“Not like that sweetie!” she squawked, trying to control her anguish. “The pink one goes in the front and the purple at the back,” she gesticulated, repeating what she had, just a minute ago.

Saira turned around and snapped, “if you’re so good at it, why don’t you climb up here and fix it yourself!”

“No honey, you’re the taller one. You would reach there, I won’t.” Amiya picked the string, Saira had dropped and handed it back to her.

Saira melted, “okay, but step down on the bitch, please!” Amiya winced, a smile twinkling in her eyes.

Once Saira was done, she descended and wound the ladder, examined her achievement along with Amiya, smiled at her and then walked inside their quaint little patisserie they lovingly called ‘Sucre Smack’- The sugar kiss. Amiya followed.

Ever since they made friends in their baking diploma classes, they had decided to open shop with the best of bakes they could whizz out- cakes, pastries, cupcakes, macaroons, the works! All they needed was a tiny place they could sell their wares and seat a few appreciative guests. The roomies began their work from their tiny apartment and within a year, they had found an ideal place they could set shop and their masterpieces were flying out like…well hotcakes!

Until, ‘Rocky Road’, another patisserie opened their store right opposite. Amiya was worried, Saira was not.

‘How can you be so chill!?” Amiya was agitated more at ‘Rocky Road’ than Saira, though. Her attention wavering from the delicate flowers she was painting on a cake-skin.

“They have no competition, Amiya. We have our own clientele. Our customers love us. We have more than enough business that we can manage right now. And even if we were to scale up, we are still not ready,” Saira was surely the reasonable one, here.

“I know!” Amiya agreed, “but what if we were to scale and they have already eaten up our customers.” Amiya waited for Saira to respond.

Saira was folding chocolate into a piping bag for a fresh batch. She looked up, “then we go back to basics and understand why we lost them in the first place.” Was that the answer Amiya looking for?

***

Why is it always this cold- dry and stuffy? Why can’t it be cold and sunny?

Amiya opened the glass door to the shop that welcomed her with a tinkling bell tied to its post, rubbing her hands to keep them warm. Viju followed with a trolley full of large white boxes filled with the freshly baked batch for the day and started laying them decorated behind the glass wall of the display unit. Amiya switched on all the lights and instantly the place lit up from a dark gloominess to sparkly heaven. The coffee machine began whirling in the corner and the workshop counter was arranged with slicing knives, forks and piping bags. This was Amiya’s favourite part- setting up shop for the day.

Such a hopeful, positive start of the day!

There was still some time for the shop to open for business but she heard someone knock on the glass door. ‘Surely, he would have seen the ‘CLOSED’ sign on the door…what did he want’, Amiya thought and she looked at Viju. He shrugged,

unsure. Amiya moved from behind the counter and walked towards the stranger. She unlocked the glass door from inside and opened it just a peep.

“We’re not open yet!” she announced. “I know”, he said.

What did he want then?

As if the stranger understood her apprehension, he continued, “I am coming from the shop across,’ he pointed at ‘Rocky Road’. “May I come over for a minute?”

Amiya was confused, startled, upset, concerned, but she let him inside, nevertheless. She turned around to look at Viju who was as confused, but to avoid getting into the situation he continued his work, trying to be invisible. Amiya stopped at a table for two, sliding on the chair and gesturing him to sit as well.

As if on cue, the stranger began, “I am Alex. I have been meaning to come here for some time…you know…just to say hi.” He observed Amiya’s expression-less face but continued, nonetheless. “I just opened a new patisserie ‘Rocky Road’ across the street.”

Why did he have to point in that direction every time he mentioned ‘Rocky Road’?

There was a brief silence between the two of them, as neither of them knew where to take the conversation. What was I thinking? Alex questioned himself in his mind. The awkwardness was broken by Viju when he informed Amiya that he had finished with the cleaning and the display. Amiya nodded.

She realized she had not uttered a single word since Alex had come in. To avoid any rudeness on her part, she involuntarily offered, “Coffee!”

“Sure”, he jumped at the opportunity. This was a way to continue a conversation. Amiya got up and walked behind the counter towards the coffee machine. Her back was towards Alex but she sensed he had gotten up from his seat. From the corner of her eye, she noticed that he was surveying the displayed goods, stopping at intervals to read the names (and possibly the prices). Amiya poured the coffee in two stoneware mugs and carried a Chocolate Sundae Cupcake on a tray. By the time she reached the table, Alex returned too.

Amiya was unable to accept the fact that she had spoken sparsely- the brash, opinionated, loud-mouth that she considered herself to be! Was she intimidated by him? Was she uncomfortable in his presence? Was she simply upset that he was here? Alex took a sip of the coffee and turned towards the exhibits behind the glass display. “Quite an interesting display you have here,” he said sounding impressed.

Amiya smiled. ‘Thanks!’ ‘Of course! I know we’re better than you.’

Alex knew it was time for him to leave. He was obviously not welcome, he could see that in Amiya’s eyes. He was just about to put his coffee mug down when Amiya offered, “why don’t you try this cupcake?”

Surprisingly, her tonality mismatched her facial expression. Amiya was as astounded as Alex was. Alex, because he was unsure what to make of this unwelcome visit and Amiya because this was a new self-discovery.

Alex forked a sliver of the cupcake in his mouth, observing how Amiya’s eyes followed his hand from the plate to his mouth. Being made aware of this simple mundane action made Alex shift in his chair. He wanted to run away from this discomfiture, contrarily he smiled, “this is the best cupcake I have had in a very long time.”

Oh my God! He is so sweet!! Was that a twinkle that his eyes just flashed?

Amiya smiled for the first time since he walked in along the ‘Rocky Road’, “thank you so much. I would love to try the cupcakes you make, someday.” Wait, what? Did I just say that? He is competition, Amiya. You don’t say such things!!

“Of course! You are most welcome…any time!” Alex got up from his seat, smiled and walked away. A narrow escape, phew!

Amiya picked up the mugs from the table and placed them on the counter when Saira walked in, turning the signage from “CLOSED” to “OPEN”.

“He was here,” as if she had been dying to say that one-liner, Amiya blurted.

“Who?”

“Rocky Road!”

“Rocky Road?”

“Alex”

“Alex, who?”

“Arrey, Alex from Rocky Road was here this morning.”

“Why”

Silence….

“I don’t know.” Amiya shrugged her shoulders, “I guess he was here to say ‘hi’.”

Saira was already behind the counter getting ready for the sales. “That’s sweet of him,” she said nonchalantly.

“I offered him coffee and a cupcake…he liked it,” Amiya wanted to tell her that she had been a jerk, but supposedly was waiting for Saira to guess it herself.

“Was there anything else that he said?” Saira enquired.

“No”

“Nothing?”

Amiya clacked.

“How long was he here for?” Saira was now curious to know more.

“About 15-20 minutes, I guess.” Amiya was staring through the glass door towards ‘Rocky Road’ possibly looking for a moving silhouette behind the screen.

“And that’s all that you spoke?” Amiya looked at Saira mirroring the same confused look on her face, shrugging her shoulders. Saira smiled, nodding her head indicating impossibility.

*** “Hi”, his holler had that sing-song familiarity. Amiya turned to look at Alex who waved from his end of the street at her, who was unlocking the door of her shop. “Hello”, she waved back.

As soon as Amiya turned to push the door open, she realized Alex was moving towards her, instinctively she turned towards him again. He was, by that time, standing right next to her. Both outside the ‘Sucre Smack’, in the chill of the winters, covered in multiple layers of clothing, looking into each other’s eyes. Amiya could feel Alex’s warm fragrant breath on her face from a few inches away. For a moment, her gaze slid through the contours of his face and landed on his perfect lips, her heart pounding inside her chest. Oblivious of how his gaze affected her, she looked back into his eyes. He moved forward. She breathed in and opened her lips to let out her wish. He closed in and placed his lips on hers. She closed her eyes.

“Damn it!!” Amiya sat right up on her bed announcing a bad morning.

“What up?” Saira was unamused by Amiya’s early morning frustrated bellows.

“Third time this week, Saira. I am such a sicko….. am off to work,” Amiya jumped out of her bed and within minutes she was out an about to begin the day.

From the glass door towards the ‘Rocky Road’, Amiya had already checked for movement inside, the nth time this morning. When her customers would move out of the door, her gape would obligatorily move towards the opposite side of the street. Saira could not control her amusement at how Alex’s presence was affecting Amiya, even though it had been more than a month that he had paid his solitary visit.

“You know it has been quite some time now and ‘Rocky Road’ has not been much of a hindrance for us…what do you think,” Amiya turned towards Saira. Saira let out an ‘hmm.’

“Don’t you think we should also visit them sometime?” she said casually to Saira who was busy placing caramel acorns to top a cake. ‘Hmm’ is all that she said.

“Of course, we can’t both go together, so let me make a start. Let me just go in and say ‘hi’, what do you say?” Amiya had already started walking towards the exit, flipping her apron in the background. ‘Hmm,’ Saira smiled and got busy with her work.

I hope he’s not there. Only if whatever we wished came true. Reluctantly Amiya opened the heavy wooden rimmed glass door of ‘Rocky Road’ and began searching for…a seat. A table for two sat pretty by the window from where she could see her own patisserie… and Saira talking to a bunch of customers. How beautiful Sucre Smack looks from here, how dreamy.

From behind the counter, Alex spotted her looking around and when their eyes met, he smiled and waved. Amiya smiled back, possibly the second she recalled, outside of the recurring dreams. Instantly, she found herself more aware of her presence here…in front of him. Alex mimed that he would be there in a minute, she nodded. Within minutes, a cafe tender got a tray of coffee and a cupcake and placed it in front of her.

“I reckon you love cupcakes,” Alex stood there with a coffee mug in his hand, flashing his widest smile.

“I totally do!” Amiya offered him a fork from the plate and offered it to him, taking the other for herself. The Salted Caramel Chocolate Cupcake was divided into two and relished amidst stolen glances.

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