The mood on the busy street of Escondido felt cruel and harsh with the sun beating down, making the concrete feel like it was the base of an oven, meant to cook all of California. As soon as Amelia walked through the bakery door, the world felt comforting and kind. She took in the warm scents of cinnamon and nutmeg that seemed distinct to Dylan's pastries. In a dream world, those smells would have indicated that she was home. Now, standing in a small crowd, swooning over their choices of treats, Amelia stood in the background needing to make this moment last. This sweet moment when there was still hope, she closed her eyes, stayed very still, and tried to...
"You're still trying to make time stop," a familiar voice caused her to snap her eyes wide open.
"Dylan," Amelia's voice shook with guilt and embarrassment, "I...I..."
She took in his features, trying to tell if he was annoyed at her intrusion? "You picked a hell of a time to stop by, during the lunch rush," he pointed out.
"Lunch rush? You serve desserts," she commented.
Dylan gave an unexpected chuckle, "I thought you took psychology at that fancy university. Don't you understand how precious a person's sweets are to them? This is sometimes the only time people have to get their fix."
Amelia sighed and smiled with understanding.
"So, as you can see, I'm a bit busy right now," he gestured to the door and Amelia's expression sank in defeat.
"Oh, of course," she was torn between her tendency to be accommodating and her need to say what she had been working herself up to say for the last week. She couldn't live like this anymore. She had to speak up, "I just had to...I had to."
Dylan's face softened a bit and Amelia thought maybe it was possible to get through this. She was about to try again when a crash came from behind the counter, "Dylan, we can't keep up and Sally is beginning to crumble."
"I'm not," a timid voice spoke up with a nervous waiver.
"Sally's new," Dylan explained, "Um, why don't you sit in our breakroom and enjoy a cinnamon bun. You still like those?"
"I, I do," Amelia stumbled over the words, just relieved to not be thrown out.
"Good. It might take a while but as soon as the crowd dwindles, I'll come back and we can talk," Dylan said with the kindness Amelia remembered from three years ago.
"That sounds great," Amelia wondered if her voice sounded too excited but stopped caring when she remembered how badly she needed to finally get everything out.
She started to walk to the back and Dylan called out, "Also, when you get to the breakroom and you notice that it looks like it might be a closet, don't think I'm trying to get back at you by making you sit in a closet. We just have a really sad, tiny breakroom."
Amelia responded with nervous laughter and noticed a tightening in her chest at the thought of how much she missed his sense of humor. She watched him go back to work and saw him put his hand on the back of a beautiful woman packing cupcakes into a box. Was that Sally and he was reassuring her from earlier? Or was it something more and Amelia was too late?
Maybe she should go but leaving would not take away this ache. It didn't change a thing. She needed to be strong for once.
For two hours, Amelia listened to the sounds of a busy bakery with the added bonus of listening to Dylan interact with his customers, whom he seemed to know well. There was Jenny, who had a weakness for red velvet cupcakes, a man in a hard hat who apparently always got his treats wrapped with extra paper to avoid the stickiness on his fingers, and an elderly lady named Mrs. Perez who got the special treatment of her own chair and table so she could "relax her old bones" while she enjoyed a coffee with some strudel. Dylan's questions were more about their days instead of what they wanted. Amelia knew that he was talented with an oven, but this was a whole new talent she was witnessing. It made her miss him even more.
Amelia had a couple of issues of Taste of Home magazine from five years ago to keep her company. She savored her cinnamon bun to the point that there were still a few bites left. The last half hour though, all she could do was look at the letter her father gave her before he died, three years ago. She ached over this letter for years and a month ago, she read it with new eyes and realized she had messed everything up. The letter was practically falling apart now with the number of times she read it. She closed her eyes and took another bite of the cinnamon bun, trying to make this moment last forever too.
Dylan finally came to the breakroom which was more the size of the tiny kitchen in her apartment rather than a closet, not horrible at all. He took a deep breath as he took a moment to watch her with his eyes closed. He remembered trying to join her in these moments, trying to feel what she felt.
He broke the silence, "So, my cinnamon buns are worth stopping time for too?"
Amelia opened her eyes slowly, trying to finish making the mental notes. "I was certain that your baked goods were the key to stopping time. This cinnamon bun confirms it."
Dylan laughed at the compliment, "You know, when I first saw you sitting with your eyes closed, I thought you were praying. It fascinated me and concerned me at the same time."
"And now?" Amelia asked.
"Now," Dylan searched for the right words, "It makes me a little sad. Knowing that you started this when you found out that your dad was dying. Watching you try to not take any good moment for granted is beautiful, but it also seems exhausting too. To always be thinking about death seems exhausting."
"Yeah, it is," Amelia agreed.
Amelia was tempted to stall but Dylan knew her too well and kept her on track, "Why are you here?"
Amelia waved the letter in her hand, fumbling when it almost fell apart.
Dylan peered over and noticed the top which read, "My Dearest Daughter," and then looked away to honor her privacy. He sat down, "The letter your dad left you? You look like you're still in a lot of pain. I thought you had healed, was healing from his death."
"I was. I am. This pain is new," Amelia confessed.
"New? Did someone hurt you? Are you okay?" Dylan immediately sounded protective and it warmed Amelia's heart.
"I think I hurt myself. I was trying to follow my dad's advice and I messed it up," she confessed.
"Your dad was a kind, smart man. I can't imagine him giving you bad advice," Dylan commented.
Amelia took a deep breath and asked, "Do you remember...do you know...why do you think we broke up?"
Dylan's face turned stern again. He scoffed, "This is what you want to talk about? You just came by to open up old wounds? You know, I was having a good day until this moment."
"I know and I'm sorry. It's wrong for me to ask for any more help but please, tell me. I tried to reach out to you a month ago and you ignored my texts. The only reason I can think of is the way we ended things. So please, I'm begging you, tell me what I'm missing," Amelia pleaded.
"It was pretty clear to me," Dylan began, "You were hurting from your father's death and about to go away to that fancy university. So, instead of letting me help by being the person you could lean on, the person who would love you through all of it, you decided to make a clean break. No one to hold you back and a bunch of new, smart people to meet. And that's the reason why you broke up with me."
Amelia could not fight the tears that crashed through like waves with each cutting word. Not only because she realized that he loved her just like she loved him, but because she realized that her attempt to do the right thing had hurt them both.
Dylan's expression sank. He spoke with anger and frustration, but he didn't want to hurt her, not to the point of tears. "Look, I'm sorry. That was all a bit harsh."
"No, I'm sorry,” Amelia hated that Dylan carried this cruel story with him for so long. She wished he understood how amazing he was and how wonderful she thought he was.
“I've always seen you as smart and strong and talented. You are an artist at baking, and you are so wonderful with people. You are perfect, just like this. I messed up my goodbye so badly and hurt us both. This is all my fault," Amelia confided. She slid the note to Dylan, "This is the advice my dad gave me, and I agreed with him, but I should have done things differently. I should have at least shown you the note."
My Dearest Daughter Amelia,
I hope that you have the most amazing life, with no regrets. Dylan has become a wonderful man and I am confident that if you follow your heart, whoever you end up with will make you extremely happy.
The saying is true, "If you love someone, set them free."
You have your whole life ahead of you.
Accomplish your goals and become the person you want to be.
Look around and learn what makes you happy.
Go towards the people and experiences that will give you a complete and fulfilling life.
I am confident that if Dylan is your one true love, then you will find your way back to each other after you find out who you are deep down inside.
You will always be in my heart, even when it stops beating.
Dylan placed the letter back on the table with reverence. "You agreed and felt like you needed to know yourself before we could have a life together?"
"Yes," Amelia timidly admitted.
"You did a shitty job of telling me that before you left," Dylan pointed out.
"And why are you back?" Dylan asked hopefully.
"To tell you, I know that I want to use my psychology degree to help children. I've discovered I love jazz music and I'm learning how to paint. And to tell you that every day I worked on getting to know myself, I thought of you and how much you make me smile.
I know it would be crazy for me to think that you haven't found someone else but…"
"I haven't," Dylan interjected.
Amelia paused, “I thought the woman up front was…”
“Sally’s having a rough day and dropping most of our profits. I was just trying to be supportive and convince her to take a break before she breaks something,” Dylan informed her.
“So, you’re not with anyone?” Amelia asked as she got up and began to pace in the small area. When she realized she could hardly move around, she stopped, hugged herself and closed her eyes.
She felt a broad chest lean into her back and two strong hands stroke her arms. She felt his breath before she heard him whisper, “This is not the moment you want to stop time for.”
“I don’t,” she whispered back, “Then when.”
“The moment when I tell you, ‘I love you and I have never stopped loving you,’ and then you let me kiss you. That’s when you want to stop time,” he confessed.
Amelia turned around and looked into his warm dark eyes, “Yes, but not until I tell you, just in case you haven’t figured it out yet, that I love you too.”
Dylan let out a sigh of relief as he pulled her close to him and gave her a kiss worth stopping time for.