Bake Off Bonus Scene #1
Bonus Scene #1: The Day After
Note: This contains spoilers for Bake Off
“Stop fussing over me,” I said, batting Mallory’s hand away as she tried to adjust the pillow behind my shoulder. Tired of sitting on my bed, I’d moved down to the living room, and I was now trying to get comfortable in an overstuffed chair.
“If there was ever a time for fussing, it’s now, Maddie,” Mallory said in exasperation, stuffing a pillow behind me anyway. “You can bet your ass that I’d make you fuss over me if I got shot.” She whispered the last three words, sneaking a glance at my aunt. We hadn’t told her how I’d gotten injured, and weirdly enough—or not—she hadn’t asked any questions.
I gritted my teeth as she jostled my back. The bullet had gone straight through me under my left shoulder blade the day before, but it had been a clean entrance and exit wound, and I’d only need a few stitches. The ER had sent me home with pain medication, but it still hurt like hell when I moved my shoulder too much—or my entire body, for that matter. But we didn’t want Aunt Deidre to know how I’d gotten hurt.
“Sorry,” she said, making a face. “I’m only trying to help.”
“I know.” I gave her a grateful smile. “You have no idea how thankful I am that you’re here.”
“We still don’t have a tree,” Aunt Deidre grumbled from the sofa as she leaned over to work on her jigsaw puzzle on the coffee table. “Albert would have had a tree up by now.”
Mallory gave me an oh shit look, then turned to my aunt. “We’ll get one in a couple of days, Aunt D. We just need to wait for Maddie to not feel like a hot poker is sticking in her shoulder.”
Aunt Deidre wrinkled her nose as she looked up at Mallory. “Why would she have a hot poker in her shoulder?”
Mallory laughed. “Good one, Aunt D.”
Confusion flittered through my aunt’s eyes, but she must have given up asking for clarification because she turned back to her puzzle.
I had no idea how we were going to get a ten-foot real Christmas tree. Even though I hadn’t acquired my bullet wound while being shot at trying to cut down the previous tree, I was pretty sure neither of us was in any hurry to try to cut one down any time soon. Even if I were capable of it with my wound. Maybe we could drive to Chattanooga and see if they had any precut ten-foot trees, but the longer we waited, the less likely we were to find one.
I grabbed my phone and started searching the internet for cheap ten-foot artificial Christmas trees, which turned out to be akin to finding Big Foot. Everything was sold out.
“You look like you need a cup of tea,” Mallory said, looking nervous as she studied me. “Let me go get you one.”
I started to tell her I didn’t need tea, then stopped. I could see she felt helpless. This was her way of doing something. “Sounds great.”
She hurried off to the kitchen, and I rested my head back on the chair, exhausted after my physical exertion of coming down the stairs. If walking down the stairs did me in, how long would it be before I could return to work?
I must have dozed off because when I woke up, there was a cup of tea next to me and a knock at the front door.
“Hello,” a familiar voice called out from the porch. “We have a special Christmas delivery!” Lance.
Mallory popped out of the kitchen, her eyes bright with excitement. “I’ll get it!” She rushed through the living room to the front door and threw it open. “Oh!” she exclaimed. “How—”
“Special delivery!” Lance called out as he burst past Mallory, carrying the tip of a live Christmas tree wrapped in plastic mesh.
My first thought was disappointment that it was Lance at the door and not Noah. He’d called me that morning to check on me but hadn’t said anything about when I’d see him again.
Mallory’s face broke into a bright smile that lit up her eyes. “I knew you were dropping by, but I had no idea you were bringing a Christmas tree!”
“We’re just elves helping out Santa,” Lance said with a laugh.
We’re? But then I realized someone had to be holding the other end, then heard Noah say, “Don’t take it straight in. We’ll have to stand it upright to get it around the corner.”
Aunt Deidre clapped her hands together in excitement. “The tree has finally been delivered! Better late than never.” Then she shot me a disapproving frown, letting me know that she thought I’d fallen down on the job.
I wasn’t sure what was worse, losing the woman who had always given me love and support, especially during my darkest times, or having her turn on me.
Lance started tipping the tree upright as Noah pushed it through the door.
“Where’s it going?” Lance asked, scanning the living room.
“In the corner,” Aunt Deidre said, pointing to the space next to my chair. “Maddie, get up and move that chair so the nice young gentlemen can bring in our tree.”
“Don’t you dare move,” Noah ordered in a no-nonsense tone from behind the tree.
He and Lance leaned the upright tree in the corner by the staircase, then Noah turned to face me from the bottom of the stairs.
Heat filled my chest, and my stomach dropped like a roller coaster with a two-story dip. I couldn’t believe Noah had told me just yesterday that he wanted to explore a relationship with me. While he still wasn’t sure he wanted to have kids, he wasn’t as opposed as he had been before. Plus, he told me he realized he needed to talk to a therapist about his past trauma—his father’s emotional abuse and the gunshot incident with Caleb, the kid he’d mentored in Memphis. I fully supported that and said I likely needed to work through some things myself. I planned to find a therapist too.
Now he was standing there with a smile that transformed his usual serious face into one full of joy.
I was sure my own face mirrored his.
“You two staring at each other is cute and all,” Mallory said with a groan, “but if this is going to become a recurring thing, I’m going to stock up on anti-nausea medication.”
“Hey,” Lance protested, a huge grin on his face. “I really had to work to make this happen, so let me enjoy it for a bit before either of us starts gagging.”
Noah shot him a dark look, and Lance burst out laughing.
“Boys, if you want a nice tip, you’ll need to stop lollygagging,” Aunt Deidre said, sounding cross.
Mallory laughed, then looked at the two men, lowering her voice. “She thinks Maddie ordered the tree, and you’re the delivery drivers.”
“I’ll take my tip in bourbon cake,” Lance said, walking into the living room. “If you still have some.”
“We only have one slice,” Mallory said, then made a face. “Stress eating.”
“Dibs!” Lance shouted.
Noah ignored them and walked over to me, squatting next to the chair. “How are you doing?” he asked softly, staring into my face as he tucked a strand of hair behind my ear.
“Now that you’re here, a lot better.”
He smiled, then turned serious. “Don’t overdo it, okay? Let Mallory help, or call Lance or me if you need anything.”
“This is still cute,” Mallory said, “but we still need to move the chair.”
Grinning, Noah stood and gently helped me up. I tried not to grimace and groan too much, but Noah took it all in.
He and Lance moved the chair to the other side of the room, then Noah helped me back down, tenderly adjusting the pillow behind my back. “How’s that?” he asked with a worried expression. “Do you need any pain medication? Tea? Water?”
“I’m fine, Noah,” I said, already exhausted from the little physical exertion. “Mallory already made me some tea, but thank you.”
“Okay,” Lance said, rubbing his hands together. “Where’s the tree stand?”
“Up in the attic,” Aunt Deidre said, getting to her feet. “I’ll show you.”
I nearly told her that she shouldn’t go up there, but there was a staircase to the attic, and it had a solid floor. Plus, Lance and Mallory were moving to the stairs with her.
Which meant Noah and I were alone.
He brought a dining room chair next to me and sat, studying me with a worried expression. “No fever? Chills?”
“I’m on antibiotics,” I assured him. “I’m fine.”
“I was on antibiotics and still got an infection.”
“You were hurt a lot worse than I was. You nearly died. Mine is barely a scratch,” I said, reaching over with my good hand to pat his leg. “I’m fine.”
“It’s not just a scratch, and you almost weren’t fine.”
I knew my getting hurt had terrified him, and I knew it was the catalyst for him changing his mind about dating me. But I suspected his fears went deeper than I’d realized.
“Noah, I’m fine. I know it could have been worse, but it wasn’t. We can’t play the what-if game. But I promise you, if I start to run a fever, I’ll call my doctor right away, okay?”
“Okay.” He swallowed, looking like he wanted to say something but hesitated. Dread covered his face, and then a new thought hit me.
“Oh, God. Are you breaking up with me already?” I blurted out before I could stop myself.
His eyes flew wide, and he clasped my hand in both his. “No!” He shook his head. “God, no. I was just going to tell you I made an appointment with a therapist here in town. It’s tomorrow.”
I took a breath to slow my racing heart. “Oh, thank God.” I shook my head, sending a wave of pain through my upper body. “Sorry, I jumped to conclusions. I just…I know you tend to run—”
“I know. But I’m not running this time, Maddie. I promise.”
“I’m proud of you for making the appointment,” I said. “I know it has to be hard.”
“I want to make this work with you,” he said earnestly. “But…” He paused, worry filling his eyes. “But I want to take this slow, okay? I want to start with going out on dates and walking you to the door afterward.”
“I don’t think I’ll be up to going out soon,” I teased. “At least give me a week or so.”
He grinned. “Then I’ll bring dinner to you. We can watch a movie or just talk. I just want to be with you before we…” He suddenly looked unsure of himself.
“You’re saying you don’t want to sleep together?”
He grimaced. “It’s not that I don’t want to because, trust me, I do. It’s just that…” He squeezed my hand. “I don’t want to rush this. I want to do it right.” He held my gaze. “Are you good with that?”
A lump filled my throat. I’d always suspected that a relationship with Noah would be something special. Given that we both had issues to work through, taking it slow felt right. “It sounds perfect.”
His body relaxed as though he’d dropped a two-hundred-pound pack from his shoulders, then he leaned over and gave me a gentle kiss.
I kissed him back just as gently, then smiled up at him when he pulled back.
I could get used to this.
“Okay, you two,” Mallory called out from the upper staircase. “We’re coming down, so if you’re indecent, cover-up.”
Noah laughed. “We’re decent.”
Mallory tromped the rest of the way down, holding two large boxes with the word Christmas sprawled in black marker in my uncle’s neat writing. Noah hopped up and rushed over to take them from her. “There’s more upstairs,” she said.
“How many boxes does it take to decorate a tree?” he asked in bewilderment.
Mallory chuckled. “Amateur.”
Lance brought two more boxes and the tree stand, which he handed to Noah. “Get this ready.”
Noah looked at it like it was about to bite him.
“I take it you’ve never put up a real Christmas tree before?” I asked in amusement.
“Never cut one down either,” he said. “Lance gave me an education.”
Lance let loose a laugh that hinted that Noah had gotten run around during his lesson.
“You’re going to stay and help decorate, aren’t you?” Mallory asked in a hopeful tone. “We can have an impromptu tree decorating party.”
Noah’s gaze met mine, and that warm feeling was back, wrapping around me like a cozy blanket. I already knew from our kiss last week that Noah would give me fireworks, but those eventually died down to embers. I was also looking for someone who made me feel wanted and loved even when we weren’t hot and passionate. I was still early, but I saw that he could give me that and so much more.
“We can stay if you want,” he said.
“I want,” I said. I wanted that and so much more.