Strawberries and Champagne by Michelle Chalkey

The bell on the front door jingled as another disappointed bride exited Enchanted Cakes Bakery. Cora took the blame again. She saw the looks from her assistant, Liz, during the consultation, prodding Cora to pretend she cared.

“I don’t know why you insist that I talk to the customers anyway,” Cora said. “You do fine selling the cakes on your own. Just leave me to the kitchen where I can’t screw things up.”

No one wants to see me anyway, she thought.

“You know it’s better if you hear first-hand the bride’s vision for her cake,” Liz replied. “You get the idea better from her than mediated through me. I don’t get it. How can you be so creative, and yet show no enthusiasm for your craft toward the customers? You’re the most talented cake decorator in Orlando. People love your work, but once they meet you in person they’re turned off. And it’s not because of that stupid thing on your face.”

The truth stung, but the two-inch long scar stretching vertically from Cora’s left cheekbone down to her jawline generated her anxiety around people.

“Look, I know you have trouble with it,” Liz continued, “but you need to connect to these brides on some level if you want to keep this business going.”

Cora swallowed and looked away from Liz to the clock on the lemon-yellow wall. “We have another bride coming in at noon. I promise I’ll try harder this time.”

Liz nodded. “Good. You can’t let that thing ruin everything you’ve built here.”

Cora’s hand rose to her cheek. The scar changed Cora’s personality four years ago; its inflicting moments constantly played a cherry-bright film roll in her mind.

He had surprised her with roses that morning, on their anniversary. They had gone out for dinner and celebrated with a few too many glasses of champagne.

Cora remembered the sizzling of the bubbles now as she injected champagne filling into a white cupcake for her next appointment. Several brides requested the strawberry-champagne flavor, and every time Cora remembered the fizzy taste left in her mouth on the car ride home.

She had been giddy with love for him when he opened the car door and took her hand. When he saw that she had already taken off her high heels, he piggy-backed her up the path to the front door. Cora had kissed the back of his neck, giggling right up to the moment when he tripped on the porch step. Their tipsy bodies spilled onto the concrete. Cora’s cheekbone met the sharp edge of the top step, abruptly silencing the giggles he loved about her.

“Miss Reid is here, Cora!” Liz shouted from the front of the bakery.

Cora cut even slices of a strawberry. She placed one at an angle on the top of her cupcake, carefully imperfecting the swirls of the champagne frosting.

Her throat swelled anticipating the interaction with Ally Reid, her next bride who she remembered sounded bubbly and cheerful on the phone. Maybe Ally’s voice would come down when she saw Cora, as others tended to do.

The doctors had told Cora she was lucky her injuries hadn’t been worse, but nothing they said took away the shame of the ugly mark left on her face.

Everything changed after that night. The permanent disfigurement constantly reminded him of how he hurt her, and he couldn’t take the guilt anymore. She hadn’t heard from him or his family in four years. Whether he still lived in the city or started a life somewhere new, she didn’t know. Meanwhile, Cora lived and breathed for her cakes, admiring her ability to repair the slightest imperfection with a touch of frosting. A smudge on a cake never remained permanently.

Cora plated four cupcakes in the flavors that Ally Reid had requested. As always, the strawberry-champagne cupcake appeared more mouth-watering than the chocolate-fudge, lemon-blueberry, or almond.

Cora flipped through her calendar to double-check her availability for Ally’s date. To her surprise, June, the busiest wedding month, was wide open. A surge of panic shot through Cora’s chest. She remembered the online reviews Liz had shown her.

Enchanted Cakes made an impressive cake, but the decorator doesn’t go out of her way to make the process special for you.

My wedding cake was amazing and my guests were raving about it for weeks after, but it was hard for me to enjoy it since it felt like the girl didn’t even like doing it.

If you’re looking for a memorable experience, don’t go to Enchanted Cakes.

Cora hated that she came off as disinterested in her work. The negative reviews were already unraveling her business.

In her office, she applied more cover-up to her scar.

Be excited, she said to herself. Cake is fun. Brides are fun.

Even though you’ll never be one.

#

“Miss Reid, this is Cora Rivers,” Liz said, “the artist behind our cakes.”

Ally Reid extended her hand. “I’ve been dying to meet with you.” She stood tall and confident over Cora’s five-foot frame, and her friendliness never cracked at the sight of Cora. She leaned in and said, “I’ve always thought the cake is the best part of a wedding.”

Cora relaxed slightly as she returned the hand shake. “Here are the flavors you requested,” she said, her voice quiet. Cora recaptured each one in detail, monotonously describing the champagne filling and the fresh strawberries. Ally’s light blue eyes gleamed.

When Cora finished reciting, Liz said, “Cora created these recipes herself.” Then she cleared her throat, cuing Cora to continue conversation.

“So, tell me, um, Ally, what ideas do you have in mind for your cake?” Cora caught herself looking at the table as she spoke, and forced her eyes to meet Ally’s.

When Ally described her simple, romantic theme, Cora flipped her portfolio open to a photo of a cake with detailed embroidering adorned with light pink flowers.

“It makes for a beautiful display when you have light colors against a simple white cake. I personally think the simple cakes are the most elegant.” Cora looked up to see the bride beaming at her.

With only a couple long silences, Cora was pleased with her performance. She looked at Liz, who smiled and nodded back at her.

Slowly and lustfully, Ally devoured each cupcake. Cora went through pricing, and after pondering for a few moments, Ally brought her hands together, the diamond on her left hand catching Cora’s eye.

“Alright, I’m in!”

The lump in Cora’s throat dropped with relief.

With the client won, Liz took over. “That’s wonderful. I’ll let our decorator get back to work and we can go through the paperwork—“

“That’s alright, Liz,” Cora interrupted. “I’ll go through this with Miss Reid.”

Liz’s eyes widened.

Cora shrugged, thinking of those negative reviews. Loud enough for Ally to hear, she said, “It will help me to understand what Miss Reid expects if I get to know the little details first-hand.”

Liz excused herself and returned to the back of the bakery.

“Okay, I have your wedding date as June nineteenth, correct?” Cora asked.

“Yes,” Ally replied.

“Where will your reception be held?”

“The Embassy Suites.”

Fancy, Cora thought.

“Your reception is at what time?”

“Five p.m.”

“Okay, your groom’s name?”

“Noah Eldridge.”

Cora dropped her pen, and shot her eyes up to Ally’s.

“Say that again, please?”

“Noah Eldridge. E-L-D-R-I-D-G-E.”

Cora’s eyes darted back to Ally’s diamond. Cora knew she had seen it before. His grandmother had once shown it to Cora, even said the words, I hope this will be yours one day.

Cora stood abruptly and receded to the kitchen.

“Um, excuse me?” Ally called after her.

Liz watched Cora storm to her decorating station.

“Cora, what is it?” Liz asked.

Cora leaned over the counter next to a half-decorated cake and let the tears well in her eyes.

“She’s marrying my Noah,” she said.

“Oh, shit,” Liz said.

Noah had carried on right in the same spot, while she wasted four years feeling sorry for herself.

The cake in front of her looked more professional than she remembered. The lace and stenciling technique she’d taken on appeared elegant and perfect, and Cora realized she had gotten this far with her dream career because she hadn’t been distracted by the possibilities of love.

As horrible and saddening as taking on Ally’s cake could be, Cora couldn’t afford another bad review.

Ally Reid had the man Cora coveted, but she wouldn’t let her take away the only other love of her life.

“Go talk to her, Liz. I just need a minute. Keep her here.”

Not only would Cora make them an exquisite cake, but she was determined to get a raving review from her ex-boyfriend’s bride. Then, just maybe, she could move on.

This would be her biggest challenge yet.

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3 thoughts on “Strawberries and Champagne by Michelle Chalkey

  1. Pingback: New Short Story Published: “Strawberries and Champagne” | Michelle Chalkey

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