Chapter 2 of The Taste of A Smile: Detour

Lex decided to take the detour after all. The nasal voice of her mother was blaring through her headphones and she needed the fresh air to stay sane.

“Are you even listening to me?” her mother asked, clearly annoyed.

“Yes, mom,” Lex replied, her chest tight with frustration.

“Why not move to the West coast? You can start over at a different firm.”

Lex shook her head and turned the corner onto Fifth Avenue. “I don’t want to start over, okay?”

Her mother sighed dramatically. Lex pictured her sitting in her favorite chair by the window, staring at the Hudson River. She hadn’t seen her mother in a while.

“Your father says you have no chance of rebuilding your career here,” her mother said.

Lex adjusted her earbud so it wouldn’t fall out of her ear. Her mom, in the meantime, kept going.

“I still don’t understand why you chose to throw everything away. Why would you invest all those years and then … ” 

“Mom!” Lex blurted out, fed up. A man passing by on the sidewalk gave her a startled look. Lex averted her gaze.

“We’ve gone through this too many times,” she jabbed, trying to rein in her anger. “I need to go. I have an appointment.”

It was quiet for a few seconds. Lex almost checked to see if she had accidentally ended the call.

“A business appointment?” her mother asked, her voice weary.

Lex squinted at the windows on her left. It was freezing cold with a clear blue sky and the harsh sunlight was bouncing off the glass.

“Lex?”

“Yes, business,” Lex relented. She found the shop she was looking for just ahead.

“What company?”

Lex stopped in front of the Leroy Chocolates store. She studied the shop logo while considering her reply.

“Doesn’t matter,” she mumbled. “I’m not sure I’m going to accept the offer.”

“You got an offer?” her mother gasped, sounding half shocked, half delighted.

“I’m still talking to her, okay? Don’t mention it to dad,” Lex urged, already regretting telling her mother about this.

“Her? Who are you talking to?”

Lex peered through the large windows. It was busy inside. A delicious, sweet scent wafted through the air every time the shop doors opened and closed.

“Mom, I need to go,” she said.

“I want to know more about this, Lex. Your father …”

“Told me he no longer wants anything to do with me or my career, so he shouldn’t care about this,” Lex snapped.

“Lex …” her mom soothed. “Come on, you know that’ll blow over.”

“Mom, I need to hang up now. I am going to be late. Bye.”

Lex tapped the earbud before her mother could say anything else. She felt terrible about hanging up on her, sure, but her mother had made her own bed.

Lex stood staring at her feet in the middle of the sidewalk, when someone nearly bumped into her. Intent on getting out of the way, she walked into the chocolate store without thinking.

She regretted it immediately. A young man wearing a Leroy polo walked up to greet her.

“Good morning,” he beamed. “Can I help you?”

Lex ran a hand through her short hair. She still hadn’t gotten used to it.

“Eh, no, thank you,” she replied reluctantly.

The man nodded politely. “Let me or one of my co-workers know if that changes. We’re glad to help.”

Lex gave him a forced smile. “Sure.”

He spun on his heel, off to greet another customer. Lex looked around the space. Beautiful wooden cabinets stood against the walls. Boxes with chocolate were stacked on every shelf.

Lex spotted frames with pictures of ingredients, like raspberry and cinnamon sticks, positioned on the middle shelf of every cabinet. It almost reminded her of the category signs in a book store.

Not that she had visited one recently. She never had had the time to read. Well, she did now, she guessed. She never had had the patience to read either.

Lex walked up to one of the large tables positioned around the room. There was a selection of pre-wrapped gift boxes on it. Her eyes fell on a handwritten note in a frame next to them.

“For someone who needs a surprise. I love spoiling my friends with these when they have had a bad day. Mary,” the note said.

“Okay,” Lex thought. “I could definitely use a few of these boxes then,” she joked inwardly.

She looked around to see if there was a line in front of the register. There was. She couldn’t bother waiting. She doubted chocolate would cheer her up anyway.

For a brief moment, she considered checking out the café. It floated above the rest of the store, much like a bedroom in a fancy loft. She could hear people chatter above.

A woman coming down the stairs caught her eye. The thirtysomething was wearing a black blouse with the Leroy logo in gold print on her chest pocket. There was something captivating about her.

Lex watched her greet an elderly man, who was making his way upstairs. The woman’s smile was warm and genuine. She touched his arm and pointed upstairs, nodding. Even from this distance, Lex could see her eyes sparkle.

She couldn’t quite explain why this lady had stopped her dead in her tracks. Maybe it was just curiosity. She might be working with the employees of this store after all. “Sure beats a board of white, old men,” she thought.

When the woman reached the bottom of the stairs, glancing around the store, her eyes met Lex’s. A light brown eyebrow quirked up and Lex felt her stomach tighten.

She quickly spun around and exited the store before the woman could walk up to her. She was in no mood for chit chat. Especially not about chocolate. She had just wanted to see the shop she might be managing soon.

Lex couldn’t believe she was even considering Hannah’s offer. Lex Emsworth, top of her class in business school, managing a chocolate store?! Not a chain. No, just one, single store. No fucking way.

Except, it was the only option on the table for her right now. And that was her own fault. At least according to her parents. Unless Lex moved out of the city, managing this store might be the best job she could get for now.

She pulled out her phone and tapped the music app. The headquarters of Leroy Chocolates was about three blocks away. She needed some angry music to go with her mood while she walked.

*****
**DAY 1. PM**

“Hey, Lex, how are you?” Hannah asked, dropping into her chair.

Lex rubbed her hands over her suit pants. Her skin was red and itchy from being out in the cold for so long.

“I’m fine,” she replied automatically, even though she hadn’t been fine in a long time.

Hannah’s lips curved into a knowing smile. “Given my offer some more thought?”

Lex pursed her lips. “Yes. I’m sorry, Hannah, but I really don’t see myself managing a local store for two or three years.”

“Sorry to hear that,” Hannah replied slowly, crossing her arms.

Lex frowned. Part of her had still hoped Hannah would change her mind.

“Are you sure this is necessary for me to take up the position? I mean, my experience is plentiful. I am extremely qualified,” she insisted.

Hannah nodded in agreement. “You are.”

Lex lifted her shoulders. “So you’ll consider making an exception?”

“No, I won’t,” Hannah stated bluntly.

Lex sat back in her chair and blew out a long breath.

“I don’t want to hire another top league consultant and put them behind a fancy desk,” Hannah continued. “From now on, I want my top management to know what the store floor feels like.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Lex mumbled, knowing full well she was pushing it here.

“You might think it is,” Hannah replied calmly and folded her hands on her desk. “But I don’t want to run a company where the highest-paid people don’t know how to work the register.”

Lex moved to the edge of her seat. “Surely, you can see that different people have different expertise. Why would you want to waste mine by putting me behind a register? Anyone can do that, but …”

Hannah raised her hand. “Stop,” she commanded. “This is exactly what I am talking about. I don’t want another manager looking down on the people who are the faces of our company.”

Lex stared up at the ceiling and chewed the inside of her cheek.

“It’s fine if you don’t want to take this job,” Hannah continued. “But if you’d like to join Leroy as my financial director, then I want you to manage a store for a couple of years first. Take it or leave it, Lex.”

Lex thought of the New York City store she had visited just an hour before. She pictured herself behind the register, helping customers. It couldn’t be that hard, right? But two to three years was a long time. Too long.

Hannah got up and walked to the window. “It’s funny,” she huffed, her hands in her sides. “This is the second time in 24 hours I offer someone a job and get a scowl in return.

Lex looked at her cousin. She couldn’t help but admire the strong, confident figure staring out of the window. Hannah had changed so much over the years. Lex was a bit envious of this transformation, to be honest.

“I didn’t scowl,” she quipped, trying to change the tone of the conversation. “And who on earth would turn you down?”

Hannah turned around, propping her shoulder against the floor-to-ceiling window. “Apart from you?” she asked, eyebrows raised.

Lex smiled shyly. “I didn’t say I won‘t take you up on your offer. I am grateful, you know.” She shifted in her seat.

Hannah tucked a hand in the pocket of her grey suit pants. “But?”

“But I just need some to time to get used to the idea, I guess,” Lex admitted reluctantly. “You know I love this company and I do want to be part of it. Two years is just a very long introductory period.”

“So you’ll do it?” Hannah asked. Her tone was friendly, but Lex could tell her cousin wasn’t going to put up with any more delays. She was offering Lex a chance here. She wasn’t going to beg her to take it.

Lex rubbed her chest, nervous. “Yes,” she croaked. “Thank you for the opportunity.”

She could hear her own voice, but it was hard to believe she had actually said those words. She hadn’t known for sure what she would do until ten seconds ago. Holy shit.

Hannah walked up to her, stretching out her hand. Lex got up in a daze and shook it. Hannah’s firm grip startled her.

“Welcome to Leroy Chocolates, Lex.”

Lex couldn’t help it. She smiled. It might not be the job she had pictured herself having at 34, but at least it was a job. “Can’t wait to get started,” she said, and meant it.

The sooner she started, the sooner the two years would be over, right? If she made it through, she could get back to what she did best. Focus on the bottom line. Be the financial director Leroy Chocolates needed to go global.

Hannah walked back to her chair. “I should find out if the NYC store manager wants the promotion by tomorrow night.”

Lex tilted her head. “What?!” she chuckled in disbelief.

Hannah gave her an annoyed glance and sat down. “Told you I was having a hard time getting people to accept my job offers.”

Lex’s lips parted in surprise. “Who on earth wouldn’t want a promotion like that?”

Hannah shrugged. “Not everyone wants to become a corporate shark, I guess.”

“We’re not sharks,” Lex huffed.

Hannah ignored her protest. “If she doesn’t take the promotion, I am going to give you the Brooklyn store.”

Lex frowned. “Wait, I thought you said I would manage the Manhattan store?”

“That was the plan,” Hannah replied, rolling up the sleeves of her blouse. “But if Mary doesn’t want the promotion, I am not going to take her current position away from her.”

“But Brooklyn isn’t open yet,” Lex stammered.

“Nope,” Hannah smiled, “Hope you like floor plan design discussions. You’ll be having plenty.”

Lex walked to the window to hide her frustration. She didn’t like the sound of this. Running a big, thriving store was one thing, opening a smaller one in Brooklyn was quite another.

“You’re giving this Mary a lot of leeway for a store manager,” she blurted out.

“She’s the best one I have,” Hannah replied coolly. “We’ll both be lucky if she accepts my offer.”

Lex glanced over her shoulder. “Why is that?”

Hannah pointed back at her. “Because she’s the only one who has the patience to teach you how to run a store the Leroy way.”

Next Chapter >