Happy 4th of July, America Peeps. For those in other countries, have a nice day anyway.
Minn watched quietly as Mike added a steady stream of honey into a bowl of fluffy, white batter. She noted that it was already past closing time, and they were on their tenth batch. Though the previous batches had delicious flavors, Minn felt that they still hadn't captured the taste the couple was looking for. Tasting each mix, she made this clear, and she was grateful for Mike's patience with her. She wanted this cake to be perfect, and like she promised Nanette, she wanted it to be the best wedding cake ever.
"You can take a break if you want," Minn suggested, just as Mike was beginning to stir the batter. He looked over at her with tired eyes and smiled.
"Nah, I'm fine. They want the perfect cake, we're gonna give it to them," he declared, resuming his task.
"But I can stir at least."
"You just focus on making sure this cake is the best cake ever," Mike laughed, wiping the sweat from his forehead with the back of his sleeve.
"But…" Minn began to protest, reaching over for the spatula. Mike immediately moved his arm in front of her to prevent her from getting any closer. He stared at her seriously; his stern green eyes stopped her.
"No, buts sweetheart," he said softly, his deep voice resonating in her ears. "Why don't you finish cleaning up; I'll help you after I put this in the oven."
"O-okay," Minn squeaked. She slowly backed away from him before briskly walking out of the kitchen. In the dark hallway, she leaned against the wall and placed her hand over her chest. For some reason, her heart was pounding, and for some reason, her face felt hot. What kind of feeling what this? Love? Infatuation? Sweetheart? Surely, she should think nothing of it. "Get a hold of you self, Minn," she said to herself, patting her face lightly. "He probably says that to every girl. Yeah, that's right. EVERY girl." Satisfactorily, Minn nodded to herself and went to the storage closet where the cleaning supplies were.
Having just come from the bakery, Dante arrived at his aunt's around six. He noticed that she was sitting outside on the bench that sat by her doorway. Wrapped in a light, brown shawl, she had been enjoying the cool, evening air. When she saw her nephew approaching her, she nodded slightly at him.
"What are you doing out here?" Dante inquired, as he took a seat next to her.
"Enjoying God's beautiful scenery? Why? You think I shouldn't be out here?" Sachiko huffed teasingly.
"I didn't say that. I was just asking," her nephew sighed, folding his hands. "So what was it that you wanted to talk to me about?"
"How are things at the bakery?" Sachiko asked, evading the subject.
Dante, knowing how his aunt was, went along with it. "It's going well. We're doing a wedding cake for next week."
"Really? How big is it?"
"Five-tiers, but they're arranged in a staggered design. I have it drawn out. It's just the matter of the flavor."
"Oh?" his aunt hummed, intrigued. "How's that coming?"
"Ah…good, I suppose," Dante replied hesitantly, looking up at the sky as if the answer would fall into his lap. In reality he had no idea how that was coming along since Mike and Minn decided to take over the project for him. That night, he had left them to come up with something on their own. He had to admit that he was a bit agitated about leaving the two alone at the shop. He especially felt agitated knowing that Mike was with that girl.
Sachiko's eyebrows shot up in suspicion. "You suppose?"
"It's going well," he added to deter her from the subject.
"Maybe, I should go and check up on your progress tomorrow," Sachiko sighed, rubbing her forehead.
"Everything's fine. Rest assured," Dante reiterated with a wide grin.
Sachiko smiled mischievously at him. "All the more to go."
"So what I wanted to talk to you about," Sachiko began, quickly changing the subject, "…was your grandfather's contract."
"What about it?"
With a sigh, Sachiko closed her eyes and clasped her hands. "Frankly, you're just terrible at making wagashi, and you're not getting any better. If your grandfather were here, he'd probably disown you."
"Aunt, I can get the hang of it. I've just haven't done it so long…."
"I want to believe that, but I'm really not seeing any improvement from you…"
"I can do it," Dante said firmly. "I need more practice, but I can and will do it. There's still seven months left. I have time."
"You say that, but it'll catch up faster to you than you think. You're still learning the basics of wagashi, and yet there's other recipes still left to learn. I should've been teaching you how to make higashi by now. I'm trying to cram in ten plus year's worth of training into you in less than ten months, and you're saying you have time?"
"I'm a prodigy…"
"Well, not in this area." Sachiko glared coldly at him, which caused Dante to retract slightly uneasily. He could feel his aunt's disappointment with him, and he knew that her words were true. He was failing miserably, and he refused to accept it under the premise he would become better. "I'm giving you a deadline, Soon Jae. The end of May. That's all you have. If you can't master wagashi by then, you can't master anything. One Stop Shop's fate is in your hands. Remember that."
Dante pushed open the door to his loft and was greeted by its darkness. Switching on the light, he trudged past the living room and into the open kitchen to get a drink. He was troubled by his aunt's words and perturbed by his own incompetence. He picked up a water bottle from the counter and drank it slowly. He set it down on the counter with a dull thud. Cool water splashed out of the container and onto his hand. "Lord, why?" he shouted, angrily. "I could do everything until now! Why can't it be like this now…" Disheartened, Dante dropped his head and sighed. Nothing was working out like it was supposed to. It was as if his "perfect touch" had worn off. The feeling was unbearable; for the first time, he felt helpless, alone, and without anyone to help him.
Dante woke up early the next morning as he always did, yet feeling somehow different. The cold shower he had taken did nothing to dissipate his emotions. He did not even remember leaving his apartment and arriving at the bakery. He simply looked at the red building, surprised. Unlocking the door, he noticed the light from the kitchen was still on. He looked behind him and noticed Mike and Minn's cars were parked roughly in the same place.
"Hello?" he called as he walked inside. "Hello?" Not hearing a response, Dante walked to the kitchen, fearing the worst. By then he had snapped out of his numb daze. "Minn? Minn?" When he went inside, he saw that Mike had fallen asleep on an adjacent counter, while Minn worked with her back to the door. With an alleviated sigh, he slowly approached Minn and curiously glanced over her shoulder. She was busy mixing another bowl of batter, humming an unknown tune to herself. As she was stirring, she realized she needed an additional ingredient; she turned around into a warm body with a yelp. The two stood there, stunned for a second, before Dante suddenly backed away from her.
"Mr. Koizumi," she said in a low voice, pulling out the earbuds from her ears. Patches of flour rested on her bronze, oval face, and her dark eyes stared him calmly.
"Miss Richmond," Dante coughed nervously, his heart pounding loudly in his chest. "Because I was surprised by her sudden movements. Yes, that's right."
"You're here early," she said with a smile.
"I'm always here early," he reminded her. "What are you doing?"
"I was making a sample batter for the wedding cake. I think this is it. Do you wanna try?"
"Heh. How can an amateur like you get the perfect mix in less than a day? Not even Mike can do it," he scoffed, walking over to her side.
"God, of course," Minn proclaimed, placing her hands on her hips. "Try it."
"I will." Dante picked up a nearby spoon and scooped up a portion of the batter. Tasting it, he pursed his lips together tightly. His expression became rather stiff as he swallowed slowly.
"Well?" Minn asked excitedly. "What do you think?" Dante merely looked at her; his expression, she could not figure out.
"This is…" he began slowly, before glancing at her. "…the best cake mix I've ever tasted…in my life."