Stories from Lightport, Massachusetts
More stories from your favorite characters in The Front Row Series
Stories from Lightport, Massachusetts
More stories from your favorite characters in The Front Row Series
Summary: Once an addict, always an addict. Especially when wires get crossed on Valentine’s Day. Luckily, all Micah has to do is use the code word “busted,” and his friends are there.
Micah Barrett should have known that his attempts to ignore the fact that today was Valentine’s Day were doomed to failure. Because if there was anyone he knew who would celebrate such a saccharine holiday with childlike enthusiasm it would be Amanda Swisher, the culinary arts student he was training to be his baking assistant. Oh, and he and Amanda had to report to work at 5 am to construct a cake. Shaped like a castle. With turrets. For a wedding proposal. So yeah, there was that.
He wasn’t surprised to hear Amanda crooning Carrie Underwood’s “Cowboy Casanova” as she whipped up batter, but he would have expected her to forgo the traditional Valentine’s colors. Since her hair was flaming red on its own. But no. Amanda had boldly donned a frothy pink dress topped off with a white cardigan covered in tiny pink and red hearts. Her hair was up in a ponytail, per Micah’s own code in his kitchen (he always shuddered to see all that hair dangling over bowls of batter on Cupcake Wars), but she had used a bit of red tulle to tie it back.
“You’re a walking Whitman’s sampler,” he muttered when he saw her, still rubbing sleep out of his eyes.
“Aw, don’t tell me my mentor, my Yoda of baking, is a Valentine’s Grinch,” Amanda teased back.
“Well, they’re both green, aren’t they?”
Amanda just chuckled good-naturedly and rolled her eyes as she slipped the first pan of batter into the oven. Part of the reason he had picked her for the internship, aside from her brilliant fondant work, was her demeanor. He could be charming, but perky he was not. Especially when stressed over an order, particularly the intricate kind they were constructing today. Amanda’s enthusiasm and positivity was a good balance for his intensity.
Micah looked over the sketches of the massive cake they had to construct. Multiple tiers, multiple levels, three different flavors of cake, four different fillings, not to mention it had to look like a castle, complete with turrets. Their client wanted his girlfriend’s engagement ring sitting on the balcony of one of the turrets. Looking over everything now, Micah thought he may have gotten carried away with his brainstorming.
“This girl better say yes,” Micah muttered as he got to work.
“Oh, she will,” Amanda sighed dreamily, “I mean, it’s a fairy tale proposal. They must really be in love.”
“Stop!” Micah yelped when he noticed the container in her hand.
Amanda startled and checked the label. “Baking soda? Oops! It was sitting right by the powdered sugar. Silly me!”
Micah narrowed his eyes at her. Amanda was a little airheaded perhaps, but she was always careful in her work. Something was up, and he had a feeling he knew what it was.
Hours flew by, and Micah had the main portion of the castle constructed and awaiting Amanda’s magic with icing and fondant. He had the first turret constructed as well but was having difficulty with the balcony meant to hold the ring. Cake was light, and he was worried about the narrow turret holding that kind of weight. Simultaneously, he had a batch of Italian meringue going. With his hands full constructing the turret, he called out to Amanda, who was whipping up raspberry filling.
“Hey, turn the mixer down on that meringue, would you?”
Simultaneously, Micah’s cell phone rang, and Amanda snatched it up, “Hello, Micah Barretts’ phone!”
Micah thought to himself that he needed to tell Amanda not to answer his phone like an over-exuberant sixteen year old, but for now, there was the meringue. Micah laughed, shook his head, and gestured towards the mixer. Amanda squealed as she saw the meringue whipping way too fast and giggled, reaching for the mixer’s switch as she continued her distracted conversation with whoever was on the phone.
“I’m sorry, what was that?”
In her distraction, Amanda flipped the mixer’s switch to high. Meringue flew out of the bowl. Micah was surprised when laughter spilled out of his mouth. Must have been Amanda’s influence. Meringue splashed across his eyes as the turret on the cake-castle started to tilt.
“Amanda! Get over here!”
Micah couldn’t see with the meringue in his eyes, even though he was still laughing. He heard a plop and a muffled curse from Amanda, and then she was beside him.
“Quick, brace it with some pillars,” he instructed, relieved that she knew his kitchen as well as he did. He hated using pillars – they screamed 1980s – but what else could they do? Amanda rescued the turret before the cake could crack by slipping two plastic pillars under the balcony portion. She then wet a towel and began gently wiping the meringue from his eyes. Once he could actually see, he took in Amanda’s appearance. She was similarly covered in meringue, and they both dissolved into laughter. They’d been at this since five am, so it was no wonder they were punch drunk.
“It’s all in your hair,” Amanda gasped.
Micah groaned and ran a hand through his hair, feeling the meringue smear through it. It must have made him look quite the sight, because Amanda dissolved in a fresh fit of giggles. Micah stuck his head in the sink and turned on the tap. When he straightened, rubbing his wet hair with his fingers, Amanda was lifting his cell phone carefully by two fingers from the depths of the bowl of raspberry filling.
“Micah, I am so sorry.”
He took the phone from her carefully, futily attempting to wipe the sticky filling off with paper towels. “Josiah’s gonna kill me,” he groaned. “This is my third phone in six months.”
“You make a habit of dropping phones into your baking?”
Micah shrugged. “Or leaving them too close to a burner on the stove. Who was the call from anyway?”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch anything they said.”
Even though the phone was still sticky, Micah pushed the on button. Nothing. He sighed. “It’s ok, Amanda. It wasn’t your fault.” He took the bowl of filling over to the cake layer he had waiting on a cake stand.
Amanda returned to rolling out her fondant and sighed, “I think it was my fault. I’m very distracted today.”
“This wouldn’t have anything to do with the contractor who redid the barn, would it? What was his name again . . . “
He was teasing her, actually. He remembered the man’s name.
“Eric. His name’s Eric.” Amanda blushed enough to match her hair, which was answer enough. “Maybe. We’re going out again tonight.”
Micah paused in spreading raspberry filling and turned to look at Amanda with mock concern. “Third date? On Valentine’s Day? What are this guy’s intentions?”
She rolled her eyes, but smiled as if pleased with his concern. “Calm down, big brother. He’s not that kind of guy. He’s . . . sweet.”
“I’ve never seen him at church.” Five years ago, Micah never would have expected to be grilling someone about a potential suitor’s church attendance. But Amanda volunteered in the nursery at Community Fellowship and sang back up in the praise band on occasion. Her faith was important to her.
Amanda waved off his concern. “He goes to the Baptist church on the other side of town. But, he’s not exactly plugged in there, so he said he might visit Community Fellowship with me sometime.”
“Does he sing or play an instrument?”
Amanda laughed, “You and Hannah always trying to recruit people to the praise team. No, he isn’t musical at all. But he says he loves my voice.”
Amanda blushed again and a dreamy look came over her face. She hummed a little as they continued working, but inevitability she turned the romance talk towards Micah. He was surprised it had taken her this long, honestly.
“So, Micah, do you have any special plans tonight?”
“Yeah, I’m sure there’s a hockey game on tonight,” he answered dryly.
Amanda stopped what she was doing to turn towards him, a hand on her hip. “Micah, I have never seen you date, and it’s not right.”
“Why? I have my business, my son,” my former addiction he silently added. Getting clean and staying clean was a long, difficult process, and it was something few could understand.
“Yes, you’re successful, you’re a good father, you’re a good guy. And well, you’re no Eric, but you’re still not bad on the eyes.” Amanda flicked flour teasingly at him to punctuate her point.
“Oh, I can’t disagree with any of your points,” Micah teased back with a quirk of an eyebrow, “but perhaps I simply haven’t found the right woman.” Chloe’s face floated before his consciousness, but he tamped it down.
“Tina would say yes if you asked her out. I’ve seen the way she looks at you.”
Micah scoffed, “Not my type.”
“But Hannah and Kate told me you have a thing for blondes.”
Only one. Kate and Hannah knew that full well, too, but Amanda was too naïve not to read more into it. Micah straightened from his task carving the cake layers into the shape of the second turret and rolled his shoulders back. “Can we change the subject?”
Amanda may have been naïve, but she had also worked with Micah long enough to pick up on his moods. She made a comment about needing music to work and reached over to where her iPod was docked. When Carrie Underwood’s voice started crooning, he groaned.
“Amanda, what have I repeatedly said about country music?”
She chuckled, “Just teasing.” She switched it to the grunge station and Micah sighed happily as Pearl Jam thrummed through the speakers. “Although why depressing, angst-filled music makes you feel better, I’ll never know.”
Micah tilted his head to the side as Eddie Vedder sang She lies and says she’s in love with him, can’t find a better man, and thought Amanda had a point.
“Actually, you can turn it back. Carrie Underwood’s not so bad.”
Micah parallel parked his truck into a space outside The Daymark, spotting Chloe’s car a few spaces ahead. Good, she’s still here. He’d replaced the cell phone Amanda had ruined yesterday, and he was glad he didn’t wait until Monday. Chloe’s voicemail sent relief flooding through him, but her text message . . . that had left him equal parts baffled and confused. He pulled it up to read one more time.
I haven’t heard back from you. I’m surprised because this is – you know – important? I’m meeting with the lawyer at The Daymark tomorrow at noon, and I’m hoping it’s all good news. Not that you care. You know, since you’re ignoring me?
Micah could understand Chloe feeling ignored. She was right, it was important news. And she didn’t know his phone was ruined. But if he was reading between the lines correctly – and he usually was where Chloe was concerned – she was upset with him about far more than that.
But he was here now to fix that. As soon as he’d gotten both messages, he had frantically checked his watch and raced to the diner to try and catch Chloe before she left. It was already two, so he had fully prepared himself to miss her. The sight of her car was a beautiful one.
Micah headed down the sidewalk and into the diner, inwardly rehearsing his apology. His eyes found Chloe immediately, and the sight froze him in his tracks. Her head was down, a pretty blush coloring her cheeks. The man across from her held her hands in his, thumbs brushing over Chloe’s knuckles in an intimate gesture. No wonder she was still here two hours later; this wasn’t a business meeting, this was a lunch date! Feeling foolish, Micah turned and headed straight back out the door. He thought he heard Chloe call out after him, but he wasn’t sure. And even if she was, he was too humiliated to face her.
Micah made his way quickly back to the truck, pulling out of his parking space blindly. He was lucky the street was empty. Adam Murray. How could he have been so stupid? The guy was exactly Chloe’s type, and a successful lawyer to boot. Not to mention they had been spending quite a bit of time together.
Micah’s leg started to throb like it hadn’t in years. He pulled over and took several deep breaths, kneading his leg hard with his left thumb. He tilted his head back and thought over all the ways he had learned to deal with the pain: exercise, meditation, prayer, his music. But he knew this pain was more mental – okay, emotional – than physical. So was the desperate desire to numb his pain the way he used to.
With trembling hands, he lifted his phone and hit Ryan Newton’s contact number. When his friend answered, he paused for a moment, and then with a shaky breath, said, “Busted.” He felt a little silly saying it – the code word was Ryan’s idea, though Micah wanted to call it something like “Screw-Up or “Family Disappointment” – but he had to admit he was glad he could convey his need without a lengthy explanation.
“Okay,” Ryan said without hesitation, “I’ll gather the troops. My place is full of rugrats. What about Beau’s man cave?”
“Negative. They’ve renovated it into a kid’s room.”
“Oh right, the adoption thing.”
“My place is fine. I’ll order us a pizza. You just call everyone. Is six good?”
“Yeah, but Logan and I will be there by five. You gonna be ok until then?”
Micah rubbed his leg; the pain was a little more bearable, but more importantly, his urge for pills was gone. “Yeah, but about Logan –“
“Okay, okay. You’re right. Call Logan. See you at five.”
Micah hung up and slammed his palm hard against his steering wheel. Once an addict, always an addict. How many times had he heard that in rehab? He just really wished he was a stronger man. Maybe then Chloe wouldn’t be on a date with someone else.
Ryan showed up promptly at five with a six pack of sodas.
“The good thing about your two best friends being a pastor and a recovered alcoholic is they don’t mind swinging back a few Cokes instead of beer,” Ryan quipped as he headed to the kitchen.
“What else have you got there?” Micah asked, gesturing to the plate in Ryan’s hand.
“Homemade chocolate chip cookies via Maggie.”
Micah grinned and grabbed a cookie and a soda just as Logan let himself in. “I come bearing turtle brownies!” he announced, frowning when he saw the cookies. “You guys better eat these too, or Rose won’t let me back in the house.”
“Don’t mind if I do,” Micah said, polishing off his cookie and reaching for a brownie. “The hockey game doesn’t start until 5:30, but the pre-game stuff should be on.”
Logan snatched the remote from Micah’s hand. “Not so fast. We need to talk about how you used the code word. Before Josiah and Beau get here.”
Micah groaned and fell back against the couch, running both hands through his hair. “Crisis averted, guys. Can we just leave it at that?”
“No, we can’t,” Logan said firmly. “That’s the whole point of me being your mentor, remember? Now what was your trigger? Emotional? Physical? Stress related?”
Emotional. He really didn’t want to get into this. But Ryan and Logan were both patient men, and the silence dragged on. “Chloe, okay. Are you happy?”
“Is this still the Scott thing?” Ryan asked across the kitchen island.
“No, he’s dropped that, thank God.”
“Well, that’s great news!” Logan enthused, slapping Micah on the knee. Micah thought about how Logan and Rose were the ones who introduced Chloe to Adam and suddenly had the irrational desire to punch his friend.
It fell quiet again as his friends waited for him to elaborate. “Chloe told me she was meeting with the lawyer today at The Daymark, so I thought I would stop by there. It wasn’t a meeting – it was a date.”
“And that bothers you?” Ryan asked.
Micah chuckled and craned his neck to look back into the kitchen where Ryan was leaning against the island. “Yes, it bothers me, Pastor Ryan. I’m a PK, remember? I know when you’re shifting into counseling mode.”
Ryan chuckled and made his way into the living area. “Sorry, then I’ll shift back to friend mode.” He plopped down into the recliner in the corner and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “Why don’t you just tell Chloe how you feel?”
Micah shook his head and looked down at his feet. He thought for a few minutes before looking back up at R
yan. “As much as I’ve hurt her, all I really want is for her to be happy. Adam is a good guy, so as much as it hurts . . . I can’t get in the way of that.”
Ryan narrowed his eyes, and Micah could tell the wheels in his head were turning. “Maggie and Chloe have gotten close, you know. I can’t say any-“
Micah held up one hand, “No need to explain. If anyone understands pastor confidentiality, it’s me.”
Ryan nodded once. “All I’ll say is, I still think you and Chloe need to have an honest talk.”
“When she has a shot at something better?”
“Wait a second,” Logan cut in, “who says Adam is better?”
“He’s never broken her heart, for one.” Micah sighed with relief when the doorbell rang. “That’ll be the pizza.”
He rose from the couch and addressed his two best friends as he walked backwards towards the door. “You’ve successfully talked me down off the ledge, so operation successful. Can we now drop the subject of my non-existent love life?”
Being men, they both shrugged and Ryan picked up the remote to turn to the game. Micah sighed with relief as he fished his wallet out of his back pocket and turned towards the door. His busted leg no longer throbbed with phantom pain. He had an arsenal of solutions at his disposal to deal with that kind of pain.
His busted heart was another story.
I am a former English teacher turned homeschool mom of three who writes Christian romance novels on the side. You know, in my huge amount of spare time.