Holiday Romance

               “Fine, you’re on.” I could feel the hot blood pulsing through my fingers, and at that point, I was willing to say anything just to get him to be quiet, and that was what ended up coming out. When a woman says “fine,” it never means fine. It usually means terrible, horrible, worse than can be imagined, or go take a long walk off a short pier, or some sort of expletive equivalent, and this case was no different.

               In February, the month of love, I had decided to take a tremendous risk to pursue the job of my dreams, a wedding planner. My day job entailed planning, so it’s not like it was completely crazy to transition to weddings. I had lots of professional connections, but I was completely unfulfilled. My creative side lay dormant for so long I found myself dumping myself on the sofa every night with a glass of wine, which had turned into two, which then somehow turned into three extra-large ones. When I began to put wine into a travel mug and take it into the shower, my parents began to ask me if I was OK.

               It was apparent that it was not OK, and that was what had finally motivated me to withdraw my savings, including my pension, from my current job to pursue something I was really passionate about—wedding planning. And then the pandemic hit. Almost overnight, my dreams evaporated. The clients that I had so carefully lined up, schedules that I had so painstakingly planned, were decimated in the course of two short weeks in March. Since that time, each and every wedding that had been on my roster was cancelled or postponed. I had been eating into my savings, and, recently, for the first time in several weeks, I had pulled out the old wine bottle again. It was 2:00 p.m., and I was in my bathrobe, having just gotten into a verbal jousting with my old business practices buddy, Steve, who fruitlessly tried to pep-talk me into a better mood.

               Steve is a decent guy. He’s low key most of the time, which most of the time, isn’t a problem. But he has an annoying habit of trying to prop me up when I get low, and this time it was just too much. “You’ve got to get creative,” he kept telling me. Creative? When all wedding venues were closed and gatherings were banned? I told him to go jump in the lake—or something like that. Then I suggested to him with heavy sarcasm, that he would find it so easy to have a wedding during coronavirus, and he replied, in his annoying way, that he probably would.

               “Fine, you’re on.”

               And with that, our bet was born. The first to have a wedding booked for 2021 won the bet and the other had to be personal servant for a month, including car washes and housecleaning once a week. We could use the town’s annual holiday festival, or any other resource, as a catalyst, but the wedding commitment had to include a $5000.00 non-refundable down payment towards a 2021 wedding.

               It was stupid, I thought to myself later. But actually, maybe it wasn’t. It was the first time I’d felt any kind of an emotion since March. I welcomed self-righteous anger. It was better than the lukewarm ennui that had plagued me for months, that couldn’t seem to be drowned by a million glasses of zinfandel.

               So, for the first time in nearly a year, I started to work. I already knew that no one would be interested in booking a wedding, now or in 2021, so I figured that if Steve could pull a rabbit out of his hat and find one client, I should at least be ready for that. And thus, I hatched my plan to start a wedding resources book and hold a wedding resource expo at the annual holiday festival.

               There are only two bakeries in town. Henri’s is run by Brigitte Levigne. Henri is her father. Brigitte relocated to our town when I was just a little girl. Her bakery had been our town’s crown jewel for as long as I could remember. There were large rectangular planters of boxwoods and ornamental cabbages outside, and a candy-striped awning. The inside smelled of burnt sugar. The shop, with its tiny cakes and cookies, was a piece of Europe nestled in our little Vermont town. Beautiful tiny petit fours, marzipan fruits so lifelike that even the tiny oranges had dimpled skin, and large, cranberry studded scones, glittering with sanding sugar, that were served with clotted cream. Brigitte walked everywhere in long skirts, with the lace of her slip hanging out. She was first in style. However, hers was the second bakery that I visited.

               The other bakery was new. Tom Tremble was a native of our town who had earned some local success by competing in the Ironman Triathlon for the past several years. His bakery was warm and cozy inside, but much different from Henri’s. The bakery, called Tom’s, catered to those with special dietary needs. All products were vegan, some gluten-free and all were non-traditional. Tom was not quite retired from triathlon, and he could be seen running or biking through town in the winter, or swimming in the lake in the summer. He was vocal about the benefits of his diet. Tom’s had become somewhat of a cult favorite in our little town, which attracted many tourists because of its natural beauty, being nestled in the mountains of Vermont.

               “Zoot, alors!” Brigitte said under her breath when I pulled out my big wedding resource book. “Where is the butter?”

               I followed her eyes, which I now saw tracing the sample tasting menu from Tom’s. Tom’s listed desserts followed by a listing of ingredients, things such as coconut oil, olive oil, applesauce or “butter alternative.”

               “Oh, Tom’s,” I said. “I have to be able to work with people who can cater to vegans, too.”

               Brigitte smiled. “A little bit of butter never hurt anyone,” she said. “You Americans are so extreme in everything you do.” And then something small happened that turned into something that was not small at all. Brigitte lifted her right eyebrow. “Tom’s?” she asked. “Is he that man who runs all over the town, up and down the streets, wearing no clothes? Such foolishness!”

               And I suddenly knew I had a potential client.

               I don’t know about a lot of things, but I do know about love. If Brigitte truly didn’t care for vegans, she would have had the manners to say nothing. Her tone spoke of contempt, but I well knew that contempt is often a foil for love. The second clue was to reference the lack of clothes. Tom and I had gone to high school together. Although he ran shirtless on hot summer days, I hadn’t seen him unclad in months. Brigitte must have noticed him before.

               *            *            *

               “You look better,” Steve said when he saw me for our Friday check-in.

               “I’ve got something cooking, so to speak,” I said. “How about you?”

               Steve looked at me blankly. “Umm,” he said.

               I actually felt bad for him. Kind of served him right, though. He was always brimming over with self-confidence. Now Mr. Look-on-the-Bright-Side was struggling.

               “You only have a month,” I said. “Better get cracking. Know what I have going on? Brigitte and Tom. I just have to find a way to get them together!”

               “Are you feeling better?” Steve asked?

               “Don’t you dare try to get out of this, Steve!” I said. “I’ve got three more weeks till I start driving the cleanest car in town. Granted, I’ll only have one client, and a business that I never should have started. . .”

               Steve smiled. “It’s not over yet.”

               *            *            *

               My best ideas come to me in the shower. I wasn’t even drinking the wine. Truth be told, I’d dumped at least $60.00 worth down the drain. Literally. I didn’t want to screw up the chance to save my business from the ashes, so with my hair still covered in suds, I hopped out of the shower and made some phone calls.

               And just like that, I had a wedding expo booked, with Tom and Brigitte’s stands next to one another. Perfect, I thought. Brigitte’s was bedecked in Christmas ribbons and two college girls had already sidled up to it.

               “That is to die for,” said the dark-haired one, pointing to a torte covered in chocolate ganache with gold flakes on the top. “Ooooo! I’ll get a table,” said her friend, the blonde, pulling two chairs around a tiny table. Brigitte was smiling, her red lips glossy as she prepared to pull out the torte.

               “To die for is right,” a voice said. “Cholesterol is going to skyrocket after eating that, so better enjoy it.” I turned around. It was Tom Tremble. What was he doing? Was he crazy? As I looked at the friendly smile on his face, it became apparent to me that he was oblivious to the fact that he was offending Brigitte.

               I saw the blonde wrinkle her brow.

               “Those civilizations with longevity are all plant-based. And you’d really be amazed at how great a plant-based diet can taste,” Tom said, still dumb to what he was doing. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Brigitte’s smile turn into a perfect jaw-drop. “Here, try this.” He cut two tiny cubes from a flat, square pan, that was covered in some sort of icing. The tiny card next to it read, “raw, vegan carrot cake.”

               “Yummy,” said that the dark-haired girl. “We’ll split a slice.”

               “You can each have one. It’s high in calories but they are all nutrient-dense, so it’s worth it.” Tom was in his element now. “I’ve got a book that will give you all the great details about transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle.”

               I could see Brigitte now, literally stomping up and down behind the glass counter of her area. She was beating eggs for meringue by hand, and I could see that she was doing it with greater than average zest.

               An older woman and her daughter stood between the two stands, deciding which to visit.

               “They both look delicious,” the older woman said.

               “No they don’t,” said the little girl loudly. “Those are ugly.” She pointed to the raw vegan carrot cake.

               The older lady smiled. “They look wholesome,” she said, and I thought I saw her squeeze the little girl’s hand.

               “Ouch! Stop pinching me! It looks like a hairball that Peanut threw up last week, except for the icing.”

               The older woman smiled more broadly and I distinctly saw her grab the little girl’s hand and yank her in the direction of Brigitte’s. “Then, why don’t you pick out something here?”

               “Oooh! Beautiful! I want that one,” she pointed to a peppermint cupcake, adorned with crushed pink candies. “No, never mind, that one!” she selected a three-layer buttercream layer cake with pistachio, strawberry and chocolate cakes comprising it.

               Brigitte looked triumphant.

               I, on the other hand, was beginning to stress out again. Not only were Brigitte and Tom not hitting it off, it was becoming apparent to me that it was a great mistake to have put them side by side. I was creating a rivalry that would prevent these two from working together if ever a wedding required it—and trust me, they do. It is rare that both parties in a relationship want the same thing for the wedding.

               And then, a miracle happened. Brigitte stepped out from around her glass counter and pulled out a little change purse. She walked up to Tom’s. “I would like to try,” she said, “that one.” She pointed to a vanilla bean “cheez”cake with an almond crust. Tom was surprised. He pulled out a paper plate, and then hesitated. From behind the counter, I saw him pull out a tiny, pressed glass plate, which looked intended for display. He carefully cut a piece of cake, and then located a small brown napkin and a thick recycled fork and placed it on the counter.

               “Would you like to try one of mine?” Brigitte asked.

               “No. I don’t eat animal fats,” Tom said and backed away.

               Brigitte cut a slice of chocolate ganache torte and put it on a pink and white flowered plate and handed it to Tom. “In case you change your mind,” she said.

               As I watched, Brigitte sampled the vegan cake. She chewed slowly. “It is certainly. . . different!” she said.

               Tom looked suspiciously at the torte. He stared at it. He suddenly grabbed the fork and took a large bite. “This is . . . amazing.”

               Brigitte threw back her head and laughed. “I thought you were vegan!” she teased. “We all have to live a little,” she laughed.

               *            *            *

               I knew things would be OK then.

               When Steve stopped by on Friday, I told him about the expo. It won’t happen before the end of the month, I laughed. But you gave me something—hope. Thanks for bringing me up when I was feeling pretty down.”

               Steve stared blankly.

               “What?” I said.

               “I want to win the bet,” he said.

               “Super,” I said. “Who did you hook?”

               “I want to hook you,” Steve pulled out a tiny box. In it was the paper ring from around a cigar. “I don’t know if we’ll book a wedding for 2021, but I’d like to take you out at least.”

               I flashed back briefly. The million times that Steve had saved me—he studied with me on every business practices test. He picked up my car for me at the shop. He was the one who encouraged me to leave my consulting job to pursue my dream. Why hadn’t I seen it?

               On the way home, I thought about the past few weeks. My portfolio was brimming with wedding resources now. I had potential clients. The pandemic was still going on, but I didn’t feel that heaviness that plagued me for the past year. I passed the liquor store and resisted the urge to go in. I had a different urge. I turned around and ran, boots crunching through the snow. “Steve, Steve!” I yelled when I arrived back at the Expo.

               He was standing in front of the bakeries, where Steve and Brigitte were both packing up.

               “Come home with me, we can have a cup of coffee and I bite,” I grabbed his arm.

               “What shall we have?”

               I surveyed both stores. “How about an assortment?” I said. “I’m in the mood for something sweet.”

December 06, 2020 16:39

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Natalia Anglada
14:46 Dec 13, 2020

First of all, I want to say congratulations! Your story was excellent and so sweet. What a great twist to such a simple prompt. Though I think the ending was a bit rushed, I understand that the word restriction doesn't help. Overall, I really liked your story. Congratulations, Amy!


Amy DeMatt
15:24 Dec 13, 2020

Thank you, Natalia!


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