My pride and joy, the thing I've worked for my entire life is 1,200 square-feet
with a striped awning on the only road out of town, and it's called Bakery on Main.

Not exactly the most original name, but why would I care?

I was blessed with a passion for baking, but not exactly creativity in the naming department.

Maybe once it's paid off and I own it free and clear I can come up with something a little snappier.

I'm sure to be in a better mood by the time I'm through tediously saving every penny I can.

This is, of course, assuming that the lady on the customer's side of the counter doesn't burn

the entire shop and surrounding plaza down first, which seems like a distinct possibility.

I hear Gemma for the first time a moment before I lay eyes on her-she's raising hell,

yelling at Cindy my sometimes-apprentice, actually calling her a tart as I scrambled out of the kitchen

and into the line of fire. Quite frankly, I was shocked.

Cindy, of course, is a tart, but never in my life had I heard that word used in an actual sentence.

Not even on BBC.

Naturally, I gulped when I saw the face attached to the voice: this was on tough Mama.

Yes, I reminded myself, but you're the boss.

Which meant I had to square my shoulders and interrupt, like it or not.

"Cin, go finish frosting the cinnamon cupcakes, I've got this."

I've never seen Cindy-the-slacker move so quickly in my life as she turned tail,

fleeing into the land of sugarplumbs. I brushed my hands off on my apron, already smeared

with flour, and took a fortifying breath. Fine. Everything was fine.

"Can I help you?"

I made sure to inject a note of authority into my voice, not that it impressed anyone.

The woman cocked her eyebrow at me and almost succeeded in making me feel inferior without

even speaking, no easy feat.

I thought about out-sassing her (or trying) but in the end I just stayed quiet.

"I sure hope so, sweetheart."

She took a breath herself and seemed to calm down a few notches.

"I'm here to pick up a cake."

I was immensely relieved. An order pickup? That was all?

I was going to murder Cindy.

Or better yet, fire her.

"What name's it under?"

The Woman looked over the counter at me, baffled.

"How the hell should I know? The porn-skank placed the order, I'm just here to pick it up."

The...porn-skank? I make an effort to pull myself together.

"Maybe it's under Cara Cara?"

I suggest, vaguely familiar with the local enterprise.

Years ago, one of their girls had come in and ordered a cake for a wrap party.

A phallic cake.

"I can check-"

"NO."

She is vehement on this.

Um. Okay.

"It's not for Cara Cara. It's for a kids birthday party."

Alright. She lost me there.

"Um..."

She bulldozed right over my dazed self.

"A kids birthday party this afternoon." She elaborated.

"Supposed to say 'Happy Birthday, Ellie'."

I didn't even bother responding, just dove under the counter for the order folder,

banging my forehead on the way down.

Miss Bossy hissed in sympathetic pain, but I ignored the entire thing.

If the party was this afternoon, I would have to hustle.

What was a lousy concussion, anyway?

I flipped the thick red folder onto the counter between us, leaving through the order sheafs.

Then, I did it again, more slowly.

Nothing. Nada.

"The closest thing we have in here is 'Happy Retirement, Eliot', but maybe-"

"Shit!" She cursed explosively, taking an uninvited look for herself.

"I knew I shouldn't have trusted that whore to do this."

She muttered to herself, pinching the bridge of her nose once she was done clearly, agitated,

before looking up at me. "How fast can you make a cake, sweetheart?"

Oh, crap.

Just when I thought I was rid of her.

"When's the party?" I sigh, resigned.

"Four."

We closed at four on Sundays, but hell if I had anything planned.

A TV dinner and The Simpsons, maybe, if my cable was working.

"It's almost two now...I'd have to charge for a rush job-"

She waves this off emphatically.

"You deliver?"

I actually didn't, but I was scared of her. I also hated the idea of a kids birthday being ruined.

"I can."

She reaches into her behemoth bag, and I see a flash of silver that I studiously convince

myself is not a handgun and furthermore not my problem as long as she isn't pointing it my direction,

finally emerging with two hundred-dollar bills.

"Cake for a couple dozen people or so-this cover it?"

I would think yes.

Another, darker-haired woman strolls in, addressing the steamroller in front of me, as

I reach for a notepad, all business.

"Jax called. Wants to know what's the holdup?"

Young brunette is waved off, too.

"I handled it."

"Flavor?" I pipe up, and am briefly met with blank stares all around.

I open my mouth to rattle the varieties off, but thankfully am saved from this.

"Chocolate. Cake AND icing."

I like her style.

"What color is 'Happy Birthday, Ellie' in?"

"Pink."

I've barely written this down before she commandeers the pad, jotting down an

address on the other side of Charming, tapping it twice for emphasis.

"Four O'clock."

I nod at her and busy myself with the prep work before she's even left the shop.

I've got a cake to bake.