The day dawned bright and clear, and Alfredo Aldarisio, herbal supplement salesman and unabashed devotee of pathetic fallacy, thought the sun had a special twinkle saved solely for beaming down on Papen County, home to one Olive Snook. He leaned his head against the bus window through which he had been considering the sunshine, settled his case of herbal anti-depressants more firmly on his lap, and fixed his thoughts on the girl whose bright smile made such remedies superfluous for him.
Wrapped up in his vision of the incomparable Olive Snook, Alfredo Aldarisio failed to notice one of his fellow passengers, one Kiki Kippycash, though the burgundy fedora she was wearing clashed with her hair to the point that the child across the aisle from her had to avert his eyes. The strength of Kiki's larcenous desires was inversely proportional to her subtlety; there was crime in the heart that beat under her dramatic tan trenchcoat.
At that same moment, Emerson Cod, wrapped in the purple-and-blue silk of his second-brightest pair of pajamas, was fast asleep. His dreams were sweet, and though he smiled mostly because he could smell a whiff of crisp currency, some of the credit for his nocturnal delight had to go to his companion in dreamland, a dog-trainer with excellent elocution and a wit that jousted easily with his. His broad hand rested on her hip, and the softness of Simone's face indicated that the undignified activity of spooning was rather agreeable to her. An even stronger indication was that she'd left her clicker in another room entirely.
Neither of them had any inkling of what havoc was to come with the new day, though Simone at least would be well out of the way at a show two counties away where her Bubblegum would be crowned the champion. That victory would be made all the sweeter by her discovery, thanks to Bubblegum's prodigious nose, of a new roadside food truck that sold steamed pork buns fit to rival those of the dearly departed Bao. So they slumbered on, tucked under soft cotton sheets, that they might be ready to face the day.
The day was being faced with determined cheer by Olive Snook, whose own bright head appeared as a sun over the horizon of the ice-cream maker it was her daily duty to manage. The machine was capable of producing two flavors simultaneously, and standing in a kitchen that seemed stacked against her - the plastic wrap Chuck so often put to use in a way not indicated by the instructions provided in small font on the side of the box was the top offender - it soothed Olive's warm and expansive heart to consider the ice-cream maker as her strong, silent ally in the fight for the Piemaker's love. She started every morning by making batches of vanilla and chocolate and strawberry and hazelnut, but she waited until Ned had smiled his bashful smile at her before she loaded the machine with a special double-header of her favorite and his: cinnamon and sour-cream.
When she had been at the Convent of the Divine Magnatum, the bells for early early-morning prayers had rung just at the time she was used to putting in that sentimental double batch, but she had not needed the reminder to think of Ned. A vow of chastity would merely have formalized the salient truth of her life since she'd wandered into a building with a stucco piecrust looking for a home and for love.
While she had been living the life of a novice nun, the Pie Hole's customers had had to make do with store-bought ice cream, and orders for pie à la mode dropped sharply. Emerson Cod, the first to taste the difference, had taken his pie dry for the first time in years. Olive Snook had a gift, her ice creams suiting the Piemaker's pies as if they had always been meant to be enjoyed together. Ned, who could not eat his own pies without their revitalized, flavorful fruit decaying in his mouth, nevertheless recognized that Olive's ice cream was something special; the night Chuck had announced her decision to move into Olive's empty apartment, he'd scooped up the last of her sour-cream ice cream and eaten until his belly ached and his brain froze in jagged little streaks.
Kiki Kippycash was not the only new customer to grace the Pie Hole on that day, breezing in just as Emerson Cod was bidding his ladylove farewell over a double slice of Three Plum topped with lavender ice cream, served on a single plate with two forks. Kiki was wearing nearly every shade of yellow that could be imagined and yet she passed unnoticed. Emerson had eyes only for Simone, after all, and Ned was gazing at Chuck as a lover and chatting with Olive as a piemaker when his attention was shifted to the customer whose entrance had set the bell over the door jangling merrily, the only person for whom he'd previously played both roles.
Raveena Rao had skin as smooth as silk, eyes as bright as stars, and a heart with a soft spot for the Piemaker, who had been her best friend throughout their days at the culinary academy. It had been she who had reached out to the solitary boy whose room bore no photographs and who never received telephone calls. All he had had was a trunk large enough to hold a docile dog named Digby and a desire to create pies as good as the ones he remembered his mother making.
When Raveena Rao walked into the Pie Hole, Ned remembered how her friendly smile had been like the first swallow of cold milk on a summer's day that carried the promise of homemade cherry pie on a dancing breeze. He remembered that she had swept him along irresistibly, her newfound friends becoming his too without effort. And he recalled with crystalline clarity the autumn evening after a class on the intersection of the edible and the sacred, how the scents of saffron and sugarcane and milk had clung to her skin and overwhelmed him, keeping him from holding out until they reached her bed, two long staircases away; they had ended up, disastrously, on a bearskin rug instead. Though the Piemaker had managed to conceal the bear's brief flicker of a second life from his adoring partner, he had taken it as a sign that they weren't meant to be lovers, but instead the best of friends.
He looked down and saw on her feet the red velvet sneakers - the outlandish twins to his own staid black canvas pair - he remembered so well from months of seeing them jumbled with his at the door to her room or his. A delighted shiver went through him at the sight of her, and over his shyly ducked head Chuck and Olive exchanged a glance that mingled worry, curiosity, and caution. To their shared disbelief, Ned did not keep his hands clasped behind his back or look like he was attempting to appear so unassuming in his black shirt and grey pants as to fade into the background; in fact, the Piemaker actually vaulted over the counter to pick up this black-haired girl in the faded jeans and plain t-shirt and give her the hug Olive had always wanted and Chuck had dreamt of.
It was at that interesting moment, as Raveena Rao's melodious laugh hung in the air, that Emerson Cod strolled over to savor the look on Chuck's face. Fond as he secretly was of her, and much as he wished for Olive to find a love whose heart beat only for her, he had no intention of passing up a moment as fraught with tension as this one, particularly not when further clues might be dropped as to the Piemaker's past, long shrouded in mystery; that mystery, unbeknownst to Emerson, was prompted only by the misery Ned had experienced as he'd endured most of his formative years.
Olive Snook's instinct told her that the Piemaker and this mysterious girl would want their reunion to be private, but she also felt that Emerson's nosiness more than justified her own, so she remained perched on her stool, swiveling it to take in the uncomplicatedly happy look on the face of the man she loved. The girl called Chuck did not bother rationalizing her decision to stay by the Piemaker's side. Thus, aside from the forgotten patrons of the Pie Hole - including the neglected but intensely colorful Kiki Kippycash - the reunion of the two most gifted alumni of The Baker's Dozen, the unofficial club of the very official culinary institute, had three avid witnesses, plus Digby.
Ned had not realized how continuously he had been smiling until he felt his cheeks ache from the stretch, to which they were unaccustomed. The sight of Raveena Rao brought him back to simpler days, when he had not had to worry about the impossibility of requiting Olive's feelings, his inability to touch the girl he did love, or what her father - whose lips, after twenty years in the ground, were literally as loose as the grudge in his heart was large - might do to publicize his extraordinary ability.
He closed up shop by offering a round of coffee on the house and in disposable cups while Olive and Chuck busied themselves with choosing the appropriate flavors of pie and ice cream for a late-morning reunion between the man they loved and a girl who might feel the same way.
Kiki Kippycash found herself suddenly on the other side of the doors to the Pie Hole after only four bites of pie that were a revelation, though one that seemed to be commonplace around here, judging by the happiness shining on the faces of her fellow customers. Kiki Kippycash herself was far from happy, and she intended to remedy that fact.
The bony backside of Kiki Kippycash was the sight that greeted Alfredo Aldarisio when he finally allowed himself the pleasure of seeing Olive Snook after several days on the road without a decent espresso or a smile from the girl who made his heart beat faster. Kiki was bent at the waist, hands cupped around her eyes, trying to peer into the Pie Hole to see what was going on. Just past her shoulder, Alfredo could see the Open sign being flipped to Closed, and he smiled even though he had to put off seeing Olive Snook; he had recognized the hand that had done the flipping, had imagined it in his own many a time.
He turned away, seating himself on a bench not far from the Pie Hole, and settled in to wait. Kiki Kippycash had no such wellspring of patience and she grunted in dismay at the thought of waiting to discover the Piemaker's secret. All she could see was five people sitting in a booth, four of them eating pie à la mode and the fifth a big bowl of ice cream. The aged glass of the Pie Hole windows did nothing to prevent her from hearing the animated conversation, but eavesdropping did her no good, as the secret she was after was the one Ned was keeping from both Olive Snook and Raveena Rao.
It was the visitor who smiled up at the Piemaker and said, setting her fork down next to the sliver of key lime pie she'd been enjoying, "Oh! I almost forgot! I made you something." She dug into her battered bag and came up with a small object that looked rather like a miniature ice-cream scooper crossed with pinking shears. "So you can make your favorite pie," she continued, leaving the Piemaker to grin in response and the other three to furrow their brows at each other as they failed to come up with Ned's favorite pie.
"Still solving exotic problems?" Ned asked his friend teasingly, then addressed the rest of the group. "She's always been mechanically inclined; she's an inventor too." That simple statement provoked three disparate reactions: Chuck, thinking of the contraptions Ned had fashioned that allowed them more sustained and intimate contact than plastic wrap, blushed; Emerson, catching the blush out of the corner of his eye and recalling with unwanted clarity a conversation he had once shared with the Piemaker, decided discretion was the better part of valor and wolfed down half his slice in one gulp; and Olive, eager to pin down what Raveena Rao had that made Ned embrace her so enthusiastically, asked, "'Too'? What else do you do, besides invent things and get hugged just for showing up? And what is that thing?"
"I used to bake -" Raveena Rao began just as Ned answered, "It's a pomegranate de-seeder." Then her response hit him and he turned to the girl tucked under his arm. "Wait, what do you mean, you used to bake? Your brownies were the only entry to earn perfect tens at every competition we entered!"
Raveena Rao leaned forward, and on the other side of the table, Chuck and Olive leaned forward to hear her conspiratorial whisper, "The secret's browning the butter." But despite her light tone, her face was tired. "I don't know, Ned, I'm just not happy with baking anymore. Maybe if I'd made a place like this I would have been, but I feel like there's something else out there that I'm meant to do."
Kiki Kippycash, still straining her ears to overhear as much as she could, rolled her eyes and dismissed the baker/inventor from her consideration. It struck her suddenly that she had the perfect opportunity to do a little investigating of her own, since everyone who was usually in the Pie Hole kitchen was clearly occupied. She peeled herself from the glass and headed for the alley into which the back door opened.
Emerson Cod watched the yellow figure disappear around the corner and made his move. "Itty-Bitty," he said, brandishing his empty plate in front of her. "You make a better waitress than career counselor."
Olive Snook frowned at that but her eyes widened as she caught the very significant look he was giving her. "Oh, yes, let's go . . . to the bathroom . . . the kitchen? Yes, the kitchen. Where the food is. Because I'm a waitress."
She fell into silent step along the private investigator, who was inching his way to the swinging doors. "What's the sitch, Papa Bear?" she whispered, but she might have saved her breath, because they had reached the doors by the time Emerson Cod could have responded. Too petite to see through the glass portion of the doors, she poked Emerson impatiently, waiting for him to report. He eased one door open and slid through, allowing her to follow closely behind. She couldn't control her gasp of outrage at seeing a stranger clearly up to no good in the place where she worked and made ice cream and dreamt of a life with the Piemaker.
At the sound of a gasp, Kiki straightened up and whirled around to face a man in the shiniest shirt she'd ever seen and a pint-sized woman. "Tweety Bird's up to something," the man said, and the woman crossed her arms over his chest and said, "Yeah. Sing, canary!"
Kiki Kippycash suppressed the thought that the man was in no position to be criticizing her fashion choices and fell back on her theatrical skills; she'd often fantasized about having her name in lights. "Oh," she said, making her voice breathy and her eyes wide, "I think I'm lost? Is this the candy shop?"
"It's the pie shop, sister, and don't think I'm falling for that routine. This place is already lousy with big-eyed dames."
Emerson Cod briefly considered putting a hand over Olive Snook's entire face just so he would no longer have to listen to the film-noir patois she clearly relished. He suppressed the thought and took over with cool logic, counting off points on his fingers. "One, who are you? Two, what you looking for? Three, I want the truth without any lip. Four, get out the way, you're letting all the ice cream melt." With that, he pushed past her to close the freezer doors, conveniently doing a visual and manual check that she was carrying no weapons; so deft were his practiced hands that Kiki Kippycash felt none of the search.
Seeing that bewildered had gotten her nowhere, Kiki next tried indignant; unfortunately for both her and her audience, her skills as a thespian had not improved in the space of one minute. "I was looking for the bathroom! Let me go! You have no right to keep me here!"
Emerson borrowed an expression from the prickly coroner he'd come to think of as his nemesis, to whom he unwillingly handed over pile after pile of beautiful money. "Mm-hmm," he said, watching Kiki wilt slightly under his sardonic eye. "Itty Bitty," he prompted, "why don't you show this lady the door? In case she gets lost again on her way . . . to the bathroom." He was proud of how thick the sarcasm in his voice was; it could, he thought, be cut with a knife, which consideration prompted him to step closer to the pies to determine which flavor looked most appealing for his next slice.
Olive Snook, meanwhile, surged forward to wrap an admonishing hand around Kiki Kippycash's upper arm and propelled her toward the back door. "Use the getaway sticks God gave you, Toots," she growled. She looked down when Kiki stumbled from the momentum. "Oh! I love your shoes!" she said, pulling the door shut after the frustrated criminal had left the building. Resting her back against the door, she watched Emerson making a hash of Ned's raspberry pie with the mocha crust. "Oh, let me," she grumped, elbowing him aside; Emerson, aware of what she might hit with her elbows due to the height differential, got to stepping. "What do you think she wanted?"
"Who knows? Girls comin' out the woodwork around here," Emerson griped, seeing the size of his slice halved by Olive's careful hands.
"Here," she said, sticking a fork straight into it like she was planting a flag. "But you must have a theory, right?"
"Not about Tweety, and not about Edison the Ex out there," Emerson answered, frowning when she pulled the plate back.
"The Ex?" He watched her face crumple; he knew how easy it was to ignore your own hunches until someone else said they'd been thinking the same thing. "You really think that girl's Ned's ex?"
"Yeah, I do," he said without any shilly-shallying. "And that ain't no bitchy crosstown express, neither. You asked and I'm answerin'. But it don't matter if Pie Boy had a dozen exes swarming the place, because there's only one girlfriend who won't ever have ex in front of her title, and that's Dead Girl."
Olive Snook took a deep breath and finally nodded. "Guess I should wise up, huh?"
"Damn straight you better, 'specially if you want to figure out what that other girl was up to in this kitchen." He took a bite of his pie and parked himself on a convenient stool.
Olive surprised him with a kiss light as a feather on his cheek. "I bet some chocolate ice cream would go great with that," she said, and headed for the freezer.
The girl called Chuck looked at the Piemaker and marveled at the faint flush of color streaking across his cheeks and turning his ears rosy; it was astonishing how adorable he could be, and how innocent. Her own hours with Lily's vintage erotica collection had replaced ignorance with theoretical knowledge, but Ned's life had been even more oddly sheltered in many ways. Still, he ducked his head and blushed when Raveena Rao explained why she'd persuaded him to add a third variety of plum to his famous - and infamous - two-plum pie. "I couldn't stand to hear another of Dale's stupid 'two plum' jokes every time Ned beat his ass in competition," the former president of the Baker's Dozen explained, her disdainful hand gestures making the unimaginative Dale's testicular calumny all too clear.
Emerson Cod, who was inordinately fond of the Pie Hole's three-plum pie, particularly when his slice was topped with vanilla bean ice cream, said earnestly, "You are a benefactor to the human race. That third plum makes all the difference."
"Yeah," Olive piped up, clearly making an effort to move past her fruitless jealousy. "It's one of the most popular pies we've got." Chuck, empathizing, squeezed Olive's forearm, and the two shared a quick smile.
"I shouldn't have let you shut down your business for this long," Raveena Rao said, though her eyes lingered contentedly over the dimmed but pleasing interior of the Pie Hole. A sudden dimple flashed in her cheek when she took in the hanging-cherry light fixtures. "Form and function," she murmured, and Ned, catching her undertone, brandished the pomegranate de-seeder and responded, "You live up to it." She smiled and snuggled back into the welcoming curve of his arm.
A knock on the locked front door startled all of them out of the drowsy stillness of the late morning. Olive popped up to allow Jason, the mail carrier, in for long enough to hand off the Pie Hole's bills to her. "I'll leave these here," she said, motioning to the stack she'd set down on the counter. "It was nice to meet you," she told Raveena Rao, and stepped out into the sunshine, intent on walking until her head got clear of all the sad songs it wanted to sing. The sight of Alfredo Aldarisio, sitting on a nearby bench and humming to himself, stopped her in her tracks.
He looked up and got to his feet before she could take a single step in his direction, a broad smile on his face. She didn't need to get any closer to confirm what was in his eyes as he looked at her; the warmth of his gaze was like a sunbeam on her skin. "Fredo," she breathed, stepping close and looking up at him. "What are you doing here?"
"Basking in you," he said. "And offering my herbal remedies to those not lucky enough to know you."
Olive Snook looked down at the ground, suddenly too shy to lift her eyes. His shoes were squared, solid, a pleasing brown against the cream of the sidewalk. She kept her head down, watching as one of her own feet slid between his, then tilted her head back to meet his kind eyes. "Bask away," she whispered, delighting in how his face brightened at her words. She kissed him then, and Alfredo Aldarisio would have sworn that his own personal sun was shining down on him like a spotlight. Olive Snook felt the same, trusting it to follow them as she surged forward, still kissing him, until the wall of the Papen County Library hit his back. When she broke for breath, she grinned up at him, causing his heart to skip a beat. "I've got some basking to do too."
Emerson Cod found himself strolling through the streets, the girl called Chuck at his side, Digby's leash in her hand. When they passed Olive Snook and Alfredo Aldarisio, dappled by sunlight and locked in a firm embrace, Chuck slipped her arm through his and squeezed. Emerson rolled his eyes but didn't deny that he was pleased that the junior partner of Cod & Snook had applied her keen analytical sense to the workings of her own heart. "Why are we out here?"
"Ned and Raveena needed to discuss something, and Digby needed to do his business."
"I got business of my own that needs tending," Emerson said, realizing too late how unfortunate the phrase was. Chuck giggled and Digby barked as if he, too, were mightily amused. "You know what I'm saying. Clients come to me, I don't go to them."
"Fine, skedaddle then," Chuck said, a skip in her step as she took in the bright blossoms that bordered the lawns of the park.
"Yeah, yeah," he said, walking in the opposite direction to reach the knitting emporium. He had a beret to knit on the double if he wanted to send it off in time for his mama's birthday.
"You're really not happy in a kitchen anymore?" Ned asked the top of Raveena Rao's head.
"I'm really not," she said quietly, and he wished he could see her face, though the warmth of her, pressed up against him, was like a blanket wrapped around his heart. "But I've got some money saved up, and I was hoping I could invest it in this place."
"Oh," he said awkwardly; she knew the dessert business well enough to know that the Pie Hole could not be doing much better than breaking even, but he had no way to explain the side business with Emerson that was his primary source of income. "Yes, of course you can. But don't you want to keep it, maybe live off it while you invent things?"
"I want to make the world a better place," she answered, finally tilting her head back to look him in the eye. "And you do that here - every single person who walks through your door walks back out into the world a happier person."
"How do you know that wasn't just the free coffee?" he asked.
She laughed. "Because I know you." It was true, he realized, even if she had not an inkling about what his magic finger could do. "And you seem happier yourself."
"Because of Chuck and Olive and Emerson," he said.
She squeezed his arm. "I'm glad," she said. "I'd like to find my place too." Raveena Rao looked out at the bright lights of the bustling city, little dreaming that the clerk who would take her application for a patent on her pomegranate de-seeder the next day would bring her to the Jolly Fats Wehawkin Temp Agency, where she would begin the grandest adventure of her life, one in which she could create that place for herself.
The private investigator caught a flash of yellow out of the corner of his eye as he browsed for burgundy silk yarn. He bolted out of Rick's Clicks before Kiki Kippycash could escape from view. Emerson Cod covertly trailed the suspect, ruminating on how long it had been since he'd had a suspect but no clear crime; he found it rather enjoyable to go back to his gumshoe roots and considered that a long phone call with his mama describing this case might make an even better present than a beret.
Kiki Kippycash was too wrapped up in her own confusion to notice that she'd picked up a tail. She stopped at the farmers' market and inspected the fruit, frowning disconsolately at it and thereby offending the purveyors, who were doing a brisk business. "What gives?" she muttered impatiently to herself. "This is just ordinary fruit," she continued, sampling a few grapes, a strawberry, and a pair of cherries.
But her voice had carried further than she'd meant, and she was met only with stony silence when she tried to pump the sellers for information. "Does anyone here sell to the Pie Hole?" she asked, unable to catch a single eye.
Emerson Cod, still shadowing her, felt a chill go down his spine at the thought of someone investigating the secret of the everlasting flavor of the Piemaker's fruit. Really, he thought, he spent half his life keeping Pie Boy safe; a proper reward might be a freshly baked strawberry-rhubarb with a scoop of sweet-cream ice cream.
Chuck was glowing from a romp in the park with Digby when she bumped into a girl dressed all in yellow. The girl's bag of fruit fell from her hands and Digby barked reprovingly when the girl ignored Chuck's apology, instead staring at her.
"Didn't I see you at the Pie Hole this morning?" Kiki Kippycash asked disingenuously.
Chuck smiled. "You probably did, since I work there. I'm on my way back now - let me get you a piece of pie to make up for being so clumsy."
Kiki Kippycash felt her pulse racing. Surely this girl with the rude dog and the friendly smile would know what the Piemaker did to make his fruit so satisfying.
"I'm Chuck, by the way," the girl called Chuck said, offering her hand for a shake. "And this is Digby." Digby put his nose in the air and refused to acknowledge the introduction.
"Kiki Kippycash." Belatedly, Kiki remembered that she'd meant to use an alias for all of her skullduggery.
"So what do you do, Kiki?"
"Oh, you know -" Kiki hedged, following Chuck back into the cool interior of the Pie Hole. "Apricot meringue, please." The first forkful was sheer heaven, and then each bite was better than the last.
She opened her eyes to see Chuck watching her with perfect understanding and a glass of milk ready for her. "Another?" Chuck asked, and Kiki nodded eagerly.
But the girl called Chuck could see that the second slice of pie made Kiki unhappier with each bite. "What's the matter?"
Kiki's throat felt stuck, and she shook her head, unable to trust someone she'd been planning to betray. "I'm a very good listener, I promise," Chuck said, smiling; it was something that she'd been delighted to discover about herself, learned after she'd looked into the eyes of dozens of people reawakened into life with only a minute to put themselves into words.
Kiki found she was powerless to resist. "I've always wanted to be a jam-maker," she began.
"Really? That does sound like fun. Did you play jam-maker when you were little?"
"Well . . ." Kiki hesitated, well aware that she'd stretched a point by saying always; the most she'd done was think up a name for her venture when she should have been studying her French vocabulary: Kiki's Confitures. "Not really. I guess it started after I was little. Anyway, I'd read about a book about a girl who made jam -"
"Oh, was it Little Women?" Chuck asked. She'd read her copy until the binding gave way; Aunt Vivian had had the volume rebound, with only Chuck's favorite pages between the new covers.
"Yes!" Kiki answered, thrilled to have found someone who would understand how very much she resembled Meg March - beautiful, feminine, beloved - actress and jam-maker.
"I hope you had an easier time with it than Meg did," Chuck said, resting her chin in her hands.
Kiki stiffened and didn't respond, so Chuck poured her a fresh glass of milk. "No. I got sweaty and burned myself in six places and I had to stir it forever and when it was done, it tasted terrible. How could anything with that much sugar in it taste so bad?"
"What happened next?" Chuck asked, all rapt attention.
Kiki felt a pang in her heart, but couldn't bring herself to confess that she hadn't bothered to try again. "I realized that I must have used bad ingredients, and I heard that the fruit pies here were amazing, so I thought I'd find out where the fruit for these pies comes from."
Chuck read between the lines, though she did not intimate with so much as a raised eyebrow her understanding of the situation. Twenty years of coaxing a pair of highly phobic sisters into living rich and full lives had made her a master of gentle manipulation. "I'm not sure where he gets them, but I always thought making jam sounded like a lot of work, and not nearly as fun as just eating it." When Kiki did nothing but hmmm at the leading statement, Chuck went on. "Sweating and burning yourself doesn't sound like something you'd want to do on a daily basis, does it? What do you do now?"
The inglorious answer tumbled so readily from Kiki Kippycash's lips that she wondered if the secret of the pies' flavor was some sort of truth serum. "I'm a mail carrier."
"Really?" Chuck asked. "That's so romantic!"
That was not the response Kiki had learned to expect. "What are you talking about?"
"Writing letters is a dying art form. Think about all the feelings you have to have to put pen to paper," Chuck rhapsodized. "You're carrying people's hopes and dreams! Love letters, pictures of babies, everything that makes life life is in your bag!"
Knowing when to let well enough alone, Chuck served her a third slice of pie and saw her happiness grow with each bite.
Kiki Kippycash bought two pies to go, brushing by Olive Snook and Alfredo Aldarisio as she left the Pie Hole. The waitress and the traveling salesman let go of each other just long enough to let her pass and then their hands reached out to clasp one another once more. Olive waved hello to Ned and Chuck, both of whom were waiting on Raveena Rao, whose packed bag Digby was diligently guarding. Olive Snook led Alfredo to the booth where Emerson Cod was knitting with brisk efficiency. He was finished with his mama's present and had started a scarf for Simone.
Olive left Alfredo and Emerson to get acquainted and went into the kitchen, planning out the next morning's batches of ice creams. She'd start with strawberry and chocolate, then do vanilla bean and lavender for Emerson and Simone, honey and sour cream for Chuck and Ned, and cinnamon and salted caramel for herself and Fredo last of all. In the meantime, there was plenty of her hazelnut left, and that would be like a dream over the top of Ned's chocolate cream pie.
Humming joyously to herself, she took three plates out to the booth and clinked forks with Fredo. Digby barked happily as Ned flipped the sign to Closed and the last of the sun's rays was swallowed up by darkness.