Michael's lips stretched to a thin line as he waited for the lawyer to change his words.
"Antique bowl," the lawyer corrected."It says it right here, Mr. Lawson. It's a requirement."
Michael's hands balled into fists and the veins on his neck surfaced."What does-" he lowered his voice." What does a bowl have to do with my inheritance?"
"If you'd like, you could always ask your father."
Michael shut his eyes. His father was six feet under and so was his patience.
Flipping the table on the smart-mouth lawyer seemed befitting, but even he knew blowing up here could spread as far as Mrs Hemming's cottage faster than he could say small town.
Michael opened his eyes with a welcoming smile and leaned into the table. There had to be another way.
"There has to be another way." He traded demand with plea. "Please, Uncle Grey."
Grey jack-lawson lowered his spectacles to the bridge of his long nose and gave a sneaky smile. "I suggest you find that bowl quickly, son. I have an engagement in three weeks without a fixed return date and unluckily for you, I'm the only one my brother authorised to release your money."
Michael clawed at his tights under the table. No doubt this was his father's brother. The straight nose, the mischievious black eyes hiding behind glasses and the umber-brown hair curling down their chiselled head.Traits Michael also shared.
He got to his feet without another word.
"Tell your mother to send the nutella biscuits she promised!" Grey shouted as Michael stepped out the bank.
The cold winter air hit him right on the face and he welcomed it with folded arms. He got in his car , put on his seat belts and slammed his forehead right on the steering wheel.
The horn let out a wailing cry, causing the passers-by to stare but he didn't mind. They couldn't see him—tinted windows. Michael tried getting as much privacy as one could get in a town with barely three thousand people. Because , in this town, everybody knew somebody who knew everybody. Great situation for a private detective but Michael was no detective. He was going to be an accountant —emphasis on the going.
And going he was, straight out the town and to New York City where he'd been offered a job at a semi-start up chocolate factory as the chief accountant. It was a small position for a man of his talents, but he was willing to climb, just after he secured the bags of dollar bills his father stored up —bags Michael helped create with his life long service to their family's bakery.
Tired from making others ears bleed, he rose from his steering wheel and started the ignition. This was just a small bump in the road to freedom, and one might ask him why he'd want to leave a town that treated him like royalty, but he was determined. He was leaving this place whether his dead father liked it or not.
Bowl or no bowl.
Definitely, with his money.
Michael's eyes stung.
Tears were his last option as he looked across his room clothed with random things.
He pulled open the last drawer of his desk and emptied its content on his piled bed.
His eyebrows knotted at the centre.
"Where the bloody hell is it!"
He dropped to the matrass with a plod and hung his head in his hands. His fingers pulled his curls straight.
Three hours. Three hours searching his room, kitchen, basement and every nook and cranny of his family home. He'd not bothered checking his apartment. He vividly remembered stuffing the ugly bowl in this closet the day his grandmother gave it to him.
It was the worst Christmas present she could have possibly thought off. Then again, he didn't expect any less. No one in his family knew him, no one but-
The sweet voice of his mother echoed through the hallways and he sprung off his bed.
"Mom!" He called out.
Miranda appeared at his door post.She was in her uniform, with a rolling-bag standing behind her. Her little face scrunched in disgust. "Your room is a mess,mikey."
Michael's lips twitched to a smile as he looked down at the girl.
A tall dark woman stood beside the girl in an office blouse tucked in jeans and her black curls pulled behind both ears. Her eyes looked to the little girl.
"Don't talk to your older brother like that," she scolded and turned to him. "Michael, your room is a mess."
"I can't find my bowl, mum."
Martha jack-lawson looked at her son and cocked one of her trimmed eyebrows. "You'd have to give me more than that, Jack."
"You know," michael started. "Old. I mean antique. Gold, round...bowl."
Miranda tilted her head to the side."The one nana gave you?"
"Exactly." His eyes lit up.
"We gave it away."
Michael's limbs weakened. "Gave...What do you mean, miranda? What does she mean,mother?"
Martha folded her arms. "It's at town square."
He could scream.
"I was decluttering my home, sir. You weren't using it, and it was too valuable to be left lying around in that closet. So,I donated it to the events centre. They'll find good use for it."
Micheal plopped back to his matras and crushed his head between his palms.
His eyes stung.
Today had been the longest day in Michael's life. Longer than the day he had to escape prison for sneaking into the female's toilet at the local mall— and that was quite a lenghty day.
After his mother's confession, he had driven straight to the events centre, where he was told the bowl had been submitted to the Town's hall for the annual baking competition.
He'd contemplated giving up. Drawing the line at that moment and heading home to pack his bags for New-York but the thought of leaving all that money. Having nothing to give his mother and sister ,before leaving for heaven knows how long,turned his muscled abdomen upside down and he found himself in his car once again.
The car practically drove itself, knowing where to turn and where to stop and what speed he was meant to take, as his mind clouded with possible solutions for his current problem.
Although he didn't like it, Michael prided himself with knowing every where in his town, including the hidden places , like Mrs Hemming's cottage or the under ground cave that led to a flower patch in the forest.
The lawson bakery was straight ahead and the ten-feet cardboard cut-out of his great great grand parents smilling and hugging a baked pie between them, came to full view.
Michael looked the opposite way. He wasn't about to get guilt tripped into staying here by paper versions of people he had never met.
At the other side, a new building came to his vision. It was the small office space that had been on rent for years, and had finally been bought three months ago. Based on the gossip from the customers at the bakery, the office had also underwent heavy construction under the orders of the new owner, but no one, except the hired construction workers had seen it. No one had seen the owner either.
The building looked finished now, and resembled one of those cute coffee shops on tv, with colored flowers lining the top of the roof, and a wooden sign board that looked like a wet floor sign.
Michael slowed down as he read the board.
'Now open for business. Welcome to Maggie's bakery.'
His feet marched his breaks and the tires screeched.
He adjusted his glasses.
'Maggie's bakery. From sweets to saturn-cakes. If it can fit in an oven, we can bake a dozen'
His gaze travelled to his bakery and then back to the unwelcomed customer stealer. He wondered if his mother had seen it already. She hadn't said anything to him , and he'd been too busy with his chocolate factory application to notice any change.
Had his mother already spoken to the owner ? It was very unlikely. Martha hated confrontations. Even though things like this could reduce her income, she preferred letting it all play out. And what of Miranda? A reduced income would affect her. Miranda was the definition of a princess through and through, and she strongly believed this town was her kingdom.
Michael couldn't help the worry that churned at the pit of his stomach. He wasn't worried for miranda. He knew his mother would rather starve than let Miranda eat anything less than three square meals a day and that fact was what worried him.
He checked his watch. 4:20. The Town's hall closed at 5 and he still had a twenty minutes drive to make. He made a mental note to speak to the owner and then, drove off.
His fingers clenched his wheel.
Of all the places. Didn't they know placing the bakery there, was bad for business? Michael might not have given a hoot about his family's bakery but his mother held it dear. It was her family's legacy, and he wasn't going to let her loose it to some jack-ass that knew nothing about dibs.
He got to town hall in thirteen minutes.
As he stepped out his car, he hoped this was the last stop for the day. He still needed to handle the accounts at the bakery and leaving things to his mother didn't sound good in his ears. He wanted to help as much as he could with the time he had left. He couldn't bear leaving his mother on a sour note.
The town's hall was the second biggest structure in the town, the first being the elementary and high school, nearly every kid in this town attended.
The hall building itself, was a three storey, with the church bell and towns clock, occupying the top floor and the church itself right under. There, the Sunday and mid week services held and any other services the resident pastor and his assistants decided.
The church was big, a seating capacity of five hundred, but it paled in comparison to the Town's hall .
Boasting of a thousand five hundred seating capacity, with enough room for an extra five hundred if need be, the hall was the centre for most of our indoor and sometimes outdoors town-wide events.
The big mahogany doors were opened, and Michael heard the occupants of the hall before he saw them. The hall was full. Three hundred people full.
How many bakers were in this town?
Michael snaked through the crowd that formed at the baking registration desk and pushed his way into the secretary's office. She was in charge of anything that took place in the hall and reported back to the mayor's block everyday . You could call her the mayor's assistant's assistant.
The secretary was seated at her desk, eyeing down files through her glasses.
The woman before Michael was beautiful. She had thin pink lips, a cute button nose,little elf ears that rounded a little at the edges and a light brown afro crowning her small heart shaped face. She had a body with flesh in all the right places and yet, the things that riled him up the most, were her eyes. Dark, round, lined. Seductive.
At the sight of him, she took off her glasses and gave him a look that once turned his legs to jelly. She cocked her eyebrow.
"May I help you?" her low cat calling 900-caller voice asked. He knew she knew he knew what she was trying to do to him—read it again—,and he cleared his throat.
"How many bakers are in this town?"
"Majority of them are just family members supporting the actual candidates," she said.
Michael could feel her eyes on him as he took his seat opposite her , unfazed by her presence.
"For a baking competition?"
"Nothing ever happens here, mikey. They're excited."
He knew that, and a decade ago, he was one of those family members out there to support his mother, but now, he was twenty seven and all he wanted was his bowl.
He flashed a coy smile.
"No," she said and faced the papers on her desk.
"I haven't said anything, Angelica."
"Meaning you want something. I'm not helping you."
Angelica breathed and looked up. Those eyes. "Michael." There was that voice again. "I already know what you want?"
"You do?" He was genuinely shocked.
"Word travels fast around here."
"You don't have to tell me," he muttered under his breath. "So? Where is it?"
"Your mother requested that the bowl be donated to the competition-"
"- She even got the Mayor on her side and everything. The only thing you can do is win it back."
"There has to be another way," he said and slouched in his chair with his head hung backward. His eyes were starting to sting.
Back to square one.
"Your family owns the best bakery in town. Why are you so worried?"
"You know me, Angelica," he said with his eyes closed." I know nothing about baking."
"I'm sure you'd figure something out. The competition allows groups. You can get people-"
"What could I possibly do? The competition is live. I have to bake infront of everybody. I'm—"
His eyes snapped open. Smokey eyes stared down at him, as slender fingers massage his shoulders.
"You get too tensed for your own good," Angelica's voice whispered.
For a moment Michael paused. His gaze crept from Angelica's lust swimming eyes down her bottom lip tucked under her teeth and then —he shook his head.
He straightened his back and stood up.
"I have to sign up before its full."
He reached for the door.
He looked over his shoulder and caught her fidgeting with her manicured fingers. Angelica wasn't a short woman, but she was shorter than Michael. She stared up through her lashes and twisted her lip to the side. That look. A sane man would have closed the door and indulged in whatever she was willing to offer ,but Michael had crossed that bridge a long time ago.
Angelica's voice started low. "I was wondering if…"
"Goodbye, Angelica, and thank you." He walked out before she could utter another word.
Thankfully the crowd had cleared and Michael had an easy trip to the registration table.
He smiled at the maybe 20 years old girl manning the table and she smiled back.
"Are you here to register?" the girl asked.
Michael froze. That wasn't his voice.
A woman stepped beside him, and straightened black hair came to vision.
Her eyes found Michael's.
She was a few shades darker than Angelica, with skin clearer than Miranda's porcelain dolls and a smile that put commercials to shame. Her lips were full, medium and glossy. Michael's lips sealed shut
"Sorry." Her dimples dug in her cheeks when she spoke. "I just came from the other table and the girl told me this was the only vacant list left."
Michael's focus moved to the paper and stopped at the last empty line on the paper. Number 60
He turned to the woman.
"I'm sorry but I have to register."
The woman giggled lightly."I didn't come to admire the paper ,sir."
Michael's jaws clenched. She was mocking him.
"You could both register," the table girl said. " As a group that is. See," she tapped her finger on number 13, where three names were scribbled together.
"I'll take it," the glossed lip woman said and before Michael could object, she bent down and scribbled her name on the paper.
He knew no Reiner, but did she know him?
"Are you registering?" the girl asked.
Both females stared at him and he looked between the two and then the paper.
'Turn back. This is where you draw the line. You put up a good fight. Go back home and pack for New-York.'
An image of Miranda without Christmas gifts flashed passed his eyes.
He held the pen.
His mother working two jobs plus the bakery jerked in his thoughts and he put the finishing touches on his name and signature.
Reiner clasped her hands. "Great." Her dancing gaze moved to the people that were talking and laughing at different points of the hall and returned to Michael.
"Let's go somewhere, with lesser noise, hmm?"
She didn't touch him, neither did she put a gun to his head. But when her feet began moving, his did the same. Her presence pulled him to wherever she moved and the two stepped out the hall and stopped right before his car.
She handed out her phone. "I'll need your number. I'm in a hurry so we can't talk now, but I can call you and we can arrange something."
Michael stared blankly at the technology in her hands and then back up to her. Her presence was offsetting.
She wiggled the phone. "It doesn't bite."
Michael's lip dipped to a frown.
"Fine," she sighed and began searching her bag. She smiled and pulled out a card.
"If you don't call me, I'll find you somehow." She took his hand and closed the card in his palm.
Her hands were warm.
"I'm Margaret. It was odd meeting you, Michael." With that she turned on her heel and began walking.
Michael looked at the red piece of paper and then shoved it in his back pocket.
He got in his car and this time didn't deaf the citizens with his horn. Rather, he looked to his side mirror and caught a glance of Reiner right before she turned to the other street.
"Pretty." The words left his lips instantly.
She was annoying, yes, but a real beauty.