Gina looked at Chris McDonald with a fondness she knew would never develop into more than a teenage crush.
“Hi Chris. Can I put this in your window?”
She was a looker with her black hair and green eyes. Gina was use to getting her way with boys because of her sexy figure and perfectly contoured face.
The flyer announced a cooking contest in the upcoming festival. Gina handed Chris one and tried in her inexperienced way to impress the shop owner.
“Sure; go ahead, but stop blinking those long eyelashes at me. You know I’ll never go out with you. You’re just to young for me.”
The young woman put a flyer on the inside of the door and another one under the neon sign which displayed the word ‘Bakery’.
“You should think about entering this. I’ll certainly vote for you.”
After she left his bake shop, Chris took a second look at the flyer. ‘May not be a bad idea. The entry fee is only ten dollars. At least it will be some cheap advertising.’ Chris had no illusion about winning the contest. Far to many good cooks in town had plied him with everything for pot roasts to apple cobbler. Some of whom had already tried to corral him too.
He opened the shop about six years ago. His wife didn’t like it and tried to talk him out of opening the business. A year after it opened she filed for a divorce. Since that ill fated day, Chris devoted himself to baking anything and everything.
His rugged looks beguiled his mastery with the simple ingredients which went into his tasty treats. Chris never attended a school to learn how to cook. His mother started his cooking career at age seven when he would get up and want something to eat. She was much to busy and vowed to teach her son how to cook. His father couldn’t boil water. His culinary skills around a kitchen was derived out of self-defense.
The phone call was to Martha at the library.
“Hello Martha. It’s Chris at the bakery. Do you have the applications for that cooking contest?”
“Sure. You thinking about entering?”
“Yeah. I’ll drop by on my lunch break and fill one out.”
“OK. I’ll fill it out for you. What will you make? All you’ll need to do is sign it and give me ten dollars.”
“Thanks. I'll do my chocolate covered coconut balls.”
Everyone knew he ran his shop alone and didn’t mind doing little favors to help him out.
He put his sign in the window and locked his shop exactly at one PM, as usual. The library was his first stop. After signing the form and paying, Martha accidentally let him see another application.
“Chris, you got some competition now.”
The form had the name of ‘One, Two, Three Bakery on Elm St.
“It’s time you forgot her and moved on. Helen Dobbins runs that new shop. She’s single and kinda cute too.”
Chris just shook his head and left. ‘It won’t hurt to check her out.’ He made the excuse Elm St. wasn’t that far away.
“Can I help you.”
“Yeah; a ham and cheese on rye, chips, lemonade, and a dozen of those chocolate chip cookies.”
He sat in his SUV and ate the sandwich, then tried one of the cookies. ‘Not bad, but mine are better. The sandwich is good though.’ On his way back to his shop a homeless man standing on a corner with a sign asking for help got Chris’ attention. He handed the stranger the bag of cookies.
A couple days later, Chris almost ran over Helen in the local grocery store.
“Hello again. Are you about ready for another sandwich?”
“I’m kinda busy these days and don’t get out much.”
“How did you like it and the cookies?”
“The sandwich was good. I really enjoyed it, but I only ate one cookie; not a fair test. I felt sorry for a homeless man and gave him the rest of them.”
She took notice of the items in his cart, but didn’t comment on them. They clearly showed him to be single. The next day a woman stopped at his door, evidently reading the flyer. When she entered the shop, Chris couldn’t hide his identity any longer.
“I don’t think there are any laws against knowing thy enemy.”
He regretted saying that.
“I’m sorry; I shouldn’t of said that. You’re not my enemy. In fact, you sell different items than I do.”
Helen noticed the flyer on the counter and pointed to it.
“Have you entered the contest?”
“Yeah, I entered it. How about you?”
“Sure; I figure it will help get my name out to the public.”
“It is cheap advertising. What can I do for you today?”
“I hear you sell raisin bread.”
Chris retrieved a loaf and placed it on the counter. Helen paid and started to leave. When she reached the door, she made one last comment.
Mr. McDonald, I hope there won’t be any hard feelings between us no matter what happens in the contest.”
She was out the door before Chris could return a comment. The phone call was Martha informing him he would be in the final cook off along with two others.
“Helen made it and Alice. You remember Alice don’t you?”
Chris remembered her and her apple cobbler.
Some experiments would be necessary for him to make his wonderful chocolate covered coconut balls. The recipe called for the center to be chilled for an hour, but Chris knew he would not have an hour during the contest, so he started by making a batch and instead of the refrigerator he stuck them in the freezer. He then started melting the chocolate. When it was melted, he checked on the contents of the freezer. To his amazement, they were perfectly cooled down and were firm enough to dip in the chocolate.
Another trip to the store was necessary for more ingredients, which included toothpicks, plastic gloves and an eye dropper this time. The contest was another week away. Chris wanted to make sure the ingredients were available, since many other cooks may use some of the same items as his confectioneries.
“Do you think we keep bumping into each other by accident or is there a higher power at work?”
Helen had the same idea about ingredients and at the same time too.
“I don’t know. Are you able to read minds?”
Chris smiled at the insinuation.
“You never can tell. We do seem to be on the same frequency though.”
Chris started noticing the young woman. How she held her head when she smiled. Her pleasant voice, not sarcastic or forceful. For the first time since that ill fated day, he took in her figure. He got a good view when she moved away from him; both front and back.
Chris practiced making the coconut balls many times during the week before the contest. He experimented with the sequence of the order which items were combined. He burned into his memory the amount of all ingredients which the recipe called for and decided it was as good as it was going to get, so no changes were made.
Friday afternoon he measured out a cup of Macadamia nuts, then copped them fine. They went into a plastic container. Next was an exact one and half teaspoons of almond extract. Not the fake, imitation stuff, but the real deal. The coconut he purchased was grated and eight ounces was carefully weighted out. Chris enjoyed drinking the coconut water from the fruit and wondered why he didn’t drink it more often. The bag of semi-sweet chocolate was transferred from the bag into it own container. Chris dug into a cabinet and pulled a clear plastic container larger enough to hold all the ingredients, plus an apron which had ‘McDonald’s Sweets’ and his phone number blazoned across the front. He almost forgot his secret ingredient in the eye dropper and had to open the container to add it. He doubled checked everything and realized he was as ready as he would ever be.
Saturday just after lunch, he arrived at the recreation center. Chris made his way around the room, shaking hands and being sociable. The order was given to take their places and begin. Chris didn’t waste any time laying out the contents of the clear container. He didn’t concern himself as to what the other two contestants were doing or what they were baking. He concentrated on the task at hand. The practice during the past week made him smooth and deliberate with his actions. He made a big show of adding four drops of his secret ingredient. The mixture was cooled which made it firm up while shaping the balls of the centers. They were popped into a handy freezer. The chocolate was melted and right on cue the coconut mixture was removed from the freezer and toothpicks were inserted, then were dipped into the melted chocolate. These were placed on parchment paper in a silver serving dish.
He noticed Gina in the crowd and winked at her. Chris was proud of his creation and Gina for suggesting he enter the contest. He moved to an area beside the counter and nodded at the judges indicating completion of his baking. Alice and Helen took much longer because they were baking a cobbler and a fruit cake. Chris tried one of his creations and turned around to not show the judges the delight in his expression.
The three judges tasted everyone’s creation. After much debate and deliberation the lead judge moved to the front of the counters with three ribbons in his hand, blue, gold, and silver. After a little teasing, the judge placed the blue ribbon in front of Chris. The gold went to Alice and Helen placed third.
“May I have another one of those sweets. I think my waistline can tolerate that.”
“Sure take all you want.”
Chris invited everybody to take one. He had extras which was prepared the day before and had plenty to share. Helen picked up one.
“What was in that little bottle. You didn’t add but a few drops.”
“That’s my secret ingredient. You’ll need to get to know me much better before I reveal that.”
"OK. How about having some coffee with me?”
Three months later, they created a five tier wedding cake.
On their wedding night, after Helen had given her all to her new husband she asked, “Do we know each other now well enough to share your secret ingredient?”
“It was just water.”