Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: TRAVELER (01/28/16)
TITLE: The Strange Deal
By Sara Harricharan
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ADD TO MY FAVORITES
It’s been a bad week, a bad month—terrible year, at least. Something’s got to give. I can’t give out first.
That would ruin everything for everyone else, wouldn’t it?
I’m so tired of this.
Surely there’s a better way? Can’t I have something good in my life for once?
But chocolate. A single square of creamy goodness—dark as my heart and just as good for it. Minimum 65% cacao.
I’m going after all. It’s a five hour drive and I’ve been up for ten—but there’s still hours left in the day.
Plenty of time.
The five hour trip takes forever. Until I’m parked in the driveway and standing on the front stoop—ringing the doorbell.
The chimes echo inside. I ring the bell again, waiting.
When the front door opens, Aunt Tillie squints up at me, hunched over in her old bathrobe. There’s a weariness in her eyes that gives nothing away when I glare at her.
“Come in, come in,” she says.
I step inside, dignity drawn up, words hammering in my mouth—and then she pats my arm.
“I started one, it’s halfway done. Come.”
Speechless, I follow her, half-shuffling to the kitchen and the worn table and chairs. Hunched into the chair at the corner of the table, I watch her putter around the kitchen.
True to her word, she’s halfway in the recipe for the famous chocolate cake her family is known for. The recipe that is so precious, she won’t even tell her own granddaughter.
The granddaughter who flaunted it in my face and accidentally introduced us, resulting in the odd agreement that I will forever claim.
No matter what—as long as I show up—she owes me one cake.
Four layers of mouth-watering, dense, moist goodness—rich and chocolatey. Smothered in fluffy, sweet icing and drizzled with even more chocolate and a sprinkling of coconut flakes and butterscotch bits.
My mouth waters, but there’s at least two hours to go before this cake is ready for baking.
“How’s your job?” Aunt Tillie rasps. “Promoted yet?”
The story comes tumbling out. Slights, perceived or otherwise. Veiled insults. Hurt feelings. Confusion. So much hurt.
I don’t get it.
It’s easier to talk to her than my own family. Why don’t they understand?
A cup of ginger honey tea is set by my elbow, halfway through my narrative. I doubt she understands the technical points. My entire existence revolves around my ability to dream up reliable solutions from technical things and yet, it means something to her.
The cake is in the oven and Aunt Tillie joins me, her own cup of tea in hand. “You have long drive back home,” she scolds. “Bad time for trip.”
My glare returns. “Our deal said anytime.”
Aunt Tillie sighs. She draws out the battered envelope with the handwritten recipe within. Slides it across the table. “Take it, child. I dinna ask nothing of you for it.”
My traitor hands won’t move. I want it, but I also want—the comfort. Friendship. Warmth.
I want to simply be without being judged. Taking the recipe would end this.
Her wrinkled, leathery hands clasp over mine. “I dinna say you couldna visit. I’d worry if I dinna see you.”
I still can’t take it. Can't trust her. Not yet.
The cake comes out of the oven, piping hot. We drool over it together, waiting until it can be frosted.
I stare in amazement at her artistic talent. Such a pretty thing to eat. She pats my shoulder when she sets my slice down.
The first bite is bliss. The second is utter joy. The third is bittersweet.
And then I’m crying, because the sadness has nowhere else to go and I can’t bear it anymore.
“Ach—child-“ she murmurs.
Crying into her thin, shaky arms, I can’t dredge up the energy to be embarrassed. My own cries sound muffled.
Her voice washes over me.
“…Sweet Jesus, cover her with your love and give her your peace. Show her where to walk by your light…”
I cry until I can’t.
She gives me another slice of cake and packs three-quarters of it in a travel-safe bowl.
When she hugs me as I hover in the front doorway, I almost feel human.
So I hug her back.
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