Sheryl looked up from her desk, startled at the noise that had caught her attention. Her view slowly spanned up from the paperwork she was signing, to a plate of chocolate cake that was recently placed on her desk, to the retracting arm that had just placed it there, to the man connected to that arm who was staring her dead in the eye.
“What’s this?” Nathan, her work colleague, asked her.
“Chocolate cake,” she stated, recognising the dessert that she had left for him in the breakroom where she knew he would be taking his morning coffee.
“Yes, but why did you leave this out for me?”
“It was meant as a thank you,” she replied.
When Nathan raised his eyebrows in demand of a further explanation, she continued.
“For vouching for me in the meeting earlier this month. I wouldn’t have gone through the application for the promotion if it weren’t for you. And I don’t think they would’ve taken me seriously if it weren’t for you either.”
“Nonsense,” he contradicted. “You have the skills and talent needed for the job, though you may lack confidence sometimes.”
“Well either way, this cake is a thank you.”
“You didn’t need to go out of your way to buy me a slice of cake for something so trivial,” he replied.
To say that Sheryl was fond of her co-worker was a severe understatement, but, even she could not ignore his substandard emotional intelligence.
“I made it,” she corrected him, “and I wanted to put in the effort to show how much you mean to me.”
“Well, thank you. Or perhaps you’re welcome since this was meant as a thank you.”
They both stare at the cake that was sitting on one of the breakroom’s plain chinaware on her desk.
“Let me guess, you don’t like chocolate cake, do you?” Sheryl asked.
“Hate the stuff,” he responded immediately.
That brutal honesty which tended to ostracise himself from some of their other colleagues was strangely enough one of the things she appreciated about him. Sure, she had gotten her feelings hurt several times by it, but often what he said was what she needed to hear, even if it could have been phrased more tactfully. Also, once he was made of aware of how he came off to people, he had actually come to her for advice on how to be more tactful with his words. And they were working on it. Slowly but surely, they were working on it.
“I’ll put it in the fridge for now,” Sheryl gave a short sigh of exasperation.
Following her into the break room, Nathan was curious of her decision to thank him in this way.
“Why chocolate cake?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Sheryl shrugged. “It’s chocolate cake. Everyone loves chocolate cake.”
Before Nathan could butt in with an obvious retort, she covered his mouth with her hand.
“No, I haven’t collected the opinions of everyone who’s ever lived over time, and no, I haven’t checked the statistics either.” She knew this man well enough to know what he was going to say.
“I like chocolate cake,” she admitted, “love it, in fact. I just wanted to share something that I liked with you.” At this point she removed her hand from his mouth as she needed both arms to wrestle with the saran wrap to cover the cake.
“Why chocolate though?” Nathan was incessant with his questions. “Chocolate in its natural state is quite bitter and they usually add so much sugar that it become overpoweringly sweet.”
She gave another shrug.
“It’s not impossible to find a balance between the two. Besides, the flavours complement each other,” she paused from her task to wink at him. He stared back unfazed as a response. Turning back, she continued:
“I personally like it dark, where there is just enough sugar to take the bitter edge off. Also, it makes me feel good. It reminds me the feeling you get when you fall in love.”
He nodded as if he agreed with her point, though he seemed to miss her deeper meaning.
“And why cake?” he asked.
“It’s easy to make?” she proffered. “It’s simple yet not lacking. And its something with more structure compared to ice-cream. It reminds me of you.”
“I’m… like cake?” he was trying to understand.
“You’re structured,” Sheryl tried to clarify.
“Forget it.” She smiled and rolled her eyes as she put away the slice in the fridge, making a mental note not to forget it.
By the time they made their way back to their desks, most of the other workers had arrived for the morning.
Eventually, most of the day passed with its usual mundane normalcy. However, it was around midafternoon when Sheryl was summoned to the manager’s office.
“You wanted to see me sir?” she gave two short knocks on the open door to her manager Frank’s office before entering.
“Ah, yes. Please take a seat,” he gestured to the chairs in front of his desk. “I wanted to discuss your application for the promotion.”
Sheryl swallowed nervously before she sat down.
“I was reviewing the application, and based on your previous work performance, I’m happy to tell you that you’ve received the promotion. Congratulations!” the middle-aged man gave her a generous handshake.
“R-really,” Sheryl was stunned before she broke out into a genuine smile. “Thank you so much, sir!”
“Don’t thank me,” her manager good-naturedly dismissed. “You deserved this 100%. I’m honestly surprised that you didn’t apply earlier.”
For some reason this conversation started to ring familiar in Sheryl’s ears.
“Nathan mentioned the same thing to me some time before when I was hesitating on it, and I guess that was the push I needed,” Sheryl admitted.
“Hmm,” Frank raised his eyebrows in bemusement. “I appreciate the relationship that you two have,” he stated.
“R-relationship?” she sputtered, unsure if he was misunderstanding something. It was not as if she disliked the implication, however.
“Yes,” her manager continued innocently. “You two work well together and I can see that you help strengthen each other’s weaknesses,” he continued. “He pushes you out of your comfort zone and you help him with his interpersonal skills. You complement each other really well and I’m grateful to have you both on my team.”
Sheryl flushed happily at his words.
A while later, Sheryl left the meeting after having discussed the next steps in transferring to her new position and all the new responsibilities she would have. She was tired, but it was a good tired. Returning to her desk she saw that the office was mostly empty save for Nathan who was poised to leave.
“I’m guessing that all went well?” he asked.
“Yep!” Sheryl exclaimed. She chattered excitedly as she began to pack up for the day, with Nathan quietly listening to her.
By the time they had left the building, Sheryl suddenly remembered the cake she had left in the fridge.
“Hold on a sec, Nathan,” she stopped suddenly, “I forgot the cake in the fridge and I don’t want to leave it since it’s the weekend.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he assured her, “I took care of it.”
“Oh, okay.” She assumed that he offered it to someone else as he did not strike her as the type to waste food.
They continued on their path mostly in silence, until they reached Nathan’s apartment building. The both of them lived within walking distance of the building so more often than not, they found themselves walking to and from work together. Nathan lived just a few blocks closer than Sheryl did, so she frequently made jokes about how chivalrous she was to escort him home.
“Thanks for walking me home, Sheryl,” Nathan turned to her.
To her surprise, he bent over to press a chaste kiss to her lips. She was so stunned that she just stood there unresponsive for a moment. Her brain was still processing things when she registered that there was a familiar taste that lingered on her lips.
After she came to her senses, she could not decide whether to slap him for stealing a kiss, or to grab him by the collar to kiss him again, because deep down she has always wanted him to do that. In the end, she could only ask:
“It was meant as a thank you,” Nathan simply responded.
“Why a kiss though?” she was still puzzled.
“Hmm,” he made a show of pretending to think before he answered her. “Because a kiss is warm and something you share with someone else,” he started. Sheryl still stared at him in confusion so he continued.
“You’re a warm person and you like to share with others. Whether it’s a laugh, a joke, or a dessert like–”
“Chocolate cake,” they finished in unison. She finally recognised the familiar taste she got when he kissed her. She looked up at him in surprise and caught sight of one of his rare smiles.
“But that means…” she hesitated, not daring to hope that her feelings would ever be returned.
“I may be obtuse, Sheryl, but even I caught on to what you were implying earlier,” Nathan explained.
“Oh?” she blushed. “And your conclusion?”
Nathan chuckled before responding.
“I think I may have to get used to the taste of chocolate now.”
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