One could say Hop liked sweets a fair amount.
Any day with an excuse to bring sweets into their house- holidays, birthdays, etc- was looked towards with great anticipation.
To say Hop had a bit of a sweet tooth would not be an understatement by any means.
That did nothing to explain why there were containers of cupcakes covering every inch of their kitchen right now.
“Is somebody’s birthday coming soon?” Victor asks, staring at the mess of confectionaries with wide eyes as Zacian leaps from his side; the hound eager to lick up icing that has fallen on the floor. Sylvia, their cat, hisses at the mutt from where she perched on top of another container of cupcakes.
That certainly would explain the madness he’s walked home to but—
“No...Definitely not that I know of..”
Hop steps around a box of cupcakes on the floor into the kitchen and feels his confusion mount at seeing his brother on the floor surrounded by even more cupcakes.
What on Earth?
“...Lee?” Hop starts tentatively, narrowly avoiding braining himself over an empty container.
His brother lifts his head from where it was buried in his hands; there is frosting smeared on his cheeks and palms and Hop can see three other empty containers and just what?
For a second, Hop can see something akin to despair pooling in golden eyes that match his own, but as soon as they land on him Leon’s eyes seem to brighten. “Hop!” In the blink of an eye he is off the floor and on his feet. This lets him spot the friend Hop has brought over and his eyes only brighten more. “Victor right? Would you like any cupcakes? We have quite a few to spare!”
“I see,” Victor says, because it was impossible not to see. “That...would be nice, thank you.” He gives Leon a somewhat strained smile and Hop feels a rush of embarrassment go through him because why did this have to be Victor’s first impression of Leon.
Leon, who to Hop, was the best older brother he ever could have asked for. Leon, whom he would gush about being the absolute coolest person on the planet to anybody who would listen. Leon, who’s always been a shining example of what Hop aspired to be in life.
Leon, who is looking at him and Victor like they’re the answers to whatever sweetness inspired mess he’s gotten himself into.
His brother comes up to him and claps him on the shoulder. “Take as many as you’d like! Don’t you have so more friends at school? Take some for them too!”
A strangled noise escapes Hop’s throat. “I-I’m not really sure Marnie will want too many of these.” He wasn’t really sure of her stance on her sweets, truth to be told, but he couldn’t really see her wanting ten packages of confectionaries.
“We can take some for Bede. He’ll definitely appreciate any amount of this.” Victor hums as he steps forward to investigate a half finished tray and perks up a bit at a closer look. “Oh! This is from that new bakery Dragon's Nest! Glo loves the stuff there. I can probably take some for her as well,” he says while taking out a cupcake to munch on himself.
Dragon's Nest...Why did that ring a bell?
Then he remembers suddenly, “Didn’t Sonia ask you to pick up a few boxes from there for her?”
There is a twitch in Leon’s wide smile. “That she did.”
“This is way more than a few Lee.”
Another twitch. “Their treats are brilliant!”
Hop doesn’t doubt that, but he does doubt that’s the reason for whatever the heck is going on right now. Leon doesn't have more of a sweet tooth than him, but one would question otherwise given their current situation.
Whatever the case, all Hop knows is that Leon wants most of this cleared out before Sonia drops by. (Probably their mum too. She’ll be back from her work trip soon in a few days.) “Why don’t you just put the extra ones in the fridge?”
Leon’s smile thins out a bit. “...” He mumbles something under his breath that Hop can’t quite catch. He is nothing short of astonished to see Leon’s face flush when Hop asks him to repeat himself.
“There’s no more space in the fridge.”
Right. Well then.
“Maybe we can take some of this back to your place now Vic?”
The other boy shrugs, whistles to get Zacian's attention, and starts to gather some while Hop prepares a bag to fit more boxes in that they won’t be able to carry with just their hands alone. “We can stop by Bede’s place too.”
Bede is hardly Hop’s friend and he can’t say he enjoys the other boy’s company all that much, but anything to escape whatever this is.
Because by the time they get back, this will be gone. It’s just a one time incident on account of what must be an off day for Leon. Hop thinks everyone should be afforded an off day every once in a while, so it’s fine.
It’s just a one-off event.
“Oh Leon,” their mum sighs softly, not unlike the way one would talk to a sad, pathetic animal.
Staring at the six cakes on the counter, Hop finds it hard to really blame her.
“Happy Birthday Hop,” Leon says weakly, from where Hop is seventy percent sure he is trying to smother himself with a pillow.
Hop stares at him. Right now Leon reminds him distinctly of an especially hard puzzle he can’t quite fit the pieces into much more than he does a person. “It’s not my birthday.” It won’t be his birthday until the end of the year in fact. Although—
“My birthday is in a few weeks” their mum starts from where she is sampling a piece of cake. Hop is startled to realize there are in fact two more cake boxes behind the six stacked where he can see those. “This is quite good...I’m bringing the rest of these to my co-workers because we are not finishing these by ourselves. But we will go down to Dragon's Nest and order a cake for my birthday soon.”
Leon sits up so fast Hop swears he hears something crack. “ We? ” He asks, blinking rapidly and clutching the arm of the couch with an excessive amount of force. “I-It’s fine mum. I can pick it up myself. You don’t have to trouble your-”
Mum doesn’t so much as blink in Leon’s direction. “I would only like one cake, thank you. We’re coming.”
Leon bites his lips, but ultimately relents, not looking the least bit excited by the prospect.
Hop can’t say he’s all too enthused at the family ‘outing’ they will apparently be having soon, but he is curious to what it is about this bakery that makes his brother act so off.
Must be something in the air there.
Standing outside the building, Hop didn’t really know what to expect. The bakery is adequately sized, but somehow has a bigger presence than both of the stores it’s tucked between. Strange, but not strange enough to warrant Leon’s incessant purchasing of baked goods from the store.
Stepping inside, Hop almost expects some mystic fog to come down and hypnotize them, or for a telly to be playing some mesmerizing tune that makes you want to buy everything in the store, or-or—
Something, anything other than the relatively cozy atmosphere inside the bakery.
He recognizes some other kids from his school here; they are seated at one of the sleek tables in the bakery, sharing desserts that are outlandish yet stylish in a way that makes them feel they were 3d-printed straight off of an Instagram post.
There are three staff that he can spot who can’t be any more than a few years older than him. Hop almost expects one of them to start reciting dark magic as they wait in line, but when they reach the front, the girls manning the registers have on ever friendly smiles while the boy is diligently wiping down a table nearby.
“Welcome to Dragon’s Nest,” the girl- Aria, her name tag reads- at their register chirps, “what can I get you today?”
“Ah, could I get some gelato,” Hop pipes up from behind Leon because honestly this place was a bit warm. It was a bit weird. Weren’t places like this supposed to be freezing or something? “Hazelnut gelato please,” he adds, suddenly remembering his manners.
Aria continues to smile, none too bothered. “Of course! Anything else?”
Mum hums as she looks over the menu. “I’ll have a slice of tiramisu please. Also, my son would like to put in a custom cake order.”
“Oh of course!” She produces a pen and a small notepad from seemingly nowhere. “If you’d just answer a few questions for me about your custom order and Sebastian will grab your other orders just now.”
Hop eats his gelato and watches Leon go through the answers like a normal person, never once even getting sidetracked or suggesting he wants more than one cake. Their mum watching him like a hawk may have something to do with it, but Hop doubts it for some reason. Leon didn’t even look tempted to buy out the entire store like usual. There had to be some kind of sign, or a switch, or trigg-
The bell above the front door chimes, but unlike the other few times it had done so in the past few minutes, this gets Aria to look up.
She turns back to Leon with a smile as she ushers them off to a side counter. “Boss is back! He’ll help you with the rest of your order.” There is a strange look in her eyes as she says this; Hop gets the distinct feeling of an unspoken I’m sure you already knew that and he’s still as confused as ever but—
“Oh,” a deep voice breaths out from behind them.
Suddenly there is a tall, dark man no older than Leon ducking behind the counter and looking at them with a smile. “Nice to see you again. Leon, right?”
“Yes.” Hop has to squint to look at his brother because Christ has his smile always been that bright? “Thank you so much for the cakes from last time. My brother loved them!” He says gesturing to Hop.
Hop has to force himself not to give his brother an incredulous stare as the baker turns bright blue eyes to him with a warm smile. “I’m glad! It’s been awhile since I've had an order that big. Quite the sweet tooth huh?”
“Uhh-” He answers eloquently. It’s fine because Leon is so quick to speak, Hop is sure he would have been cut off even if he did have something to say.
“Quite! It didn’t really help that the cakes were so good! My mum loved them too. Really like them! We’re actually here again today for that I suppose. Her birthday is soon so-” Oh God was Leon babbling ?
Where had his cool brother gone and disappeared too into the space of the last minute.
The man- Raihan, Hop sees etched into the corner of his bright orange apron- hums as he looks at the notebook Aria had handed off to him. “Looks like Aria got most of the information I need,” Leon seems to deflate a bit at that and Hop feels even more confused but also like he’s so close to figuring out what his deal was. “Is this going to be it this time?”
Leon opens his mouth, eyes sparkling and Hop knows that Leon, without even thinking about it, is about to get a bigger order than planned, but—
“No, just the one cake is fine. I can’t quite handle too much sugar at my age,” Mum cuts in before Leon gets a chance. His brother freezes and subtly turns, looking at Hop and their mum like he had somehow forgotten they were there. He quickly composes himself, however, and nods in agreement.
“J-just the one cake this time.” For some reason, that has Aria and Camila giggling from where they are very obviously listening despite pretending not to, and Sebastian is looking at Leon with a glint of something in his eyes and—
All at once Hop realizes there is something in the air here, but it’s not as sinister as he expected.
It’s more akin to small angels, shooting heart shaped arrows at Leon with the baker’s name written on each one of them.
The unimpressed look his mum is giving Leon lets Hop know she’s come to the same realization he has.
He snorts into his hands and can’t find it in himself to feel bad; not when he exchanges conspiratorial looks with Aria and Camilia, and not when Leon shoots him a betrayed look.
He is only but a younger brother and it’s his duty as one to be insufferable because his brother, on all accounts, has a crush .
It’s refreshing strangely enough. That is, his brother acting as pitiful as he is over a crush of all things. It's humanizing, a reminder his brother is not as perfect as Hop thought he was.
He seems to get over his embarrassment over their mum and Hop finding out, or hides it well enough at any rate. He turns into something of a bloodhound, sniffing out any excuse from Hop, his friends, their mum, her friends, the neighbors, anybody so long as they have an excuse for him to the Dragon’s Nest.
Hop and their mum try not to let him go alone if they can. It’s the only way he walks out of the shop with a reasonable order. Whenever they don’t well—
Bede has been much more amiable to him lately to say the least.
“Alright,” Victor’s voice snaps Hop out of his musing, “I think we got almost everything covered for the festival.”
By his side, Gloria frowns and leans in closer, looking over all the details and plans again. “You think that’s all we should do for food? The festival’s gonna run pretty late.”
“You thinking about getting desserts too? I think the budget we got would allow that,” Marnie adds.
Gloria nods. “Yea, and if we’re going to get desserts we cou-”
“Dragon’s Nest has great desserts!”
They all stare at the hallway.
Leon is standing there, face containing barely hidden glee.
Hop didn’t even know he was home.
“You guys are going to get desserts right? I can drive you down to the Dragon’s Nest.”
Leon is not deterred by their unresponsiveness. “I’ll just grab my keys real fast!” He is off before any of them can say anything.
Gloria turns to him with wide eyes. “Something wrong with your brother mate?”
Hop shrugs. “Something in the air I guess.”
Something in the air indeed.