She came into the bakery as she did every morning…A little flustered, slightly flushed, her hair sporting a stray tendril or two, her hands flitting about her slim figure in a near-frantic search for keys, wallet, sunglasses or change.
Milton was always there, often kneading dough for one of Eiffel Pierre’s delicate pastries. The quiet dawn hours were his favorites, but they gained a new aura once he knew that she—Jean Marie—would walk in. She was simply beautiful, not in the glamorous, plastic modern way, but in the natural “look twice and you’ll see” way, the kind of beauty that slips across your eyes, brings a small smile to your lips, then gradually absorbs you until you can’t remember ever thinking she wasn’t beautiful.
Milton’s claim to fame, at first glance, or maybe down to a third or fourth, were his eyes, a deep green that shimmered with gold specks reminiscent of elves in a wondrous fairy tale. Sadly, those beautiful eyes were obscured by the heavy lenses of glasses that kept him barely this side of legally blind. His eyes were the main reason he took up baking, for the work relied very little on seeing and oh-so-much on sensitivity and feeling.
Jean Marie breezed in and Milton, as was his habit, smiled shyly, wiped his hands of flour and stood in rapt attention as she flittered and flexed in search of…something. Milton waited patiently until Jean Marie smiled up at him and asked his usual opening question: “Will you buy a pastry or three?”
She laughed, as she usually did. Their morning ritual complete, Jean Marie bit her lower lip and scanned the display, hovering over each item as if absorbing its essence. Milton watched, entranced, taking in her profile, the gleam in her eyes and the very sense that Jean Marie was alive in a magical way no one else was.
Milton’s heart sped up. It always did when Jean Marie was around.
“A maple-glazed doughnut, a pair of ladyfingers and a medium coffee, please.” She frowned slightly. “I may be overdoing it.”
Milton shook his head. “No, ma’am. Seems to me you’re just having a solid Continental breakfast.” He quickly placed her order in a waxed box and served her coffee, to go.
“That’ll be $5.87,” he said. “Busy day today?”
Jean Marie stopped suddenly. “Oh, yes. Today’s my last day at work.”
Milton took her money and sombered a bit. She was leaving town! He was afraid to ask, but simply had to know. “Did you get a new job?”
Jean Marie shook her head. “No. I did something better.” Her smile was half delight, half roller-coaster rictus. She seemed happy and on the verge of fainting. The she laughed happily and he let out the breath he didn’t know he was holding. “Something big!”
Milton chuckled. “You bought the company?”
Jean Marie clapped once in surprise. “You almost guessed! I did buy a company, of sorts.”
Eyebrows rising like semaphores, Milton said “’Of sorts?’ What did you buy?”
“This!” Jean Marie twirled, a lithe ballerina under golden hair, swirling like a vision of happiness in the morning light. “I bought Eiffel Pierre!”
Milton’s jaw dropped. His first words got lost somewhere between brain and mouth, but his next group came out audibly, if somewhat strangled. “You’re…my new boss?”
Jean Marie dimpled, and Milton’s jaw dropped again for he’d never seen that touch of beauty before. “I guess so.” Then, with a blush of shyness that made Milton’s heart break and soar at the same time, she said “That way we can see each other more than just before breakfast.”
And they did just that, for the next forty-one years.