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My best friend’s sister was always off limits.
Charlotte had a crush on me for years.
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WHAT USED TO be a fun outlet of expression had become somewhat robotic. Without thinking, my hands worked overtime, turning knobs, and adjusting settings on the espresso machine. Moving to the mini refrigerator tucked beneath the counter felt choreographed as often as I did it. When I first took the job as a barista back in high school, it was only full cream or low fat milk to distinguish the orders at our shop. Over the years we’d developed a long list I could now recite from memory.
The fridge was stocked with everything from almond milk to coconut creamer. The variation of drinks felt endless, but there was no combination of ingredients I hadn’t mastered. And my artwork was the reason people changed their orders, just to get a touch of Artful Eats, as I’d defined myself online.
Carefully, I steamed the full cream milk, the easiest to work with. As the woman waiting for her drink aimed her phone in my direction, I was grateful I’d be able to create a flawless design for her. Knowing she was recording me gave me the added emphasis to put on a show. Slamming the stainless steel foaming cup on the wooden counter three times, I watched the foam shift just the way I needed before moving to the front counter to give her a better view.
“Is it okay if I record you?” she asked, as though she hadn’t already recorded the whole process.
“Of course!” I smiled. “Make sure you tag me so I can repost you,” I winked before returning my attention to her drink.
It was half the reason anyone came to the café – the opportunity to be posted on my growing account. What had started as an amusing way to make the workday pass faster had quickly taken on a life of its own. Everyone loved my cappuccino designs so much, they began flocking to the café with phones in hand, hoping to be featured on my account.
Slowly, I poured the steamed milk into the double espresso, tilting the cup just right. When the foam began to coat the top, I twirled the cup in my hand. First, to the right and then left. The woman watched with a bright smile as the art came to life. Satisfied with my work, I set her cappuccino on the counter, revealing a bird with three small clouds behind it, a new design I’d only begun sharing recently.
“Oh my gosh! It’s so beautiful, I don’t even want to drink it!” she squealed as she angled her phone for the best shot.
“Trust me, it tastes even better,” I boasted before moving to the register. On slow mornings, I ran the café completely alone. It was hard, but I enjoyed the solitude and it kept me busy, which made the time pass quickly.
“You know what I would love to try? One of those beautiful cakes you make. How can we get one of those? Are they in the back?” her friend piped up. She had bright red hair that reminded me of a fire-themed cake I’d posted recently.
My passion had shifted in the last year and a half. It was part of the reason I didn’t love my job in the way I used to. I’d always loved baking, using it as a form of therapy to connect with my late mother.
Of course, I’d taken things to a new extravagance, as I was known to do. Like my mom, I made my batter from scratch, a lesson I remember her sharing. She said anyone could buy a box and follow a few instructions, but baking from scratch took love and patience.
I always hoped my mother could see how much care and time I put into my cakes, creating intricate designs with the icing, where she simply covered the cake. I’d taken everything she taught me and added to it, as I knew she would want me to do.
“Are these your designs?” the girl asked when I failed to answer, too wrapped up in my own thoughts. She was looking in the glass display case of desserts the owner of the café had delivered every morning.
“Sorry about that. No, those aren’t mine,” I could hear the disdain in my voice. That work was nowhere near as accomplished as mine. And they tasted more like cardboard compared to my flavors. “I don’t have a place to sell my cakes. For now, they’re just something I do for fun.”
“Well, if you ever do decide to offer them for sale, you’ll need a much larger space than this. I can only imagine how many people will be in every day to get their hands on those beautiful cakes. I mean, even your cupcakes are beautiful. I’ve never seen anything like it,” she gushed.
It was a bittersweet compliment. I knew my online following loved my cake designs. My account had skyrocketed after I began posting them. But I didn’t have an outlet yet, after trying and failing to get hired at the only bakery I wanted to work for.