Midnight Muffins

Sweet Tooth Bakery 
Sweet Tooth bakery’s neon sign was dead in the window, and there was no sign or schedule hanging on the door to give any indication whether the bakery was open, but the lights inside were bright and warm. A test of the door would find it unlocked. Inside, baskets filled with small but lovingly-made collections of loaves and pastries hung from the walls.

A soft opening, one of the humans hired to help her set up the building and online presence had called it. She could start baking and selling, particularly to the cafes she had made deals with, but she would wait on finding a taste-tester to help her with the adventurous confections she had in mind.

Someone walked in; she needed no bell or holler to be alerted of their arrival.

“Welcome,” she called, slipping to the front, where she paused in the doorway. The woman looked about college age, but her energy was palpable, and certainly not the kind of energy some pithy twenty-year-old would exude. After a moment to assess her, Tiffany’s lips stretched in a thin, but genuine, smile. “Hello,” she said. “You came for the complimentary muffins, right?” She nabbed a poppyseed muffin and offered it up in the air between them, waggling it, as if that would make it more enticing.


 Yes, she'd procured the car. Yes, her brother and cousin would say she stole it. Yes, they could both get fucked.

 In America, only the middle class was unique. The poor and the wealthy stretched out on either ends of the spectrum and became singular in their expressions of desolation and grandeur. Iona passed pockets of poverty through the fringes of North Portland. The land developers had worked so hard to chase them out, like the people there were a graffiti tag that needed to be scrubbed clean. She drove by, making no move to slow down. Those people had enough to worry about. And maybe her refusal to hunt them was the last reflective glint of her humanity buried deep and stifled beneath her impetuousness, her hunger.

 But college fuck boys and vsco girls? Oh, they had it coming. There was an unseasonable coolness to the August night air brought on by an earlier rain storm. The moisture made the pavement glisten, long streaks of red and green neon stretched out like colorful shadows across the road. Iona did a heinous job of parallel parking the car, hopping out without bothering to put a coin in the meter. Walking headlong into a nondescript building with a bunch of students sitting around, Iona's attention was nabbed by an unmistakable energy, one she hadn't expected to feel, particularly in what now appeared to be a bakery.

 She laughed, brows raised as she eyed the muffin and the vampire holding it. "Oh, totally. I heard there was love mixed into every bite."

Theophania's smile grew, though not in the mouth; a certain glint entered her eyes, which warmed as she said, "You heard right. Everything here is dangerously delicious." She tossed the muffin back into the basket on the counter, where it sat among all its individually-wrapped cousins, dented from her fingers. All her clientele, be they hipsters too old for their skinny jeans or college students with too many stars in their eyes, looked upon any packaging that wasn't biodegradable paper or eco-friendly beeswax wrap as a sin. As if a handful of people using reusable straws was really going to save the planet.

A student lounging at a nearby table was eyeing the muffins, but not with condemnation. He had heard her comment. She pulled the basket to the safe side of the counter. They weren't really complementary. This was a business, not a charity.

"I haven't seen you around before," she said. "Are you new to the area?" Tiffany moved to Portland in the sixties. In the decades since, she had often been startled by a witch brushing by her on the street, or a shifter bagging her purchases. Surprise vampires weren't as common; their kind tended to roam their own hunting grounds, and she'd been contributing to North Portland crime rates as long as she'd been in the state.

 Iona made a point of pouting, jutting her bottom lip out, the freckles moving with the pull of her mouth. "Aw, shucks. I wish I could try some, but I’m on this liquid diet. It’s all the rage. Simply to die for." The frown flipped and she was all teeth again, giggling at her own joke. While her potential meals were not quite forgotten, she let them be, too entertained to focus on the hunt besides placing each of their positions behind her.

 "Mm, been here a few months at this point, but it’s a big city. Finally nabbed the car for the night." Embarrassing that a 368 year old needed permission for the fucking car. Leaning forward, she set both her elbows on the counter, falling into a gossipy stance as though they’d be friends for years. "What brought you to Portland?"

Theophania snorted out a laugh.

"What a shame. I know you would have loved the taste of my baking," she said. She leaned forward and glowed with mirth, as if the two of them were planning some ingenious prank, heads bent together over the shiny new bakery counter. Really, they were, if the college student staring wistfully at the muffins was stirred to actually listen to their conversation. A centuries-long prank on the entirety of humanity, pulled off by simply existing. "I've heard it's so good, it practically stops you from aging." Of the two of them, it was unclear which found their personal references funnier; Theophania certainly laughed at her own joke, just like Iona.

Tiffany mirrored her in position, too, propping herself up on the counter. "Welcome to Portland, then," she said. "I came here for the people. Everyone here is very friendly, and fun-loving. It's easy to meet new people." She thought of welcoming hippies high on acid and shrooms, inviting her in, minds warped enough that sometimes they brushed upon a worldview similar to hers. The songs were long and psychedelic, and everyone looked for freedom from suffering; that era reminded her of a fondness of and kinship with humanity that had faded with the last vestiges of her family line.

"I'm Tiffany, by the way," she said. "And I've got a car, if you ever need to bum a ride from someone else." She'd been enjoying herself already, but here a real eagerness shone through.

 "Nice to meet you, Tiff!" Donning the other girl with a nickname like a child would a dress up gown. Reaching out for the other woman's hand, she took it and shook vigorously, grin widening all the while until her face seemed to split in two. "I'm Iona, and you can absolutely be my Uber." The other woman had a spritely quality to her - if fucking fairies were real, she'd be one.

 The student who'd been eyeing the previously proffered muffins finally gathered himself up enough to walk to the counter. Iona made no effort to move, giving the boy a sidelong glance. "Uh, hi. Could I get one of those muffins, please?" Suddenly, the young-looking girl pouted at the stranger, her bottom lip jutting out, wet and inviting. "Could you get one of those for me too? I left my wallet at home."

Theophania batted her eyelashes, squeezing Iona’s hand back.

“I’m more expensive than Uber,” she said, lips quirked up on one side, even though they both knew she had made the offer in good faith. Most vampires cared little for money, whether they had cracked the code to earning a good living or relied on their physical superiority to take everything by force. Theophania had enough ‘inheritance’ to last her several lifetimes, and in those lifetimes she would learn how to earn more.

Her hand, freshly chilled from contact with another undead, curled protectively around the muffin basket. She gave out free baked goods to customers she liked and college students who left her tables dirty weren’t among that number.

“Uh,” the muffin-coveting student said, eyes darting down to Iona’s lips before detouring to the muffin basket. Theophania couldn’t blame him for the first, as she found herself distracted too, but for the second? Her grip tightened until her fingers were claws. “Aren’t they free?”

“You must have misheard,” Theophania said, eyes becoming crescents in a friendly way that belied the uncharitable content of her words. She turned the basket toward him, to better display the tiny chalkboard plaque that priced the muffins. She continued on, as if doing him a large favour: “Of course, I’ll give you the second muffin half off.”

 "That sounds perfectly reasonable, doesn’t it?" Her voice coming out in a trilled sort of coo. "Come on, now. Don’t be stingy." Opting for peer pressure when cajoling didn’t work, wanting the added challenge of doing this with her own brand of organic charm instead of the luck of persuasion. Not that she was too pure for the latter, but time and place and all that.

 The student finally sighed, digging through his pockets to produce a couple of rumbled, washing machine-softened bills. Life didn’t get any more organized with age, at least in Iona’s experience. Chaos didn’t lessen, it just got easier to deal with - enough that mayhem became a mantra, an expectation, a pastime.

 Once she had her paid for muffin in hand, she shooed him away with a brusque wave of her wrist. "Have you had dinner yet?"

Theophania took the bills and tucked them into the register, letting Iona chase off the interloper, who at least was happy with his muffin even if he was down a couple bucks. Any movement from the tables back up to the counter usually drew the attention of some of the sleep-deprived college students. They were like bees; movement was its own language, and any time it occurred, they all paid attention to see what had drawn someone from a coveted comfy chair.

Usually she would welcome this hive mind, because it meant more muffins purchased, but Theophania was busy, dammit. She hadn’t seen another vampire in a long, long time.

“Not yet, no,” Theophania said. “Usually I go out after I’ve closed this place up, and look for somewhere new. I enjoy sampling different menus.” For a while, the only humans she drank from was anyone who cradled a cigarette or joint in their fingers, enjoying the secondary high she could gain; but her bakery was meant to replace that, so she had been trying to branch out.

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