The Female Baker hung her apron and chef’s hat on the hook besides the kitchen door and exited her counter. She grabbed her purse and keys from over by the kitchen door’s other side, sighing as she shuffled quickly to get to her car and then home. Walking out of her bakery, the Female Baker pretended the Male Baker’s shop wasn’t there, jerking away when she heard his door close, the bell’s charms ringing and footsteps’ descent causing his front porch steps to creak. They hadn’t spoken in a while. They hadn’t even seen each other than one time when the Male Baker told the Female Baker a secret about a special recipe. When he had promised it was the right one, the Female Baker set to work. But when she had found out it wasn’t what the Male Baker claimed, she stormed right up to the Male Baker’s front door and banged on it hard. He opened it, a look of surprise overtaking his face after she told him. The Female Baker stood there in the cold for a total of five furious minutes, rebuking the man for such inconsideration.
“You have just ruined my pies! No one’s buying them!” She crossed her arms, stuffing her shaking hands under her armpits. “Just…why?”
“Uh. I…thought it was. Look—I can check—”
She had stormed away, her huffing expelling puffs of frosty air. Her business was going so well, especially due to her pies—the most delicious ones around. Now that she couldn’t sell them anymore, he’d be the one selling, and his business would only grow.
My pastries—especially pies—are the best decorated, priced, made and customer-sold. His amazing pies were scrumptious enough for anyone to grab and take home for a wonderful family dessert. But his pies aren’t mine. And his money isn’t my money. She started over with new pies—but these new ones are mediocre at best. And will never make such a bakery as before!
The Female Baker slid into her car and turned it on quickly to avoid the freezing wind from chilling her very bones. As she did so, she made certain she wouldn’t see any baker quite like her. Or smell any of his or her pies. Her pies would be such finger-licking, memory-inducing desserts no one would be too busy to buy again and again.
Driving home was fast. Her mind raced with all thoughts about how she was going to make her gingerbread house completely different from the ones in years gone by at this season’s annual holiday festival. Maybe it’ll inspire me to make such pies. Not to mention save me financially. The Male Baker is going to have jealousy written all over his face. I will be the best, and he’ll know it.
Because I'm better than anyone else.
This year, their desserts had to display uniqueness and creativity as well as at least some Christmas spirit. After killing the engine, the Female Baker went from car to house, pursing her lips while escaping the cold for some warmth indoors. She called Bows over to her and, snuggling with the Cymric on the living room’s big leather couch, smiled as his purrs distracted her from the work day. Suddenly hopping up, the Female Baker grabbed a notebook and pen. Returning to the couch, she bullet pointed the ways she could create that delicious castle of a gingerbread house.
She tapped the pen against her mouth. Then, “This house.”
- Peppermint (for the doorknob)
- Icing all around (but not on the roof)
- Licorice (for the door and window frames)
- Chocolate bars for the windows themselves)
- Candy corn (for the roof)
- Frosting (for the roof’s sides and edges as well as glue to hold the whole house up)
Grinning before her brilliant idea, the Female Baker got right to work. Retrieving the necessary items to construct a platform for her house, she talked to Bows who had jumped off the couch and trotted into the kitchen, curling his tail and looking all around—especially at the windowsill right in front of the oval wooden table. Picking it as his go-to spot, she laughed as he hurled himself onto it and sat down like he expected a compliment or two for doing such an ordinary thing.
“And I’m Mr. Baker’s best friend.”
She set the aluminum foil-covered pan aside and created her gingerbread from a beloved recipe she had kept for many years. The Female Baker hummed to herself while swirling the mixer’s ingredients and then rolling out the dough. Whether the ideas springing to her mind went faster than her arms going back and forth, she had no idea. But she told Bows he better watch her so he could tell of her ability to win this year’s contest.
“Better be watching!”
He just meowed and gazed out the window, twitching his very short, fluffy tail.
The woman told him he was up for adoption—he reminded her too much of the Male Baker.
The contest was only a couple of weeks away. Having the first half of her gingerbread house done with peppermint candy frosted to the door and icing all around (but not on the roof), the Female Baker stepped back and even took pictures of its first stages. “Going to put these set on Facebook for all my friends to see!” Giggling, the Female Baker spread a grin on her face as she snapped photos and then connected her phone to her Lenovo laptop—hoping the best ones would be seen first and then looked at again and again. “There we go. All set out for Mary, Beatrice, Candy and Holly to see as the example of true kitchen art.”
The Female Baker had made it from the high school gymnasium’s double doors to her table—choosing every step with care while carrying her astounding decorative piece of edible art to this blood red tablecloth. After setting it down, she saw the judges each taking their seats at the elongated sapphire table. Each contestant had, she noticed, placed their creativeness on their own tablecloths—icing white, blood red, evergreen, magenta and gold patterned after each other on either side of and in front of the Female Baker. She looked over at the Male Baker, surprising herself for a second.
He’ll never win. Mine’s the best. She scoffed as he tried to scoot his masterpiece of a house further up on his gold tablecloth and then, for some reason, push it forward, the tablecloth bunching up as he did so. She squinted her eyes and furrowed her eyebrows as she cocked her head. Why would he do that? Can’t he tell it’s not going up? When he pulled the little curl out from in front of the tilted house, the house skidded a little, and he pressed his lips together, wrinkles of worry creasing his forehead. The Female Baker sensed he needed some help.
She looked around at the rest of the holiday festival: the basketball hoop poles boasted of yellow lights as those pretty colors wound their way up to the top of the dark green metal beams. Families, friends and relatives walked, scurried and dashed towards the dark green bleachers, eagerness rising in the air as some clenched their fists in excitement and others bobbed their heads in anticipation. Some held candy canes, others mugs of assumedly piping hot chocolate steaming from within the Starbucks cup. Don’t know why that is, given they’re also holding clipboards with a piece of paper held onto it with a pencil and string dangling from the clips’ holes. The Female Baker suppressed the urge to give these people a look of disdain as she invested her time in looking at all the other contestant’s widely imaginative, creatively decorated and surprisingly tall gingerbread houses making it from the gym’s double doors to magenta, icing white and gold tablecloths. She grew a little disinterested in this stuff and looked at the Male Baker. She remembered how when she did look over at his bakery one time, she saw him lock his front door and then check it although she had seen him lock it—and check it again while locking it. Shaking her head, she had laughed under her breath and muttered that he didn’t know what he was doing. Might not know what he did to lose this contest, either. Might just give up all hope of—
“Christmas contestants and guests!” A sudden loud voice cut any more words from the Female Baker’s mind as she jerked her head over to the sound of the noise. A black coat and tie-clad man holding a microphone stood in front of the judges’ table and waved his hands to quiet the talking audience. “Held every year in December, our festival is meant for us to allow each contestant to demonstrate their most creative, most delicious Christmas-themed desserts for all to see—better yet, even eat!”
As the speaker introduced the judges and then the contestants’ various holiday desserts, the Female Baker stood straight, looking down at another contestant’s partially glazed-over roof. But she moved her eyes elsewhere as she soaked in every word the speaker was saying.
The Female Baker smiled, knowing she was going to win this contest. All the other ones were failures—at least last year’s was, as her cake wasn’t even high enough for the guests to see. However, this gingerbread house was not only seeable but also guaranteed to knock the very gloves and hats off the guests as they furiously scribbled down the reasons they would choose her house as the winner—
The Female Baker jumped. The same black coated, tie-boasting man stood in front of her. His bright smile caused her face to scrunch into a scowl.
The Female Baker stood up straight. “Born to be.”
The man smiled even wider and patted her periwinkle coat’s shoulder. “Good luck!” He proceeded on to the next contestant and encouraged her. She brightened, grinning like she had just been told there’d be Christmas for everyone this year. The Female Baker saw her house out of the periphery of her eyes. Its beautiful white icing swirled and twirled on its rooftops, its licorice creatively bent into half-circles as Santa’s graham cracker sleigh stood on either side of these cute…what? Wheels?
The Female Baker scrunched her face into confusion as she looked back at her creation. Tempted to turn it around, she found herself pushing the near end away from herself and the far end towards herself. She faintly heard someone tell her she couldn’t do that, but she ignored them. Finally, when the front roof was in front of her, she heard a distant call from the left. She glared over at the Male Baker. Confusion was written all over his face. Then he mouthed her a question.
“What?” She hissed, ignoring the middle contestant’s head shake.
But he whipped his head over and smiled, respectfully accepting a sheet of paper the speaker gave him. Looking down at it, he grinned wider. He then looked over at her, but she quickly focused on the speaker who was handing the middle person a sheet of paper.
“Here you go.” The man’s face lit up with a cheery grin and then continued over to the next table with the so-called Santa sleigh in front. As the Female Baker watched the rest of the contestant’s receive their sheets of paper, she then swallowed when she looked at the judges’ table. If this review tells me my house is boring, needs more decoration and could have a little pizazz to it, what will the judges think?
The Female Baker pinched her face and studied her gingerbread house, frantically trying to figure how she could’ve gone wrong when she felt eyes on her. “Here. Sorry I skipped you!”
She looked up. He slid a card into her hand and continued on. She stared at it.
Twelfth place. Unsatisfactory. Boring, every day.
The Female Baker blinked, trying to reign in the tears about to leak down her face. She looked through bleary eyes to see the Male Baker stretch a huge grin from ear to ear. He looked over, but his smile vanished. He puckered his eyebrows together and, looking around to see whether anyone was watching, quickly strode over to her.
“Hey.” He flashed a glance at her card. She instantly tucked it into her pocket. “Sorry you lost. I’m…” He blinked, obviously trying to think of the right encouragement. Then the speaker filled the room with instructions on how to proceed from here.
“Can you wait—” the Male Baker jerked a thumb back and dashed away to his table.
The Female Baker could only focus on the Male Baker’s shocking reaction. How he had come over to her and apologized for her failure to win the contest. Did he win? Did he get close? She went to discover. Not only did he come in 2nd place and therefore receive his own set of gingerbread house kits (one for next year and the year after that to celebrate with his family), but he also gained a ribbon. Looking at the sky blue star, the Female Baker squeezed a smile on her face and nodded.
His bright eyes shone with excitement. “I’m so glad you were part of the whole thing! It wouldn’t be the same without your baking passion.”
She stared for a while. My baking passion? He doesn’t care that he won? She furrowed her eyebrows at him.
He put a mitted hand on her shoulder. “Look, I’ve lost but I’ve come close. Last year’s was 3rd place. Maybe I’ll win next year. I can see that you have a talent for baking, and maybe we could help each other. The whole rivalry thing doesn’t matter—I’ve learned, and I’ll help you. Because I feel terrible for killing your ability to sell those great pies—and destroying your chances of creating an amazing business.”
The loving response was almost too much. The Female Baker backed away from him and nodded. “I gotta go.” But the Male Baker smiled and rubbed his nose. “Hope I sparked some hope and excitement into your life!”
She told him to hold on. Pulling out the card, she flipped it around and showed him.
He just took it, turned around and walked away. He stopped when he stood in front of his car’s front door and then walked back to her and returned it. She took it from him and blinked rapidly, the tears being nearly impossible to hold back. Jerking her head down, she tried telling him the problem, but he squeezed her shoulder. Telling her softly that she was going to do great if she worked harder and learned her lesson, he clutched her other shoulder and pulled her towards him into a hug.
She eyed him and told him that she couldn’t keep disliking working next to him. That she needed to start thinking of ways to really sell—not just grab cash from her customers. He told her that’d be a great idea. She smiled small.
Agreeing with his ideas, she began to grin and opened her arms to give him a grateful hug. He patted her on the back and then told her she’d better think twice before deciding her own creation was better than anyone else’s.
Her forehead creased and her tongue licked her lips. Then she widened her eyes—
“Because.” He tapped his temple. “I see what no one does.”
“Oh.” A chuckle emitted, and they both started laughing. After the Male Baker extended his hand to shake hers in celebration that they both got through another hard contest together, she smiled, saying that she never knew another man so kind and helpful to grab her hand and pull her out of the pit of trouble with such encouragement. He lowered it, nodded and looked into her eyes. She cocked her head, telling him that he was so different than anyone she knew. Then she beckoned him closer and whispered in his ear that he could invite her to his bakery, because, she firmly decided, she was going to have more to learn from her own cookbooks for a little while. So she could learn the basics of great baking. Then she’d accept the invitations.
He told her he needed to get back to his house for some hot chocolate. Rubbing his gloves together, he raised his eyebrows. “Ready for some piping hot soup, too, if I get a cold out here!”
The Female Baker nodded but slowly and then returned home to make herself some hot chocolate. She then sat down with a meowing Bows. “Come here, you spoiled animal!” She picked him up and lay him against herself as she summarized the big day. She bent over and looked into his big green eyes. “I’ll be working but not as a rival.”
She moved him so she could bend over to receive the remote control. Sitting back, she turned the TV on, Bows laying down, his big paws resting on her left thigh. She snickered. “It was like I just met him today.” Calling him, she apologized for her bitterness all these years—also claiming she decided to take it one day at a time to see whether she wanted to receive some help from her former rival.
“If you want to.”
He seemed to be a man of simple words. Simple actions.
When the Female Baker returned to petting Bows, her mind reeled over the conversation. He seemed interested in her. She called him again and told him she would chance it.
She just nodded.
As the years passed, the Female Baker gave back every time she received—especially to the Male Baker.