Have Your Cake by Brenna S.
Amelia blew an exaggerated vocal kiss to the mouthpiece of the wall phone. Some of the flour from her cheek and the corner of her lips blew away. She told her mother goodbye and set the phone on the receiver with a content sigh. Some days she was thankful for a past that drove her to call her mother daily. A tapestry of warmth and rich scents enveloped Amelia like a swaddling parent and reminded her of the work to be done.
Scuffed paint and fingerprints marked the beige kitchen walls anywhere within arm's reach. Towers of sweet dough on silver trays lined each wall. Some sweets were smothered with tasteful designs in homemade icing while others remained as natural as when they left the oven. A few tray carts sat patiently beside the nearest flour coated counter. An iPod sang in its dock about sugar sugar and honey honey on a high shelf, half hidden under sheets of unsorted recipes and previous clients' orders.
Amelia opened a drawer of the L-counter opposite the smallest of three ovens. The further two ovens, both twice the size of the first, had newly poured cupcake batter and sticky bun dough that weren't ready to give off any aroma for at least another fifteen minutes. Her assistant had prepared those batches before leaving for lunch. In the drawer was a pair of thick, happily stained oven mitts. Two sewn cat eyes looked up at Amelia from above a smiling little mouth. She slipped on the mitts and wiggled her fingers; the rounded triangle ears and rosy whiskers flickered.
"Thank you, my little Cal," Amelia said and blew a kiss to the mittens.
For a moment Amelia relished the feeling of the open oven and the loaves of cinnamon raisin bread under her nose. She poked the center of each loaf with a toothpick and smiled as it came out clean. She transferred the last loaf of bread to the prepared shelving just as a twinkling bell warned her of a customer in the storefront. Amelia flapped her hands free of the mittens and playfully lobbed them on the counter.
A man stood next to one of the merchandise shelves, observing a crocheted confectionery dolls. He was silhouetted by the sun's sharp reflection off of the windshield of a blood red sports car parked adjacent to the glass door. Amelia nearly slid around the corner, and when she balanced herself, proclaimed a cheerful greeting to the man. He smiled, though his face was mostly in shadow and all she could see were his commercial white teeth. He picked up the cupcake toy that caught his attention as well as one other-an ice cream cone-and placed them on the counter. He never made full eye contact with Amelia as he drifted from one brightly colored item to another, one shelf of sweets to the next as if entirely out of his element.
"I was afraid I had the wrong place for a second," he said. "My wife usually orders for our daughter's birthday. Swears by this place. I'm treating her for our anniversary next week."
"Gosh! Thank you! And congratulations!" Amelia said, quickly running figures in her head as to what she could offer the man as a complimentary gift for his wife.
His appearance was distracting. Despite the glaring light from the car reflection, she could now make out the basic features. He had a sharp square jaw contoured by a day's worth of stubble. His nose jutted out like a soft beak, but it sat brilliantly beneath his eyes that shown as dark as his leather jacket. His rounded sunglasses atop his head kept his slicked hair from his forehead. More than being a handsome face, he looked familiar. She had waves of nostalgia about high school rallies and prom night and twisting the end of her long braided hair until a wadded brown knot came off looped around her finger.
"Are you picking me up-? I mean, picking up or ordering?"
His eyes finally settled on Amelia for longer than most customers took her in and she willed her cheeks to stop blushing. It was veiled under the dusting of flour she didn't see across her face. Even as the man looked down at the laminated booklet of bakery selections and she fumbled for her order forms in a drawer under the register, she hoped her inner schoolgirl would remember she was a grown woman of thirty-four. It was always flattering to have an attractive person seem to think likewise of her.
The thought of school age courtship derailed her as awful recognition dawned on her face. Suddenly the man before her was sixteen years younger and she was just discovering herself.
"Denise is a fiend for strawberry shortcake and-that's the one!" The man slid the menu across the counter towards Amelia. She recoiled and drew her hands towards her chest. The clipboard clattered to the linoleum tiles, briefly drowning out a hip-hop tune spelling B-A-N-A-N-A-S.
The man raised a luxurious brow and looked closer at Amelia's shrunken form. Her hands balled into shaking fists and her cheeks flushed bitterly. She inconspicuously leaned towards the register where a firearm was tucked into a plastic holster nailed beneath the counter and above the plastic shelving. Scars near her collarbone and down her arm twinged under her cotton dress and cloth apron.
"Oh man," the customer said. His lips tipped upward removing the shocked gape. "Wow. I never thought A-Cafe's Amelia was my Amelia from high school. Holy shit, man."
"Geoff," Amelia spat.
"Come on," Geoff said. "You're not still mad about what a dumb kid did. I'm not mad for being in prison for three years. I mean, not anymore." He began tapping the countertop with another pensive frown. Amelia took the brief instant his eyes surveyed the room again to inch closer to the register. Geoff stopped tapping, but shook his head and let out a gruff, unamused laugh. "Fine. If you're going to keep treating me like a 19 year old criminal, I'll get out of your hair. I'll even fill out the form myself and I won't say another word to you."
Amelia snatched up the clipboard from the ground, her eyes glued to Geoff's hands. "No. You're going to take your fancy car and get away from my shop. I don't serve the likes of you here."
"The likes of me?" Geoff said. "Like people with pasts are a race? A disease? I was a scared kid. And don't forget that you held all the cards. You would've destroyed my whole life! You nearly did!"
"So instead you tried to destroy mine?" Amelia leaned on the counter inches from Geoff's face. Her shock and fear were replaced with a rage spurred on with every breath he took and every memory it spilled over her agonizing brain. Her heartbeat raced as it had in her memories, but she was no longer a scared child. "Lucky for me you weren't just a weak minded kid back then. You were just plain weak and the knife didn't make it to Cal. Oh by the way, my son's name is Calvin."
Geoff shoved his finger towards Amelia's face. "You know damn well I wasn't out to kill the baby. I wasn't out to kill anyone-"
"Just scare me a little, right?" Amelia said. "Just make sure I don't talk or ask for any of your daddy's precious money, right? Or maybe I would change the whole story of us having sex, right?"
Geoff took a steadying breath. He beat his fist against the counter a few times with his eyes clenched.
"That temper," she mused. "I know we were young and dumb and thought we were in love. That's why you're that much dumber for even coming after me. I wasn't going to ask you for a single penny. I wasn't even going to tell anyone Cal was yours. Like they wouldn't figure it out."
Amelia shut the confectionary booklet and replaced it on the counter. Geoff reached for the menu. Amelia slammed her hand down on the cover and fought against his flippant attempts to turn the pages past her interference. They stood at a stalemate while a rock ballad about mouths of decadence concluded. The air was stifling as if the humming air conditioning unit didn't exist. The gay chime of the bell sliced through the tension.
Geoff rested his face in his palm and stepped back. "Don't get all high and mighty, Cupcake. You don't get to judge me anymore. Not you, not old guys in dress robes, not even God. I paid my due and then some. I'll be damned if you're gonna keep punishing me or my family. Let's just keep it civil and you'll never see me again. If not, you'll get to deal with the judge this time. Let me order the cake for my wife."
Amelia crossed her arms. Her slitted eyes and pursed lips remained unmoved. After another silent moment, Geoff splayed his arms and spun towards the door. He skirted around the couple near one of the other glass shelves. The curly bobbed sprite in the flamboyant maxi dress was tossing a crocheted doughnut between her hands. The taller, portly man beside her was whistling to the music with his hands in his pockets. Outside, the red sports car revved. Geoff drove off with a cell phone clenched in one hand, spitting out profanities and names of attorneys. Amelia believed that her former lover didn't want to relive their nightmare, but he would come back if just to turn the tables. She didn't want to imagine being the one in the hot seat with all judgement predetermined by the news.
The music streaming into the storefront hushed. A series of sharp beeps made Amelia wince. She ran back around the corner and down the short hallway. Even the warmth of the kitchen didn't penetrate her shaking hands that fumbled for the iPod on the low shelf. She slid her finger across the cloudy screen and dismissed the alarm. The music returned to its store-filling volume. Amelia slipped on the kitten mitts, opened the two far ovens, and tested a few of the aromatic vanilla cupcakes and unglazed perfect buns that fought for attention. She set the eight trays upon two stacked carts and threw the oven mitts back into the drawer with more force than she intended. She scrubbed her eyes again before returning to the front.
Amelia stood alone, but two completed order forms waited on the counter beneath a wad of large and small bills, more large than small. She balked at the first detailed form and flipped to the page it referenced. She stopped on a laminated picture of a four tiered wedding cake. Piped frosting vines and roses separated each layer. A delicate chocolate canopy fanned out across the top tier. The walls of the cake were a thicket of flowers in a red gradient that bled into pink, then white, and then back again. Amelia stared at the bills in her hand. They covered the cost of the expensive cake plus two. Also included on the sheet-and overpaid-were three crocheted dessert toys and a chocolate cupcake.
Amelia thought to call the couple and make them take the money back. They couldn't possibly understand how much they had given. Then she reconsidered. Amelia was embarrassed that they had seen her act childishly in front of a customer, but it was possible that they understood what they had given even better than Amelia could comprehend their generosity. She had made a decision to hurt her business in a moment of righteous fury, but she found she wasn't remorseful. No such creature as Geoff deserved the desserts to which she attended like her own child.
Amelia put a red mark on the corner of the orders to ensure they would receive a Christmas card. She took a deep breath, taking in the victorious scent of the freshly made buns. Then she placed the wrinkled bills into the register as delicately as tucking her son into bed to a tune from the iPod describing how, mama, this surely was a dream.