The bell dinged, signaling the arrival of a late customer. Claire rolled her eyes, wishing more than anything that she could close the store and get home quickly. She plastered on a fake smile and walked out to greet the new guest. A sigh of relief echoed through the mostly empty room when she saw who it was.
“Oh thank god, it’s just you.”
“ Just me?” Jamie teased. “I’m so flattered, Sassenach.”
Claire scoffed, walking past him to turn the “Open” sign to “Closed.” “You know what I mean. I was afraid it was the type of person who comes in two minutes before closing time and wants the world.”
Claire paused and watched Jamie for a moment. “Yes, in fact, they are.” She started walking back behind the counter and into the kitchen. “Come on. If you’re here, you might as well help me.”
Jamie shrugged. “Very well.” He rolled back the sleeves of his button down shirt and prepared himself to help Claire close down the bakery. She’d allowed most of the employees to leave a few minutes earlier. On days like that day, she liked to take the time to close things down on her own. It reminded her of how it was in the beginning.
It had been 5 years since she opened her bakery, Sassenach Sweets. The name had been inspired by Jamie’s nickname for her. Really, it was a way to thank him. She had been in the trenches of medical school and hating it. After many tearful conversations over pizza and beer, Jamie told Claire to pursue her dreams and do what she really wanted to do. And what she really wanted to do was bake. Knowing she could never own her own bakery, Claire gave up hope pretty quickly. But fate, and then Jamie, had other plans. He’d been on a spur of the moment trip with his brother-in-law to New York City when he bought a lottery ticket as a joke and then won. 3.5 million dollars had completely changed Jamie’s life. And then he changed Claire’s. He gave her the money she needed to start her own bakery, including funds for the store and equipment. Achieving her dreams had all come down to his generosity and support. It was something she never forgot.
Glasgow had apparently been the perfect place to open Sassenach Sweets. Within two years, Claire was opening a second store on the other side of town, due to high demand. There were many days she still couldn’t believe she’d actually followed her dreams, and more than that, that she’d succeeded.
“What brought you by?” Claire asked as she stood at the sink, washing pans.
“Eh, I was just thinking about ye,” Jamie replied vaguely.
Claire looked over at him as he scrubbed at a baking sheet. “Why?” She asked, her eyes narrowing.
A small smirk bloomed on Jamie’s face. “I ran into someone ye ken.”
“Oh god. Who?”
“Frank,” Jamie confessed.
“Where on earth would you run into Frank?” Claire wondered.
“Apparently, we go to the same barber.”
“Hmmm. I wonder how that never came up in all that time,” Claire mused.
Jamie rolled his eyes. “Tis no’ as though the man was ever fond of me. Ye may recall that he often avoided interactions with me.”
“To be fair, you did as well,” Claire reminded him.
“I at least tried. He was yer man and I wanted to give him a chance. He canna say the same,” Jamie defended.
“He was just crappy all around.”
Jamie looked over at Claire and watched her for a moment. “Ye ken ye never told me the true reason why ye left Frank.”
“What? Yes I have!”
“No, no’ really,” he insisted. “Ye said it just wasna working out. Tha’s no’ a real reason.”
Claire breathed out a sigh. “Frank had this great idea that he was going to manage the bakery for me so that I could focus on big picture stuff. But he never really seemed to care about me or what I wanted. It just always seemed like he wanted to be able to claim some of the success. And I wasn’t having that. I did this on my own. Well, aside from you.”
Jamie interrupted her. “Nah, ye did it on yer own.”
Claire smiled to herself. “Okay, well anyway, it was right around the time that I was working out the logistics of opening the second store and he wanted a piece of it. I didn’t really have the time for a relationship and I didn’t want to be with someone who only wanted me for my success. So I ended things.”
Jamie nodded. “Well, I still say, good for ye.”
Claire laughed. “Thanks, I suppose. It’s been quite a while now.”
“He still asked about ye,” Jamie informed her.
“Oh Lord. What did you say?”
“I was spending so much time trying to decide if I wanted to make up some story about ye finding some handsome, rich man or talk about yer massive success and in the time it took me to decide, he started talking about himself,” Jamie recalled.
Claire snorted. “Sounds about right.”
“Aye, I thought so as well. Ye were far too good for him, Sassenach.”
She looked over at him with a smile. “Thanks,” she said softly.
They worked in silence for a bit. Jamie assured her that he could handle washing dishes while she disassembled machines and put away the leftover pastries. Tomorrow they’d go to the homeless shelter a few blocks away. Day old pastries didn’t sell and Claire refused to waste them. Every morning on her way to work, she’d drop off the left overs from the day before.
Jamie was the first one to break the silence. “So did I tell ye about the new lass at work?”
Claire shook her head. “No. I believe the last one you mentioned was Laoghaire and that crashed and burned pretty quickly.”
“Oh, aye, and for a good reason,” Jamie remembered with a shiver. “Anyway, there’s this new lass at the office. She’s French.”
“Did St. Germain bring her on?”
“Aye, he did. Recruited her himself apparently,” Jamie confirmed.
“And the fact that your boss that you hate approves of her doesn’t deter you at all?” Claire asked with a raised brow.
“Perhaps it should. But she’s just...mesmerizing. She’s tall and blonde. She’s beautiful. I find myself staring out the door of my office just to see if she’ll walk by,” Jamie told her, a far-off look in his eyes.
“Well, she sounds special,” Claire replied with an almost flat expression. “What’s the girl’s name?”
Jamie smiled. “Annalise.”
Claire nodded to herself, focusing on the task at hand. “So how many days are you betting it’ll take before you get her to go out with you?”
Jamie shrugged. “I canna say. She’s been rebuffing me a bit. So I thought I’d call in a favor.”
“A favor, hmm?” Claire asked. She knew just where he was going with this.
“Ye ken how sometimes ye’ll prepare those wee baskets of yer treats and I take them into the office?” Claire nodded. “Well I was wondering if ye’d be able to do that for me. Soon, perhaps.”
Claire sighed. “Fine. But you have to promise that John will get at least one of them. He’d kill me if he didn’t.”
Jamie laughed, his head tilting back. “But of course!” He walked over to Claire and wrapped her in a hug. “Ye’re the best, Sassenach.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
He pulled back and looked at her. “I mean it. Ye’re a wonderful friend. And the best investment I ever made.”
A reluctant smile crossed Claire’s face. Even if it was silly, she always found it a bit endearing when Jamie referred to her as his investment. He was the only one who’d ever helped her with the bakery who’d never asked for something back. And it was the only way their friendship had prevailed. He gave her the money, ignoring her demands that he keep it, and told her to follow her dreams. She’d toss ideas back and forth with him as a way of keeping him in the loop as an investor. Each time, he’d simply say her vision was perfect.
The constant reminder of his part in helping her was what always got her to agree to his crazy ideas, like pastry baskets for his office. She didn’t mind and would never make him pay, but it wasn’t as though her time was endless.
It was two days later, after closing time that Joe keyed into the store to visit with Claire. She was laying croissant dough on a pan, ready to put them in the oven. “I thought it was after close. You don’t usually start this part this early.”
“I’m making a pastry basket for Jamie’s work,” she told him.
“Oh. I always love when you do that for me too,” Joe said with a smirk.
“You men. One at a time, please,” she laughed.
“No worries. It’s a hospital. People bring food in all the time,” Joe admitted.
Joe and Claire had met in their first year of medical school. They’d quickly become very good friends, bonding over being some of the only non-scots in their program. Joe had continued on and become a doctor after Claire had dropped out to open the bakery. Aside from some light teasing, Joe had been nothing but supportive of Claire’s choice to change paths. Joe and Jamie had carried her emotionally (and occasionally physically) through the process of starting her own business and making it grow. She often wondered where she’d be without the both of them. The little baskets were usually a thank you when they weren’t serving as shameless self promotion.
“So how was the hospital today?” Claire asked.
“Kinda boring, actually,” Joe admitted. “What about the bakery?”
“Well it’s an hour after close and I’m working on more food,” Claire stated, pointing to the pan in front of her. “It’s not a normal day.”
“Why are you doing this one?”
“Jamie asked for it. He needs to impress some girl at work apparently,” Claire said with a mild scoff.
Joe sat down on a bar stool across from her. “And how does that make you feel?”
Claire’s head snapped up to look at Joe. “Excuse me?” Joe simply raised one eyebrow, his gaze still trained on her. “Why would that make me feel any sort of way?”
“Perhaps because of your feelings.”
Claire burst out laughing. “I don’t have feelings for Jamie.”
Joe leaned forward on the prep table. “Lady Jane, come on. You told me you did!”
“That was in medical school which was a long time ago,” Claire reminded him. “Also, I was drunk. A lot has happened since then. Whatever feelings I was having for Jamie were shut down the minute he became an investor in my company. Business leaves no room for feelings.”
“Mmhmm. Sure.” Claire glared at her friend. “Look, all I’m saying is that I saw the way you used to look at him. And I see the way you look at him now. Not much has changed.”
Claire was silent as she placed the pan of pastries in the oven. She walked back over and looked at Joe. “You’re right in a way. Things haven’t changed all that much. Jamie still pursues women like they’re a dying commodity. And I’m still never one of them. So, you’re right in that way.”
Joe frowned, looking down at his hands. “You don’t have to do everything he asks you to do.”
“He’s my friend and I want to,” Claire insisted.
“Can you tell me the truth?” Joe pushed.
Claire sighed, leaning against the table to match Joe’s pose. “I fell for Jamie nearly the moment I met him. I hated being the silly girl in love with her best friend. It was such a cliche. But I couldn’t help it. You’ve met him. You know he’s sweet and has a charm about him. But when he gave me the money to start this, I was determined to shut it all down. Two things complicate friendships like nothing else: feelings and money. We already had the money complication. I wouldn’t be the one to push it a step further and admit my feelings. So I was determined to ignore them. Bury them. Date other people. Throw myself into work. And that’s what I’ve done.”
Joe watched her for a long moment. “And?”
Claire sighed, throwing herself down on a barstool, her head in her hands. “And it hasn’t made a bit of difference.”
She glanced up at Joe with a helpless look on her face.
“I’m still in love with him.”