Monday, July 02, 2012

The Wishing Cake

Chapter One

Hello friends. Thanks for clicking in. I'm posting the opening to my new novelette, The Wishing Cake, as I hope it will entice to you to download the rest of it. I'm really proud of this story, and am thrilled that it's getting such a great response from readers. (All 5-star reviews so far!) Here's chapter one ...

The Wishing Cake

© Ellen Meister 2012

The first thing Rhea noticed about the old couple was their posture. They stood erect, straight-backed, as if they had gone to sleep as young people and woken up old. The years simply hadn't worn down their bones.
          But the truly strange thing, Rhea realized, was that they had managed to enter the bakery silently. She glanced at the door, which was rigged with a bell to let staff know every time it was opened. Either it was broken or arranging butter cookies was taking up way too much of her cerebral cortex.

She wiped her hands on her apron. “Can I help you?”
It was almost closing time at Bremmer's Bakery, and the only other employee in the store was Kyle, who was in the back cleaning up. Or at least that's what he said. Rhea suspected he was looking through her idea book for cake designs he could steal and take credit for. 
“We'd like a custom anniversary cake,” said the old man, taking his wife's hand. He had an accent. German, maybe, but the kind that was soft around the edges. “We'd like to pick it up tomorrow.”
Tomorrow, Rhea thought. Of course. One day someone would place an order with more than 24-hours’ notice and her heart would explode in her chest.
She forced a smile, as her boss had been on her case about being friendlier to the customers. But then, he was on her case about everything. Kyle, on the other hand, could do no wrong.
“Happy anniversary,” she said, taking out the order pad. “How many years is it?”
“Seventy-five,” said the woman.
“Seventy-five?” Rhea stared at their faces. Now that she looked closely, she could see the years. They had that papery European skin, so pretty in youth but too delicate for time, which etched its passing in crosshatches. Still, they didn't move like people who were close to 100 years old. There was a complicated grace about them that waltzed circles around their aged faces.
“And still in love,” said the man.
Rhea didn't believe love could possibly last that long. Hell, she didn't believe it lasted longer than a few months, when the newness of lust settled into a comfortable routine. At that exact moment, love became mulch, and in its place grew the desperate fear of being alone.
But this couple seemed different. Was she losing her mind, or was there something authentic about their connection? She rubbed a spot on her neck with her thumb—a nervous habit she had developed in childhood, when there was a small red growth there. It had gone away before she reached puberty, but she still felt for it when it seemed like something was going to be taken away. Rhea was not about to release her cynicism without a fight.
“Did you have anything in particular in mind?” she asked.
“We'd like you to surprise us,” said the woman.
Rhea pulled out a thick binder that held photographs of custom cakes inside clear plastic pages. “Why don't you take a look and see if there's anything here you like?”
“No thank you,” said the man.
“No thank you?”
“Like my wife said, we want to be surprised.”
Rhea scratched her head with the back of her pencil. “You don't want to have any input at all?”
“We know you'll do something delightful,” said the woman.
Ridiculous, Rhea thought. You don't know anything about me.
“I just have a few questions, if that's okay.”
The couple locked eyes, something Rhea couldn't read passing between them. She continued, “What flavor do you like?”
The woman smiled. “Oh, we like everything.”
“What about interests, hobbies? Last week I made a birthday cake that looked like a chess board—”
“We like magic,” the man said.
“We were an act,” said the woman. “The Incredible Lehrer and Geist.”
“I'm Lehrer,” said the man, as he waved one hand over the other. In an instant, he produced a beautiful white rose. How on earth had he done that? Rhea was impressed.
He bowed and handed it to her. “For you.”
“Thanks,” she said, rubbing one of the petals between her fingers. It was baby-soft, flesh-like. She sniffed it.
“One more thing before we go,” said the woman, looking through her purse. She pulled out a small brass box and placed it on the counter. It looked like an antique pill case.
“Go ahead,” she said to Rhea. “Open it.”
Rhea lifted the lid to see dark blue powder that sparkled beneath the dull overhead bulbs. It reminded her of midnight. “What is this?” she asked, tempted to touch it. “Pixie dust?”
Wishing dust,” the woman said. “We'd like you to sprinkle it on the cake.”
“Is it edible?”
The old gentleman nodded. “Taste it,” he said.
Rhea touched the powder and brought her finger to her tongue, closing her eyes to concentrate on the flavor. Just ordinary confectioner's sugar with food coloring, she thought, and at once had a vision of the cake she would create. No magic hats or wands or any such tired imagery. The cake would be a tiered tower of three hearts, representing love, marriage and eternity. And yes, it would have to be hearts. They would be rounded and sensual, and she would cover the whole thing in pale indigo. Growing from the bottom up, spanning the voluptuously shaped layers, would be a delicate tree in a thin ribbon of dark chocolate. At the end of each slender branch there would be a tiny white dove, created with frosting, and sprinkled with the blue powder. It would be ... well, magical.
There was only one problem. Her boss, Paul Bremmer, had made it clear that there were to be no heart-shaped cakes in his bakery. Ever. He wasn't just opinionated about it, he was adamant. Heart cakes were verboten.
But this cake was going to be heart-shaped. It had to be.
Rhea opened her eyes and the couple was gone. Written on her order pad were the words:
We'll be here tomorrow, same time. Can hardly wait!
-Lerher & Geist
P.S. Please keep the box and the wishing dust with our thanks.


In the back, Kyle was already dressed to leave in a stylishly shabby peacoat with a wool ski cap pulled down over his bleached blond hair. He was 27, single, mean. He had a girlfriend named Tatum.
“Don't touch that,” he said, pointing to a white sheet cake on a cooling rack. No doubt it was something he was working on for a custom order.
“Why would I touch it?” Rhea asked.
“I'm just saying.”
She made a sarcastic gesture toward the cake, like she was about to grab it.
“Very funny,” he said. “I mean it.”
“Go home, Kyle.”
“We're out of almonds,” he said, as he let the metal back door slam behind him. In other words, make sure you buy some.
Fuck you, Kyle.
Alone in the bakery, Rhea liked music to keep her company, so she inserted her iPod into the speaker housing and set it to shuffle. The first song that came on was Adele’s Hiding My Heart.
She placed the antique pill case on the shelf above her workspace and took out her sketchpad to begin roughing out some ideas for the heart-shaped cake. Fortunately, tomorrow was Paul's day off, so she didn't have to worry about getting in trouble. She would write up the order as magician's cake, and simply “forget” to take a picture of it for the binder. Paul would never find out.
Adele’s clear, sad tones filled the space as Rhea focused on her sketch. She didn't hear anyone enter the room, so when a warm hand landed on her shoulder, she jumped.
“Didn't mean to scare you,” said her boss.
“Paul!” Rhea said, and quickly flipped the page on her sketchpad, hoping he hadn't seen what she was drawing. “You scared the shit out of me. What are you doing here? I thought you left.”
The scent of his aftershave lingered in the air between them. It was tangy, complicated. Her sense of smell was acute, and she figured that if he had stood behind her for even a few seconds she would have known. Did that mean he hadn't seen her design?
“Bookkeeping,” he said, buttoning his coat. His shiny black hair fell over his face, obscuring the handsome features that some said made him look like Robert Downey, Jr. Rhea insisted that his blue eyes and dark hair made him look more like a clean-shaven Adolph Hitler.
Like her, he was divorced, although the particulars of his past were a mystery. The gossip among employees was that there were no children, but that his ex had burned him in some spectacular way, leaving him so damaged he had become misogynistic. Rhea didn't buy it. Lots of people had ugly divorces and didn't become hard and bitter. Look at her.
Well, okay. Maybe she wasn't the best example. At 36, Rhea felt old and done. She was a petite brunette, which made her a hot commodity when she was in her twenties and men thought she was cute—a spitfire. But she was well past being able to pull that off. Her friend Molly insisted she still had sex appeal, but Rhea knew better. Men liked girls, not women. Anyone over 25 was a threat. The only guys interested in her now were the desperate types looking for someone who might put out. She saw it in their faces when they sized her up: I could get her.
“What are you working on?” Paul asked.
Rhea sighed, relieved that her secret was safe. For his benefit, she used her dark blue colored pencil to outline a cake in the shape of a magic hat.
“Something for a 75th anniversary,” she said. “Retired magicians. They want me to surprise them.”
He watched her draw and said, “Hrm,” his sound of disapproval. Rhea never heard him use it with Kyle. Not once.
“What's the problem?” she said.
He folded his arms. “I think you can do better.”
“I just started, for God's sake.
“You’re not going to have a rabbit coming out, are you?”
A rabbit? He'd been watching her design for years, and she never relied on a trite idea unless it was something a client insisted on. Even then, she found a way to make it fresh.
“Are you going to stand there all night watching over me?” she asked.
“If you're going to create a lazy design I am.”
“Paul,” she whined.
“Rhea.” He imitated her tone, folded his arms.
She sighed. “I was thinking a dove, maybe.”
He pulled on his gloves and headed for the door. “Two doves,” he said.
Rhea rubbed a spot on her neck as she watched him leave. “Right,” she said. “Love birds.”

To read the rest, please click here now  and you can download it immediately. It's available on Kindle for any device for just 99 cents. This is a special introductory  price. 
If you don't have a Kindle, click here to download a free Kindle app for your computer or smart phone.


Christa Allan said...

Love this!

Ellen said...

You're such a doll, Christa. Thank you!