The stars are red today. Speckled far enough not to touch each other, but close enough to fit onto the jet black abyss of a cookie surface.
“Perfect,” I mooned, admiring my own handiwork, less concerned about the taste and more so about the appearance I had been trying to perfect for ages.
“Really? Looks like blood mixed in with tar to me,” his smell wafted over first, somehow even more divine than that of my masterwork. His voice registered next; oh, that horrible smooth silk spilling from his disgusting mouth like vile ribbons of bile. Not to mention the fact that his god awful presence triggers the poetic side of my brain, and instead of insulting him, my words usually tumble out in flower covered, rhyming angst.
"Who even let you in, you're not supposed to be here. Ever." I don't turn around, I don't need to. I don't trust my face to match the irritation of my shrill voice. So instead I fixate my eyes, my jaw, my hands on the cookie, pretending to add some finishing touches.
"Eh. The kitchen door was open, and I figured you wouldn't mind some friendly banter as usual." I can feel his eyes squint in amusement, can map out his face until I'm looking at him without actually looking at him.
"Please don't ever try to brush off our banter as friendly again. We both know it's anything but that. Besides, aren't you supposed to be in your underground lair? Concocting some poisoned goodies in the name of the championship?" I shoot my childish insults, and he responds in an equally immature manner. We are simply used to it.
"Yeah well, if that's your idea of a winner," he joins me at the table, his finger pointing at the cookie from my peripherals, "then literally nothing could be more evil. You're practically going to poison people from abysmal design and dire flavour." And even though I know, I know he's just trying to throw me off kilter, his words pierce my ego, as if my parents had told me they didn't love me, or God deciding he regretted making me. Not that I believe in God, but I believe in pain. And Devon’s words hurt.
"Get out," I spit through gritted teeth, still not looking at him. I couldn’t. If I did, I might just melt. Be it from anger or something else.
"C'mon, I mean okay, they're not the worst thing I've ever seen-"
"Get. Out." He had to leave before my tears decided to turn into Niagara Falls. I couldn't let him see me weak. Not before the championship anyway.
"Sloan...fuck, fine. Taking this with me though,” and before I could protest, he grabbed the cookie, my cookie, and sauntered towards the wooden door, footsteps in sync with his obnoxious crunching.
“Yeah...this is way too sweet,” he mutters as he turns back, adding “Just trynna help ya,” with his palms upturned between his shoulders in defeat. He had definitely noticed my incredulous expression when I finally turned to face him, wet hot anger rising in my throat, ready to turn him into ashes with dragon breath. Instead, my irritation turns into feathers. It doesn’t help that he’s wearing his favorite frayed apron, covered in all the baking essentials. He’s been preparing too.
“So? What’s wrong with sugar?” I’m personally offended by his complaint; I had been working on developing and mastering this recipe for months on end. It was definitely my year to win the Belmond Baking Championship.
“What, you trying to give all the residents diabetes or what? Our town is small enough as it is,” he winces as he takes another tentative bite of the dark cookie, chewing slowly.
“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with sugar. In fact, my grandma used to tell me I was...she used to say ‘Daisy, you’re sugar all the way through’ all the time before she...yeah. Anyway, my point is, me being compared to sugar is a huge bonus for sugar in my humble opinion. It may even be a fact,” I grinned. My anger had completely dissipated at this point, replaced by the nostalgia of my grandma, and then the tendrils of a warm 2013 summer day. Devon and I lying on the freshly mown grass, discussing our big dreams. Our big dreams of baking, continuing the families traditions through a future embalmed in whisked eggs and vanilla essence. Maybe, we had said, maybe we could even merge the bakeries into one. Proper Montague and Capulet style. We had so much hope-
“Ha,” Devon scoffed, snapping me back to the moment, which, presently, wasn’t looking too pretty. My cookie had been thrown into the bin, crumbs littering the marble floor. He wiped his hands on his apron, and turned to leave again, but this time without the light-hearted aura he had in his girth just moments ago. He cocked his head to the side and pondered. “At the rate you’re going designing this shit, all you’re going to be left with is stars all the way through.” And even though I know, I know that phrase sounds sweet prima facie, he means it in the way a knife pierces your skin and the blades cut your wrists.
Suddenly, it was his turn to throw a tirade at me. Our back and forth game of ping-pong. We had gone back to being rivals. Just like that. Just like a lazy summer day turning into a harsh winter that lasts too long.
Summer of 2013, Belmond, Somewhere on a hill
It’s a perfect day today. The sky is a pellucid azure, clouds of cotton white sporadically breaking up the blue. Daisy lies next to me, her head literally surrounded by daisies. Other flowers too, of course, but what’s poetic about that?
“So, almost 18, huh?” she enquires casually, admiring our hands twirling close but separately in the air, the sunlight snaking through the gaps in our fingers.
“Don’t remind me. Future nostalgia is even worse than normal nostalgia,” I groaned, trying not to think about a memory that hasn’t even happened yet.
“I mean, who told you to go to a fancy uni anyway? Belmond’s university does the job,” she plays off nonchalantly, even though I catch her trying to suppress a giggle.
“Says the girl going to an Ivy League, you’re literally so extra,” I roll my eyes as she shoves my shoulder, wishing on all the dandelions on this hill that this moment could last forever.
“Just imagine all my new pompous rich friends' faces when they realize I’ve gone through a Cornell education just to work in my dad’s bakery. ‘A baker? Sorry, we’re not familiar with that profession?’” she imitated with a frown and a raised eyebrow.
“Ahh, same though. ‘Baker? Oh, you mean the good stuff? Heck yeah,’” I imitated back, though comparatively worse (I always seem to be, against her. Everyone is.) But we both ended up in fits, clutching our sides, always starting up again when we caught each other's eyes. I could get lost in Daisy’s eyes forever.
“Can’t wait. Man, but for real though, we are definitely going to merge our bakeries and shove our families’ dumb feud up their dumbass asses. Now their faces would be priceless,” she exclaimed, her eyes lighting up with the idea we’d forged on countless starry nights in the loft.
“Yeah...still not sold on the name though…”
“Oh come on, Stelliferous is literally the perfect name. Think about it, we came up with it on like the starriest night ever, and the word means a sky filled with stars. AND our baking will be so good that people feel like they’re eating the stars. How can you get better than that?”
“I’m pretty sure if someone ate a star they’d spontaneously combust…”
But even as I said it, I couldn’t keep the mirth out of my voice. We sat in silence for a while, embracing the future we had crafted for ourselves, the subtle dusk wind picking up, clutching our chests like a hug of potential.
“Alright Devonbon, we should probably get back to our folks and pretend like we’re mortal enemies,” a smirk erupted on her face, her freckles hidden by the darkening sky.
“You’re probably right DaisyBlaisy. Oh, I mean enemy for life, pfft.”
As we walked back, arm in arm, Daisy skipping while I tried to keep up with her long strides, I looked back at our patch on that unnamed hill. The stars had finally come out for the night.
Belmond’s Annual Festival & Baking Championship 2020, Town Square
The crowds arrive in throngs, excited chatter flitting around the various stands, infused with the smells of oven baked delicacies; strawberry cakes filled with lemon pudding, multicoloured macaroons, assortments of fruity cupcakes, Daisy’s Winning Cookie, Devon’s Winning Lava Cake.
This was more than a special occasion; it was the first time Belmond had held their annual holiday together with the Baking Championship. After all, it only took them long enough to figure out that holding two events so close together for as long as they had was less efficient. Let’s cut them some slack though, the majority of Belmond residents were over the age of sixty.
Consider this, however: two young adults, standing nervously behind their stalls on either side of the wide street, trying not to think about each other, but thinking it anyway. Thinking it anyway, with a side thought of if they truly could win the Championship. Surely, they thought in sync, their submission was creative and tasty enough to win? Surely, they could make their families proud...completely wreck each other? It was definitely their time to win the best baker in town. This was her chance. This was his chance.
Daisy’s cookie definitely caught the eye of the judges. Never before had they seen something so unique. Jet black, like shoe polish, with a completely smooth surface. The only thing breaking the almost glistening exterior were the bright red stars. Yes, this got ten out of ten points for creativity and design. The taste was also nothing like they’d ever had before. Unique, for sure, but not quite hitting the mark. Ah, one must always sacrifice something for beauty. It was too sweet, they said.
Devon’s Lava cake caught the judges eye for a different reason. Never before had they seen something so unique. Devil red, like healthy blood, with a completely silky maroon glazing. The only thing breaking the almost resplendent sauce was the chocolate orange ganache pouring out of a tactical crack at the top. Yes, this got ten out ten points for creativity and design. The taste was also like nothing they’d ever had before. Unique, for sure, but not quite hitting the mark. Ah, one must always sacrifice something for beauty. It was too sweet, they said.
No one would have guessed that sixty year old Patsy Burns’ orthodox black forest cake would have won the whole thing. The people cheered, confetti streamed from the sky as if appearing by magic, streamers popped out of the sidewalk. Now that Patsy had the best Baker Champion 2020 title, the festivities of the annual holiday could begin. It was time for beer! Time for the other baked goods to get sold despite their failed attempts at a win! Time for childrens cries of joy and the soccer mums’ catch up sessions with the local gossips! Time for...Daisy and Devon to reconcile?
Well that’s just it, isn’t it folks? We saw this coming from a mile away. We saw this coming from the very first sentence. The very first nostalgic moment. We saw the moment it all came together, and the flickers of moments where it had already fallen apart. We don’t need to get into the technicalities. Devon tried his luck with Daisy, remorse practically jumping out of him. How ironic that none of them won. All Daisy wanted to do was hug him tight and say it was alright, and that everything after everything had been so so stupid. That allowing their families to brainwash them after university was stupid and that she could never truly hate Devon. Of course, she did say all this, but after covering it up with a hefty tirade of “fuck you’s” and “I hate you so much, sometimes.”
Was this the day Devon and Daisy fell in love? Or were they always in love? It may seem obvious, but after all, this is a short story, and they never give you the full picture in these things. The delicate details. The things that matter in the background. The sleepless nights, the endless fights. The flowery metaphors, the dogs that bite.
What we do know for a fact, though, is that at the heart of it all, Devon and Daisy will always secretly be the best bakers in town. Maybe someday, even together.
“Daisy, you’re much more than sugar all the way through. You’re stars all the way through,” Devon said softly, taking her hand in his.
And this time, he meant it in the way that it was always supposed to be. Stelliferous.