'L' is for Lemon Cloud Cake
There was another one, on the table where they always sat. They were her favorite, but of course he knew that.
It sat there just like every other one had since a month ago. How many had she gotten now? Fifteen at least.
Emily stared at the cake on the table, the lemon on the top swirled to perfection, the white coconut shavings stuck to the icing on the sides with precise accuracy. It had probably been made that very morning. And here it sat, hers. How did she know it was hers? Well, the note of course.
It was as clear as the water she washed her hands with every day. To whom else could it be addressed, with the letter written as plainly as the glasses on her wrinkled face?
Lydia, the owner, came and stood by her side. She was a kindly, middle-aged woman who had given Emily a chance after she began to lose her hearing and her hands began to shake. After all, how hard was it to push a few buttons on the cash register and collect money? Easy as pie. That's what Lydia had said, and had hired Emily.
Emily was, after all, good natured and kind at heart. She often had trouble remembering things now, but at the bakery, it was easy. Everything was seventeen dollars unless it was a fruit pie, in which case it was only ten. Piece of cake.
"You got another one, eh?" she asked.
"I suppose I did," she whispered, nodding at the dessert, the skin on her hand loose and lax as she held it against her mouth in silent shock. How did he do it?
Charles and Emily had married forty-five years this coming Thursday. Well, she was the only one keeping count anymore. Of course, Charles wasn't around to count the years anymore.
Their marriage had been happy and blessed. They'd had four wonderful children who were now grown. All were dentists except for the third child, who decided she needed to be wildlife conservationist. Charles and Emily had lived by themselves for the past thirty or so years after the youngest had grown. And then Alzheimer's hit them both, Charles harder than Emily. They tried. Really, they did. But there was only so much two people could do on a fixed income and medical bills pouring in every other day. Pills cost money, trips to the doctor cost money: money they really didn't have, even after Emily got her new job at the bakery.
Even with so many expenses, Charles always had his ways of being darling and adorable. She would come home from working a double shift at the bakery and find a cake lying in wait on the table, with a decorated note protruding from the lemon swirls on the top – To Emily.
She would invite her three best friends from Bingo night, Myrtle, Jeanine, Helen, and their husbands, and she and Charles would sit down with their friends, chit-chat, and eat the cake that her husband always seemed to find money to buy. She never asked him where the extra money came from – she didn't want to insult him. After all, his memory might have been slipping, but he always remembered what cake was her favorite, and he could sense when she needed it. As he used to say, when it came to matters of the heart, he was as sharp as a pin.
"Are you going to have another get together with your friends, then?" asked Lydia.
"I suppose I have to – after all, I can't finish this whole cake by myself," she said, her voice still shaking. It never ceased to amaze her how he did it.
The first Lemon Cloud Cake that had appeared (after Charles was gone) with the note sticking out from the icing – To Emily – almost caused her to fall over from shock. Luckily, someone had pushed a chair underneath her before she hit the ground.
As she stared at the cakes that kept appearing, Emily found herself thinking back on things she wasn't sure she wanted to remember.
Charles had died two years ago, the Alzheimer's finally catching up with him. And yet, every few days, she got a new cake, always saying the same old thing he used to write on her cakes when he knew that she was stretched thin or in need of a pick-me-up.
She'd forced herself to forget about Charles over the two years he was gone. She threw herself into work, thinking that if she didn't think about him, the heartache wasn't there. And, for a time, it worked.
The door opened, pulling Emily from her reverie. She cast about, searching for the source.
"Oh, hello, dear," Emily said to the young girl who had just pushed her way into the bakery through the back door. She was close to twenty years old and was only working for the summer to save up some extra money for college the next semester. Emily liked her because she showed enough responsibility to save her money for something important, and she loved her, perhaps vainly, because her name was Emma.
"Are you ready to work the register again? I need to take this run," Emma said, throwing on her uniform tee-shirt and grabbing the van keys. She didn't even put her coffee cup down.
"Slow down sweetheart, the cakes will still be there after you put down your mug and take a breath."
"I'm already running late, Emily, there's no time for breathing!" Emma exclaimed. Emma passed right past the cake on the table with the note sticking out of it without glancing at it. Of course she had no reason to glance at it. Plus, Emma was often absent-minded as it was, so it didn't surprise Emily much when she didn't take any notice.
"I can work the registers today... I rather like doing that – I can actually remember the prices," she joked.
"Oh please, you know everything around here – you're better than Lydia."
"It's true, Emily," Lydia interjected, "you're on top of things."
Emily appreciated her friends and coworkers. She grinned a toothy grin, her skin stretching around her mouth and pulling up into familiar wrinkles at the corners of her eyes.
"I've already been working the registers for an hour anyway, I don't mind continuing." She'd sold six cakes and a fruit pie that morning, and it wasn't even ten-o-clock. "And Emma, before I forget, someone was asking for you today," she said, trying to recall the man's face. Remembering was getting harder every day.
"I told you – she's on top of everything!" Emma said, completely disregarding the fact that someone had been looking for her.
Emily smiled. "Emma, you're a sweet girl."
"Who's the cake for?" she asked, finally taking notice of the cake that Lydia and Emily had been staring at for the past couple of minutes before the girl arrived clutching her coffee.
"Emily. Who else?" Lydia said, crossing her arms and smiling coyly.
"Ah, the elusive secret admirer," Emma said, shuffling over and taking a huge sip of coffee that was steaming out of the lid.
"You are going to burn your taste buds off," Emily scolded. "And the secret admirer isn't so secret – really, I think I know who it's from."
"Ooh, who?" Emma asked, jumping onto the table where the confectioner's sugar sat in huge salt and pepper shakers and coconut and chocolate shavings sat in small plastic bins.
The arrival of the cakes a month or so ago had renewed Emily's memories of Charles. But they were good memories – she didn't so much think of his dying as she did his life, and their life together. She was happy again, and she owed it all to Charles.
"Charles," Emily replied after a long pause.
Emma and Lydia exchanged a worried glance. Finally, Lydia spoke up. "Emily... you do know that... well, Charles died a few years ago."
"I know the exact date and exact time that my husband died, thank you for reminding me," Emily snapped.
"We're just saying... I mean, how can...?"
"I don't know," she interrupted. "I just know it has to be him. He used to buy cakes for me all the time. When I was feeling stressed or burnt out, I would come home to a Lemon Cloud Cake from this bakery. There would be this exact sign – To Emily – every time. He could always sense when I was reaching the end of my rope. My favorite dessert always helped to cheer me up, and he knew that. I guess I'd been missing him more often lately, and then suddenly the cakes began appearing. It's a miracle," she explained.
Lydia and Emma glanced at each other again. "Well... if you're sure – then I think that's adorable, and I really want Charles to buy the next cake from me," Emma said with another sip of her coffee.
"Don't tease me," Emily reprimanded.
"I'm not. If he was good enough for you, he's obviously got to be the best man in this world... or the next," Emma interjected quietly. She laughed at her own joke, but then caught the look that Emily was shooting her. "I suppose I have to go get on that run now – it's supposed to be delivered by... twenty minutes ago." She slid off the table and raced into the next room. Emily's fading ears could just pick up the tell-tale sound of cardboard cutouts being molded into the form of boxes.
Emily took her cake home that day and called her three friends, and they came over to share the Lemon Cloud with her. She wasn't sure if they did it out of pity or friendship anymore, but she appreciated it all the same.
Three days later another cake appeared, the same note in the same place. Emily questioned everyone at the bakery – who was selling the cakes? Did anyone know the identity of the buyer? Was it Charles?
But no one knew. No one at the bakery could even recall selling any Lemon Cloud Cakes. Emily would have thought it a prank meant to set her off if it weren't for the decorated note. She'd never told anyone at the bakery the story of the Lemon Cloud Cakes and Charles' gifts to her... never. How could anyone have known?
Her only answer was that it was Charles. She didn't know how, but she didn't really want to question. As her mother used to say, when God gives you a blessing, you don't ask why it was sent.
"Emma, someone was asking for you again today," Emily told the girl as she rushed in late again, sloshing coffee down her apron.
"I don't have time for people today, Emily," she said frantically, reaching for the keys to the bakery van. "I have to get these peanut-butter pies to the Country Club!" she shouted as she grabbed three boxes at one time and sprinted out the door.
Three more days passed, and another Lemon Cloud Cake appeared. The same day, Emily tried to take a message down for Emma. It was frustrating and embarrassing, and her hand shook as she tried to hold the pen. Finally she grew frustrated and slammed it down, already forgetting why she was writing something in the first place.
One Friday, a young man Emily had never seen before entered the bakery. He had jet black hair and tan skin, and was quite the catch, if she did say so herself. "Can I help you?" she asked, looking around for Emma. Emma would think this young man was... what was the word... hot?
"I'd like a Lemon Cloud Cake and a dozen chocolate chip cookies," he said. Emily even liked his voice.
"That will be twenty-two dollars," Emily said as she pulled a Lemon Cloud Cake from the refrigerated glass cas and placed it on the counter. She took the bills from his smooth hand into her wrinkled one, and counted them slowly to make sure it was exact change.
"Have a good day," she said, handing him the parcels she'd bundled up for him.
"Thank you," he said. He nodded to her and then turned and left.
Four days later, Emily was rearranging the case in front when a young man she had never seen before entered the bakery. He had jet black hair and tan skin, and was quite the catch, if she did say so herself. "Can I help you?" she asked, looking around for Emma. Emma would think he was cute.
"Can I just ask you a question?" he asked.
"Of course," she said, smiling and lacing her fingers together. She closed the door to the refrigerated case, wiped her hands on her apron, and then looked into his bright, sparkling blue eyes; eyes that reminded her strangely of Charles'.
"It's just... I come in here close to three times a week, and I leave a message for Emily every day. I've yet to receive a phone call, or... anything... and I was wondering if you knew anything about it."
Emily furrowed her brows. "I certainly wouldn't think that you'd receive a phone call!" she exclaimed.
"I'm sorry?" he asked.
"Why would you expect a call from me?" Emily asked suspiciously.
"From you?" repeated the young man.
"Emily Pulaski," she replied, crossing her arms across her chest.
"I'm afraid... I mean... I don't understand," he said confusedly. "I thought... I mean... isn't there..."
"Young man, I'm old. I have enough trouble hearing as it is. Spit out your sentences clearly, if you would."
"I just mean," he said desperately, "that I've been leaving messages for... I guess another Emily."
Emily creased her brow along wrinkles that had made their way across her forehead for many years now. "Do you mean Emma Thompson?"
"I only know her first name... I've just seen it on her bakery tag. Tell me she still works here! She has brown hair, green eyes..."
"Oh, my dear, that's Emma!" Emily said, laughing lightly. "Yes, she still works here. She's on a run right now, but I can tell her that you called for her if you'd like," Emily explained.
"No, that's alright... thank you, Emily, and I'm so sorry about the mix-up," he added.
"Of course. I wonder why she never received your message..." Emily murmured. "Kids these days! They don't know how to take down proper messages!" The young man looked about to say something, but then just shook his head and agreed. "Thank you for stopping in!" Emily said, waving to the young man as he stepped out of the bakery. She watched him as he walked away.
After another long day at work, Emily locked the front of the store and was heading into the back to collect her purse and coat when she saw a Lemon Cloud Cake on the table, where it always sat, with a sign jutting out from the top. She smiled and looked up to the ceiling, thinking of Charles.
She shuffled slowly over to the table, tired from standing on her feet all day and stared lovingly at the cake.
"Oh, Charles..." she whispered. Then she blinked and stared at it again. Was that right, or was her vision finally starting to slip like the rest of her body? She leaned in close and read the sign over and over. Yes, her vision was hazy... but that was from the tears.
Her old, tired mind reeled as she thought about it. It hadn't been Charles. All along, she'd been taking home Emma's cakes from the young man she'd waited on this morning. All along, he'd been trying to meet Emma, and she'd been foolishly mistaking his attempts her for an old woman's miracle.
Emily choked back a sob as she sank against the table holding the confectioner's sugar in salt and pepper shakers and coconut and chocolate shavings in plastic bins. She couldn't bring herself to look away from the Lemon Cloud Cake. Emma's Lemon Cloud Cake.
How could she have been so stupid?
"You are a foolish old woman, Emily Pulaski. A foolish, stupid, naive, old woman," she said aloud, angry at herself for believing it for so long. "Charles is dead, Emily. And you are old. The sooner you realize that, the better!" she scolded herself. She shouted it to the empty bakery, the moonlight shining through the window behind her, perfectly illuminating the card that was not for her that stuck out of the Lemon Cloud Cake that wasn't for her either.
"You foolish, foolish woman," she whispered. Tears stung her eyes and rolled down her cheeks, leaving thin lines of flesh color in her rouge.
She sniffed resolutely and then stood up straighter and taller than she had in a long time. She'd been getting on fine without Charles for the past two years. These past months had just renewed the pain. She had to forget again.
She cleared her eyes of the tears that were still threatening to fall, and then gathered up her keys. She left the cake on the table and made her way slowly to her small Honda.
Yes, she would forget again. It wasn't worth remembering. She was better off when she didn't think of Charles.
She drove home in silence, staring at the road in front of her and trying hard not to shed any more tears. She'd cried enough for Charles – it was time to move on. It was time – it was past time. She sniffed again as she pulled into her driveway and shut off the engine.
After collecting herself for a few moments, she gathered her things and made her way slowly into the empty house. She put her purse down where she always did and shuffled into the kitchen.
Just then, a loud and audible gasp escaped her throat as she peered at her kitchen table, and her keys clattered to the floor.
Tears stung her eyes again as she clutched at her heart, sobbing from relief and happiness. There, sitting on the table, was a Lemon Cloud Cake, the yellow custard swirled to perfection, the coconut shavings flawlessly stuck to the vanilla icing.
Attached was a note, popping out of the lemon custard. She pulled it out and read it through blurry eyes, tears rolling down her cheeks and onto the linoleum tiling.
Author's Note: Hey there! This is my short story that I needed to write for my senior project. I chose to write a short story because I like to write and thought it was a clever and original way to make a splash in the world of senior projects. I like it a lot, and I think it's hard to read without saying "Aww..." which I know I did at least twice after finishing it. I just think it's a really cute idea, and the fact that it deals with an old, senile lady totally throws in more aww factor. Anyway, thanks for reading and please review. I need to turn this in on April 19th, and I need to know how it is! If there's any grammatical or spelling errors, please let me know right away, because if not, I'm turning it in as is, and I really don't want it to be screwed up! Thanks again! Luvies!