“Someone is holding their finger on my door buzzer,” Renee said to her newish boyfriend, Neal.
“It’s probably Michael,” he said, and rolled his eyes. “It’s Sunday. He knows you’ll have some tasty morsels for him.”
Michael is Renee’s brother. He is round with a turned-up nose. He is a better baker than Renee but lacks any sort of follow through. He can’t create a recipe and put it into production to save his life. He has left that to Renee who dreams of opening a bakery in honor of their late father, Frederic Gaston, one of the most famous pastry chefs in New York City. He worked for the Waldorf Astoria for his entire career, leaving a dream of opening his own bakery on the table.
Renee had recently taken a baking class to improve her piping skills. It is where she met Neal, owner of No-Two-of-a-Kind Bakery. He had told her that the name One-of-a-Kind Bakery was already taken, but he was not deterred. She couldn’t make sense of any of it, but knew he wasn’t looking for her opinion.
“You should probably let him in,” Renee said to Neal.
“Let’s pretend we’re not here,” he said. Neal walked the edges of the kitchen, past the island, and into the adjoining room, pushing himself into the drapes, peaking just a little. “It’s not Michael, it’s Tiffany,” he said, and buzzed her in.
Renee would have selected Tiffany, not Michael, to be the one to leave out in the cold. Tiffany was Neal’s ex-girlfriend. Neal hooked the two women up because he wanted them to infuse his business with their talents. Unfortunately for him, Tiffany would not leave her more secure position as a local bank manager to manage his operation. She was only interested in Neal’s sugar, and said as much.
“Give me some sugar, Neal,” she’d say, and point to her cheek, but when he leaned in, she turned her head so that their lips met. Today was no different.
What a she-rat, Renee thought often. But she also felt a little remorse for her thoughts, because she knew that Neal had only endured Tiffany’s advances because he had needed to secure a small business loan and now needed to rework the payment terms. “This cat needed a kitty,” he had told Renee. Renee took note of this response and became wary of him, though she also gave him his due. He’s a practical creature, she had thought.
When Neal told Renee he would let her intern at his bakery, he said it would have to be for little to no pay. Turned out, it was no pay. But Renee dug in deep, got there each day like an early bird, after having worked the 3 to 11pm shift at the nursing home. She was a nurse’s aide, always caring for everyone else. The life coach she had been working with recently encouraged her to put herself first. It was then that she decided to quit hiding her true colors, including her gorgeous auburn locks which she had been hiding with chestnut dye.
“What brings you here?” Renee asked Tiffany as soon as she came into the apartment.
“Michael told me that you work on new recipes on Sundays,” she said. “I’m here to give them a go.”
“My brother usually does that,” Renee responded, “and he should be here any moment.”
“Wake me up when he leaves,” said Neal. Renee watched Neal as he curled up on the sofa and closed his eyes. As if on cue, Michael pushed his way into the apartment, said that someone left the door open, and didn’t even bother with niceties; he simply moved to, and rooted around the kitchen. Sniffing here and there, he pulled some of the bowls from the sink to slop up the rings of icing and cake batter with his pudgy little fingers. Then he kissed Renee on the cheek.
Renee got back to business. She took the cooled filling from the pot. It had a curd-like consistency. Instead of lemon to make the curd, her secret ingredient was red licorice. Quietly, she filled the piping bag. After scooping out the center of each red-velvet cupcake, she loaded the crimson curd inside. Finishing them off with style, she swirled chocolate cream-cheese icing on top and nestled a diagonally sliced licorice morsel at the summit of each one. With each completion, she attentively filled two specialty cupcake-storage containers and then sealed them, stacking one on top of the other.
“Where are you taking them?” asked Neal, who had conveniently awakened at the climax, sauntering next to her to wrap himself around and through her legs.
“To my first client,” Renee boasted. “This week my business license came through! My nurse manager ordered two dozen cherry-chocolate-twist cupcakes for her husband’s retirement party. Each of my encouraging friends knew this was happening. Didn’t you?”
“Not I,” said the pig.
“Not I,” said the cat.
“Not I,” said the rat.
“Then I must be in business for myself,” said Renee, as she grabbed her coat and ran out the door. “Oh, and one last thing,” she said, and let those words hang for a moment. “Don’t let the door… No, that’s not it. Please lock the door when you leave.” And off she went.