My brother grumbles my name for what feels like the tenth time in as many minutes. I ignore him and keep my focus on the elaborate design I’m perfecting on the cupcake in front of me instead.
It’s so much easier to keep my head in the sand than listen to the lecture I know is coming. The comments about how the payables are more than the receivables. The do you know that even with this small business loan you acquired you’re still going to drown in debt unless you figure out how to acquire more business? The you need to come up with a marketing plan different than everyone else so you’ll attract more customers.
And then he’ll start his spiel. How I need to be more active on social media. How Internet orders are huge these days and where the bakery can find longevity and success. Get enough online orders, up the demand for my product in surrounding cities, sell franchise opportunities to service those demands, then sit back and reap the rewards.
Doesn’t he see I’m doing everything I can? That I’ve poured my blood, sweat, and tears into my dream since breaking up with Mitch? Not only to prove to myself that it was the right decision, but probably more so to prove to everyone else that it was. That I can make it on my own. Without him or his family name or their bank accounts full of money. That none of that defines me.
And so I keep my head down, add the pearl lacing around the edge of the cupcake I’m decorating (for a wedding no less) while intermittently glancing to the foot traffic outside, hoping they’ll stop in and buy a cupcake.
Or several dozen.
Because his groan is only going to get louder the deeper he gets into the mess I’ve made of the spreadsheet his number-crunching brain deems easy. His columns, rows, and formulas with symbols that make no sense to me. I’ve got more important things to do than stress over adding numbers into the sheet.
Like running all aspects of the business he’s currently—and deservedly—bitching about.
The change in his tone has me lifting my head to look through the open doorway where he stands watching me. The look in his aqua-blue eyes is full of confusion and what I think is anger. There’s something in his hand I can’t quite see.
Crap. What did I do now?
“Did that asshole seriously have the audacity to invite you to his wedding?”
I slowly set the piping tube down and brace my hands on the butcher block in front of me in preparation for Ryder’s protective older-brother gene to kick in. For the anger to come out on my behalf when he should be the one pissed off after what Mitch’s family did to him because of me. And due to my own stupidity for not tearing up the invitation in the first place.
I’d completely forgotten about it.
Or at least that’s what I tell myself as I look at the champagne cardstock in his hand and remember the RSVP card I filled out in haste last month. More as an act of “screw you” than of real intent. Regardless, the dread I felt was more than real when my assistant, DeeDee, told me she mailed out the envelope I’d left on my desk. The one I’d meant to throw out but had become distracted by a customer and had forgotten all about.
My smile is tight as I pretend to be perfectly fine with having been invited. Because it’s easier to pretend than to let the tears of guilt burn bright over the fallout that has affected him as well. My sweet, gruff, overprotective brother who loaned me the money to start this business and then found out his largest account—Layton Industries—withdrew their business, his top source of dependable income over the past eight years.
I see the stress in the lines on his face. Know he’s trying to help me as much as he can and at the same time chase new clients to keep his consulting business afloat. Be the mom, dad, and big brother to me all in one fell swoop. But I know he hates when I thank him for it, so I focus on answering his question instead. I recognized the did that fucker Mitch really invite you? in his tone despite the polite way he phrased it.