Cameron dragged himself into the bakery, looking tired and hungover. He clutched a large travel cup in his hand.
For a few long moments, he stared blankly at the display case. He'd gotten almost no sleep - he hadn't been able to rest, and then he'd had to get up to handle the B&B's morning meal. They had a full house - he had to work.
Now, he was paying for it, and he'd come to the one place, the one person he could vent to without feeling like a whiny jerk. At the same time, he was too tired to even think about venting.
Maggie had in the back, getting ready to kick her industrial oven for taking so long to warm up. The bakery was open, though she knew she still had some time before the early morning rush came in. The only thing that actually stopped her from literally kicking the big, metal thing was the bells from the front that indicated someone had come in. "Shit," she said to herself, not ready to be personable just yet.
When she walked out, her expression relaxed at seeing it was Cam, looking a little worn for so early in the day. "Okay," she said sympathetically, pulling out one of the pastries she'd cooked only a few hours before and handing it across the counter to him with a napkin."What's wrong."
Cam took a bite of the pastry. "Emma's in town," he said around the mouthful, then swallowed. "She brought stuff I left behind, and we fought for hours."
He took another bite of pastry. "I need more coffee, and a place to crash that's not near Emma. Like, in the next state, maybe."
A flash of anger crossed Maggie's face before her expression finally conveyed her disgust at the idea that Emma was anywhere near Cam. "Has she not heard of FedEx." Maggie grumbled as she walked around the counter to grab the travel mug he'd brought with him so she could replenish his coffee.
"I am more than happy to have a word with her on your behalf." The offer was one that she was more than happy to make, though she would not be very nice to Emma about her sudden appearance.
Cam bowed his head as Maggie took the coffee and he shook it. "It's not worth it," he said. He sighed and raised his head to look at Maggie again. "You know it's my fault we didn't work out - I couldn't stand the idea of giving up advancement in my career."
He laughed bitterly. "So now she's pissed off that I've come crawling home to take over the B&B now that we're divorced. She can't see why I couldn't 'just' take a position in London."
The newly brewed coffee pot was heavy, and the dark liquid swished gingerly back and forth before she tilted it and poured a healthy amount into the mug. Silently, she placed the pot back on the burner and handed the mug back to Cam. "You've signed the papers, so there's no point in assigning blame at this point, and certainly no reason for her to show up here complaining about what should have happened, in her opinion."
Cameron shrugged. He felt like there was still blame to be assigned. Seeing Emma had just made him wish he'd felt differently about his work. It hadn't been long enough for him to fall out of love with her - not completely. And he couldn't help but see her side of things.
The bell above the door chimed, and the devil herself - ahem, Emma - walked in. Unlike Cameron, she was perfectly turned out and looked refresh. Of course, she hadn't needed to be up at four o'clock in the morning.
Emma's gaze lit on Cam, and she frowned. The look on her face became outright angry when she saw Maggie. "You're just never going to stop running to her whenever we have a problem, are you?" she snapped at Cameron.
The was a deep, all consuming desire that flared in Maggie the moment she realized it was Emma who walked into the room. Even then, she somehow managed to quell her instinct to dissolve into playground level name calling and behavior. That is, she did that long enough for Emma to open the big, gaping hole in the middle of her face and start royally chewing Cameron out.
Decided it was best to stay in place right behind the counter, Maggie leaned against the surface, arms crossed in front of her. "Good morning Emma," her icy tone negating the meaning behind her chosen words, and she cut into the argument that might very well have begun in the middle of her store. "Whatever did we do to earn such a great surprise. Can I get you some coffee, or breakfast before I have the police escort you for causing a fucking scene?"
"I'm hardly causing a scene, Margaret," Emma snapped. "I'm perfectly entitled to a conversation with my ex-husband."
"Emma," Cameron said warningly, too tired to go another round with her. "There is nothing else we could possibly argue about."
"Oh, really?" Emma sneered at him. "I can't quite decide if the two of you were fucking around behind my back, or if you just decided to settle for me because you can't man up enough to tell Margaret how you feel about her."
Both of those accusations stunned Cam into speechlessness and he shook his head in mute disbelief.
Maggie gave serious thought to asking if Emma was high, first because she referred to Maggie by her real first name, something no one, even her parents, was allowed to do. If that wasn't bad enough, the accusation she threw at them, one that admittedly wasn't an original idea for people of opposite genders who were good friends, seemed to leave everyone present speechless.
After blinking at the woman in disbelief, and seeing that Cam was apparently unable to say anything, probably because the accusation was so ridiculous to him, or so Maggie thought, she found her normal sarcasm bubble to the surface. "You are so right Emma. Glad you finally brought it up. Forget the fact that we didn't even live in the same country, let alone driving distance for most of your marriage and even until very recently. It was so going on behind your back. Glad you caught us."
Emma scoffed in response to Maggie's words. "Please, the two of you were always inordinately close."
"Oh, fuck off," Cam said tiredly, rubbing at his eyes and forehead. "We're close - of course we are. We've been friends forever, and we lived together all through college. Some boundaries just don't exist for us anymore."
He gave Emma a tired, sad look. "I loved you, and I wanted us to work. But you wouldn't even consider moving with me."
"So I was supposed to give up my career for yours?" Emma bit back.
"That's not what I said." Cameron's shoulders drooped. "You know, what? I'm having this fight with you. I'm never going to win, because I never just gave in and gave you what you wanted. Marriage is something that happens between two people, and requires compromise and conversation - neither of which you wanted to have with me."
He sighed and leaned back against the bakery counter. "I never would have been good enough for you, I don't think, so I don't know why you persist in tormenting me."
"If it wasn't for the defeated way Cameron addressed his ex-wife, Maggie might have said more to Emma. Even then, part of her wanted to know why the other woman seemed to change her accusation so quickly in response to Maggie's sarcasm, but she held back, feeling terrible that Cam was having to deal with this after having an equally tough night.
So, she took the path that she never liked to take: the mature one. "Emma, just leave. You're not welcome here, and certainly not when Cam is here. I can't stop you from emotionally manipulating and abusing him, but you're not doing it here or in my presence."
Cam sighed and shook his head. "I'm going anyway," he said. "I need to sleep."
Emma narrowed her eyes at Maggie. "You do know that your consistent defense of him doesn't help convince anyone that the two of you aren't involved."
Now Cam lost his temper, a bit. "Emma," he barked. "Go the fuck away, before I press charges for harassment against you. Then good luck being able to travel freely to the US, and keeping that career of yours."
Emma rolled her eyes, clearly not taking the threat seriously. "I have to get back to Denver anyway - I have to fly to Chicago."
"Great - don't let the door hit you on the way out."
When Emma was gone, Cameron groaned and rolled his shoulders, trying to release the tension. "God, I'm sorry, Maggie. You don't need that kind of ugly in your bakery."
Maggie couldn't help but move her hand in a brisk wave from right to left, as though and further acknowledgement of her exit would have been far too kind. When the door was closed and the little bell settling from it's disturbance, she gave Cam a sympathetic look. No one would be doing great after dealing with that monster.
So, she did the only thing she could do, and waved off the apology. "She is not your fault. Crazy bitch just likes drama." She'd always found that sort of throw away insult to be more comforting than putting validity on their behaviors. Maggie really didn't think any of it, even the problems the marriage had, were really Cameron's fault nor had the most recent fight been. Of course, she acknowledged that she was biased in his favor. She could not imagine a scenario where she wouldn't be.
"How can I help cheer you up?" she offered in a gentle tone.
Cameron sighed and looked down at his travel mug. "Let me bake?" he asked in a small voice. Maggie would know how big that was. Cam hated to bake. Hated it. It was too precise.
However, he was too wound up to sleep now, and needed something with precision to it to calm himself down.
The request absolutely shocked Maggie, though she would gather that no one could have picked that up from her expression. She nodded once, showing that she was totally fine with that request. She didn't let just anyone into her kitchen after all. "Sure. You can help me get caught up. Got some orders in addition to finishing up the display case here."
Cam nodded and followed Maggie behind the counter, where he shed his coat and put it away. Then he rolled up his sleeves and washed up. From there, he quietly took directions, helping Maggie stock her display cases.
After a couple of batches of cupcakes, he finally said, "It really is my fault. I went to Italy, and she had a miscarriage. I didn't get back until she'd been in hospital for twelve hours, and had gone through it all alone. That's why she's so angry at me. I wasn't there when she needed me the most."
He'd never told Maggie that - he'd looked forward to being a father, so much. It had broken his heart when Emma had lost their baby. It had never even occurred to him that a miscarriage was a possibility.
Maggie had been icing a cupcake when Cam made his confession, and it took a moment before she was able to make herself sit the piping bag down and turn to face him. The expression she wore was sympathetic because it hurt her to know that her best friend in the whole world had suffered something so terrible.
Reaching out, she put an arm around him and gave Cam a gentle squeeze. "I'm so sorry, Cam," her words began. "I know how much you would have enjoyed being a dad, having a family." Admittedly, if things had not gone the route as he described, there might never have been a divorce or his return home. None of it, and he might have been happy.
"I just wish you didn't try to carry the full blame on your shoulders. This would have happened regardless, you know."
"I'll never know that for sure," Cam said, leaning briefly against Maggie. Then he pulled away, and wiped at his eyes, then moved to wash his hands again, since he'd just touched his face.
"I haven't even told Mom and Dad," he admitted while he was drying his hands. "I don't know what they'd say. They get this look on their faces, whenever Emma and the divorce come up, like they're disappointed in me."
"You don't have to tell them if you don't want to." She certainly wouldn't. It wasn't Maggie's story to tell, and she would never betray him in that way either. "Some people keeps similar information to themselves because it's easier." she wanted to do more than she was doing, more to make him feel better, but getting Emma out of town and giving him distance from those arguments would help ease him. "And not that it probably matters, but I'm certainly not disappointed in you. Sometimes, things simply happen despite our best efforts."
Cam shrugged. "I should tell them soon - they're making noises about why I'm not dating yet, how I should be settling down and making them grandparents again."
He sighed. "Fuck, Magpie, they're about two steps from making sure you and I go on a couple of dates. They think you're awesome, and can't imagine why you and I never got together."
This was the least surprising thing she'd heard all day, if only because his parents weren't the only ones who even said that. It also wasn't strange to hear that his parents were wanting their son to settle down and start a family. Her own brought the same subject up at least once a week, which was often why she was so reluctant to answer phone calls if the last "helpful lecture" had been much more than a few days.
The thing that sparked interest was the frequency of the notion, and Maggie found herself asking, curiously, "what do you say to them when they start making those hints?"
Cam laughed softly and shook his head, starting to feel better. It was actually like finally putting that burden down for a little while, having told Maggie about the miscarriage.
"I tell them that I think you and I missed our chance for that back in college. But they know that, before I went overseas, there wasn't a thing I wouldn't have done for you." Cam shrugged.
Maggie knew that he'd have given her the moon and stars if he could have, back then. She didn't know how hard it was for him to not feel that way again. Maggie's support and unfailing confidence in him had always made him want to be a better person, even if didn't actually try.
That seemed like a reasonable answer, and one that she agreed with most of the time. She had long since refused to even address the questions people asked concerning that very topic. Her parents still asked on occasion, and she'd been only slightly nicer with her answer than she would have been with anyone else.
"That's actually pretty good. May adopt it next time my mother calls," Maggie offered him a warm smile. "So, feeling better or shall I put you back to work?"
"Keep me working," Cam answered. "As long as you've got stuff to do, I'll hang around. As long as you keep me caffeinated. If you don't, I can't promise not to faceplant in fondant."
"I suppose if that happened, I could just strategically place sugared pearls and rosettes around your passed out form." She quipped, as though she would run out of coffee any time soon. People tended to think that you could only eat baked goods if you had milk or coffee to go with it. Maggie was very busyness minded after all.
"At least I'd be pretty." Cam was moving out of morose and into deflecting and joking. He batted his eyelashes at Maggie, and moved onto the next batch of dessert bars they needed to make.
"I don't know how you manage to keep a sweet tooth," he observed as he dumped chocolate chips into the mixing bowl. "I would lose my taste for all things sweet, baking pastries all day."
She laughed and gently shoved Cameron for his response before instructing him to get back to work in a playfully strict tone. She never had been very good at the whole disciplinarian thing. "Isn't that sort of like me asking how you manage to eat because you're a chef?" she replied as she filled a piping bag with a creamy icing. "I eat actual food most of the time, which makes it a non big thing to eat this kind of stuff."
Cameron laughed and shrugged. "I'm probably demonizing pastries because baking is just so damned precise. Especially if you want it to come out looking pretty, and not just edible. Cooking - yeah, there's presentation, but it's also about bringing people together. I just never get that sense from a dessert."
"I don't have to worry about creating those kinds of situations," she pointed out as she began decorating the items she'd been working on for the last several minutes. "I have to to create those moments for me. I get to spend time creating truly artistic, edible art. It's not all cupcakes you know." A lot of people in Silver Lake commissioned such items surprisingly. "Of course you know that. I'm sure you remember what college was like."
"I know - I had to take classes in pastries to graduate, remember? And you wouldn't do my homework for me." His voice was playfully teasing.
"And I'm sure you get a lot of practice - lots of tourists with spending money around for the holidays, and special events. I couldn't do it, but you were always more patient than me."
"That's not strictly true. I helped by telling you if I thought something was shit or not. That's very valuable in the kitchen." She teased right back. "I think we take for granted that most college kids are less well than we did at any rate." Maggie never had the experience of creatively cooking ramen for several days in a row which she was eternally grateful for.
"To be honest, I think the tourists are a lot easier to please." Sure, there was always the one guy that showed up and demanded 5 star cuisine for his $4, and wasn't satisfied regardless, but she'd found that people who wee vacationing would have paid top dollar, and been equally impressed, with heated up Oreos.
"Really?" Cam asked, surprised then shrugged. "I suppose that makes sense - they're not regulars, unless they're snowbirds. I get the opposite at the B&B - we have a lot of folks who come for the same weekend every year."
"Those people still come over heat, trust me. But they are on vacation, and their idea of exotic are strawberries dipped in white chocolate rather than milk. This one time, I had a tray of chocolate covered bacon, and this guy spent twenty minutes taking pictures of them and asking questions. He only left the shop when he got a phone call, and even then I heard him going, 'you'll never believe what I just saw.'"
Cameron made a face at the idea of chocolate covered bacon. In theory, he got it. Salt, meat, chocolate - all good things on their own. He just didn't actually like the taste.
"I'd rather have some dried fruit covered in chocolate," he said. "But then, I just don't get the whole, if it's good, it's better with bacon schtick that's popular. Make it, make it with quality ingredients, and make it well."
"It's not the worst thing that's ever been in my mouth," Maggie offered, @and I'll give you that fruit is generally better than bacon when chocolate is involved." Though honestly, both items were pretty easy to prepare. "I just make whatever people will buy. Chocolate covered bacon sells out pretty quickly every time I make it."
"I'll make it, as long as you don't ask me to eat it," Cameron allowed. The he smirked at Maggie, making his next comment sound dirtier than it was. "I'm sure we've both had worse in our mouths. Some of our classmates just should not have been pursuing careers in the culinary arts."
He paused a moment and then added. "Of course, my mouth would probably have been grateful if I'd avoided the cooking and the classmates themselves."
Cam had hardly been celibate throughout his college experience, and Maggie was very well aware of that fact.
"And you refuse to eat my chocolate covered bacon," Maggie commented. She had only seen a small selection of the people he'd gone through, but that was enough to make her feel like the question could have been posed in a more serious conversation. How the hell one could have a serious conversation about chocolate covered bacon was another matter.
"At least you have good stories to tell. I think that makes a good 85% of your college experience worth some of the things you willingly put yourself through."
Cam snorted. "God, do I have stories," he agreed. "Luckily for me, shame isn't something that has tended to stick."
Except in certain cases, like that of his ex-wife, of course. He decided to just avoid that particular subject.
"Do you remember when I convinced that one group of frat guys to raise money for breast cancer, by dressing up in ladies' lingerie?" he asked, laughing at the memories. He had photos of that, somewhere.
"I remember half of them in the apartment when I came home that night, and the naked one passed out on the carpet." She wasn't adverse to male nudity, but she preferred to have a say in what she viewed as well. "There were times when I honestly wondered how long it would be until one or both of us got kicked out. It never happened though, surprisingly."
"I think the landlord had a crush on you," Cam revealed, as he started cleaning up. "Because it certainly wasn't me. He thought I was the spawn of Satan. Maybe he would have thought better of me if I hadn't hooked up with his daughter."
Really, it had been the other way around. Their landlord's daughter had been a few years older than them, rebellious, and prone to doing whomever she wanted, regardless of her father's opinion of whom she took to bed. She'd taken one look at Cameron and decided that he was going to be her friend with benefits.
"I am pretty hot, so you're probably right," Maggie deadpanned, then laughed at herself for saying it. Their landlord had been weird, and the daughter even weirder, but she had not been the one sleeping with her so it hadn't bothered her too much. Well, except on those occasions where the girl wouldn't leave or otherwise helped herself to Maggie and Cam's stuff. "I still don't get your decision to sleep with her. She was terrifying."
Cam laughed and shrugged. "I was in college, away from my parents from the first time, and you expect me to not think with my dick? Really? I didn't care how scary she was, just that I was getting some on a semi-regular basis."
He gave Maggie a look. "And you joke, but you were hot, and you have no idea how many times you unintentionally bailed us out by batting those lashes of yours at just the right moment. Of course, I think you're much hotter now, but I never did understand the appeal of 'just legal'." He grinned at her, to show he was teasing. They were on safer ground, so his usual mask of good-natured, if slightly ribald, humor was showing.
"If we're being honest, I really expected that it would a lot worse than it was," she teased. "I was fully prepared for much worse, so I think all things considered, I think you were thinking with your dick a lot less than I anticipated." He seemed to be feeling better now, and she was glad about that, even if she figured it probably was a temporary fix.