“I actually can not believe this.” I threw open the front door of my small bakery.
Lidia had opened for me today so I could anxiously await the qualification results of this year’s Flour Fest Competition.
“Just cause you got in lats year doesn’t mean automatically get in, Nissa.” Lidia looked up from the mini cupcakes she was arranging.
“No I got in, but the theme this year is ‘a lover’s embrace.’”
“And? What’s better than Valentine’s Day, you make an amazing red velvet.”
“Everyone makes red velvet, if you want to win you have to make something unexpected- hey! That’s not the point. Since our town can only send one representative, and Aria and I tied on our qualifications we don’t get to take sous chefs and we’re are paired together.” I pulled my hair into a ponytail and tied my apron on.
“Ugh, Aria. Doesn’t she have better things to do than ruin your life one perfectly frosted coup at a time?” I ignored Lidia’s sarcasm
“Exactly, if she had one shred of decency she would drop out so I could avenge last years catastrophe.”
“Second place is not a catastrophe, and she probably worked just as hard as you. Not to mention you went last year so you should drop out.”
I knew Lidia was right but I still stopped moving around the kitchen to glare, “I am not dripping out.”
She meet my stare triumphantly, “Then I guess you’ll have to work together.
48 hours later I’m sitting in the passenger seat of Lidia’s car, having closed up for the Flour Fest weekend. Aria is in the back seat, chatting with Lidia and thanking her for driving, as if Lidia didn’t threaten her favorite whisk if she didn’t carpool with us. I studied Lidia in profile out of the corner of my eye. Her long onyx hair shone in the glare of the window. She was the one that introduced me to Korean quinine. I was searching for specific rice flour, she was looking for her ancestral spices. Her spontaneous attitude and admiration wrapped in sarcasm made her presence undeniable where ever she went. We became fast friends.
Aria had fallen quiet and I hazarded a glance behind me. She had leaned her head against the window, sweatshirt cushioning her dark ringlet curls. Her black eyelashes brushing her mocha colored cheeks. If I were trying to make perfection I would dust her hair with flour and use cocoa powder as rouge. I shook the thought from my head.
Lidia caught me watching. “Why do you hate her so much?”
I surprised myself by saying, “I don’t, we’re rivals. That’s all.”
“You don’t have to be.” Lidia turned into the parking lot.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
The baking stations were set up in a square around the spacious room, with the judges table in the middle. The rules were simple: Four contestants (officially I was Aria’s assistant simply because Aria comes before Nissa alphabetically), four hours, one dessert- judged on presentation, theme, and taste. Aria and I made our way to our station just as the host began.
“And this year’s, as I’m sure we are all very exited for, is ‘A lovers’ embrace!’ That’s right folks it’s Valentines Day at the Flour Fest!”
The camera panned over us and Aria turned towards each other, doing our best to to pretend we just found out the theme. For Aria and I it was a bit more real, since we did absolutely no prior planning.
“Red velvet?” Aria suggested, then shook her head.
“Everyone does red velvet.” We said in unison.
“Oh, chocolate cake with raspberry layers?” My idea.
“And rainbow macaroons!” Aria added.
We both smiled, maybe working together would be easier than I thought, fun even.
“Ok, you do filling and frosting, I’ll do base cake and macaroons.”
Aria mock puffed her hair, “Frosting is my specialty. Need anything from the pantry, dear?”
My stomach flopped. Nervous. I’m nervous about the competition and it has nothing to do with the way Aria said ‘dear.’
“I- uh. Pass me that bowl?” I couldn’t meet her eyes.
“Here you go.”
Our hand brushed and my arm felt like radio static.
I made my first chocolate cake when I was ten years old, and a hundred more since then, but for some reason this one felt different. Maybe Aria’s gnash made the richness of the chocolate a smooth unwavering blend of flavors. Or perhaps it was the way the chocolate frosting of the multi-colored macaroons tasted like heaven. I knew we won when we put a single raspberry on top of the five tiers and a rainbow of macaroon hearts around the edge. And win we did. The second place chef made a red velvet cupcake tower, but fourth place made a red velvet cake and originality is key.
The ride home was spent in glorious bliss, riding the high of winning as the sun set behind us and the stars started to shine. None of them, I thought, could shine brighter than Aria’s eyes. Lidia dropped us off at my bakery, close enough to both of our houses to walk.
“Aria, I don’t want to go back to our rivalry.” I looked down at the sidewalk.
“Did you get a piece of our chocolate cake?”
“Not a full one.” I admitted.
She pulled a box out of her bag. I reached out to take it but she didn’t let go. Instead shifted closer to me.
“I don’t want to either.”
I felt a stray curl brush my forehead. Neither of us moved. I felt Aria’s warm breath on my cheek, in stark contrast to the night air. She smelled like lemon bars and raspberries. I never smelled something so good. Her eyes sparked in the faint light from the bakery window. I looked down to her lips, they looked so soft, and I was gripped with the urge to find out how soft. The space between us shrunk as she leaned in, and before I realized what I was doing I closed the gap. Her lips were that soft, they tasted like raspberry gnash.
My only coherent thought was, “There goes a perfectly good rivalry.”