A Short Story - The Bake-off

April 22, 2021

Eliana's passion is baking. All kinds of baking, of all kinds of things. She loves baking so much she has 3 ovens in her kitchen. She is known throughout her neighborhood for her baked goods. All kinds of baked goods from simple cupcakes to exquisite French pastries to her own intoxicating, quite literally, rum cake.

"These, hmm, whatever they are, are very good. What are these?" asked Miriam, one of Eliana's neighbors. Miriam finished the first one and took a second.

"These are a pecan/rum bar, they are made from an old recipe," said Eliana while slowly eating her first. The bars had a bit more than the typical amount of rum in them.

Miriam loved the bars, "What's in them? I love the flavor, it's almost like some kind of alcohol. Did you put some whiskey or something in the recipe?"

"Well, actually, there is rum in the recipe. And I tend to use a little more than the recipe calls for," said Miriam with a little giggle. "So, you might want to slow down on those and eat the pecan shortbread instead, there's no rum in those."

"Oh, that's no fun," and Miriam took her third pecan/rum bar.

"Okay, don't blame me if your husband complains about your drinking in the middle of the day," said Eliana with a laugh.

"I don't care what he says, these are delicious!" Miriam said. "Hey! You know what we should do?"

"Lots of things, but what do you have in mind?" asked Eliana.

"Let's get all the neighborhood together for a bake-off. Then you make these rum bars with even more rum in them and you'll win for sure!"

"Hehe, yeah, that's just what I need, a bake-off full of women getting drunk on my rum/pecan bars. I like the idea of the bake-off, though. We'll have to work that out."

Some loud noises from outside the house interrupted their conversation. They went to the window, Miriam a little less than steady, and peered out at the street.

"Hey, somebody's moving in across the street!" Miriam said, "Oh, I wonder which of them it is?"

There were two moving van men and another two men all working on unloading the truck into the house across the street.

"Well, I'm sure it's not either of those two, they're wearing company uniforms," said Eliana.

"Yeah, but those other two, wow, they're handsome, I want to meet them," said Miriam.

"You need to slow down, lady, and not forget that you have a husband who will be home from work in just a little while," scolded Eliana.

"Ah, don't worry about him, let's go across the street," and Miriam started walking to the door, then Eliana followed behind her.

"Okay, just don't be too aggressive, or too flirty, or too, well, you," said Eliana as they left the house and walked down the walkway. "Actually, Miriam sweetie, let's wait until they get moved into the house. I don't think we should interrupt them while they are getting moved in. I'm sure they don't want nosy neighbors poking around so soon."

"Don't be ridiculous, Eli, you're just afraid to meet them. You need to meet men! You need to find a man to be with!"

"Oh, I will, one day."

"You're too shy, that's the problem. Now, come on, we're going to meet those guys."

They walked across the street and tried to be as nonchalant as possible, which wasn't so easy for Miriam. She'd had just enough rum to loosen up her mouth and her attitude.

"Hi!" Miriam shouted at the men. They all stopped and turned to see who was coming up to them.

"Oh, hi, how are you?" asked one of the men. It was Carl. He was the one moving into the house.

"I'm Miriam, and this is my friend, Eliana."

"Nice to meet you guys, I'm Carl, and this is my friend, Peter." Peter joined them, and they all exchanged handshakes and greetings.

"So, you both are moving in?" asked Miriam.

"No, just this bloke," said Peter, giving Carl a little punch to his shoulder. "I'm married, he's single. Now he's going to have this big house to himself. Why? I don't know what he's going to do with all that space. Do you?" he asked Carl, who just smiled and continued to look at Eliana.

"Oh, um, I'm Eliana," said Eliana blushed with a sudden realization that she was also looking a bit too intently at Carl.

"Yeah, we already got that," Carl said, and he winked at Eliana. "So, where do you guys live?"

Miriam said, "I live right there, in the blue house, and Miriam lives across from you, alone, in that big house, with no boyfriend to share it with, right Eliana?"

"Shush, Miriam, what'd I tell you before we came over here?"

Carl laughed a little and asked, "What's up with you guys? What've you been doing?"

"Oh, I baked some stuff that has rum in it, and she's been eating too much of it."

"Baking some stuff with rum in it? Really?" asked Peter.

"Yeah, it's a rum/pecan bar thing she makes, and it's fantabulous," said Miriam. "Just a minute..." Miriam trotted across the street and into Eliana's house and returned with the platter of rum/pecan bar.

They all ate the soft, almost gooey, bar cakes, and soon there was none left. And the truck was empty of all the household goods and the two moving company men left.

"Well, we should let you guys get to work setting up your new home, you've got a lot of work to do in there," said Eliana.

"Yeah, I suppose so. Thanks for the rum bars. Those are the best I've ever had," said Carl, and Peter agreed while licking his fingers. The two men watched the women walk back to Eliana's house, then they returned to their own work.

In the house, Miriam immediately went to the window to see if she could catch another glimpse of the two men. She didn't; they had gone inside the house.

"Wow! Did you see them? Yes, you did! You were just about staring at Carl! You liked him, but you said almost nothing!"

"Oh, Miriam, he's moving in, he'll be around for quite some time, I think."

"Yes, he will, but you're too shy to do anything like actually get to know him and ask him out and start a relationship with him."

"Oh, really, Miriam, just because I like to move a bit more slowly than you."

"A bit more? You move at the speed of a, of a, what, a, oh I don't know, you know what I mean."

"Yeah, I do, and I don't mind at all. I see it as being cautious and careful."

"I see it as being a fuddy-duddy. Oh, I have to go, my man is just getting home," said Miriam, and she walked to the door.

"Okay, here, eat this, maybe it will help hide the rum taste in your mouth," said Eliana as she gave Miriam another piece of the pecan shortbread.

A week later Miriam asked Eliana, "Well, have you talked to Carl? Please tell me yes."

"Well, I waved to him a couple of times."

"What? Seriously? You waved to him? That's all? My god, what must he think of you?"

"You know I've been hurt too many times. I don't think I want to get started in another relationship that will just end with me being hurt again."

"You don't know if that will happen. And you don't know Carl, yet."

"Well, we'll see what happens. I'm not going anywhere, and I'm pretty sure he's not going anywhere, also."

"Hmm, you need a man in your life."

A week later, the women had made their plans for the neighborhood back-off.

"We should ask Brenda and Joanna to help pass these flyers around the neighborhood."

"Good idea, I'll be seeing Brenda tomorrow so I'll ask her. Can you call Joanna?"

"Yeah, then we'll be ready for the big day! This is going to be so much fun!"

The big day finally arrived, and most of the neighborhood was in the small park. There were half a dozen tables set up, and they were filling up with all kinds of baked goods, as well as a few other dishes for people to eat for lunch.

"Look at all this wonderful food!" exclaimed Miriam. She going from one to another tasting everything.

"It's turned out so well! I'm so happy about it," said Eliana as she looked around to see who was and wasn't in the park. In the back of her mind, she was hoping to see Carl, but at the same time, she felt a little trepidation in the thought of actually getting to know another man in a personal way. Her last relationship ended badly when she discovered her fiance was already married with two kids in another state. And not only that, but she also found out that when he had been in Mexico some years before, he married a woman in Puebla. Apparently, he never divorced her. And all of that came after another bad relationship a year before she got involved with that man.

"Who are you looking for? Carl?" asked Miriam. She personally invited him to the bake-off in the hope that he and Eliana would get together. And she knew exactly where he was.

"Oh, no, just looking around," said Eliana, but it pretty obvious she was indeed looking for Carl.

"Hmm, sweetie, why you go over to the table with the pies and taste the strawberry-rhubarb pie, it's amazing!" said Miriam, knowing that Carl was at that table also tasting the pies.

"Okay, thanks, I'll have to try it," said Eliana, and she went to try the pies.

As she approached the table she saw Carl, and at the same moment, he saw her.

"Well, hi. I was hoping to see you here," Carl said as he put his plate on the table.

"Oh, were you? Ok. Um, how's the pie?" asked Eliana, obviously somewhat uncomfortable.

Carl had reached out to give her a friendly handshake, but it ended up being a handhold, and Eliana let it drag on a little extra before she caught herself and suddenly remember her past bad experiences.

Carl wondered about her and wanted to get to know her better, so he got her a slice of the strawberry-rhubarb pie and they sat down and talked.

"Wow! This pie is amazing!" said Eliana. "Who made it? I have to congratulate her."

"Maybe it was him," suggested Carl. "It is okay for men to bake, isn't it?"

"Oh, of course, it is, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to..."

"Hehe, it's okay, no problem. But I'm sure the person who baked it knows it's amazing."

"I've tasted almost everything here, and I'm one of the judges for the contest, so I'm giving this a 10," said Eliana.

"Well, I'm sure the baker will be pleased by that," said Carl, not letting in that he baked the pie.

They continued to talk and Eliana was becoming comfortable with him and she opened up to him, but one thing she hadn't asked about was his work.

Soon the time came to announce the winners of the bake-off. Eliana was at the front and the people were all standing around eating all kinds of delicious pastries, pies, cakes, and breads.

Eliana said, "Now, for the winner of the pies competition, I still don't know who baked it, but the baker of the strawberry-rhubarb pie, you win! Please come up for your ribbon!"

Carl made his way through the crowd and walked up to Eliana.

"Carl? You baked that pie?"

"Yes, I did."

"Really?"

"Well, don't sound so surprised. Some men can bake, too."

She handed him the ribbon, and the people applauded, and Carl turned to face her and leaned in and gave Eliana a big hug. Eliana liked it so much she didn't want to let go. Then someone in the crowd whistled, and she suddenly turned red with embarrassment and let go of him.

Carl looked at her and said, "That was nice, I hope we can do it again." He held his ribbon up high as if it were a grand trophy and waved it around as the people applauded and laughed with him. Then he smiled at Eliana and walked to the back of the crowd.

At lunch a week later Miriam asked, "Have you seen Carl recently?"

"Hmm, yeah," teased Eliana, with a smile.

"What? That's all you're going to say? Tell me everything!"