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Dec 10, 2020

Romance Happy American

Tiffany and Greg are arguing again. This time it’s worse than before: Tiff, who thinks herself above name-calling, has likened Greg to a tree -- “shady, too tall, broad, stupid, releases carbon dioxide all day long.” And Greg in return is too offended to correct her science. 

This is the last time they argue. This is the last time they voluntarily share a roof. 

Tiff leaves first. She fills her suitcase and kicks the door open. Before Greg can call out, she’s gone, with the few items of food they had. Now, he’s alone in a big house. And he has nothing to eat. 





The next time they see each other, it’s six months later, the dead of winter in Malakai, Kansas, and they’re sharing a roof. Granma’s roof, to be exact, for this is a family reunion, and everyone is invited. Since Tiff’s two sisters married Greg’s two brothers, it’s inevitable that both ex-husband and ex-wife are invited to the same event, to everyone’s chagrin. 

And to make matters worse, Uncle Al has decided to enter two contestants in the family into Malakai’s annual Christmas baking festival, “to finally settle some matters” within the family. 

They know what she’s talking about: Tiff and Greg. 

Tiff’s chocolate crinkles are clouds dipped in Lindt. Greg’s cheesecake cupcakes are molten gold frozen around summit snow. 

They both own bakeries now. Tiff bought a falling-apart one after leaving Greg, and Greg inherited a booming one when his father died just after Tiff left. Tiff’s yanked hers up into prosperity, and Greg has kept his that way.

All the family, two aunts, three uncles, sixteen cousins, Tiff and Greg’s adult daughter, and Granma and Grandfather, know who will win the contest. They don’t dare say it though. After years together both Tiff and Greg are fine-tuned to catch any offense or little rudeness that will help turn the marital war to their side. 

Tiff’s won more battles but Greg’s too easy-going to lose the war. The divorce called an uneasy peace treaty. The family is afraid the contest will break up the truce, a domestic version of the 1939 Nonagression Pact. 

Plus Tiff and Greg stayed in Boston even after the divorce, and their bakeries are the biggest rivals since the Patriots and the Tories in 1776.

Uncle Al, the uncle with a stream of red warts on his neck and scruffy lower cheek, suggests his brilliant idea the day before the contest, when the family has just gotten around to the idea that they will be living with an irritated divorced couple for the next week. Though Tiff and Greg are in separate wings of the house, it’s nigh impossible to keep a respectable distance. 





Uncle Al decides to bring the whole family down town, for “maximum inconvenience,” as Greg says grumpily, though he’s right. And the theme of Malakai’s contest this year? No-Bake Specials.

Because “why not,” as Tiff snarls.

How will the contestants bake their concoctions? Why, they won’t, says Uncle Al excitedly, who knows most of the rules. The plan will force the contestants to choose recipes which do not require baking. 

“Unfair,” is the word of the day. Tiff hasn’t done a no-bake in years, or so she says. She’s the manager and owner of her bakery, not the baker. So’s Greg. And Greg only knows his cheesecake cupcakes and a microwaveable queso recipe. And cereal and milk. And “that’s all,” Tiff chimes in. Their bakers, still up in Boston, are hard at work. Too bad Tiff and Greg never hung around their establishments.

They’re sitting on the porch after lunch, most squashed on the uncomfortable steps, talking with the barest minimum of rudeness toward each other. Family, you see. 





Aunt Jemimah, Tiff’s younger sister, is the prettiest aunt though her name doesn’t indicate it. She’s also the smartest, and decides the dates for almost every event the family participates in. She makes the final call, and though Tiff and Greg beg, she decides they’ll enter. 

Grandfather gets the ingredients, since the contestants have to bring their own. He stumps through K-mart with an angry expression on his face. He likes living alone, or as alone as you can get when you’re married. He likes walking out in the pastures with his big hands in his pockets, thinking to himself. He has too much family, or so he says. And he’s a “cheapskate,” in Granma’s words, though she loves him anyway. 

He brings back pounds and pounds of flour and sugar and butter. Tiff tries to cheat and look at a recipe before hand, but Greg catches her and there’s a shouting match in the kitchen. 

Tiff wins because she’s a better arguer and because Greg has a headache, a symptom of his self-conscious anxiety. He is afraid of embarrassing himself in front of his ex-wife and their family and whoever else will be at the contest. At least Kaya will be off visiting friends. 





The morning’s too cold when the Malakai mayor opens the contest the next day. Everyone’s crowded around ten tables, which are set with the ingredients and a few mixing utensils. There’s twenty contestants total; Malakai has a population of 3,340. Most are old women who look like they know what they’re doing. At the end of each table are two red plates where the finished products will go. Tiff’s cheeks are flaming red. Greg looks sick. Both look like they’d rather be married again than participate in this contest. 

Fourteen of the sixteen cousins are running around in the dry yard where the contest is held, climbing the shriveled cottonwood tree, playing tag, skinning knees, and wiping runny noses. Kaya’s in town, and Mitch, who’s fifteen, thinks he’s too old to be there. He stands uncomfortably behind Grandfather.

When the mayor shoots his .38 up into the cloudy sky, everyone jumps and Granma glares at him. Tiff and Greg set to work. All four hands are shaking. All sixty-four teeth -- or less because both have had rotten teeth pulled before -- chatter wildly. Everyone else has an expression like soldiers going into battle; tense, hard, focused. Their hands don’t shake and they get things done fast.

Tiff mixes up a molasses and oat chill-and-eat cookie batch that looks like pooling sewer water. Greg has no more success; his no-bake brownies look like molten petroleum. It’s the right color, but the smell is more similar to a rat corpse than brownies that human mouths will eat. 

Twenty minutes in and everyone’s done but Greg and Tiff. Their two red plates both hold something at least. But those “somethings” look exactly the same; dull grey, a little too thick, a little too flat. 

Tiff looks distractedly at Greg’s. Greg looks tiredly at Tiff’s. They’re supposed to eat the other’s concoction as well as Uncle Al and Granma, who are helping to judge. Al and Granma look like they’re dreading it, too. 

The other judges have made their way through the other contestants’ offerings and are now waiting on Al and Granma to make their call and give a score. Just by looking everyone can tell the two will max out at a solid 3. 3.4 if they’re feeling generous.

Well, “it’s time to die,” which Uncle Rick says apprehensively. The four who’re going to eat the concoctions -- it’s a little optimistic to call it “food” -- look most apprehensive of all. Some are wondering whether the next meal they eat will be hospital food. 

Granma whispers to Al, who nods and talks quietly to the head judge. They’ve decided to “pass,” as they say on Tiff and Greg’s entries. No one blames them, least of all Tiff and Greg. The judges have refused to judge these two entries.

Tiff steps forward first. Everyone looks shocked, except for Greg. He looks horrified, and a little proud. She takes a big steel knife from the array of utensils and cuts hers into quarters. Then she cuts Greg’s, roughly, unevenly, looking at him as if daring him to protest. He doesn’t. The shape of it won’t affect the taste, so why bother?

At the same time, Tiff and Greg, making aggressive eye contact, pick up a quarter of their own “food” and shove it into the other’s mouth. Why they did this, no one knows. It’s “a bit like eating wedding cake,” as Mitch observes, a teenage boy’s disgusted expression on his face.

And he’s right, too. As soon as Tiff and Greg eat the other’s creation, it’s like a wall has broken between them. They start laughing, almost hysterically, and everyone joins in after an awkward pause. The two rival non-bakers, who unfortunately own bakeries of their own, are rivals no more. Why? It's not unimportant that they can both laugh at themselves. And the wind, shaking through bony empty branches, sounds like laughter too.

Uncle Al watches in satisfaction and Granma starts to cry from happiness. Grandfather looks as displeased as always, except for a slight relaxation of his hunched shoulders. The other contestants, three of whom are sporting ribbons, watch and try not to smile as they munch on delicious-looking and delicious-smelling baked goods. Greg who’s even nicer than a tree, and Tiff who married one, laugh and cry and start to gag on their mouthfuls. With sewer-water and petroleum still caked in their mouths, Tiff and Greg laugh away six months of hate and fall into each other’s arms.

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56 comments

Zilla Babbitt
20:58 Dec 10, 2020

To anyone named Jemimah, the name may not be beautiful, but I know you are. Plus it was just a joke.

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Sara Esperelo
19:48 Dec 12, 2020

I actually LOVE the name Jemimah haha, I've always thought it was beautiful, ever since I was a child and a huge fan of the little girl with that name in the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang haha. Jeremy and Jemima were the kids lol!

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Zilla Babbitt
22:56 Dec 13, 2020

www.youtube.com/watch?v=k42VgQ8aK1A This video isn't all about the name, but it's what I think of when I hear the name :)

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15:30 Dec 11, 2020

This was a nice little ditty of a story. Not my favorite, but certainly not the worst either. ;) Nice character development through the tree analogy. I was actually about to comment on the bad science in Tiff's dialogue (talking about breathing CO2), but then realized it was on purpose, and felt like an idiot for doubting you, Zilla. :P Here's why I think it's just good and not great: First, the important turning points are told and not shown (bit of a grey area here...). We lose the depth of emotion, and feel detached from the char...

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21:26 Dec 10, 2020

Will read ASAP.

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Lilah Blackburn
03:05 Dec 11, 2020

I loved the writing. Very well written. Kinda late but happy 200 writings that’s a lot. The ending was exceptional I love how you pull it all together. Overall amazing job. If you wouldn’t mind could you read mine and give me some feedback if you have time. I don’t know if asking you to read my story is annoying let me know if it is and I won’t ask.

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Orenda ♤
05:48 Dec 11, 2020

Zil, I've been waiting for this and a fun fact, I was eating double chocolate cookies while reading this. Sheer confidence haha. About the story, the plot is quite interesting, of course. But I felt the characters were a lil underdeveloped? Like Scout said, it happened too fast. We didn't get much insight on them. So, a little work on that. And the ending was sweet :-) Awesome read!

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13:47 Dec 11, 2020

I love the ending! You truly deserve first place on the leaderboard, since this in really, really good. I love the poetry of the language! Happy 200 stories, and another 200 more! :)

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Gabby Abanto
09:38 Dec 11, 2020

Highly Commedable :) Nice work Zilla

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Scout Tahoe
05:01 Dec 11, 2020

This was so cute. Lovely and had me from the beginning. The “marrying a tree” concept from your dream was very creative. My only critique is that it all happened very fast. Like a taxi speeding by. We just met the characters and suddenly they’re divorced? Underdeveloped. Don’t get me wrong, you brought it together nicely in the end. I’d just like to know if Tiff was a baker before she was divorced and what about Greg? Very interesting, this style. Mixed feelings in the beginning and it ended up happy. Love it.

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Amaya Macaulay
23:51 Dec 10, 2020

Zilla. The excerpt in your bio is beautiful. I WILL buy your book, I promise you that. It sounds so good, how could I not? When exactly is it launching again? Yes, please, I'll join the launch team lol.

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✰ jennie ✰
21:47 Dec 10, 2020

Your stories always have a sort of omniscient, all knowing narrating type of feel to it and I love it! The ending is an amazing full circle, nice and whole, so amazing job! I'm a huge fan. Keep writing and I'll keep reading!

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Michael Boquet
14:33 Dec 17, 2020

I like the voice with which you tell the story. It's nice that whomever the narrator is, they don't feel detached from the characters. There is some good descriptive language in this...the red warts on grandfather's neck, the descriptions of the cheesecake cupcake, etc.. That being said, I found the story itself very hard to follow. At first it seems like the uncle is suggesting the family do their own baking contest. Then the mayor's there and its for the whole town. Then Granma's one of the judges. The details just got really muddled. ...

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Izzie Chan
15:04 Dec 11, 2020

Your writing is always amazing, Zilla! I like how you didn’t use a lot of dialogue, it seemed to make the story more interesting than it already was. I absolutely loved the plot and the ending, and the way you added small bits of humor throughout the story. My only piece of advice, though, like many others mentioned, it went a bit too fast, and the characters should have more development as the story progresses, not just at the end. But great job, Zilla! I’m looking forward to seeing more of your writing! :D

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Dorsa Harvens
11:53 Dec 11, 2020

i absolutely love the "marrying the tree" picture, that was really creative! the transitions through the story were top notch. i'd like to see more establishment of their new start, throughout the contest they didn't seem to really have much build up between them. the ending wrapped it up quick, ending it to where they were unclear. it left me quite confused as well. nonetheless, i really enjoyed reading this writing piece! keep on writing. :)

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Amarillis G
18:31 Dec 15, 2020

Wonderful and lovely story. I especially like the endling, how they both reunited!

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20:18 Dec 12, 2020

I love the way you narrated it!! Great job!!

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02:33 Dec 29, 2020

Aww. So sweet. Others have mentioned this previously, but their relationship moves way too fast. Going more into it and how they change over the duration of the contest would add to the character development. It doesn't take too much from the story, but I wouldn't say this is my favorite of your stories. Off to your next one!

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B. W.
07:42 Dec 14, 2020

How are ya?

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Zilla Babbitt
19:04 Dec 15, 2020

Hi! Sorry for not responding sooner 🌻. I'm doing okay. I've cut back a little from writing short stuff and I feel less harried. Broken Sky is ready to launch, I just need to fill out bank info. How are you, B?

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B. W.
19:06 Dec 15, 2020

I'm feeling a lot of things

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Zilla Babbitt
15:01 Dec 17, 2020

I'm sorry about that! What kind of things?

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B. W.
16:48 Dec 17, 2020

I still just feel really sad about a couple of things that have been going on

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Zilla Babbitt
16:52 Dec 17, 2020

You know, I have too. I know what you mean. To help fix it, I've responded less to comments on my stories and reminded myself I have a life outside of Reedsy. I read a whole book yesterday and barely looked at Reedsy except to submit a new story. The book is "The Secret Keepers" by Trenton Lee Stewart -- a YA book but so good -- and I recommend it. Of course it's up to you, B, but I think a short break, two days or so, might do some good. Keep writing, of course, but a quick break from online could really help. It's helped me.

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Writers Block
00:26 Dec 14, 2020

Great story! Grandma has her hands full!

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Sophie L
08:02 Dec 13, 2020

Nice! The ending is happy, and I feel like I would have ka-boomed the whole city if I took part in it. Also, congrats on Broken Sky! I'll buy it when I eventually save up enough money.

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B. W.
23:04 Dec 26, 2020

hey

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Zilla Babbitt
16:25 Dec 28, 2020

Hi!

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B. W.
18:59 Dec 28, 2020

how are ya?

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