Their faith carried me through so many dark days.
They mean everything to me. I love them so much I can’t imagine a fate worse than disappointing the two best people I know.
And why am I worried about disappointing them?
I don’t freaking know.
That’s the problem.
That’s part of the dread. Cue the creepy music. Turn on the soundtrack. Ruby has dread. Welcome to life as a twenty-seven-year-old, buttercup. Now get over it.
I toss my lollipop into the trash can by the shop’s back door and push into the storage room, still unsettled, and it’s . . . strange.
Strange enough that I’m too distracted, too caught up in my own thoughts to realize my father’s shouted warning to, “Duck, baby!” is meant for me.
The heavy weight of something warm and sticky slaps me in the face and I gasp, sucking in strawberry filling and coughing as the rest of the pie slides down my nose and chin, oozing over the front of my white cotton tank top before plopping to the floor.
Ugh. How could I have forgotten Pie Toss Day?
“Oh, honey, are you okay?” My mother rushes across the room as I swipe strawberry from my eyes and swallow the filling still in my mouth. “Why did you come in the back on Pie Toss Day?” she asks, echoing my thoughts.
“I forgot,” I say, licking my lips. Mmm . . . still delicious, even two days old, proving my parents shouldn’t stress about the day-old section in the bakery case. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry.” Mom rubs my back. “We’re sorry. It’s your big day. We should be celebrating your accomplishments, not hitting you in the face with Strawberry Splendor.”
“Though red’s a great color on you,” Cousin Gigi calls from the line of staff and family members on the other side of the room, waiting for their turn to hurl an old pie at the target on the door—the employee with the most bull’s-eyes wins season tickets to the Coney Island amusement park, and the people who work here love fun, roller coasters, and beers and hotdogs on the boardwalk almost as much as they love sugar.
I smile, trying not to think about my ruined tank top or the dread still floating around in my chest. “Thanks. You too. Cute dress.”
Gigi twirls, sending the circle skirt of her red-and-white polka-dot vintage bombshell dress swinging around her.
“Thank you,” she says, pressing a hand to her chest then gesturing to the arrangement of red balloons in the corner of the room. “I wore it to match your balloons. Congrats on finishing therapy!”
“We bought them to bring to the restaurant tonight,” Dad says, coming to stand beside Mom and reaching one big arm around both of us. “We didn’t think you were going to be able to make it this afternoon.”
“Steve and I finished early, and I thought I’d swing by and see if you needed help closing up,” I say, blinking gloppy eyelashes. I’m definitely going to need a shower before dinner.
Do I need to shower before I see Jesse?
A small smile tugs at my lips. He’d probably get a kick out of pie on my face. Evidence of Sweetie-Pie-related insanity always makes him laugh.
“No, but we need help over here,” Hank, the oldest member of our kitchen staff, booms. “These pies aren’t going to throw themselves, sweetheart.”
My heart softens at the genuine affection in his voice. I’m so lucky to have a great family and a great work family. I shoot Mom and Dad a brighter smile. “Can’t argue with that.”
“No, you can’t.” Mom hugs me tight to her side, whispering, “So proud of you, baby.”
“Thanks, Mom.” I hug her back and cross the room to claim my missiles of choice—coconut cream, because they’re light and my throwing arm isn’t built for distance.
I pass a sweet, laughter-filled half hour goofing off with my tribe before bidding them goodbye and heading to see Jesse about his surprise.
I wonder what it is?
Something better than a pie to the face, probably. I really should clean up before I see him, but his garage is on the way to my apartment, and he truly won’t care if I’m a little gross. I’ve learned that about him as we’ve grown closer.
He doesn’t sweat the small stuff.
Makes sense, since he’s conquered the big stuff and come out on the other side a stronger person.
But have I?
As I make my way through the park to his garage, the dread creeps back in on soft, gloomy feet, banishing the smile from my face.
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