Snow (sweptawaybayou) wrote,
Snow
sweptawaybayou

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Bakery!Slash by tesla321

Oh my. Look at what a slacker I am!!! How many parts I haven't added to my memories or shared! *smacks self*

Can I help it if everytime I say *Bakery!* Tesla writes another chapter of my psuedo~life?!!!

Not that I'm complaining ... not even a little bit. *loves her*

So if you're not caught up, Enjoy!

And thanks for all the drabble requests yesterday! That was a blast and I'm very proud of myself for actually following the rules and limiting them all to 100 words. Fuck, that was hard. But such fun! I hope that everyone reading them got as much enjoyment out of them as I did writing them. What a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

*big wet kisses*

If anyone wants more? Just go back to this post and ask! I loved doing it so very much.



Part 37

"Nicky's running a book on who Eliza's gonna have in the wedding," Kelly said. "Looks like there's a catfight for maid of honor." He flagged the waitress, shaking his empty glass.

"I don't know why," Jess said, from her perch on Kelly's knee. "Snow."

"She's making the cake," Nicky said. "She's planning one that would make Donald Trump suck in his breath and shake his head."

"And she still wants to be maid of honor," Nicky said. "So, what's your bet?" He frowned. "You guys aren't paying attention, damn it. I'm being all calm guy, joking about my wedding, and you aren't giving me props?"

Kelly nodded. "It's Seth. He just came in with Michelle."

"Michelle?" Nicky said. "There's no money on that ."

****

"So he says there's something very Zen about ice skating and ice," Nicky told David. "Ice skating?" He pulled his plate of eggs and sausages towards him, and took a bite.

"Hey," David said. "Ice skating is very Zen. It's about balance and skill, and concentrating yet relaxing at the same time." Beside Nicky, Chris was drawing his finger across his throat. David went on, getting heated. "Hey, it's a tough sport, skating, and you should try it with a stick and a puck!"

"Okay," Nicky said, holding his hands up in surrender. "I forgot."

"Skating," David said, folding his arms, "is one of the most athletic things you can do. It engages every muscle of your body and you have to have perfect balance on razor-sharp blades." He glared at Nicky.

"Dave, man, he surrenders."

"I give, dude, I give up. I apologize to the sports of ice skating, ice dancing, hockey, to Michelle, Michelle Kwan and the LA Kings."

Chris coughed, "Flyers," behind his hand.

Nicky bowed his head. "Shit, the bachelor party can have a hockey theme, if you want."

David uncrossed his arms. "Nah, we're going with the classics, and have a stripper give you a lap dance."

"We'll find one with real breasts so it doesn't hurt when she whaps you in the face with 'em," Chris offered.

"Hey, guys, I'm all for the lap dancing fun, but remember who I'm marrying? Woman with sharp knives?"

Chris narrowed his eyes. "Are you going all pussy on us?"

"You say that like it's a bad thing," Nicky said. "Hell, yeah. What I appreciate is, when it was time for her to carve her initials on my ass, she was gentle."

"I wanted it to be special, " Eliza said, dropping into the booth beside David and putting her arm around him. "Coming to my wedding, Big Dave?"

"You bet, E," David said. "Have we got a firm date? Because I'm thinking we should have it at the store." His face was perfectly straight.

"The store? " Eliza squealed. "I love it!"

Nicky looked like his dog died.

"But no," Eliza said, kissing David's cheek. He grinned at her, so she kissed him again, on the mouth. He returned the kiss with interest.

Chris and Nicky glared at her from the other side of the table.

Snow materialized at the table. "Hey, listen, I'm thinking, boiled icing would be easier. Dave, why are you smoochin' on the bride?"

"She smooched me," David said. "I was just sitting here planning the bachelor party, like a good best man." He gave Nicky a stern look.

"Seth is the best man," Nicky said, his voice only a little unsteady.

"Huh," David said. "Shoulda given you the tongue," he told Eliza.

She fluffed her hair. "Still could, big guy."

Snow snapped her fingers. "Eliza, come on. We have a whole list of things that you have to tell me about, so we can get 'em ordered."

"I'm in such demand," Eliza grinned, and kissed her fingertips
to all three men.


"You're such an asshole," Chris told David. "Did you really want to be best man?" They were sprawled on the couch watching bull riding championships.

"Fuck, no," David said. "I don't want E. scalping me with a blunt knife when Nicky comes home with baby oil stains on his crotch." He felt around on the floor for his beer bottle.

"Baby oil," Chris said, meditatively. He scratched his bare chest. "We got any baby oil?"

"No, we've got that shit that heats up, though." David looked at him out of the corners of his eyes. "I thought you wanted to watch this rodeo crap?"

"Oh, well, you know the saying," Chris said, taking the beer bottle out of David's hand so it wouldn't spill on the newly-cleaned carpet, "Save a horse, ride a cowboy."

Part 38

It started out as the usual crappy day at the bakery. Corporate had sent a memo out asking the stores to push more Irish Soda Bread as a lead-up to St. Patrick's Day, and there was an ad set for Saturday for said bread.

Unfortunately, someone else at Corporate had cancelled Snow's order of a flat of boxes of the dough. There was the ad, all full-page and in the morning paper, and, there was---

"No fucking dough!" Snow cried. "No fucking soda bread! No yummy delicious soda bread and no happy happy customers buying the---"

"I get the idea," Manager David said, standing11 beside the crate-laden dolly. "So, they won't buy soda bread. They'll buy other bread." He looked up from the clipboard. "Or, they would, if only someone was bakin' the bread."

Snow's shoulders slumped. "Are you getting all bossy on me?"

David gave her a narrowed-eyed glance that seemed to question if she was making a cow joke of sorts, then began, "No, I---" There was a popping noise, and David suddenly shoved Snow, hard, and they ended up sprawling on the floor, just as crates of dough crashed into the floor where they had been standing.

"Wow," Snow panted, "You saved me, my hero!"

"Fuck," David said. He was curled up, holding his knee. "Fuck."

"Are you hurt?" James asked, stunned.

"Fuck,", David replied.

"Call 911," Snow said, kneeling beside him. "You blew your knee out?"

"Fuck, yes," David said, varying slightly. "Give me my cell phone," he said, still holding his knee. She unclipped it from his belt and flipped it open. He released his knee with one hand, and hit a speed-dial. "Yeah? I've blown out my fuckin' knee. Shit, yeah, I'm gonna need to see an orthpedic surgeon. I'm gonna get to the ER and get a referral." He listened for a moment. "Well, yeah. Bye." He folded the phone, and glared at Snow. "Is someone gonna take me to the hospital before I start cryin' like a little bitch?"

Snow turned over the bakery to Eliza, who, for once, put up her Bride's magazine, and she followed Andy and Larry as they carried David out to David's car. He got in the front passenger seat and Snow drove him to the hospital. She couldn't tell if he was in greater pain from his knee or from her driving.


At the hospital, Snow pulled up to the emergency exit, and went in, to finally find the desk, and to get a wheelchair, only to find out that someone had brought him straight in. She took his drivers' license,insurance card and
credit card from him, and gave the information to the intake clerk. When she got back to the reception area, Chris was striding through the automatic doors. When he saw Snow, he barked, "Where's the big guy?"

She pointed. "They're examining his knee back there. A stack of crates fell and he pushed me out of the way."

Chris gave her a brief glance. "You hurt?" he asked.

"No--" she began, but he'd already turned away and bolted through the doors to the examination rooms.


David was lying in a hospital bed in one of the side rooms, already in a hospital gown, with a cold pack on his knee, one arm behind his head. He was, somewhat dreamily, watching television. "Hi," he said. "They gave me a shot."

Chris sat down in the bedside chair. "I see that," he said, putting a hand on David's. "You'd better go ahead and have that damn surgery you were supposed to have last year."

"I am," David said. The pupils of his eyes were huge. "They've already been in and I can have it tomorrow. You're my next-of-kin," he added.

"This is that out-patient thing, right?" Chris asked, running the palm of his hand over David's hair. "One afternoon?"

"Yeah, just like the guy said last year. They'll let me go home if I have someone to take care of me. You gonna take care of me?"

"Yeah, babe, don't you worry. They say when they're gonna do it?"

"Morning," David said. "Better get Snow in here, get my car keys from her. Get her to call Alexis." He blinked. "Take her back to the store, I guess."

"Sure," Chris said. He bent and kissed David.

****

"He totally saved me," Snow was saying, over a short stack. "Man, it was just like Batman or something. But his bad knee went out and the sports clinic had told him last year that he needed to have surgery."

"He grabbed her and hit the floor with her," Amber said. "Damn."

Eliza shook her head. "I hate you so much."

"Hey, you're engaged, you're not allowed to have fantasies about lying under big Dave," Snow said. "Not that I had the chance to think about it too much."

"So, how long will he be out?" Eliza said. "Because this place is gonna go to hell. And speaking of hell, Kelly found out that Nicky asked Seth to be his best man, and Kelly's all pissed off."

"But Kelly was the one complaining about the expense of renting a tux," Snow said.

Jess rolled her eyes. "He says it's the principle of the thing, that he's the twin brother and should have been asked." She picked up a biscuit and buttered it, saying, "Even though the first thing he said was that he didn't want to be in the wedding."

"He thinks that a wedding is catching," Snow said, absently.

Eliza winked at Jess. "How's Nathan?" she asked Snow.

"Fine," Snow said, following an elusive train of thought.

"And how's Adam?"

"Fine." Something about Chris being at the hospital was bugging her.

"Still fuckin' both of them at once?"

Snow came to herself. "Hey!"

"Is that one at a time or both at once?"

Snow allowed herself a smug smile. "Bitches, you're just jealous."

It came to her. David's driver's license had his address on the same street as Chris'. When had he moved from the apartment, much less to Chris' neighborhood?

Chris took David home and installed him on the couch, but David was pretty loopy from the painkillers, and kept turning off the television instead of changing the channels. Chris was so pre-occupied with smashing a bag of ice, for the ice pack, and walking back in and turning the television back on, that he didn't hear Snow drive up, until she was ringing the doorbell.

"Shit," he muttered. He opened the door. "He's high," he told her fretfully. "He can't answer any store questions."

"Chill out," Snow said, poker-faced. "I brought him some cupcakes with double icing."

"Icing?" David said hopefully, from the couch.

Snow looked at Chris. "I won't tell anyone he lives here," she said.

"I don't care if you do," Chris said, raising his eyebrow. "It's not especially a secret. Come on in, give the man his icing."

"Snowy," David greeted her. "My buddy Snowy. If you brought me chocolate, we will be friends forever."

"I did," she grinned.

David gave her his wide white smile. "I have the munchies," he said.

"You're high, man," Chris said, leaning on back of the couch.

"Hey!" David said. They both looked at him. After a moment, he said, "What?"

"He's high, all right," Snow said, unwrapping the cupcakes.

"You're my boyfriend, you're supposed to stick up for me," David said, giving Chris a wounded look.

Around the sudden tightness in his throat, Chris said, "I am. I'm not stealing your cupcakes."

My boyfriend.

Part 39

"Hey, listen, Snow, can you stay for about twenty minutes?" Chris asked. "I've got to go pick up the rest of Dave's meds, so, you wouldn't mind?"

David seemed to snap his focus back. "Hey, I can handle being alone in the house for twenty minutes."

Snow was already taking off her jacket. "You're high, Dave. You shouldn't get up, like, to go to the bathroom."

"Yeah, like I'm going to let you help me pee," David said.

Snow looked at him for a minute. "Huh. Well, damn."

But no sooner had Chris' truck cleared the driveway, than David threw his blanket aside, and carefully swung his socked feet to the floor. The plastic bag of ice plopped onto the rug. "C'mere," he said. "I have to pee. And shut up."

Carefully not smirking, Snow stood up and let David lean on her. Her eyes,
though, nearly rolled back into her head at being so close to David in his tee shirt and boxers. And gauze-wrapped knee, she reminded herself. Without his hair product---hey!---his hair was as curly as a little kid's. Outside the bathroom, David stiff-armed her.

"I can take it from here," he said.

"Don't lock the door," she said.

Leaning on the door jamb, Snow noticed that the carpet seemed to be a completely different color---or just was it cleaner? And that there were actual pictures on the hallway walls, a series of Western prints. When the toilet flushed, and David emerged, she saw that the shower curtain was no longer the ancient green one. David put his arm across her shoulders and leaned heavily on her. "I hate being this fucked-up," he said, and, putting her arm around his waist, moved him back onto the couch.

"Do you want another cupcake?" she asked.

"Naah," he said. "Would you get me a bottle of water?"

"Sure," she said, leaping into the kitchen. She didn't dare snoop too much, but a quick look around showed that Chris' yard-sale, battered kitchenware had been ruthlessly discarded.

"Jeeze," she said, opening the water and giving it to David, "next thing you know, you'll have Chris recycling his beer cans."

"Don't talk crazy," David said, taking a gulp of water.

"And I thought you hated him," Snow teased. "When did all this happen?"

"Months ago," David yawned. "I thought Nicky told you."

"Nicky? " she asked, startled. "He knows?"

"Well, hell, he plays golf with us and drinks beer with us," David said. "I thought he was being discreet. I didn't know he was clueless."

"You don't sound as high as you did."

"Yeah, well, pain kind of kills the buzz." He felt around on the couch, and Snow gave him the bag of ice.

"I'm sure your boyfriend is hurrying as fast as he can," she said, smirking.

"Yeah," David said, absently, his attention caught by something on television. After a second he said, "Huh?"

"Your boyfriend."

David stared at her. "What about him?"

Snow gave up.

Chris was back with the presciptions almost right away. "They were out of one, but they sent someone for it," he explained. "How're you doing, dude?" He transferred his attention David.

"It hurts," David said, like a 12 year old.

"This'll fix you right up," Chris promised, and sat down on the couch beside him, opening the bottle and shaking out two pills onto his palm. Then, uncaring of Snow's goggling presence, he leaned over David and kissed him.

Snow didn't know how she got out of the house, but she drove with
the windows down to get some cool air.

***

"Here's the thing," Seth said. "I got to go to the ice-skating competition with Michelle on that weekend."

Nicky crossed off one date. He automatically shoved his coffee cup for a refill.

He'd been drinking a lot of coffee since he proposed.

Jules yawned. "I don't know the problem. You already have the tickets for Wrestlemania. Get married on Saturday, drive down to LA for the honeymoon."

"I'm not going to Wrestlemania on my honeymoon," Eliza said. "That's too 'Groundhog Day' for me."

"Damn," Nicky said. "There goes my idea for the cake."

Snow walked in, her face a delicate pink.

"So, how's the big man? Someone takin' care of him?" Eliza demanded.

"Yeah, he was hurting but he can walk." Snow sat down.

"You get a quickie?" Jules asked suspiciously.

"No," Snow said. She gave a tiny, Mona Lisa smile.

"Then what's with you?" Eliza asked. "You're smiling funny."

"I'm happy," Snow said. "I'm just a 24-fuckin'-7 ray of sunshine, bay-bee!"

"Okay, I'm calling 911," said Cindee, the waitress.

"Somebody go home and check her basement for a pod," Nicky suggested.

Jules looked hard at Snow. "Did you get to see David naked?"

Snow's expression grew unfocussed. "Oh, man. " Then she looked up. "I'm sorry, I was in my happy place for a moment. There's always nakedness there."

Part 40

David came back after the weekend, to work half-days. He dragged his wheeled office chair around the store and sat down most of the time. Nevertheless, the employees were happier to have their Only True Manager back.

"They act like you're Aragorn and I'm a fake," Alexis complained.

David gave him an opaque look. "I didn't see the movie."

"Yeah, well, they all look at me like I did a Tonya Harding on your knee just so I could do an Easter promotion." Alexis rolled his eyes.

David shook his head. "They're a weird crew, what can I say? You have to manage them by handing out cigarettes." Alexis stretched. "Anyway, you look well. And guess who's coming back from maternity leave and has decided that she'd like move into the exciting world of internet gourmet sales?"

David grinned. "My girl Charisma?"

"Your girl?" Alexis asked, putting his hand on his heart. "I'm wounded. I thought she was my girl." He picked up his jacket. "Anyway, she's coming in. Apparently, her husband thinks it would be just splendid if she went into this franchise thing."

David shrugged. "I think Kelley's been talking to someone from corporate about that, so I don't know what CC wants."

***

"I feel incredible pressure to do something, now that Nicky's engaged to Eliza," James said. He looked sadly at his cup of gourmet coffee. "I mean, not from Jules. Something," he waved his hands, "interior."

"Huh," Kelley said, looking at the temperature of her other Thermos. "Sounds like you're a little extreme. Either you are completely broken up with someone, or you want to get married."

"What's this?" Charisma asked, tasting a broken biscotti. "This is heaven."

"That's my own recipe," Kelley said.

"And the coffee!"

"French press," Kelley beamed. "Soy creamer. Try this, it's just drop cookie recipe, with a twist."

Charisma made an ecstatic expression, the sunlight glinting on her diamond earrings.

James went back to the bakery, his lower lip sticking out.

***

"So, you two domestic partners?" Snow asked David. He was propped on the picnic table, smoking, and they were alone outside the shipping dock.

David didn't stir. "I knew I'd hear more from you."

"I mean, if you had a formal commitment ceremony, you could get presents." She bounced. "I've been in Chris' house lots, and that's the best I've ever seen it, but you're lookin' at years of work, getting rid of his shit."

"You should have tried to sleep on his mattress," David said, expelling a long
column of smoke. "Brought mine in, first thing. Hey, listen, pillow-top is the only way to go. We sleep like babies."

Snow's expression grew vacant. "I'm sorry," she said, after a moment. "I was in my happy place."

David flipped the cigarette into the storm grate, smirking.

That night, his cell phone rang and rang. Chris picked it up, and squinted at the caller ID. "Nicky," he said, and tossed it to David, who was soaking in the hot tub.

"Hey, Nick. What's up, man?" David asked. He held up his empty beer bottle with a hopeful look at Chris. Chris snorted, and splashed out of the tub, across the deck.

"Dave," Nicky said, mournfully. "I don't know if I can do this, I think I'm cracking up."

"Jesus, Nick, I hope you're not telling me what I think you're telling me." Chris came back with two opened bottles in his hand, and stepped back in the tub.

"I don't think I can get married," Nick said. "Can I come over and crash?"

"He doesn't think he can get married, and he wants to come over and crash," David said to Chris.

"Shit, he'd better," Chris said. "E'll kill him." He sat back in the tub. "Tell him to come on over."

"Chris says, come on over before Eliza de-balls you," David said.

"Thanks, man." There was a pause. "Oh, you're at Chris's?"

"Yep."


Nicky brought a box of steaks and his bag. "I'm flippin' out," he said. "I can't do this."

"Chill out," Chris said, taking the steaks from him and giving him a beer. "Just chill out. Go get Davie out of the hot tub before he prunes."

"Must feel good on the knee," Nicky said, dropping the bag on the kitchen floor and walking through the living room to the deck. "Hey, new couch."

It was easier for David to get in than to get out, so Chris was grateful
Nicky was there. "My back's torqued out from favoring the other leg," David explained.

"Doesn't look too bad," Nicky offered. "Listen, I'll cook. It calms me down."

"Fine," Chris said. "Come on, big D. Limp on in." Supporting David, he and Chris made their way back to the bedroom.

Out of Nicky's hearing, David said, "Poor Eliza."

"Yeah, and we'd better take up a collection for the defense fund, because she's gonna kill him." David took hold of the footboard of the bed, and pushed the wet boxers down his leg. Chris bent and looked at David's knee.

"Looks like its not as swollen," he said. He patted David's thigh.

David leaned on the bed, and grinned. "So, working with meat soothes Nicky, huh?"

"Don't talk dirty to me when we have company."

Unlike Snow, Nicky didn't notice anything different about Chris' decor, except that the place seemed cleaner. The guys ate in the living room in front of the television, watching a basketball game, David in the recliner with a bag of ice on his knee. Nicky still didn't notice anything until he was shown the bed in the guest room and the towels in the hall bathroom.

That's when he realized that his host was retreating into the master bedroom with David.

His first thought was to call Eliza, and he even reached for his cell phone, until he remembered.

"Oh, fuck, " he said, and sat down on the closed toilet seat.

Part 41

"If you have a wedding, you can have presents, and, hey, the court just said it's legal!" Snow was using her best persuasive powers on Chris.

He didn't even stop setting up the chairs for the meeting. "Why don't you get married?"

"I'm not that crazy," Snow held up her hands. "Nope."

"Aside from polygamy still not being legal," Chris said. "Jeeze, I get you to stay at the house for thirty minutes, and the next thing I know, you're trying to get me to propose to someone who thinks I'm
the commitment-shy in the relationship." He leaned on the back of one chair. "And, listen, you used to date him, so what's with Seth and the zen shit? I didn't even know that he was friends with Dave."

Snow moved her shoulders uneasily. "I don't really know. I used to zone out and just look at Seth's mouth when he talked about it. So I guessed it really worked, 'cause I used to feel pretty calm."

Chris shook his head. "I'm from Oklahoma, we don't have any of that shit. I thought we were goin' to the park to shoot some hoops, and when I come out of the men's room, Dave is sitting at a picnic table with Seth and Michelle and that kid Vinnie, talking about the annihilation of self, or of selfishness, or something. I thought chakras had something to do with sex, but I guess not."

"Dave talks about chakras to you?" Snow said, awed.

"Fuck, no. But he knows all that shit," Chris said, with pride. "There's
some weird New Age music radio show that they all listen to, and one of the musicians is having a concert. Michelle is using the music to
skate to."

"Jesus," Snow said. "Isn't she too young for tantric sex?"

"I think she's over eighteen," Chris said. "Sex, hell. Vinnie and Michelle just want to talk about life and the hero's journey and stuff. Vinnie's writing poetry." They both shuddered.

***

"I'm not one bit upset about Nicky," Eliza said. "He'll chill out." She
was still looking at wedding cake designs.

"What if he doesn't?" Jules asked.

Jess nodded. "I mean, shouldn't you talk?"

"I will. If he doesn't chill out and come back, I'm gonna get my daddy and my brothers and their truck, and they're gonna come out here and make him see reason." She flicked her cigarette onto the concrete apron of the loading dock, and ground it out with more force than strictly necessary. "Feel free to pass that on, Jess."

Jess's eyes widened. "You really want me to?"

"That's why she said it," Jules sighed. "I swear."

"Kelly doesn't think we should get involved," Jess said. "He says we should stay out of the line of fire."

"Kelly's a smart guy," Jules said.

"Kelly's a wuss," Eliza scoffed. "He's doesn't want Nicky to get married because he's terrified that you'll think sneaky bridal thoughts."

Snow bounded out. "Okay, kiddies, it's your turn for the insurance lecture. Chris has got it down to three minutes."

"She looks disgustingly satisfied," Jules said to Eliza.

"Well-satisfied, one might say," Jess said to Jules.

"Like a woman who has not one but two men in her bed, and me right now depending on my good old B.O.B.," Eliza said to them.

"Bitches," Snow said smugly. "I can't help it that I'm too much woman for just one---ouch!"

****

Chris was speed-droning the latest union agreement on insurance benefits to the small group in the coffee room, when he looked up and saw David, standing in the doorway, arms folded.

Damn, his boy's shoulders almost filled up the frame.

Everyone but Snow was reading the hand-outs, and she twisted around in her seat to see what Chris was looking at. She turned back to face him, grinning.

Jesus, he didn't need to have a ceremony. The big man already owned him.

Part 42

Alexis and Dave swapped shifts, and half the employees swapped with them, sothey could stay with Their Own True Manager.

Which meant that Snow had to get up at farmer's hours to bake. It wasn't as bad as she thought it would be, because she had usually had to cover for missing employees and sudden quits. Eliza came with her, of course, because then she didn't have to see Nicky when he came by in the afternoon.

Nathan couldn't change shifts, yet, but Adam could and did, so Snow was assured of always having one man in bed with her whenever she wanted.

"And I do," she told Jules, at Pancake Heaven. "I feel like a sex maniac."

"Only because you are," Jules said absently. "Why do you think Alexis wanted to swap? Lord knows Dave is Mr. Natural, he'll do whatever."

"Mr. Natural?"

"You know, all---you should excuse the term---zen. He's like, oh, that's cool, whatever. It'll work out." Jules leaned forward. "Nicky is staying with Dave."

Snow's eyes widened. "Really?"

"Yeah. Maybe he'll learn a few things."

Snow spit coffee onto the tabletop.

::

Nicky was pretty cool with Chris and Dave. They didn't act like it was a big secret, or ask him to keep it quiet. They didn't give a damn, and, after the first night, neither did Nicky. Dave was still the guy who focused with efficiency and determination on everything he did, whether it was play golf, manage the grocery store, or doing laundry. He regarded Chris' singing and guitar-playing with bemused pride.

Chris, on the other hand, seemed awed by David's athletic skill. "He's a natural athlete," Chris told Nicky, as they watched David tee up."Played high school ball, basketball, hockey, until he blew his knee out. I'd like to see him play softball."

"You missed it last spring," Nicky said, cleaning his sunglasses. "That's the game where Adam spiked him."

"That guy that almost got into it with us at the bar?" Chris asked.

"Yeah. The one who's in a threesome with Nathan and Snowy."

Chris leaned over, and spat into the grass.

Man, Oklahoma guys were scary, Nicky thought.

::


An ignorant observer would have thought that David was taking advantage of the situation by moving in on Eliza. And in fact, James drove by and saw David's car in the driveway, and promptly called Jules and made a sidebet on it.

And, actually, if he'd gone to the window and peered in, he would have had more reason to believe that the manager was romancing Eliza, because he was holding her on his lap.

Of course, she was crying.

"You're doing the right thing," David said. "He's gonna come around. Don't worry. He can't eat and he can't sleep. He's really off his golf game, too."

Eliza raised her head from his shoulder. "He's losing money on golf?" she said hopefully.

"Yeah, E. Listen, now that he can't spy on you in the afternoon, he's gonna crack. I'm telling you, give him a week."

"You're workin' on him?" Eliza asked.

"He's sort of seeing the advantages of being a couple," David said seriously.

::

"The only good thing about this shit, is that E's forgotten about using a Wrestlemania theme on the wedding cake," Snow said, smoking outside the shipping dock.

"I thought it was monster trucks?" Nathan asked. He had stopped by to bring Snow her lunch.

"No, no, that was before the NASCAR them," Jess replied. "See, they couldn't agree on 3 or 8, and then someone was suggesting Tony Stewart and it all went to hell."

"I can do a numeral," Snow said impatiently. "I do the car cakes all the time. It's drawing the wrestlers that got to me."

"I'm telling you, David was at Eliza's house," James said. "Why don't you listen?"

"You're too pretty," Jules said. "Or you were, before you got that fucking buzz cut."

"My hair's getting gray," he objected.

"You look like my old flock-headed Ken doll," Snow said brutally.

"Hey, guys!" Mercedes said, sticking her head outside, "Have you met our new pharmcist?"

They all turned around to see a slender, beautiful black woman behind Mercedes.

"I'm Gina," she said.

Jules instinctively put herself between Gina and James. Vinnie, walking outside to smoke, nearly fell off the loading dock. Nathan let a match burn down to his fingertips and dropped it, cursing.

Jules and Snow looked at each other. Snow had a bad feeling about this.

Part 43

Nicky felt itchy inside his skin, all the time. No one tried to talk to him about Eliza, or the wedding that wasn't, or anything. He never saw Eliza, now, at work, because she was gone before he made his rounds. No one ignored him, either; it was just...weird.

He went to the HurrySundown with Seth and Michelle and Vinnie, and met Jess and Kelly there. They all avoided the subject. Jess even introduced him to Gina, the gorgeous pharmacist, and yeah, they was kind of cool. She kept getting drinks sent to her, and she only laughed.

She reminded him of E.

So he went back to Chris's. He was going to have to find someplace to live, eventually, if he could get his stuff out of E's and out of storage. The guys didn't care how long he stayed, they said so. He was starting to feel like he was in a movie called Nicky and His Two Daddies.

This evening, Dave was making spaghetti sauce, with furrowing of his brow. He was stirring something in a pan, surrounded by little bowls of sausages, onions, peppers, tomato, and other chopped-up stuff.

Chris straddled a kitchen chair, glass of red wine in hand. "Don't talk to him," he cautioned Nicky. "He has to visualize how his mom makes this. Back in Oklahoma, we just open a jar of Ragu."

"Fucking cowboy," Dave said, tasting his mixture with a wooden spoon. His cell phone rang, and he pulled it out, looking at it. He turned down the flame under his sauce, and started talking to someone, going to a schedule tacked on a cork board.

"Get a glass," Chris said. "This is some of the good stuff I got from Seth before he started sitting in the lotus position."

Dave was flipping through a calendar. He put the phone to his chest. "How're the noodles coming?" he asked Chris.

Chris got up, fished a couple of strands of spaghetti out with the wooden spoon, and flung them at the wall above the stove. They stuck. "It's done," he said.

Nicky and Dave exchanged glances.

"What?" Chris asked. "Is it supposed to stick or not? I forget."

"No, I don't know when I want vacation," David said into the phone. "I'll get back to you." He flipped the phone shut. "When do you want to take vacation?" he asked Chris, firmly removing the spoon from his hand. "Nicky, sit down." Dave took the spaghetti pot off the stove and drained it, in a cloud of steam.

"He wants to get a new faucet so he can fill his spaghetti pot," Chris said, pouring wine for everyone. "This is some of Snowy's garlic bread....I thought you were going to the bar this evening?"

Nicky suddenly felt like he'd put his foot in it. "Hey, listen, I can---if you guys---hell."

David brought the pasta to the table. "Nah, it's fine, Nicky, I made enough for you. You aren't interrupting anything."

"We'll tell you to get your ass out when we get tired of you," Chris said, his mouth full of bread. He reached over and slapped him on the shoulder. "Lighten up, dude. We like having you around---you're the tie-breaking vote around here."

It wasn't eating spaghetti and meatballs with them, though, that made Nicky want to be back as part of a couple, though. It was something later that night.

Nicky went out to his car to get his laptop, and stopped in the driveway,
listening to the sounds of the crickets. Far away, he saw a flash in the clouds, and later, the low rumble of thunder. Walking back to the kitchen through the carport, he smelled cigarette smoke, and heard voices. He started to go out and get a smoke, and then, stopped, not wanting to interrupt something.

"Mississippis," David said lazily. "That's how you count the miles the storm is from you."

"I thought that was the times a cricket chirps in a minute."

"That's how you tell the temperature, asshole."

Nicky, in his sneakers, started around to the deck. David was sprawled, all long limbed-grace, on the middle step. The red eye of his cigarette arced slowly as he raised it to his mouth. Chris sat on the step above him, his arm around David, palming his neck.

"Nicky, how do you tell the temperature with a cricket?" Chris asked.

Nicky sat down on the step beside David and accepted a cigarette. "I need to go see Eliza," he said.

David blew out a cloud of smoke. "Yep."



Eliza had changed the locks at the house, all the curtains were drawn, and her cell was turned off. Nicky couldn't tell if her car was in the garage or not. It was raining hard, and he was starting to get soaked. Eliza had prickly holly and rose bushes around all the windows, so it was insane to peer into it. The doorbell was still disconnected from when she had worked nights and slept days.

He pounded on the door a few times, but the skies were against him,because thunder rolled overhead when he did. "Fuckity fuck fuck fuck," he swore, feeling his shoes squish.

Through the rain, he saw headlights coming slowly, then pulling into the driveway. A door opened, and Eliza jumped out and ran up the steps. "What do you want?" she shouted over the rain and thunder, not angry, just trying to be heard.

He fell on his knees in front of her. She was still holding her jacket over her head with one hand, but she held the other, shaking, to him. He saw that she still wore his engagement ring.

He pressed his mouth to her hand, and then she was kneeling with him, scraping her wet hair back from her face with her free hand, kissing him.


In the car, James handed Jules five dollars, and Amber gave her ten.

Part 44

"Why are all these people dying?" Snow raged to Manager David. He was busy calling other stores. So far, James had left to go have a broken finger splinted; there was no one available to fry chickens or cook the Chinese food, due to relatives dying; Kelley, the whole foods chef, had left for vacation; it was frozen truck day, Corporate wanted them to start a new bread program, and the phone wouldn't stop ringing for the Bakery. And the phone operator's biological mother was dying.

"I swear these people have died already," David muttered. "J. is
coming to cook Chinese, Dess is coming in for the cafe, I'll go fry some chickens, and you call your boyfriend Nate and get him in here."

"Not in the bakery!" Snow said, alarmed. "I can't handle hormones in the bakery!"

"Since when? Where the hell is Jess and Jules and E?"

"Eliza is frying doughnuts, Jules is getting the boxes in."

The phone kept ringing.

::

Gina, the pharmacist, made a point of asking Snow if she wanted to try the free blood pressure test. "You're under so much stress. Are you going to get that?"

Snow ignored the phone. "Nope."

Contrary to Snow's fears, Nathan was handily re-stocking the shelves and snapping on the labels Stupid Adam wanted them to use. He had enough experience with Corporate to work well under pressure.

Snow wiped her forehead, leaving a streak of white icing. "I know I'm under stress. I don't havetime to pee, much less take a BP test!"

Gina reached a beautifully shaped hand and wiped Snow's forehead.

"You had some icing," Gina purred. She put her finger in her mouth.

Snow felt her blood pressure going up.

"She was totally coming on to you," Nathan hissed.

Snow stared at him. "You know, a threesome is one thing, but a foursome is an orgy."

"Bakery, line one. Bakery, line two."

Nathan unplugged the phone.

::

J was opening up packages of frozen vegetables and dumping them into his wok.

Dess looked over the counter, scandalized. "You're using frozen when there's beautiful vegetables in the Produce Department."

J didn't look up. "No time. I got to get the food ready before lunch."

"Please don't tell me you're using---can't you make vegetarian egg rolls?"

J looked up. "You must be a vegan," he said. "Not so many of our customers, here, are."

"Still---"

"Girl, I have business. Go cook your tofu."

Dess balled up a napkin and threw it at him.

::

"Got an accident report for you to sign," Chris said. "Why the fuck do you smell like Colonel Sanders?"

David puffed on his cigarette and ignored him.

Chris turned to Snow. "Why does Dave smell like fried chicken?"

Snow had been sitting atop the picnic table, her head leaned on one hand. She raised her eyes. "Because he's been frying chickens. The families of our store have been visited with a fuckin plague of relatives droppin' like flies."

Adam came on the loading dock and made a beeline for Snow, getting out his cigarettes. Chris' eyes narrowed. He leaned to one side and spit over the metal grate. "Playin' softball this year, Adam?" he asked. Adam looked startled, and a slight smile began to appear on David's face.

"I need to get back," Snow said hurriedly.

"Sure, babe," Adam said. "Just wanted to see if you were up for me cookin' dinner for you all tonight, since you're under the gun."

"Sure," Snow said, dragging him back into the employee's lounge and away from Chris' narrowed-eyed glare. "Love it, you know I love whatever you cook..."

They bumped into Gina. "Snowy!" Gina said. "Is this Adam? Nathan was just, oh, filling me in."

Adam regarded her with pleasure. "Was he?"

"Bakery, line one, Bakery line two," the operator was saying, almost tearfully.

::

Eliza and Nicky were sleeping the sleep of the completely fucked out, when both their cells went off. Eliza, who was always energized by good make-up sex, snagged hers first. "Yeah? Nah. Really? Oh, five to one." She clicked off and got the other one. "Yep? Three to two, and that's it."

Nicky lay with eyes resolutely closed. "Who's zoomin' who?"

Eliza pounced on his chest. "James was coming back from the clinic, and he said that Nathan and Adam and Gina, the pharmacist are all parked at Snow's house, and all the lights are off."

"And now we've reached a place of betting where no one has gone before," Nicky murmured. "What happened to Seth and Vinnie and Michelle?"

"Vinnie isn't doing anything," Eliza said dismissively. She reached for her cell.

"Don't call---" Nicky bit it off.

Eliza laughed. "I'm turning it off. James will kill the odds, he's probably calling everyone. Snow still swears she saw him having a drink with Chris, a couple of months ago."

Nicky sat up. "Oh, shit. Listen, E, about Chris---"

::

Chris sat behind David in the tub, scrubbing vigorously. "I don't think this fruity shampoo is going to do the job. You need a man's shampoo." Just the sight of David's broad, wet shoulders, the suds sliding down the groove of his spine, was killing Chris.

David, relaxed, said, "You don't have to do this. I've been washing my own hair for years."

"Nope. I don't want to be thinking of KFC when I'm tryin' to sleep."

David turned in the tub, sloshing. "You're planning on sleeping?"

Damn, his boy was killing him.

Part 45

James and Chris had both shown up on open mike night at the Hurry_Sundown, guitars in hand. Oddly enough, they got along well. James quickly got off the stage and let Chris have it. Which was kind of gratifying, Chris thought.

Chris had been sending demos to Nashville for a while, too, but he was more than startled to get an e-mail, followed by a letter, from an agent who wanted to try to sell his song-writing skills. He took the letter to the only lawyer he knew, the union one. She cautiously agreed that yes, the guy was legit. "Please tell me that's all you wanted me to do---look at this fax?" she said.

Chris grinned. Into the phone, he said, "Why, yes. Why would you think
anything else?"

"Because your local scares the hell out of me? Really? Well, then, see you at the quarterly meeting."

He hung up on her, then hit the phone to tell David.

"Yeah?" David said into the phone. He sounded as upset as though he'd found out next hockey season was cancelled, too.

"Just some news, big guy. Hell breaking loose, as usual?"

"Yeah, J switched over to handle the chickens for me---he's the best cook in the region---"

"Yeah, and he wants to stay up here," Chris said.

"Well, he's already said it's him or Dess. I don't need this shit."

"Snow got enough people for the bakery?" Chris asked. "Because she looked ready to blow."

"Jesus," David said, prayerfully, and hung up.

::

Snow staggered into Pancake Heaven, holding her back.

Eliza looked up from her omelet. "So, you took yesterday off to have sex with your orgy, huh?"

Snow flung herself into the booth without even taking off her coat. "I was in freaking Fresno. In meetings."

Nicky finished chewing toast. "Meetings? Why?" Eliza's scooping foot missed his leg, and it connected with Jess' shin.

"Shit!" Jess squealed. "What---"

But it was not enough distraction. Snow had already spread her hands flat on the table. "Oh, yes, Bakery Managers have meetings. And they ARESONOTFUN!!!" She made histrionic sobbing noises. Eliza patted her. "The first three hours was a bunch of accounting bullshit. Like I care! I'm a baker! Give me some bread! Give me some cakes to decorate! Cock cakes! I don't care! I didn't go to college!! Help! Then they explained the new inventory and finally, finally let us go. I sat between poor Manager Dave---"

"Hey, wait," Eliza said. "You spent the day with David!"

"This was his FOURTH meeting and his day off---"

"Man, I bet some people weren't happy," Eliza chortled. Nicky's footdid connect with her leg, and she shut up.

"Who?" Jess asked innocently.

"David," Eliza said, staring narrow-eyed at Nicky.

Snow said, melodramatically, "Do you want to hear about my pain or not? "

Cindee came over and gave her a cup of coffee.

"And the psycho~bitch from hell, the old manager! It was like sitting next to a hyper two year old on crack and sno-cones. COULDNOTSITSTILL. If she was my two year old? I would have keeeeeled her. She turns to me and says 'God, I just can't sit still for another four hours. I can't sit down all day like this.' I think I bit my tongue so hard it bled in an attempt to NOT say ..."

"Could have fooled me, because that's ALL you fucking did for a year and a half at my store!" Eliza finished. "Bitch!"

"Sat on your ass in the office and played on the internet. Bitch. So I was between crazybitcholdstoremanager and poor Dave. Who spent the last three hours sighing." Snow was getting out her cigarettes, and stopped, looking seriously at Nicky and Eliza. "Dudes. I love David."

Jess got up to go to the restroom.

"Chris may have somethin' to say 'bout that," Eliza smirked.

Snow's eyes got huge. "Dude! You know!" She struggled out of her coat, and Nicky hastily plucked the lit cigarette out of her mouth before she set her lining on fire.

"Yeah, we know," Nicky said. "Shit, I was stayin' with them. I knew
right away." He gave her the cigarette back. "How long have you known?"

"Since the knee surgery. Do they know you know?"

"Hell, it was like," Nicky hesitated, and mentally shrugged, "Nicky Has Two Daddies," and the girls doubled over, wheezing cigarette smoke. "All, 'Have a beer' and 'I made steak' and 'Game's on' and 'Let's go hit a few.' I mean, I knew Dave was all OCD with the house-cleaning, but Chris is using coasters." He looked around, impressively.

"Holy crap, it's the fourth sign of the apocalypse," Eliza said. "Hey, where's Jess? Did she fall in?" She craned her head.

Snow smirked. "I just saw your brother-in-law going into the women's restroom..."

Nicky held his head in his hands. "We're gonna get banned." He sat up. "But no one else knows, or knows that we know, right?"

"Yeah, but I think Seth knows some thing. He was always saying stuff, and I just thought it was more Zen shit." Snow elaborately plucked a hair from her sweater sleeve.

Eliza cocked an eyebrow at her. "Hmmm. Foursome a bit much to handle?"

Snow sighed. "Word. If they'd only just fuck all the time, but now they're talking about feelings. I already had that."

::

"Remember Christine?" David asked.

Chris shuddered, and made the sign against the Evil Eye.

"Why are you flashing gang-signs at me?" David frowned.

Jeeze. "Good thing you're pretty," Chris told him. "What about Christine?"

"She was at the meeting, sitting on the other side of Snow. I thought Snow
was going to turn on her and stab her to death with a number two pencil. Hand me that clamp."

"I hope you know what you're doing," Chris mumbled. David didn't bother to answer. He was applying wood-glue to one of the kitchen chairs. "I know what I'm doing. You're the idiot that wanted to have sex on the kitchen table."

"You're the one who keeps going to meetings on his day off," Chris grinned. "And the one who broke the chair."

David straightened up, one hand on the small of his back. "Hot tub?" he asked hopefully.

"How about shower, first, hot tub after?" Chris asked, solictiously taking his arm. "Let me help you."

"Bite me, asshole."

"I will."



*whew*
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