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It Only Takes a Taste

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Carmilla’s newest recipe:

Filling made up of 2 cups fresh cranberries, ½ cup of sugar, ½ cup walnuts

Topping made up of ¾ cups softened butter, 2 eggs, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup flour, 1 teaspoon almond extract

Pour cranberries, sugar, and walnuts into a 10 inch pie plate. Cream eggs and butter with a fork and pour mixture over cranberries.

Bake for 35 minutes at 350 degrees--

“Carmilla!”

She kicked the oven shut with her foot. “What?”

Perry peeked over the counter. “As much as I love your pies, we have customers.”

Carmilla rolled her eyes. “Right. Hold on.”

She jumped over the countertop. “Alright,” she shouted when she landed, grabbing a pot of hot coffee, “everyone who needs coffee, raise your cups!”

Carmilla walked down the line of booths and tables, expertly topping mugs. When she got to the end of the line, she turned around. She grabbed a pen from behind her ear, and a small notepad from her apron pocket, the papers covered in flour and little crystals of sugar. She marched down the line again.

“The usual? The usual? The usual? Okay.”

She wrote them all down, tucking the pencil back behind her ear. Carmilla walked back toward the kitchen to place the order.

“Hey, Red! Burn the British, put Adam and Eve on a raft, flop two and sweep the floor.”

Danny looked back at Carmilla from her spot bent over the stove. “Carmilla, is the lingo really necessary? We don’t have to be that stereotypical. I had to look up what you’re saying!”

Carmilla rested her arms on the counter for a moment. “Well, where’s the fun in that?” She asked with a smirk.

Danny rolled her eyes, and Carmilla turned around. She spotted waving arms by the register and walked over.

“Ell, what’s your problem?”

“What do you mean? You have tables on the other side of the restaurant.”

“I didn’t hear you.”

“I’ve been shouting for you the past five minutes.”

Carmilla couldn’t help it; she started laughing. “Ell, it’s the breakfast rush. It’s loud. Are you sure you were shouting? Be honest.”

“...I mean, I raised my voice a little.”

Carmilla smiled. “One of these days we need to teach you to raise your voice a little. Thanks, Ell.”

“Right,” Ell said softly as Carmilla turned around, “I mean--right!”

She dodged Kirsch, sidestepping to the left.

“Morning, Carm-sexy!”

“Worry about your tables, busbro,” Carmilla retorted. She slowed down, pulling her hairband out and retightening the ponytail to trap the few strands of hair that had escaped into her eyes. Then she grabbed her notepad and pen again.

This customer’s eggs were a little too runny. This customer wanted wheat toast, not rye. Could Carmilla please get them a cup of sweet tea? Could Carmilla get them extra napkins? Could they please have the check?

Carmilla, clean that table. Carmilla, take those glasses. Carmilla, work…

She finally found a moment of peace. Carmilla let herself exhale, looking out at the restaurant with her back against the counter. She took out her notepad again.

“Carmilla?”

“Ell, hey,” she said, “just writing down...whatever, I guess.”

“Recipe?”

“...Maybe. Yeah.”

Ell smiled. She hopped onto a stool, resting her hands in her lap. “This wouldn’t happen to be for a contest, would it?”

Carmilla frowned. “Who says?”

“That bulge in the breast pocket of your uniform.”

Before Carmilla could answer Ell reached forward, plucking out the stiff square of paper.

“Hey!”

“I knew it,” Ell answered, unfolding it to reveal it was a pamphlet, “‘Lustig County’s 1st Annual Pie Contest.’”

Carmilla snatched it back. “So I keep it,” she answered, “a girl can dream.”

“You make a really good pie, Carmilla,” Ell answered.

“Please,” Carmilla huffed, “I wouldn’t even know what to do with the money if I did win.”

“I would be happy to help you,” Ell said, nudging her. Carmilla ignored it.

“I wouldn’t even know what to make. What kind of pie is worth twenty-five thousand dollars?”

Ell considered the question seriously for a moment before responding, “I don’t know,” she shrugged. “‘Eloise Abbott Pie?’”

Carmilla bit her lip and looked down at her notepad. For thirty seconds she scribbled furiously before ripping off the paper and handing it to Ell.

“What’s this?”

“Eloise Abbott Pie.”

She looked at it. “Cinnamon bun. Of course.”

“What else, Cinnabon? With sort of a streusel kind of thing on top. Liquid cheesecake filling. So sweet your teeth will hurt.”

“I’m that easy to read, huh?”

“We’ve been friends since we were kids, Ell.”

“You know that you need to bake this now, right?”

“Sure, maybe tom--wait.

Carmilla got up suddenly, running back into the kitchen. She threw the oven door open and--yep, there was her pie. Completely black. She forgot to take it out.

“Well, shit.

***

There was something calming about baking. Carmilla didn’t know why she was so good at it. She hadn’t been raised into it since birth like Perry. Carmilla wasn’t even very good at cooking anything else. But she could carefully lay strips of dough down to make lattice patterns. She could measure ingredients perfectly to the last granule of sugar. Disappointment, bitterness, and apathy were turned, at least until the creation was in the oven, to sugar, butter, and flour.

Things that made sense. Things that could be molded into anything Carmilla wanted them to be.

Her life was not so easy.

She laid the last strip of dough carefully across the top of her creation, throwing it into the oven. Carmilla walked over to the counter again, sitting on one of the stools, taking out her notepad again.

She had snuck back in after closing, and it was quiet. Carmilla hadn’t even changed out of her uniform, and she unbuttoned the top button to give her some breathing room.

The pamphlet was in her hand. A pie contest. A cash prize. A new life somewhere else.

She hadn’t been joking when she told Ell that she didn’t know what she would do with all that money if she won. She knew what she wanted to do. But wanting and doing were two very, very different things.

Still, a girl could dream.

So she wrote measurements and names and made marks in pen, crossing out, and out, and out, until she tore a hole in the paper. She threw three-pointers into a trash can, a game she had perfected, before tearing into the next sheet.

“Too sweet,” she mumbled, “too sweet. Maybe no cheesecake? And apples. Apple cinnamon bun…? That’s not creative. Apple cinnamon isn’t going to win shit--”

There was a ding from the bell above the door that signalled a customer walking in. Carmilla swiveled her chair around. “Uh...hey, boss.”

Perry stared at Carmilla before, finally, sighing. “Staying to bake again, Carmilla?”

“A little.”

“This one better end up on the menu.”

“If it goes over well, sure. What brings you here?”

Perry put her hands in the pockets of her high waisted jeans. “It’s my diner.”

“Don’t you have a newlywed spouse at home…?”

Perry smiled. “There is no trouble in paradise, Carmilla. I hear what your tone is implying. I forgot my pocketbook in my office.”

“Good, because I actually like having them around. They mellowed you out. A little.”

Perry went into the back room that served as the office. The oven alarm went off and this time Carmilla was ready, opening the oven door. The smell wafted through the building and when Perry walked out with her purse, she was sniffing the air.

“That smells heavenly. Cranberries?”

“Yeah.”

“If you’re using my kitchen, I should try a piece.”

“I’ll make another one tomorrow,” Carmilla answered immediately, grabbing plastic wrap to throw over it.

“Really? Saving it for someone special?”

Carmilla narrowed her eyes at her. “Haha.”

“Well, clean up when you’re done,” Perry answered, “goodnight.”

Carmilla waited until she was sure Perry wouldn’t see her. Then she grabbed the pie, balanced it in one hand to open the door, and walked out to make her delivery.

It was a short walk. Everything in Silas was a short walk. She reached the house, stopped on the front porch steps, and looked at the door.

It was late. Should she ring the doorbell? No. She was sick. Waking up old women in the middle of the night was not a good idea.

So, Carmilla ripped off one last scrap of notepad paper, scribbled a note hastily, placed the pie on the ground right in front of the door, and went home.

***

Laura felt uncomfortable walking through the street. She felt out of place. And who wouldn’t feel out of place? It was early morning, but she still felt like a million eyes were watching her. Silas had a population of around 500, according to the guidebook. Laura wasn’t dressed like them, she didn’t move like them, and she had her nose in a map. It was pretty obvious she was Not One of Them.

When was the last time she visited? Christmas?

No, Laura realized, she flew out to New York for Christmas. Laura hadn’t been down to Silas since June--almost a year ago.

And, from what she saw, the town hadn’t changed a bit from what she remembered. She even spotted a raccoon rummaging the same trash can as she walked down the street.

This was where she was living now--this was home. Laura took a deep breath and got ready to knock on the door and start a new life.

When she took a step toward the door, her feet stepped in something...sticky.

“What the--oh, ugh--

She looked down, and then tilted her head curiously. Laura knocked on the door while still looking down.

It smelled awesome, which made the whole thing even more tragic. Plus, she ruined a perfectly good pair of slacks.

“Laura? The door is open, hon.”

Laura bent down, picked the tin up, and opened the door.

“Hey Gran, I’m here!” She announced, walking inside, “who left the pie…?”