Burn for Me - Chapter 2
The sharp tone of the alarm shattered the early morning silence and dragged Kitty unwillingly from a deep, dreamless sleep. She seriously loathed her early morning starts. There should be a law or something that forbade having to get up at three in the morning. It was just not natural. Reluctantly, she rolled out of bed, heading for the shower, stretching and yawning as she went.
Kitty loved to bake but hated to get up early. Her mother always laughed at the irony. Getting up at three o’clock six mornings a week amused her mother no end. She knew how much Kitty prized her sleep. But if she wanted to be successful, she needed to be ready to trade by the time she opened for her customers at seven o’clock. Even when she’d far rather still be snuggled down in dreamland.
Moving through her morning routine like an automaton, Kitty headed for the kitchen to get a cup of coffee to jumpstart her brain. On another jaw-popping yawn, she reached for her travel mug while the coffee machine gurgled its way through the brewing process. The mouth-watering smell of java permeated the air, and she smiled in anticipation of that first hit of life-giving caffeine. Having already added milk and sugar to her cup, Kitty poured the hot, fragrant coffee into it and headed for the door while taking that first, eagerly anticipated sip.
Traffic being quiet in the early morning darkness, she reviewed all that needed doing for the day. The new flavour she wanted to try out on the customers, all the special orders that needed to be filled that day, and the products she needed to get onto the shelves. Every day, she tried to keep things fresh, changing it up a bit. There were the absolute must-haves they offered daily, but she tried to rotate others to keep her customers coming back. And they certainly did. Slowly but surely, she’d built a solid reputation for excellent quality, innovative ideas, and outstanding customer service.
Her cupcakes were popular and a big hit for children’s parties. But it was the fabulous special-occasion cakes she created out of the cupcakes that had become the cornerstone of her business. Especially the wedding cakes. She prided herself on being able to bring the bride’s vision to life, helping to make that special day just a little bit more so.
The parking lot at the back of the bakery was deserted in the early morning hours as Kitty parked her car. Hopping out, she turned to set the alarm. Making her way to the back door of the bakery, the hair on the back of her neck stood up. That constant sense of being watched was really starting to freak her out.
Lurking in the deepest recess, they watched as she made her way across to the door, their eyes hungrily undressing her. What they wouldn’t do to have her all to themselves. That would have to wait. They wanted everything to be perfect when they finally brought her home, but it wasn’t yet. Soon; and they couldn’t wait to show her how much they loved her.
Engrossed so deeply in her preparation routine, Kitty started when she heard Jazz knock at the kitchen door. A quick glance at the clock told her time had flown by as she’d lost herself in the soothing rhythm of baking. Thankfully, the prep work was on target as the shop would be opening in half an hour. Jazz greeted her with a smile, making her way over to the coffee pot.
She was tiny. From her tiny feet to the top of her head covered in startlingly red hair cut super short, she resembled a pixie. But what she lacked in stature, Jazz most certainly made up for in heart. It was huge and beautiful, with a smile to match.
Returning the smile, Kitty greeted, “Good morning, Jazz. How are you doing today?”
“Hey, Kitty. Great, thanks. Gosh, it’s winding up to be another scorcher of a day today.” Pausing to take a sip of her coffee, she hummed in appreciation. “How are you doing?” Jazz replied.
“Great, thanks. I know, right? It looks like another aircon kind of day.”
“Yeah. Oh, speaking of aircon, would it be okay if I call the refrigeration technician to come take a look at the display case on the left today? It seems to be struggling a bit in this heat.”
Laughing, Kitty gave her assistant a look over her shoulder.
“Are you sure that’s the only reason you want to give the technician a call?” To Kitty’s amazement, Jazz blushed. “Jazz, you little flirt!” She laughed again.
“Yeah, whatever,” Jazz mumbled, blushing a little more. She drank her coffee in silence for a couple of minutes before venturing, “So, would it be okay? I don’t want to lose stock because it spoils.”
“No problem. Just remind them to quote first. They’ve got a bad habit of just coming in to do the work without letting us know how much it’s going to be.”
“No problem.” Jazz went to put her now-empty coffee cup in the sink and headed for the front of the shop. As she got to the door, Kitty called her name.
“You know I’m was only teasing about the tech, right?”
“Thanks for being such an efficient assistant. I’d be lost without you.”
Giving Kitty a sunny smile, she replied, “All part of the Jazzy service.”
At exactly seven o’clock, Jazz opened the doors to a queue of people making their way to their office, looking for something to get their day started. For the next forty-five minutes, Kitty and Jazz were run off their feet. With stocks severely depleted, Kitty had just turned to head back to the kitchen for the next round of baking when the door sensor chimed and Archie walked in. He came in every day.
“Hi Kitty, hi. You’re looking beautiful today, as usual,” Archie lisped.
“Hi Archie. Thanks,” she replied, turning to head back to the kitchen.
Jazz rolled her eyes at Kitty before turning to assist Archie.
Archie gave Jazz a creepy feeling, but she tolerated him for Kitty’s sake. Kitty had been willing to give her a chance when everyone else had simply shown her the door, so she would do almost anything for her. Even putting up with the very weird and somewhat unsettling Archie Durwood.
“What’s it gonna be today, Archie?” Jazz asked.
“Um, I think I’ll have a mocha fudge today, please,” he replied, frowning as he watched Kitty turn to leave.
“So, Kitty, I was… was, er, was wondering if you would like to have a cup of coffee with me today?” he stumbled, blushing a rather unbecoming shade of red.
Smiling through gritted teeth, Kitty turned back to him.
“Thanks, Archie, but I’m really snowed under with work today. Maybe another time,” she replied.
“Oh, well, um, sure. Sure. No problem.” Taking his boxed cupcake, he bowed his head. “Another time then.” He headed for the door. Casting a last look over his shoulder, he left.
Jazz followed her to the kitchen. Leaning a hip against the counter, she faced Kitty. “Coffee?”
“Yes, please!” came the prompt reply.
“Man, I gotta tell you. That Archie is a right weirdo. He gives me the heebie-jeebies, pure and simple.” With a shiver, she handed over the cup of coffee.
Grimacing, Kitty reached for her mug. “Jazz!”
“What?” she grinned back unrepentantly. “You can’t tell me he doesn’t have the same effect on you! There’s something seriously off about that dude!”
Sighing, she replied, “He’s always been a little… different, shall we say? His parents did him no favours with that name. And the lisp sure as hell doesn’t help. Life was unbearable for him when we were at school. As he’s grown older, he’s gotten worse.”
The doorbell on the front door chimed, saving Kitty from having to say anything more on the topic. Jazz headed for the front, and Kitty got back to work. The rest of the day whizzed by in a blur.
With the bakery put to rights, Kitty locked the front door. Letting herself out the back, she locked the door behind her and made her way to the car, rolling tired shoulders. A prickle of the ever-present feeling of eyes on her made its way down her spine. Looking around, she didn’t see anything out of place, but the feeling wouldn’t abate.
She was sure somebody was out there in the dark recesses somewhere, watching her. Her imagination ran wild as fear gripped her. She disliked feeling this way. Rushing over to her car, Kitty fumbled with the fob to unlock, scrambling into the safety of the interior when she finally managed to get it open. She slammed the door and locked it, glanced around one last time before starting the engine.
To distract herself from the dread, she connected her phone to the car’s Bluetooth system. First, she dialled her friend Morgan’s number. When she got no answer, she dialled Lee’s number. While she waited for her to answer, Kitty started the car and pulled out of the parking lot. She couldn’t wait to get home.
“Hey gorgeous. How goes?” Lee answered.
“Hi yourself. Just headed for home, so I thought I’d check in. How’s your day been?”
The mindless chatter helped calm her jangling nerves and made the drive home more palatable.
Summertime traffic was the worst, especially over the weekends. Everybody was either headed for the beach to enjoy the sun or the mall to enjoy the air conditioning. Eventually, Kitty pulled into her parking space at home, heaving a sigh of relief. Sitting bumper to bumper scarcely moving for kilometres on end wasn’t her favourite way to spend her time. It had been a long day, but nothing that a hot soak, a good book, and a glass of wine couldn’t cure. Not necessarily in that order. And at least she’d had Leyla’s rapier wit to keep her company on the irritating drive.
Usually Kitty came home earlier in the day, but today she’d stayed until closing so she could try out some new ideas. So, she was definitely looking forward to relaxing.
Life, it seemed, had other ideas, as the downstairs buzzer sounded. It looked like her much-anticipated soak wasn’t to be.
“Hello?” she said.
“Hi, open up,” a voice replied.
Smiling, she pressed the door release to let Morgan Preston in. Their mothers were childhood friends. Even after getting married and having children of their own, their friendship had endured. And, of course, they were thrilled when their girls had become best friends almost since birth. Kitty stood by the open door waiting for the lift to arrive.
“Hiya, precious. I saw you were looking for me earlier, so I thought I’d pop by. How was your day?” Morgan queried as she made her way into the apartment.
“Crazy busy, but good. Yours?” Kitty reached out to give Morgan a big hug.
“Urgh! The day from hell. Somehow, the dick managed to corrupt the document file he needs for a meeting on Monday, and guess who has to ride to the rescue yet again? And on a Saturday,” she pouted. Throwing herself down on the nearest sofa, she continued, “I don’t get paid enough for this crap. Even the side benefits don’t make up for that frustration.”
Kitty laughed at her friend.
“Don’t let Greg hear you calling him a dick!” she teased, referring to Morgan’s boss.
“I’m not sure what the hell I was thinking going to work for him. God, he’s a terrible boss.”
“Come on, Morgs. Surely he can’t be that bad.”
“Yes. Yes, he can. And he is,” Morgan replied before continuing. “How about a super big glass of wine to unwind?” She grinned hopefully.
Shaking her head at her friend, Kitty replied, “My thoughts exactly. I had intended to have that super big glass of wine in the bath, but since you’ve nixed that idea, what did you have in mind?”
“A nice girly night in with lots of that wine? Greg’s out tonight, so I thought we could just hang out. I miss our girl time.”
Something in Morgan’s tone didn’t quite sit right, and Kitty tried to get a read on her without making it obvious. She and her boss, Greg, had gotten together one night while out of town on business, but theirs had not been an easy relationship.
There was a vulnerable light in Morgan’s eyes that Kitty didn’t like. It was so unlike her. Kitty had tried to warn Morgan that getting involved with her married boss was not a good idea. She had worried about an eventuality like this. Unfortunately, Morgan caught her look. Her eyes shuttered immediately, and she smiled.
Not wanting to upset her friend by pressing, Kitty simply replied, “Sounds like a perfect evening.”
She headed for the kitchen to grab the wine and glasses.
“Archie came into the shop again today,” she called over her shoulder. “I really don’t know what to do about him anymore. He creeps poor Jazz out, and I’ve got to agree, he makes me pretty uncomfortable too. But I really can’t find it in my heart to ban him from the shop. He’s a paying customer.”
Morgan looked over at Kitty as she came back into the room. “You’re far too soft for your own good. You know that, right?”
Sighing, she couldn’t help but agree with her friend. “I know. But to be fair, he hasn’t done anything untoward. Other than to constantly ask me out for a cup of coffee, he’s done nothing to warrant me banning him. I just wish he’d stop asking me to go out with him. I don’t know how to cut him off without hurting his feelings.”
“Yeah, sorry to break it to you, precious, but this is destined to not end well. There’s no way to avoid hurting his feelings. Wouldn’t it be better to just make it a clean break?”
“Urgh! I know you’re right, but I just can’t. I don’t have it in me.” Pouring them each a glass of wine, Kitty passed one over. “Chin, chin, darling.”
Morgan tapped her glass gently against Kitty’s. “Bottom’s up, babes.” Her smile finally reaching her eyes, she took a big sip. “So, what’s new, newsy, and exciting in your life?”
“I met the hottest guy on the face of planet Earth.”
“What? You sly devil! Why am I only hearing about this now?”
Kitty laughed at her friend.
“Because our lives have been crazy busy? And it only happened yesterday,” she replied.
“I guess you’re right.” Morgan nodded. “So? Spill, girlfriend. Tell me all about McHottie.”
“Oh God, Morgs, I must have come across as the lamest bimbo ever. I got one look at him and my brain stalled. I’m just grateful I wasn’t drooling.” Kitty buried her face in her hands, feeling it heat up.
“You? At a loss for words? Never!” Morgan chuckled. “I would have paid good money to see that.”
“Yup. Me. It was so embarrassing. And now I have to meet up with him again about the recent spate of fires in the area,” she mumbled through her hands.
“Ooh. There’s potential here, methinks.”
Tossing a scatter cushion at Morgan, Kitty reached for her glass, laughing. “Only you would think like that. Now, what are we going to do about food?”
The rest of the evening sped by as they joked around, enjoying each other’s company. But Kitty kept a close eye on her friend. All was not well with Morgan, she suspected. And she didn’t like it. Not one bit.
The excitement was overwhelming. It was all they could do to contain themselves. Everything was in place for their next target. It wouldn’t take much to get it done, and it would be one less for her to worry about. She would realise how much she loved them when she understood that they were doing all of this for her. There was nothing they wouldn’t do for her. Staring at all the photos on the wall, they smiled. Soon, my love. We’ll be together soon, as we’ve always been meant to be. They stroked a loving hand over the photo nearest to them, their eyes gleaming with madness. The madness that consumed them a little more every day.