Okay, I'll bite. Here you go. Now where are my cookies!
My grandmother always said good chocolate comes from the heart. It’s simmered in love and if prepared properly, will warm the soul.
It’s why I call my chocolate shop, Soul Candy.
As I pull the spoon out of the batch and stare at the clump, I know even the devil wouldn’t want a piece of this soul. It’s nothing short of stomach turning, and it’s not the impression I want to make on Ms. Ka-Bloom.
The smell of burnt chocolate carries a certain stench that’s hard to get out of your nostrils and off your clothing. It also doesn’t lie. It says I’m impatient, more about the finish than the process to get there. And lord, it stinks. The smoke rolls off the pot as I grab the handle and head to the sink before the smoke detector starts screeching.
I rushed the batch, I’ll admit. It was my fault. But my hastiness doesn’t stem from the need to get the task over and done with. I love the process. It’s the florist next door that drives my desire to get it done.
Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and she’s put in a rather large order of boxed chocolate dipped caramels sprinkled with coarse ground sea salt. The sooner I get these babies dipped, the sooner I can drop them off. Purely for my own selfish reasons.
Not but a few minutes ago she blew into my shop smelling like roses and fresh greenery. A scent better than any perfume she could wear. She stopped me in my tracks, this blonde, floral whirlwind. Spring had exploded in my store and I caught myself muttering, Ka-Bloom.
“My shipment is stuck in a blizzard. I won’t have it for at least a week.” She wrings her hands and stares at me. “I have a ton of flower and candy orders going out Valentine’s Day and have no candy. Can you help me? I need over twenty boxes of chocolate covered caramels.” She sets three hundred dollars down on the counter and reaches up and chews on her thumbnail, then drops her hand and begins to pace in front of my counter. “Do you have time? Is that enough? I mean can you...of course you don’t have time...it’s only the busiest day for candy shops and florists. Oh, I’m in such a mess....” She stops and turns toward me. “Am I crazy for asking this?”
She has eyes the color of a green glass bottle with sunlight shining through it. I only can make this comparison because my mother kept an old soda bottle in the windowsill. You don’t see pop in glass that way anymore, but I couldn’t help but think of it as I stared at them. “Yes.”
“Yes you can help me, or I’m completely nuts?” She bites her lip. Plump. Pink. Oh so pretty. Her cheeks are flush and I’m not sure if it’s with excitement or from the chill in the air outside.
I come around the counter, some because conversation is easier this way, some because I’m dying to get closer. I tuck an errant strand of my fire engine red hair behind my ear. It always wants to hang in my face, twist and curl in every direction imaginable. I know the effort is futile and won’t make a bit of difference in the unruliness, but I’m nervous. She’s exactly the kind of woman I’d date. “Yes, you are in a mess. Yes, it’s the busiest time of the year for me. Yes I will help you. Three hundred is more than enough. I’m sure you’ll have change.”
She squeals and throws her arms around me, hugging my body tight. “You don’t know how much this means to me.”
Roses. I inhale her scent and I’m smitten. She releases me and steps back, her cheeks have gone from pink to red. “I’m sorry. I’m just so...grateful. You’ve saved my butt. I have to go, but thank you so much.” She spins around. The chimes on my door jingle, and she’s gone.
The florist next door is a goddess.
Twenty minutes later, the door jingles again. “Be right there!” I call out from the back and wrinkle my nose, hoping the customer doesn’t catch wind of what’s cooking in the back. I untie my apron and toss it on the counter in disgust. My wooden spoon stands upright in a pot of petrified burnt chocolate. Expensive chocolate I’d imported from Germany. No amount of soaking would loosen the mess. I’d broken out the best for Ka-bloom. I shake my head staring at the dollars signs headed for the dumpster. What had come over me?
When I step through the door to the display case, I once again come face to face with Ka-Bloom. “Hey, you’re back.” I smile, feeling shy. My belly flutters as she thrusts a bouquet of deep red roses into my hands.
“I am.” Her dimples make an appearance and my heart does the soft shoe in my chest. The scent of flowers permeate the air and I catch myself staring again. I can’t take my eyes off her decadent mouth.
“I wondered if you’d like some fresh flowers to display around the shop, you know, for Valentine’s Day?” She sniffs and her nose wrinkles. “What’s that smell?”
Blink. Blink. “Um, what smell?”
“It’s like burnt rubber.” Sniff. “But worse.”
I step back. Is it clinging to me? “I think the city is flushing the sewers.”
“Oh,” she smiles again. “That explains it.” She turns to leave and stops, glancing back. “You can keep the vase. I found it at an antique mall.” I glance down and see it’s this marbled glass in caramels and creams. It almost looks edible. “It’s called slag glass and it made me think of you.”
And then she was gone. I sigh. Hopeless. Sap. Whatever.
I sniff the roses and grin. She thought of me.
She thought of me. Outside of the shop. Could the attraction go both ways? I stare at the flowers for what seems like several minutes when a customer comes through the door and I’m snapped out of my trance.
“So, you’re the chocolate lady.” A man stands in front of me, sticks his hands in his pockets and rocks back on his heels. “You know it’s just an excuse for her to come over here. Right? She doesn’t really need all that candy.”
“Who? What?” I stutter.
“My sister, Ana.” He gives me one of those “oh duh” looks.
I lower my bouquet and study the man closer. He has the same eyes as Ka-bloom, er Ana. “Your sister?”
“Yes. She’s been talking about you since she opened her shop four weeks ago. She saw you putting a candy display in the window and has been trying to work up the courage to meet you.”
“I don’t follow.” He couldn’t be telling me what I thought he’s telling me.
He gives me the look again. “You do like women, or am I way out of line here?”
I set my vase of flowers down on the glass countertop, maybe a little harder than I should. “Not that it’s any of your business, but yes. And you are out of line. Do you see me asking you if you date women?” I don’t advertise, but I don’t hide it either. That he knows, raises my brow a bit. What gave it away?
As if reading my mind, he answers. “You know, I’ve seen the way you look at her, through the shop window. I kind of coaxed her into coming in here and waited for her outside. I’m the moral support.”
“You know, that you’ve been watching...it’s kind of creepy.”
He shrugs. “So, there are these two tickets to a show downtown tomorrow. I’ll pick you up at six."
“Whoa!” I throw my hands up. “I didn’t say I was looking for anyone.” I hated when people found out I was a lesbian, I became the perfect girlfriend for their friend, co-worker, sister or whatever. It didn’t work that way. I liked to pick my own dates.
“What? She likes you. You like her. What’s the problem? I saw the way you watched her from outside. I don’t mean to offend, so I’m just going to come out and say this. Her high school sweetheart, her girlfriend of ten years was killed in a car accident two years ago. She hasn’t dated anyone since, and I want to see her happy. Yes, I’m the interfering big brother. Don’t you think I know that? When she talks about you, she smiles. And you can’t tell me she isn’t pretty. Please, help me out here. Say yes.”
“I don’t know.” I fidget. I hate setups, and I’m not exactly crazy about the fact I seem to be wearing a big target that says available lesbian.
“You know you want to.”
“Oh, shut up.” I roll my eyes. “I’ll go. She kind of makes me smile too.” Who was I kidding, she more than makes me smile.
He does this fist pump and he’s out the door. I’m beginning to wonder If I will get anything done today. Who cares? I have a date, and twenty boxes of caramels to whip up before tomorrow and I’ve already decided to write them off as a promotion. Flowers and chocolates combined. I should have thought of that sooner. I head out back and get to work.
Valentine’s Day comes faster than expected. I pull on my favorite pink sweater, jeans and boots. I’ve arranged my hair twelve different ways, in a full range of Orphan Annie to Pippi Longstocking. Right now, I’m totally rocking Raggedy Ann. I look at my curls, dosed with a healthy portion of styling products and decide it’s about as good as it’s going to get. Now, I just need to remember to stay away from open flames.
Ana arrives about five. I help her load the chocolates into her hatchback. Just as she opens the door to get in, she turns to me. “I wanted to ask you something.”
I smile, having a pretty good idea what it is she wants to ask. “Yes?”
“I lied about the chocolates. I didn’t need them. I wanted to meet you, and well, I guess I went a bit overboard. Would you mind helping me take these chocolates to the local shelter? I’d like to give them a Valentine’s Day treat.”
Pretty, and a heart of gold. I reach into my pocket and hand her the three hundred dollars back. “It’s okay. I know you didn’t need them. Your brother told me.”
“But they cost money to make.” She shoves the bills back at me.
I shake my head and refuse to take them back. “Which, is the best money I ever spent. What a great idea. Let me lock up and I’ll be right back.”
“Well, if you won’t take the money, I’ll donate it. I’ve also been meaning to ask....”
I press my fingers to her lips. “We better get going or we’ll miss the show. I’ll be right back.” I close up and lock the shop door. When I get back to the car, Ana is sitting in the front seat with the engine running. “You know,” she says as I climb in and buckle my belt. “There’s nothing quite like flowers and chocolates for Valentine’s Day.”
“No, there isn’t. Other than spending it with someone like you.” Ana smiled and we pulled away. Thirty years later, we still make a trip to the shelter on February 14th. Ana gives me flowers and her heart. I give her chocolates and my soul.