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Between Love and Loathing: Chapter 5

CLARA

Anastasia called an hour later while I was at the party and told me to talk to her for just ten minutes, which I did, not because I wanted to but because I didn’t want to say no.

I gave in again and again. It was how I was raised, what I was used to. Except, after listening to her blabber on and on about me coming home, those words kept rattling around inside my head. I told her I had to go, grabbed my keys with my bakery fob on them out of my purse, and then placed it down with the others near one of the tables before I decided to network with everyone.

I smiled, shook hands, and took shots with them. This was supposed to be a night of making all my colleagues like me, and as they got drunker and drunker, I found myself happy to be surrounded by each of them. No one seemed to care that I had the bakery on the lobby floor. They just wanted to make sure we all coordinated, had fun, and were all successful.

Except Rita. Rita glared at Paloma’s clothing store sign on the beachfront like she wanted to start an argument.

“You’ll have to change your shop name and if the sign can’t be reworked by our deadline, I’ll take my issue with it to Dom.” She dropped his nickname like they were so close that she could get away with it. “He won’t want such an eyesore for guests.”

Paloma’s eyes widened. We’d just been discussing how Frida’s Closet fit her brand so well. She’d named it after her grandma who passed away just a year ago. I waited for her to speak up, to tell Rita to fuck off, to be the bold woman I knew her to be, but instead, her eyes filled with tears. She nodded without fighting back. Without even one peep.

“What exactly don’t you like about the name?” I heard myself blurt out as I came to stand next to my new friend. Maybe I was getting bolder because of the drinks or maybe I was tired of Rita putting us down. I’d been near women like her all my life. My sister and mother had a great way of looking down at someone even when it would have been better for us all to work together. “What about the name don’t you agree with?”

“Isn’t it obvious, Miss Milton?” She turned her laser focus on me. “We’ve been very lenient with everyone’s creativity on the strip, obviously, but Frida’s Closet is not the look we’re going for. Are you set on that name?”

“No … No, of course not. I just thought it was cute and—”

“It is cute.” I clarified. Paloma’s bright brown eyes had lit up moments before as she’d explained the name to me. “People want a place to feel comfortable and at home when they shop. This is the perfect—”

“Are you an expert on people in LA, Miss Milton?”

This woman had some audacity to ask me that question. I crossed my arms over my chest, stepping in front of my friend. “I own a bakery on a beach in Florida, Rita, and I am about to own another here—”

“Yes, but the one here was designed mostly by me, was it not?” She didn’t give me a chance to answer. “You may own it because your stepfather allowed for that, but I’ve built it to make sure it is up to standards. And it’s taken quite the effort to make it fit in a place that it probably shouldn’t. Do remember, we’re trying to uphold a standard.”

Paloma placed a hand on my back, hinting that I should back down. But I was so tired. My eyes flicked around, and Dominic was nowhere to be seen. Yet, enough people were watching that I knew this story would get back to him.

I should have stopped. Rolled over. Maybe played dead.

Instead, I did what he’d said and owned it. I fought for it against his interior designer in a way he probably didn’t want me to. “Then you should remember that standards are built from the designers and artists that create them. Paloma’s store and my bakery included. Watering down our vision for the masses ruins the magic of originality that people want to experience.”

I stormed past her, and thankfully, Paloma followed. She pulled me close to her, threaded her hand in mine, and whispered that we should go sit in her store for a minute. I nodded because I wasn’t sure if I was tasting the salty air or the salt from my silent tears.

I needed a minute. Just one. And then maybe just one more.

Uprooting my life to move to the opposite coast and open a brand-new bakery that was meant to be all mine was supposed to have been fun. I squeezed my eyes shut in the darkness of Paloma’s store and told myself I could get through how scary it was to put together something that was supposed to be yours and hope people enjoyed it.

And when I started considering how the venture was most likely abysmal with Rita breathing down my neck, Paloma slammed her store door behind us and squealed, “You’re my fucking hero! You know how badly I’ve wanted to do that since I started here? Rita’s the worst, and she never gives us any recognition. Did you see her face?”

No, because I was too busy stifling my urge to cry. I peeked over at my friend, “Was it bad?”

“It was epic.” Then she squealed again and barreled into me with a hug. “I … I never stood up for myself like that, Clara. Legit was with a guy for ages who pushed me around and everything. Never once said a bad thing about him until right now. To you. Because you’re a freaking boss.”

I chewed the inside of my cheek, trying not to burst into tears for a whole different reason. I hadn’t stood up for myself in a long time either. Too long.

“You know what,” I whispered before I cleared my throat and said loudly, “I need the pink paint you used for your fitting rooms.”

She frowned at me, confused, and then her eyes widened. “Well, that’s … I don’t know if that’s such a good idea. Telling off Rita was great but—”

“You don’t even know what my idea is. If you don’t tell me where it is, I’ll just go through your store.” I shrugged. String lights twinkled outside above everyone as they laughed and danced out on the beach, knowing they were getting the opportunity of their dreams. I wanted that opportunity, too.

And I was willing to fight for it.

“You’re going to regret this in the morning. I already know it.”

“I’ve known Dominic longer than the rest of you.” That was only half true. “He’s even worse than Rita, and they might have given everyone this opportunity, but they are suffocating us with their rules. And I’m so tired of not being able to breathe.”

She took a deep breath. “Do you need help?”

She sounded scared and I chuckled as I reassured her. “I don’t need help, and if anyone asks me, I’ll tell them I have no idea where I got the paint. I was much too drunk to remember.”

We both laughed as we disappeared around the corner into the back of her store. Within minutes, I was sneaking against the walls of the building and sliding into one of the doors to run through the lobby and down the long hallway to my bakery.

My heart raced, and I was filled with fear and adrenaline that someone might have been following me, but as I turned around, I found no one was paying attention. I had never been happier to not be important.

I laughed to myself and plopped down to sit on the clean white tile in my bakery—the bakery I’d dreamed about, the bakery I’d pictured in my head my whole life—and glared.

Disdain and anger at Rita’s words swarmed my head. She was right, of course.

This bakery wasn’t mine. It was hers. All hers. From the crisp white tile to the white countertops to the black leather in the booths and the checkered backsplash of the wall separating the back kitchen and the front of the bakery.

I stood there glaring at it before I stomped over to the white wall opposite the front doors. I stomped past the counters and went right to it.

I set the paint can down and opened it slowly before I took the paintbrush Paloma gave me and dipped it in.

The first swipe of the pink on that white wall felt like I’d wielded my weapon for the fight, and I was about to win.


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