Connections - 2.5

Kim Karr

Chapter 1


All of my senses engage as I wait in line and stare through the clear glass—the fragrance in the air from the foil wrapped treats wafts under my nose, the beauty of the lines of shelves decorated with tiny dots and colored sprinkles mesmerizes me, and the anticipation of the taste makes my mouth water. Mmmm . . . just thinking of the first bite of bittersweet Belgian chocolate complementing the flavor of the Madagascar bourbon vanilla that oozes from its inside has me trembling. The black-and-white cupcake—it’s simply perfection.

Amidst the skyscrapers in Los Angeles’ South Park neighborhood, Sprinkles is a gem tucked away for those of us who seek out a small piece of heaven. I don’t come here often, but when I do it’s for that one special treat. The menu describes it as “Yin and Yang.” There’s an ancient proverb that simply put says complementary opposites give rise to the other, and it’s true—opposites attract. Without the vanilla inside, one would not crave the chocolate as much, but looking at the two parts united has me drooling.

“You know what they say about staring through the glass,” a deep husky voice says from behind me.

His words tingle across my skin and my gaze snaps up. “Excuse me?” I stop short, in a daze, not even sure exactly what he just said I was so lost in my thoughts.

He chuckles. “You know what they say about staring through the glass,” he repeats.

My eyes blink and come into focus on the upward tilt of his full lips. Then I notice his smooth pale skin flecked with a light stubble, his sculpted nose even with a slight imperfection in its slope, large eyes with the most unusual gray color swirling from within, and chocolate brown colored hair framing his face—I’m not sure if he has just rolled out of bed or if product molds it just so. Either way, he is utterly beautiful.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Just be careful so you don’t fall in like Alice.” He smiles, displaying his bright white teeth.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” I notice his eyes sweep over me and my heart starts pounding.

Through the Looking Glass,” he responds in a dangerously husky voice.

This time when he speaks I catch a New York accent, ever so slight but extremely sexy. It reminds me of how Robert De Niro talks, just not as loud or fast. I continue to stare, unable to respond. I notice that his physique is long and lean. He’s dressed in worn jeans that fit him perfectly. His orange laced hiking boots scream “I don’t conform.” A pair of tortoiseshell sunglasses hang from the V of his gray sweater, which clings to his body perfectly. And an outdoor vest tops the outfit. It throws me off. It makes him look more like an Abercrombie model than a James Dean type. It’s navy blue down and quilted with a silver zipper. I don’t know why, but something about his outfit, about this man, captivates me.

“Number 98,” calls the girl from behind the counter.

He steps closer. His warm breath whispers across my neck. “Through the Looking Glass is the sequel to Alice in Wonderland. When Alice gets too close to the glass, she falls in and starts on a crazy journey,” he tells me as his arm waves in the air with a green ticket on display. Stepping closer, his gaze cuts from mine to the glass case as he hands his number to the clerk, who’s wearing a cute brown apron with the word Sprinkles scripted across it.

“Can I have a dozen of the black-and-white cupcakes?” he asks.

Suddenly alarmed, my eyes dart to the case as I watch the single remaining row of beautifully crafted cupcakes diminish until there are none left. My irritation flares as I glance at my number—97.

The beautiful stranger hands the clerk his credit card and waits to sign the slip.

“I was number 97, my number was before yours,” I announce as he’s handed the bag that holds his treasure.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Here let me get the sales clerk’s attention so you don’t have to take another number,” he says.

I want to stomp my feet. I want to scream. I don’t want her attention. I don’t want another number. I want the cupcakes that he stole from me.

“Miss,” he calls draping his perfectly fit body over the case. She looks his way and with a charming grin, he says, “Can you help this lovely lady? She missed her number being called.”

“Of course, I’m so sorry. How can I help you?” the girl asks, averting her eyes from the man who looks like he should be on the cover of GQ magazine, over to me.

He smiles at me with a face that belongs on a billboard. “Don’t fall in.”

I swear he’s goading me. But then he tips his chin and a sexy, smoldering grin passes over his lips and I’m not so sure anymore. He turns to look at me one more time before he exits, and excitement flushes over my face. I nod a slight cursory acknowledgement, then he disappears and disappointment washes over me—he’s gone. Crap. The cupcakes are also gone. Double crap. And now I’m left wondering if he saw me staring at that flavor? Did he distract me on purpose so he could purchase them first? Urrr . . . I’m so angry right now I consider walking out, but when the clerk asks me what I’d like I settle for the vanilla milk chocolate cakes—they are the mirror reflection of the black and whites, with vanilla cake and chocolate frosting, but they are not nearly as good.

* * *

As twilight approaches during my drive, the sky reminds me of his eyes—the stormy gray color. My Audi can’t accelerate fast enough for me to erase the image from my mind. I concentrate on moving through the traffic, changing lanes in an effort to think of anything else because the cupcake thief will not capture any more of my attention.

My phone rings and the sound jars me from my thoughts. I reach across the passenger seat and slip my hand into the front pouch of my purse where my BlackBerry can always be found. I check the display and smile. It’s my best friend, Dahlia London. Well, Dahlia Wilde now. She’s the girl who accepted me as her roommate in college despite my obsessive-compulsive habits, and ever since then we have remained friends. We’ve seen each other through so much and I can honestly say that I love her like no one else in my life.

“Hi, Dahlia girl.”

“Hello, Aerie, just checking on you.”

“I’m on my way. I got delayed, but I’ll be there shortly.”

“Oh, don’t rush. I was just worried. It’s not like you to not be punctual.”

“I know. I’m so sorry. The cupcake thief sabotaged my schedule.”

“The what?” she asks.

“Never mind. I’ll explain when I get there.”

“Okay,” she laughs. “Oh and, Aerie, River’s cousin is joining us for dinner,” she adds.

“The more the merrier,” I chime.

“See you soon,” she replies.

“Bye.” I hit the END button and concentrate on sidestepping the traffic.

After college Dahlia and I both moved to Laguna Beach. She had grown up there and returned to live with her fiancé, Ben Covington. Living in Laguna Beach has been a godsend. If I had to live in LA and deal with bumper-to-bumper cars every day, I would go out of my mind. I don’t know how Dahlia stands it. I’ve never heard her complain, but it must drive her insane. The traffic is so much heavier here than in Laguna and even more so than in Chicago.

Lincoln Park, Chicago, is where I grew up. It was the quaintest of neighborhoods with miles of greenery and tons of old fashion charm. My parents had me late in life and I was an only child. We lived near the shore of Lake Michigan in an old gray stone walk-up. My father was the marketing director and my mother the publications manager at the Cinema/Chicago. Their life revolved around preparing for the annual Chicago International Film Festival. As workaholics, they often towed me along on the weekends when they went to the theater. But I didn’t mind, I loved going to work with them. Come to think of it, walking through the props room of the theater often made me feel like I was Alice in Wonderland . . . why is the cupcake thief still on my mind?

Pushing him aside, the drive over to Dahlia and River’s makes me reflective, thinking about what brought me here. My uncle was diagnosed with cancer shortly before I graduated high school. I wanted to be close to him for as long as he had left, so at the last minute I chose the University of Southern California for college. My parents had already planned to retire to Florida after I graduated, so when they got the call, together we went to help my uncle through his illness. Sadly, he died before I finished my freshman year. After that, my parents decided to move to Florida, but I stayed. I was already entrenched in life at school. And once I finished there, I had no reason to return to the windy city, so I made Laguna my new home base. Actually, I chose to follow Dahlia, which in turn led me back to Laguna. And it all worked out wonderfully.

I was extremely lucky to get a job at Sound Music right after graduation. My uncle had forged an amazing relationship with the owner of the magazine, Josh Wolf, and he hired me as a columnist fresh out of school. By the time Dahlia completed her MBA, I was managing the new releases department and she came to work for me. But then tragedy struck and we thought Dahlia lost her fiancé. With her grief paralyzing her, she wasn’t able to work there anymore. But her fiancé hadn’t actually died. He returned three years later. By then she was already in love with someone else. I was actually the catalyst behind her new relationship. She had met a man years ago in college and I knew she was interested in him. So when River Wilde, the lead singer of the Wilde Ones, agreed to be interviewed by Sound Music Magazine, I knew just the person to conduct the interview. And now, almost two years later, I’m headed to Dahlia and her husband River’s house in the Hollywood Hills for dinner.