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Vianne and Anouk blows into Mexico in tandem with a cyclone warning, an event that will later be termed a divine provenance but for now is simply declared a suspicious occurrence by the town’s brethren. In short order, Vianne is impressed by the people’s lust for all things: their food, their God, and especially their chocolate. A month later, her little Casa en Chocolate is doing great, and soon half of the city is swooning over her confectionary. Soon enough they’ve learned to ignore her lack of religiosity, her short skirts, her tiny fatherless daughter, in pursuit of the grand gourmand. .

It’s fitting that the day Tita appears on her doorstep that a hard, sheeting rain’s pouring down. The girl is downcast of expression, dusty in spite of her soaked skin, and clutching a waterstained list in her hand.

“Two pounds of la negro,” says Tita, staring at her own feet. “And another pound of the con leche, por favor senorita,” she continues, staring blankly at the rows of shiny chocolate trufffles heaped in pyramid shapes before her.

Vianne immediately rushes around the counter, wrapping her arms around her shoulder. “you need something hot,” she says, shepherding the girl to the tiny parlor she’s created near the back of the shop. “Anouk? The linen blankets in our apartment!” A glass mug filled with hot chocolate arrives, along with thick, freshly-fried frijoles and the drying cloth from Anouk’s tiny hands. Tita quickly adapted to the warmth of the parlor, the sympathetic ear Vianne gave her. And just that easily out tumbles her story without further volition.

She returns to her mother filled with stories of the pretty French girl who makes chocolates in town. Mama’s jealous, suspicious, but pleased to see Tita speak of anyone besides Pedro with such burning praise; they talk before the fire drinking thick toddies.

It’s agreed soon after the wedding – for the sake of Tita’s mental health – that she come work for Vianne on Saturday afternoons, while Mama’s in town at church.

***

Vianne soon learns that the architect of Tita’s misery is not her mother, but some amorphous entity called Pedro.

Pedro becomes a watchword. Pedro, Pedro, Pedro, who now lives hundreds of miles away with Tita’s sister, who has colluded with her mother to ruin Tita’s life. “For tradition!” she says, slamming her whisk against the side of a brass bowl filled with panna cotte batter.

“I’ve never been one to pay homage to that,” Vianne says. She thinks to herself that it isn’t healthy to lust after what you can’t have, to give yourself to a desperate man.

Tita shakes her head. “It doesn’t matter if you do. There’s no fairness for anyone.” Her eyes fill with tears as she breaks an egg and whisks them to foam.

When Tita’s batch of panna cottas causes an entire christening party to break into uncontrollable sobbing, Vianne relegates her to register duty - and makes it her mission to keep the girl from crying.

***

Rosaura’s breasts have turned dry as the Gobi, and Tita – empathic, desperate Tita – turns to a river of honey at the child’s desperate cries. Her life is poured into the infant’s mouth; he is a way to keep Pedro at her hip, her only chance at having a child of her own besides, she explains to Vianne. Vianne watches her nurse the child as Anouk lingers by the baby’s head, curious at the snuffling, animal sounds of the infant.

“I do like babies,” remarked Anouk serenely as Vianne carries her off to rinse dishes in the kitchen.

“I don’t know a person who hates them,” Vianne notes wisely, lying to the child, giving her a comforting illusion as she leaves her to the afternoon chores.

Much later, as the baby doses and after Tita has helped her sweep up and eaten a large, warm portion of stew, Vianne scolds her gently. “You’ll ruin yourself for him,” Vianne warns.

“He loves me,” Tita declared, rocking the dozing baby in her arms. “There’s

“Love isn’t worth dying for,”Vianne says, taking the girl’s hand, “it’s worth living for!”

Scandalized, Tita bundles up Roberto. “And how else is it to be measured? I only know I would die for him again and again!”

Vianne tries to stop her, words turning sweet and sugar-cloying, but Tia foreswears them all and rushes home, the baby squalling at her shoulder.

***

A month passes without word from the girl, and Vianne has done her best to forget the girls’ dark, piercing eyes and her mournful nature, the skill she had with anything she was tasked with. Vianne watches her daughter learn, teaches her the Spanish names for flower and stoplight, and walking together with her to the ocean. Vianne can already feel the wind turning

She isn’t surprised when another grey thunderstorm brings Tita and Roberto howling to her door.

She explains the problem while Vianne whips together a hot cider; Mama knows that Pedro and Tita have been having an affair of hearts behind her sister’s back. Rosaura and Pedro are taking the baby to Texas tomorrow, far from Tita and the security and the steady supply of food her breasts provide. He would starve without her.

“What should I do?” she worries, carrying the baby in dizzying circles that makes him laugh. Vianne takes the baby from her, puts him and Anouk to sleep in the child’s little room over the shop. She and Tita go to the receiving parlor and they talk for hours.

It’s Tita – desperate, flavored of the salt of life – who throws herself at Vianne. The kisses taste of bitterness and apple, of chocolate and all the poisons that have drawn them together. The woman in Vianne’s arms is a taste treat – her nipples taste of fine candy floss, the milk that flowed of sugared violets, her sex of ripe peaches. In Viannne, the prone Tita found her own lusty treat, the heart between her thighs beating with new violence, the flavor of citrus coating her tongue.

After, Tita stares in amazement at the flames still crackling within the fireplace. They had not raged out of control, yet they burned, bright as ever. Wrapping herself around Vianne’s soft, warm body, she knew had no idea love might feel this way: glowing, warming, without consuming those who danced within it.

She wakes to a grey morning and the long bare back of Vianne at the window with cider on her breath.

“The west wind’s blowing,” Vianne says, almost to herself, when Tita takes her hand. “Come with me, wherever it ends?”

“Roberto too?”

“And Anouk. Families should never separate,” she says.

They leave the keys behind when they abandon the shop, for someone else to cage themselves.