A/N: Happy ShipDay one and all! The idea for this story came from CSIGurlie07 and I owe her a big thank-you as well for beta-ing for me. This is the first WIP that I've started in a very long time. I have a few chapters in hand and will try to post weekly but I can't promise that it will continue for long as my life is a wee bit crazy. Anyway, enjoy!
The main street of Northview was quiet. Susan wished that there were a few more people around to make it slightly easier to ignore the silence between her and her date as they walked away from the small Italian restaurant. At first glance it seemed as if the little town didn't realise the significance of Valentine's Day. It was only on closer inspection that a person would notice the little hearts and cupids adorning the windows of the shops lining the road lit by tall street lights. The street would have been covered with a thick blanket of snow had it not been for the tireless efforts of the snow ploughs. Susan had mentioned this to her date when the conversation during dinner had fallen into yet another lull. Unfortunately that had only been after the starter. The road resembled a canal, dark and straight, banked by sharp drifts of greyish, icy snow. The pavements were clear but treacherous, still felling a member or two of the town's small population everyday despite the lateness of the winter season. This had been her conversation starter during the main course and she had been rewarded with an "Oh really?" from her sullen date but nothing more. The street would have seemed cold and bleak were it not for the warm glow emanating from the tall gas lamps, relics of days gone past but still loved by the town's residents. The stores and eateries on either side of the road bore old-fashioned lettering except a few franchises and a single shop towards the end of the street. It had no sign above the door but light flooded onto the dark sidewalk from the large windows. A simple handmade sign hung on the inside of the door. "Sam's Bakery" was written in simple but elegant calligraphy above the opening hours.
'Sam's Bakery' stood out amongst the others on the still, very wintery Valentine's night. It was towards that light that the awkward couple now walked. Susan still had no idea why the date hadn't ended yet. She attempted, once again, to elicit more than a one word answer from her date - "So Jack, have you tried any of Sam's stuff yet?"
"No." Her date replied gruffly, never taking his eyes from the concrete beneath his feet. Susan sighed softly as the conversation fell flat again. She didn't think he was a bad man, but it was obvious that there was no real attraction between them. Susan had the distinct feeling that he was only going through the motions, probably due to some strange sense of honour to their friend Daniel. She knew why he wasn't attracted to her – after three children and a divorce it was a miracle that anyone had agreed to go on a date with her at all. She was short and middle-age had not been kind to her waistline. Yet somehow she'd found herself on a date with Jack O'Neill on Valentine's Day having been set up by a mutual friend.
Susan had already known he was out of her league, with his ridiculously rugged good looks but she'd hoped, somehow, he'd find something in her to interest him. But it clearly wasn't meant to be. Susan had spotted the light on at Sam's – and in a last ditch attempt to get a smile from her date, she'd suggested Sam's Bakery for some dessert while they'd been walking back to their cars. Her date's eyes had lit up a little at the word 'cake' and he'd agreed. Susan had found Sam to be friendly and had been one of the first to welcome her on her arrival.
As they reached the door, Susan spotted Sam clearing the counter tops but the door was still open so she pushed it gently and they entered.
"Er, hi... Susan." Sam said, recalling Susan's name after a short pause. She was trying to wipe some flour from her hands on an already floury apron. The woman seemed a little ill at ease, clearly shocked by their presence. She came around the counter top to meet them.
"Hi, we were hoping to get a cake or something for dessert..." Susan trailed off as she turned to her date and saw the way he was looking at the baker. Damn it, she thought, that's right Susan, bring your already disinterested date to the place with the hot blonde behind the counter. She must have been at least ten years his junior but there was something more than lust in his eyes, something akin to wonder.
"Well I've actually just finished packing everything into the back for the night. I'm sorry but I forgot to switch the sign round. I can offer you a cupcake on the house tomorrow if you'd like?" Sam looked genuinely sorry as she pointed to the empty cases. Susan knew that having only set up the business a few weeks before, Sam would be keen not to discourage new customers.
"Oh, erm, well, well, I guess we'll leave it then. Thanks for the offer. It seems like it's true what people have been saying about you." Susan sighed inwardly, knowing her last ditch attempt to rescue the date had failed miserably.
"And what have they been saying about me?" There was no aggression in the question just a sense of weariness that Susan found interesting, like Sam was used to being the subject of small town gossip.
"Oh nothing bad! Just that you were friendly and really pushing hard for new customers. But obviously you have to in a town like this."
Sam looked at her with a grateful but tired smile.
"Do you make everything here?"
Susan looked up as Jack asked the baker the question.
"Yeah, I hand-make all the bread and cakes." Sam answered. A slight frown had formed between her eyebrows. She folded her arms in front of her in a clear defensive signal.
"Oh so you're Sam?" Jack said quietly, obviously knowing he was on dangerous ground.
"Yes." Sam responded wearily, "You assumed that Sam must be a man because women can't handle the physical work of making bread from scratch everyday? It's not like women haven't been doing that for centuries?" It was clear that Sam's hackles were really up now. Susan thought maybe she didn't pose a threat after all. But Susan turned to see Jack more enthralled than ever.
"Oh I'd never assume that a woman couldn't do something a man could. It's just the shop is quite 'minimalistic' and I kind of assumed it had been designed by a man. Sam is sometimes a man's name too you know." He said the last part with a lop-sided grin. Jack was teasing the blonde. Damn it, thought Susan, damn it, damn it, damn it! She hoped Sam would take great offence at these last remarks and there would be no hope. Unfortunately, Susan was sorely disappointed.
Sam took the gentle mocking in her stride and recognised the change in tone of the conversation.
"Yeah well, I haven't been here long. I'm going to redecorate over the next few weeks. Just needed to find my feet first." She'd backed way down and now even seemed a little sad. Jack was watching the woman closely,
"Well, I'm impressed," he said with a grin. It was the most open smile Susan had seen him give all night. She sighed as she noticed the small smile that had crept over Sam's face even as she ducked her head to try and hide it.
"I guess we'll have to come back another time then. Will your boyfriend be coming to pick you up?" Susan said quietly as two heads turned towards her, both suddenly remembering her presence. Jack at least had the decency to look ashamed.
"I don't have a boyfriend." Sam said sharply. Susan's night was just getting better. She pressed a little further, hoping the blonde would falter somehow. Susan was calling on everything she'd heard from the local gossip.
"There's a big guy that I see here a lot. Helped you set the place up didn't he?"
"No. He's just a friend." Sam's eyes flickered subconsciously to Jack.
"Oh, I see." Now it was Susan's turn to feel ashamed. She wasn't usually the kind to try and trip people up. Things had gone from bad to just plain terrible. Jack's embarrassment at the whole situation apparently got the better of him.
"Susan, we should go before it starts snowing again." Jack turned towards the door. "Bye."
"Bye." A quiet reply from the back of the shop. Susan waved vaguely at Sam, turning briefly to see the look of disappointment and slight longing that crossed Sam's face as she watched Jack's back leaving the shop.
Susan followed Jack down the street to their cars and resigned herself to what would be coming next.
"Listen, Susan..." Jack started but she cut him off.
"Jack, that was the person who should have been on this date with you." Susan said it quickly, but was surprised when there was no pain, no embarrassment.
He looked at her in stunned silence.
"You two just fit. You can't have said more than three sentences to each other but I can tell. You should ask her out. She's obviously not seeing anyone and she liked you." She looked at him sadly as he struggled to control the emotions crossing his face. Eventually he gained that control.
"Susan, you know I wasn't trying to..."
"I know Jack. You're a good man, but not for me. We've both been through enough crap and someone deserves to be happy. The look you had when you walked into the bakery and saw her... well let's just say my ex-husband never looked at me once like that in the twelve years I was married to him." She smiled at him, letting him know she was okay.
Jack smiled back at her. "That obvious huh?"
Susan nodded and giggled slightly.
"Thank-you for a lovely evening Susan." He leant close and kissed her gently on the cheek. She blushed at his touch and turned quickly to recover her key from her pocket. She unlocked the car and as he walked to his own car, she shouted after him -
"Just do it soon. Sam's not the kind of woman to stay single for long." Susan knew that there had been talk around the town already about the hot baker who'd just moved there. She also knew it wouldn't be long before the single men of the town got over their embarrassment and asked her out.
Susan and Jack both got in their cars and drove away. What neither of them saw was Sam standing, split trash bag at her feet, a little further up the street in complete shock.