Today’s post is based on a challenge from The Smarter Artist-Pity Par-tay Flash Fiction Contest to mash up two ideas, one each from two columns. My mash up ideas: Column A – the best chocolate cake ever; Column B – revenge plot.
“The Special Occasion Cake”
By Linda Gordon Hengerer
Betsy Devlin hummed as she measured ingredients for the best chocolate cake ever. Warm sunshine and a light breeze came through the open window, fluttering the curtains over the kitchen sink.
The scent of warmed and fragrant herbs mingled with the smell of chocolate melting in a double boiler. Betsy sifted together flour and salt before she added the rest of the dry ingredients. Butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla were already beaten in a bowl, ready for her to finish mixing the batter.
This used to be Betsy’s favorite cake to make for special occasions. She couldn’t count the number of times she’d made it and didn’t want to remember. She wanted to mend fences with her former best friend before she moved away from the neighborhood.
One year had passed since her husband Howard’s death. Betsy was lucky her real estate agent was able to short-sell the house. It was the home they had shared during his affair with Betsy’s best friend, Ronnie. Betsy needed a clean break from the town where they had built a life, had ups and downs, heartache and heartbreak.
Performing mindless tasks like greasing and flouring the cake pans eased her tight throat. She had made this cake to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. The last time she baked it was the night before Howard…
After dabbing her moist eyes with a tissue, she poured batter into the pans and placed them in the oven. Ronnie would be here in a few hours, and Betsy needed to finish preparing the house for her visit.
A tentative knock alerted Betsy to Ronnie’s arrival. Placing the dish towel she’d been drying dishes with on the rack, Betsy hurried to the front door and opened it.
Flowers wrapped in tissue were clutched in Ronnie’s hand and rustled as she thrust them at Betsy. The tissue paper wrapped around the stems was crushed and damp, and it cheered Betsy that Ronnie was also nervous.
“Ronnie, this was so thoughtful of you,” Betsy said. “Please come in.”
Heavy scent trailed after Ronnie as she brushed past Betsy. The smell brought up a memory Betsy had tried to banish, of fragrance she’d smelled clinging to her pillowcases and caught in damp and wrinkled sheets.
A rose thorn pierced Betsy’s thumb when she clenched the flowers. She licked the bead of blood, tasting the coppery tang and remembering why she had asked Ronnie to visit.
“I’ll put these in some water.” Betsy led the way into the kitchen, and Ronnie leaned against the counter while Betsy took a vase out of a cabinet under the sink. They were quiet while Betsy dealt with the flowers.
After laying them on the counter, she ran the tap until the water was warm and filled the vase. Scissors were within easy reach and she used them to open the tissue paper, cut the rubber band corralling the stems, and open the packet of floral preservative.
The white powdered preservative dropped to the bottom of the vase as she poured it in, stirring to dissolve it. Satisfied that the solution was ready, she made quick work of cutting the stems and stripping off leaves that would end up below the waterline.
Betsy tucked baby’s breath and asparagus fern in the gaps between white carnations, pink tulips and yellow roses, and she stepped back to look at the finished arrangement.
She bit her lip to keep from throwing the vase at Ronnie’s head, mentally shaking her head at the gall of the woman to taunt her with that combination of flowers.
Friends who felt that way didn’t sleep with their friend’s husbands. Betsy got a grip on her emotions. She needed to forgive in order to move on. Her therapist said so.
Betsy dug her fingernails into her palms. She could get through this. Taking the vase, she set it on the table and gestured for Ronnie to sit down.
The table was already set with plates, napkins, and silverware. Steam rose up from coffee in delicate china cups, wafting up through the flowers. A clear glass dome protected the cake sitting on a green milk glass pedestal. Chocolate frosting cupped sparkly crystals in artful swirls.
The two former friends sat stiffly across from each other, separated by more than the table. Ronnie licked her lips and said, “Is this your special chocolate cake? It’s been so long since I’ve had it.” She looked down at her folded hands for a moment. “I’m sorry, Betsy. I don’t know what got into me.”
Betsy started to accept Ronnie’s apology. A smile quirked her lips and Betsy knew Ronnie was lying. That quirk was her tell. Betsy could have said Howard got into her, but decided that wouldn’t help her forgive Ronnie. She nodded, but didn’t speak.
Betsy was glad she had planned their get-together. She’d be able to move, and move on, knowing she had done what was necessary for her own well-being.
Taking the dome off the pedestal, she lifted the knife. “Cake?”
Ronnie nodded, and Betsy cut a generous slice for Ronnie and placed it on her plate. Cutting a thinner piece for herself, she bent her head towards Ronnie. “Bon appétit.”
They talked about friends, the weather, anything but their husbands. Bringing up the men would mean confronting Ronnie’s affair with Howard or Dave’s shoddy treatment of his former partner. By unspoken agreement they kept to neutral topics. Ronnie ate every bit of cake, scraping the plate with her fork to get every bit of it, while Betsy toyed with hers and left most of it in crumbs.
Ronnie left an hour later. They hugged and air-kissed cheeks, lying that they’d see each other soon.
The telephone rang while Betsy was watching her favorite old movie, Arsenic and Old Lace. She glanced at the clock and wondered who was calling after nine o’clock. Her heart beat faster, anticipating bad news.
“It’s Dave.” Tears flooded his voice. Betsy looked at the caller id, confirming it was Ronnie’s husband. He didn’t sound like himself, although Betsy thought anything could have happened in the past year to make Dave sound different.
“What’s wrong?” Betsy asked.
“Ronnie’s gone,” he said.
“Gone where?” Dread filled Betsy’s voice. Had Ronnie left Dave?
The phone dropped, and after some fumbling a different man spoke. “Ms. Devlin, this is Detective O’Neil. I’m sorry to tell you Ronnie’s dead. We understand she visited you today, and we wanted to know if you noticed anything unusual.”
Betsy’s hand flew up to cover her mouth. Dead? Ronnie was dead. She felt lighter, felt the weight of the past year’s emotion lifting.
“No, nothing unusual.” Betsy pulled a tissue from the box nearby and dabbed at teary eyes. “We had a falling out last year and just got together today for the first time since then to make up. She was just the way I remembered her.”
“I’ll send someone over tomorrow to get a statement. It’s just a formality, since it appears to be a heart attack. Will you be home?” the detective asked.
“Yes, I’ll be here.” Betsy wrapped her hand around the tissue. “I’m moving next week. I’ll be packing all day.”
Betsy felt a pang as she walked up to the front door, thinking about the past year and all that had happened since the last time she was here.
She had forgiven Ronnie and Howard for their affair when she threw dirt into Ronnie’s grave. With Ronnie gone, all that was left to do before she moved was to mend fences with Dave.
Deep breaths calmed her, centered her. She thought forgiving Dave for tossing Howard out of the business they started after college would be easier than this. Oh, well, she would make the effort and see what happened.
The welcome mat was worn in the center, reading We me. We to me. That was her life now, once part of We and now just me. Time wasn’t helping, but maybe taking matters into her own hands would.
The doorbell was cunningly concealed within curlicues of wrought iron ivy. She pressed the button and listened to the melody summon Dave.
He answered the door. “Betsy. Thank you for coming.” Noise from people inside greeted Betsy with more enthusiasm than Dave’s husky baritone had.
She said, “I’m sorry for your loss. I remember how much you liked my chocolate cake and I made it especially for you.” Betsy held out the plate with a single piece of cake covered in plastic wrap.
“Would you like some?”
Dave reached out to take it, and Betsy’s fingers tightened. Could she forgive him?
She let him take the cake.