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Treats, Eats, Repeat

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Friday, December 18th

 

"Have a good night!"

 

"Thanks, you too!"

 

Tromp, tromp, tromp.

 

Creeeeak. Slam!

 

"Man, it's a cold one tonight" Tobin breathes out just after sliding into the driver's seat of her 2007 Ford Focus and promptly slamming the door shut behind her. She tosses her hot bag over towards her passenger seat until it's time for her next delivery. Feeling a lingering chill from the harsh outdoors, she cups her hands to her mouth and blows on them in a feeble attempt to restore feeling to her fingers. It doesn't do much of anything, but it was worth a shot. After a couple seconds of rubbing her hands together, Tobin reaches over and turns the knob to blast even more stale, warm air into her vehicle. Once she's satisfied with ever-rising temperature of her humble ride, she fumbles around the pocket of her puffy winter coat in search of her phone. When she finally fishes it out, she returns it to it's normal place on her windshield phone-mount. Just as she feels the familiar pop of the phone securing into it's spot, a push notification for a new order on her Uber Eats app lights up the screen. She mindlessly taps 'accept' and glances closer at the order details.

 

The order is for a place she doesn't recognize, which is surprising, given that she's been making deliveries full-time for almost six months now. But the location says it's less than a half a mile away, which bodes well for Tobin's delivery time. In fact, she's been super busy ever since this delivery area became a boosted zone just a thirty minutes ago. She's already made three deliveries in that time and is on pace to make at least two-to-three more, which a pretty good benchmark for her to hit. She's even made decent tip money, which in-it-of-itself is its own occasion. The only thing bringing down the mood is the overwhelmingly strong smell of pesto floating around in her car from that Italian food delivery she just completed. Or is that oregano she smells? She always gets those two mixed up. Either way, it's potent to say the least. So much so that her pine-scented air freshener is completely undetectable.

 

Feeling pretty chipper, Tobin buckles herself back in and shifts her car to drive as she slowly pulls away from the curb and set her sights on her new destination. She's hoping her lucky streak will continue. Your luck changes all the time with this kind of job, but she's feeling optimistic.

 


 

Her tires roll to a stop as she parks and takes in her surroundings. Tobin stares at the poinsettia-red building in front of her with awe. It's covered in shimmering icicle lights and tinsel outlining the vast windows and doorway. From the look of it, business is fairly good on the inside. She can she multiple people standing in line. For what? She hasn't quite figured that out yet.

 

Tobin's eyes drift up to the bright sign hanging above the awnings on the face of the building. Her mind opens up to a series of new questions.

 

Christen's Kringle? I've never even heard of this place before. Either I'm mistaken or this place is brand new. Is it a holiday store? With some sort of seasonal café? 

 

She glances around at the area and begins to at least recognize the general location. The eye-catching red building is sandwiched between an office supply store and a Subway. Heh heh, Sandwiched.

 

She's made a few pick-ups from the Subway before, but apparently it's been longer than she remembered. As far as she can recollect, the building in the middle of the small complex used to be a shoe store. It wasn't every very busy and never had any of the trendy new brands, so it's understandable that the business went under.

 

After musing on her thoughts for a moment, Tobin re-engages on the task at hand and grabs her hot bag to head inside. She pockets her phones before exiting the vehicle and making her way towards the front door. She's curious to see what she'll find inside.

 

Hopefully this building doesn't still smell like feet.

 

When she pushes through the entryway, a bundle of jingle bells chime as the glass door swings open and closed. Instead of the smell of feet and old leather, Tobin's nose is met with the sweet smell of freshly baked gingerbread cookies and the inviting scent of cinnamon sticks. It kind of reminds her of her mother's spice drawer, only minus the odd excess amounts of cardamom. Heh heh, carda-mom.

 

After a quick glance at the glass display cases filled to the brim with pastries and baked goods, and the bustling employees hurriedly carrying trays of goodies left and right, Tobin finally has the answer she's been looking for.

 

So this place is a bakery? Huh, interesting. And a fairly busy one at that. So much for getting in and out quickly...

 

Tobin spots a line with several people queued up already and saunters over to jump in. Seeing as there's no clear pick-up area and that all of the workers are running around like headless chickens, she decides that simply waiting for others to be served first will have to suffice. Hopefully their service is efficient.

 

While in line, Tobin takes the time to get a good look around the place. There are a few tables and chairs for dine-in purposes, and old-timey jukebox play nostalgic holiday hits, and fair amount of winter and holiday themed decorations scattered consistently throughout the place. The display cases have a bunch of appetizing treats with names she's never heard of before like 'Babka', 'Rugelach', and 'Benne Cakes'. And then there are also plenty of sweets that she does recognize like gingerbread, shortbread cookies, cinnamon rolls, and many more. Everything looks for fresh and delicious. Even the paint on the walls looks fairly fresh, and weirdly delicious, but maybe that's just the ambiance playing into things. This place is definitely unrecognizable from the old shoe shop. Which is a good thing, to the new owner's credit.

 

After about five minutes or so of slowly inching her way towards the front of the line, it's finally Tobin's turn to pick-up her order. All things considered, the wait time wasn't as horrible as it could've been.

 

As she approaches the counter, Tobin is met with a warm grin from the bright-eyed cashier.

 

"Hi there, what can I get for you today?" The young lady asks.

 

"I'm here to pick-up an order for Uber Eats" Tobin informs as she pulls her phone from her pocket and scrolls open the order information. "The order is for Sam M. and the order code is 50TAL."

 

The cashier nods and taps around the screen for a few seconds. As a moment or two passes, her once chipper-looking face morphs into an expression of confusion and nervousness. She glances back behind her and around the kitchen area where fellow bakers and constantly loading pans and trays in and out of the ovens. Her eyes finally settle on a squirrelly-looking blonde woman over at one of the decorating table. The cashier smiles with what looks like relief before turning back to face Tobin.

 

"Um, please hang-on one sec" she instructs before scurrying over to her blonde counterpart. Tobin nods and leans against the countertop. This isn't anything new for a recently opened restaurant. The employees are usually still in the training period so throwing online orders on top of the in-store management is always a bit an extra layer to the learning curve. And being constantly bombards with in-person orders certainly does not help. Tobin feels a bit of pity for the girl. She probably hasn't had a break in hours.

 

As she waits, Tobin twiddles her thumbs and begins to calculate how long it's been since she arrived. Then she checks the delivery location and maps out the optimal route to get to the house.

 

If I take Oklahoma Ave. all the way down to Fourth St. and then take a right at the stop sign, I should be able to avoid a traffic light and cut at least three minutes from my time...

 

"Where is that smell coming from?" one of the two older ladies in line behind Tobin comments, interrupting Tobin from her GPS-style mapping.

 

"What smell?" the woman next to her responds. The first woman sniffs the air a few times before elaborating.

 

"I got a whiff of pesto just a second ago. It's really strong, did you smell that?" she continues. Tobin eyes widen a bit, hoping the woman has been mistaken and isn't referring to the smell that was powerfully wafting around her car earlier.

 

"What? Pesto? Why would-" the second woman responds, only to cut herself off mid-sentence, "Oh! I smell it! It smells like some of that Italian food."

 

"Yeah! It smells just like my grandmother's cooking! She was from Cicely, you know" the first woman proudly boasts.

 

Damn, that's embarrassing. Hopefully I can get this order and go before they realize it's me who brought the smell...

 

Just as the thought exits her mind, the young cashier walks back over to the register with an entirely different woman in tow. The woman looks a bit older than the cashier but seemingly not by much. She wears a flour-covered apron and walks with an aura of confidence. Tobin can tell she's important just by that one glance.

 

"So, what's the problem, Mallory?" the woman asks as the young cashier begins to point at the screen.

 

"I was able to open the Uber Eats portal, but I'm having trouble navigating through it" Mallory explains. The older woman gestures for Mallory to step aside and she strides up in front of the counter. Now Tobin has an even better view of the woman and is a bit awe-struck with just how beautiful she is.

 

She has luscious, long curly hair and gorgeous, light-colored eyes. The way the lighting is hitting her, it's apparent that she has great bone structure and blemish-free skin. Tobin would've thought she was a model if she saw her anywhere else than behind that counter. Although, that's not ruled out either. Tobin's never seen someone this effortlessly pretty before when picking-up and order. Usually she's met with sweaty line-cooks or over-exhausted teenagers at the counter. This woman definitely seems to be an anomaly to all the food industry workers she's previously encountered. Even with some flour on her left cheek, she still looks amazing. It's both attractive and a little bit annoying.

 

"Okay, so what you have to do is open this tab her and then go into the 'orders' list over on the left here. They should appear in order of time received" the older of the two employees responds as she gestures around the touch screen of the point-of-sale system.

 

"Ah, okay" the younger woman nods as her eyes study the screen thoroughly, "Sorry, I think I just haven't gotten the hang of this yet."

 

"That's alright" the older one responds, "You've only been working here a week, you get it with a little more practice." The younger girl looks up at her superior and nods with a smile. The older woman smiles back before glance back over the counter and meeting eyes with Tobin. Admittedly. it catches the delivery driver a tad off guard. She had been so impressed by that wholesome learning experience that had just taken place in front of her that she kind of forgot she had yet to be served.

 

"So what's the order code?" the woman asks, staring intently into Tobin's eyes.

 

"Huh?" Tobin blurts out, now momentarily forgetting her entire reason for walking in the place as the attractive baker's eyes bore into her.

 

"Come on, honey. I gotta get some sugar cookies back to my house soon before the grandkids burn down the place" one of the older women behind her teases from over Tobin's shoulder. The wave of immediate embarrassment that follows is enough to snap her back to reality.

 

"Oh, yeah, uh the code is 5-0-T-A-L and the order is for Sam M." Tobin once again recites. The woman nods and taps away at the screen before turning back to her younger employee.

 

"Okay Mal, you see right here it shows the order details?" she asks as she point elsewhere on the screen.

 

"Yeah, one baker's dozen of white chocolate macadamia nut cookies?" the young woman, or Mal, as her name appears to be replies.

 

"Yep, that's it" the older woman warmly confirms before glancing over her shoulder back towards the ovens. "Okay so, a few batches just came out of the oven. You wanna go run and grab those while I finish up the transaction here?"

 

"Okay, yeah sure" Mal affirmatively returns as she nods her head a few times and turns towards the back baking area, "I'll be right back."

 

"Sounds good" the older woman agrees before turning her attention back to the screen. Mal scurries away from the counter while her manager remains at her place.

 

"So, having a busy night?" she mindlessly asks as she taps at the screen. This is a bit unexpected for Tobin, she hadn't anticipated engaging in any small talk. Usually she just waits in awkward silence with the cashier as they both wait for the food to arrive and they play a classic game of 'Avoid Each Other's Eyes at All Costs'. It's a time-honored industry tradition.

 

"Well, yeah" Tobin sighs as she allows herself to slip into her polite socializing mode, "But that's not really any different from any other night. I guess your new hire isn't the only one who's still getting the hang of things."

 

"Oh yeah?" the other woman queries from across the counter top, "How long have you been driving delivery?"

 

"About a year and a half just casually, but about six months full-time" Tobin casually explains as she narrows her eyes and glances upward towards the ceiling. "...I guess you could say there's a learning curve."

 

Tobin is a bit shocked when she hears a chuckle sound from the other side of the kiosk. When she glances back in front of her, she finds the pretty baker smiling at her. The smile even reaching her eyes. She seems amused. Or at least, Tobin hopes she is. However, the way the baker looks right now makes a small part inside of Tobin want to smile back. So she does.

 

Not a moment later, Mal returns to the counter with a warm paper bag filled with freshly-baked cookies. The aroma floating from it hits Tobin's nostrils in a matter of milliseconds. The cookies smell divinely good. In fact, her mouth starts to water a little bit.

 

"Here's your order" Mal declares with a smile as she passes the bag over the counter top. "One baker's dozen of macadamia and white chocolate."

 

"Thanks" Tobin nods as she reaches forward and grabs the to-go order. She wastes little time unzipping her hot bag and stashing the cookies inside to ensure they stay nice and warm once they arrive at their destination.

 

"You have a good night" the attractive baker bids with yet another comfortable smile.

 

"You as well" Tobin grins back, allowing her eyes to linger on the baker's for a few fleeting moments more before they each have to turn away and return to their time-sensitive jobs.

 

Tobin strides out of the small bakery with a bit of pep in her step. She hadn't known what to expect when she initially arrived in front of this new eatery, but she is pleasantly surprised with her experience. She's sure it will definitely stand out in her brain for at least a few days.

 

When she arrives at her car, she throws open the driver's side door and scoots in. She settles the hot bag in the seat beside her and buckles it onto place so it won't go rogue during the drive to the delivery destination. Then she starts her engine and pulls out her phone to open the Uber Eats app. After a quick curtesy text to let the customer know the that the food is on the way, she buckles herself in and begins her journey.

 


 

Saturday, December 19th

 

After an extra-long snooze causing her to sleep well into the late-morning, Tobin manages to roll herself out of bed and get ready for another long day of work. By the time she showers, gets dressed, and enjoys breakfast at a leisurely pace, it's already about half past noon before she's climbing into her car and getting ready to go make her first delivery for the day. She stretches out both of her arm in front of her before placing her hands on the wheel. She just knows in her gut that today will most-likely be even strenuous than the day before. Weekends always are. Especially during the busy season like this time of year. People are doing more, spending more, eating more. Tobin can't complain too much because it fattens her weekly check quite a bit, but still, it's tiring work driving around all day, enduring the frigid cold, risking her safety to go to random strangers' houses, with only herself as company. But at least she has the flexibly to clock-in and clock-out whenever she wants. Being her own boss is something Tobin has always wanted deep down. And if driving delivery for Uber Eats is a sustainable way to do that, then so be it.

 

Once she is finally all settled into her work station, Tobin ignites the engine and places her phone back on its humble mount. She launches the Uber Eats app and officially opens for business.

 

She comes to a halt at a stop light after driving idly around a normally busy commercial area when her first delivery request finally comes in. After the familiar chime of her phone, she glance at the screen to inspect the notification. Much to her surprise, it's another order for that bakery she just discovered last night. Christen's Kringle.

 

What are the chances of that?

 

After shaking her head in amusement, Tobin mindlessly accepts the request and pushes on her right turn signal to try to switch lanes. She checks her blind spot and makes the lane transition with ease.

 

Back to the bakery it is.

 


 

Upon arrival to the now-familiar festive bakery, Tobin is shocked to find the place even more packed than she left it the night before. Just from peering into the frost-covered windows she can see people lined up from wall to wall. It looks to be that the place is at full capacity and Tobin begins to wonder where she'll go when she walks in.

 

After finally climbing out of her car and feeling the fresh snow crunch under her boots as she walks, Tobin pushes through the door and the bells ring out. A few people shiver as the gust of cold air flows in from the door as it swings closed. Her eyes scan the room as she tries to find her bearings. It would appear that there are at least three separate lines for the three separate registers, but the ends of which are yet to be determined.

 

After only a few minutes of asking around, Tobin locates the back of one of the lines and waits behind a young couple and their child. The couple themselves seem to pay her no attention, but the little girl certainly does. Amidst all the muttering of people waiting for their orders and bakers calling out instructions from the back of the kitchen, Tobin feels a light tug on her pant leg. She looks down and finds the little girl clutching a small portion of her jeans and staring wide-eyed up at her.

 

"Well, hello there" Tobin chuckles with a grin as she gazes at the cute little girl standing just below her.

 

"Hi!" the little girl enthusiastically greets, seemingly happy to have gained Tobin's attention. She smiles so big that Tobin can see she has two of her bottom teeth missing. "I like your bag!" the little girl continues without missing a beat. She point up at the hot bag resting over her left shoulder.

 

"Thanks" Tobin smiles back, enjoying this innocent interaction, "It has magic powers, you know." The little girl's face lights up with excitement.

 

"It does?" she shrieks, apparently in awe of such a mysterious discovery.

 

"Yep" Tobin laughs back, sliding the bag from off of her shoulder and unzipping it to reveal the thermal lining of the hot bag's interior. "I just put food in here, zip the bag up, and then it keeps the food warm forever. Just like magic."

 

"Wow!" the little girl exclaims as she turns and pulls on the pant leg of her mother, "Mommy, I want one! I want a magic bag!" The mother turns around and finally notices that her daughter had begun a whole conversation with the person behind them. She glances from her energetic child to Tobin's eyes apologetically.

 

"I'm so sorry" she begins, running one hand over her daughter's head in an attempt to calm her down, "She gets really excited when she discovers new things. She'll probably talk about this for a week."

 

"That's okay" Tobin dismisses right before being cut-off by another one of the little girl's cries.

 

"Mommy! I want one for Christmas! Can Santa bring me a magic bag for Christmas?"

 

"Okay, Olivia" the mother interjects in a soothing tone, "I'll let Santa know. Now, can you please use your inside voice?" She glances sheepishly at Tobin once more. "Sorry, again."

 

"It's fine" Tobin reassures with a smile, "I was just like that at her age." The mother and father both nod and smile at Tobin before turning back around in line and diverting their daughter's attention elsewhere.

 

After about fifteen minutes or so of waiting in line and wondering to herself what the heck Kringle even is, Tobin eventually makes it to the front of the line. It would appear that the young cashier, Mal, is not working today, so she's met by the blonde, squirrely-looking woman she recognizes from the decorating counter last night.

 

"Hello, how can I help you?" the blonde woman asks as if she's recited the same greeting over-and-over again all day long. Which, she probably has.

 

"I'm here to pick up an order for Uber Eats" Tobin also recites likes she's done a million times over. Which, she definitely has. The woman smiles and nods, although the smile doesn't quite reach her eyes. She looks almost reluctant to open the Uber Eats portal.

 

As the woman taps at the screen, her face become even less enthusiastic. Suddenly, she sighs before throwing her hands on her hips. She appears to be frustrated by something on the screen.

 

"Shoot" she mutters before directing her gaze back up to Tobin. "Sorry, this thing has been acting up all day. I'll be right back, I have to go get the owner."

 

"Okay" Tobin nods, not envying the woman's situation. The last thing you want during a busy shift is a technological error. Tobin learned that the hard way back when she worked retail in high school. The thought of it still sends shivers down her spine.

 

The blonde woman rushes off and disappears behind a door of what looks like a back office. That must be where the owner is. When she emerges a few seconds later, another woman is following closely behind. They both wear expressions of dread on their face and the briskly stride back over to the counter. It takes Tobin a few seconds to fully recognize the second woman as the attractive baker from the other night. It takes her a couple more seconds yet to put two-and-two together that the attractive baker is also the owner of the place.

 

Wait, so she's Christen? Assuming that this place is named after herself, that is. But why wouldn't it be? It's her place, so it's probably her Kringle too. Whatever that is. Weird, for some reason I was expecting the owner to be a little more... I don't know... older? And more... well, grandma-like. Certainly not someone around the same age as me. Nor someone that beautiful... Sorry grandma, that wasn't a diss to you. I hope you're resting well in heaven.

 

"So, it's doing the thing again?" the attractive baker, Christen, asks as the blonde nods slowly.

 

"Yep, just freezes every time I try to access an Uber Eats pick-up order" the blonde sighs, seemingly fed up with the situation.

 

"Okay Emily, I'll try rebooting the system and we'll she if that fixes it" Christen comments as she determinedly pokes and prods at the the kiosk. The screen goes black for a moment but then lights up back to life. Christen taps to re-launch the Uber Eats portal and hesitantly pages over to the orders. Her face becomes illuminated when she sees that her quick fix has worked.

 

And to think I thought she couldn't get anymore beautiful...

 

"Okay, fantastic. Thanks boss, I'll take it from here" Emily triumphantly returns as she squares up in front of the POS system and glances back to Tobin. "So what's the pick up code?"

 

"It's W-H-1-T-3 for Rose L." Tobin promptly states after a quick gaze at her phone. Christen's head turns towards her after she speaks, and her eyes seem surprised to recognize Tobin.

 

"Okay, I'll go get that assorted cookie plater and we'll get you on your way" Emily more cheerfully announces before darting off to one of the back counters. Tobin watches her go, but she feels a bit awkward when she realizes that Christen is still lingering on the other side of the counter. She almost blushes when she finds the baker's eye zeroed-in directly on her.

 

"We gotta stop meeting like this" Christen teases with a cheeky grin. Tobin can't help but laugh. That was a cheesy joke, but she's grateful for it. She feels a bit more at ease.

 

"Yeah" Tobin agrees, glancing around behind her at the herd of people filling up the entire room, "Especially when things are this busy for you. If anymore people get crammed in here someone might call the fire marshal." This time Christen chuckles, her eyes lighting up as she does. It catches Tobin a bit off-guard, she hadn't expected to make the woman laugh. But it's nice, it kind of feels like they've developed a bit of a repour.

 

"You're not gonna tell on me, are you?" Christen jokes as she leans her side into the counter. If Tobin's being honest, she'd say she's slightly intimidated by the other woman right now. But not in a bad way. More of like a 'I can't believe this gorgeous, successful woman is talking to me right now' kind of way. It's kind of exciting.

 

"Hey, I'm not snitch" Tobin airily kids back, her eyes narrowed at the woman. Christen cracks a smile and looks as if she's about to say something more when Emily emerges with a large plater of holiday themed cookies. The interruption breaks Tobin's train of thought and suddenly she's back to business mode.

 

"Here you are" Emily says as she hands the heavy array of cookies over to Tobin, "Have a good day!" Tobin receives the order and places it in the hot bag.

 

"Thanks, you too" she politely returns just before Emily's eyes focus on the next person in line. Tobin sneak a peek over at the owner, who's still standing there at the counter. "Bye, Christen" Tobin mutters with a wave as she takes a few steps backwards towards the door. A look of confusion fills Christen face, but she hesitantly says 'Bye' and waves back herself.

 

As Tobin wanders back out to the parking lot, she immediately feels regret. She can tell she made things awkward at the end there, but she can't exactly tell why.

 

Oh god, I hope her name really was Christen. I hope I didn't just call her by the wrong name. Damn, what if I did? I shouldn't have just assumed that.

 

However, after only just a moment more of letting worries and embarrassment run through her head, Tobin decides to just shake it off and forget it. She has an order to deliver. And besides, she probably won't be back here any time soon. She's sure that after a few days or weeks pass, that woman, whatever he name is, will just forget about it all together. It was just a fluke that she ended up back at this bakery anyway.

 


 

Easy money.

 

Tobin sends one last curtesy text to the customer who she just delivered to. She tells the guy to 'enjoy his food' and to 'order again soon!' That's usually the standard statement she uses after she drops off a delivery. Not all Uber Eats drivers do that, but it's a bit of an insider secret to do so. Especially since the customer still has two weeks to tip after their food is received. And a polite post-delivery text sometimes reminds them to do so. Tobin's actually made quite an admirable amount of money from using that technique. And considering the fact that it was just a delivery for Burger King food when the customer only lives a few blocks away, she's made an efficient few dollars already.

 

Once her phone is returned to its windshield mount, Tobin creeps away from the curb and heads for downtown. Things are usually pretty busy in that area during this time of year and if you know the right spots to drive around, you can make a killing in a short amount of time. It also doesn't hurt that many of the major restaurants reside on or around Main Street, so when the order requests come in, they come in hot and they come in pricey.

 

When she arrives Downtown, Tobin drives around idly in traffic as cars are bumper to bumper. The street is more congested than normal due to a major waterline bursting just two intersections back. Between the holiday shoppers and the other delivery drivers, things are hard to navigate and traffic is moving at a snails pace. At one point Tobin nearly loses it when the car in front of her takes nearly three minutes to properly parallel park. She almost gets out of the car and offers the park the damn thing herself when the driver eventually maneuvers successfully into the spot.

 

Just as she's considering moving on to an entirely different area of town, her phone lights up with a new push notification. She just about laughs when she sees what it's for.

 

You've got to be kidding me. Another damn cookie plater from the same damn bakery? Doesn't anyone do their own baking anymore? How many holiday parties are going on today? I can't believe the amount of orders I've been getting from the same place. How long has it even been there? I swear I never even heard of it until yesterday. I think my app might be bugged.

 

Despite her confusion, Tobin elects to pull off the main road and turn down a side street to head back towards the building complex where the bakery resides.

 

After all, money is money.

 


 

It had started snowing on the drive over, so Tobin's windshield wipers are running double-time as she rolls into a parking spot. She can't see too far ahead of her, so what kind of environment awaits her inside remains a mystery. She sighs, grabs her phone and hot bag from the passenger seat, and hops out of her vehicle just like she's done twice before at this location in the past twenty-four hours. She trudges through the snow and opens the door. The all-too-familiar bells on the door rattle together as she walks in. After the door swings shut, she glances down and stomps her boots on the welcome matt to free any accumulated snow from her shoes. When she stands up straight again, she surprised by this seemingly rare sight in front of her.

 

There are only a handful of people waiting in line to be served and for the first time in a while, the employees work at a leisurely pace. It's a much more calm environment than what Tobin had been used to, which is a welcome change. She quickly joins the back of the shortest line and waits for her turn to be served. A grin grows on her face when she realizes that she'll probably be in-and-out of the bakery pretty fast. She hoping to add to her streak of quick deliveries today. She also hoping to add to her bank account with the money she'll receive for speedy service. Today might not be so bad after all.

 

When she gets to the front, she's met with the same blonde woman from earlier. Emily.

 

Emily seems in much better spirits than before, but she doesn't seem to recognize Tobin at all. She was probably just one of several hundred faces she's seen today, so Tobin can't blame her.

 

"What can I get for you today?" Emily asks in a friendly manner.

 

"Just another order for Uber Eats" Tobin simply replies as she pulls out her phone, ready to recite yet another code.

 

"Okay, code for the order?"

 

"5-M-0-L-1 for a Crystal D." Tobin mindlessly recites. She realizes just how repetitive she sounds, but the job is the job. It's never anything too exciting.

 

"Okay, one moment please" Emily instructs as she navigates through the order page on the touch screen blow her. She smiles when she finds the order, but her smile turns to a frown when she reads the order details. "Um, okay, well it seems our machine didn't properly receive the order until just a few minutes ago" Emily sighs regretfully.

 

"Okay" Tobin nods slowly, trying to understand Emily's sudden shift in mood.

 

Don't tell me there's another problem with my order today...

 

"The good news is that everything has gone through as it's supposed to now, but the bad news is that the next available batch for your order won't come out of the oven for at least another fifteen minutes" Emily explains apologetically. Now Tobin understands the sudden change of tone.

 

Well there goes my speedy delivery bonus...

 

"I see" Tobin's discouraged voice responds as she slides her hands into her jacket pockets. Her bad luck with this place is certainly baffling. Maybe she should go out and buy a lottery ticket after this. It's like they say, it takes a lot of luck to be the unluckiest person. Tobin can relate to that now.

 

"Yeah, I'm really sorry about that" Emily begins again, trying to improve the atmosphere, "But we do have a small seating area in the back there if you would like to have a sit down while you wait. We'll bring your order to you as soon as it's ready." Tobin glances back to where Emily is pointing and spots a few small tables with two-three chairs placed around each one. She turns back to Emily and nods.

 

"Okay, sounds good" Tobin sighs.

 

"Great, we'll do our best to get that to you!" she chimes optimistically. Tobin nods before turning her back to the register and saunters over to a lone table in the back corner of the bakery.

 

She takes a seat and allows her body to rest casually in the wooden chair. She glances around the place and for the first time since she's visited here, she takes full stock of the building's interior. The decorations seem like they've been hand-picked from various different places around the country and delicately placed on the walls with intention. Like a 'Homemade Apple Cider' sign from Wenatchee, Washington. Or an old, rusty 'Fresh Kringle' door plate from Racine, Wisconsin. It's the kind of stuff you'd see at a country-side flee market or an antique collectors show. The décor has obvious story to tell, but it seems to fit the atmosphere of the bakery perfectly. It adds character to an already charming place. It feels homey in here. It's a nice touch.

 

After gazing aimlessly around her surroundings, Tobin decides to pull out her phone and pass the time by playing games on her phone. She's about halfway through a racing game when she hears someone approaching the table. When she casts her eyes upward, she's surprised to find who is standing in front of her. Although she shouldn't be, it's not like this is their first encounter.

 

"Oh, hi" Tobin mutters as she immediately pockets her phone and sits up taller in her seat.

 

"Hey, again" the bakery's owner greets bashfully as she stands there holding a tray delectable fresh cookies. The smell of the cookies hit Tobin's nose instantly and she fights the urge to steal one from the tray right then and there. "So I'm so sorry, again, about the technical difficulties and making you wait for your order. I promise, I've called my tech guy and he should be here soon so I don't have to keep apologizing to you every time you come in."

 

"It's okay" Tobin easily dismisses, waving a hand through the air, "This stuff happens all the time." -It doesn't.- "Don't even worry about it."

 

"Thanks, I appreciate you saying that" the head baker smiles, although sheepishly, "But I usually run a pretty tight ship around here. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't somewhat embarrassed." her eyes are cast down towards the ground and it's visible on her face that she feels awkward being in this position once again. It's clear she's disappointed in herself, personally, after these unfortunate, unforeseen incidents have taken place. Tobin can't stop the slight smirk from crawling onto her face. The head baker is even more cute when she's being vulnerable.

 

"Hey, at least you're not the only one who's embarrassed" Tobin begins to console, causing the bakers eyes to land on her own once again. "I think I might of called you by the wrong name earlier. I just kind of assumed your name was Christen when I heard you owned the place. Which, I'm sorry if it's not. You know what they say about assuming. It makes an 'ass' out of 'u' and 'me'."

 

The pretty owner smiles with a slight chuckle as she listens to Tobin's apologetic rambling.

 

"No, you were right. My name is Christen" she states matter-o-factly. "I was just confused earlier when you knew my name before I had the chance to introduce myself. I didn't know that you knew I was the owner. You made me second-guess if we had met before and I just didn't remember. Which I thought sounded absurd in my mind, because why wouldn't I remember a funny girl like you?" Christen's smile grows wider, and Tobin can tell from her voice that it's genuine. "That simply wouldn't happen."

 

Without a thought, Tobin returns with a warm smile of her own. She can't help but feel flattered.

 

"Well thanks, that makes me feel better" Tobin allows, admittedly feeling a wave of relief after spending a few hours paranoid that she made some kind of rude mistake. She's so happy she didn't.

 

"Good, I'm glad" Christen laughs as she extends the tray of cookies out towards Tobin. Tobin takes the cue and rises from her seat to accept it. "Here's your order, by the way. I don't think I should waste anymore of your valuable time."

 

"Ah yeah, I'm still on the clock" Tobin sighs as she weighs the cookie tray in her hands, "I better deliver these before I get an angry call from another office holiday party."

 

"Yeah, you probably better" Christen teases, "You don't want a crowd of enraged, middle-aged office workers on your hands."

 

"No, I certainly do not" Tobin agrees as she shakes her head at the thought. Those salarymen are ruthless beings.

 

"Also, here's a peace-offering for screwing up your order" Christen interrupts as she remembers something sitting in the pocket of her apron. She reaches in a pulls out a small wax-paper bag with Christen's Kringle written on it. "Have a cookie for the road. I hope you like chocolate chip." Tobin glances between Christen's face the cookie baggie in her hand. She smiles and accepts the small token of apology. Christen smiles back and tucks a stray a strand of hair behind her ear.

 

"Of course, who doesn't?" -Masochists. Only masochists don't like fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies- "Well, see you later!" Tobin chimes as she starts walking towards the exit.

 

"Yeah, I probably will" Christen quips as she runs her hand over her apron and turns back towards the kitchen with a cheeky grin.

 

Tobin leaves to make this delivery feeling a lot better than the last.

 


 

A bit later in the evening, Tobin is back at the same building complex where the bakery resides. Only this time, she's there to pick up an order from the neighboring Subway sandwich shop. She pops in and out of the sub shop with ease, but on her way out to glances back over to the town's most hopping bakery. She's astonished to see the line for the place in now outside the door.

 

Seriously, what is it with that place? Do they put drugs in the baked goods. Are they selling edibles under-the-counter? Is it just a front for the mafia?

 

Tobin allows other thoughts and possible scenarios to float in-and-out of her mind, before slipping back in her car and counting herself lucky that she didn't get an order for Christen's Kringle for the past few hours. But lord only knows when she'll be back.

 


 

Just following delivering the sub order to a woman who had a striking resemblance to Candace Cameron Bure, Tobin receives yet another order notification for what? - you guessed it - Christen's Kringle.

 

Upon a closer look at the order, Tobin is pleasantly surprised to find that the order is actually for Kringle this time. Maybe she'll actually figure out what it is!

 

Tobin shifts her car into drive and heads over, eager to find out.

 


 

Tobin's excitement dwindles when she sees that the place is packed again. Although, she is a tad relieved to see that the line no longer extends to the outside. Now that the sun has gone down, temperatures have plummeted, so waiting in the bitter cold would have been a nightmare. It would be like Hell, if Hell froze over. Also, Tobin had promised herself that she would never wait outside in a line in the dead of winter again. Not after that one time she waited outside of a Best Buy for the new Assassin's Creed game. And that was only a few weeks ago. She nearly lost some toes to frostbite. The memories of the agony are fresh, and she's pretty sure her toes are still defrosting.

 

After she enters the building and yep - ring-a-ling - the bells chime, she surveils the room like she always does. She looks around for the shortest line until her eyes spot a sign near the counter that wasn't there before. She's almost certain it wasn't, or else she's looked like a major fool every other time she's come to the bakery today. The sign isn't much, merely a piece of lined paper with the words 'Orders for Pick-up' written hastily on it in black sharpie. Only a few strips of blue painter's tape keep the sign attached to the end of the long counter closest to the door.

 

While smiling to herself upon gazing at the interior design's newest addition, Tobin wanders over to the new-and-improved order pick-up area. Once she gets to the counter, she waits patiently in a line of one as anticipates her express service. Only after a moment of standing there by her lonesome, Tobin sees someone approaching from the corner of her eye. She glances to the right and sees Christen eagerly approaching with a tablet in hand.

 

"What's with the new sign?" Tobin cheekily greets as Christen arrives behind the counter, "This place not have enough charm as it was? Did you need one more hand-made item to finish the ensemble?"

 

"Definitely not" Christen laughs as she meets Tobin's eyes, "The only thing this place is lacking is manpower and square-footage."

 

"Ah, I see" Tobin nods with a grin, "Then why add this new express lane so late in the day instead of tomorrow morning?"

 

"Because I had a feeling you'd be back" Christen squarely answers without missing a beat. Without let alone blinking. "And I thought making you wait for your orders any longer today would make me seem rude." Christen cracks a small smile after she finishes talking. Tobin scoffs. This woman is a lot more playful when she isn't apologizing for technological mishaps. Tobin finds her more-and-more intriguing each time the cross paths. "Also, my tech guy came through for me while you were gone" Christen explains as she hold up her tablet, "He installed an Uber Eats portal on here so now we can fill orders away from the register. That'll save time and energy for the both of us."

 

"That sounds great" Tobin happily agrees as she picks up on the visible relief in Christen's eyes. But as thrilled as she is to make her deliveries faster and make more money in less time, a small part of her is disappointed to hear the news. "I'm excited to not have to wait in line at this crazy, busy place anymore, but I do admit I might grow to miss our little chit-chats."

 

"Well who says those have to end?" Christen quips, her eyes narrowed in a playful way. Tobin quirks an eyebrow as Christen stares at her expectantly. The delivery driver is once again caught off-guard.

 

Who is this woman and what has she done with the sheepish, apologetic baker from before? Not that I'm complaining...

 

"I guess you're right" Tobin finally mutters as Christen's intimidating gaze eventually softens after she flashes another smirk. However, still feeling a little thrown from before, Tobin starts to feels an anxious sensation boiling up from within her and decides to change the subject. "But on that note, I still need to get this order out as soon as possible before my car windows completely frost up out there. Especially when the roads are as slippery as they are tonight."

 

"I understand" Christen allows sympathetically, "Wouldn't want you fish-tailing into a stop sign."

 

"Exactly" Tobin chuckles before looking down at her phone in her hand that she had unknowingly been clutching since she walked in. She swipes her thumb across the screen and views the order details. "So the order is for Rebecca S. and the code is C-4-P-T-N."

 

"Okay" Christen warmly returns as she scrolls through her screen and locates the order. However, just as she's reading the order details in her head, the front door whooshes open as a couple of patrons stroll in. A gust a bone-chilling air wafts in and hits the two women at the counter. Christen notices Tobin instinctively shiver. She allows her eyes to linger on the delivery driver for only a half-a-moment more before she cast down her gaze once again and finds the information she needs. "Alright, one apple kringle it is" Christen chipperly announces while looking back up at Tobin, "I'll go get that right away."

 

Tobin smiles and Christen whisks herself away to the back kitchen area where all the big ovens and cooling racks are. It only takes her two minutes to collect and package a fresh order of the delectable Scandinavian pastry. Once the order is nice and secure, she makes her way back over to Tobin and slides the order across the counter. It isn't until after Tobin has gently placed the pastry into her hot bog that she realizes the order wasn't the only thing Christen slide in her direction.

 

"What's this?" Tobin questions, her tone laced with confusion as she's 99.9% sure she didn't see any kind of drink item on her pick-up order.

 

"It's a cup of warm apple cider" Christen explains as she nudges the paper to-go cup even further in Tobin direction. Tobin remains silent as her puzzlement makes its way to her face. She gazes back down to her phone screen to confirm whether or not she was mistaken. Just as she unlocks her phone, Christen speaks up once again. "It's for you" Christen finally clarifies, drawing Tobin's back to her, "It's on the house. It's inhumanely cold outside and no one should have to be out in that. Not even delivery drivers."

 

"Oh... Wow, thanks" Tobin slowly drawls out as her mind fails to properly process her surprise. She wasn't expecting anything like that. Not even for one second had she considered that the hot drink might possibly be for herself. It's shocking and... oddly touching. Tobin offers Christen an appreciative smile and receives a genuinely kind one right back.

 

This woman is really something... 

 

"Hey, um, you should probably be more careful from now on" Tobin suddenly warns, causing Christen to lean slightly over the counter in intrigue. She's not too sure what kind of warning she's supposed to heed. "If the boss finds out you've keep giving me free stuff, it might cost you your job." Christen's slightly serious expression morphs into an amused smile.

 

"I won't tell if you won't" she teases back.

 

Both Tobin and Christen erupt into a short bout of laughter. They even draw a few judgmental eyes of some restless customers waiting to be served in the other long, winding lines. The two don't care at all though. They just enjoy the joke and begin to calm down after some seconds pass them by.

 

"So, I realize I didn't get a chance to say this earlier, but my name is Tobin. In case you were wondering" Tobin introduces after the giggles have dissipated.

 

"I was wondering" Christen jovially confirms with a definitive nod. "You know my name, so it's only fair that I know yours too. It's nice to officially meet you, Tobin."

 

"Likewise" Tobin humoredly returns, her earnest smile reaching her eyes. Christen opens her mouth to say something more, but she's interrupted by a beckoning call from one of her employees.

 

"Hey Christen? I can't find that shipment of sugar that came in this morning. Would you mind helping me look for it?" an inexperienced young teenager calls from halfway across the kitchen.

 

Christen turns back to Tobin and flashes her one of her familiar apologetic expressions. She pushes herself away from the counter and cradles her tablet in her arms.

 

"Well it was nice talking, but duty calls, I'm afraid" she regretfully explains as she attempts to pull herself from the conversation. Tobin picks up on her subtle cues and takes a step away from the counter.

 

"Trust me, I get it. We're both on the clock" Tobin considerately responds as she slides the straps of her hot bag over her left shoulder and grabs the hot cup of cider from the counter. Christen nods in agreeance. "I'll be seeing you, Christen" Tobin bids as she backpedals towards the door.

 

"Be seeing you, Tobin" Christen echoes in return.

 


 

Sunday, December 20th

 

Tobin doesn't work on Sunday.

 

Instead, she sleeps in until 1:00 pm and doesn't bother to change out of her pajamas all day. The only contact with an actual person she has is when she answers the door to collect her orders of pork lo mien and general Tso's chicken. She's not much of a cook herself, so supporting fellow industry workers is one of the best ways Tobin views using her money to stimulate the economy. Or at least, that's how she sees it.

 

It isn't until around 10:00 pm during a break between rounds of C.O.D. online does she grow hungry again. And when she scrambles for something to eat, she finds the cookie that Christen gave her that she was too busy to remember to eat yesterday. Tobin kicks herself for not eating the cookie while it was still fresh and warm from the oven, but when she sinks her teeth into the sugary delicacy, she instantly understands why so many people queue up at Christen's bakery.

 

That may well be the best chocolate chip cookie she's ever had. Even despite it being a day old.

 


 

Monday, December 21st

 

"Make my wish come tru-eh-ooooooh!" Tobin belts as she shifts her car into park and cuts the engine. She unbuckles her seatbelt as Mariah Carey's chart-toping Christmas hit blares from her car's speakers. "Baby, all I want for Christmas, ih-eee-ih-us youuuuuuuuuu! Youuuu-ooh-ooh-bay-by!"

 

Tobin bobs her head along to the music and jams a few moments more before the song starts fading out and she happens to glance over to the car parked to her left. She sees a man's baffled, and somewhat displeased, face staring back at her from the passenger seat. Without thinking, her hand immediately shoots to her volume control and cuts the power to her car's radio. She slumps down in her seat feeling instant embarrassment and regret.

 

Oh god, how embarrassing. I hope I don't know that guy... Wait, you know what? Why do I even care? That guy should be grateful, I gave him a free show! And I even came close to hitting the high-note this time! Why should I feel weird? I'm a grown-ass woman just enjoying my day. He's the one watching me all creepy-like. Oh well, whatever. Now that I'm all warmed up, better get this work day started.

 

After grabbing her hot bag and snatching her phone, Tobin pops open her car door and eagerly makes her way towards the front door.

 

Normally, Tobin hates Mondays. Absolutely abhors them, just like Garfield the lazy cartoon cat. However, for some reason she can't quite pin-point, Tobin finds herself in an oddly chipper mood on this sunny, yet chilly winter solstice. She was actually excited to get out of bed today, which is even more of an anomaly than being happy to work on a Monday.

 

When Tobin makes her way through the threshold and the door bells chime to her delight, Tobin strolls towards the pick-up counter with a little pep-in-her-step. It hasn't been a full 48-hours and she's already wondering how she ever survived picking-up an order without her fancy new express lane. Of course, she knows she's not the only delivery driver who picks up from this location, however, she has a small, teensy-weensy feeling that she played a major role in the new lane's creation. And when she sees the smile that Christen flashes when she spots Tobin from the opposite end of the counter, Tobin believes her suspicion to be true.

 

Christen wanders over to a young-looking employee, Tobin thinks she recalls her name to be Mallory, and whispers something in her ear. Tobin glances over at Tobin momentarily before walking off towards the back of the kitchen. Christen then decides to make her way over to service the awaiting delivery woman.

 

"Don't you ever take a day off?" Tobin jokes as Christen walks up across the counter from her.

 

"This close to the holidays? Are you kidding?" Christen shoots back with a light-hearted, yet slightly exasperated tone. She smiles at Tobin playfully but from the tiniest gleam in her eye, Tobin can tell there's truth to what Christen just said.

 

"Oh, I get it" Tobin sighs as she leans her left arm and side against the counter, "This time of year is busy for me too. I mean, the money is good, but the weather and wear-and-tear on my car really blows."

 

"So you get the struggle" Christen warmly affirms before glancing down at her shoes. "Although I do envy you a little. You get to sit down. Being on my feet all day is giving my arches a heck of a time. And not to mention the lower back pain..."

 

"Hey, it's not any better driving around all day" Tobin interjects, causing Christen's eyes to land on her again (and her heart rate to raise ever-so-slightly). "Sometimes I sit for so long that I lose feeling in my butt and legs. One time, I tried to get out of my car after driving around for over an hour straight, and my legs gave out as soon as I set foot out the door. And then, boom!" Tobin illustrates by smacking her right hand against her left. "I ate it big time." Christen laughs easily at Tobin's unfortunately humorous anecdote.

 

"Well, at least no one saw you, right?" Christen giggles, attempting to make Tobin's clumsy moment slightly less humiliating. She stares at Tobin expectantly, but Tobin just closes her eyes and shakes her head.

 

"Oh no, there were definitely witnesses. A couple of gas station workers were on a smoke break nearby" Tobin sighs, slightly ashamed but also slightly pleased to be entertaining a certain someone, "I could hear them laughing from across the street." Christen's resulting chuckle prompts Tobin to open her eyes. And she's thankful she does because the smile on Christen's face is so illuminating that any once of coldness lingering in her body from the chilly outside airs instantly vanishes.

 

"Alright, well, let's just both agree that we each have our own challenges while on the job" Christen allows as she leans both of her elbows on the counter top. Tobin nods in agreeance. It's like they say, the grass is always greener... on the other side of the pick-up counter.

 

Just as Tobin opens her mouth to start on another enticing story from her early days with Uber Eats deliveries, Emily approaches with a package of gingerbread cookies in hand.

 

"Here's your order" Emily announces as she slides the cardboard box over the counter.

 

"Thanks" Tobin instantly replies, although she's a little confused. Emily nods and flashes a polite smile before disappearing back to the decorating area. Tobin turns back to Christen with a puzzled expression. "Don't you need my code first?" she asks, thrown by the sudden out-of-order chain of events.

 

"It's an order for a baker's dozen of gingerbread people for Alyssa N., right?" Christen asks, although Tobin remains befuddled.

 

"Yeah" Tobin haphazardly confirms as her eyes narrow on the baker, "But how did you-"

 

"I saw the order come in a few minutes before you got here and had Emily start putting it together right away" Christen easily explains, causing Tobin's facial features to relax and things start to make sense. "It also helped that you sat in your car for a while, singing to yourself. That gave Emily enough time to put the finishing touches on the cookie arrangement."

 

Just as Tobin felt herself starting to relax, she's shocked out of her senses.

 

"Wait, wait, wait-" Tobin pipes up, feeling almost completely mortified, "You were watching me when I-"

 

"Here you go, Christen!" Mal chimes as hands a medium to-go cup and brown, paper bag to her boss. Christen accepts the bag with a bright smile and thanks her subordinate before facing back towards the awe-struck delivery driver. Mal grins in return and proceeds back to her work station.

 

"One hot cup of Joe and a freshly made apple turnover for you" Christen airily chimes as she smirks at Tobin. She seems to be enjoying putting the delivery woman on the spot. And now Tobin is confused for an entirely different reason.

 

"For me?" Tobin skeptically echoes although she steals a look inside the paper bag. The turnover appears mouth-wateringly good.

 

"On the house" Christen proudly states. Tobin eyes lift back up in disbelief. She studies Christen carefully with her eyes. Giving someone a free treat as recompense for an inconveniencing mistake is one thing, but handing out even more free product when the service is more covenant than average is odd. In fact, it's just bad business sense.

 

What is she playing at?...

 

Tobin ponders Christen's motives in her head, but doesn't come to too many possible conclusions. However, there is one in particular that keeps resurfacing in her mind, but she can't be sure.

 

Is she... maybe... flirting with me?

 

"I really can't accept this" Tobin attempts to deny as she pushes the food items back in the baker's direction, "I don't want to take advantage of your kindness-"

 

"I insist" Christen counters as she slides the two goods back in Tobin's direction. "It will keep you warm and energized out there" Christen sweetly explains as Tobin's eyes flutter between her and the food sitting in front of her, "You have a busy day ahead of you, and I feel responsible for being the cause of it."

 

Tobin chuckles to herself. If business today is anything like what is was like on the weekend, Christen's probably correct.

 

"Are you sure?" Tobin reluctantly questions after weighing accepting the gifts for a few beats in her head.

 

"Positive" Christen confirm with a wide grin that reaches her eyes. "Also, after set of patron's hands has touched an order, legally I am not allowed to bring it back into my kitchen. So either you accept it, or I'll have to throw these in the trash." Tobin chuckles at Christen's witty quip.

 

"Well if you put it that way..." Tobin trails off as she eyes the two appetizing food items on the counter, "I guess I can take these off your hands." Christen grins triumphantly after successfully persuading Tobin.

 

"You should really be proud of yourself for not contributing to food waste" Christen kids as Tobin collects the drink in one hand and places both her order and the customer's in the hot bag.

 

"I suppose I should" Tobin cheekily plays along as she slides the bag back onto her shoulder. "Well, seeing as I'll probably be back at least a hundred more times today, I'll just say 'See you soon'."

 

"Sounds like a plan" Christen agrees in a friendly tone. Tobin smiles and turns to walk back out to her car. However, as she's about halfway between the door and the counter, Christen calls out to her.

 

"Can't wait for your next concert!" Christen sneakily teases.

 

"Please forget you saw that!" Tobin responds back over her shoulder as she continues to trapse towards the exit. She doesn't even bother to turn back around to face the owner of the establishment. Both out of embarrassment and to hide the fact that she can feel a rosy blush appearing on her cheeks. Tobin's best bet a holding on to any remaining sense of dignity is just to confidently trudge forward.

 

"Can't be too sure I will!" Christen laughs back, getting one last sentence in before Tobin has left the premises completely.

 

As Tobin makes her way back to her car, there is one thing at least she can be sure of...

 

She was definitely just flirting with me.

 


 

Tobin stops in a few more times throughout the day to pick up orders, but each times she's served by one of the bakery's employees. She and Christen only ever make eye contact with each other for the rest of the night, but that's enough for Tobin. Just seeing Christen's face is enough to send butterflies fluttering through her stomach.

 

She really does have a beautiful face.

 


 

Tuesday, December 22nd

 

In an odd turn of events, Tobin doesn't see Christen even once on Tuesday.

 

Each times she pops into the store, she finds herself more-and-more disappointed not to see the cheerful owner. After the third or fourth trip back, Tobin begins to worry a little about the cause of Christen's sudden disappearance.

 

Is she out of town? Is she hurt? Did something happen? Is she sick? It is flu season after all...

 

Tobin contemplates asking about Christen's whereabouts from one of the employees, but seeing as how busy and over-worked they are, she elects not to waste any of their precious time. Instead, she does her best to shake any lingering worry from her brain and go about her day with the thought that whatever is keeping Christen away is probably a perfectly normal reason.

 

I hope she's back tomorrow.

 


 

Wednesday, December 23rd

 

Unfortunately, Christen still isn't there by the time Tobin arrives to the bakery early in the morning.

 

Instead, Tobin is met with the cold, hard reality of disappointment, which couples fairly well with today's sub-zero degree weather. She's chilled all the way to the bone when she pushes past the front door and enters the ever-less-inviting bakery. Even the door chimes that she's grown fond of sound seemingly morose.

 

Upon reaching the order pick-up counter, Tobin grows thankful that this place is a bakery and not an ice cream parlor. The heat from the large ovens at the back of the kitchen radiate gradual warmth from one end of the building to another. That alone would usually be enough to draw Tobin out of her sour mood, but today there's an even stronger force of warmth and comfort that is noticeably absent. Not even the warm, cookie-fragrant air can lift her spirits.

 

After about a minute or two of Tobin sulking at the pick-up area, Mal takes notice of her presence and glides on over.

 

"Are you here to pick up an Uber Eats order?" Mal questions as she already begins tapping at the screen and launching the delivery company's portal preemptively.

 

"Yeah" Tobin sighs unenthusiastically as she drags her phone from her jacket pocket and lazily scrolls down the page of the app to find the order details. "Looks like order is for a Lindsey H. and the code is 'G-R-8-T-1'."

 

"Got it, coming right up!" Mal kindly announces before swiftly departing to the back of the kitchen. As the young employee prepares the order, Tobin mind wanders back to the bakery's owner.

 

Tobin begins to once again contemplate reasons why Christen might not be in today.

 

She could be ill, that is an option. Although, I really hope that's not the case. Or she could just be taking the day off. She does seem pretty over-worked, and burning the candle at both ends isn't healthy nor sustainable...

il

As Tobin eyes drift over to the door to the back office, an entirely new thought enters her brain and she immediately wishes she never had it in the first place.

 

Or she could be avoiding me... I don't remember doing anything wrong, but that isn't to say that I didn't... Maybe I make her uncomfortable? Maybe I was reading way too much into our banter that I didn't notice she might be doing so out of polite obligation? Maybe she's worried that I'm trying to mooch off of her for free stuff an that I don't actually respect her? Maybe-

 

In the midst of Tobin's spiraling thoughts, Mal has returned to the register and has slide over an order just-made, powder sugar donuts. When she looks back in front of her, the sudden appearance of Mallory's smiling face startles her and cause her whole body to jolt.

 

"Can I get you anything else?" Mallory politely asks as Tobin attempts to calm down her rapidly beating heart.

 

"Oh, um, no thanks. I'm just..." Tobin unwittingly trails off as her eyes scan the entirety of the bakery one last time before giving up hope and leaving. "... here for this only, I guess."

 

"Okay, well, have a nice day!" Mal sweetly offers back. Tobin nods and stuffs the box of donuts in her hot bag. She's just about to turn towards the door as she feels Mallory's gaze piercing into her. As Tobin makes eye contact with the girl, Mal studies her face for a moment before something dawns on her. "Wait a minute, is your name Tobin?"

 

Tobin quirks an eyebrow, curious as to how the young cashier knows her name and why she's suddenly brought it up.

 

"Yeah? Why?" Tobin inquires, her tone somewhat hesitant.

 

"Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry! Please wait right here, I'll be back in just a second!" Mal rushes out before she dashes back to the other side of the kitchen and without giving Tobin the least bit of incite as to what this is all about. However, deciding to find out, Tobin follows Mallory's instructions and stays put. Not even a minute passes before Mal is bounding back towards her, this time with a to-go cup in hand.

 

"Here, I was told to give this to you if you came in this morning" Mal comments as she places the cup in front of Tobin. Tobin glances down skeptically and notices that it has her name written on it in black sharpie. It's spelled correctly and everything. To say she is surprised is an understatement, especially after the barrage of negative thoughts she'd just endured just moments ago.

 

Tobin reaches into her coat pocket for her wallet, but just as her fingers wrap around it, Mal frantically waves her hands and shakes her head decisively.

 

"No, no, you don't have to pay" Mallory explains, drawing Tobin's attention once again. "I was specifically instructed to refuse any type of payment for the drink."

 

"Not even-" Tobin resumes as she reaches down for her wallet, only to be interrupted once more.

 

"Nope, I really can't accept anything" Mallory insists, causing Tobin's hand to fall limp in her pocket, "Boss was fairly adamant about that. She's a very clear and thorough person."

 

"But why did she-" Tobin attempts, only in vein.

 

"I was also specifically told to walk away as soon as I gave this to you" Mal in forms as she slowly backs away from the counter.

 

"But-"

 

"Bye now!" Mallory utters just before scampering back to the safety of the kitchen. After watching the young, strongly loyal employee disappear from sight, Tobin waits there a few moments longer before shrugging and deciding to just go on about her day.

 

The heat escaping from the cup of coffee is a welcome feeling as she takes it in her hand. She brings the cup up to her lips and takes a sip.

 

Now she feels warm inside and out.

 


 

After an hour and a half lunch break and stopping to get a full tank of gas, Tobin receives another order notification and is back at the Kringle shop.

 

Once out of her vehicle, she kicks some snow out of her tire wells first before making a move towards the building. When she arrives through the door, she wipes the slushy slop from her shoes onto the welcome matt below her. Upon quick inspection, the place is a bit busier than earlier in the day. She figures it must be the lunch crowd.

 

Tobin's boots squeak against the wooden floor as she leisurely approaches the pick-up counter. She draws a few eyes as she does. And even one pair she hadn't expected to see today.

 

Christen's attention locks on to Tobin as soon as she sees her and she wastes no time coming over.

 

Tobin's heart rate picks up. She's pleasantly surprised to see the store owner back in her natural habit, commanding her crew and running the place like a well oiled machine. Christen wears a smile that almost matches Tobin's.

 

"I was about to put out an APB on you" Tobin (half) jokes when Christen draws near. The baker grins with amusement.

 

"Missed me, did you?" she slyly teases as she leans against the counter top.

 

"Maybe a little bit" Tobin coyly plays along as she too leans closer on the wooden counter. "But that was mostly because I was worried that my flow of free goodies would come to an end if you weren't here to give them to me. Turns out I was worried for nothing." Tobin smiles earnestly as she shift her tone to something more honest. "Thanks for that, by the way."

 

"Thanks for not giving Mal too hard of a time while I was gone" Christen playfully counters.

 

"Poor kid was so uncomfortable. I was going to give her tip money but she ran away before I could" Tobin chuckles, reminiscing on her most recent exchange with Christen's new hire. She smiles to herself, but then a question that she's been dying to ask pops to the forefront of her mind. "Really though, where were you? Had some more pressing matters to attend to?"

 

"Actually, yeah" Christen easily agrees, somewhat to Tobin's surprise. "I was at my other location in Rockford. They were short staffed and things were getting pretty desperate, so I had to step in" Christen explains as all this new information starts to add up in Tobin's brain. "I try to alternate between the two stores, but since this location just opened a few weeks ago, I've mostly been needed here to oversee that things are running smoothly."

 

Wait, so there's another location? Meaning that Christen owns not one, but two businesses? She has a franchise? At this young age? Wow, just when I thought this woman couldn't get anymore impressive, I am once again proven wrong. And I suppose that would explain why this place is so busy all the time even though it's so new. Business was so good in Rockford that Christen could open up an entirely new location and already have a clientele. And not to mention the word-of-mouth advertising. I would stop in too if I heard that this place was always packed. That means it has to be good! Damn, I'm talking to a real-life badass right now.

 

"See, I knew this place wasn't here that long" Tobin adds as she begins to reign-in her revelation, "I swear this was a shoe shop not that long ago."

 

"It was, about five months ago" Christen confirms confidently, "But it went out of business and I bought the building almost immediately after it went on the market. This is a prime area that I've been dying to get into for a while. Anyway, I got started on renovations about two weeks after the sale went through. In fact, I was hoping to have this place open before Thanksgiving, but the building had a major plumbing issue, so the whole complex had to get new pipes installed. It cost a pretty penny and set us back by a month, but at least now I have a dishwasher and the bathroom sink no longer has that weird smell coming from it. All-in-all, I'd say the set-back was worth it."

 

Tobin stares blankly at Christen during the entire time she speaks. She had been listening so intently that she forgot to give any kind of feedback at all. And she doesn't even realize it until Christen pipes up once again.

 

"Sorry" Christen dismissively waves, somewhat bashfully, "I realize I must be boring you with all this shop talk. I just can't help it sometimes. That's kind of the nature of the gig, I suppose."

 

Both of Tobin's eyebrows raise as she notices the insecurity in the baker's voice. She immediately feels the impulse to amend the situation.

 

"Oh, no" Tobin quickly corrects as she catches Christen's eye, "You weren't boring me, I was just caught up in the story. And then I was thinking about impressive you are and how h-" Tobin stops in her tracks before she says anything more that might condemn her. She's hoping to god that Christen didn't clock that. But the appearing grin on Christen's face says otherwise.

 

Oh damn.

 

"And how, what I am?" she devilishly teases in devious tone. Her eyes narrow onto Tobin like a hawk at its prey. It's fucking intimidating as hell.

 

"How... H-ard working you are!" Tobin elects to say, internally high-fiving herself for thinking so quickly on her feet.

 

Whoo! Bullet dodged! I almost shot myself in the foot there.

 

Christen's skeptical eyes study Tobin for a few moments more as she retains her tight-lipped expression. Eventually though, she decided to be merciful and push on with the conversation. After all, it would appear that Tobin's been through enough in the past few days already.

 

"Right, well" Christen mutters as she stands up straight and pushes herself away from the counter top. "Speaking of hard work, I'm afraid I've got to get back to the kitchen and whip up a batch of oatmeal cookies before we're completely out of stock."

 

"Oh, okay" Tobin allows, not expecting their exchange to end so soon. Especially after not seeing the baker for over a day and having been accustomed to their normal routine.

 

"Emily will be over in a minute to get you your order" Christen explains as she takes a few baby steps backwards in the direction of the ovens. "I mostly just came over to say 'hi' so... 'Hi' and 'Bye' for now."

 

"I'll see you later then?" Tobin asks, hoping more than she's willing to admit that the answer will be yes. She's elated when she sees Christen smile in response.

 

"Most likely" Christen confirms as she travels further away from Tobin, "We're down some staff tonight, so I'll definitely be here until close."

 

"Alright then" Tobin grins, "See you soon."

 


 

At around quarter to 10:00 in the evening, Tobin pulls into the parking lot of the commercial complex that she's grown so familiar, and fond of, for the past week. Although, this time with the rare exception of picking-up an order from somewhere that isn't a full-on bakery. Sure, the Subway that Tobin's phone points her towards certainly does sell cookies as well, however ever since trying one from Christen's restaurant, all other cookies fall short. Tobin almost regrets eating one in the first place because now her standards are unreasonably high. Almost, being the key word there. The beautiful baker is enough to keep her coming back, but the baked goods that Christen crafts and sells are an entirely separate motivation to return to the store. It's possible the secret ingredient in Christen's cookies are a tiny bits of heaven itself.

 

As Tobin shifts her gears into park, she can't help but notice that something is amiss in the building complex. Upon further inspection, Tobin realizes it's because all the lights are off in the bakery and not a soul remains inside. It's a jarring sight to see, but then again, Tobin's never been in the area after closing time. Of course the bakery would have to pack-up shop at some point in the day. But how busy it usually is, in Tobin's mind the place is in a constant state of chaotic work flow.

 

When Tobin's eyes finally drift just to the left of the bakery's store front, she notices a lone car parked in a stall not too far away from the front entrance. She's surprised to a vehicle all the way over there given that the only people who would really be here right now are here and the Subway employees. However, she's even more surprised when her eyes continue to scan towards the left and spot a woman leaning against the car's bumper. And not just any woman.

 

"Christen?" Tobin feels herself calling out as her car door window is already halfway open. Christen has one hand running through her hair and a phone to her ear when she glances over and spots Tobin. She looks flustered, but when she appears to recognize the voice beckoning her, a small hint of a smile forms at the corners of her mouth.

 

"Hang on one second, please" Christen mutters into her phone before lowering it away from her face and narrowing her eyes in the direction of Tobin's car. "Tobin? What are you doing here?"

 

"I get order requests from restaurants other than your own, ya know" Tobin teases as she unbuckles her seatbelt and pops open her door.

 

"Is that so?" Christen chuckles and playfully jests, "I thought I employed most of your business hours. I guess I was mistaken."

 

"What can I say? I'm a woman in demand" Tobin jokes as she steps out of her car and slams the door behind her. She smiles as she walks over towards Christen, although as she observes how the woman's arms are clutched close to her body and her teeth nearly chatter, she begins to raise concern. "But why are you standing out here in the cold all by yourself? Is something wrong?" Tobin's eyebrows furrow as she awaits further explanation.

 

"I guess you could say that" Christen exhaustedly sighs and nods, "My car's battery died. I think the cold might've drained it or something. That, or I left some of my lights one. Anyway, I'm having a bitch of a time trying to get any kind of mechanic or tow truck out here. Apparently there was a major pile up on I-67. Just my luck."

 

"That's all?" Tobin chuckles as she feels a wave of relief flow throughout her body. Christen shoots her a confused look. "God, I mean from the look on your face I thought a family member died or you found out that your book keeper ran off with your life savings or something." Tobin scoffs as she glances between Christen's eyes and her immobile vehicle. Christen doesn't seem to be as amused as she is right now. Tobin decides to cut to the chase already and remedy that as soon as possible. "If a dead battery's your only problem, then you're in luck. I always carry a pair of jumper cables in the trunk of my car and I can totally give you a jump, if you want."

 

Christen's eyes light up at Tobin's offer and she opens her mouth to say something but is immediately interrupted by a muffled, nasally voice on the other end of her call.

 

"Hello? Ma'am? Are you still there?" the voice rings out. Christen scrambles and brings the cellphone back to her ear, all the while maintaining eye contact with the generous Uber Eats driver.

 

"Yes, I'm still here. Just a moment, please" Christen rushes out before cupping a hand over the bottom half of the phone. "You really know how to jump a car?" Christen eagerly questions as she stares Tobin directly in the eyes.

 

"I've done it a thousand times" Tobin humbly brags before glancing over her shoulder and then back to Christen, "I drive an old beater like that, it's kind of necessary for me to know." Christen cracks a smile.

 

"So, you'll really help me out?" Christen earnestly asks. And if Tobin wasn't aware of how desperate Christen is for assistance, she might even be offended by Christen's apparent need for a solid confirmation. After all, if Christen wasn't the one always handing out the free food and gifts, she would probably already know that Tobin has quite the charitable side herself.

 

"Yeah, for sure" Tobin confidently nods, "But I have to go make one last delivery first. I'll be there and back in like fifteen minutes if you're good to just wait for me inside the bakery." Tobin gazes at Christen expectantly, waiting for her response, hoping she didn't just sour the deal and ruin her chances at hanging out with the woman after hours. Instead responding in kind, Christen wordlessly grins before turning her attention back to her phone call.

 

"Actually, it turns out that I won't require assistance anymore. Sorry for the trouble, but thank you anyway!" Christen states to the person on the other end before decisively hanging up and directing her attention to Tobin once again.

 

"So..." Tobin drawls out as she fidgets under the intense gaze of the beautiful baker, "How about you head inside and I run in and grab that order? Then I'll be back in about fifteen-to-twenty, depending on the traffic?"

 

"Sounds like a deal" Christen easily agrees as she offers up one last warm, and grateful smile.

 

"Cool" Tobin returns, flashing a pleased grin of her own.

 

The two the head off in opposing directions. Christen unlocks the front door to the bakery and Tobin bounds over the entrance to the Subway sandwich shop. Both equally as eager for Tobin to go and get back.

 


 

After making her last delivery for the night driving more hastily than Tobin would like to admit, she finds herself back in the parking lot she found herself in not twenty minutes ago. This time as she pulls up, she spots the bakery lit to it's familiar state. The only difference from any normal day is the complete absence of customers and employees. It's a welcome change. At least, for the night.

 

Tobin wastes no time hopping out of her car and trudging back up to the bakery's front door. As she enters, the bells on the door seem to have a brand-new ring. The sounds of them chiming echo throughout the vacant bakery. It's almost as if they're singing out to her. Like an especially warm-welcome for their favorite delivery pick-up person. Even now, Tobin's here to make a pick-up. Only this time around, she's picking-up a person, not an order of fresh croissants or whatever-the-hell kringle actually is.

 

"Hello? Christen?" Tobin bellows out as her eyes search for the establishment's accomplished owner. She sees no sign of life before the door to the back office opens and a familiar face appears.

 

"Sorry! I was just filing out an ingredient order form" Christen explains as she weaves her way through the kitchen area and over the the pick-up counter where she and Tobin have made a habit of meeting. "While you were gone I noticed we were pretty low on a few things and I thought I may as well get an supply request in before midnight so I'm not left high-and-dry come Monday."

 

"Even when you're not working, you're still working" Tobin comments as she withholds her astonishment from inside. Christen truly is an impressively ambitious worker.

 

"That's the price I pay for running my own business" she airily sighs as she smirks slyly at Tobin. "But I can say the same for you right now. Even after you've clocked out of the night, you're still hanging around this place." Christen's eyes look Tobin up-and-down, "What are you trying to do? Butter me up so get you faster service the next time you stop by?"

 

"We in the business call that 'maintaining a strong restaurateur-delivery person relationship'" Tobin immediately shoots back with a sneaky grin.

 

"Well then" Christen continues, eyeing up Tobin as if to size-her-up, "Why don't we continue to nurture said relationship? How about a tour of the place?"

 

"For real?" Tobin questions, sounding a tad more excited than she meant to lead on. Christen chuckles and offers a definitive nod.

 

"Of course" she earnestly returns as she pushes herself away from the counter and gestures for Tobin to follow. "Let me show you where the magic happens." Tobin hesitantly walks around the counter and stays close behind as Christen leads her further into the kitchen area. This is all foreign territory for the delivery woman. She's not entirely sure how to act.

 

"I gotta say" Tobin begins as Christen leads her over to a row of wooden-counter topped tables, "This is the furthest I've ever gotten to being in a commercial kitchen. Most restaurants don't even let you past the register."

 

"Good thing I know the owner" Christen teases from over her shoulder as she stops at one of the tables. It's also a good thing Christen had her back to Tobin, or else she would've seen the blush that just crept onto the driver's face.

 

"Yeah" Tobin agrees after a moment of regaining her composure, "It's a good thing I do, too."

 

"Alright so first stop on our tour, these here are the decorating stations" Christen proudly announces as she waves her arms out towards the surrounding area. "This is where everything get its final touch. Right over here is where cakes are frosted, donuts are glazed, and cookie platters are arranged."

 

"Very nice" Tobin nods and smiles before Christen claps her hands together and decides to push forward with the tour.

 

"Next stop, the ovens" Christen smiles widely as she happily leads Tobin over to an area with intimidatingly large floor to ceiling ovens. They're big enough to fit a whole human into. Which isn't a suddenly a frightening thought to have...

 

"Let me guess" Tobin pipes up with an air of confidence, "This is where the baking takes place."

 

"You would be correct" Christen giggles as she faces Tobin once again, "These bad boys can get as hot a five-hundred and seventy degrees Fahrenheit, though I wouldn't suggest baking anything that high unless you like a nice charred flavor."

 

"Mmm, don't we all?" Tobin teases as Christen scoffs and her smile reaches her eyes. Christen continues walking and weaving Tobin through the impressively constructed kitchen. She points out and explains certain machines and equipment as she does. Tobin pays extremely close attention as if there will be a pop quiz after. Maybe it's because she's stoked to be able to see behind the scenes of the city's busiest bakery. Or maybe it's because the tour is being lead by the charismatic owner of the city's busiest bakery herself. Tobin suspects it's the latter.

 

"And last but not least, here is my favorite spot in the entire place" Christen declares as leads Tobin back to the pick-up counter. It comes as a surprise, Tobin had not even realized that they'd ended up back where they began.

 

"This spot is your favorite?" Tobin skeptically repeats as she joins Christen at her side. Tobin glances back at the remaining grandiose kitchen and then back to Christen. "Are you sure it's not back there by those cool-ass industrial strength mixers?"

 

"Nope, this is it" Christen corrects with a laugh. She finds it amusing how entranced by her humble work space Tobin is.

 

"Why's that?" Tobin finally prods.

 

"Because" Christen pauses as she takes a deep breath and contently surveys the area in front of her. "This is where I get to make people's day" she explains as she runs her fingertips affectionately over the wooden counter top. "I mean, this is where people happily line-up just to get a taste of my creations. This is where people tell me how their neighbor recommended them to comer here, or how their grandkids can't get enough of my double chocolate chip cookies. Or best of all, when they say that something they tried here reminded them of happy time from their childhood or an old recipe a deceased family member used to make. It's those kind of stories, those personal connections, that's what makes me love my job. That's what keeps pushing me forward. And that's why this is my absolute favorite spot in the whole bakery."

 

Tobin smiles and stares at Christen's face intently as she listen's to the woman's heartfelt confession. Tobin marvels at the fact that Christen's expressions lit up with every word. It's been a long time since she's seen someone with such fervor for their job. With such purpose and passion for what they do in life. It's truly inspiring to see.

 

"You know what? I get it" Tobin admits as places an elbow in the counter and leans her head against her hand. "I think this is my favorite place, too."

 

"Oh yeah? Because of the free goodies you get when you come here?" Christen kids as she gazes at Tobin brightly.

 

"That's only seventy percent of the reason..." Tobin alludes as she glances back and forth between Christen's eyes. Christen maintains her gazes and grins back before she raises an eyebrow.

 

"And what's the remaining thirty percent?" she warmly urges. Tobin wordlessly holds her gazes for a few seconds more before she can feel herself starting to lose her resolve. Christen seems to have that effect on her recently. Finally, Tobin breaks eye contact and nods her head towards the door.

 

"Hey, shouldn't we get to jumping your car? If we wait too long, we might lose mine as well." Tobin stands up straight and takes a step away from the counter. As much as she'd like to stay in this nice, quiet and warm bakery, she fears what might happen if she does.

 

Picking up on Tobin's sudden reluctance to answer, Christen simply nods and gestures for Tobin to head towards the exit.

 

"Lead the way" she says sweetly.

 


 

After hooking up the jumper cables to both cars and letting Tobin's engine run for a good two-three minutes, it's finally time to see if Tobin's effort wasn't in vein.

 

"Okay, start her up!" Tobin calls over to Christen who's reaching through her open driver's side window. She laces her arm around the steering wheel and inserts the key into the ignition.

 

"Here goes nothing!" she warily calls back before giving to key a swift twist.

 

After what feels like an eternity and much to both of their surprise, the lights on the dashboard illuminate and the car's engine purrs back to life. At the moment, it's the most beautiful sound in the world.

 

Before Tobin even knows what's happening, Christen turns towards her and takes a quick few strides before launching herself into the delivery driver's arms. Tobin has hardly enough time to reach but she somehow manages to catch her.

 

"It worked!" Christen squeals as she wraps her arms over Tobin's shoulders and clings onto the back of her neck. "I seriously can't believe it worked! I tried to get that damn thing running for a good thirty minutes before you arrived! Thank you, Tobin! You're my fucking hero!"

 

Tobin feels especially conscious of the way her own arms instinctively found their way around Christen's waist. She finds herself bewildered at just how easily the two women are holding each other right now. How it's the first time they've ever been this close and that this is the most physical contact they've shared, and yet it feels like they've done this a thousand times before. Tobin can't believe how comfortable she's currently feeling with a near stranger wrapped up in her arms, but she can't stop herself from enjoying the moment either. It feels so right. And with every passing second, her heartrate ascends that by the time Christen finally pulls away, she can feel it in her throat.

 

As Christen's arms start to fall lose from Tobin's shoulders and the space between them grows, something deep inside her tells her to hold on. As Christen pulls her head back, she pauses when she notices just how intensely Tobin is staring at her. When Christen's eyes meet Tobin's entrancing gaze, Christen stops in place, leaving a mere few inches in between each of their faces.

 

They stand there like that for a few moments. Both breathing clouds of vapor into the cold night air, but neither moving anymore than that. They maintain eye contact for what feels like forever but what is probably only seconds. It isn't until Christen unconsciously glances down at Tobin's lips does Tobin regain mobility in her body. For whatever reason, the small break in eye contact only adds to the tension. It feels like a giant magnet is pulling Tobin in Christen's direction, beckoning her to make a move. And without a single thought more, Tobin feels herself leaning forward, closing to gap between them. And for a moment, it almost seems like Christen is about to do the same.

 

But then Christen takes a tiny step backwards.

 

And Tobin's heart sinks.

 

Tobin freezes in a mortified states as her mind begins to panic.

 

Oh... Oh shit, no... Oh god, what have I just done? Did I just try to kiss Christen? And did she just reject me? Oh god, oh god, of god! Oh fuck! No! Shit! I can't believe I just did that! What was I thinking? I've just ruined everything!

 

Christen appears to notice the pure horror written all over Tobin's face and her eyebrows knit together with concern.

 

"Tobin, I-" she takes a step forward, only now Tobin is the one to step away.

 

"I am so sorry" Tobin rushes out in a desperate tone. "I didn't mean to... I-I mean it was just... I hope I didn't..."

 

"Wait, Tobin it's-" Christen attempts again. However, the amount of disgust and self-loathing that fills Tobin's body deafens her from processing Christen's feeble attempts to talk things out.

 

"God, Christen, I'm so so sorry" Tobin blathers out as she holds a hand to her forehead and her eyes dart around to anywhere but directly at the baker. "Fuck, I... I think I should just go..." Tobin briskly walks around Christen and begins disconnecting the jumper cables in reverse order as to how she put them on. She finishes the job so quickly that Christen's doesn't have any time to react.

 

"Tobin, wait please. We can-" Christen uselessly attempts one more time as Tobin walks right past her and urgently deposits the jumper cables into the back of her car.

 

"Goodnight, Christen. Drive safe" Tobin simply mumbles before she fling open her driver's side door and climbs into the car. She swiftly pulls the door shut behind her and shifts the car into reverse. She doesn't even think to buckle her seatbelt before she floors it in reverse and shifts back to drive.

 

"Tobin!" Christen calls out to her. However, Tobin just pulls forward and leaves the parking lot without a single look back.

 


 

Thursday, December 24th

 

Ever since that awkward encounter with Christen last night, Tobin's been sulking all day. It was a bitch to prying herself out of bed this morning. If it were completely up to her, she wouldn't have left bed at all. But given that today is one of the busiest business days of the year and that her rent payment is coming up fast than she had thought, Tobin has no choice but to hit the pavement and work.

 

Throughout the day, she receives several order requests for Christen's Kringle. Today she has gotten the most she has yet. But she denies every single one as the sheer dread of heading back to that bakery and seeing Christen discourages her. She can't bear to face Christen now. Not after what happened last night. Maybe never again.

 

In an attempt to remedy the influx of kringle notifications, Tobin hangs around a popular Asian-fusion restaurant for the remainder of the day. She's learned from her many months of delivery driving that today is one of their busiest days of the year as well. Overall, her plan mostly works and she's dispatched to pick-up and deliver orders of egg rolls, stir-fried noodle dishes, and a surprising amount of bibimbap. However, every now and then, a few order requests from a certain bakery continue to find their way to her. She proceeds with declining them and she's ready to clock out at the end of a long day when one last order notification pops up on her phone screen. When she goes to decline it, her stomach sinks when she realizes that she's already reached her decline limit and that if she wants to continue working for Uber Eats, she has to accept it. Otherwise no paycheck. And no way of living. And no home to go back to.

 

When she finally forces herself to look at the order request, her stomach drops once more.

 


 

The bells that jingle as Tobin pushes through the door at exactly five minutes after five in-the-evening sound like a death march. Tobin can't shake the sickening dread as she reluctantly saunters up to the pick-up counter.

 

It takes a couple minutes before anyone notices her. Most of the employees are already in the process of cleaning up. A few run around the kitchen and clean last second messes. One sweeps the floor as another flips chairs and stacks them on their corresponding tables. Even half of the lights are turned off. For a moment, Tobin considers that they might already be closed and that she's intruding on their lock-up routine.

 

But then Mallory makes eye contact with her from across the way. Tobin smiles, relieved that the young new hire will be the one to serve her, and not a certain someone. However, much to Tobin's surprised, instead of meeting Tobin over at the counter, Mal wanders into the back office. She's back out in a matter of seconds, but the momentary feeling of relief disappears immediately when she sees who's following the young cashier.

 

Oh no...

 

"That's enough for today, everybody!" Christen bellows from across the kitchen, "You guys have been working so hard, so head on out, I'll take it from here!"

 

"Are you sure you want to lock-up by yourself?" Emily skeptically comments with a full bag of garbage in her hand. Christen just nods, and Emily shrugs. "Alright then, I'll just take this to the dumpster on my way out."

 

Within a minute, Emily, Mal, and all the employees have left the building. All but one. Leaving Tobin all alone with Christen in the bakery just as she had been the night before.

 

"I'm here to pick-up an order" Tobin sheepishly mutters as she refuses to look the baker in the eye.

 

"I know" Christen simply replies, sounding surprisingly calm given how the two had left things the evening prior. As Tobin stands wordlessly at the counter, Christen speaks up once again and jostles Tobin from her state of embarrassment. "Who is the order for?" she prompts.

 

Tobin glances down at her phone screen and begins to read off the order request.

 

"Order for Christen P. and it says it's for a batch of 'forgive me, please' pistachio tarts" Tobin robotically recites without a second thought. Christen stares at her expectantly for a second before motioning for Tobin to look at her screen again.

 

"I'm sorry" she feigns ignorance, "I didn't quite catch that. Could you read that again, please?"

 

Tobin sighs and casts her eyes back towards her phone.

 

Why is she drawing this out? Can't we just both go our separate ways and leave this awkward encounter behind? Isn't that for the best?...

 

"One batch of 'forgive me, please' pistachio tarts for Christen... Wait." Tobin's eyes shoot up and meet the bakery owner's directly. "Did you..."

 

"I placed the order" Christen confirms with a slight nod of her head. The baker seems extremely calm, cool, and collected. The delivery driver on the other hand... is utterly confused.

 

"Why would you..." Tobin blabbers out, failing to put-two-and-two-together.

 

"Because I wanted to see you" Christen wastes no time to clarify. She stares Tobin deep in the eyes. Enough to pierce her soul. Christen's words bounce around in Tobin's mind before she can even fully comprehend what was just said. And just when things start to take on meaning in Tobin's head, Christen continues speaking. "And because... I wanted to apologize for last night."

 

"Oh, you don't have to do that" Tobin immediately interjects, not wanting Christen to feel bad about rejecting her. Tobin can't help but feel like the guilty party here, and it pains her to see Christen try to shoulder the blame. "I shouldn't have tried to ki-"

 

"Tobin, I have feelings for you" Christen interrupts, stopping the driver dead in her tracks. Tobin isn't so sure she heard that correctly.

 

"You... do?" Tobin gradually echoes, now reeling from this new information.

 

"Yes!" Christen lightheartedly chuckles as she watches the look of stupefaction grow on Tobin's face. "I know we've only really known each other for a few days, but yeah, I definitely feel a connection between us. I was intrigued by you ever since our first meeting and I kind kind of feel this chemistry between you and me. I mean, hell Tobin, do you actually think that I would add a new menu item and send out a bunch of Uber Eats orders for my own bakery if I didn't?"

 

"You did all that?" Tobin blurts out, fairly astonished at this point. Christen playfully eyes Tobin up and down.

 

"You know, you really need to take a closer look at the order details when you get new requests" Christen teases as she grabs a plate with two pieces of some kind of jelly-filled, iced pastry from the counter beside her. Tobin watches idly as Christen walks around the counter and past her towards one of the tables near the windows.

 

"Where are you going?" Tobin questions. Christen turns back around and flashes her a butterfly-inducing grin.

 

"Care for some kringle?" She cheerfully asks as she uses her free hand to grab a chair from the table and flip it right-side-up. Tobin follows suit and walks over and pulls down a chair of her own. They both sit and gaze at each other for a moment before Tobin glances down at the plate.

 

"So this is kringle, huh?" she asks as she picks up a piece and rotates it in her hand to inspect it.

 

"Yep, you should try it" Christen encourages as she jerks her chin at Tobin. Tobin looks between Christen and the pastry in her hand.

 

"Bottoms up!" she shrugs just before taking a bite. As her teeth sink into the sugary delicacy, her face instantly lights up. "Holy shit!" she exclaims through a mouth-full of kringle.

 

"Good, right?" Christen giggles as she watches Tobin promptly devour what was left the the sweet, Scandinavian treat.

 

"Damn good! I get the hype now" Tobin exudes as she pulls a napkin from a dispenser and wipes her mouth. Christen just stares at her and laughs. "What?" Tobin finally asks.

 

"It's just that..." Christen begins as she gestures to her own cheek. "You've got a..."

 

"Something on my face?" Tobin inquires, somewhat embarrassed. She desperately wipes a hand over her mouth. "Did I get it?" she asks. However, Christen just shakes her head and stands from her seat.

 

"Just... hang on" she instructs as she stands in front of Tobin and bends forward so that they are eye-level. Tobin stares into Christen's eyes with a tense expression. She freezes and Christen smiles slightly. "Let me just..." Christen whispers as she leans-in closer and finally closes the gap between them. She plants a slow, tender kiss on Tobin's lips. It's nothing fancy and it's fairly brief, but it's intimate and it conveys Christen's feelings, none-the-less.

 

As Tobin's eyes flutter back open, she sees that Christen has already made it back to her seat and is smiling blissfully at her from across the table. Unbelievably, Tobin's mind has all but drawn a blank. There's only one thing she can think to say now.

 

"So... Did you get it?"

 

Christen bursts out in a bout of laughter. Tobin giggles too, because how could she not after what just happened, and Christen smiles at her once again.

 

"To be honest, there wasn't anything on your face to begin with" Christen sweetly admits, causing Tobin's heart to flutter.

 

Wow, what a woman...

 

Tobin silently studies Christen for a couple moments before eventually piping up with a question she's been dying to ask for the past several days.

 

"Hey so, what are you doing after the holidays?"

 

"I'll probably still be busy running things around here, but once I find a permanent manager for this location, I'm sure things will slow down for me a bit" Christen answers earnestly before eyeing up Tobin with a flirtatious smile. "What about you? Got any plans?"

 

"Well, I'll probably be working non-stop from now until New Year's Day, but I'm pretty sure things will go back to normal after that" Tobin warmly returns, cracking a bright grin of her own.

 

"So..." Christen drawls out as she playfully narrows her eyes at Tobin, "...It's a date?"

 

"It's a date."