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General

It’s hot and sticky on the streets of New Orleans. This is nothing new, but normally I would avoid standing in this summer soup for too long. Today is different. Today will be worth every drop of sweat and every proclamation of “Damn, it’s hot!” that will come in the next hours. I can practically taste the victory waiting for me and my friends at the end of this ordeal, and it’s too sweet to flake out on.

To endure, we distract ourselves. It’s the kind of the distraction that fizzles away during every lull in conversation or thought about “why am I doing this?”. Our pact is strong. We got each other to this day, and we will get each other to the end of this line.

My friends and I call ourselves A/C Belles, a play on “Southern Belles”. We all grew up in the Big Easy, but in our twenties, we’ve dispersed along the Gulf Coast. I’m in Atlanta, Kaylie’s in Houston, Mariah’s in Orlando, and Paola’s near Destin. None of us are outdoor gals, but none of us can part with the South, either. This sweat-heavy torture is our longest-standing tradition, established when we were teenagers living in the same city—waiting in line at Vignette. 

“Remember when Kirti fainted? When was that, senior year?” says Mariah.

“That was a hot summer!” I protest.

“The ambulance came and everything,” Paola smirks.

“The ambulance came for the kid at the front of the line who stuffed his face and choked.”

“Whatever,” Paola always had an immature streak to her humor. 

“You were out for a whole minute,” Mariah continues.

“You make it sound like an hour,” I‘m not enjoying Mariah’s version of distraction. How can I focus on something besides the heat if she’s bringing up the Heatstroke of 2014? 

“We’ve got at least a half hour left, y’all,” intervenes Kaylie the Pacifier. “Do y’all really have to keep throwing that in Kirti’s face?”

“Sorry, babe,” says Mariah.

Paola just shoves me playfully. I pretend to take their apologies.

This is our first reunion in a whole year. Normally, we do Friendsgiving, Galentines Day, and our own, made-up long weekend at the beach in May, so we don’t get stuck in the Memorial Day crowds. This year, no one could free up their schedules except for me. I didn’t believe them. And I don’t forgive them for all the unanswered texts, either. They weren’t giving me much to forgive them with. 

But, they’re here now, chimes a voice in my head that’s very like Kaylie’s.

Sure. They’re here now, on the most miserable of our traditions, throwing an eight-years-passed incident in my face.

“Kirti?” comes Kaylie’s sweet, concerning voice. “You good?” I don’t have to look at the other girls to know what they’re thinking when Kaylie asks this. You gonna faint, Patel?

“I’m good.” I can’t use the heat as an excuse. “Just...bad memories.” So I can play the victim. They didn’t know what it felt like to faint. How scary it was right before it happened, and how surreal it was to wake up...and then just continue to stand in line. At least I had my friends to lean on—literally. I’m not sure if Paola or Mariah would offer me a shoulder if I hit the pavement today.

“Let’s talk about something happy,” Kaylie says resolutely, in true Pacifier fashion. “Ooh, Mariah, you texted me something about the Goofy who was high?”

She texted Kaylie, then, not me.

Grudges only hurt the holder.

Paola barked a laugh. “Omg, what? The guy lit a joint inside his costume? Isn’t that, like, a fire hazard?”

“Not to mention illegal,” Kaylie adds.

“But kind of a cool visual,” I muse. “Did he have smoke coming out of his costume’s nose?” I ask Mariah.

“That would have been hilarious, but no,” says Mariah. She works at Disney World, so she sees a lot of BTS Disney magic...or Disney flops. “He definitely would have gotten fired. Nah, he was near a hot dog stand I was working at, and he started singing a song to the kids. That hot dog song from Mickey Mouse Clubhouse?” She looks for recognition on our faces, but she’s the expert, not us. “Well, it’s a dumb song, but either way, the characters aren’t supposed to talk much, let alone sing, but the kids were getting a crack out of it. You could tell when the parents realized he was high, because they gave Goofy a disappointed look and steered their squealing kids away.”

“Dude, you see so much weird stuff,” I say, and my envy is genuine. “You have the best job.”

Mariah shakes her head, but she’s smiling. “I mean, it’s still work.” She’s said this so many times, and I get it, but I’d much rather be a medical transcriptionist while watching kids spin around in teacups and witness grown people pretending to be cartoon dogs. I just think my job would be more fun that way. 

Kaylie’s eyes light up. “I’m seriously thinking about joining you in Orlando, Mariah. I need more happy people in my life.” Honestly, Kaylie seems more the type to work at Disney than Mariah. She could work her way into a Princess role, with her charm.

“I can definitely see you at Disney,” I tell her.

“Yes!” Mariah cheers.

“Do it, Kaylie, you’d be so much closer to us!” says Paola. 

I feel a little lonely, thinking about how they’d all be in Florida—even if Destin’s pretty far from Orlando—and I’d be stuck in metro Atlanta. How un-exciting. But we’re here in New Orleans, today. We came from here. We connect here. Why aren’t we connecting now?

“Do you remember the first time we did this?” I pivot. They blink away from their Disney World fantasies and focus on me. “We were fourteen, right? So this makes it ten years?”

Eyes widen. 

“Ooh, you’re right,” Paola gushes. 

Mariah wrinkles her nose. “Noooo, we’re so old.”

I shove her. “Do NOT call us old. Then I’ll have to feel guilty about eating at Vignette.”

“New pact,” Kaylie proposes. “No one is allowed to get on a diet that prohibits our once-a-year at Vignette.”

“Agreed,” we say immediately. 

I look to the storefront of Vignette. We’ve moved more than half the length by now. So close, and so not.

“No question about it,” Mariah says fervently, and her eyes go far away. “We took our first bites at the same time.”

“Sugary,” comes Paola’s wistful memory.

“Melty,” Kaylie licks her lips.

“Gooooooey,” Mariah extends the world like a prayer.

“Doughy bliss,” I conclude.

We all look longingly at the people carrying away their sugar-dusted, fluffy squares of dough in Vignette’s signature, pastel-blue cardboard tray that evokes fond memories on its own. Eyes closed, they savor the perfectly balanced explosion of thick dough and running chocolate or jam or caramel, some of which coats their lips.

The four of us must look pathetic, staring after the lucky customers like this. We don’t care, just as much as the joyful patrons aren’t bothered by the mess on their faces.

We’ve stopped talking for entire minutes, blindly shuffling forward as the line creeps us closer to the storefront. We can smell it now. Sweet, illicit, tantalizing, knee-buckling, and powerful with memories.

A bead of sweat drips into my mouth. Salty and unimportant. 

Breaking the silence, Kaylie hops excitedly and wraps her arms around the three of us, leaning into us and squealing like the teenagers we used to be.

It only take ten more minutes for us to be face to face with the ordering counter of Vignette Beignets. I feel like I’m being tested. Like if I say something wrong, I won’t get what I’ve been waiting a whole sweltering hour for, and three hundred sixty-four days of monotony before that. Nothing can go wrong, if it’s served in that pastel-blue tray.

I stand triumphantly at the ordering counter as if I’d arrived here by some great feat. “I’d like a plain, a chocolate, and a lemon beignet, please.” As if they serve anything BUT beignets here. I don’t even hear the price. My brain doesn’t process anything until I have paid and been given my very own pastel-blue tray.

They are small, but never to be underestimated. The chocolate and the lemon are marked by a brown and a yellow dot where they’d been filled. 

I bounce excitedly from heel to toe until Kaylie, Mariah, and Paola have their own trays.

“Cheers to the A/C Belles,” I say, holding my tray in the air. We bring our trays together, and little puffs of powdered sugar lift into the air as the trays collide.

“Now we EAT,” Mariah stamps her foot.

The first bite is always incomprehensible. I never understand how I could possibly be tasting something so good. How something so divine can exist on the earth. Did we win something? Is this food blessed by some higher power?

With the second bite, all I feel is sensation. Warmth coating my throat. Powdered sugar tickling my lips. Fried dough making my taste buds dance with joy. 

Every bite that follows is blind need. It’s just us and our beignets.

“Every year,” I whisper the promise. “Til we die.”

July 11, 2020 03:58

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9 comments

Deborah Angevin
22:45 Jul 15, 2020

Same as Nadiya; I forgot the prompt while reading this! Loved the story, Anisha! :) Would you mind checking my recent story out, "Orange-Coloured Sky?" Thank you!

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Becky Katsaros
13:40 Aug 15, 2020

Great descriptions and an enjoyable read.

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Great job! 👏👏👏 -Aerin (P. S. If you have time, could you check out my new story?)

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13:15 Jul 18, 2020

I really relate to the girls, I too would spend a long time in the scorching heat just for food!

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Red Herring
19:04 Jul 12, 2020

Ha! I forgot the prompt halfway, and found myself licking my lips subconsciously with impatience. I'm not sure how you cast that, but that feeling of firing off reminiscences and not having them land feels incredibly relatable. And then the tension being broken and unity restored by a delicious diabetic coma inducing treat. I very much enjoyed that allusion to til death do us part, especially at the hand of food (lolll), and the theme of female friendships withstanding the parades of other holidays. Yum!

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Anisha Yagnik
15:16 Jul 13, 2020

Nadiya thank you so much for your comment! This is the first time I've written about anticipation for a food, lol, and it made my mouth water the whole time. I didn't think the friendship came through as I intended, so I'm glad it landed with you! I was going for an imperfect friendship that is held together over time through tradition. Thanks so much for your thoughtful insight! -Anisha

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Red Herring
16:22 Jul 13, 2020

Oh, I definitely got that, especially as someone who's experienced the separation entering adult life post-college generates among groups. You start to get hindsight, and new boundaries. I instantly knew what you were referring to. If we're considering readers of all ages, I still think it translates. The transition from middle to high, high to college, etc. It's definitely an interesting idea to put into the context of "waiting." It's almost as though you're waiting for a return to the golden age of your group dynamics.

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Pamela Saunders
17:45 Jul 12, 2020

Sweet :)

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Anisha Yagnik
15:16 Jul 13, 2020

Precisely :) I'm a sucker for puns. I'm still trying to get better at them.

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