`Her breast is fit for pearls,
But I was not a 'Diver' -
Her brow is fit for thrones
But I have not a crest.
Her heart is fit for home-
I - a Sparrow - build there
Sweet of twigs and twine
My perennial nest.’
Most people would assume the worst part of being a baker is having to wake up hours before dawn, but they would be wrong. When you’re regularly up at 4:00 in the morning, you get to experience the world in a different way. How can anyone think they truly know the city they live in until they’ve seen it slowly shake itself awake under the pink light of the rising sun?
Before Ali had taken over at the bakery, she had been previously acquainted with the early morning hours, but in a very different way. When she went to Penn State, there had been several nights where she’d stumbled out of the library as the sun came up, stomach churning from bad coffee and nerves over upcoming finals. And of course, there had been the handful of times when she’d gone out with friends, only to be part of the drunk, stumbling crowd that she would now roll her eyes and laugh at as she drove to work.
It was different now. Even if she’d stayed up too late watching Netflix, leaving her yawning and grouchy as she unlocked the back door to the bakery, 5:00 am felt like home.
She switched on all of the lights and started reviewing her to do list for the day. She would get the first batches of the day started: loaves of bread, dozens of cookies and bars, slabs of cheesecake, everything needed to keep the customers of Patty Cakes satisfied and coming back for more, just as they had been doing for fifty-five years.
Ali stretched around the corner to see Alex peeling off her jacket by the door. “You’re late. Again,” she teased gently.
Alex gave her a sheepish grin. “I know, I’m sorry. It’s just that when Servando is home, it’s impossible to get out of bed. I look over and see him and just wanna crawl on top of him and-”
“I get the picture,” Ali assured her. “Jesus, you two are like rabbits. I thought him knocking you up would help things simmer down.”
Alex patted her slightly rounded stomach. “I wish. If anything, my hormones have me so out of control that I don’t know what to do with myself.”
“Well I’m glad you were able to take time out of your crazy sex life to come to work.”
Alex stuck out her tongue. “It’s only 5:10.”
“Well you know Miss Patty’s philosophy: ‘Better an hour too soon, than a minute too late,’” Ali parroted in an exaggerated Southern drawl.
Alex playfully bumped her with her hip as she walked past. “Well thank god you’re in charge and not your Meemaw.”
“Thankfully,” Ali grinned back. It had been two years since her grandmother had fully turned the bakery over to her, and she was proud of the work she had done. She had poured her heart and soul into the business, and it showed.
She let herself get lost in the ebb and flow of the kitchen. She mixed, kneaded, and pounded away until sweat began to drip from her hairline, her muscles luxuriating in the familiar movements. Before she knew it, four hours had flown by and it was time to unlock the front door. She walked through to the front and saw Christen sipping away at her latte as she counted the money in the register.
“Morning, Chris.” The younger girl gave her a smile and a wave as she finished flipping through the one-dollar bills. “I didn’t see you come in.”
“You and Alex were busy bickering over the pumpernickel.”
Ali flipped the open sign over and unlocked the door. “Sounds about right.” She walked over to her front of shop manager. “What’s on the agenda for today?”
“Nothing too crazy… we have the cookie order for Becky Sauerbrunn, we told her they would be ready by two pm.”
“Yeah, I have that written on the board in the back. Okay, sounds good!” She began to walk back to the kitchen.
“Oh wait!” She turned back to Christen, who handed her the scheduling binder. “You have a consultation for a wedding at 2:30, the name is Megan Rapinoe.”
“Oh, I’d forgotten that was today.” She quickly looked over the sheet. “Did she mention if it was going to be just her, or is the fiancé coming?”
Christen shrugged. “She didn’t specify either way.”
“Okay.” She began to walk back towards the kitchen before turning back around. “Oh I didn’t even ask, how was your weekend off?”
She didn’t miss the way a blush quickly spread over her cheeks. “It was… good. Great. Fine.”
Ali cocked an eyebrow. “Good, great, and fine?”
“Yup.” The bell over the door chimed as the first customer walked in. “Hi, welcome to Patty Cakes!” Christen sang out, obviously happy for the interruption. Ali walked back to the kitchen, making a mental note to pry more information out of her later
Ali methodically wiped down the work counters, her head bobbing along to the music coming out of the old stereo on the windowsill. Becky Sauerbrunn had been thrilled with her cookies when she picked them up and had promised to pass along their info to any of her friends who were in need of baked goods for an event.
“Ali?” Christen’s head popped through the door. “Your 2:30 is here.” She nodded and threw the rag in the sink, wiping her hands on a tea towel before following Christen to the front. She grabbed the binder and approached the couple standing next to one of the display cases.
“Megan?” The shorter of the two turned around. Her hair was bleached almost white blonde, but her brown eyes were full of warmth.
“Hey! That’s me.” She stuck out her hand for Ali to shake. “Are you Patty?”
Ali laughed, taking her hand. “Close. I’m Ali Krieger. I’m the lead baker.”
“Nice to meet you. Oh, this is Ashlyn, she’s gonna be part of my wedding party.” Ali shifted to look at her and felt something heavy settle in her stomach.
She had short brown hair, neatly shaved on the sides. Her mouth was set in a grin underneath intense hazel eyes that Ali found herself sinking into. When she finally made herself snap into action and shake Ashlyn’s hand, her eyes couldn’t help but drink in the intricate tattoos on her forearms, and found herself wanting to know exactly how far they extended-
Get ahold of yourself, Krieger.
“Hi,” she managed.
“Nice to meet you.”
“Maid of honor?” Ali couldn’t help but ask.
“I don’t know that anyone would describe me that way,” Ashlyn cracked, and Ali smiled. “No, I’m filling in. Pinoe’s twin sister couldn’t make it today.”
“I see.” Ali forced herself to take a breath and return her focus to Megan. “Why don’t you guys come sit down and we’ll get down to business then. Can I get you anything to drink?”
Megan shook her head and both women lifted up iced coffees. “I think we would explode.”
“I can already see sounds,” Ashlyn added.
Ali couldn’t help but laugh. “Never mind then.” She pulled a piece of paper out of the binder and pulled a pencil from where it had been shoved into her bun. “So first things first: when’s the wedding and bridal shower?”
“The bridal shower is in two months, with the wedding three months later, on January 25th.”
“Late winter weddings can be beautiful.”
“That’s what we’re hoping anyways.” Megan flashed a toothy grin. “My fiancé is worried that we’ll get snowed out, but I have faith.”
Ali made a note on Megan’s sheet and gave her a smile. “Tell me more about your groom.”
Megan and Ashlyn shared a quick look. “Uh… It’s a bride, actually. Two brides.”
“Oh! That…” She couldn’t stop her eyes from sweeping over Megan’s appearance, truly taking her in this time. That makes sense, she finished in her mind.
Megan raised an eyebrow. “Is that going to be a problem?” Her voice had been friendly and upbeat so far, but Ali could hear the bite starting to seep into it, as if she was prepping herself for a fight.
“Oh my god, no! Of course not, that doesn’t… we don’t care if…” She took a deep breath. “I mean, my brother’s gay,” she offered up lamely. Embarrassment colored her cheeks, and she fought the urge to cover her face with her hands as they both stared at her. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have assumed either way.”
Megan gave her a smile, shrugging her shoulders. “You’re fine.”
“So, tell me about your bride.”
And with that, Megan launched into a speech about her fiancée, Sue, nearly tripping over her own words in her rush to talk about the woman she loved. Ali listened intently, making notes as she spoke, but every now and then her eyes would dart back over to Ashlyn of their own accord. The third time it happened, the other woman caught her staring and smirked back at her. As she did, Ali noticed for the first time that she had a deep dimple in one of her cheeks, and her stomach gave a strange lurch as if she had missed a step going down the stairs.
“So, did you have any ideas going forward about what flavors you might want for the cake?”
“All of them,” Ashlyn quipped, and Megan gave her a playful shove.
“Okay money bags, how many of these cakes are you paying for?”
“Ali here seems like a great person, I’m sure she could cut us a deal.”
“Ignore her, she’s just a giant four-year-old.”
“Hey, you invited me!”
“Wrong, you invited yourself.” Megan turned her attention back to Ali. “I like most cakes. But Sue loves smores, I was wondering if you had something that tasted similar?”
“We have a few ways we could go on the cake, but for the bridal shower, we do have a smores cupcake that always brings down the house.”
Megan threw her hands up in the air. “Oh my god. Excellent. I’m gonna be the best wifey ever.”
Ali laughed. “I don’t doubt that.” She flipped to the calendar portion of the binder. “I would love to set up a tasting session for you and Sue.”
“Does that mean I’m not invited?”
Ali glanced up to catch Ashlyn’s teasing smile. “You’re welcome to come back anytime.”
“Anytime? Maybe I’ll take you up on that.”
Ali cleared her throat and quickly looked back at the calendar. “But for you and Sue’s tasting… How does the 2nd of October sound? Same time, 2:30?”
“You better write that down or you’ll never remember. Actually, I’ll text Sue right now.” Ashlyn stood up and pulled her phone out of her pocket.
“Rude!” Megan rolled her eyes and smiled at Ali. “Can you believe how little faith this one has in me?”
Ali grinned. “If you want, I can also send an email reminder to both of you the week of, just to make sure it doesn’t slip anyone’s mind.”
Megan gave a mock offended gasp. “How dare you two gang up on me!”
“Is there anything else I can help you with? Do you have any questions?”
“I do,” Ashlyn said from one of the nearby cases.
She turned and smiled at Ali. “What’s a bitch gotta do to get one of these double chocolate brownies?”
Ali was embarrassed at how loud her laughter came out, quickly bringing a hand over her mouth. She stood up and walked behind the case, using a pair of metal tongs to pick one up and place it on a napkin. “All you have to do is ask.”
Ashlyn pulled out her wallet. “How much do I owe you?”
“Three… do I not get a person of honor discount?!”
“I thought you said you weren’t?” Ali countered with a raised eyebrow.
“I said I wasn’t the maid of honor, I never said I wasn’t an honorable person. I think you’ll find I’m a straight up gent, a regular knight in shining armor,” she winked.
Ali chose to ignore the warmth spreading through her chest. “Well in that case… It’s on the house.”
Ashlyn grinned. “You’re an angel.” She took a bite and gave a comical groan. “Oh my… you really are an angel. This brownie is straight up descended from heaven.”
“I’m glad you like it.”
Megan snatched the brownie out of Ashlyn’s hand. “Alright, c’mon Harris, we have things to do today.”
“Hey, give that back!”
Megan danced towards the door with it, giving Ali a wave. “We’ll see you October 7th!”
“The 2nd!” Ali corrected.
“See you then!” She pushed open the door, still holding the brownie out of Ashlyn’s reach. The brunette turned back to Ali for a moment, grinning one last time and lifting her hand before following Megan out.
Ali stood for a moment behind the case, watching the two roughhouse through the front windows. It had been a long time since she had felt a rush of attraction for someone, especially someone she barely knew, but here it was, punching her square in the chest.
She gave her head a brisk shake. She didn’t know that woman, and even if she did, what’s to say she was attracted back? And anyways, she concluded, making her way back to the kitchen, she’d made her peace long ago with the fact that she was too busy for a relationship.
She turned the music up a few notches as she began to deep clean the machines. The day was far from over; she still had work to do.