's still mad that he asked for a surprise. Neil doesn't do surprises anymore. Being an actor was a lifetime of surprises and uncertainty, playing outside the box. Being a baker is all about schedule and order, playing inside the lines. Neil never knew how much he was like his father until he ran away from him.
Todd looks up when he approaches with his stupid little order pad held in front of him defensively, looking through his fringe without tipping his head. Neil's heart hurts like the time he ate an entire package of bacon and for a moment it feels like he might be having a heart attack.
"Hi, um, were you- I mean did you put in the order- or rather not an order-It's just that." Neil exhales, "I'm bad at surprises, I really am. I mean you don't have to pick something but can you just give me an idea?"
"I guess whatever your specialty is." Todd says, "I'm really not picky." Neil didn't know, wouldn't know for a long time actually how long Todd must have practiced saying those words. Running them over and over in his mind until he had worn them smooth.
"Sure thing cowboy." Neil says. "I mean-ugh-god, I don't know why I said that. I don't normally call people cowboys. I'm just going to go get you some food and coffee now. Sorry."
Ginny smirks from her perch on the counter, "Not a fucking word Ginny, not one fucking word. Now make him a goddamn Americano." He hisses at her on his way into the kitchen. He spends a good five minutes deciding between the raspberry truffle brownie (their bestseller) and a chocolate and seasalt croissant (his personal favourite). He goes with the croissant in the end arranging it tastefully on the tray with his coffee. Though he disposes of the napkin Ginny had added with the word 'YEEHAW' in block letters.
He had the part-time waitress deliever it to his table because he really didn't know what sort of other stupid things he might say in front of him. Neil couldn't help himself though from sneaking a glance through the round window of the kitchen. He unravels the croissant and eats it in strips, occasionally dunking them in his coffee. Neil thinks, stupidly, he might actually be in love.
"You're so cute." Ginny says when he finally re-emerged from the kitchen at the end of the day. "You wanna have his adopted babies and-"
"Did you ask him where he was from?"
"No, because of the free coffee." Neil snaps, anyone who lived or worked in the five Burroughs got their first coffee free as a show of good faith that they would come back. They almost always did. Ginny and Neil were the best in the city after all.
"I forgot." She shrugs, "He'll probably come back anyways."
He does come back to Neil's mixed horror and joy. Horror because it was on their open-mic night and Ginny's high school friend Charlie was doing some sort of beatnik spokenword version of a Taylor Swift song accompanied by bongos. Joy because, well the joy was pretty obvious.
"He's baaaaaaack" Ginny singsongs in his ear, "Omigod, he's so cute, lookit his sweater!" He was in fact wearing a very comfortable looking sweater with cuffs that fell past the tips of his fingers, but that was beside the point. "Go talk to him!" She gave Neil a shove in his general direction.
"Hi," Todd says, almost sheepishly. Like he was intruding on something.
"Hi, hey, how are you? I love your sweater it looks great on you. I mean it looks great, and it's on you so you have to jump to the conclusion that it looks great on you-and hey you know what last time you were here you were supposed to get your coffee free. Well, if you, where do you live?"
He blinks, "S-sorry? I only caught coffee and sweater."
Neil exhales loudly, he hadn't been this awkward around a guy since high school and even then he was pretty sure he could at least keep his mouth in check if not always his dopey stares. "Sorry, what I meant to say is if you live in the 5 Burroughs you get your first coffee free and I forgot to ask last time so I guess I'm asking if I need to give you one."
"Oh, no I actually live in Hoboken."
"Hoboken no jokin'!" Neil blurts before he could stop himself. Jesus Christ, he had a problem. It was called his life.
"I'm Todd by the way." Todd says after a sufficiently awkward pause.
"Neil." There's another long pause, not a silence mind you because Charlie was still going at it on the bongos. "Did you want a drink or...?"
Todd blinks, apparently having been mesmerized by spokenword Taylor Swift. "Sure, can I get some tea, I don't care what kind, whatever's popular and are your cookies crispy or soft?"
"We make both."
"Where have you been all my life? Can I have a half dozen of whatever kinds you have, half crispy half soft?"
"Sure thing."Neil says already backing up so he could get to the kitchen where he antagonized over which cookies were the most perfect for almost 5 minutes. He was so worried about it that he almost misses that Ginny had served the tea up in a travel cup with his number written on the side.
"Neil, sweetie, this is what grown ups do when we like somebody. Well actually, normally you'd just ask them out for coffee but that doesn't work very well for you."
He pouts and forces himself to turn that into a frown. "I don't like him, I don't even know him."
"Then get to know him, quickly before I'm forced to resort to drastic measures." She makes a shooing gesture and returns to her beloved milk steamer.
Neil brought the tray to Todd's table where he was intently watching the girl at the mic. He recognizes her as one of Ginny's friends from their auditioning days but he couldn't remember her name. "Did you want to sit?" Todd asks, "It's not like I'm expecting anyone."
Half of the cookies were already gone and Neil smiled to himself a little bit self-satisfied. "So, what do you do?" He asks after a moment.
"I'm a writer."
"Like novels or...?" Neil waves his hand vaguely.
"Mostly articles for magazines. I used to write poetry, when I was a kid but learned pretty quickly that doesn't pay the bills."
"You should come next week for open mic night, honestly anything'd be better than We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together with bongos."
"I'm sitting right here!" Charlie calls.
"I know, that's why I'm saying it out loud, where you can hear it."
"I don't think so." Todd says.
Neil turns back, "Sorry what?"
"I don't think I'm going to read my poetry."
"Oh, no, I mean it's not like you have to, I just thought it might be nice. But hey, I totally respect your choice and anyways it's probably too good for a place like this or whatever." Neil pauses, "Jesus, I-what is it about you?"
"No-not you! See that's what I mean, I swear I am a normal functioning human being and that somehow whenever I'm around you I start saying all these things and it's just like I literally can't help it and I'm sorry and shit, shit, shit."
Todd stares at him, wide-eyed, either confused or frightened or maybe both. "I'm just going to back away slowly, enjoy your tea."
Ginny follows him into the kitchen, "What the hell Perry? Grow a pair and ask him out!" She snapped in probably what was the nicest way possible, at least for her.
"You don't get to lecture me on not talking to people about my feelings. What about you and Charlie Dalton and Gloria and Knox Overstreet?" He snaps, which is unfair and he knows it's unfair, throwing back her crushes in her face, especially over Charlie which had been years ago, but he did it anyways. He didn't lie when he said being around Todd made him kind of psycho.
"You know what, whatever." She turns on her heel and stomps out of the kitchen the door swinging wildly behind her.
They made up, because they're Ginny and Neil and they do have to live in the same tiny apartment but there was still the fault lines of tension running under the surface. Todd starts coming in every morning for coffee, chatting with Neil while he restocks the cases with fresh pastry. He starts to become a regular at open mic night and Neil starts to be able to control his verbal vomit a little bit better everytime he comes in. He even bribes Ginny into teaching him how to make Todd's latte's so he can make sure they're being done just right. If there's one thing he's learned about Todd in the short time he's know him it's how much he loves coffee.
They flirt and laugh and Neil feels something building to span the gap between them like a string tied tight around his heart binding itself to Todd inch by inch.
There is something though, something stopping them from getting any farther, something that makes Todd pull back, break the conversation, make an excuse to leave. This went on for months, months! It made Neil crazy and the crazier it made him the more likely he is to say something stupid like:
"Are we going kiss soon or what?"
Todd blinks. "What?"
"I'm just...clearly I like you and I'm like 95% sure that you like me and you come here everyday and we chat for hours at open mic and I've named a croissant after you and I just don't know what the deal is!" Neil blurts out. So maybe the craziness hadn't worn off that much.
"That croissant is called the Anderson Delight because of me?"
"Yes you dummy!" Neil exclaims, "Ginny didn't think it sounded enough like afternoon delight to be a truly good pun but I argued for it because that's what love is."
"You think you're in love with me?" Todd asks, head up but eyes cast down at the table.
"What the hell else would you call this? I'm nervous and stupid and sweaty around you because I think you are the closest thing to a perfect human being I've ever found and why aren't we making out all the time? Why aren't we going on dates and having awesome sex because I'm sorry but I know you don't just think I'm the nice guy at the coffee shop."
"I-" Todd says and then he gets up and walks out the door. Neil's heart goes with him.
Ginny rubbed his shoulders and made him lasagna for dinner that night. She doesn't tell him he'll be okay or that Todd is a jerk, she doesn't tell him that he was crazy and she doesn't tell him to forget about Todd. Which is a good thing because he never would have listened to her anyways.
It's raining in the morning. Not heavily but that sort of misting rain that seems to sneak into your skin, cold and damp. Todd is waiting for him outside the shop when Neil walks up keys in hand. Ginny's off today and he's glad, even if it means he'll have to face this alone.
"I didn't mean to-"
"I don't like coffee." Todd says cutting him off. "And I don't care for tea much either."
There is a long silence, though admittedly a silence filled with car alarms and snippets of other people's conversations.
"Sorry what?" Neil says once he has rolled Todd's words around in his brain a few times and they still aren't making any sense.
"I don't like coffee."
"You're here twice a day buying coffee."
"Yeah, that's sort of the point." Todd says sheepishly, Neil notices he's wearing the same sweater from that first open mic night.
"But if you don't- Then why do you...?"
"Because of you." Todd says simply. "You were right and I'm sorry because it's been months and it's not fair because I'm obviously in love with you and you're obviously in love with me and this is just-"
Neil leans in and shuts him up with a kiss. Which in a movie would have resulted in a dramatic fade out with the swelling music but as this was real life Todd actually had more to say.
"Sorry-" He says pulling away, "There's just one other thing." He hands Neil an envelope with a single piece of paper inside. The first two sentences read as followed:
I'm always skeptical of cafe's with clever names as they often seem to have been created for the sole purpose of using said name. Much Ado About Muffins however is another story entirely with what I believe to be not only the best baked goods in the city, but likely the best baked goods on the whole east coast. -
Neil looks up not bothering to read any further. "I don't understand."
"Those magazine's I write for? I'm a food writer Neil, I was supposed to be reviewing you. This was due to my publisher months ago but I never handed it in."
The cogs in Neil's head are turning, albeit slowly and painfully. "But this is entirely praise for the cafe, this could have brought in a lot of people-"
"I know. I know that and I feel horrible. I didn't submit it because I didn't want you and this place to get taken away. I've never had a place, people, I actually cared about before, I usually just go to them for a few days and then walk away. And I understand if you hate me and I promise I'm going right now to my publisher and-"
Neil cuts him off again, catching Todd's hands as their mouths move together and pressing them close to his chest. "You are a ridiculous human being."
"I picked it up from spending time with you." He murmurs back touching Neil's shoulder blades softly as he unlocks the door relief and happiness making him bold.
"After you m'lord," Neil says holding the door open, "I'd say we should go out for coffee but..."
"Maybe just some Anderson Delight then?"
Neil stares at him, the hints of a smile curling at Todd's lips like the pages of a well-loved book. He feels it then in that moment, the strings of Todd's heart wrapping around his and pulling taut. So he does what any man in his position would do. He flips the sign from open to closed and follows Todd into the kitchen.
A.N. I ended up changing tenses midway through this and having to go back and fix everything so if you find any tense things I missed please let me know.