Friendship Romance Funny

As soon as I spied that gradual motion of her contracting jaw, I knew Cherri was unimpressed. The flavors of the sample-size bourbon chocolate chunk cookie—the claim to fame of the newest local bakery—still moved about her mouth, but her slanted brow meant impending bombardment.

Cherri hummed and leaned over the display case, on her tiptoes for maximum emphasis. “Not bad, but I could probably make better. Too sweet. Not enough chocolate chunks.”

Deborah, the wrinkled and corpulent owner, shot earnest eyes straight back into Cherri’s. The women nodded in unison. Deborah jotted down the feedback on a tiny pad of paper while I stood agape beside the tactless critic. Not only had Cherri just insulted the bakery, but her claim was even more outlandish than the platinum-blonde streaks through her pumpkin-colored locks. 

I couldn’t hold in my own feedback which had nothing to do with pastries. “When have you ever baked anything?”

Cherri swiveled her body in my direction. All five-foot-nothing of her regarded me as if she towered over my head. That inner fire of hers could cow a crocodile or tame Cerberus in the same breath. It was both infuriating and utterly bewildering that I melted into her passion every time.

Sharp, sincere eyes that always projected honesty… 

A splatter of freckles on her nose and forehead… 

Full cheeks and lips… 

If superficial methods were the only criteria, no one would laud Cherri’s average appearance or stocky figure. But what went on inside her?

“Oh, Preston,” she said, “details are boring. It was my idea to help out Deborah here.”

Deborah lifted her pen and clicked it closed. “And she is a big help. Such a nice girl.”

“Is she?” I said, gesturing to Cherri. “She’s never even cooked!”

My statement was backed by a childhood of watching personal chefs serve Cherri food in her father’s mansion. As a kid whose clothes were always ragged, I had grown up in awe of both her surroundings and the casual kindness following her family. The general perspective of wealthy people often brings lofty expectations and greed to mind. For me, even as a dusty little boy with a chameleon hanging out of his torn pocket and bruises all over his appendages, I was tucked into Cherri’s family like an extra cousin.

Often, her bedroom had been a safe haven from my father’s drunken fists. The maids had been aware when I slept under Cherri’s massive, hand-carved bed and had kept it our little secret.

Cherri placed a hand on her hip, turning away from me. “Flour, sugar…uh, eggs probably? Maybe milk? Can’t be hard.”

A snort of harsh laughter came from Deborah. “If you want to try, you could enter the annual cookie contest. Details are there.”

Cherri’s eyes followed Deborah’s gesture to the bulletin board beside the front door. My body’s natural inclination was to cringe, but I ended up in front of a flyer with a cartoon cookie taking up most of the page. I didn’t have to read past the main headline of “Giganta-Cookie Challenge—win the Sucrose Award” to know Cherri was already scheming.

She grabbed my arm. “We gotta do this! I already know…and we could—” Her fingers dipped into her back pocket, then busied themselves on her phone screen.

“Hold on. Do you have to do this for your first shot at baking?”

Cherri was already waving goodbye to Deborah and halfway out the bakery door before my second sentence made it out of my mouth. Though two of her steps equaled one of mine, the velocity of those short legs when backed by motivation was another mystery for which I had no theories.

She had lifted her phone to her ear, drowning my next protest in a chipper tone. “Hey, Russ. Think I could borrow some of your family’s construction equipment?”

“Construction…what? For cookies?” 

My comment was lost to her. Ahead, her driver, Barney, was already opening the limo door for us. The man had perpetual crinkles of joy by his aged eyes, especially when sighting the young lady of the house. I also knew Barney had watched Cherri grow up; he had often caught us sneaking into the six-car garage to consume a pilfered tub of ice cream. Instead of ratting us out, Cherri convinced him every time to share it with us and discard the evidence.

A high five had always solidified their deal. We were never found out, though my malnourished body had started to fill out.

And now, we apparently needed construction equipment for the production of a giant cookie. Was anything ever normal in Cherri’s world? Most people did not—could not—act on every inane notion passing behind their eyes. Dang rich people…

I sighed and listened to her side of the phone conversation while we slid into the back seat.

“Yeah, and tell Miles I’ll need enough cookie ingredients to sugar up an entire orphanage. Know anywhere I can get a giant magnifying glass?”

A giant magnifying glass. Who doesn’t keep one of those in their condo-sized shed? All I could do was smile. Wistful? Resigned? Could I even tell the difference anymore? What plan was brewing behind those thick brows? I would know soon enough.

Cherri leaned into me and laughed as she clicked off her device. “I know where. Help me draw up some plans! This is gonna be great.”

“Let me guess,” I said, “you wanna drain the circular park fountain and use that for a base?”

“Oh, good one. I hadn’t thought of that.” One of her hands found her chin. “But no, even bigger. I just need to borrow—”

The hesitance in her voice had me curious. Did I dare ask what indelible force had managed to pause her master plan where logic always failed? I didn’t need to. 

Her eyes snapped up. “Rodney! Bet he would help.”

I felt the crease form between my eyes when I pictured Rodney, the soda tycoon. If Cherri’s family’s owned half the city’s buildings, Rodney’s could probably purchase the rest. I had met the man at a fancy to-do where Cherri insisted I be her platonic plus one. Rodney had strolled his impeccable suit to our side, mentally discredited me as a servant, and dropped blatant hints for Cherri’s exclusive company. Though the man had been as austere as a prison warden giving an execution order, he had offered to copter them both to his private yacht the following night. 

While Cherri waved Rodney off as less interesting than a dropped dollar, I boiled under the surface from his audacity. He had defined the inexplicable woman solely by her father’s status.

How could Rodney know about the soup kitchens to which Cherri dragged me to serve with her? The struggling diner with the delectable family recipe pancakes where she left a five grand tip on a twenty-dollar check? The time she emptied the elderly couple’s donut shop to donate the goods to the local schools? The fact that every waking moment, she was plotting some grand adventure for the two of us to try?

Rodney couldn’t possibly appreciate Cherri’s inner light. If I had my way, he would never have the chance to stifle it.

“Mr. Haughty?” I said through my reverie. Even Barney caught the argument in my words along with my eye in the rear-view mirror. He kept his own similar comments to himself.

Cherri guffawed, slapping her leg. “Oh, good! You remember him. Guess he finally has something I want.”

“What could he possibly—”

“You’ll see! Home please, Barney.”

“Of course, Miss.”


Cherri turned the handle of the stairwell door. I gaped into the bright sunshine while the wind sought to tie my almost-long-enough buckwheat strands into knots. “A helipad?”

“Daddy just had it done. See?” Cherri skipped over to the edge of the circle enclosing a giant “H” in the center. “Never been used. We can scrub it down and spray it off any bird poos before we start.”

A cookie the size of a landing pad. Construction equipment. Twenty thousand dollars of labor. Why not?

The only solid ground through any of this plan was beaming back at me from ten paces away. I tiptoed forward, praying the wind didn’t hurtle me over the side to plummet twelve stories down.

“I dunno. This is…”

Cherri came and snatched my hand to pull me forward. The extra stability in that warm palm ceased my negativity. Once at the edge of the painted markers, Cherri plopped down to the cement, laying out a notepad.

I crouched down with her where the wind was less severe. She started muttering and sketching.

“The building next door…” she said. Her pen made a square. “We can borrow their construction cranes.”

More scribbling followed unintelligible murmurs. She snatched my finger and placed it on one corner of the page where the wind attempted to slow her progress.

“Cherri, are you sure—”

Her wide eyes shot to mine. “You ask me that every time. Silly Preston!”

Though she sang her sarcasm, I couldn’t be offended. I never could. Somehow, her schemes played out beautifully, no matter how preposterous they sounded upon inception. 

Forget hearing the “anything is possible” advice. Cherri used her time, wealth, and position to walk me through that mantra before I had time to doubt. As she wildly scribbled her plans, I noticed she had her finger right beside where she insisted I keep mine. 

She didn’t need me. She never had. And yet, she chose me to be her perpetual partner in crime.

I treasured every moment of it. Experiencing the world beside Cherri had filled the fifteen years I had known her with more joy than most experience their whole lives. I couldn’t picture happiness before I first heard her squeaky voice asking me if she could hold my lizard.

“It’s not a lizard! Salamander,” six-year-old me had said. She had pouted her cherubic lips, shoved me down, and wrenched the creature from my pocket. Then, she sat her yellow ruffles in the dirt beside me and told me I was her new best friend. Returning my pint-sized playmate had solidified our deal; it had changed my life.

Cherri nudged me out of the soothing memory and back into the current stream of sunshine. “Well?”

I squinted down at her doodles. I didn’t have to look to know she had already meticulously placed everything.

“When do we start?”

She jumped on me, squeezing me into a death-grip of a hug.


Cranes beeped. A giant vat churned. Men in hard hats passed boxes of ingredients up an assembly line.

Cherri stood by the helipad, waving signals to the workers like the conductor of a fine symphony. Off to the side, her two older cousins animatedly spoke into their phones.

I was right next to her, standing in the middle of what was about to be pure, delicious chaos. The scent of a ton of pitted cherries—my favorite—and diced ginger—her favorite—reached our noses from their respective chained and ready crates.

If the sight wasn’t already a chapter out of a fantasy story, my eyes followed a gargantuan glass as it elevated toward the sun.

Cherri looped her arm through mine, jumping once. “Ready?”

When was I ever ready? Another dream was unfolding right before me, and beside me stood the mastermind herself. “Let’s do it.”

“I have another surprise. I just hope Rodney…” She didn’t complete her thought before her hand came down. 

The vat of dough was elevated high above the center of the landing pad. A flick of the crane controls had it tilting the sugary contents. A small plop hit one shaft of the “H”, then another. A final clap like thunder signaled the bulk of the dough splatting itself almost flat.

Workers moved in to mold the piece into the proper thickness and chase stray crumbles.

Cherri signaled again. Ginger bits and chopped fruit rained from the sky to garnish the massive bed. A news chopper had flown in to capture the magical event.

My hearty laughter was lost in the commotion. 

Cherri raked her eyes over the sky with a furrowed brow. “Where is it? He said—”

What I assumed was a buzz from her phone stole her attention. She stuck a finger in one ear and raised the device to the other. I heard her yell above the noise.

“Where is it…yes…I said I would! Wait, you just said coffee before!” A lengthy pause had her pacing a circle. “Fine, fine. It better be here or it’s a no!”

She shoved the phone back into her pocket.

I said, “Everything okay?”

“Yeah. Just had to wrap up the last part.”

Though I scanned the area, I couldn’t fathom what was missing. Even now, the workers had cleared, and the enormous glass was moving with the sun’s trajectory to sizzle the dough like a magnifying glass frying ants. The scent of baking sugar rode the wind and permeated the area.

I took Cherri’s hand and squeezed. The contact brought the smile back to her face. Another whirring sound came closer. Cherri squealed.


I followed her line of sight to a second chopper. This one had a metallic object dangling from a chain, glinting and reflecting the sun in blinding motion.

“What’s that?”

“Proof that Rodney isn’t quite the definition of insular.”

Cherri stepped to the cookie’s edge, plucking a stray cherry from the ground. She threw it up in the air and caught it in her mouth despite the wind. The chopper neared, the metal object swaying. Cherri directed it with a flag.

My mouth dropped open when everything registered. A giant cookie cutter in the shape of…

Cherri turned her widest grin to me. “See? A lizard!”

But it wasn’t a lizard. The body was too slender and the paws were detailed enough to be rounded. No claws.

A salamander.

Cherri and I had never spoken about the time we met at the creek beside that park playground. At times, I wondered if she remembered it as vividly as I did—as if the impact had been every bit as life-altering. Now, my chest was so tight, I thought the pressure alone may burst free from my eyes.

The mold embedded itself into the cookie. Cherri’s cousins signaled the workers to finish up. The excess crumbles were peeled away and placed into buckets. Everyone stepped back as the news cameras circled.

Cherri landed at my side, shoving her phone screen into my face. Her own bird’s-eye view camera displayed a live feed of our speckled creation. “Look what we made! Who can beat this?”

I stared down into those sparkling orbs of wonder, so full of life and exuberance. “No one.”

She snatched my hand again, pulling me toward the rail. I loosed a string of protests at the nearing edge of the building, but she soon had me peering over the side. Thousands of people were gathered below.

She said, “I put up flyers.”

A worker plunked a bucket brimming with cookie pieces beside us. The sound almost had me passing out in conjunction with thoughts of the faraway ground.

With no prompting, Cherri pulled on some plastic gloves, handed me a pair, and began chucking the cookies over the side. The people below went wild with cheers.

Before I could get my gloves properly in place, Cherri was going back for another handful. “Pres, come on! Just like manna from heaven.”

I reluctantly flung a few pieces over the edge, yanking my hand back as if a monster could pull me over the side. Soon, her joy infected me and I was pelting the sugary chunks with confidence.

So, this was Cherri’s complete surprise. People of all walks and status had gathered below to partake in a miracle. They were all equals in her eyes. But unlike them, I had been the chosen lucky one to share the stage with her most of my life. I wanted to be on her stage forever if she allowed.

Cherri laughed as she dumped the remainder of our first bucket over. “Guess I’ll have to thank Rodney at dinner.”


“He upgraded our coffee meet to dinner in exchange for the chopper and rush job cookie cutter. Still worth it.”

The magic of the moment was sucked clean out of me. Cherri was going on a date with Rodney? Even if she didn’t take it seriously, his narrow mind didn’t belong anywhere near her spotlight. In truth, neither did mine. My eyes fell to the next bucket of cookie crumbs, but the contents may as well have been coal.

“Hey, Pres. Hey!”

The insistence of Cherri’s voice lifted my gaze. I hated that my mood had robbed her of a piece of her moment.

She said, “If you’ve learned anything from me, it’s that I go for almost everything I want.”

I stood in awe of that unattainable level of assurance. Questioning everything had been my system. Even now…

But she had said “almost”. As far as I knew, she never held back. Even when we were kids, she had demanded my friendship as if I couldn’t refuse. Could she secretly be as uneasy about our future as I was?

When I didn’t respond, she broke off a piece of cookie and shoved it in my mouth. The tang of ginger and sour cherry danced on my tongue, melding together in perfect unison. I wanted her to taste it. I had always wanted her to experience her miracles from my perspective. This time, I allowed my own doubt to drown in Cherri’s light.

I pulled her close to solidify our new deal; I brought our chosen flavors down onto her lips.

December 10, 2020 16:33

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RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

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