Interactions: Bakery

Discussion in 'ROLEPLAY GRAVEYARD' started by growl, May 10, 2015.

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  1. [​IMG]xx[​IMG]
    there's a saying that goes:
    ❝matched hearts are connected by a thread.❞
    and maybe they are?...

    sometimes you have to tie the knot yourself.


    ..1x1 between growl and katkami..


    xxxxxLily typed a quick message to Mrs. Malloran: I've got Max! We're headed home now. She hit send and glanced over her phone at the chubby-cheeked seven-year-old. "Okay, Max," she said, "Let's go home. Do you know the way?"
    xxxxxThe boy nodded and grabbed onto her hand, tugging her away from his school with surprising force. Lily had already been to the Malloran residence before, but she was still rocky with the directions. She shrugged her bag back onto her shoulder as they speedwalked past the park and made a turn onto a different street. She'd only picked up this babysitting job because once she split up the money from her night shifts at the music store between all her college student expenses, she was left with just enough cash left for a cup of instant ramen every night. At least the kid didn't seem all that bad. They made another turn, and Lily frowned. She was familiar with this road, and she was pretty sure this wasn't the way to the Malloran's.
    xxxxx"Um, Max? Where are we..." The boy didn't pause, just squeezed her hand and continued dragging her along. Well, he seemed confident in where he was headed. Lily observed their surroundings. Yes, she was quite sure she had passed through here multiple times. A pair of elderly women walking in the opposite direction smiled thinly at her before bending their heads towards each other. She couldn't help the feeling that she was being judged. Oh god, did they think she was Max's mother?!
    xxxxxThere was no time to worry about this because when she looked further up the street, realization dawned on her. The boulevard where her music store was located was just the next block over, and this was definitely not the way to the Malloran's. "Max, where are we going?" Lily repeated, her tone harsher this time. Max turned and stared up at her with innocent eyes.
    xxxxx"We're going to get cake."
    xxxxx"Max! Your mother wants us to go home so you can do your homework!"
    xxxxxLittle Maximus Malloran shrugged, not once breaking stride. "I can do it while we're eating cake."
    xxxxxLily wrestled with arguments in her head as Max pulled her onward, oblivious to her plight. Max's mother probably thought they had arrived safely at her home by now! She had just lied to her employer! But Lily was going to be spending every weekday from three thirty to six forty-five with this adorable kid, and she wanted him to like her. Besides, fifteen minutes at a cake shop wouldn't be that risky, right? They were well within the boulevard now, and nearing the music store. Lily was surprised when they stopped right outside Beatflection. But no, they were on the wrong side of the street. Max looked up at her again, saying, "I went here on my birthday!" Lily craned her head back, only catching the word Marcie's in gold lettering above the shop before she was inside, and the door swung closed behind her. The smell of confection sugar and coffee hit her right in the face. Max finally let go of her hand and ran up to the counter, pressing his forehead against the glass. She wiped her hand on her jeans and followed, her short heels clicking against the floor. There were pretty baked treats lined up in rows for you to choose from, and she had to admit that they looked appetizing. Max touched her arm and pointed vigorously at some small cakes with drippy yellow icing. She sighed and dug out her wallet from her bag, turning to the clerk with a weary smile.
    xxxxx"Can I have one--" Max touched her arm again and held up two fingers. "I'm sorry, can I have two of those please?" She motioned at the cakes that Max was still pointing at.
    #1 growl, May 10, 2015
    Last edited: May 10, 2015
  2. 4:00 am. aauuuaaaAAUAGHGNAHAA The groan was distinctly at odds with the cheery music coming from the phone on the nightstand. Clark rolled over and swatted around ineffectively until he knocked the phone to the floor, where it continued playing, unaffected. Hauling himself from bed, Clark stooped over to pick up the phone and yawned so hard tears formed in his eyes. "Just a happy kid..." he mumbled along, shuffling to the bathroom. He had set this song as his 4am alarm for a peppy start to the day. It was hard to feel anything but bleak before the sun rose.

    4:12 am. It seems impossible that anyone can be late at 4:12 in the morning. I wish this were not my talent. He was toweling off his hair with one hand, pulling on his pants with the other, his toothbrush was dangling in his mouth, and he had just kicked over a stack of books. He left the towel draped over his head and grabbed a long sleeved shirt from the back of a chair as he headed back to the bathroom to finish brushing his teeth. He hung up the towel to dry and put on the shirt as he walked back into his bedroom, stepping over the former stack of books. The bookshelves in the tiny room were all full, and a few towers of books took up much of the floor. There were probably more in the boxes under the bed. Clark found a pair of socks after rummaging in the single dresser's single drawer, and from the same drawer retrieved a beanie, a scarf, and a sweater.

    4:30 am. Clark burned his tongue on two fried eggs eaten too quickly. He put the pan in the sink to soak and turned around. The galley kitchen had just enough room to turn around in, between the stove and the table. Clark rarely used the table. He ate standing. Above the table hung a bicycle, which he retrieved and carried out the front door--which opened just wide enough before hitting the fridge.

    4:45 am. Pros of biking to work at 4:30 am: road to yourself, not in constant fear of being hit by a car or someone opening their door. Cons: cold as frick, and you're late to work. He left his bike in the small coat closet at the back of the bakery. Giorgio's jacket was already there. Clark hung up his coat and scarf, but kept the beanie. The kitchen wouldn't really warm up for a while. "Clark!" The young man looked apprehensive when he heard his name. "Yep!" he called back, trying to sound cheerful. "What time do we gotta start baking?"

    "7 o'clock, Giorgio."
    "That's right, and what do we gotta do before we start with the baking?"
    "Prepare the ingredients."
    "So what time we gotta start with that? It's 5:30 we gotta start with the ingredients, and what do we gotta do before we do that, huh? We gotta--get your ass in here for gods sakes boy don't hide with the coats!"
    "Sorry, sorry," Clark said as he came round the corner, tying his apron.
    "Every morning we gotta start cleaning this place 4:30 or we not gonna get all the baking done, huh! What do I tell ya, it's just us two, you gotta help a guy out!"
    "Yeah I know, Giorgio, I'm sorry, won't happen again."
    "Ey don't lie to me, huh! Happens every freakin morning with this guy," the older man muttered, already back to cleaning.

    The two worked in silence for the rest of the morning, only speaking occasionally to pass tools and ingredients or confirm the locations of trays. The work was physically demanding, and both men had significant muscles. Their shop girl liked to call them "Baker's arms." She could only work after school let out at three, so at nine Clark left the kitchen to open the shop. Marcie herself came in at nine to replace Clark in the kitchen. Boss gets to sleep in... Clark was efficient and pleasant as a clerk, but he really preferred to be in the back. It was a relief when Jenna bounced in and Clark could retreat to the kitchen. For one thing, he could eat--at noon he had biked off to a nearby sandwich shop, but he only had a fifteen minute break to acquire it; he had to do the midday cleaning shift while Giorgio ate. While Jenna took over the front, Clark inhaled a turkey sub and fell asleep for twenty minutes, sitting in the back of the coat closet.

    "Yep!" He jolted awake as he stood, and hit his head on the low ceiling of the closet. "You been sleeping with the coats again?" "Nope," he said easily, emerging and taking the extended tray of pastries from Giorgio. "What time is it?" "4:05, useless kid. Not sleeping my foot..." Clark nearly bumped into Jenna, who was bent over getting two Baby Lemon Cakes. "Uh-oh, traffic jam-- oh hey, Max!" he said happily when he saw the little boy. "I made your birthday cake, remember me?" It had been one of the most beautiful, expensive cakes Clark had been allowed to work on. The man's eyes flicked up to Lily's face and lingered a moment before smiling back down at Max. "Hey Jenna why don't we just do a switcheroo, you pass me their cakes, and since you're already there I'll pass you this tray, and I'll ring these nice people up." "Um, well, alright I guess!" the younger girl giggled, and they had a bit of an awkward exchange of pastries. "Alright Miss, will that be all? Can I get you a coffee? Something sweet?"
    • Love Love x 1
  3. xxxxxLily glanced at the amount on the register and pulled out the exact amount on the screen, down to the cent. Max tugged at the hem of her pea coat, finger now pointed at another man behind the counter. ”He makes cake!” Max stated importantly, like this was a piece of vital information. Lily grinned at him (so cute!) and patted his head.
    xxxxx”That’s wonderful.” She turned her smile onto the man as he approached them, their eyes meeting for a moment. He and the girl with Max’s cake switched places, and then he was asking her if she wanted anything else. She hadn’t eaten since her early lunch with Alissandra, and that raspberry strudel looked delicious, but she was saving up for a night out on Friday. Either way, she only had a couple of one's left. Lily shook her head. “Nope, that’s all.” An exchange of money and pastries ensued, and Lily passed the pink paper bag down to Max. To her surprise, he ran up to one of the small round tables by the windows and plopped down in one of the two chairs. “Max? We need to get back home.”

    xxxxxMax was rummaging in his backpack. He took out a pencil and a few wrinkled worksheets and set them on the table. "I said I would do my homework while I eat cake," he told her. Dammit, she had hoped he would be satisfied with the Baby Lemons. She stifled another sigh (she had a feeling she would be sighing a lot with him) and sat down in the chair across from him. Might as well get some work done herself. Lily knew she probably shouldn't get too into it, but she couldn't help setting up shop. In less than a minute she had an unfinished essay opened up on her laptop, her earbuds in, and papers spread next to her. After ten minutes, she felt someone tap her arm. She looked up and unhooked an earbud.
    xxxxx"I need help."
    xxxxxShe stood up and squinted at the page of multiplication problems. "Oh, this? It's easy; you'll get the hang of it..." Lilly worked a few of them for him on her own sheet of notebook paper. When she was satisfied he understood the steps, she straightened up again. She noticed that there was still one lemon cake left, its icing long since cooled. "Hey, aren't you going to eat that?"
    xxxxxMax glanced up. "What do you mean? That one's for you."
    xxxxx"Oh." Lilly felt strangely touched. "Thank you."
    xxxxxMax nodded without looking up again. "You are welcome."

    xxxxxShe sat back down and cleaned up another paragraph of her essay while taking small bites of the lemon cake. She wasn't that fond of lemony stuff, or citrus in general, but it was pretty good. Max didn't try to get Lily's attention after that, and she focused on her essay. When she looked at the time in the corner of the screen again, thirty minutes had passed. "AH!" She slammed her laptop shut and began stuffing everything into her bag. Max was asleep in his chair, a line of drool on his cheek, and at that moment her phone started ringing. Oh god oh god what if it's Mrs. Malloran? What if she came home early? Oh god, I'm going to be fired. It wasn't even five o'clock yet, but she almost dropped her phone in her haste to get it out of the pocket of her coat. "Hello?!"
    xxxxx"Woah, calm down. I get that you're happy to hear from me and all, but we saw each other, what, two hours ago?"
    xxxxx"Charlie!" Lily sagged against the table in relief.
    xxxxx"Well, yeah. Look, I was just checking in to see if you could come to this art party downtown this weekend?"
    xxxxxLily started packing up again, this time more slowly. "You know, every word of what you just said screams 'hipster.'"
    xxxxx"Hey, the offer's on the table. It's costume-y and really weird, and I know you'd love it. It'll just be us two-- the hosts don't want too many tag-alongs."
    xxxxx"Oh lord, if only you could hear yourself right now." Lily hefted her bag onto her shoulder and gathered up Max's worksheets. "I wish I could go, but I'm going out with Ali and Bea on Friday."
    xxxxxThere was a beat of silence, and Lily could practically hear Charlie make the connection on the other end. "I get that you're always broke, but it's not like you'll need to buy anything. Spiked punch is absolutely free. I'll even give you a ride. C'mon, pleeease?"
    xxxxxLily held the phone away from her face. "Max. Max, wake up." She shook his shoulders, and the boy lifted his head and blinked blearily. He set his head back down on the table, muttering, "I already finished all my homework..."
    xxxxx"Max!" Oh god, she really didn't want to yell, but what was she going to do, carry him home?
    xxxxx"Oh shit, are you with that kid you're supposed to babysit? Wait, you'll be making bank from the rich family, so there's no more problems, right?"
    xxxxx"I'm gonna have to get back to you. Sorry, got to go." Lily hung up and dropped her phone into her pocket again. She shrugged Max's backpack onto her other shoulder, and then stared at him for a few seconds, at a loss for what to do. He was a small boy, but she wasn't sure she could carry him in her arms all the way back to his house. Maybe she could hoist him onto her back, piggyback style?
  4. Max, or the pretty girl with Max, was Clark's last transaction of the day. Technically he wasn't responsible for any transactions after 3, and after helping prep some dough that had to rise overnight, he just had to sweep out the back and clean the restroom. Giorgio got off work at the same time as Clark, but he got to clean the kitchen with the boss. Jenna and the boss would keep selling the day's pastries and drinks until 8, but baking ended at 4. Clark hummed to himself as he let himself out from behind the shop counter and went to the janitorial closet next to the single restroom. That pretty girl was still there with Max. Cute...

    Clark didn't mind cleaning the restroom. Usually Marcie's clients were pretty tidy, so it wasn't an especially horrible task, and it was one of those mechanical, thoughtless tasks that were kind of relaxing for him. Can't mess up cleaning a toilet--with Giorgio over your shoulder, though, you're sure to over mix the cake batter, or add too much cream of tartar, or pipe a crooked line. Cleaning the restroom, Clark could let his mind wander. I hope the ride home is pleasant... Are there eggs in the fridge for dinner? ... Was my copy of Canterbury Tales in that stack of books I knocked over this morning, or is it on the shelf... As he put away the cleaning supplies he was surprised to see that Max and the girl were still there. He wondered what their relationship was--she might be a visiting cousin? Max was clearly dozing, but his companion was typing away. "Alright Jenna, I'm off. See ya."
    "See ya," the girl chirped back as she moved out of his way as he headed for the back.

    Clark bundled up and maneuvered his bike out the back door, swinging his leg over the seat as he rolled down the alley. As he neared the street he saw movement through the glass front of the shop--the girl seemed to be struggling to wake Max. Clark smiled and dismounted. He walked his bike to the front of the shop and used it to prop open the door. After the tinkling chime of the door opening stopped he said, "Need some help?" Max could be an impetuous boy.
  5. xxxxxLily had been shaking Max and calling his name for a while now. However, every time she managed to rouse him, he got more and more upset, until she was afraid he would start crying if she disturbed his slumber again. Him crying was like the worst case scenario in this situation. What if he was one of those kids who never stopped crying once they started? What if he moped for the rest of the night, and then complained to his mom about her? Him crying would also attract unwanted attention from everyone in the shop, and on the long way home-- Lily told herself to stop worrying before she made herself panic. She glanced to the side as the bell above the door chimed, her mouth falling open when she saw the man from earlier-- Cakeman-- parking his bike in front of the door and approaching her. She tried to guess his age in her head. He looked like the kind of guy who could pass for either sixteen or twenty five; he possessed a sort of boyish charm that made him seem younger than her. "Need some help?" Cakeman asked once he was right in front of her. She snapped her mouth shut and clasped her hands together, feeling a flush of embarrassment heating her cheeks.

    xxxxx"I don't know if there's anything you can do," Lily began. "But, uh, Max-- you know him, right?-- isn't waking up. I'm afraid he'll cry if I bother him anymore. His house is a long way to walk from here, and I don't think I can carry him the whole way." She bent her head in shame. Saying it out loud made her feel stupid, like the student that always asks the teacher whenever they need help instead of looking at their notes first and saving everyone the trouble of listening to an overstated explanation. She raised a hand to wave him away. "You know what, it's okay. I could call a taxi..." She remembered that she only had four dollars tops on her. "Maybe if I beg, one of my friends can come. It's fine." Lily bit her lip even as the word "fine" left her lips and brushed some of Max's black hair out of his sweaty forehead, pulling out her phone. Oh balls, she only had ten percent left. Better make it quick then.
  6. "Oh, that won't be necessary," Clark said before thinking. What was he doing? Was this socially appropriate? He was just a guy that works at the bakery. Is touching customers legal? "Little guy like this? No problem. We have to heft twice his weight in flour in the back." This seemed like a terrible idea. Maybe if he acted confident enough everything would work out. Yeah, if he acted like this was normal, everyone else would too--that had to be proven in some social experiment somewhere. Bystander apathy? Crap, this wasn't a kidnapping, he was trying to help... "His mom is one of our most valued customers," he said to Lily by way of explanation. That would make this seem fine, right? Mrs. Malloran was a very important customer for Clark--his first big cake job. Was his special interest pretentious?

    He didn't let his apprehension show, and maintained an easy, friendly smile. "Hey Max, it's time to go home," he said softly, putting his hands under the boy's armpits. Is this really super weird? "Up we go, little man!" He lifted the sleeping boy up and adjusted the weight so he could comfortably hold him with one arm. The boy's head rested on Clark's shoulder while his bottom was supported by a muscular forearm. "I made a delivery to the house, it's not too far, as I recall. It'd be a big help if you wouldn't mind walking my bike. Oh! I'm Clark, by the way," he said with a sheepish grin. Only a real creep would get this far without introducing himself... I need to go out more. After graduating college Clark spent a lot of time alone. He spent a lot of time alone in college too, but being the easygoing guy he was, it was pretty often that he'd be invited to go somewhere with a group. He enjoyed it fine--plenty of them were interesting people--but it wasn't the sort of thing that he really instigated or sought out. A pleasant interlude in a solitary life. From what Clark could tell, people calculate self-worth and fulfillment based on interactions and connections with other people, but he never seemed to connect with people in the right way. It was always a matter of watching and listening and trying to operate in the social codes that he picked up on without seeming too weird, or too obviously out of his element, or too... confused. It was like a dance where he was watching the others to try and figure out the moves, but none of them were the way he would move by himself. And here he was, getting involved for absolutely no justifiable reason, and with no point of reference. His cheeks got just the slightest bit pink as he looked at Lily. No justifiable reason.
  7. xxxxxLily's whole being slowly lit up as the Cakeman talked. She brought her hands to her chest, already beaming. She could tell where this was going. He was going to help her. He was going to help! ”His mom is one of our most valued customers,” he finished, like it had been an afterthought. If she wasn’t dead tired, and if her feet weren’t aching, it would’ve occurred to her to be suspicious of a stranger who was so kindly offering to aid her, an unsuspecting student, and a young boy. As it was, Lily felt nothing but gratitude.

    xxxxx”Thank you! Thankyouthankyouthankyou!” she bounced a little for each expression of thanks. Lily flitted around Cakeman as he lifted Max, anxious about her charge even as the muscles in the man’s arm flexed impressively to support him. Cakeman asked her to walk his bike, and she nodded. ”I’ll do that.” She hurried over to the man’s bike and waited for him to exit the shop before she moved it out of the doorway. Lily glanced inside the shop to make sure she hadn’t left anything behind. The other customers inside were staring at the three of them with wide eyes. It was only then did some misgivings creep into her head. But Cakeman had Max in his arms already, and Lily didn’t want to make a big scene out of nothing. Besides, she had already accepted his help. The man had introduced himself as Clark. ”My name is Lily.”

    xxxxxIt was just past four thirty, but the sun was already going down. She guessed that it had slipped beneath the horizon a few minutes before they had left because the sky was still streaked in pink and orange watercolors that cast a rosy tint on the boulevard. They walked in comfortable silence for a bit. By the time they were out of the boulevard, the twilight sky was growing dark, and the streetlamps were turning on one by one. She paused to adjusted her scarf and then returned to pushing the bike. ”I’m just Max’s babysitter. This is my first day, actually,” Lily explained. She hunched her shoulders against the cold gusts that came from behind, eyes fixed on the pavement. ”I don’t think I’m doing a great job of taking care of him.”

    xxxxxLily’s breath drifted away from her like fair weather clouds torn apart in a storm. She tilted her head back at the dimming light in the sky. ”There are probably, no, there are better people out there for the job, but I need the money...” Lily looked at Max still fast asleep on Clark’s arm. Part of Max’s jacket flapped in the wind.

    xxxxxShe looked at Clark too. The wind was playing with his hair, and his features were thrown into sharp relief by the glare of the streetlamps. He’s handsome, she found herself thinking with a little surprise. His eyelashes cast delicate shadows on the plane of his cheeks, and his eyes were the color of moss, and how had she gone this whole time without noticing that he was lovely? Her face felt warm. She went back to watching the clouds in the sky. It was best not to stare for too long.
  8. Lily. A pretty name for a pretty girl... No way he could say that out loud! He felt embarrassed for even thinking something so cheesy. He hoped his grin and "nice to meet you!" didn't give away how nervous he felt. It wasn't worth risking saying anything else, he would probably blurt out some unwanted and awkward compliment. I bet you're really thoughtful and sensitive. What are you thinking as you watch the sky? Your eyes are beautiful when you look at things. You look great walking my bike--okay she really did look freaking adorable with the bike, but he was pretty sure if he opened his mouth she would give him a look to kill, take Max away, and maybe steal his bike to wheel the boy home.

    The warmth and weight of Max's body nestled against Clark's chest was comforting to him. The boy's downy hair brushed against his cheek, and sleepy sighs were breathed into his shoulder. There was something very pleasant about holding such a wholesome being as a young child. It felt natural, and Clark, who had no siblings, thought it must be nice to spend time with kids. So small and vulnerable, yet disproportionately confident. And trusting. How could he sleep so easily in a stranger's arms? Clark stole another glance, one of many, at Lily. As the rosy sky dimmed to a blue lavender, the cool light accentuated her delicate features. Vulnerable? Fragile? Maybe naïve... Innocent. The yellow streetlight flickered on, casting her face in another hue.”I’m just Max’s babysitter. This is my first day, actually." Nervous? ”I don’t think I’m doing a great job of taking care of him.” Worried? ”There are probably, no, there are better people out there for the job, but I need the money...” Guilty?

    "Hey, anyone who brings a guy to Marcie's is good by me! I think you're doing a great job. He must like you, he wouldn't be able to sleep so easy if he didn't feel at ease, right? Besides, who wouldn't like having such a pretty girl for company?" Fuck, what? Maybe that's fine to say? Maybe she likes compliments! Was it super creepy? Goodbye, Max, goodbye, lovely Lily, goodbye, bike. Damn, he needed his bike to get home. "Hey! This is the street, right?" As much as he liked the kid, he needed to trade Max for the bike asap. Or change the subject. "Nearly home, bud," he said to the sleeping boy.
  9. xxxxxLily resolutely kept her gaze on the vast sky and the swaying treetops as they walked past Max's school and onto a street of stately houses. The wind had messed up her hair, and she swept a dark lock out of her face distractedly. She picked out the deep red shingles of the Malloran residence and listened to Clark at the same time. Despite her decision to not look at him unless she had to, her head whipped around when he called her "pretty." Almost immediately after, doubts crowded her thoughts, as if to crush any hopes before they could even surface. He's just saying that to make you feel better. And you have been quite the Debbie Downer this whole time, haven't you? It could be making him uncomfortable. He could call all the girls he meets pretty. It isn't like the compliment would be unwelcome, now would it? I mean, look at him. Lily did. She took in the way only one cheek dimpled when he smiled, the tiny, barely noticeable gap between his front teeth. NO DON'T LOOK AT HIM.

    xxxxx"Ah! Yes, this is the street where Max lives." She stopped walking. "Um... If you're tired, I can carry Max the rest of the way. And you could go home. If you, um, if you need to get home." Lily was stammering more than was normal for her-- she was usually well-versed in social situations, always somehow managing to get straight to the point without being rude. However, the recent realization that the man in front of her was really cute had caught her off guard. She wished she could go back to seeing him as just Cakeman. She herself was also very tired. She thought that once her and Max were both inside, she'd lay him on the expensive leather couch, curl up next to the little boy, and fall asleep as well. Of course, she had to heat up dinner for him as well, and make sure he had actually finished all of those worksheets. Lily snapped herself back to the present. She was still holding the handles of Clark's bike, and Clark was still holding Max.
  10. "Oh, no worries, he's no trouble at all, I can at least get him to the door," Clark said with a smile as he continued walking down the beautiful street. They were in a residential part of the city now, only a few blocks from the pleasant commercial area where Marcie's was located. The streetlights had transitioned into a traditional gaslight style, alternating with cherry trees in breaks in the brick sidewalk. The classy row houses were also of brick, most with beautiful window boxes--containing evergreens that would be swapped out for resplendent flowers in spring to match the blooming cherries--and marble steps to shiny painted doors.

    They glimpsed someone's living room through a bay window: plush leather chairs, big fireplace, fine painting over the mantle, antiques... Wait, was that a tactful way of trying to get rid of me? Is she nervous about unlocking the house with a strange man there? Damn, did "at least to the door" make it seem like I planned on coming in? He had no intentions of entering the house, but was it weird to walk her to the door? Walk him to the door, he was walking Max, not Lily. And she was walking his bike. They were nearly there, anyway... "Um, it's the red door with the lion head knocker, right? And they have an urn next to the steps with like a little Christmas tree inside." He didn't remember the house number from his delivery, but he had a good visual memory. On Max's birthday there were balloons tied to the tree. Two doors away. "Uh okay!" he said nervously, shifting to hold Max with one arm and reaching for the handlebars of his bike with his free hand. "I'll take that, and pass you this little guy," he said, gently easing the boy into Lily's arms, "and I'll just um, thanks for the walk, it was lovely. I don't usually come out this way, it was a really pleasant excursion." He stood about 10 feet off from where Lily was unlocking the door, not looking at her and very absorbed by his bike. "I had better get going!" He swung his leg over the seat and stalled another second, rolled over the curb into the street, and stopped on the other side of a parked car, visible over its hood. "But I'll wait to go until you've locked the door." Was this reassuring and non-aggressive, or just awkward?

    Clark sighed as he pedaled home. The exhaustion of the day hit him very suddenly; Lily and Max were uplifting, an adorable novelty, but the experience left him drained. He had some lingering anxiety over being awkward, replayed in his mind ways he might have been more charming, but in the end let his mind go blank as the cold speed-rushed air blasted his face and stung his eyes. At his hovel across town he maneuvered his bike through the security door and up two flights of stairs. He was too warm and panting by the end. Hang bike, kick off shoes, wash hands, dinner: ham and cheese omelette (4 eggs) and bread (1/4 loaf baked Sunday). Organize books a little better, brush teeth, set phone to charge, read, sleep. Unfortunately he fell asleep during the reading phase, only 7:40 pm, and woke up very confused at 11:06. He managed to drowsily get out of his street clothes, after a big struggle with his belt, and fell asleep again at 11:09.
  11. xxxxxLily nodded and continued pushing the bike. The houses really were beautiful; Max lived in one of the wealthiest suburbs in the city, after all. Looking through the windows, Lily saw room after room of stone fireplaces, elegant rosewood furniture, crystal chandeliers, shelves of useless and no doubt expensive ornaments. Each lawn and occasional garden was clipped to perfection. The beauty of the picture-perfect estates didn't appeal to her that much when she thought about it, at least not yet. Lily wanted to travel and experience her fair share of the world outside of this city before she could warm up to the idea of settling down for the rest of her life. She turned to look at Clark as he described the front of the Malloran's. She had been to their house twice, and the only details she remembered were the red shingles, the red door, and the briars heavy with white roses on either side of the steps. Lily blinked, clearly impressed. "Wow. Do you have photographic memory or something?" she wondered aloud. As they neared the house, Clark reached for his bike and guided Max into her possession. It was clear Clark was in a hurry to leave despite his reassurances.

    xxxxxShe bit her lip and adjusted her hold until the boy's head lay comfortably against her chest. Walking up the steps, Lily took note of the urn and lion knocker Clark had described. She pulled out the spare key Mrs. Malloran had given her and glanced over her shoulder at Clark, but he didn't meet her eyes. "I'm glad you enjoyed yourself," she answered, turning the key in the lock. "Max and I might make a stop at Marcie's again in the future." It's up to Max, apparently, she added in her head, remembering the way the boy had dragged her along earlier that day. Thanks so much for your help." She sent a warm smile over the hood of the car Clark was waiting behind, and fluttered her fingers at him in a wave before she slipped inside.

    xxxxxTo her relief, the rest of the night went smoothly. Lily dumped Max and her bag on the couch then raked her hair into a ponytail, already setting herself to work mode. By the time Mrs. Malloran got home, Max was watching TV in the living area and she was loading the dishwasher. She said her goodbyes to both of them and left. Lily's roommate, Bea, was her ride to work. She had a whole system set up for the week, since she didn't own a car of her own. She checked her phone. A few texts from various people and a missed call from Charlie but nothing important. They returned to the boulevard, the car screeching to a stop in front of Beatflection. Lily stumbled into the music store, waving to her boss and pinning her name tag to her shirt. She walked behind the counter and watched the customers mulling around. Just another three hours, and she'd be good to go.

    xxxxxTuesday came and went with less excitement than Monday. Max didn't drag her off to Marcie's, so Lily hoped he was only planning on doing it once a week at the most. Perhaps after seeing how distraught she had been yesterday, he'd even decided to restrain himself. But when she met him at school Wednesday afternoon, he took her down the street and led her the opposite way once more. She sighed inwardly. At least she was dressed nicely; yellow flower-pattered dress, leggings, ankle boots, and her favorite pea coat. She shook her head. What did it matter what she looked like? "Don't fall asleep again," she told Max, trying to sound as stern as she could. The boy puffed out his cheeks and pouted at her (why was he so adorable?). Minutes later, they were entering Marcie's. Max ran up to the counter and pressed his face against the glass. Lily, ignoring her deja vu, followed him. This time he was pointing at a tray of large cookies, and Lily ducked her head to read the card.
    xxxxx"Can I have two mint chocolate cookies?" she asked the girl behind the counter. She was feeling considerably brighter than the last time she'd been here, probably because she'd gotten her paycheck yesterday.
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