"Tarek?" I ask.
"Yes?" He chuckles softly.
"Did you mean what you just said?"
He laughs, "Yes, I've always wanted to take you out for drinks, I just didn't know if it was proper." He glances at me and then grins. "As friends of course. Only friends. You're too young for me, Chloe." He pulls on a serious, apologetic expression.
I punch his arm. "You moron! You scared me there for a minute."
He laughs, rubbing his arm. "I know! You should have seen your face!" I shake my head, smiling, watching him laugh. Once he calms down, he looks at me. "Ray's taking care of you, right?"
I nod, "Yes."
"Where you're going to stay?"
"I'm moving back in with him."
"You used to stay with him before?" He asks, surprised.
I nod, "We bought the apartment together after college."
"He'll be happy to have you back then."
I nod, "Yeah, he is."
"Do you need help with anything?" Tarek asks after a pause.
I shake my head, smiling up at him. "No."
"Are you sure?" He turns to me.
Reaching up, I touch his cheek, rough with his day old stubble. "Just need my friends."
He smiles back. "I'll always be there," and then he winks, "To take you out on dates for drinks."
Laughing I shake my head. "Get back to work!"
Ray arrives around 11:45 and helps out with the orders for a few minutes until I can leave. I feel awful for leaving everything to the staff but I need to and they understand, although most of them don't know why.
As I slide into Ray's car, I see the back full of empty carton boxes. I turn around and meet his gaze and smile gratefully.
When we get to the apartment, we just sit in the car quietly for a bit. Ben's car is nowhere to be seen and I'm relieved but a part of me still hopes he was here. Just so I would know I wasn't the only one hurt by all of this.
But then what did I expect? Of course he'd go to work.
"You'll be fine?" Ray turns to me, worry evident on his face.
I nod, gulping. "Yes."
We get out of the car and Ray grabs a few empty boxes, not allowing me to take anything. Instead, he takes my hand and squeezes it reassuringly as we head up in the elevator.
It takes about two hours to gather every single tiny thing of mine. Ray's right beside me through it all and although he leaves a few personal things for me to do, he's in the room, just doing something else while keeping an eye on me.
Before we leave, I walk around the apartment alone, saying a final goodbye. I leave my key to the apartment on the dining room table in plain sight.
The atmosphere is sober in the car. Although Ray keeps glancing at me, I feel sort of... lighter. Knowing I don't have to ever see him again is kind of relieving because that means, I don't need to go through the pain every time I do.
We drive back to the bakery and I look at Ray as he parks in front.
"What about all my stuff?"
He smiles gently. "I'll take it home. Right now, your bakery needs you."
Sighing, I lean over and give him a huge hug.
The day literally crawls by second by second. Only Darren appears after school since Alice has a French exam tomorrow and it's her weakest subject.
I walk out of the kitchen at the back just as he walks through the door.
"Chloe!" He exclaims, a huge smile on his face and he rushes over to me. Dropping his bag on the ground by the cashier, he engulfs me in a bear hug. "I missed you! How are you?"
I grin, his happiness contagious. "I'm fine thanks. I missed you too! How are you? How's school going?"
He nods, still smiling, "Good. The exams marks came out, you're never going to believe!"
"What did you get?" I ask my eyes scanning his face for some kind of clue. He bends down and rummages through his bag and pulls out a laminated paper.
"Well, just the top of the class." He answers in an almost nonchalant tone.
My mouth falls open and I grab the sheet from his hand. "Oh my God! I knew you could do it!" I proudly look at all his marks and then pull him for a hug. "I'm so proud of you Dare."
He smiles, "I knew you would be."
I look at his marks again, feeling a glow of motherly pride. When I glance up at him again, he's frowning.
"How was your weekend?" He asks, his eyes locked on mine.
"It was... good." I answer, immediately looking away as I say this.
I nod. "It could have been worse." Which is true. In a way.
Darren doesn't say anything for a minute. A customer turns up and I immediately turn to help them out. Darren takes his report from my hand and drops it into his bag. He disappears into the kitchen and appears moments later with his apron on.
"What is it?" I ask finally when he's quiet for the next fifteen minutes.
"Are you sure you're fine?"
"Yes, Dare. Why?"
Sighing, he lifts up my hand and looks down at my bare finger.
"Yeah well, I could have thrown the ring at his head. Or he could have driven away from his parents' house leaving me there." I say, shrugging.
Even though his eyes look concerned, he cracks the smallest of smiles. "Chloe."
"I'll be fine Darren. Please."
He looks at me and nods, but for the rest of the evening he's quiet. I start feeling bad for pushing him away when it's only that he cares. When he's getting ready to leave, around 7:30, I ask someone to mind the front and step outside as he does. He glances at me, smiling and waits for me at the end of the sidewalk.
"Look Dare, don't worry okay? I'll be fine." When his smile disappears, I sigh. "Honest I will."
He nods, "Okay."
"And I'm very proud of you okay? I've never been prouder in my life."
His cheeks redden and I reach over and hug him.
"Go home alright? And drive safely."
Ray calls me every half an hour from eight, wondering if I want to go home. I finally convince him to come and pick me up once he's done work and not a moment before. It's just past nine when Ben walks in through the doors.
As I look up from the accounts I'm going through, my heart stops. I really mean it; it really does stop. I'm about to throw my pencil and flee into the kitchen at the back, but Tarek steps out just then. One glance at me and he follows my gaze before stepping up beside me, his stance both protective and reassuring.
Ben walks up to the counter as I drop my eyes, pretending I haven't seen him yet.
"Yes, how may I help you?" Tarek asks, his voice cold.
"Chloe we need to talk."
I look up and stare at him, "I think you clearly stated everything there was to say."
"Chloe, come on. You know I didn't mean any of it."
"Yes, it was all in the heat of the moment." I slam the folder shut, looking up.
"I swear, I didn't mean it. I love you, you know that."
I stare at him, taking in his pale face, red eyes. He's cut himself from shaving and frankly he looks like shit. Which gives me some form of satisfaction.
"I know you do." I take a step behind Tarek, for some form of protection but mostly for support. "Just not enough."
He stares at me, shocked. The door to the bakery opens just then and my eyes fly towards it to see Ray walk through.
Great. This is the last thing I need.
Ray briefly glances at Tarek before his eyes zero in on Ben. His face hardens, his hands clenching into fists at his side.
Thank God there aren't many people in the bakery right now. Just a couple in the front and an elderly man going through today's paper.
I try to caution him with my eyes but I know it's no good. Ray will get everything he has off his chest. Everything he's been meaning to tell Ben. His eyes flick over to mine, I assume to make sure I'm fine as he stalks up to the counter.
"What the hell are you doing here?" He spits out.
Ben turns around and scowls when he sees Ray. "What's it to you?"
"Oh God." Groaning, I turn and slip through the door into the kitchen, not wanting to hear their ranting.
I walk straight into my office, not glancing at any of my staff. Most of them stayed overtime today, I think getting the feeling that I need them around, so the kitchen is full.
Five minutes later there's a knock at my door and it opens, hesitantly. I look up from my hands to see Ray.
I'm out of my chair as he closes the door behind him and I've flown into his arms in less than the time it would have taken him to blink. His arms immediately come around me tightly and he holds me as I sob into his chest. I didn't even know I wanted to cry, I'm so messed up.
He holds me for the longest time ever, not saying anything. He knows that just holding me is enough comfort, that all I need to know is that he's here for me.
*2 weeks later*
I hear a key in the lock and get off the couch and walk over to the front door. Chloe stumbles inside, tripping over her own feet and I feel the usual worry and anger boil up inside me.
Of all the ways I thought she'd handle the situation, this was definitely not one of them.
"I don't know why you're being such a kill joy. What's gotten into you?" She slurs, clearly irritated.
My eyes wander behind her and I realize she isn't alone. I feel the hair at the back of my neck rise for a second as I think it might be that bastard but when Tarek steps in after her, I let out a relieved breath.
Just for a second before my heart starts to speed up again.
Tarek ignores her and turns to me. One look at him and I turn towards Chloe and manage to somehow maneuver her into her bedroom where she slumps down on her bed. Closing the door behind me, I walk to my living room to see Tarek pacing along the length of the room.
"What is it?" I ask, worry twisting my stomach.
He runs a hand roughly through his hair. "We can't let her go on like this! You really don't want to know what state I found her in!" He breathes out, troubled.
The fear is palpable in my mouth as I try to speak. "How?"
He shakes his head, his eyes closing. "She was completely drunk and...." He shakes his head. "Let's just say there was a group of men who were way too interested in her."
"Nothing happened right?"
He shakes his head. "But if she'd had just one more drink..." He trails away, his eyes locked on mine.
"I don't know what to do! I don't want to be harsh, rough with her. But it's getting worse everyday and I really haven't ever seen Chloe like this. She's at work all day and she spends about an hour home before going out again and then comes home drunk. I'm already losing her, I don't want to say anything and lose her for good."
"But this isn't good for her."
"I know. I know it isn't."
"We need to do something."
I nod. "I'll talk to her tomorrow."
"Let her sleep in, I'll be at the bakery in the morning to look after everything."
I roll my eyes, "It's not like I wake her up. I don't know how she can get up early and go to work after drinking half the night!"
"It's her passion. Chloe would do anything for her bakery."
"I know." I close my eyes briefly. "I'll talk to her, keep her home tomorrow. It's a weekend anyway."
Tarek nods. "I have her keys here." He holds up her car and bakery keys. "Good luck."
I see him to the door. "Thanks Tarek."
"Don't man. She's your best friend but she means a lot to many of us. Especially me."
"I know. You're like a brother to her. And I'm grateful. Really."
He pats my shoulder, stepping out. "Just get our Chloe back and we'll be even. If anyone can do it, it's you."
Replies to comments
FJ - Thanks!
Tamika - Thanks so much! Yeah she needs to stay strong! And Ray's always by her, so let's hope she takes to it well. Yeah, he is! Lol oh yeah, if Ray's the one then he definitely has competition! Enjoy!
Lucy - Yeah, but it doesn't have to be love exactly. He may love her fully, but in what way exactly? We'll have to wait and see! Hope you enjoy!
Jar - Hahahaha I knew you were going to love that part especially! Lol yeah I guess it was a bit of a shocker that someone out of that family has brains, eh? Lol I know you do! He's the greatest! Hahaha!
PH - Lol glad you like! It'll continue on in the next chapter, promise! Hey, admit it, I know you miss my cliff hangers lol. Yeah, Ray is one of a kind. Ben will turn up this chapter no worries! The day hasn't finished yet... I'll try my best! Thanks!
Macy - I know! He's the greatest!
Jane - I couldn't agree more!
Selena - Thanks a lot! lol, I hope so too!
Tee - Hahaha thank you! Aw he does? Wow. Thanks a lot!
Marie - Thank YOU so much!
Queenie - Aaah yes, he'll have competition if he wants her that way! Thanks so much!
Pete - Thanks!
Bookaholic - Thank You, Thank You, Thank you!
LJ - Thank You!
Brittany - Thank You!
So what do you think is going to happen?
I know it's a bit short, shorter than the last chapters at least... But you'll love the next one I promise! It's all written and ready to post!