As quickly as possible, she pulled on her red bodysuit and loose pants, not bothering with the underwear. She sensed Leo watching from the doorway of his bedroom and heat pressed in behind her eyes. “I could come watch you dance sometime,” he said.
Oh God. How far had she expected to take this lie?
“Yeah. I don’t know,” she returned, standing and shouldering her bag without turning around. “That would be like, a really big step. You know?”
Leo said nothing.
The acidic words that would end their budding relationship completely sat heavily on her tongue, but she couldn’t bring herself to say them. To outright hurt him. It was hard to believe, but in a short space of time, she’d fallen for Leo. Causing him pain simply wasn’t in her repertoire. Reese schooled her features and turned, sending him a quick smile over her shoulder.
“I should run,” she blurted, turning the deadbolt lock and jogging out into the hallway, out of the building and onto the sidewalk, the memory of his somber expression haunting her all the way back to her rented closet.
Leo stared through gritty eyes at the cheerfully written note on the dry erase board.
Today is Saturday the sixth. Only eight days until Valentine’s Day!
He pounded his fist into the pastry dough a little harder than necessary, wanting nothing more than to scrap the Sweetest Fix idea. It might have great margins and invited more local interest in the bakery, but every time Jackie handed him a new order, he thought of Reese and the way he fucked everything up so spectacularly. Asking to see her perform had been too much too soon. He could still remember the way her shoulders stiffened at the suggestion.
Buying a ticket to a performance might not seem like a huge deal to most, but in the world of behind the scenes Broadway, it means things were tipping toward serious. If he’d just taken a moment to think, he might have taken a more cautious approach with Reese. After all, she’d originally turned him down for a date before grudgingly agreeing. Then she’d tried to cancel. When he finally got her pinned down—literally and figuratively—he’d read way too much into her interest. Assumed it matched his own.
Obviously it didn’t, since she wasn’t returning his texts.
Meanwhile he couldn’t go two minutes without remembering the shape of her in his arms while she slept, the memory of her smiling beside him on the couch. The way she’d murmured into his neck and cuddled closer, her knee bumping into his thigh. He thought how the sunlight in his apartment set off gold in her hair, highlighted her unique combination of determination and fatigue. And God, he thought of the unbelievable sex. Without her hiccupping calls of his name, the bedroom had been deadly silent for the last three days. God, just knowing sex that incredible even existed had him beating off twice as often as usual, visions of a climaxing Reese playing in his head.
Thanks to his screw up, whatever they’d had was over before it started.
Leo realized his fists were buried unmoving in the dough, his gaze staring at nothing in the distance. With a swallow, he resumed his task. Of course the first time he really liked a girl, wanted to see a lot more of her, she ghosts him.
Although…there was something about her manner when they woke up from the nap that still didn’t sit right with Leo. Maybe it was presumptuous of him to hold the gut belief that he knew Reese well enough to judge her behavior as Reese-like or non-Reese-like. There was no help for it, though, dammit. Did he imagine the unique sense of…homecoming between them? Was it possible the connection he’d felt had only been one-sided?
Of course it was. He’d always been a loner. The one time he’d made a friend growing up, he’d misread the guy’s intentions, too, completely missing the ulterior motive. Keeping to himself was easier than trying to be social, but that decision was now biting him in the ass, because he had little experience with interpersonal relationships. How to read someone.
It hadn’t seemed like he needed those skills with Reese. With her, everything had been easy. But he must have been wrong. Must have misread a sign somewhere along the way.
Leo threw the pastry dough into a pie tin, shaping it with his fingers. He poured in the apples and cinnamon filling, forming a lattice pattern over the top with ribbons of dough. With the final pie of the morning in the oven, he found himself unable to settle on the next task, his feet moving to the back exit, instead. Maybe some air would clear his head enough of thoughts of Reese to do his damn job.
He propped the door open with a broom and stepped out onto the sidewalk, the cold February air dropping his body temperature by several degrees on contact. On a weekday, even this early in the morning, there would be a ton of foot traffic by now. But on a Saturday, there was only the odd person walking their dog or braving the early morning chill for coffee and a newspaper. It was silent enough that Leo could hear the tinkling of the bell over the door in the Cookie Jar. He’d only closed his eyes briefly, a drowsy, smiling Reese filtering into his thoughts, when a voice effectively broke that silence.
“Leo, right? Are you Leo Bexley? Oh my God. This is perfection.”
One eye popped open to find two young people, a girl and a guy dressed way too nice for a Saturday. They were standing in his personal space. “Why?”
“You own the Cookie Jar,” the girl pointed out.
Leo raised an eyebrow, impatient for her to continue. He hadn’t gotten enough sleep in the last three nights for this shit. The guy jumped in, instead, waving his phone in the air. “You might know us? I’m Daschul. This is Rylee. We’re the VIP Section on TikTok. We review restaurants in Manhattan. Just hit a million followers yesterday.”
They seemed to be waiting for a reply, so Leo said, “Congratulations, I guess?”
“Oh my God. Thanks,” cooed Rylee. “Daschul’s friend’s stepsister posted about the Sweetest Fix thing you’re doing, but like, no one follows her boring ass, so we’re going to do it better. Can we TikTok in the bakery?”
“You should let us. Seriously. We have a million followers and that doesn’t include YouTube, so…” Daschul trailed off, swiping through his phone. Which he then promptly held up to start filming Leo.
“Nope,” Leo said, turning to go back inside.
“Hey VIPs,” Rylee exclaimed, stopping Leo with a hand on his elbow. “We’re here with Leo Bexley, owner of the Cookie Jar on Ninth. If you’re looking for a gift for that special someone, or if you’re just trying to like, hook up, the Cookie Jar came up with a low-key gift idea that we are officially recommending.” She stopped to execute a baffling series of dance steps. “It’s called the Sweetest Fix, kiddies. Link in our IG bio for this cozy widdle West Side bakery. Just tell Leo about your significant other or booty call or whatever and he’ll whip up a personalized cake pop.”