Mornings were usually calm and relaxing at the pastry shop. Today, however, was anything but.
It started with the drawer handle breaking and went sharply downhill from there. How Alicia had managed to finish the morning items on time was a miracle she hoped she wouldn’t need to perform again.
She sat down on a chair, fighting with the hair tie that had slipping down her head but now was tangled in her hair.
‘Maybe it was the humidity,’ Alicia thought, glaring at the sun. She knew that wasn’t it, though. It was a beautiful day – not a cloud in the sky and all the people walking outside in light shirts and smiles. It would probably do her some good to spend some time out in it as well, visit all of those places she’d been wanting to since she’d arrived.
The angry buzz of a new fax sliced through the air. Alicia sighed and dragged herself up from the chair to the machine. She knew what it would be: the baking schedule for the next week and the associated reporting forms.
It was all very easy. She simply had to do was follow what was on the schedule, then report how they did. Every day. Every week.
Here she was, doing what she loved, in a new place, just like what she had wished for. Alicia should be happy. But instead, she only felt the frustration of a puppet that can feel the strings, but is unable to find them or cut them off, much less know what to do if they were gone.
It wasn’t that Alicia was bored. The saying at culinary school was that in order to become a baker, one must be first be a professional at passing the time. She guessed that was what kept Yuki at the the pastry shop. Where her coworkers seemed to get agitated at the down time, Yuki always found something to do – cleaning, counting, checking on orders. It took creativity and determination to be able to do that day in and day out.
Today, Yuki was reading through the handbook and peppering Alicia with questions as she counted the items out on the shelves. “All bakers and patisseries are required to be certified by the Crystal Island culinary school,” Yuki read aloud. She looked up from her seat at the counter. “How long did it take you to get certified?”
Alicia paused at the croissant shelf. “About a year and a half. Most people take around 2 to 3 years if they don’t have any background in baking.” She shrugged. “I knew a lot already so I was able to take on more courses and finish faster than most people.”
“They don’t happen to offer scholarships, do they?” Yuki asked, a plaintive note mixed into her hopeful tone.
“No. But they just go over the basics anyway.” Alicia shrugged. “It’s stuff you could learn anywhere really. Even I could teach you.”
It was only when she saw Yuki’s wide eyes that Alicia realized what she had said. A thought wormed its way into her head. ‘It couldn’t hurt,’ she thought. Sure, there were rules, but they really only applied to headquarters, anyway. ‘Who was going to know all the way out here in Crescent Island?’
“Come early tomorrow,” Alicia said finally. She laughed as Yuki immediately started jumping up and down, feeling something spark inside her as well.
Just as Alicia had suspected, Yuki took quickly to baking – so much so, that there were mornings where Alicia barely had to do anything. It gave Alicia a lot more time to ponder other things, like the baking schedule. Or rather, things that weren’t on the baking schedule.
Lately, she had been thinking about treats she’d had when she was a kid. Perhaps it was because of all the children that passed by the store. Unlike on Crystal Island where the stores were located in the high-end part of the city, this storefront was at the edge of town made up mostly of large extended families.
Alicia had spotted many a child carrying baked treats wrapped in simple plastic, likely made by one of the many generations that lived in one home. A memory of her own grandmother came to her, the two of them together in a warm kitchen filled with the smell of freshly baked cookies.
Suddenly, Alicia wanted nothing more but to relive that memory, to share it anew.
“I don’t remember seeing this on the list,” Yuki said as Alicia slid the tray into the oven.
Alicia calmly set the timer. “It’s not.”
For once, the scratching of pencil against paper was the loudest sound in the store. Lulls like this were still common but less than they had been. Alicia smiled as she counted the items, proud to see that many of her newer creations had sold well today. And there were still plenty of ideas she wanted to try. Just today, for example, Shinya had dropped off a carton of fruit from Shinji’s grocery that she was certain would be perfect for the new scone recipe she had been working on for the past week.
The door opened with a chime and she automatically turned towards the door. “Welcome to -”
The greeting died on her lips as she caught sight of the CEO pin on the woman’s lapel. Alicia swallowed as her gaze met eyes that matched her own. Dread began to pull at her throat.
Alicia tried to keep her voice steady as she called out without turning. “Yuki, you can go home for the day. Please lock up behind you.”
After a moment, she heard Yuki’s murmured acknowledgement. As Alicia listened to Yuki’s steps fade into the back room, Alicia wondered if she should have made Yuki go to the Crystal Island culinary school after all. ‘She’d have a better chance at finding new work,’ Alicia thought sadly. She had no doubts why this woman was here and what would happen to the store.
She watched the other woman walk around the store, pausing here and there, though Alicia noticed it was typically where there was a new item, one not on the baking schedule. “May I try this last one?”
Alicia blinked. “Of course, mother.”
They sat across from each other at one of the tables and Alicia hid her wringing hands underneath the table cloth. She watched silently as the pastry slowly disappeared from the plate, her dread deepening with each bite her mother took.
Finally, it was gone and her mother lifted a napkin to her lips. Alicia tried not to wince as she awaited her judgement.
Alicia barely caught herself from falling out of her chair. A small smile appeared on her mother’s lips as she glanced around the shop. “You’ve some good ideas here. Though I can see why you didn’t tell us about them.”
Alicia winced. “I know, they’re not exactly in line with the bakery’s image.”
“True. But you wouldn’t have to worry about that if you had your own store, would you?”
Alicia stared at the bank envelope that had been placed on the table. “Consider it an early birthday present,” her mother said as she rose to leave. “Oh, and do send me that recipe, would you? I’d like to make it for your father.”
The door chimed as Miyo pushed open the door to reveal a space only slightly bigger than the tea shop. The walls were lined with shelves filled with pastries, leading to a counter just in front of a pair of double doors. It was through those doors that Alicia hurriedly appeared. “I’m sorry, we’re not open yet -”
Miyo held up a tin. “I wanted to drop this off before the rush came.”
Alicia chuckled as she came around the corner. “Rush? I doubt it.” She accepted the tin nonetheless. “So, what do you think?” she asked with a shy glance around the shop.
Miyo let her eyes sweep around the room, taking in its warm tones and inviting scents before returning to Alicia in the middle of it all. “I think it’s very you.”
Alicia let out a breath Miyo hadn’t known she’d been holding. “I’m so glad to hear that,” she said, her eyes shimmering above a bright smile. “Here, why don’t you try one of the pastries and I’ll make some tea.”
Before Alicia could turn, however, the door chimed again, this time bringing a handful of people. “I told you there’d be a rush,” Miyo said with a grin.
Alicia’s jaw slackened but she quickly got her bearings and bowed to the customers. “Welcome,” she said, pride in her voice, “Welcome to my store.”