"Romance is the icing, but love is the cake." -Julia Childs
"Ho. Ly. Crap."
Ruby's elegant words summed up their surroundings eloquently.
Emma felt her jaw drop open as she surveyed the gigantic room. Her eyes darted around wildly, never stopping on one spot too long.
A large stage encompassed one wall, while the rest of the interior was dotted with five baking stations. Ovens, and mixers, and countertops, and sinks, and every where Disney. Mickey Mouse balloons, stuffed Donald Ducks, silhouettes of Disney Princesses dancing with their Princes.
It was headache inducing. Nauseating, even.
"Hi! Welcome to the 8th Annual Disney Bake-off Competition! Names?" A wide-eyed girl appeared in front of Emma, making her jump back, almost dropping the box of ingredients in her hands.
Emma shifted the weight of the box to one arm to take the registration packet out of her bag. "Emma Swan with Swan's Sweet Shoppe. These are my assistants, Elsa and Ruby."
"Great!" The girl smiled so wide, Emma's cheeks hurt just looking at her. The girl quickly scanned her paperwork. "Everything looks good! You'll be at station four."
The girl strode off, beckoning Emma and her friends to follow.
"Jesus, Els, what did you get us into?" Emma wondered aloud, still trying to comprehend the situation.
Her friend just shot her a wink, and an innocent smile.
This was all Elsa's idea. Emma hadn't never even heard of this stupid competition. Emma didn't even do baking competitions.
"Prize money, Emma!" Elsa had said. "You can finally get all this crap out of our apartment!"
Emma had initially blown off the idea, but then the single oven in their kitchen stopped working, right before a big order of cupcakes for a wedding.
Emma took a swig out whiskey right out of the bottle. "Fine, I'll do the stupid Disney thing. But if we don't win, I'm throwing myself out the clock tower in humiliation."
Emma baked an amazing cake as an example of her skills, and Elsa sent the pictures in. Immediately, Emma forgot about it. Then Emma got an email three days later:
"Congratulations! Mickey and friends invite you to the 8th annual…"
Emma was officially one of the 5 honored bakers chosen from all over the country. She was suddenly very glad of all the Disney movie marathons Elsa had put her through.
"Here it is! Your home for the next four hours!" The worker waved her arm like a game-show model presenting a new car. "Let me or any of the other volunteers if you need anything! Good luck!"
She gave Emma another wide smile, and just as quickly as she appeared, she was gone.
"Volunteer?" Ruby dropped her boxes on the floor, shaking her head. "She's not getting paid to be that chirpy?"
"Not everyone is as cynical as you two," Elsa said, setting down her many bags. "Some people like these sort of things."
"Lunatics?" Emma muttered under her breath. She raked a hand through her hair, her stomach sinking. Why did she sign up for this? This was madness.
A voice from the next station brought Emma out of her thoughts before she could go into panic mode. A man with dark hair leaned against his counter casually, his eyebrows raised.
"More like… hesitations," Emma admitted. "This is my first competition."
The man let out a low whistle. "And you pick Disney for your first? That's… bold."
"You've done this before?" she asked him. She began to unpack her boxes.
"Baking competitions, yes. Disney baking competitions, no." He stretched his hand between their stations. "I'm Neal."
"Emma. I'd shake your hand, but I have to get ready." Emma gave him an apologetic smile.
"No problem. I'll get out of your hair. Good luck." He turned back to his assistants, (both men, one black haired, and one blond-ish) who were looking at a bottle of rum. Emma heard Neal say, "Leave some for the cake, idiots."
A few minutes later, and Emma's station was unpacked. All the ingredients they needed to bake, and all the things they needed to decorate and build.
Sometimes baking is more building than art, Emma thought as she took out the dowels and rods needed to construct their cake. Emma was not going to build a cake that falls down; she refused.
As a final touch, Ruby taped the sketch of their cake to the table. It was less of an art piece, and more of a blueprint, a plan.
Emma was quite proud of the cake. It had looked beautiful when they practiced a few days ago. And not to sound narcissistic, but Emma's cake had tasted beyond delicious. Elsa had nearly swooned when she ate it. Emma heard Ruby moan noises she usually used for… other activities.
A hush fell over the room, making Emma look around in bewilderment. She didn't figure out what had sent the crowd into silence, until a burst of microphone feedback screeched, making her look up at the stage.
Four people were standing on the stage, next to the volunteer who had signed in Emma. The worker handed the mic to another woman, face burning at creating the noise.
"Ladies and gentlemen," the woman's kind voice rung through the room. "Welcome to the 8th Annual Disney Bake-off!"
The crowd broke into frenzied applause. One of Neal's assistants, the one with black hair, let out a sharp wolf whistle.
"My name is Mary-Margaret Blanchard," she continued once the clapping died down. "And I'll be your host today. I'd like to thank you all very much for coming. This is one of my favorite days of the year." She let out a pretty laugh, her whole facing glowing. "Let's meet our bakers!"
Emma glanced nervously at Ruby and Elsa. She drew in a nervous breath, apprehensive at meeting their competition.
"At station one," Mary Margaret read from a card. "Mal Drakon from the Queens Bakery!"
The Queen's Bakery's bakers were all women. None of them smiled at the polite applause.
"Station two is August Booth from Wish Upon a Cake!"
A young guy with a stubbly chin waved, a cocky smile on his face. His two assistants were older men with kind smiles.
"At station three is Zelena Greenwalt who runs Wicked Cakes and Pies."
Zelena was a pretty red head who flicked her hair over her shoulder confidently. The two men beside her looked nervous, like someone was about to strike them down at any moment.
"From Swan's Sweet Shoppe, at station four, is Emma Swan!"
Emma waved awkwardly at the clapping crowd. She glanced back at her friends, who both grinned at her excitedly. Ruby shot her a thumbs up.
"And finally, station five. From Brooklyn Bro's Bakery, Neal Cassidy!"
Neal did a one finger salute to Mary Margaret. His assistants wolf-whistled, making him turn to glare at them.
"Congratulations to all of you! We're so happy you could be here," Mary-Margaret said with a smile. "Now, let me introduce you to our judges! Winner of countless baking awards, owner of Magic Apple Cakes: Regina Mills!"
Emma gasped, and burst into applause. Regina waved to the crowd, her red lips curled into a small smile. Regina was one of the most famous bakers in the world, and Emma had all of her cookbooks. Her recipe for apple pie was divine. Emma hated that word, but it was the only word that did it justice.
"David Nolan, Head of Disney Special Events, and former Disney Prince!"
He did look like a Disney Prince, with his blonde hair, and a charming grin. Emma could see his blue eyes from across the room. He was the type of man you'd bring home to meet your mother.
"Our final judge is the owner of the baking empire Golden Truffles, and a regular judge on Food Network's Cake Wars. He is…" Mary-Margaret paused dramatically. "Mr. Gold."
For a moment, everyone was stunned into silence. Then all at once, everyone burst into loud cheers. Mr. Gold was a legend in the baking community. Emma and Ruby exchanged wide-eyed glances. This was a bigger deal than they had thought, if Mr. Gold had left his swanky Hollywood mansion for this.
"Alright, bakers, onto the reason we came," Mary-Margaret said. "You have four hours to create the most beautiful cake, filled with Disney magic. You also need to bake a small tasting cake for the judges to try. We don't want to wreck your creations by cutting into them." She laughed. "Good luck, bakers. 3, 2, 1…" She paused dramatically. "Go!"
4 HOURS REMAINING
Neal Cassidy turned to his friends, retying his apron strings. "Alright, Killian: start making the rice cereal treats. Don't burn the marshmallows."
"Aye aye, captain," Killian rolled his eyes, reaching for the box of cereal.
Neal ignored the sarcastic dig, and turned to Robin, who cut him off: "I know, I know. I'm starting the cakes."
"Thanks." Neal grabbed one of the tubs of already-made fondant they had brought with them. He started rolling the fondant under his hands.
He didn't want to brag, but Neal was a pretty good artist. He could make worlds out of fondant and sugar. His air-brushing skills were unimpeachable. He wasn't worried about the design of his cake. He was known all over New York for his cakes. He has been featured in The New York Times, The New York Post, and Food Network Magazine.
"You idiot!" A grating voice yelled, making Neal look up from his work. The redhead from station three was scolding one of her assistants, her face growing to match her hair. The man was shrinking down, his face burning in shame. "I said icing sugar, not regular sugar!" She shoved him away from the mixer. "Move, I'll do it. You're a waste, you know that? I don't know why I brought you."
Neal glanced at the judges, who were frowning and muttering amongst themselves. The real Prince Charming looked aghast at her behaviour. Mr. Gold's face was blank, but Neal could see his jaw was tight in anger.
Neal looked to his left, at Emma's station. She was looking at the judges too. She must have felt his eyes on her, because she looked at him. She raised an eyebrow, and mouthed wow, and tilted her head towards the fuming redhead.
He just shrugged in a what-can-you-do way. Competitions could drive anyone insane. And if they already were insane, God help them all.
3 HOURS AND 29 MINUTES LATER
"Neal? Robin called from the oven. "Is this done?"
Neal carefully put his figurine down, and walked over to him. He peeked into the oven, where five different shaped cakes were golden brown and:
"Perfect." Neal smiled. "Get them out, and into the fridge."
He took a moment to look around at his competition. Station One, Mal's, was quiet. All three women were concentrating on their work. One women with black and white hair poured liquor into a pot, making it burst into flames. She let out a whoop of joy, while her friends barely flinched.
Neal knew August Booth from the second station. They were both veterans of the competition circle. August was a good baker, but a little too overconfident. He was cocky, and didn't accept criticism easily. Neal had seen him talk back to judges on more than one occasion. It was his downfall.
Station Three's occupants were in an uneasy silence, the tension wafting through the air along with the smell of cake baking. The woman, (the witch, really) was crafting a figurine, her mouth an angry scrawl across her face. The man she had yelled at earlier had dead eyes, like his soul had been sucked out. The other assistant had a similar look on his face.
Station Four. Emma. She and her friends chatted easily, discussing things that had nothing to do with baking. They were gossiping as if they were in their own kitchens. Neal couldn't tell what their cake was, but it smelled heavenly. He tempted to go over there and sneak a taste. And possibly chat up Emma a bit.
She was cute. And could bake, which was plus in his books. He couldn't help but stare at the strong muscles in her arms as she used a rolling pin on bright blue fondant. Her blond hair was pulled back in a ponytail, showing off her graceful neck. She let out a pretty laugh at something one of her friends said.
"Hello? Earth to Neal!" Killian waved a hand in front of Neal's face. "She's pretty, but we have stuff to do. Put your eyes back in your head."
3 HOURS AND 27 MINUTES LEFT
He was staring. She could feel his eyes on her. Or maybe on her cake, which she had just pulled out of the oven.
She took a deep breath, letting the scent of the cake envelop her. Her apple spice cake smelled so good, she didn't even want to finish the competition. She could sit on the floor, and devour it all by herself.
Perhaps she would even invite Neal over to taste her cake.
No, she thought, as she carefully put the cake in the fridge to cool. She needed to win this. Emma had dreamt of opening her own bakery since she was little, and winning the money would be a huge step. She couldn't get distracted.
3 HOURS LEFT
"Congratulations, bakers!" Mary Margaret's voice rang through the room. "You've completed your first hour. Only three hours left to finish your creations!"
Emma started on her filling, a simple brown sugar cream cheese frosting. She needed to get this perfect so her cake will stay together, as well as taste delicious. It needed to stick like glue, but not taste like it.
"I have exciting news! Sidney Glass from Oh My Disney .Com will be coming around to interview you and take pictures for the website," Mary Margaret finished. "Again, you have three hours left!"
"Don't freak out." Ruby sidled up to Emma, her hands stained with food coloring.
"I'm not freaking out."
"Liar," Elsa threw over her shoulder from the other side of the station.
Emma sighed. "I'm not good at talking to people. You know that. I'm not a nice person."
"I know. Sometimes I can't stand being around you," Ruby said sarcastically, with an eyeroll. "But I've heard you talk for hours about your cakes. It's like you're a different person."
Emma looked at her. "Really? In a good way?"
"Yes, Emma." Elsa came over to her, and gave her arm a squeeze. "It'll be alright. Just believe in yourself."
Emma smiled, confidence swelling up in her chest. "Thanks, Els."
Ruby slid more cream cheese across the table to Emma. "Get back to work, losers."
2 HOURS AND 14 MINUTES LEFT
Emma looked up at the sound of her name. An older man wearing glasses and a vintage hat stood at her station, a notepad in one hand, a pen in the other. A camera was hanging from his neck.
"Yes, hello." She quickly wiped off her hands on a stray towel, and offered it to him.
He shook it with a strong grip. "Sidney Glass. Can I steal you for a quick interview?"
"Of course." Emma looked back nervously at Ruby and Elsa, worried that they would screw up with her eye off the ball for a few minutes.
"I appreciate that. I know you're very busy, so I'll try to make this quick." He cleared his throat. "Can you tell me some basic information about yourself and your background in baking?"
"Sure." She took a deep breath, her mind racing over the ugly parts of her childhood. How much should she tell him? Better to gloss over it, she decided. No one would care about the many foster homes, and the homelessness of her adult life. "My name is Emma Swan, and I'm 28 years old. I'm from a little town called Storybrooke, Maine, but I moved around a lot my whole life. I recently moved back to Storybrooke about a year ago.
I guess I don't really have a formal background in baking. I didn't go to culinary school or anything. I always loved baking, so I taught myself how to bake and decorate. I started my business, Swan's Sweet Shoppe, a few months ago. It's only part time at the moment. During the day I work as a police officer." Emma paused, as Sidney's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "I really want to win this competition so I can open up my own bakery, and stop arresting people."
"Great, Emma, thank you." Sidney jotted a few more words down, and surveyed her station. "Can you tell me what you're baking, and what your cake is going to look like?"
"I am making an apple spice cake, with brown sugar cream cheese filling. And on top will be a salted caramel drizzle." She slid her design plans towards Sidney. "As you can probably tell by the apple cake, I am going with a Snow White theme. It will be almost three feet tall when it's all constructed."
He snapped a picture of her sketch. "It looks beautiful, but a lot of work. Are you worried?"
"Um, a little," Emma answered honestly. "When we practiced it at home, the cake started to sink in on itself. But I adjusted the recipe, so hopefully it will work better. And won't fall apart."
"I sure hope so," he laughed. "Thank you for your time, Miss Swan. I wish you the best of luck."
"Thank you so much." She gave him a quick smile, and went back to sculpting her figurines.
He took a few pictures of her and her friends, the flash staining her eyes. She took a few relieved deep breaths as he moved on to Neal's station.
Emma stealthily moved to the table closest to his station, a little ashamed of wanting to hear what he had to say.
2 HOURS AND 10 MINUTES LEFT
"Mr. Cassidy!" Sidney Glass strode over, an easy smile on his face. "I've heard lots about you."
Neal didn't look up from his work. "All good I hope?"
"Just that you're very, very good at what you do."
That made him look up, a smirk on his face. "I try."
"But my readers don't know you. So you tell me your story." Sidney poised his pen above his notepad. "Try to keep the bragging to a minimal, please."
With a sigh, Neal set down his paint brush. "My name is Neal Cassidy, and I'm a born and raised New Yorker. I went to the Culinary Institute of America as soon as I graduated. I wanted to be a chef, but I was better at cake decorating. I was always better at art then cooking. Baking was the best way to combine both."
"And you have a bakery, yes?"
"Brooklyn Bro's Bakery. The name sucks, but we're doing pretty good for ourselves." Neal shrugged. "We picked it out of a hat."
"I see." Sidney frowned. "Tell me about your cake."
"We are making a coconut cake with passion fruit curd. Our frosting is coconut rum buttercream, and it'll have toasted coconut flakes and lime zest to finish."
"Very tropical," Sidney noted.
"That's because we are going to Neverland with a Peter Pan theme. We'll have the Big Ben, Tink, The Jolly Rodger, Hook. We're going all out."
"Alright, thank you Mr. Cassidy. Mind if I take a few pictures before I go?" Sidney asked, holding up his camera.
"Make sure you get my good side," Killian chimed in from over Neal's shoulder.
"Oh, Killian, they're all your good side." Robin said, with a dramatic flutter of his lashes.
Killian flicked his hair out of his eyes. "You're right. I'm one dashing lad."
Neal heard a quiet snort come from Emma's station. He looked over to see her sculpting, slightly shaking her head at Killian's words. Her eyes darted up to meet his, but quickly shot back down.
He grinned. It was nice to know she was listening.
ONE HOUR AND 55 MINUTES LEFT
Emma took her cakes out of the fridge, quickly touching each one to make sure they were completely cooled. They were ready to be frosted, and decorated.
"Okay, Elsa take the middle layer, and Ruby take the top. I'll do the base." Emma placed the cakes carefully on the table.
ONE HOUR AND 53 MINUTES LEFT
"Um, Emma?" Elsa started nervously. "The fondant is cracking."
Emma whipped around. "What?!"
"It has a few cracks." Elsa pointed at her cake. Emma looked closely at the cake. It indeed had cracks in the fondant.
Emma cursed. "Try and cover it with decorations as best as you can. I don't know what else to do."
Elsa nodded. "I'm sorry, Emma."
Emma put a hand on her shoulder. "It's alright, Els. Just get it done."
ONE HOUR AND 37 MINUTES LEFT
Neal stepped back from his work, and eyed it critically. "Okay, is it just me or does this ship look terrible?"
Robin peered at the mess of cake. "I think you may have cut a little too much off."
He was right. Neal wasn't the best carver of cake. The majestic Jolly Rodger looked more like a canoe then a pirate ship.
Neal glanced at the clock. There wasn't enough time to bake another cake. Neal balled his hands, trying to keep his frustration down. He couldn't lose focus, not now.
ONE HOUR LEFT
"Bakers, you have arrived at the final hour!" Mary-Margaret said happily. "One hour left to finish your cake!"
Emma put on the final decorations onto her layer. She smiled, happy with her work. The base layer of her cake was the box The Evil Queen needed for Snow White's heart. The clasp of the box was a heart with a sword stabbing through it.
"That looks super realistic, Em," Ruby called. "Like, it looks like a real jewelry box."
Emma smiled. "Thanks, Ruby. I'm not the best artist, but it looks pretty good."
"Okay, I covered the cracks," Elsa said, squinting. "But it looks messy."
Emma sighed, pressing the heel of her hand to her forehead. "As long as it's done."
52 MINUTES LEFT
Neal pressed the nozzle of the airbrush, carefully aiming the spray at the cake. He was using green food coloring to paint the Neverland jungle. Air brushing cake was Neal's specialty, probably due to his years as a teenager spray painting buildings. He wasn't proud of it, but it came in handy.
51 MINUTES LEFT
Emma took a break to look at Neal working. He was airbrushing a cake, something Emma had never done before.
His brow was furrowed; his eyes were squinting in concentrating. The tip of his tongue was peaking out of his lips.
Emma tried to supress a small smile. She had to admit it was pretty cute.
Neal looked up, and met her eyes. He waggled his eyebrows a bit, and shot her a wink.
Emma felt her cheeks heat up, and she went back to work.
"He's cute," Ruby whispered, looking at Neal. "You should get his number."
Emma snorted a laugh. "As if. Have you seen me get involved with anybody?"
"No, but you should." Ruby carefully placed a decoration on her cake. "You're lonely."
Emma shook her head. "Ruby, I'm in the middle of a high-stakes baking competition. I don't have time for this."
"You never do."
10 MINUTES LEFT
"Alright, let's put this together," Emma said to her friends. "Very, very carefully."
Emma grabbed the podium and quickly screwed the dowels in place. Elsa picked up the base layer, and carefully passed it to Emma. Emma took a deep breath, and with a quick prayer, slowly slid the cake onto the stand. Ruby quickly swooped in with buttercream to help stick the layers together.
"Next." Emma grabbed the middle layer from Elsa, and lined it up in the correct position. The top layer went next.
The girls stepped back, and stared at the creation. It was beautiful, but it wasn't finished. Emma grabbed the heavy figurines of Snow White and Prince Charming. The base layer of the cake was a rectangle, the other two circles. That left enough space to place the figures on the other side of the base layer.
Emma sucked in a sharp breath as the couple tipped over. Ruby quickly swooped in and grabbed it, saving it from utter disaster.
"This is too much pressure, Em," Elsa said tightly. She looked a little sick.
"Ten minutes, Elsa. Let's do this."
5 MINUTES LEFT
Neal carefully slid the final layer of cake into place. They just needed to add some last minute details, including the fondant crocodile on the wood base, and Tinkerbell next to the hook on top.
Killian looked up from frosting the tasting cake for the judges. "I think you got this in the bag."
Neal smiled nervously. "Thanks, man."
1 MINUTE LEFT
"One minute left!" Mary-Margaret's voice rang throughout the room.
Emma took a small brush, and wiped off extra flour and sugar stuck to the cake.
"Emma, the flowers," Ruby hissed. She was sticking flowers made out of white chocolate where the layers of cake met. She was trying to stick them all on, but they were running out of time.
Emma dropped the brush, and took a handful, placing them messily on the cake. It was disorganised, but they needed them on.
Elsa finished decorating the tasting cake with roses made of apple slices.
"Three, two, one… Hands off the cakes!"
Emma raised her hands, and stepped back from her cake.
She did it.
Emma let out a whoop of joy, and threw her arms around Elsa. Ruby joined in their embrace, breathing a relieved sigh.
Emma was tense as she watched Mr. Gold take a bite of Mal's cake. Station One's cake was an elaborate castle, with a dragon perched on a tower, based off of Sleeping Beauty. Honestly, it was a bit breath-taking to look at.
"I made a lemon and cucumber cake, with gin buttercream," Mal told the judges.
The room was silent as everyone waited for the judges' verdict.
Regina spoke first. "Mal, your cake, unfortunately, has no flavour. I don't taste the cucumber or lemon."
Mal's polite smile dropped, as Mr. Gold nodded in agreement.
"I can taste the gin in the icing, though," David chimed in. "And your cake is beautiful. Really awesome."
"Your dragon is very realistic. Good job," Mr. Gold said, putting his plate down on the table.
The judges moved to the next station as Mal and her friends glowered at their backs.
Emma let out a slightly relived breath. Thank God the cake tasted bad, or Emma would be really worried.
Station Two. August Booth had made a Pinocchio themed cake, as far as Emma could tell. It was really tiny, only about a foot tall. Regina looked very unimpressed.
"Judges, today I've made blue velvet cake with cream cheese frosting. Enjoy." August gave them a dazzling smile, probably hoping to flatter the them.
"I've never had blue velvet cake before," David said, after taking a bite. "It's really, really good."
"Your cake tastes delicious," Mr. Gold agreed. "As far as the design goes… It's small." August opened his mouth to respond, but Mr. Gold raised his hand to stop him. "No, it is. It's one layer."
"I was going for minimalistic," August replied sharply.
"Oh, boy," Ruby said under her breath.
"It's Disney. Nothing about Disney is minimal," Mr. Gold said. "It's lazy. You were lazy."
Without another word, they moved on to Zelena's station, where she was proudly standing beside a Wizard of Oz cake. On top was a pair of ruby slippers with edible red glitter.
"I made an Emerald City flavoured cake, also known as pistachio cake with honey-vanilla buttercream. In the middle is a fig jam," Zelena bent over her station to give Mr. Gold his piece of cake, giving him an eyeful of cleavage.
"Oh for God's sake." Emma rolled her eyes. The other woman couldn't be more obvious.
Regina eyed her critically. "You know the Wizard of Oz isn't Disney, right?"
Zelena's grin dropped off her face. "What?"
David nodded. "It's not Disney."
Zelena scowled, and gave one of her assistants a filthy look.
"Cake has a good texture and flavour," Mr. Gold said. "But your theme just cost you the competition."
Before Emma knew it, they were at her station, peering at her Snow White cake. Along with the heart box, and Snow White and Prince Charming figurines, Emma's cake also had a layer with The Evil Queen's reflection in her mirror. They also had a forest layer, with the silhouettes of the Dwarves. And sitting on top was an apple made completely of sugar.
"Um, my cake is an apple spice cake, with salted caramel ganache and brown sugar cream cheese filling. Enjoy." Emma put her shaking hands behind her back. Emma felt one of her friends give it a soft squeeze.
The judges took a bite, and Emma sucked in a breath. There was a pause…
Then Regina smiled. "Emma, this is really, really delicious."
Emma grinned. "Really?"
"Really. The cake is moist, and I can taste each element. The salted caramel doesn't overwhelm the apple, which is really hard to do," Regina said. "I love it."
"I agree." Mr. Gold nodded. "Your flavour is great, and the design of your cake is great. If I had one complaint..." Emma bit her lip nervously. "I can see that your fondant is cracking in places."
Emma nodded, her stomach sinking.
"Well, I may be a bit biased, since I was Prince Charming at Disneyland." David shot her a wink. "I love everything about this. Good job."
"Thank you," Emma replied.
The worst was over. Now she just had to wait.
The judges arrived at Neal's station, still muttering to each other about Emma's cake.
Neal shot them a cocky grin. "Welcome judges, to Neverland."
It was Neal's finest work, besides the wonky pirate ship. The Big Ben clock looked straight out a photo, and the airbrushing was perfect.
"This is a coconut cake, with passion fruit filling, coconut-rum buttercream, topped with toasted coconut flakes and lime zest." Neal passed the judges a slice, and waited while they took a bite.
Mr. Gold remained eye contact while he chewed, kinda freaking Neal out. "It's very coconutty."
"I like it," David announced, taking another bite. He nodded. "I like it a lot."
"Thanks, man," Neal said, with a grin.
"Your airbrushing is beautiful," Regina said, cocking her head to look at his cake. "Tinkerbell looks adorable. Great job all around."
Mr. Gold gave it another long look, but didn't say anything else.
The judges went back on stage, where Mary-Margaret was waiting. "Great job, everyone!" she said into the microphone. "Please excuse the judges while they deliberate."
Emma was staring at her cake critically, when Neal came over to her station.
"Looks good, Emma." He stood beside her, crossing his arms. "They really liked your cake."
"Oh. Thanks." She glanced at his cake. "Yours is pretty good too."
"You're right." He gave her a crooked grin. "I have this in the bag."
Competiveness flared in Emma's chest. "As if. Did you hear what they said? They loved it."
Neal shrugged playfully. "I think they were just being nice. I'm going to win."
Emma turned to him. "Care to make a bet?"
"Fine. If you win…" He paused, thinking.
Emma paused, trying to think of something she wanted that he could give her (she could just see the suggestive eyebrow wiggle Ruby would give her). "You teach me how to airbrush."
He raised his eyebrow. "You don't know how?"
She shook her head. "I don't have to money to buy the machine."
"Okay, but if I win…" He paused dramatically. "I get to take you for a drink."
Emma blinked in surprise. "You what?"
"I want to take you out for a drink if I win," Neal said.
She frowned. "Why?"
"You're a good baker. Kinda cute." He bumped his shoulder against hers. "I want to get to know you better."
Emma's cheeks flushed. "Okay. It's a deal."
She held out her hand for him to shake. He took it, sending a shiver of electricity up her arm.
Was it bad she wanted him to win?
The judges filed back on stage, sending a hush over the room. Neal went back to his station, giving Emma a thumbs up. The bet they made put another layer of competiveness in him. He wanted to win, not just for the money now.
Mary-Margaret stepped up to the microphone, clutching a piece of paper in her hand. "On behalf of Disney, we would like to congratulate you all on a job well done and a very exciting competition. The judges had a hard time deciding the winner.
But, in the end, they chose one baker who created a tasty cake filled with Disney magic. The winner of the 8th Annual Disney Bake Off is…"
Neal clasped his hands together in prayer position. Robin and Killian clutched each other's arms.
Emma gasped as her name was called. Elsa and Ruby shrieked, and threw their arms around her, almost knocking her to the floor.
"You did it!" Elsa laughed in her ear. Ruby kissed her cheek noisily.
"We did it," Emma replied. "I couldn't have done it without you."
Applause thundered in her ears, matching the beat of her heart.
Emma glanced over at Neal, who was smiling at her. He wolf-whistled at her, making her laugh. Out of the corner of her eye she could see the rest of the bakers either smiling unhappily, or not smiling at all.
Whatever. She was 5000 dollars richer.
After the applause died down, and everyone started packing up, Emma made her way over to Neal.
"Thanks, I brought you this." She passed him a slice of her cake.
"Oh, thanks. Let me return the favour." He exchanged her piece for one of his, and they took a bite of each other's cake in unison.
"Holy crap, this is good," Neal said around a mouthful of cake.
"Not too shabby, Cassidy." His cake was pretty good, if a little coconutty.
"I guess I'm teaching you how to paint." He took another bite.
"I guess so." She paused, an idea forming in her head. "I guess I need to come to New York to visit."
He smiled. "Only if I get to buy you that drink."
Her chest felt light and happy. "It's a deal."