I took a deep breath and peered toward the cardboard cutout sitting in front of the newest business to open in Benton's historic downtown district. The business was an anime-maid inspired bakery and tea room. The proud owners where Lily Elizabeth Potter and Robin Katherine Peers. Helping them where two apprentices, one Jamie Sarah Potter and I, Madeline Diana Brewer. The cardboard cutout was in the shape of women who were dressed in the classic "French Maid" look. A small black dress that was trimmed with lace at the bottom and at the cuffs of the dress. Rounding out the cutout was an image of a white apron tied around the waist of the cutout and was tied in a bowknot in the back.
Black fishnet stocking, low heel pumps, completed the picture. I felt a deep blush blooming in my cheeks. The outfit looked just like the two outfits that both Lily and Robin where wearing today.
"Why, why don't I get to wear an outfit like that," I said pouting as I peered toward the cutout. The outfit was a lot cuter than mine. My own outfit was what I'll consider a "Church" going outfit. That an outfit you wear to Sunday services. The outfit was a pale pink top tucked into the waistline of a white skirt, that had been paired with white stocking, black leatherette's rounding out my outfit.
"because you're an apprentice," Lily said smiling toward me. "Though your learning quicker than we thought, so soon you might just get promoted to a full-time Maid position." She paused. "Then we can reward you with a full maid outfit."
"Also were going to need you, and to Jamie," Robin said as she took a deep breath and peered toward me and a blonde hair girl that appeared behind Lily. "We're going to be hosting a pitch and burst attraction at this year's Autumn Farmers Market. I think that should really promote the business. One of us will be sitting under the balloon, one will collecting money, and the other would be handing out samples bags of fresh-baked treats." Robin was clearly the brains behind the operation.
I blushed and turned toward Lily and Robin. "I guess, you're going to put in the dunking booth again," I said as I peered toward the cutout. I'd been in one before. You see, I did a two, one-hour shifts in one at the Discover Benton, a local town-wide celebration that highlighted the history of the community and the surrounding area. It was fun and I enjoyed it. And at the local Halloween Fete, I did a dunking stool stunt too, that was fun as well.
"Of course, we're all going to do a one hour turn," Lily said taking a deep breath. She shifted her eyes toward Jamie. "Including you little sister." She said folding her arms across her chest.
We all had a giggle as Jamie, the blonde hair girl started to blush and pout. As the giggling dyed down. Lily clapped her hands a sign that the fun was over and it was now time to get down to business.
"Okay, now we've had our giggle for the day, its time we get down to business. Now, we need are lovely petite to get behind the cardboard cutout and smile for the people." Lily said as she motioned with her hands for me to step behind the cardboard cutout.
"And don't forget to smile, Madeline. Robin said taking a deep breath. "People would be more willing to press a pie into a smiling girls face, than one that all frowned up." She said as she nodded her head and winked at me.
I took a deep breath first and felt my cheeks flood with color again, first because in a matter of minutes I'll be standing behind a cardboard cutout of a French maid, and a pie target for the whole of Benton, a township of some three or four thousand souls maybe more if you count the number of isolated farm and homesteads that dotted the countryside. And two, because I was still getting used to the term petite, I know it's a French word that means little. But it was also a word that Lily and Robin used to show that Jamie and I were still in our novitiate. Feeling butterflies floating around my tummy, I stepped behind the cardboard cutout and pushed my face through the hole and offered the three a little smile.
"Oh, that so adorable!" Robin said as she raised up her smartphone and snapped a quick picture. "That like so a Facebook post. That should really draw the people in." Robin nodded as she saved the picture and slipped the phone back into the pocket of her dress.
"Yep, totally adorable! Now, Madeline gives us the biggest smile you can make." Lily said edging me own. "Show us those pretty pearls."
"Right, come along sister, give us a big smile!" Jamie chimed in.
I formed my lips into a smile and once more another bright flash of white light flashed in front of my eyes. The three girls giggled and gathered around the phone to see the results. Judging by all there gushing, I take it they approved of the picture.
"Perfect," Lily said peering down at the photo on her phone. "Totally going to talk to Jason Fears down at the Herald. This is like front page martial right here. I mean its better than some hunting or fishing story. He's run like what one hundred or so big fishing stories since the summer started or something?" She said rolling her eyes as she saved the picture.
We all nodded our head in agreement. Jason Fears was the owner and editor of Benton's only local newspaper the 'The Benton Herald' and being a small town newspaper, one that came out only twice a week, those being every Wednesday and Saturday. And of course being a small town paper, located in the heart of rural Mississippi, Jason had the bad habit of only publishing stories that catered to the bulk of the community. He mostly covered softball games and little league tournaments. While his wife covered all the major social events in town.
"Okay, here the plan Madeline. You're going to stand behind the cutout. Much like your doing right now, you know looking all cute and adorable. And Lily here is going to take the money from the people and heckle them up. Jamie and I will be inside, I'll be handling the register. Jamie will be serving tea, cookies, and slices of cakes. Now, we're only going to be hosting the pie toss for about thirty minutes. So, it's going to be short, but sweet and I think really messy." Robin said smiling.
"Yep, then were going to get you all cleaned up and then you two can join us inside for a small little break for some hot chocolate, tea, cookies or a slice of cake or pie," Lily said. She paused and then darted into the shop. The bronze chime above the wooden door rang as Lilly pulled hard upon the brass door-handle as she vanished into the confines of the shop. Only to return a few minutes later pushing a trolley that was covered with a blue plastic tarp.
"And here they are. The stars of the show." Lily said reaching her hand over and wrapping her hand her fingers around a bundle of the plastic tarp. Taking a deep breath she pulled the tarp off the trolley, revealing six pies. The pies looked like your basic pie, a golden graham cracker crust that was filled to the edge with tinned pudding and topped with whipped cream and the finishing touches a bright red maraschino cherry.
"Take a look at these beauties. Our Classic slapstick pies are filled with vanilla and chocolate pudding and topped with Kraft Cool Whip and finished off with a freshly picked maraschino cherry. Only the best for you doll."
A deep blush colored my face as I peered toward the pies. It seemed, it seemed I had a habit of always getting roped into volunteering for these kinds of things.
"Okay, guys. Jamie the shop opens in ten minutes." Robin said peering toward the girl. "So you and I need to get ready. Lily and Madeline, good luck."
And Robin dipped into the shop. Jamie followed her and Lily smirked. Those ten minutes quickly passed us by and soon a small line was starting to form. The novelty of a girl standing behind a cardboard cutout of a French maid with another girl dressed as a French maid holding a pie seemed to really draw the people in.
And before long we had our first taker, a young woman who appeared to be in her late twenties appeared. She wore a floral print sundress. A brown seedling hat was resting on her head and her golden blonde hair was tied back in a tight ponytail.
The women made small talk with Lily before she dropped down a bill and reached down and picked up one of the heaver looking pies. Once the pie was balanced in the palm of her hand, she smiled and slowly she started to walk toward me. I could feel the heel of her shoe clicking on the cobblestone. I offered her a small smile and then a few minutes later she pressed the pie into my face.
I blinked as my world vanished into a fog of cream, I could feel the cream being pressed into my face, I could then feel the pudding filling being rubbed into my skin as she gave the pie a little twist. And finally, I could taste the crust in my mouth.
Finally, the crust started to fall down and I my airways cleared of cream and pudding. I took a deep breath and slowly opened my eyes. The women were standing there giggling.
"That was fun." She said smiling gently as she skipped off. "Have fun girls, best of luck."
I shook my head, getting a few specks of cream on the cardboard cut out. The bulk of the cream had run down my face and splattered on the ground, mounds of chocolate pudding lay beside the droplets of cream. A few minutes later another woman appeared at the table. Exchanging coins for a thick pie, she grinned at me and drew back. I squinted my eyes closed as the pie sailed through the air and smacked into my face. Spraying cream, pudding, and crust in all four directions.
"Wow," I said smiling softly as I cleared some of the pie from my face. Getting the goo on my hands. "That was a pretty impressive smack!"
"Come on give her another!" Lily said smirking. "We're raising money for charity after all. While five dollars a pie is a pretty steep price. These are the real deal, made with cream, pudding and all nestled on a bed of golden graham crackers. Our goal is to raise one hundred dollars!" Lily shouted as more and more people started to fill the sidewalks.
I did my best to clear my face with my now messy fingers, that only succeeded in spreading the mess. I tried to smile through the thick layer of cream, pudding and pie crust that clung to my face. And then in a heckling tone of voice, I called out.
"Hey! Come on people, its all for a good cause!" I shouted. "All money raised goes to provided relief for emergency workers and volunteers working around the clock, day and night, rain or shine to keep Benton safe from the rising flood water!"
Lily blinked and gave me a thumbs up as she picked up the call.
"That right! For a limited time, only Magnolia Tearoom and Bakery is offering you a chance to push a pie into this lovely petite right here! Benton's one and only Madeline Diana Brewer!" Cried Lily to the passing crowds of pedestrians. A few turned there head others kept on walking. Soon another woman, one with bright flaming red hair appeared. She wore a white button down blouse and a nice pair of jeans.
The women made small talk with Lily for a minute before she picked up one of the few remaining pies and tossed it toward me! The pie once more smacked me dead in the face, spraying pudding, cream and graham cracker bits and pieces everywhere.
Another woman took her turn and missed. Instead, she hit the wall behind me. And finally, we were down to one pie. Now, most people were choosing to throw their pocket change into one of the large earthen jars Jamie had brought out a few minutes after we started. The jars were now filled with coin and a few odd bills. And with one more pie to go, I was pretty happy too! The strong sunshine was starting to dry the cream and the smell of sour milk was starting to get a little too strong.
The chiming of the doorbell brought me back to reality. In the doorway stood Jamie, in her hands she held a blue, plastic mop bucket that seemed to be filled with some sort of pie filling. The filling must have been quite heavy, as she was huffing and puffing and her face was a readerr than mine.
"Hey, squirt!" Lily said as she rushed to help Jamie with the bucket. In a matter of seconds, she took the bucket from the tiny blonde hair girl and eased it down upon the cobblestones.
"Birdie," Jamie said taking a deep breath as she tried to collect herself. Her tongue was even hanging out of her mouth. It was then for a brief period of time that my thoughts turned from the smell of souring cream that seems to hang around me. No instead of thinking about how much of a nightmare getting this stuff out of my hair will be, my thoughts turned to Jamie, who's pink tongue was hanging out of the corner of her mouth. I honestly thought the girl should have stayed home today. Everyone knew Jamie suffered from crippling asthma, and given the fact that the high today was supposed to be a hundred and ten degrees in the shade. That was one of the last things she needed to be doing, hauling buckets of goop around.
"Birdie said." She placed the bucket down and took a deep breath. Tiny beads of sweat could be seen forming upon her forehead. "Birdie said we had some extra pie filling left over. So, try to use this." She said touching the white plastic bucket with her foot.
Lily was just about to say something. But then in the doorway, Robin appeared. Robin wasted no time in wrapping her arm around Jamie's shoulder and taking a deep breath then she gently started to scold her.
"Jamie." She said reaching into the pocket of her dress, "Good Lord girl," She peered toward Lily and shook her head. "She hard headed, told her to wait with that bucket and to sit down, she been baking pies, tasted a slice myself. I tell you something. We going to enter this girl in the 'Benton Pie Baking Contest' and if her apple pie does not take home the blue ribbon, then I'm going to raise a thousand dollars worth of hell with the judges." Robin said in an almost proud tone of voice.
Jamie only grinned to herself, blushing deeply at the praise.
"Anyway, you've been working yourself to death. Let's go ahead and get you inside, might need to let you take a little rest and a juice box too." Robin patted Jamie on the back as she passed by her into the cool confines of the shop. "You ladies need anything?"
"A wet towel would be nice," I said from my post behind the cardboard cutout.
"Nah where good. We only have one more pie left and that bucket right there. Think that should be like fifteen or so dollars? Pay fifteen dollars to tip the bucket over our lovely petite's head." Lily said with a shrug of her shoulders.
"Your call," Robin said winking. "I'm going to get our second petite here a juice box and maybe make her take a break. Once you two finish, come inside, Madeline there a wash station in the backroom. And a change of clothing too. Get changed, Once Jamie better she'll finish baking her last batch of pies, then you two can straighten and tidy up the back stockroom. Then I guess, bring me your timecard and I can pay you."
And with that Lily returned to the cool confines of the shop. Another ten or so minutes passed and nobody could be tempted to throw the last pie. Till at last, we spotted Matthew, who seemed to be returning from another two-hour stint on the makeshift levee of sandbags that "Benton Department of Public Works" along with dozens of civilian volunteers had constructed in hopes of holding back the rising waters and to keep the down area of Benton safe. Sandbagging is very hard work and in the humid heat of a Mississippian summer, it must have been sheer torture. Because he was very tanned and dressed in nothing more than a dirty white t0shirt and an old pair of shorts, rounding out the outfit was a pair of work boots that were caked with thick blue mud. The strong, sour smell of sweat and dirty water hung around him like a blinding fog.
"Hey, Matt!" Cried, Lily.
I felt my cheeks blush as I watched Matthew turn around and peer at Lily and I. Blinking once, he started to move toward the booth. Once he was close enough, Lily placed the pie in his hands and then pointed toward me. She then whispered something in his ear and he smiled as he stepped up to the throw line. My cheeks burned scarlet! I was about to get pied by my boyfriend of all people!
Matthew smiled and balanced the pie in the palm of his hand as he took a deep breath and drew back the pie and let it fly. The pie sailed through the air and in a matter of seconds it had splattered all across my face, spraying cream and pie crust all the cutout.
Slowly I stepped out from behind the cutout and took a deep breath. I felt my cheeks flush with color again as I watched Matthew stepping toward me, holding the bucket in his hand. Resigning myself to my messy fate, I stood there and allowed Matthew to pour the bucket of creamy pie filling all over my cream covered head. He then quickly retreated before I could give him a messy hug for his efforts. And so another episode in my life came to an end.