The lack of sleep was definitely beginning to creep up on Reese if the Pikachu’s words were carrying water. Where would she even begin trying to track down Bexley? In a city like this, he was a veritable needle in a haystack. Throw in the fact that he notoriously kept a low profile—
“Wait.” Her spine snapped straight and she started leafing through her bag. “On the way here, I was reading an article about him in Front and Center and he has…a son? Yes, a son. He owns a bakery or something. There was a quip made about him refusing to follow in his father’s footsteps…” She found the magazine and flipped to the dog-eared page. “Here it is. Bexley’s son, Leo, owns a bakery on the Upper West Side known for perfecting the classics.” She twisted her lips. “It doesn’t mention the name.”
“You have a phone, don’t you? Google it.”
“I will.” She fumbled for the device “I am. I really shouldn’t be doing this, tracking down Bexley’s son. It’s probably only going to piss him off.”
“Or he’ll respect your tenacity.”
“It’s not like he can blacklist me. I’ve never even been on the list in the first place. I mean, I really have nothing to lose at this point.”
“Now you’re thinking like a Times Square Pikachu.”
“The compliment of the century,” she muttered, making him laugh. “So what exactly am I doing here? Just breezing into the bakery and asking this stranger to give me an audience with his father? God, that’s so gross.”
“It won’t hurt to charm him a little.” He pinched his finger and thumb together. “Make him feel like a hero for helping you out.”
“That’s terrible advice. No. I’m going to walk in, be straightforward and hope for the best.” Her Google search yielded its results. “Okay, here it is.” She clicked on an article from Time Out titled “Whipping up Wonder on the UWS.” “Leo Bexley…ooh. It’s called The Cookie Jar. That’s pretty cute.” Reese stood and shouldered her bag. “I guess I better find somewhere to stay for the night first. Just in case it works out.”
They fist-bumped, knuckles to foam. “Break a leg, hon.”
“Thanks.” She shook her head. “I hope you don’t mind me saying this has been weird.”
A kid ran up asking for a picture and Link waved and turned away.
Reese looked down at the map on her phone, determining which way to walk and headed west, before cutting uptown at a brisk pace. In order to book a hotel room for the night, she would have to dip into what she called her Victory Fund. The bank account she and her mother added to occasionally, in case her dreams came true and she needed to move to New York on a dime. There wasn’t much saved, about enough to sublet a room for maybe a couple weeks before she started earning a paycheck.
But before she committed to that, she needed a miracle—and his name was Leo.
Leo leaned an ear toward the swinging door separating the Cookie Jar’s main floor from the back room where he did all of baking. It was creeping up on dinnertime, which usually led to a lull in customers, during which he would finally emerge from the back. At the moment, he could still hear unfamiliar voices, so he went back to piping white icing onto a red velvet cake, a deep groove of concentration between his brows.
Interacting with customers didn’t scare him or make him nervous. At twenty-eight, Leo just wasn’t one for small talk, especially since his tendency to let silences linger seemed to make people feel awkward. Why say something unless it was important or needed to be said?
Are you allergic to tree nuts?
Do you prefer milk chocolate or dark?
Those were pertinent questions.
Talking about the weather or politics didn’t make a lot of sense to him when an acquaintance had been made for the sole purpose of consuming calories, so he tended to do a ton of sighing while people peddled extra fast to be polite.
A lot of time that nervous chattering led customers to the inevitable question. Do you sample everything you make? And then they would look twice at Leo and realize what a ridiculous question that was, their faces turning the color of the red velvet cake. Of course he sampled everything. It showed—and then some—on his six-foot-three frame.
By staying in the back, Leo figured, he was saving everyone a lot of trouble. His confections did all the communicating. And if his customers wanted a conversation to go along with their coffee and cake, Jackie and Tad more than made up for Leo’s lack of verbal skills. Their voices were filtered through the door now, muffled, unmistakably cheerful. They’d said more words in the last five minutes than Leo had uttered in the last five weeks and never seemed to get exhausted. They were probably robots masquerading as humans, but they were a huge part of the reason customers returned to the Cookie Jar. Leo was smart enough to know he wouldn’t be half as successful without them.
Hoping to drown out the background noise and finish the piping before heading home, Leo started to pop in one of his earbuds, Nick Cave’s low rasp reaching out—
But he paused when he heard the tinkling of the bell out on the bakery floor and Jackie’s called greeting…followed by a voice that brought his head up, the piping bag lowering to the metal decorating table. Her tone was pleasantly accented, husky, smooth and feminine. Like a mixture of warm butter and cinnamon. Leo’s interactions with customers might be limited, but he was positive he’d never heard it before.
“Hello!” Jackie called. “What brings you to the Cookie Jar? Looking for a snack?”
“Well if I wasn’t,” murmured the voice, “the smell in here would have changed my mind. Do you sell this in a perfume?”
Jackie laughed. “Yes, but the trick is you have to walk through the doors to put it on. Once you leave, it’ll cling for about an hour. Unless you’re me and you work here eight hours a day. I can’t get the smell off with a scrub brush.”
A bright laugh. “Lucky you. Oh my God, everything looks amazing. Is that peppermint bark? After Christmas? You are doing the lord’s work.”
“I just sell the stuff. Leo makes it.”
There was a short pause. “Oh, is he…the head baker or…?”