I so want to
Mo rifled through her purse to fish out a business card. A quick double check of the address on her phone confirmed that she was in the right place. The exterior of Haven looked more like a high-end bar than a bakery. She had a brief moment of panic that maybe Cassandra’s information was outdated. What if they had moved? What if they had folded up? What if she had cut ties with her former employment, broken her lease, and moved all her possessions into her car for nothing? What if…
She took a deep breath and slowly let it out. “Calm down, Trevelyan,” she said, staring at her reflection in her rearview mirror. “This is just nerves talking. Go in, smile, and show them how amazing you are. The worst they can tell you is thanks, but no thanks, right?” Not surprisingly, her little pep-talk did nothing to calm the knots her stomach had tied itself into. Squaring her shoulders, she pulled the key out of the ignition and grabbed her purse. She walked into the bakery with her head held high and exuding an air of confidence and ease that she definitely did not feel.
“Will you at least go out and tell the applicant hello?”
Blackwall crossed his arms over his chest and arched his eyebrow. “Why should I? You didn’t like the last four applicants. What makes this one different?”
His boss leaned against the one counter that wasn’t dusted with flour. “Because she’s special, that’s why. She comes highly recommended too. Seeker said she tried one of her chiffon cakes and it was one of the best things she’d ever had.”
“Varric, Cassandra probably said that because she’s tired of hearing you complain about being short-staffed.” He turned back to his oven to pull out a batch of pretzels he had made for the lunch crowd that would be arriving in an hour. “Frankly, I’m tired of being short-staffed myself, but I’d rather not get my hopes up that you’ll find someone less…” He looked over to another workstation where a petite dark haired elf was happily humming away as she worked.
Varric saw where the other man’s eyes had gone. “Daisy’s a good girl,” he defended. “I know she might not be the most confident of people, but…”
“She forgot to add eggs to the brioche. And then the other day she put salt instead of sugar in the custard, and I don’t know how she did it, but she managed to curdle…” He sighed. “I’m not saying Merrill’s a bad person, Varric. I like her, I really do, but she’s a little too absent-minded to put in charge of your entire kitchen. She does well on the days that Leandra is here, but I can’t ask you to take away the poor woman’s days off. She’s worked too hard and deserves her retirement.”
Varric had to smirk at that. “Semi-retirement. I swear she’d come in to work even if she was fully retired and Hawke would have my ass for, and I quote, working his mother down to the bone.” He tilted his head. “You know what? If this doesn’t work out, I should just promote you to pastry chef and be done with it.”
“Oh no you don’t,” Blackwall warned, moving away so he could take the baguettes scheduled to be delivered to a local restaurant out of the proofing boxes and into the oven to bake. “I don’t do frilly cakes.”
“There’s more to baking than bread, you know!”
He deliberately moved into the bowels of the massive pantry to haul up more bags of flour. “No frilly cakes! If you hire this one, then I’ll meet her.”
Varric shook his head and left the kitchen. Secretly, he really was hoping that this person worked out. If not, he’d have to start looking into changing up his business plan.
The interior to Haven looked more promising than the exterior. The design was still slick and modern, but here were the familiar display cases and hand-written menus she had known back in Ostwick. The scent of coffee was thick in the air and she spied a blond-haired man behind the counter tending to one of the many machines. She personally didn’t know much about coffee aside from what flavor combination went well with basic types, but what might have been too complicated for her looked to be second nature to the man.
“Welcome to Haven,” he said, glancing over his shoulder as he poured. He gave her a quick double take, his welcoming smile widening into an interested leer. “Zevran Arainai at your service, but you can call me Zev. What can I get for such a divine beauty today? Ask, and it is yours.”
She had to smile, nerves settling somewhat at the barista’s flirtatious tone. “My name is Maureen Trevelyan. I was here for an interview with a mister Tethras?”
He nodded. “Ah, so you’re the next applicant for the baking job. Good, good. I was hoping he’d find someone sexy for the position.”
Mo arched an eyebrow. “Are you always this charming, or is it just me?”
A voice from behind the coffee station piped up. “Don’t mind Zev. If he wasn’t flirting with the customers, I’d worry that he was sick.” The owner of the voice opened the round door leading to what Mo guessed was the kitchens; in the brief seconds the door was open, she spied tidy workstations and a huge bank of ovens along one wall. She snapped her attention to the dwarf who was currently stepping through the coffee bar’s pass-through to come up to her. “Varric Tethras. And you must be Maureen.” One look at him and she could definitely tell that he was the owner: he matched the comfortably modern décor almost perfectly in a red silk business shirt and black slacks. A wink of gold at his ear and throat broke up the professional look, as did the way that he had causally left the first few buttons of his shirt undone, showing off a hint of chest hair. He had a manner of holding himself that said that he was confident in his domain and yet he came off as welcoming. Mo immediately liked him.
She took his extended hand and shook it. “Yes. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Zev spoke up. “No, the pleasure is all mine.” He shrugged when Varric looked at him. “What? Just telling the truth, boss! Hire her, or I shall be heartbroken!”
“Why don’t we go someplace more private?” Varric suggested. “My office is this way. I hope you haven’t eaten.”
“No, I haven’t.” Nervousness about everything had dwindled her appetite down to absolutely nothing. Now that she could feel the tension slowly leeching away, her stomach reminded her that she hadn’t fed it since the day before.
“Good.” Opening up his door, he presented her to his office with a little flourish. “I thought it would be best to set up a sample board, for tasting purposes.”
Mo looked at the arrangement on the desk. There were small bites of sandwiches, shot glasses with what looked to be dressings, and neatly cut portions of different types of bread organized all in a row. On a sideboard next to his desk sat more samples, this time of what she guessed was the bakery’s full menu.
“I have to be honest with you,” he started. “The position is definitely for a pastry chef, but I’m also looking for a candidate who can double as the main chef. We’re still a bakery at heart, but I found over the years that the people of this town wanted a little something extra during the lunch hour. Nothing fancy, just soups, salads and sandwiches. I’ve been kicking around the idea of maybe having one daily special that has a little more heft to it than our usual fare, but that idea has never really gotten off the ground.”
She sat down in the chair Varric had pulled out for her. “That’s a rather large workload,” she said. While she was hoping that she would get the job, she really didn’t want to agree to anything that would put her in a bind. “Aren’t you worried about that it would take away from the pastries going out?”
“Most of the lunch menu is served cold unless the customer wants their sandwiches grilled. I have people on staff who can handle the assembly, all I would need you to do would be to prep the food items and have them ready in the cold storage the day before. I don’t know if you noticed our display cases, but the vast majority of our pastries sell out in the morning rush. We only keep the bestselling ones fully stocked for the afternoon crowd, and the rest of the baking during the day is for whatever orders we might get from neighboring restaurants or special orders for birthdays and weddings, that sort of thing.”
Mo reached for a miniature bite of a sandwich. The chicken salad was a basic recipe, but it was a good one. The bread it was on was soft, but firm enough to hold up to the mayonnaise base. “If I could ask, what do the restaurant and special orders usually look like? Are they daily things, or something that varies?”
“I thought you might ask that,” he told her, smiling in approval. “I took the liberty of printing out last year's orders for you to look through.”
She read through the list, noting that the restaurant orders didn’t look too strenuous: they were mostly for pans of brownies or several cakes. Varric had also added a list of the bakery’s usual restaurateurs: if she got the position, she would have to make a point to visit with each one to see if the usual orders were good for them or if they would like to change things up according to their menus. “You do a lot of specialty orders,” she commented, looking at another printout that showed their non-commercial sales. Again, most of it were easy cookies and brownies, with several orders for a cobbler or two here and there for lunch meetings. The wedding cake orders weren’t as many as she had expected from a city this size, but they did do a lot of business making birthday cakes.
“Leandra’s sweets are a big hit with everyone. I keep telling everyone that she’s semi-retired, but the truth of it is that she officially retired from the shop last month and I’ve been keeping her on a part-time basis until we find someone to fill her spot.”
“How long would she stay on if you did fill the position?”
“Probably a week, two tops. She’s ready to take a well-earned rest and I’m ready to let someone take over creative control of the shop.”
That got her interest. “When you say creative control, what exactly are you talking about?”
He shrugged. “The bakery is one of the smaller businesses I own. I’d like to have someone on board that would oversee the menu, tweak it a bit. I love Leandra like she was my own mother, but while her pastries are a hit, I’d like to see something a bit more complicated go out.” He gestured to the tray of desserts on the sideboard. Mo rose from her seat and picked up a fork. Just at first glance, she could tell that the buttercream was too sweet for the piece of cake and that the cinnamon rolls had hardened to the point of being difficult to bite.
“You’d give a complete stranger free run on your menu?”
“Not completely. I said that I’d let you tweak it. I still get final approval. The same thing goes for some of my vendors. Looking at your resume, I can see that you’re used to dealing with the purchasing and ordering side of the business, which is good. I also know that you aren’t familiar with any of the vendors here in the area, so I want you to put feelers out. If you think that there’s someone new that I should try buying from, let me know. Just don’t make any deals without my say so.”
“I could do that.” She looked the rest of the menu over, noting that everything looked to be of good quality, just basic in execution. Not everything has to be fancy in order to taste good, she reminded herself, nibbling on one of the brownies that were such a big seller at restaurants.
“Good. You’re hired.”
She slowly set the plate down, the china dish clattering slightly in her trembling fingers. “It sounds as if you already had your mind made up before I came in,” she commented. “You haven’t tasted anything I’ve made or seen me work.”
“I have a sixth sense when it comes to people,” he assured her. “And besides, you can’t be too terrible if you snagged the Andraste’s Herald award.”
Mo sat back down, her hands in her lap. “I didn’t put that in my resume.” It wasn’t that she was ashamed of her achievement - the Herald award was one of the most prestigious awards ever given to pastry chefs. In fact, the requirements were so strict and the judging so harsh that no one had ever won it and many doubted that anyone would ever win it again. It was just that once someone found out that she had won the elusive award that it was all they saw. Part of the reason that she had decided to leave Ostwick was because instead of seeing the woman who had loved to bake since she was a little girl standing on a stepstool to reach the counter, all everyone saw was the medal and the prestige that came with it. She had been so inundated by commercial and sponsorship requests that she had often felt as if she had the medal with its bright green ribbon strapped to her hand at all times.
At least here, on the border of Orlais and Ferelden, no one knew her on sight. She had a chance to be Maureen, the woman who found joy in baking, instead of the Herald.
“I know you didn’t. I have some contacts out there and they gave me some information. And before you ask, no, this isn’t just a stunt to try to give my place publicity. The award just means that you’re dedicated. You wouldn’t have won otherwise if you didn’t love what you do.”
“I do love my work. That’s why I chose this profession in the first place.”
“And that’s what I want in all my employees. I don’t care about skill; that can be taught. You can’t teach someone how to enjoy what they do. Once you get to know everyone, you’ll see that for yourself.” He leaned forward. “So what do you say? Will you take my offer?”
She looked at the spread before her and the printouts. Outside the office, she could hear the lunch crowd begin to trickle in. Zev shouted a hello to someone he knew, who answered back. Amid the smell of coffee, she caught the familiar, comforting aroma of bread coming fresh out of the oven. Here was a man who was essentially holding up a blank slate for her. He seemed incredibly easygoing and open to ideas, which was a blessing. Her mind was already racing with ideas on how she could keep the integrity of his business and incorporate her own mark.
Heart pounding in her chest, she looked him in the eye. “I accept.”