Featured in 'Short Stories for on the Go'
‘One minute left!’ The judge’s voice echoed through the village hall.
Penny squinted as she added a final dusting of chocolate powder. Her heart skipped a beat. She stood back and smiled at her creation. Perfect. Her take on a strawberry gateau would have the village talking for years.
Penny wiped her sticky fingers on her apron, gave her strained eyes a quick rub and stepped in line with the other six contestants. She stood next to her biggest rival of this year’s Mossfield Hills’ baking competition, Felicity Farrow.
Felicity had won the competition five years in a row and Penny was under orders from the villagers to knock her off her self-righteous pedestal this year.
‘We’re counting on you, Penny,’ said Geoff, the local baker. ‘We’ve had enough of that woman’s boasting. You can’t have a conversation with her, without her weaving in something about her trophies. I’m sure she polishes them every day.’
A pang of guilt hit Penny as she glanced at a nervous Felicity. She was looking at Penny’s presentation table. So were the judges. A delicately sugar spun waterfall cascaded behind a strawberry field of deliciousness. The judges were smiling and making pleasing noises as they wrote on their clipboards. Penny felt her cheeks blush with pride.
She caught Felicity’s eye and gave her an encouraging smile.
‘Congratulations, Felicity. I love your idea,’ said Penny.
Felicity had chosen the theme of Ascot and produced the most wonderful hat out of fluffy sponge, cream and strawberries. Elegant feathers had been crafted from white chocolate and fanned like a male peacock wooing a potential mate.
‘Thank you, Penny. I’ve had a lot of practice over the years. Yours is a bit too fussy for our judges, I think. Best to keep it simple.’ There was a bite to her tone.
Penny swallowed a pang of self-doubt and took a step towards Geoff standing to her other side. Felicity’s chest inflated and a self-assuring smile spread across her face as the judges looked at her presentation. More pleasing sounds buzzed from their lips. Penny looked away. Her skin prickled and she clasped her hands to stop them shaking. Surely, Felicity hadn’t won again?
‘Ignore her, she’s just worried she’s got stiff competition this year,’ whispered Geoff. His Baker’s hat flopped like a collapsed soufflé. ‘You’ve got this in the bag.’
‘What about you? Yours looks wonderful and I know it’ll taste divine.’
Geoff laughed. ‘You know I only enter to get Felicity’s back up.’
Penny gave him a playful nudge. She turned her head and gazed at her own work. The sugary waterfall now glistened as the midday sun shone through the skylights of the baking hall. It looked magical. Her inspiration, ‘Strawberry Fields for Ever.’ Four small beetles, made from chilli flavoured chocolate nestled on a marzipan crag at the foot of the fall. The signature of her masterpiece.
The judges finished their first round of marking. The small audience, crammed in the corner, seemed to perch on the edge of their seats. Penny chewed her bottom lip.
‘The winner of the creative aspect with the highest score ever given at this event is Penny Haversham.’
‘Well done,’ said Geoff, patting Penny on the back.
Penny’s cheeks glowed. Applauds from the spectators echoed through the hall.
The only hands not clapping were Felicity’s. Her face was taut. Penny didn’t ponder. A beam of excitement ran through her veins like lemon drizzle soaking into sponge. She’d never won anything in her life.
‘Now for the tasting,’ said the head judge.
‘You’ve won this hands down,’ said Geoff. His deep voice was too loud.
Felicity shot him a disapproving look. ‘Don’t count your chickens, Penny,’ she retorted. ‘My grandmother’s recipe has never failed me yet.’
Penny breathed in deeply and exhaled slowly through tightened lips. She knew the balance of tastes in each component of her dessert was on point. Geoff had helped her during the evenings to perfect it. The recipes for each part of the dessert were imprinted on her mind. She hadn’t needed to use the method cards, which was a blessing as she’d forgotten her reading glasses.
The judges tasted each dessert. Next was Felicity’s.
‘The sweetness of the strawberries is complimented well with the white chocolate cream.’ Felicity hummed with a smile. ‘But the sponge is a little dry.’ The humming became a low growl. The judges moved on.
Penny crossed her arms firmly across her chest as the judges spooned her gateaux into their mouths.
‘Oh my,’ screeched the judge. She grabbed a glass of water and drank it quickly.
Penny flinched. Her eyes wide. Mouth agape. The faces of the other two judges scrunched and they also gulped water.
The head judge composed herself and cleared her throat. ‘Oh, Penny, I think you’ve overdone the chilli.’
Geoff chuckled and grabbed Penny’s shoulder, giving her a squeeze. She looked up at him with gritted teeth. ‘I must have grabbed the wrong shaker. I could have sworn it said cocoa.’ She covered her face with her hands.
Geoff grabbed her in a bear hug. ‘Well, you did say your take on Strawberry Gateaux would be the talk of the village.’ Penny giggled and the audience joined in.
The only person not laughing was Felicity.
The judge announced the winner. ‘Congratulations, Geoff.’
Geoff looked at Felicity and shrugged. ‘Simple is best.’ He then turned to Penny. ‘Let’s go celebrate!’
Destiny by Design
It was just after midnight. Sally walked along the stream in a daze. Her insides churned. It was a clear night and the full moon lit the way to her favourite wooden bench at the edge of the stream. She needed to think.
Sally sat heavily on the weathered bench and stared down at the slow trickle of the water. She couldn’t believe what fate had thrown her today. She had worked hard to finalise the biggest deal of her life, which would be the make or break of the company. Today the contracts were supposed to be signed. But they weren’t. Instead, her long standing partner, Jasper Waltz had double-crossed her.
Sally bent over, placing her head in her hands. The betrayal unbearable.
She had worked fifteen hour days with Jasper to build up their interior design company and had trusted him wholeheartedly, since they met seven years ago. They had shared the same vision and ambition, or so she’d thought.
She slumped back on the bench and sighed. A single tear rolled down her face. She had no idea how to cope. She tried to fight past the emotions that sat heavily in her stomach. But she couldn’t. She felt sick.
A rustle in the nearby cluster of trees startled her. She turned her head and saw a figure hiding in the shadows. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end.
No answer came. The shadow moved and Sally shuffled on the bench.
‘Show yourself,’ she said, louder this time.
He stepped out. Sally gasped as she recognised the face. It was him. She stood up to face him head on.
‘What are you doing here? Haven’t you done enough?’
Sally crossed her arms and glared at Jasper. His face was pale and expressionless. There was something unnerving about him. Sally took a step back as he came closer.
‘I’m not going to hurt you, Sally. I just want to talk.’
‘Now, you want to talk?’
Sally listened to his excuses. She flinched as he tried to place a hand on her arm. She shivered and she saw her breath hit the sudden cold air.
‘I’m sorry, Sally.’
‘Sorry?’ said Sally, uncrossing her arms and taking a step toward him. This time he backed off.
‘I was desperate, Sally. I want to make it right again.’
‘And how do you expect to do that? It’s done. You stabbed me in the back. End of.’
Sally could hear her mobile ringing in her handbag and wondered who would be calling at this time of night. She looked away from Jasper and grabbed the phone.
‘Sally, something terrible has happened,’ said Marie, Sally’s personal assistant.
‘Tell me about it,’ snapped Sally.
‘I think you should come to the office.’
‘Just tell me,’ she screamed down the ‘phone.
Sally felt her blood rush to her feet as the news began to sink in. She looked towards Jasper. He was gone.