The locale across the street never seems to have a permanent owner. Since CB House opened nearly four years ago, Chan has never seen something in it survive longer than three months. His favorite by far had been the magic shop half a year ago. He still wishes that one had stuck around— he’d spent way too much money on pranking every friend in his employ with that one.
It’s been abandoned since the bespoke handkerchief shop closed almost two months ago, so Chan has gotten used to walking into work at his customary 4 AM to get a head start on the breads of the day for CB House and seeing empty, lightless windows.
It’s certainly a pleasant surprise once he emerges from the kitchen at 6 AM, just in time to open, to see a new sign hung over the entrance to the locale.
In a script font, it reads Coming Soon: Sunflower Bakery.
And it’s the word bakery that makes an unpleasant feeling spike in Chan’s stomach. Another bakery on the block. The only other bakery on the block. And it’ll be exactly across the street from CB House, from Chan’s own bakery.
He unlocks the door, walks to the edge of the sidewalk. He can see the lights on, figures moving around inside, but the windows have been covered by a tarp that shows nothing but a bit of light and vague silhouettes.
A bakery. Competition? He asks himself. Turns away after a second, a sour feeling simmering under his skin.
Jisung is the one who first mentions it, eyes wide as he slips on an apron. “Did you see? We’re about to have some competition."
“I saw,” Chan answers, not really paying attention as he hefts a bag of flour onto the counter by the ovens.
Jisung doesn’t seem to notice his lack of attention, barreling on with his thoughts. “Do you think they’ll do bread too? I thought we had the market cornered there but, apparently, you never know what the market likes.”
“Apparently,” Chan answers mildly. He turns to his sandwich chef. “I don’t want to jump to conclusions just yet. Not until they open.”
Jisung apparently expected that exact answer from him, given his eye roll. “Well, okay then. I guess we’ll see about that when they open.” With a smile, Jisung turns to go to the front of the house. He doesn’t look back as he says, “I ‘unno! Maybe they’ll be gone by winter! Three month curse!”
Chan sighs. He hasn’t wished the so-called three month curse on any of their across-the-street neighbors, but a dark, awful part of him knows it’s a very real possibility.
He puts the thought aside for now.
By the time the tarps on the windows have been taken down, Sunflower Bakery’s exterior has been painted a lovely turquoise, its windowsills a stark white. Its sign is raw wood with yellow and brown accents, highlighting the sunflower theme. Everything about it screams the absolute opposite of CB House, with its dark exterior and iron accents, with its hanging lights and dark leather couches.
He can’t really see inside yet, no matter how much he tries to in between breaks in his work, but he can tell already that it would be impossible to compare the two locations. Unless, somehow, Sunflower Bakery also turned out to be a bakery which specialized in handmade breads, sandwiches, and coffee with barely any sweets on the menu. Only time would tell.
Chan’s almost to the end of his shift, just half an hour before Changbin takes over for him until closing, when he sees someone walk out of Sunflower Bakery. He’s so gobsmacked for a second that Minho has to take over for him, pushing him away from the till and smiling apologetically at the customer Chan has now completely ignored.
Chan can’t help but stare. It’s the first person he’s seen at the front of the place. He studies the young man, his hair a bleached-almost-white blonde. He can see dark roots near the top of his head, his stylish looking black shirt covered by a stained blue apron. There’s a white bakery box in his hands and Chan watches as he looks both ways before crossing the street with a nervous sort of spring in his step.
Halfway across the street, he looks up to CB House, eyes scanning the exterior before they land on Chan, easily spotting him through the large window.
And then— the young man smiles. It’s wide and earnest looking, big white teeth shining at Chan, at Chan.
He’s too stunned to return the smile immediately and by the time he gets his body to respond, the other man is already opening the door to the bakery, the bell chiming as he does so.
“Good afternoon,” Minho—apparently done with the customer by now—greets when Chan doesn’t say anything. The younger man bows lightly to Minho before turning his gaze back to Chan.
“You’re, um. The owner, right?”
Chan nods, shakes himself. “Yes!” The word is a bit too loud, so he clears his throat, tries again. “Yeah, that’s me. I’m, uh. Bang Chan. I’ve been the owner since, well, opening!” He laughs, a nervous sound, and can practically feel Minho’s eyes roll beside him. He resolutely ignores him. “And you’re— you work at, um, across the street?”
The other man laughs lightly, his bright, blinding smile returning. “Yeah, I guess you could say that. I’m Lee Yongbok. But, you can call me Felix.”
Felix. An english name. “Oh, are you from somewhere else?”
“Originally from Australia,” Felix answers.
“Oh, I— So am I!” Chan laughs.
Felix’s answering laughter is light and musical, like windchimes. The sound strikes something in Chan.
This time, Felix speaks in English. “Whereabouts?”
Chan feels something stir in him at the easy way in which Felix switches languages, a thrill at the low timbre which colors his voice. “Sydney! But it was years ago—”
“Oh! I lived in Sydney, too!”
“Oh? That’s so cool, how long—”
Minho coughs politely beside them. The sound brings Chan back down to Earth, makes him realize how carried away he’d been getting. Felix smiles apologetically, switching back to Korean. He holds out the bakery box. “I brought you some pastries. A reverse welcome to the neighborhood gift! A kind of… ‘I’m glad to be your neighbor’ gift.”
Chan feels something in his chest expand at the explanation. He reaches out, taking the box from Felix’s hands, bowing as he does so. “Thanks! Wow, if this is what it’s like to have you as a neighbor, it'll be awesome.”
Another laugh from Felix. His eyes are shining in a way Chan can't help but stare at. "It's my pleasure. I hope you enjoy the gift."
Felix bows again, says goodbye. Chan doesn’t realize he watches him go out the door, across the street, and into the bakery again until the door closes behind Felix.
When he snaps out of it and turns back to Minho, the other man is already looking at him.
“So,” he lifts a delicate eyebrow. “What was that?”
“What was what?” Chan tries.
Minho loosens an incredulous scoff. “You're blushing.”
Chan brings a hand to his cheek, feeling the warmth pooled there.
Minho continues, "I thought you'd be nervous about the competition."
"What do you—" His eyes widen, surprised that he's that easy to read. He'd never voiced his concerns to Minho but he guesses that after years of working together, the younger man is attuned to him. The worry of it does still run through him and he glances across the street at the cheery locale. "Are they competition?"
Minho hums, not giving a proper answer as he slides up to Chan's side, eyes on the pastry box.
Chan looks down as well, suddenly feeling like he's holding a bomb. He carefully opens the pastry box, holds his breath.
Inside, there's crullers, puff pastries, cupcakes, brownies. It's stuffed to the brim with sweets, to the point that they're stacked on each other. Éclairs, croissants, sweet steamed buns. Chan ogles the spread a second longer, aware that what he holds in his hands are sweets than he's ever attempted to bake in his life.
"Maybe not," He murmurs.
Minho says nothing, sighs instead, and reaches for a brownie from the pile. Chan stares for a second longer before he shuts the box, holding it close to his chest, careful not to jostle it.
"Tell Changbin I had to go early," he tells Minho.
The younger man snorts at the words, rolling his eyes, cheeks stuffed with brownie.
Chan doesn't wait for an answer before he slips into the back and out the door.
It all turns out to be really, really good. Everything Felix brought over is baked to perfection in a way Chan has never been able to replicate. He’s always been more intrigued by every type of bread he can make, how particular he has to be with timings, with temperatures. It all feels like different science experiments. How the bread feels and sounds when it comes out, the gluten development and the crumb structures. It’s been his—pun intended—bread and butter for as long as he can remember.
Everything in the box is so delicate, he’s scared he’s going to break it. The crumbly lamination folds of the croissants mock him. The puff of the choux pastries almost laughs at him.
Bread is forgiving. The more you handle it, the better it turns out. His only sweet exceptions are cinnamon rolls and various sweet monkey breads he can make on the fly from scraps of others. His customers never seem to complain about it and he’s never felt the need to branch out.
This is both good and bad right now. Good, because it doesn't seem like Sunflower is going to be stepping on CB House's toes where product is concerned. Bad, because a part of Chan worries about what exactly that means. CB House is the only bakery in a wide radius of their neighborhood. There had been a desert of fresh baked goods around where Chan set up shop just two blocks from his apartment. He'd loved his neighborhood and seen an opportunity to make his dream thrive while giving back to the community. It has been a leap of faith that’s panned out well so far. They're almost to their fifth year and have a wealth of regulars who stop by every day. It's been a dream come true.
But this… this new bakery popping up has had him mixed up about it. He's carved himself this spot in his community. He can't help but feel like Sunflower is here riding on the coattails.
Chan hates this train of thought. Hates the bitterness simmering under his skin. It’s such an unwelcome emotion, one he hates even acknowledging. Still, he can’t ignore it. He feels like it’s solely there in the back of his mind to make him feel bad about it. Just present enough to make it hurt.
He pushes the thought out and resolves to be productive instead.
He looks up a croissant recipe. It’s simple enough, he thinks. Almost like brioche in some ways.
He’s made a dough in no time, knowing yields and volumes without thinking twice. He pounds out the cold butter thin between pieces of wax paper, just so it doesn’t stick. Rolls out the dough and fumbles with folding it over the butter. He has to look up a tutorial on folding, gets confused between book folds and letter folds. Ends up folding it over itself, the butter peeking through some places.
Chan sighs to himself as he wraps the dough in plastic wrap to cool in the fridge, overly aware that this isn’t where he’s comfortable. It’s not his area. He’s not sure why he’s even trying this.
Two more fold and chills later, he cuts the croissants into triangles, tries to roll them. Brushes them down with an egg wash like he would a brioche.
In the end, when it’s all said and done and the croissants are cooled, he deems his effort mildly acceptable. It’s nowhere near as good as Felix’s, though. Chan’s are almost bready in the crumb structure, the lamination that Felix’s carried is barely anywhere to be found. He doesn't know where he went wrong, can’t pinpoint his process. Maybe too much kneading; maybe too little butter. As he takes a second bite of his bready croissant, he can’t help but shake the feeling that maybe it’s the fact that anything he touches turns to bread at his fingertips. The process is too far ingrained in him by now, a muscle memory, his first instinct. That scares him more than anything, if he’s honest, the fact that he feels like he’s stuck here, in this same bready rut.
He tries to push the feeling away, grabbing another of his failed croissants to take with him to the couch as he wallows.
Despite his failure, he knows that his own irrational feelings are no excuse to be rude. Felix had spent time and effort on the things he gave to Chan for free. The least he can do is tamp down whatever bitterness he has and repay the favor.
It's a few days before he can put his plan into action. While he can see the lights on every morning when he opens, he never spies that shock of blonde through the window, no matter how hard he looks.
When finally he sees it again, it’s before he’s even open. He’s bringing out a batch of sourdough to the front of the house, a good hour before they’re set to open, when he sees Felix fumbling with his keys at the door of Sunflower. He’s holding a travel mug in one hand and trying to get the door open with the other. Chan feels a tug to go help the man, to lend a helping hand where he knows he can do good— but before he can move, Felix gets the door open and walks inside, flicks the light on.
Chan stands up a little straighter. Today’s the day, he thinks.
He takes out the last batch of baguettes from the oven and sets them to cool before packing up some mostly cooled breads from the front of the house. He bundles up a brioche, a crusty ciabatta, a smaller sourdough loaf, a loaf of a new rye recipe he’s trying to fine-tune, and a bit of pumpernickel before he can think too long on it. Once he has it all laid out in front of him, he thinks maybe he’s gone a bit overboard with his offerings. But, well. It’s all packed already.
He lays it all out in a box much larger and less dainty than what Felix brought him the week prior but, then again, bread isn’t exactly a dainty business. He sighs, pushing the door open and walking across the street to see the other man. Sure, maybe he’s being nice but he feels like he should show Felix what he’s about, too. What he can do, what he can make. He might not be able to laminate a dough but he can make the swirliest marble rye you’ve ever seen.
It takes a second for Felix to open the door after he knocks. When he does, it’s obvious Felix isn’t expecting anyone by the way he looks out the window warily. He opens the door quickly after, though, a wide, genuine smile on his face.
“Good morning!” He examines Chan’s face so earnestly, Chan can feel himself blushing. His eyes trail to the bounty in Chan’s arms. “Is this for me?”
“Yeah. This is, um, I guess, a thank you? For what you brought the other day. You didn’t have to, so I thought I could repay the favor.” And then, because Chan is very much not a dick with complicated feelings about the other bakery, he tacks on, “Welcome to the neighborhood.”
Felix’s wide smile widens further. Chan didn’t even know smiles could do that. That smiles could feel like the sunshine on a cloudy day. He’s struck by how lovely he thinks Felix’s teeth are, all of them bigger than he’d expect on such a dainty face. And those freckles… he has freckles….
“Thank you!” Felix says, holding his hands out for the box. Chan snaps out of his stupor and hands it over without complaint.
Before he can turn back towards his bakery, run and hide and think about smiles and freckles, Felix asks, “Do you want to come in?”
“Oh,” Chan murmurs. He wasn’t expecting this but he’ll be damned if he’s about to pass up an opportunity to peek inside the place his mind has been worrying about for a good month now. “Sure, yeah.”
The inside is even cozier than the outside. Sunflower’s motif seems to be mix and match. The chairs and tables aren't sets but still go together somehow. There’s a few couches and loveseats around the open space, the walls painted the same pastel teal as the outside. Fairy lights dot the ceiling and Chan thinks he spies some blankets on some couches. There’s a bookshelf near the back that's half stocked. The pastry cases sit dark and empty next to the raw wood counter.
It’s a space which welcomes Chan immediately and in such a different way to what CB House does. CB House has always been Chan’s space— with Changbin and Jisung throwing in some flair of their own, but it's essentially all Chan. He’s the owner. The creator.
This reminds him of a cottage in some ways. Wood accents, details of flowers in small, unassuming places. It’s nothing like what he knows. Chan feels something drop in his chest, something he can’t identify too well.
“I was getting some equipment set up in the kitchen,” Felix says, nodding to the counter. “Do you wanna see?”
Chan nods dumbly, following Felix past the pastry cases and to the back.
The kitchen is new and shiny, ovens lining the walls, mixing machines right next to them. It looks like CB House’s kitchen in some ways. Makes Chan feel like maybe they’re not so different after all.
There are machine parts littered around the table in the middle of the space, a box on the ground advertising a commercial mixer. Felix pushes the parts aside and sets the box of bread in the middle of it, starts rifling among its contents.
“Brioche?” He asks.
“Baked an hour ago,” Chan nods, taking a step closer. “You should let it cool a little more before you slice it.”
Felix nods. “You brought a lot of bread.”
Chan looks away, sheepish now. “Yeah. I couldn’t pick which ones I wanted to show you so I… yeah.”
"It all looks so good!" Felix's sunshine-bright smile returns, aimed directly at Chan. "Is there anything cooled enough to try yet?"
Chan shakes himself out of his stupor. "The rye should be cooled by now. Got that started first thing this morning. It’s a new recipe I’m trying. Lessening the cocoa powder and adding some more barley. It’s got ground oats in it, too. The hydration was all over the place and this is the newest batch. A sixty five percent for this one. Um,” Chan looks away from Felix’s attentive eyes, feeling his cheeks heat up at how he’s essentially been rambling on about bread and dough.
“New recipes! That’s exciting.” He sounds nothing but sincere as Chan looks up to watch him move to the counter behind him, taking a knife from the drawer. “Do you often change your breads up?”
“No,” Chan watches Felix cut into his creation, serrated knife breaking through the softer crust. “Well, yeah. But only when I feel like I need to switch things up. I have about fifteen more recipes I’m fine-tuning but I never know when to debut them. I work on them for so long that I….”
Felix extends him a slice of the rye, nods. “You never know when they’re perfect.”
Chan takes the bread, smiles like he’s been understood. “Exactly.”
They smile at each other for a second longer before Felix takes a bite of the bread.
"Oh my God, Chan—" The words are in English and Chan can tell they came from Felix's very soul. He meets his eyes, taking in how comically large they are. "I'm sorry," he slips back into Korean. "Chan-ssi. This is so good."
Chan lets a laugh bubble up as he switches to English easily. "You can call me Chan. Chris is my English name but, yeah. Chan works."
The knowledge makes something flash in Felix's eyes. "Chris?"
It's like a shock of warmth, like standing in front of an oven, to hear the way his name sits on Felix’s mouth. It's been so long since he's heard it in a proper Australian accent, spoken by someone who isn't family. A tangle of feelings sits in the back of his mind and he quickly pushes it to the side. "Chan's fine. Don't even need to tack anything onto it."
“Okay, Chris-ssi,” he says, a mirth shining in his eyes. “I don't know how you do it. All those swirls….”
The compliment makes him blush. Compliments like this have never made him blush before. Why does this one strike him?
He clears his throat, thinks he might as well return the kind words. “Then we're even. I tried to make some croissants last week. They didn't turn out good at all. I don't know how you do it."
“Oh!” Felix’s face lights up. “I can teach you! If you want, I mean.”
“Okay," Chan finds himself saying. "Yeah, sure. I'd love to learn.”
Felix's smile turns soft. “Can you come by later today?”
“I’m free after one,” He says a little too quickly. Feels like maybe he’s being too eager right now. “That's the night shift for CB House.”
“I’ll take care of everything,” Felix tells him, either not minding or not noticing Chan’s eagerness. “All you have to do is show up. See you at one?”
Chan checks his watch. There’s only a half an hour until opening and he still has to lay the breads out.
“One o’clock,” Chan repeats. “I’ll just knock on the door?”
“It’ll be open for you.”
“Right. Okay, see you then.”
When he gets back outside, breathing in the morning air, it sinks in that he’s just agreed to baking lessons from another baker on a topic he is less than knowledgeable about. Maybe he’s not meant to be stuck in a bready rut.
He huffs out an almost giddy laugh, feeling like he's unlocked a part of him that he didn't even know could feel giddy anymore.
When he’s back inside CB House, gathering the cooled baguettes, he realizes rather belatedly that he and Felix had easily slipped into some hybrid of English and Korean, the words and their languages weaving together into a patchwork Chan has never had the luxury of indulging in before.
Suddenly, he can’t wait for the afternoon.
He opens the door to the Sunflower Bakery at 1:10 in the afternoon. Hesitantly, he makes his way behind the counter. It’s so quiet but every light is warm, the atmosphere of the place feeling like a hug.
“In here!” He hears Felix call out. It snaps him back into reality and he smiles as he enters the kitchen again. Gone are the machine parts from earlier, every surface clean and sparkling, every machine set up perfectly. He can hear the soft hum of a convection oven, knows what it sounds like when they’re preheating.
“Hey,” He greets. Watches as Felix smiles at him. “Ready?”
“Yeah,” Felix answers, moving to the refrigerators by the back wall. “I made a dough this morning after you left. It's supposed to rest for a few hours. You know gluten.”
“Boy do I ever,” Chan jokes back. “Half of my life is worrying about gluten. The other half is waiting for it to relax.”
Felix giggles softly, a contagious sound. He feels it flutter into his ribcage, smile threatening to break into laughter.
“I should’ve told you earlier,” Felix reaches into the fridge, takes something out. “Croissants take a long time.”
“It took me four hours last time,” Chan nods.
"That's… good but not nearly all the time we need." Felix sets a rectangle of dough encased in wax paper on the table. “It's been a few hours for this dough but it needs around twelve of rest."
"So, am I sleeping over?" It's a joke. Of course Chan means it as a joke. It doesn't help how he blushes, how he sees Felix blush.
Felix is blushing? Wow….
"Not tonight," Felix answers, avoiding his eyes. The answer makes Chan flush further, wonder if he means it to come out as flirty as it did. "I thought we could make some dough again. So you can see how it's made. And… I didn't know if you'd want to come back tomorrow to work on it so I just made this one in case."
"It's a two day process," Chan nods, understanding. "Bread is like that, too. Proofs and rises and gluten relaxing. I get it."
Felix's posture seems to straighten a little, shoulders relaxing. "Exactly! Yeah, it's patience, this. See, the trick to croissants is to keep everything as cold as possible. There's a lot of putting the dough back into the fridge to cool so the butter doesn't melt."
"I'm patient. We've got to be, in our line of work."
"Yes," Felix says, smiling small. “We do.”
Chan feels like there’s more to be said but Felix changes the topic quickly, moving back to the fridge. “Let’s make another dough.”
It does take hours. They make another dough, the recipe of which Chan recognizes from his attempt a few weeks prior but everything is way more exact. Felix emphasizes how important exact measurements are for croissants, something Chan hadn’t been too wary of his first time around.
Once the dough is complete and resting, Felix mentions the rises and rests. Chan hums in agreement, this recipe already feeling loads better than the one he tried before. They’re setting out to pound out the butter when curiosity strikes Chan.
“Have you ever put a starter in it instead of dry yeast?” He asks. “I feel like that would be interesting to try.”
“I haven’t,” Felix admits. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of croissants with starter.”
"D'you want some? I can bring some by next time."
“I think we should try it,” Felix nods. “Experimenting, yeah?”
Chan chuckles. “Yeah. We can call it a collaboration.”
The suggestion makes Felix’s eyes light up. It’s hard to keep the smile off his face as well.
“Okay,” Felix says softly. “We can try again tomorrow. Right now, you need to get to pounding that butter.”
“Oh!” Chan raises his eyebrows, grabs the rolling pin. “Bossy! You’re bossy.”
“Well, it is my kitchen.”
“In your bakery,” He adds.
“In my bakery,” Felix agrees. “So start pounding.”
Chan goes without further complaint, hitting the butter until Felix tells him it’s up to his standards.
By the time they're done, Chan has twelve perfectly imperfect croissants in hand. They're all leaps and bounds better than what Chan had previously attempted but nowhere near the perfectly shaped, perfectly puffed croissants he’d tasted.
"This is good for a six hour rise," Felix comments around the mouthful of croissant. "You did a really good job." Felix scoots closer, moving into Chan's space, practically leaning his head on Chan's shoulder as he holds the croissant in front of them. "See? Those are the folds you made. The little layers of lamination. You did that!"
The warmth of Felix and his words radiate through him, as if the energy is contagious.
"I had a good teacher," He compliments back. "He's real patient, talented enough to help even me through it." He turns his head to look at Felix but he's apparently miscalculated how close they're standing. It brings them so close, Chan can count each individual freckle settled high on Felix's cheekbone. He feels his face start to burn without his permission.
Felix turns his head to look right back at him, noting how close they are with a soft parting of his lips, eyes widening as he registers their closeness.
Chan can't help the way his eyes follow the movement of Felix's lips. It's a quick glance but apparently enough to make his cheeks burn even hotter. He doesn't miss the way Felix's own eyes trail down, following the movement of Chan's mouth as he takes in a sharp inhale.
The moment hangs between them. Chan waits for— for— he's not sure what.
He's not expecting Felix to pull back slowly, leaning away from Chan's space, seemingly dazed. Chan feels about as awestruck as Felix looks. The expression makes him think that maybe he's not imagining the heated moment between them.
He tries to cut the tension, tries to cool them down, to bring them back to somewhere near recognizable. "I'll… I'll bring the starter tomorrow, if that's okay."
"Yeah," Felix sounds breathless, eyes glued to Chan. "Yeah that's perfect. Tomorrow, same time?"
Chan nods. Helps Felix clean up a little before he’s shooed away. He bids him goodbye, waves to him. Sees himself out of the kitchen and into the bakery, out to the street.
It isn't until he's in the cold night air that he realizes his face is still burning hot.
Minho notices. Of course he does. He’s more observant than anyone ever gives him credit for, more caring than he seems.
“You like brownie boy.” It's an accusation.
“What?” Chan sputters at Minho. “Who— why do you— why would you think that?”
“You keep staring at him through the window.” Minho looks away from Chan, flips a page in the magazine in front of him. “Can't believe you haven’t even noticed. Are you clueless or something?”
Even though Chan realizes that Minho is telling the truth, even though he catches the way his body is angled towards the bakery across the street, he still tries to deny it. “I'm not. About what?”
“That you don’t see him as competition.” Another bored flip of the page. “That maybe you want to get to know him.”
It’s so scarily accurate that Chan’s worried Minho can actually read minds. He thinks a quick message, To any mind readers close by, hello! and tries not to look too disappointed when Minho doesn’t even look up.
He glances back across the street, spots the familiar head of hair through the window. Just a quick glimpse. It’s enough to make his pulse quicken, his mind not bringing up an ounce of the previous bitterness he thought he harbored.
Maybe Minho is onto something here.
But the matter of the butterflies in his stomach is another case entirely. He tamps them down, leaving that particular crisis for another day.
By the time he’s scheduled to get off work, there’s more movement across the street. Way more than Chan has ever seen of the place.
He started seeing at least two other people enter and exit Sunflower by midmorning and by the time he’s gathering up the starter he promised, they’re still there.
He knocks. Thinks it's polite to, when there’s others coming and going. A young man with striking white hair opens the door for him.
“Hello,” Chan greets, smiling politely. “Is Felix around?”
The young man examines him briefly before smiling, eyes narrowing with the movement. “He’s in the kitchen.” He turns away from the door. “Lix-hyung!”
“Jeongie? What’s—?” Chan hears Felix call out before he emerges. His eyes land on Chan, a smile appearing instantly. It feels warm on Chan's skin, like sunshine. “Chan-ssi! Hey.”
“You can— uh.” Chan licks his dry lips. “You can call me hyung. If you want.”
“Chan-hyung,” Felix repeats, as if tasting the words softly. “Hi.”
“Hey. I don’t want to interrupt if you’re busy.”
“No, you’re fine,” Felix assures. “Please, come to the back!”
He follows Felix into the kitchen, the smell of something baking hitting him immediately, the soft aroma of rising yeast alerts his senses. When he looks, he can see their cinnamon rolls in one of the large convection ovens. Barely risen and pale, just put in. The kitchen itself is in a state, various pans and utensils scattered around, sugar and flour set beside the oven, one of the mixers running in the background.
Felix throws him an apologetic look, “Sorry about the mess. I forgot I told the others we were setting up today.”
“Don’t worry about it. I just came by to bring this.” He holds up a bit of his starter. He's only brought a small amount in a jar that he thinks might be enough for at least five more batches of croissants if they don't use it sparingly.
“Oh, I don't think we'll be able to use it." Felix sounds so glum as he takes the starter in his hands. "I'm sorry, I should've remembered—"
“No, don’t worry!" Chan assures. "I completely understand. You can keep the starter, it’s fine.”
“Really? You’ll just give this to me?”
“Well, yeah. We were gonna use it anyway. Might as well leave it with you.”
“Thank you.” Felix smiles at him, the small movement pulling at the edges of his mouth. Chan feels his own smile bloom, slow and fond. There’s a moment between them, tender and soft. It breaks when Felix looks down, a blush high on his cheeks. He clears his throat, composes himself.
"What brand of starter do you use?” He asks, looking down at the jar.
"It's a… bit of my own starter," Chan admits, a little self-conscious about it now. "I started it when I was, oh gosh. Seventeen? Sixteen? 'Course, I messed up loads before that. This is just part of the one that survived."
Felix looks at him strangely, almost bewildered.
Chan panics a little, "Did you want something commercially available so you can buy it yourself? I can recommend some—"
"No! No, it's…" Felix brings the jar up to eye level, examining the mass. "You're really letting me use this?"
"Yeah… I mean. It's okay. It's why I brought it."
There’s a glimmer in Felix’s eye as he meets Chan’s gaze again, a spark of something which echoes back to their previous night. Chan decides to expertly avoid it, looking back to the ovens and changing the topic. “Cinnamon rolls, yeah?”
“Oh," The distraction seems to work on Felix. "Yeah. I was trying out a recipe. Don’t know if I want to include it yet. Since… since you already have cinnamon rolls on the menu at CB House.”
Chan can’t help his surprised look as he shifts his gaze back to Felix. The younger man stands there, shifting from foot to foot, a nervous gesture. The knowledge that not only does Felix know about what Chan has on his bakery’s menu but is also hesitant about encroaching on the products of it makes something bubble in his chest. Something rising, like the cinnamon rolls in front of him.
In lieu of anything else, he smiles. “You should try the starter for the next batch. It's— the rise is a lot slower but it'll come out richer. And it only needs one rise, too.”
Felix’s face shifts slowly, as if he’s processing that, yes, Chan has not only given him his blessing to include the item but also that he’s getting tips on how to make it. His smile grows as slow as a bread proof, starting so small and sweet Chan wants to make a mental note of it.
“Okay,” Felix says, voice soft. “Thank you.”
“Yeah,” He has to clear his throat. “Yeah, ‘course. If you need any tips on it, I'm right across the street."
Felix looks like he's on the verge of saying something, of suggesting something when the door to the kitchen opens. The boy from before stands there, looking apologetic. "Sorry, um, Hyunjin’s here. He needs to know where the plates are going to go."
"I'll go,” Chan tells him. “You're busy, but if you need anything—"
"You're across the street," Felix nods, smiling softly.
Chan turns to leave but Felix's voice stops him. "We're opening next week. Six AM on the dot on Monday. If you wanna stop by…?"
"Six o'clock," Chan confirms. "I'll be the first at the door."
Felix's answering smile is so wide and happy, Chan feels like he's looking directly at the sun. He can't bring himself to look away until he hears the door to the kitchen open again.
Chan turns away as Felix sobers up slightly, their moment broken.
He feels dazed as he walks back across the street and he makes it all the way back into CB House before he realizes his shift's been over for about half an hour now.
Changbin gives him a weird look but doesn't ask when Chan says "Sorry," and turns on his heel, walking back out the door.
When Chan gets to work on Sunday, the lights in Sunflower Bakery are already on. This is the earliest he’s ever seen them on, another shining beacon in the middle of the pre-dawn morning.
Instead of going straight for the doors of CB House, he turns and moves towards Sunflower, curiosity winning over.
The door’s open when he tries it and the bell above the door sounds loud in the open space.
There’s a commotion from the kitchen, the sound of pots and pans dropping to the ground unceremoniously before he hears Felix’s voice ask, “Who’s there?”
“Just me,” He calls back.
Felix emerges from the kitchen in his stained blue apron, flour dusting his cheeks. He looks frazzled in a way Chan has never seen him before and it tugs at him, the worry he sees in Felix’s face.
“Oh,” Felix sighs out. “I didn’t realize I left the door open.”
“No, I’m sorry for just barging in. Are you, um… are you okay?”
“I’m— well, no.” Felix laughs mirthlessly. “Not really. We open tomorrow and I’m so nervous. What if none of this works out and I’m making a mistake?”
“Hey, hey,” Chan takes a few steps forward, lands his hands on Felix’s shoulders. “It’s okay to be nervous. I felt that exact same way when I opened CB House. It’s nerve wracking. It’s a leap of faith. You have to believe in yourself and your abilities and knowledge because that’s what keeps people coming back.”
“Plus, you’re so likeable, it’d be hard for anyone to stay away. They’ll always come back for a peek at that smile.”
Felix shines the aforementioned smile in his direction, the look of it taking Chan’s breath away.
“Yeah,” he’s breathless as he looks at him. “Just like that.”
"Is that why you're here?" Felix’s question is steady but his eyes betray his lingering nervousness.
Chan feels his own nerves start to bubble up, the air of the empty bakery feeling scorching, like someone's left an oven open.
"I love your smile," he admits, finally voicing the thought that's been bouncing around his head. "It's like sunshine. It makes me happy to see it. I…."
Felix watches him curiously, eyes narrowing like he's examining him.
Chan swallows, feels his doubt growing. He's about to apologize for overstepping a line when—
Felix is leaning in suddenly, closing the distance between them, pressing their lips together in a kiss that is as gentle as it is hesitant.
It feels like this is what Chan's been waiting for, his body going lax at the touch of Felix's lips. He tastes like cherries and butter, some unknown combination of a pastry he’s likely making. Chan probably tastes like the sourdough he sliced and had for breakfast. They meld together after a second, finding a tentative rhythm and falling deep into it, pressing against each other slowly. They grow towards each other like flowers, blossoming under each other's warmth. His hands slide down, settling high on Felix’s hips, Felix landing his forearms over his shoulders, pulling him even closer.
Kissing Felix is addicting, he soon learns. Every slide of their lips makes Chan want more, want to keep going, to keep peeling back every layer of how he tastes, how they taste together, mingling in some unnameable way. Felix huffs soft little puffs of breath out of his nose every time their lips separate and he inhales slowly when they reconnect. It’s so charming to feel, to know this part of him, to be able to see and feel this. Chan feels himself smiling into the kiss.
When they pull back, they stay close, noses brushing.
“Thank you,” Felix says, voice low.
Chan smiles. “What, for kissing you?”
Felix rolls his eyes. “For complimenting me. For calming me down. And maybe for kissing me, too.”
He bumps his nose against Felix, a tender nudge. “My pleasure.”
They smile at each other, the edges of their moment fuzzing over as they lean in again, sharing another kiss, as slow as their first one.
He could stay here forever, Chan thinks. He loves kissing and he’s quickly learning that kissing Felix is a special event all to itself, every press opening up to a new reaction, a new side of him.
When they pull away again, Felix leans back, meeting his eyes. “You’re coming by tomorrow, right?”
“Wouldn’t miss it,” Chan answers earnestly. “I… kind of, uh. Got you a present already.”
“Really?” Felix’s smile is so excited he can barely stand to look at it. “A present?”
“Yeah. I guess you could call it an opening day present? I don’t know. Should I not have?”
Felix shakes his head vehemently. “Please. I love presents. What is it? What am I getting?”
“It’s a surprise.” God he hopes Felix likes it.
“Fine,” He sighs. “Fine. I’ll wait until tomorrow.”
“Yeah?” Chan teases. “Y’sure you can wait?”
“‘Course I’m sure! I can be patient. I’m a baker, remember?”
Chan laughs, hard and joyful. “Yeah. Yeah, alright.” He lands one more kiss onto Felix’s lips and pulls away from his grip. Felix is quick to seek out his hands, lacing their fingers together between then. “I gotta go open. I’ll see you tomorrow, right?”
“Yeah. Tomorrow.” Felix nods, looking noticeably more stable than when Chan first entered.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Chan says, meaning it wholeheartedly.
Monday morning rolls around and Chan finds himself drawn to the lights of Sunflower again, moving like a moth to a flame. He stops himself, though. Knows that he has to get the breads started and has to grab Felix’s gift.
By the time he has a few loaves in the oven, he prepares to go over. He takes Felix’s gift from the fridge, wraps the affair in a checkered dishcloth. It's not the most glamorous thing in the world but he hopes, hopes Felix will like it.
The bell above the door rings as he enters Sunflower, a young man he thinks he’s seen before wiping down the half-full pastry case. It’s not the same boy who opened the door that one day. This one has long blonde hair pulled into a half ponytail. Hyunjin, he thinks he’s heard?
“We’re not open,” Hyunjin says.
“Oh, I know. I work across the street and told Felix I’d drop by today. Is he here?”
“Ah,” Recognition seems to pass over Hyunjin’s face. “You’re Chan.”
Chan feels his cheeks heat up. Has Felix been talking about him?
“‘Lix told me about you,” Hyunjin clarifies. “He’s in the kitchen. You can go on back.”
Chan nods, still stuck on the fact that Felix has been talking about him to his… employees? His friends? That he’s recognized here. He slips into the kitchen before he can dwell on it.
“Is that my present?” Felix’s eyes shine with mirth as he eyes the bundle in Chan’s hands.
The words snap him back into the moment, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “Guess you’ll have to open it and find out.”
Felix makes grabby hands at the present, makes Chan laugh as he moves closer to hand it over. The younger man tugs the bow open, lets the fabric fall away from the small jar.
“It’s your own starter,” Chan explains. “I started it the other day for you. I could take care of it for you if you’re not— not confident in it but I think you could do it. I think you could do anything.”
“My own…” His eyes are wide and wondrous as he looks at Chan. “You made this for me?”
“Yeah. I thought it would be nice to have one of your own. It could help you with cinnamon rolls and croissants and… whatever else you decide to make with it.”
He barely has time to think before Felix is in his space, arms wrapped around his neck, pressing their lips together.
Chan’s response is automatic, his hands moving to hold Felix’s waist as he turns his head, deepening the kiss. It’s just as incredible as their previous one. Chan feels warm, warm, warm. Happy. He makes a pleased noise as he pulls Felix in deeper, so glad he has the privilege to taste sunshine like this.
The door to the kitchen opens noisily, breaking their kiss. They turn to see Hyunjin, a serving tray in his hand.
"Oh,” Hyunjin stops, takes in their closeness. “Sorry, I'll, uh… I’ll come back later."
When the door closes and they’re alone again, Felix chuckles low. “Guess that means I have to get ready to open, don’t I?”
"Yeah,” Chan confirms, hands smoothing down Felix’s sides. “I'll come by later, though. You have a big day ahead of you and it's going to be amazing. You got this."
"Yeah," Felix hums out, relaxing into Chan's chest like he was made to fit there. He loves how touchy Felix is, how he’s making himself comfortable with Chan already. "Promise you'll be back later?"
"Swear. As soon as I finish at CB House."
"Good," He leans back, pecks Chan's lips one final time before letting go, pushing him away lightly. "Now, get to work."
"Bossy!" Chan laughs.
"My bakery," Felix murmurs but the words feel more nervous than joking.
"Hey," He brings his tone down, voice soothing. "You've definitely got this. Trust me."
Felix nods once, eyes unfocused. Nods again, gaze hardening. "I've got this."
"You do.” He wishes he could kiss him again. He refrains from it, brings his feet back to the ground. Their touch lingers as they separate, slips completely as they step away. He walks out to the front of the house, leaves Felix in his kitchen to watch his pastries rise, feeling something more rise in his own chest.
Chan might as well not be at work. His eyes keep drifting to the bakery across the street as soon as anyone gets within range of it. He watches customers enter and linger, watches Felix and Hyunjin serve them and smile, watches the customers smile, too.
Minho looks at him like he’s sprouted a third head when he tells their first regular of the day to check out the bakery across the street. To his surprise and delight, she does, and he watches as she enters and becomes utterly charmed by Felix. It’s his gift, Chan thinks. To be absolutely lovable.
Thankfully, Minho says nothing about it. Chan feels like he might, though. He’s just biding his time. Getting a read on Chan.
When the night shift rolls around, Chan greets Changbin and Seungmin happily, says goodbye to Minho, gathers his things in his pack, and practically skips across the street.
Sunflower has two customers, both of them lingering on a couch, reading quietly. Chan smiles at the sight, remembering his own first day and how exhausting and rewarding it was.
Felix is behind the counter, leaning both elbows on it, his chin resting on his hands.
"Hey,” Chan greets.
“Hey,” Felix’s smile is soft around the edges, almost floaty.
“Good first day?”
“Yeah,” He looks around wondrously. “Can’t believe I actually did this. Started my own business like this. Is this how it feels?”
Chan laughs lightly, “Yeah. This is how it feels. Exhausting and taxing but so rewarding.” He can’t stop himself from stroking a hand down Felix’s cheek lightly, revels in how the other man’s eyes flutter at the touch. “Saw a lot of people over here today. It looked good.”
“We got so many,” Felix murmurms. “So many more than I thought I would.”
“Good things happen to good people,” Chan shrugs.
“A little cheesy of you.”
He chuckles, “It’s true, though!”
Felix’s answering smile is broken by a wide yawn. Hyunjin emerges from the kitchen with a tray of delicately decorated pink macarons. Felix moves to help, sliding the pastry case open for him. As he does, he yawns again, harder this time.
“Oh, you’re beat.” Chan comments. “Are you okay to leave?”
Felix shakes his head, “Oh, I shouldn’t—”
Hyunjin butts in, “You should. You’ve been on your feet for hours, ‘Lix.” He looks to Chan, meets his eyes. “Drag him out of here, please.”
Chan chuckles, touched that he’s being entrusted with Felix already.
“How about I buy you a cup of coffee?” Chan suggests. “It’ll help.”
Felix nods, tilts his head as if he’s examining Chan carefully. “Yeah, okay.”
“Do you want to come over to CB House? Changbin’s there right now and you haven’t lived until you’ve tried his coffee.”
This time, there’s a pause. Felix breaks their gaze, almost like he’s avoiding his eyes. “Sure.”
Chan tries not to give him a weird look and fails. He’s glad Felix isn’t looking at him.
Just like he said, when they open the door, Changbin is practically where Chan left him: behind the counter with Seungmin beside him, manning the cash register.
“Hey, Changbin,” Chan calls out in greeting. “This is Felix. He’s the owner of the bakery that just opened across the street.”
Changbin eyes the newcomer up and down with a critical eye. Chan hopes he isn’t scaring Felix too much, knows that, despite Changbin’s sharp appearance, he is a cuddly teddy bear of a person.
“Hey,” Changbin greets. “I’ve seen you here before, right?”
That takes Chan by surprise. Seems to take Felix by surprise, too, judging by the way he flushes.
“Um, yeah. You… you have.”
Changbin nods, “So, your usual?”
That stuns Chan further. How long has Felix been coming here without Chan being the wiser, after his shift is over?
Felix’s voice is small as he says, “Yes.”
“You know what I like,” Chan answers without looking away from Felix.
“Gotcha.” He hears Changbin start to tinker with his overly expensive espresso machine as he gets to work.
Chan steps away from the counter, hopefully out of earshot of Changbin, but then again, the bakery isn’t that big. Felix follows with shuffling footsteps, avoiding his eyes.
“So, you’re….” He’s not sure how to even broach the subject. “You’re, uh….”
“A stalker?” Felix provides sheepishly.
That gets a laugh out of Chan. “Not what I was going to say.”
“I’m not, for the record. I just… I used to come here a lot when I first moved here for university. Before I ever thought about opening Sunflower.”
“So why…” He clears his throat. If there’s ever a time to ask about this, it’s now. “Why did you open across the street?”
It takes a second before Felix looks up, eyes landing on Chan and sliding off again and again. “I…” He tries softly, looks helpless for a second before he slips fully into English. “I guess I… saw what you were trying to do. You were trying to create a place for fresh baked goods. But you didn’t have sweet things, and I didn’t know if you’d accept a sweets baker. You posted that job opening like a year ago and I almost applied. I don’t know anything about bread but I almost....”
Color Chan speechless. Had Felix really been that close yet that far at the same time? Their first meeting, he remembers how Felix had picked him out so quickly as the owner. He desperately tries to recall if he’d served Felix at any point before ever formally meeting him. He thinks he’d remember a smile like sunshine and freckles like constellations. Chan’s head swims with the revelation.
“I’m sorry,” Felix is still speaking only English. His voice is low, low, low. “I should have said something. Checked if it was okay to open right there.”
The way he says it makes Chan’s brain do a soft reboot. It sounds absurd, when he puts it like that. He slips into full English too as he says, “You didn’t need my permission to open your bakery. Felix. Hey,” he waits for Felix’s eyes to lift, meets his hesitant gaze. “You could’ve opened anywhere. But you opened there. If anything, I’m glad you did. Otherwise, I would’ve never gotten my head out of my ass and noticed you.”
“So,” Felix looks scared yet hopeful. “You’re not…?”
“I’m not mad,” Chan confirms, voice soft. “I don’t think I could ever be mad at you.”
“Cheesy?” Chan provides. “I know. I’m cheesy.”
Felix’s smile is tentative but present. “I think I’ve caught onto that, yeah.”
“Good,” He beams. “Then you’re in the loop.”
Chanbin calls out Chan’s name, signalling their order being ready. They pick up their steaming mugs and thank Changbin, who nods in acknowledgement.
“Do you wanna sit down?” Chan asks, nodding to the couch by the back. It’s Chan’s favorite spot, pressed to the back wall into the corner. A perch to spy the rest of the place easily.
Felix goes and Chan follows. They settle into the worn leather easily, sitting so close their legs are practically tangled together. Felix takes a sip of his coffee, something with whipped cream in it, and melts into the couch.
Chan holds his drink in one hand, wraps his other arm around Felix’s shoulder, bringing him close. “Tell me about today.”
Felix sighs, leaning heavy into Chan’s side, head landing in the juncture between his neck and his shoulder. Slowly, he starts to talk, telling him about every customer, every compliment, every interaction. He feels the warmth of his drink seep into his bones, the warmth of Felix seep into his skin, the warmth of his words seep into his mind.
He’s so content in this moment that he could live here, he thinks. Like this. Holding onto Felix and watching his bakery span around him, out the windows and across the street, Felix’s own bakery shining bright and happy.
Like this, he thinks. He’s happy like this.
“You’re happy.” The way Minho phrases it makes it sound like an observation. A statement of fact.
“Is it that obvious?” Chan says, attempting to keep a smile from his face for what feels like the tenth time that day.
"What happened? Did you finally get a date with that twink across the street?"
Chan barks out an unexpected laugh, almost drops the focaccia in his hands. It makes it to the bag safe, though, and Chan smiles at the customer: a regular by now who he considers a friend.
"Is that all, Jinyoung?"
He's about to answer when Bambam, another regular who is both Jinyoung and Chan's friend, leans into Jinyoung's space, tinted glasses sliding down his nose.
"No," Bambam answers for Jinyoung. "I want to hear more about this date of yours."
Jinyoung turns a curious eye towards Chan. "Did you really go on a date? I thought you were too busy to date."
"I didn't— there's been no date," Chan tries.
"Uh-huh," Minho says. "Changbin told me about you and brownie boy in here the other night."
“Brownie boy?” Bambam leans his elbows on the counter, resting his chin on his hands. “Is that a euphemism?”
Minho leans into Bambam’s space conspiratorially. “You’ve seen the bakery in front, right?”
“You’re both awful gossips,” Chan comments.
“Yes, we are,” Bambam says. “Now shush.”
Chan contains his groan and looks back to Jinyoung, smiling a small embarrassed smile. “Is there anything else I can get you?”
Jinyoung smiles back sympathetically. “You can tell me about your date.”
Chan huffs, "There's no—"
The bell to CB House rings open. His eyes flick to the entrance where Felix now stands, walking over to the counter in his pretty blue apron. He smiles at Chan, waves him over. Chan smiles apologetically at Jinyoung and meets Felix in front of the bakery case.
"You left your phone in my kitchen.” He holds out the aforementioned phone, stained by the flour that coats Felix’s hands.
He takes it, slips it into his pocket. "Thank you. I’ll see you later?"
"Count on it."
Felix leans in, gives him a quick peck. Nothing more than a fleeting press of the lips. Chan watches him go, a fond smile on his face as he waves Felix goodbye for now.
When Chan turns back to his customers, he sees three pairs of surprised eyes on him.
"Brownie boy?" Bambam asks incredulously.
"That's him," Minho confirms. "Man, Jisung owes me lunch now. Knew you were kissing already."
Chan’s eyes widen in distress. "You bet on— on us kissing?"
"Hey," Bambam says, pulling out his phone. "What's your number? I need someone to keep me in the loop since Channie over here won't think of little old me."
Chan rolls his eyes. "You're both awful gossips and terrible friends."
"You wound us," Minho says, not sounding very wounded at all.
"If you keep insulting us," Bambam adds. "I'll take my business across the street."
“We might anyway,” Jinyoung pipes in. “I wanna see what brownie boy’s all about.”
This time Chan does groan out loud.