The smell of a freshly baked cake always made me feel wonderful. I smiled in darkness at a cake box that Rajiv, my delivery boy had placed on the counter top in my kitchen. The power outage in India was of no surprise to the Indians. Everyone learned to find their way to the lamps in darkness. Due to the rains, I had assigned my nephew, 5 year old son, Julian to check on the emergency lamp and oil lamps that we had. He was quick to turn one on when the lights died out. Today was no exception. He walked in with lamp and placed it next to the box.
”Jenny, why are you smiling….did you have a mail today?” Maggie asked, as she appeared out of the darkness in the hallway. I tried to stop smiling. It was hopeless. She knew it. My cousin had a knack of picking on the right things. I ignored her by putting the finishing touches with a cake knife to the cake’s frosting. It would be prefect for the party tomorrow.
“Can I have a piece?” Julian asked he spied on the cake in front of me.
“Nope! It’s for the party. Go and check the fridge…” I said as I shooed him off.
“Well???” she asked persistently. My cousin’s knack of reading my thoughts was disturbing at such instances. ” Ok..spill! What does Prince Charming say now? ” she asked as she licked the frosting on the knife.
“Maggie!!!..We agreed….no more questions” I replied trying to keep a stern face.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Jenny, I know you have a soft spot for the secret Prince Charming!”
“We are not discussing anything. I have no time for soft spots. It is a silly notion for lazy people.”
“It’s nice to see that you believe it.” She replied sarcastically.
“I do.” I said, trying to stop the conversation.
“Does that classify me as lazy too…coz I believe in love! ”
“Maggie! You nut; I could never call you lazy! You are my life saver.”
“Jenny,… don’t let the past ruin the present.”
I worked in silence. I moved to the south to run away from the past.
“The accident at Christmas eve was not your fault. You know that…right?”
“Maggie, …. Pleaseeee….drop it”
“You have blamed yourself for 15 years now! You passed up every chance to be happy…I won’t drop it. You need to listen”
“It was my fault. I am to be blamed. Our life will never be the same. ”
“It was an accident. Why do you insist on using it as an excuse?”
I took a deep breath. ” If I had only been careful….the door would have been locked and everyone would have been safe….”
“Jenny, you were 15! What were you suppose to do? You did the only thing you could do…”
“If I had called Grandpa Sam, or your dad to protect us….”
” Look here…” she said as she turned my face and looked into my eyes. ” It was not your fault. Your dad’s fortune was irresistible for people. The attack that night was the fault of men who wanted another man’s riches. They attacked everyone who resisted and you were the only one who called for help. You were brave enough to hit the man who tried to hurt your grandpa and you ran for help”
“I did not do enough…”
“Nonsense! The cops told us that had it not been for your courage, they would have never been identified.”
“Maggie, I was so pre occupied with calling him…I lost my head…I vowed to never do that again.”
“Jenny, don’t be silly. You fought with a guy twice your size and saved your grandpa from being stabbed in the chest. Your fight was the biggest surprise those thieves got. You have no idea how you looked when I opened the door…You were attacked…and bleeding in the face…it never crossed my mind that Jenny the mouse would fight like a lion.”
“My parents….they were never the same after that…”
“I know…no one ever was” she said quietly.
We sat down in silence. Each of us was lost in our thoughts. I boxed the cake silently and put it in the fridge along with the other things I made. She was right, everyone changed. I was not the shy girl of fifteen. I faced life as it came. My parents faced life with fear. Grandpa’s health failed him. I missed the opportunity to meet Jac that Christmas and my courage failed me …we would never meet.
The scars of the battle showed on my left cheek as a reminder. It took years of practice to stop jumping at any shadows in the night. I hated what my fear did to me. It made me weary and conscious. There was an excuse every year to justify why I could not meet him. My parents were in most one of them until they passed away.
”Jenny, did you tell him of the attack?” Maggie asked as she looked determined.
“Maggie! Honestly, what has gotten into you? I don’t want to discuss this.” I responded angrily.
“You didn’t …do you!” the truth dawned on her.
“Not in many words….there was no need. ”
She looked at me and shook her head. I had seen that look and knew what it meant. She had decided to help me whether I liked it or not.
”No Maggie! I don’t need help…let it be. He will be happy as he is. There is no beast in his memories. Let it be….” I begged.
“Beauty is in the eye….”
“Shut up! “ I shouted angrily. She struck a nerve. My face was as ugly and the scar made me look beastly. Jac loved beautiful things. I did not belong there.
Maggie pouted and left without a word.
After Grandpa’s death, I began a small business of my own at 25. Maggie decided to become my partner after she failed to get a job that would give her time with her son. She was a cousin from Grandma Stella’s side and we got along like a house on fire since the attack. Her husband ditched her for a new wife and Maggie divorced him for a new life. Together, the bakery became our life and our home. When business began to pick up, we employed four of the neighborhood boys as our staff. There was no turning back after that. I decide to remain single and Maggie decided to mingle.
Joshua, a handsome charter accountant from town, recently purchased a house in our vicinity and was looking to settle down. His skills became handy to our small business when he took on to being our financial advisor. One bite of our Crustly Love Cake and he was hooked. The housewarming party at Joshua’s house was his idea to open us to opportunities in nearby cities and towns. It was our first major event since the opening five years back. It promised to be huge. He insisted that I cater to the clientele he would have from the city. He wanted to dazzle them with the lovely country side and ambience before hitting their stomach with the gastronomic delights from our eatery. He had convinced Maggie to stand by him as he marketed us for the events upcoming for Christmas. Maggie was blissfully unaware of the looks that Joshua gave her when she talked. She was excited at the prospect and I decided to let Joshua woo her. After all, I did have a soft spot for love.
I was weary of meeting people and hated the spotlight. Jac’s letter unsettled me but determination was what had me survive. I was not going to let a small thing like fear defeats me.
* * * *
“Am not sure…..” I said as I fingered the coat. The party was in 4 hours. I was nervous.
“Try it…please!…I want us to look gorgeous…I got Julian to stay with Mrs. Thampi for the night. It’s our night to show our magic Jenny…Pleaseeeeeee! ”
I smiled. I could never say No to Maggie, especially, when she said Please in such a cute manner.
“I ‘ll wait…please try it on right now!”
“Ok! Ms Pushy pants! ” I said as I laughed. She had me sitting at the hairdresser and had my hair done in bangs. The resultant look put a smile on my face as it covered my scar well. I wondered why I never thought of it before. The suit felt smooth and seemed to cover the weight I put on after my 30th birthday. I felt a sudden rising of excitement when I looked at the pretty reflection staring back.
“Oh my God, Jenny!!” Maggie shrieked.
I froze. I looked like a beast….
“You look beautiful!!!!” she said as a tear dropped to her check.
“Really?” I asked in a whisper. I was afraid to look back at my reflection.
“Julian…come up and have a look at Aunt Jenny. I need a 2nd opinion!!!!”
Julian came up and looked suitably awed. I had to smile. Maybe, tonight, I could be the beauty and not the beast.
The crowd at Joshua’s place was a mixture of young and old people. The ambience was lovely. The house was decorated for Christmas and the theme was red and gold. It looked amazing. Maggie had clearly outdone herself in assisting with the decorations. Joshua looked smart in the black suit he was wearing with a crisp white shirt and Maggie looked elegant in her golden satin sheath suit and matching plumps. She was led to meet interesting people and quickly established contacts with many upcoming event organizers. I kept my eyes and hands busy on the catering and managed the confusions at the kitchen. Rajiv and the gang needed my presence to coordinate smoothly.
The cake made for the party center piece had a small accident with Ganesh, the new boy employed for the party, swiping his arm on it by mistake. There was a collective gasp in the kitchen as everyone looked at me. The boy paled and looked ashamed. It was a lovely creation and took a whole day to perfect. I was not sure on how to correct it. There was no time to loose my marbles. I smiled and set to correct it immediately.
“Go on guys…serve the guests! This will be ready in no time! “I said as I began to run to my pastry kit for remedies. There was some magic in the evening. My hands began to create and the shape changed from a beastly gap to a beautiful pond with sugar rose and green wines covering the damage. The guests loved it. We secure a kitty full of orders for the whole month. Maggie was delighted.
The evening was long but my heart felt light. I walked in and out of the party checking in on the guests and managed to talk to a few people along with Maggie, on the food presentation and cake arrangements.
“Do you love working on pastries or appetizers?” The questioner was looking at Maggie but the question seemed to be directed at me. He was staring.
I looked at my lovely shoes. I was always in the habit of looking at my shoes whenever a question was directed at me. It helped to conceal the scar with thick hair cascading down my cheek.. I felt hidden and safe from prying eyes.
“Pastries…I guess.” I answered shyly. I felt a blush climbing up my checks.
“Interesting, I thought your specialty was Cakes, Jenny.“
It was the way he said my name…I felt sparks running up my spine. I looked up temporarily forgetting my scar