Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fondant Dreams.

Chapter 2

     Driving in my little yellow car, I watched the road in front of me gracefully glide beneath the tires.
     Line. Line. Line.
     Cars around mine weaved in and out of traffic clearly trying to escape a fire or something. In my opinion going 80 in a 70 was more than enough, but who was I to judge? I had already been on the road for a good 45 minutes and looking at another hour and a half ahead of me. As the scenery curved up and around with lush trees and small valleys I thought of how much I appreciated the area I now lived in. So much more dynamic than the flat farm land that you drove past back home. There were trees everywhere and little spots where they would thin and expose a quaint little hole in the woods with hilly grass and maybe a small pool of water. I dreamily imagined that mystical things went on in those spots, like little forest creatures held meetings to discuss the plans for a winter party. Just as the head elf was about to speak, my car swerved a little to the left and I realized I have driven over a ridge in the road. Sorry Mr. Elf, I will have to miss out on your speech. Please proceed.
     Letting out  long sigh I tried the radio again, yet all I could hear was static. I was too far from my apartment to get the stations from there, and too far from home to get the good radio stations I grew up with. I would have listened to a CD but I wasn't quite in the mood for anything I had in stock. So I continued to drive in silence, thinking about what we would do for the week, or what I saw at Target the other day that I desperately needed, though my wallet was quickly loosing weight. I had gotten a job the month before, yet I still managed to be low on money. Living as if I still had a steady income was something that was hard to let go of.
     I methodically checked my fuel tank, silently cursing everytime the little arrow went down a notch. "There goes another three dollars."
     "What could I have bought with that? Let's see, a half gallon of milk. Or a box of noodles, or a tub of butter, or maybe put away for some other day."
     It was already gone, so I swept it from my mind. No need to work yourself up over something you can do nothing to change right now, because there is nothing you can do about it. I frequently used that line to help soothe Nghia on his days when he would become stressed about something. Usually school or money. I hated seeing him stressed. He was working so hard to give us a wonderful future together and I never wanted him to have to worry.
     The car jerked a little to the side again, snapping me out of my recollection of the last time I told him that, and I steadied the wheel. The alignment was off causing the car to pull in all directions if I didn't maintain a vigilant handle on the steering wheel. It also caused the wheel to shake heavily, yet since I knew it was the alignment it would just be like that until I had the money to take it into a shop and pay the mechanics to tweak it a little.
     "Ugh... more money I do NOT want to spend on anything. Mechanics always rip you off. They will probably charge me a million dollars just to straighten it out, then tell me something else is gravely wrong with my car and needs immediate attention."
     Again, the wheel jerks to the side.
     "Must maintain focus!"
     I had been on winter break for about a week now. School had let out and I wasn't due back till the first of January to start my break work right before school began again. I had been happy about my scheduled time because I would be able to have mostly the whole break off and then just go back to school a few days early. A month or two passed since that bake sale and I had done very well in my first semester if I could say so. Genuinely I looked forward to working with the birds when school started. They were my scheduled area for the following semester and I was given American Bald Eagles to talk about in front of a crowd. It was a new thing they were going to try. The idea of standing in front of a group of people, as I imagined with a little microphone attached to the side of my head, actually excited me. Normally getting in front of any type of crowd to talk about anything wouldn't have been my first choice for an afternoon activity, yet this made me very interested.
     "Good morning everyone! Welcome to our zoo! I'd like to thank you for coming out to see us today. So let me introduce to you the stars of our show. If you look behind me there, that one on the left is George and to his right is his mate Ariel."
     I imagined everyone ooohing and ahhhhing as they looked at the giant birds behind me.
     Yet something nagged at the back of my mind, intruding on what was surely to be a very awesome performance with a very interested audience. I was very rudely interrupted by the idea of standing in a huge stainless steel kitchen, and a pink frilly apron tied around my waste with a very flustered me heartily rolling out a batch of white fondant, flour dusting her cheeks and sweet on her brow. As my exhausted, starch-covered self finished rolled out the difficult dough-like material, she easily rolled it onto a pin and cleanly laid it out on top of a beautifully iced cake. She trimmed off the excess and expertly removed any imperfection from the smooth surface. When she was done she stepped back and looked at the little mound of cake that even though was just a small white tier, promised to be part of something glorious and beautiful. For all the work that she had done, all the little details that caused her to strain and sweat and retry when it went wrong, there was something about her. I looked closely at her face. That flour covered face, slightly flushed and shiny, she was smiling. A happy, well satisfied smile. Perfectly content and deeply proud of the little white cake in front of her. It wasn't much, and it had taken quite a bit of effort, yet she knew as maybe no one else could see right now; the artistic, delicious object it soon would become.
     Jerk again.
     My eyes focused plainly on the road ahead. New cars surrounded me, some slowing down traffic causing me to press on the break, others zooming past with their drivers glaring out their windows as if I had personally inconvenienced their life by not driving 100 mph.
     "Like I need to die so you can get home 2 minutes faster. Go around A-hole! I'm not stopping you!"
     I drummed my fingers on the steering wheel and thought that soon I would be home. The house had changed so much since I left it. As I fondly said, it has turned into such a "guy" house. It smelled like guys, had manly colors, and in the fridge there had aways been the staple grocery store pre-made chicken and a 6 pack of beer. I smiled happily thinking of Nghia and my dad sitting on the porch talking to each other and laughing over some "guy" things and drinking their favorite beer.
     I loved how close they were. I always told everyone that they are best friends. My dad never had gotten so close to anyone I dated, and never had he liked anyone so quickly. Since we started dating I became a lot closer to my family unlike past relationships where all my time and energy was pulled in other directions.
     I always hated that.
     Nghia came into my mind. I thought of how it felt to lay in his arms as he slowly drifted off to sleep while the television danced in the background. Lightly I would hear his snoring. Just once and again until it turned into a steady rumble that would ebb and flow. I always poked fun at him for it in the mornings, yet what he didn't know was how calm it made me feel. The easy rhythm of his breathing became a sound I was accustomed to and reminded me how safe I was next to him. Often times when I couldn't sleep, I would focus on his snores and use it to help me doze off. As I laid on his chest listening to the air move into his lungs and out in the form of a snore, the warmth and smell of his skin would comfort me. He always smelled good. Even after a long day at work, or helping my dad with cars out in the garage; he always smelled good.
     I was secretly jealous of that. If I so much as sat in my car on a hot summer day, I would smell horrible.
     As the trees lining the road passed by momentarily shadowing my car, I looked up into the bright sky. It was one of those perfect days where it was cold enough to not have to use the a/c in your car. A very uncommon occurrence in Florida.
     I began to daydream about Nghia again, this time I was in the kitchen with that little pink apron on, putting the finishing touches on some cupcakes. They were darling. The piping bag in my hand half empty flopped to the counter top as I set it down and reached out to hug Nghia when he entered the scene. I gave him a huge kiss and wrapped my arms around his neck as he held me. Drinking in the scent of him I turned to show off my latest creation. He leaned into look and smiled at me telling me how great they looked and stole one off the counter as I pretended to be offended. When he told me they were delicious, I let out the breath I had been holding in and snuggled close until I realized the time and rushed to the oven to pull out the last batch I had put in. Perfectly cooked and soft to the touch. The scent filled the air and that smile returned. That simply happy smile. The smile that had often intruded on all of my thoughts these days.
     Another jerk from the car.
     "Sheesh o peets! I can't wait to have this fixed! We just got the car a few months ago and the damned salesman didn't mention the alignment when he sold it to us. Well, I suppose for a used car if the alignment is all that is wrong then I guess I can't complain too much. It was a great price and I do love my Priscilla."
     I always named all of my cars. My first was Georgie the Geo. Fitting I am aware.
     As I tried to imagine the zoo again, I noticed that something was missing from all of my daydreaming. I could imagine everything to the last detail. The fanny packs, the tourist t-shirts, the eagles' proud display as they began to screech at the onlookers for intruding on their space. Then I looked closely at the face of the girl with the microphone. She was dressed like a typical zoo keeper. Khaki shorts with a matching shirt, big worn hiking boots, which I would honestly avoid like the plague, with hair pulled back neatly into a ponytail. She looked every bit the part. As I glanced at her expression, she looked happy enough. Very content. She clearly enjoyed talking to this crowd of eager visitors, yet something was missing. The smile plastered on her face was one of being settled. She liked what she did, but she had settled. That smile was not the smile of someone who worked a long, hard, painstakingly disastrous day then went home fully satisfied that it had been a horribly perfect day regardless of how wrong it all went; but the smile of someone who liked what they did, did there job well and went home unsure of whether this was what they wanted. Even though she was great at what she was doing, it wasn't in her heart anymore. The girl knew it, and it showed in her eyes the doubts that lingered deeply hidden from the public viewers snapping away with their cameras. The smile was bright and welcoming, but the grey eyes constantly harbored the guilt that her heart wasn't all there and someone else could give the animals the type of care they deserved. Not the half-hearted care diluted by the daydreams of cupcakes and pastries.
     The car veered to the right this time.
     Trying the radio again, the familiar sound of a song on the radio I hadn't heard in months came through the speakers. Instantly perking up, I realized it was one of my favorite bands that my new city never played. Overjoyed I strummed my hands on the wheel along with the beat, tapping my free foot. The whole world seemed to brighten from that dark dream and I belted out the tune, hazardously out of key.
     "Who would hear me? I'm in my car."
     As passerbys drove along, some stared at the girl jamming out to her music. I didn't know them. So the jamming continued.
     Even with the song playing I again began to daydream. This time it went straight-away to that hard working girl in the huge kitchen baking away. A small smile creeped along my lips as the song filled me with a happy energy that reminded me why I loved this band so much.
     After two hours of driving I finally pulled into the familiar driveway. Home. The whole front of the house was cram packed with cars of all different types. I recognized every one. My dad had obviously been tuning up the Datsun because he rarely just left it out of the garage with the door wide open. I counted the cars ceremoniously to see who was home. My dad of course, my brother, and Nghia. The old Corvair sat unused with it's bright red paint chipping away from long wear and tear. But it was a common fixture I was used to and frequently utilized as a landmark for people who were searching for the house. I stared at the bright white house and its dark blue roof with the old metal rooster which was supposed to point out the direction of the wind. In my entire time of living in that house I was certain it never once actually moved.
     I loved this neighborhood. It was in an "old person" community yet it had it's young people. Much like my family. It was a sweet little place, though sometimes the older couples tried to cause some drama. Who could really blame them? Sometimes you have nothing else to do with your day. Overall it was a safe, pretty place to live. I'm sure some grumpy old man might be bothered by what looked like a car lot in the front of our house, but hell if my dad was going to let them ruin it. He even built an addition to the driveway to allow us all to park conveniently. It was one of his passions and as I was growing up, all the common smells from a well used garage became the familiar scent I always associated with my dad. Since I was born, I was a daddy's girl and It had always stayed that way. My mom didn't always enjoy that fact, and since the divorce it was something she had to get over. She understood of course; She herself had been one.
     Tiredly I grabbed my bags out from the back of the car. Even now I grumbled at myself at how silly I was to have brought so much stuff, yet as I was packing I just couldn't leave any of it.
      When I fumbled to the door I set my suitcase down and opened the screen. The main door was open to let in the fresh, cool air. The house was empty in the front, so I assumed everyone was off in their own rooms doing whatever it is they wanted to do.
     When I moved out, Nghia moved into my old room hastily turning it into a "guy's" room. Painted my bright green walls and ripped up the paint stained carpet my dad complained of for years. My brother, my dad and Nghia all lived together and so far they enjoyed it.
     When I finally just dropped my stuff off in the entrance I heard a patter across the tile floor. Soon a little black cat jumped onto the box next to the door and looked up expectantly. Instantly ridding myself of the last of my bags I leaned down and offered her a kiss to which she replied with a cold wet nose. Since she was born I always gave her kisses and to anyone who she wants to get to know now, she forces upon them a kitty kiss much to our visitor's surprise.
     My little baby Moey.
     My little princess Moey.
     I have one other cat named Maery, yet as long as she is being pet by SOMEONE it made no difference to her who it was.
     Yet my Moey. She is my little girl. From the moment she was born I knew we were meant for each other. Since I took her home, she has been by my side. Whenever I was upset or if she had a nightmare we could always find each other and comfort one another in a weird way that not many people understood. This little black cat was my rock, and to have had to leave her behind in the move was the single hardest thing I had had to do.
     She never liked to be picked up so she trotted excitedly beside me as I trailed off to stop by my dad's room and give a hearty hello. He had been napping so I just tapped at the door and waved. Moey meowing at my side, followed me to the other side of the house. My brother's door was shut so I left it be, but I could hear the tapping of computer keys coming from Nghia's room.
     My heart leapt as I pushed the door fully open and there he was sitting at the computer checking his e-mail dressed in his blue scrubs waiting to go to work. As I walked into the room he turned to me and flashed me the smile I always loved to see. The one smile that was only reserved for me.
      I flew open my arms in the gesture of a great big hug and leaned down as he wrapped his strong arms around me. I could smell his cologne fill my nose and I breathed heavily. I missed his smell.
     "Too bad they can't just make smell-o-vision yet."
     He kissed me sweetly on the lips and I rubbed his back as he finished up his e-mail.
     Turning his chair, he wrapped his arms around my waist and buried his face in my stomach. I twirled my fingers into his smooth black hair. Nghia always complained about needing a haircut, yet I loved his hair long. Mine was constantly out of place and temperamental and could never decide if it wanted to curl or wave, so I always pulled it back into a clip. His hair on the other hand was always shiny and thick as my fingers flicked the small cow-lick on the back of his head.
     I loved that cow-lick.
     As he hung onto me I kissed the top of his head and he let me go. Excitedly he chatted about how school was going and how he got a 98% on his last exam. Congratulating him, I started to think about my own schooling and how the new semester was going to start in a few weeks. The idea of going back for me was exhausting, because those daydreams on the car ride home were frequent visitors to the place known as my thoughts the past month or so. It weighed on me heavily everyday that ticked closer and closer to the first. I still hadn't made up my mind. I had made such a huge fuss over becoming a zoo keeper and now, because of a simple batch of cupcakes and thanks to help from constantly tuning into the Food Network, my heart was puling me into a new direction.
     While the thoughts spun around in my head, Nghia asked me if I'd like to visit him on his break at work since he had to leave in half an hour. I looked down and sat on his lap purposely trying to squish him and replied with a joyful, "Yes!"
     Nuzzling into his cheek as he tried to work on the computer around me as I conveniently kept getting in his way, he tickled my sides until I got up.
     Running my fingers along his back, I thought about my daydreams some more as he closed out the window.
     "Baby? I need to talk to you about something that has been on my mind."

Monday, January 17, 2011

It's All in a Cupcake

Chapter 1

     Late in August 2010, I moved out on my own for the first time to go to school to become a zoo keeper. I know it isn't the most popular career choice, and most people even questioned the validity of going to college to pursue  the career. Nevertheless, I moved north anticipating all that was to come; working with exotic animals, living new experiences, seeing new things. Left behind though were my family, my loving boyfriend, a well-paying job and all of my friends. That I was lucky enough to have them all support me is an amazing thing that to this day I am still so grateful for.
     Everyone who knew me, knew that being in the zoo was like a drug for me. The thought of being around all the different animals and being in that atmosphere kept me going; waking before the sun rose, giving up my afternoons and weekends. My classes were interesting and getting hands on experience was right up my alley. Things seemed peachy-keene. I missed Nghia (my boyfriend) every single day and not having a job for months and watching all of my hard earned money drain away like sand in an hourglass was a torment constantly on my mind, but it was worth it. I was getting great grades and honestly enjoying myself. I frequently had to read of friends who were out having fun back home, and think about how badly I wished I were still there to be going with them, but that was just part of the package. The zoo was amazing and being around those animals was like a dream. Never in a million years did I think my heart would take me elsewhere.
     I frequently used the phrase "If I wasn't a Zoo Keeper, I want to become a Florist or a Baker." Had these hands ever worked up a batter or decorated a cake? Never, but it was something I could imagine myself doing. Never had I been completely serious though.
     The idea really started to sink in while working on a Halloween project. One of my teachers had been talking about cooking. I mentioned that I am a disaster in the kitchen and destroy almost every meal I made that involved more then "boil and add packet." He looked at me and said "You are probably a great baker." To this I was a little stunned, how could that ever be, seeing as I have in fact messed up boiling water. I assumed it was all hand in hand, even though I always thought the idea of making and designing all sorts of cakes and cupcakes fit my personality. So he explained that usually if you are a great cook, you can't bake. If you are a great baker you can't cook. That stuck with me. One day a zoo club, yes.. zoo club, was holding a bake sale for breast cancer awareness. I flip flopped back and forth whether I should bake something. Switching from a solid full-hearted "Yes!" then to "Oh.. well, maybe I won't. It's not like it matter."
     Finally the very night before the sale, I summed up my courage and decided; "Why not?! I have to try it sometime! I can't just go around saying I would be a baker if it weren't for zoo keeping and not have the goods to back it up."
     I started my journey on the internet searching for the perfect recipe to start my new baking life. When I found it I knew. Strawberry Daiquiri cupcakes. Perfect! I love strawberries, I love strawberry daiquiris (who doesn't?) it was a win win. The recipe was simple enough and I figured even with my limited pantry of baking supplies, I could whip them up well enough. It was an adventure, but I had watched enough cooking shows to have picked up a few tricks to get around not having piping bags, or cooling racks or professional knives etc. When I was done, they smelled amazing.
    The moment of truth came, I plucked off a piece of the unfortunate little fellow who didn't quite make it to show quality and popped it into my mouth. It.. was... delicious! I was so proud of what I just did. Not only how yummy they tasted, but how cute they looked too. That day I realized something. That all of my talk of how girlie I was and how becoming a baker would be just a perfect career choice for me, could actually be a plausible statement. When I clumsily fought with the seran wrap and packed them into a half dilapidated pan made to bake a turkey (it was cheap okay), and shuffled into my car I hoped with all my heart that they would survive and that everyone in the world would love them.
     Okay I'm possibly extremely ambitious, but that was my goal. The whole world would have to condense to about 18 people seeing as that's how many I was able to make with a single batch of batter.
     Pulling up to the school, I got out of the car and grabbed my pan of cupcakes filled with the jitters. It was so odd. When I looked around me though, no one was there. I started to panic.
     "Had there been some kind of mistake? Had I read the e-mail wrong? Had I misunderstood what the girl said when she told me it was to be Monday morning at 8 am?"
     My mind dizzied itself trying to collect all the information that the night before I had been so convinced of. Collecting my composure, I walked into the office and waited for the receptionist to finish a phone call. She eyed me as if she had no idea who I was, even though I had personally walked through that office everyday for the past three months. Leaning from one foot to the next I was frantically checking my brain for anything I might have gotten wrong.
     "Was it supposed to really be NEXT Monday?" I felt the weight of the cupcakes in my arm and imagined them simultaneously deflating and becoming bright pink reminders of my fatal flaw.
     Again my brain reeled, "What will I do with them now? I can't just leave them in my car, the whipped cream will melt all over my seat. Maybe I will just play it off like I was practicing and thought the class would enjoy a treat. Maybe I'd just ditch them in the break room and forget about them. What had I forgotten??"
     "Can I help you?" The voice of the receptionist broke into my nervous thoughts.
     "Uhm... Yes, I was wondering where to bring my cupcakes for the bake sale?"
     Her eyebrows furrowed and her red lips twisted up looking like she had no idea what to say to the girl standing in front of her.
     As she watched me keep myself still waiting shifting the big, poorly wrapped aluminum pan under my arm, she told me she had no idea there was a bake sale. I quickly explained it was for Zoociety (the zoo club) and there was supposed to be a bake sale this morning for the breast cancer awareness fundraiser sticking steadfastly to my story even though I was far from confident.
     Again the neatly plucked eyebrows scrunched together in what must have been pity. She then called out for a woman working inside the office asking if she knew anything about a fundraiser and the woman replied slowly that no she hadn't heard of anything and asked if it was supposed to be today.
     Instantly my heart dropped and panic again set in.
     "Stupid stupid stupid girl. Now you are stuck walking around looking like an idiot. Maybe you should read the damn e-mail correctly next time. Ugh.. what do I do with these now."
     As I cursed myself, the receptionist continued talking with the woman behind the wall trying to somehow come up with an answer between the two of them, and to save myself the embarrassment I politely excused myself explaining that I was just going to find someone in the club and ask what they would like to do with them. Rushing out of the office I hurried inside the gate and passed a few zoo students in their uniforms, curiously eying what was in my hands. I walked swiftly towards the break room hastily finding a place in the cramped fridge to shove them quickly checking the state of the cream on top thinking to myself what a waste they were going to be.
     Slowly I left the empty room and went back through the gate to sit at the picnic tables in front of the office and wait for some person to show up to possibly talk to me and save me from the stares I could feel coming from inside the little office behind me. I prayed to myself that the receptionist wasn't watching me sit there alone 3 hours before class started.
     Grumpily I took out my phone, which at the time was one of those fancy ones with internet, and determinedly looked up my e-mail to find out what I must have mistaken.
     As the tiny screen lit up and I pulled up the right e-mail I looked on confused, reading the little words, "Just a reminder to anyone interested, we will be having the bake sale at 8 am Monday morning, so if you would like to contribute it would be greatly appreciated. If you could, incorporate something pink. Thanks. Zoociety."
     I looked around me completely lost. The feeling I had this morning hoping everyone would love what I made as much as I did, had been entirely replaced by the worry that I would be the only idiot who showed. Suddenly, I saw a senior from the club come out of the gate and pass me with a few pieces of pink paper. My heart leapt and I hurriedly jumped out of my seat and ran after her. She turned to me and smiled greeting me pleasantly enough and I quickly blurted out,
    "Is the bake sale supposed to be this morning?"
     She quickly flashed me another smile and replied with a "Yes" and explained that she had run a little late and apologized. I let out a huge sigh and gratefully asked her where she wanted me to put my cupcakes. When she let me know I ran to go get them and stopped short when again the idea of whether anyone would like them hit me like a brick. I had been so relieved to hear that I hadn't been a complete flake that now my brain again began to race.
     "What if people think they are horrible? What if they got destroyed in transit? How did they turn out?"
     Squaring my shoulders, I opened the fridge and pulled out the large pan. Taking a quick glance to make sure they all seemed passable, I trotted out to the picnic tables and set them down in front of the girl.
     Her eyes widened, and she stood up to take a good look at them.
     "My goodness! Those are beautiful! You made those? Oh my gosh!"
     Secretly overjoyed, I calmly smiled and said "Yeah. I just found the recipe and whipped them up."
     Why I felt I had to act cool and collected I had no idea, so instantly I let my shoulders relax and laughing at myself explained how I had never baked before in my entire life and I hoped that they are good.
     Being so delighted with myself, I stayed to help set up the table and began chatting with the other girls who slowly circled the table. Soon passer-bys stopped to take a look at what sweets were sprawled across the bright pink tablecloth. To my amusement, my sloppily wrapped cupcakes were being quickly snatched up left and right until the last one was plucked away by a student rushing off to class. One of my teachers who had his eye on that particular cupcake walked away empty handed and asked me kindly for the recipe.
     All day, my head whirled with new ideas to try, and the focus on the zoo took a backseat as time ticked away and things like cherry cheesecake swirl cupcakes with melted and shaved white chocolate and tart cherry topping danced in my head.
     A monster was born.