With a piece of yellow chalk, Jessica wrote the day’s muffins on the blackboard behind the counter.
Blueberry. Banana Chocolate Chunk. Apple Cheddar... and Morning Glory.
Returning the chalk to the board’s ledge, she looked up at the name of the bakery scrolled across the top of the blackboard in cursive writing.
Taste of Home.
A sense of familial pride filler her. Her parents, George and Linda, had opened Taste of Home almost three decades ago. Making a business a success wasn’t easy, and her parents had done it. The quality of product they offered had established them as one of the most popular bakeries in the city.
Jess had started working in the bakery’s storefront when she was sixteen and she had no plans to ever work anywhere else. She was happy where she was. She had no professional aspirations.
She did, however, have romantic aspirations. She wanted to meet that special someone, eventually have a family. But, that didn’t seem likely to happen any time soon.
Her last relationship had ended over a year ago. It had just kinda fizzled out. And she hadn’t met anyone since. Getting stood up by Scott at Rigatoni’s, was just the latest disappointment in her disappointing love life.
The bell over the door tinkled behind her, signaling a customer had walked in.
Turning at the sound, Jessica saw it was her brother Josh, and Henry. The two came in most mornings for coffee and a bite on their way to work. Her brother she was always happy to see, Henry... not so much.
“Hey.” she said, addressing them both, moving to lean against her side of the counter that separated them.
They both had on steel-toed, heavy duty boots, jeans, and black T-shirts with their company’s name and logo on it.
‘Men with Tools - Let us do it for you.’
Jessica found their name and logo amusing. If one had a dirty mind, like she did, one might hear an invitation for two men to use their ‘tools’ for something other than handy work.
“Hey.” Josh echoed. He approached and stopped in front of the display of baked goods, perused the pastries. “Heard you got stood up last night.” he commented after a moment.
Jessica levelled a disgruntled look at Henry. Had he really had to share her embarrassing date flop?
She knew her brother wasn’t going tease her about it like Henry had last night, but still, she didn’t need her personal business bandied about.
“What?” Henry raised his hands in the air in the face of her stank eye. “He asked about my date and I mentioned that I saw you...”
“Whatever, ‘muffin’.” she replied with a roll of her eyes.
“Muffin?” Josh asked with a smirk, gaze shifting to Henry, who - judging by the dry look he was now throwing her way - was unamused by her use of Trixie’s nickname for him.
“His date last night called him that.” Jessica helpfully explained, gaze sliding to Josh then back to Henry. “How did things go with Trixie, muffin?” she asked.
“Trixie? Your date’s name was Trixie?” Josh asked. “Isn’t there a cereal called that?”
“That’s Trix.” Jessica and Henry said in unison.
“And my date was okay.” Henry replied to her question. “Better than yours I’d say.”
“Ouch.” Josh said with a wince for Jessica.
“Better no date, than a date with that airhead.” she replied with a chin jut. “But I guess a neanderthal like you likes airheads because you can understand them.”
So there, you big jerk.
Josh snorted. “Alright, you guys, back to your corners...” he said. “... can I get an apple danish and a coffee, Jess?” he asked after a beat.
Reining in her annoyance with Henry, Jessica bagged up the danish her brother ordered and set a paper cup on the counter for him to fill at the coffee station set up along the opposite wall.
“And for you?” she asked Henry as Josh crossed the room. She grabbed up her tongs once more, hovering them over the muffins. “Would ‘muffin’ like a muffin?”
“You’re never gonna stop calling me that, are you?” Henry asked, his tone and expression dry.
Jessica shrugged. “You stop calling me Maybel, I’ll stop calling you muffin.” she proposed, fully expecting him to not agree to that.
“Deal.” Henry agreed.
His unanticipated response was a pleasant surprise.
That new agreement freshly made between them, she took Henry’s order, bagged up a cheese danish for him and set out another cup.
Once the boys had both gotten their coffee and were back standing across the counter from her again, she rang up their items.
“That’ll be $7.95.”
The guys dug out their wallets and provided their half.
“Have a good one, Jess.” Josh said over his shoulder as he and Henry started out the door.
“You too.” she smiled back.
She and Henry didn’t bother with pleasantries. They’d agreed to no more name calling, they hadn’t become friends again.
Sunday evening Jessica let herself into her parents house. Sunday was family dinner night at George and Linda’s.
She ditched her shoes and jacket at the door. While they were well into spring and the days were warm, the evenings were still cool, so she’d brought her jacket for later.
She headed for the kitchen at the back of the house where her folks were sure to be.
“Hey,” Jess greeted her mom and dad.
The two of them were chopping vegetables, her mom at the island, her dad facing away from her at the counter behind her mom.
“Can I help with anything?” she asked.
“Hey, hon,” her mom replied, pausing her chopping and looking up at her daughter with a welcoming smile. “No thanks. We got things under control.”
They always did.
Jessica sat on one of the stools at the island, across from where her mom was working. Not five minutes after she arrived, the sounds of Josh entering the house reached the kitchen. He was talking with someone.
Jessica inwardly cringed. Ugh. He’d brought Henry. It wasn’t uncommon for him to do so. Henry was such a part of their family, that when Sunday had been set aside as family dinner night by George and Linda after Jess and Josh had moved out on their own, her folks had extended an invite (via Josh) to Henry to come join them for dinner whenever he wanted.
“Hey.” Josh said, coming into the kitchen, Henry right behind him.
“Hey.” Jess mumbled, not happy with her brother’s plus one.
George and Linda greeted the boys, who took seats on either side of Jess at the island.
Jessica’s guard went up now that Henry was nearby. Though he was usually better behaved with her at Sunday dinners, thanks to the presence of her folks, she was still ready to deflect or ignore.
“Anything we can help with?” Josh asked.
“No, everything’s taken care of.” her mom replied. “Supper should be ready in half an hour or so.”
Her mom was right on the mark. About thirty minutes later, they were transferring the food from the stove to the dining table, and sitting down to eat.
Her parents took seats at either end of the table, while Josh and Henry sat on one side and Jessica sat across the table from them.
Conversation was light as they ate the chicken and vegetables her folks had prepared. What they’d cooked up was delicious, as always.
Once plates were empty, stomachs were full, and clean up had been taken care of, they all moved into the living room to watch some TV.
Her mom and dad sat together on the loveseat, which left Jessica no choice but to sit on the sofa with Josh and Henry. Thankfully, her brother took the middle seat, putting her and Henry at opposite ends of the sofa.
Grabbing up the remote, Jess turned on the big screen TV and flipped through channels, eventually landing on a movie everyone agreed to watching, a comedy.
The fact that her parents didn’t make it all the way to the end of the movie didn’t surprise her. They had such early mornings with the bakery, they never stayed up much later than nine.
She would have gone home when they went to bed, but she’d gotten into the movie. It was pretty funny, had her laughing out loud a few times.
Distracted by the comedy, she didn’t think anything of being left alone with Henry when Josh got up and went to the bathroom.
In a move she didn’t see coming, Henry reached across the sofa and relieved her of the TV remote, nabbing it right out of her hand.
“Hey.” she snapped, glaring over at him.
“I just wanna check the score on the game.” Henry said, as if that excused his rudeness.
“Well, it’s on commercial.” she pointed out after he’d changed the channel. “Put it back on the movie.” she ordered, reaching her arm across the sofa seat between them, hand out for the remote, fingers making a ‘gimme’ motion.
“Just wait a second.” Henry said.
Um, no thanks.
“Put it back.” she repeated, leaning across the sofa now, grabbing for the remote.
In response, Henry stuck his arm up in the air and back, away from her, making her attempts to reach it futile.
Grrr. Why did he have to have such long arms? Why did he have to be such an immature boy?
Shifting over to the seat beside Henry, she leaned into him, tried to pluck the remote out of his hand. Henry chuckled, switched the remote to his other hand.
The fact that he found her annoyance funny, only upped her level of annoyance.
Determined to win this stupid little battle for the remote, she got up on her knees, swung a leg over Henry’s lap, straddling him, and stretched for the remote.
She almost... had it.
She’d got her hand wrapped around the top half of the remote, her victory literally at hand, when Henry went totally still beneath her.
Had she hurt him? Somehow injured his manhood?
Well, that would serve him right for being a gorilla-armed, immature jerk.
Keeping her hand on the remote, she shifted her gaze and discovered... she’d unknowingly pressed her boobs firmly into Henry’s face. His nose was wedged between her ladies.
What was even more awkward? She felt things... waking up underneath her.
Apparently, she hadn’t injured his favourite appendage, she’d woken it up.
Immediately letting go of the remote, she sat back over Henry’s knees, her gaze going to his semi-erection.
That was just an automatic male response, she quickly assured herself. It had nothing to do with her, personally. He was just responding to a woman in his lap and breasts in his face. While she’d been reaching for the remote, she must have been... rubbing... against him.
Yep. That had to be it. He couldn’t be getting aroused for her.
Realizing she was staring at his groin, Jessica cringed inwardly with embarrassment. She quickly lifted her gaze to Henry’s face, met his gaze. What she saw in his gaze fascinated her, and had her embarrassment melting away.
His eyes were heated... arousal and desire making them pools of molten chocolate.
The way he was looking at her sure felt personal.
Her thoughts stuttered with shock. Shock at what she was seeing... and shock at how she was reacting. Seeing the desire in Henry’s eyes, flipped a switch inside her, her libido quickly coming online. A buzz started in her ears. A warmth spread low in her belly.
She tried to ignore her body’s reaction to Henry, telling herself he was just hard up... he must not have taken Trixie to bed the other night. He was so desperate, she had gotten him aroused... just because she was the nearest female.
Her gut clenched with hurt when another possibility occurred to her - maybe he was messing with her.
That would be a new low for him. And if that was what he was doing, Jess was gonna rip him a new one.
Henry’s gaze flicked down to her lips. Jessica stilled, like a rabbit spotted by a fox. She stayed still as he slowly raised a hand to her face, brushed a strand of hair back behind her ear.
If she didn’t know better... she’d say Henry was about to kiss her... and she was about to let him... despite the fact that she suspected that he was either using her to scratch an itch or messing with her.
Holding her breath, she told herself Henry wasn’t about to kiss her. He couldn’t be.
But then, why was he leaning closer?
It took her a moment to realize she’d started leaning into him, too.
His mouth was inches from hers when the sound of Josh returning from the bathroom burst their intimate bubble.
Jessica practically jumped out of Henry’s lap and shot back to where she had been sitting at the opposite end of the sofa.
“Want a drink?” Josh asked, stopping in the doorway to the living room a bare moment after she’d moved.
Henry cleared his throat, casually adjusted his position.
“Sure.” he replied.
“Jess?” Josh asked, turning his gaze on her.
“No, thanks.” she replied.
Josh headed into the kitchen.
Feeling all kinds of confused over what had just almost happened , Jessica turned her attention to the television. She didn’t care what was on, she was just glad for the distraction. She didn’t dare look over at Henry.
Josh returned, a water in each hand.
He must have sensed the strange mood in the room because he looked at the both of them suspiciously before sitting between them again.
“Everything okay?” he asked the two of them as he handed Henry his water.
“Yup.” Henry and Jessica said in unison.
Their quick, synchronized reply only made Josh more suspicious. He looked between them again.
Jessica flicked her gaze to Henry, back to Josh. If her expression was as squirrelly as Henry’s was right then, she didn’t blame Josh for being suspicious.
“You guys have a little fight while I was gone?” Josh asked.
Of course he would assume that.
“No.” Henry answered.
Jessica met his gaze, quickly shifted her eyes back to her brother.
“We didn’t... fight.” Henry added, and sipped at his water.
A nervous little chortle escaped Jessica, which she covered with a cough.
Nope, they hadn’t fought.
They’d almost kissed!
After years of him being a pain in her ass, Henry had almost kissed her!
What the ever loving hell?
Henry could not follow the rest of the movie.
He’d almost kissed Jessica. He’d caught her by surprise, that had been obvious... but she hadn’t run away or smacked him up side the head.
No. She’d looked curious. Interest had come to life in her eyes. She would have welcomed his kiss, if Josh hadn’t interrupted them.
For a second... a millisecond, really... he’d been pissed with his best friend. He’d wanted to tell the guy to get lost. But, then Jessica had gotten off his lap and he’d come back to his senses. And once he’d come back to his senses, he hadn’t been pissed with Josh, he’d been grateful he’d interrupted his little moment with Jess.
Henry sighed inwardly.
He should be pissed with himself over what had just almost happened. But, he wasn’t. At least, not yet. He was still in disbelief over what had just almost happened.
Tomorrow morning he’d be plenty pissed with himself.