CATE PULLED OPEN the first compartment of the oven and slid the heart-shaped pan in, shut the door and set the timer.
She dusted her hands against her apron, sniffing the air as she strolled back to her work-table. She loved the smell of baked foods, the sweet aroma of oven-fresh baked foods, the feel of flour and butter, the energy of whisking them all together into a perfect mould and setting them into her top-grade baking machine. She gave a low chuckle at how she usually thought of her deck oven. Gosh, she’d never thought she’d enjoy baking this much until she finally opened her pastry store — Catie’s Sweet Treats — just a little over two months ago.
She hadn’t also thought she’d make headway this fast, had hoped, but hadn’t dared believe in its possibility. But it had happened. She’d found the perfect store, just a walking distance from the Ikeja bus-stop. With her fairy godmother’s gift, she’d done some needed renovations and furnished it to her taste… well, not exactly to her taste at the moment, but good enough so that it didn’t fall below the usual standard. She’d add more as she went on, that was a certainty.
She finished clearing up and wiping clean the formica countertop, hung the napkin on the line by the wall and turned to her kitchen assistant. “Divine, come pick these bowls and stuff and add to the ones you are washing.” She said nodding to the small stack she’d left at the side of the counter.
“Yes, Aunty.” Divine answered, sweeping in from the back door.
It always amused her when she called her kitchen assistant by name, Divine. It wasn’t her birth-given name, but one she’d chosen when she’d become born-again and re-baptised… that was what she’d told her when she was being interviewed for the job. Well, she hadn’t cared much what her name was, or if she preferred Divine to Miriam, as her parents had called her. So long as her reference had checked out and she did her job and did it relatively well, whatever her name was, was only secondary.
Glancing at the oven and certain she still had another half-hour to go, she untied her apron, hung it on the wall-nailed hanger, and strode out into the mini reception slash sales area she’d cut out from the spacious store, separating it from the kitchen area by a wood partition.
“Finally out, are you?” Bukola said, tossing a glance over her shoulders as she came towards her.
She’d been playing sales-rep for her while her girl had gone out to deliver a tray of assorted pastries and a cake to a customer having her bachelorette night that evening. She would have gone herself but since she had another customer to satisfy, she’d sent Tina instead in her place.
“By the look of the cupcake you are finishing off and the empty wrappers beside you, I am thinking I must have taken too long indeed.” Cate slid into the empty high-chair beside her. “And what happened to ‘I’m on a strict diet’, huh?”
“Couldn’t stand the temptation of these delicious desserts.” Bukola grinned, gathering up the empty wrappers and aiming for the dustbin a few metres away. The wrappers landed neatly inside and she gave a delighted whoop. “Basket!”
“Mmm hmm.” Cate shook her head. “It will be basket alright if you don’t curb that sweet tooth of yours and Kunle gets panicked about your increasing waistline.”
“Oh, don’t be such a meanie, ain’t nothing wrong with my waistline.” Bukola pouted, then winked and grinned. “Besides, Kunle is busy enjoying the result of the increasing roundness behind, to care about the waistline.” She let out a deep sigh and relaxed against the back of her chair. “I hardly think I’ve had a free night since the wedding. It’s like we hadn’t been living together months before the wedding.”
“And that self-satisfied, I’m-the happiest-woman-on-earth look you carry around is you complaining I’m sure, hmm?” Cate made a tsk sound and shook her head again. “Jeez, I swear I never seen you smile so much as you have in the last six weeks.”
It was true. Bukola was not only looking her best since her wedding six weeks ago, she looked like she woke up everyday feeling like a million dollars. There was an air of joy and contentment about her and even a sceptic like herself was beginning to believe in the happily-ever-after. And it wasn’t just the fact that she’d revamped her entire wardrobe, a week before the wedding. Oh no! The clothes, like the figure-hugging lycra polka dot dress she had on, was only least of it. Cate knew that her untouchable contentment sprang mostly from the fact that she was married to the man, she liked to call the heart of her heart.
Hearing it often enough, made Cate wonder if she’d ever call someone that. She doubted it. She just wasn’t the romantic, all-for-love, till-death-do-us-part type, nah-nah.
“Or laugh this much.” Bukola said, laughing as if to prove it. “Babe, I swear I’ve never been so happy in my life. Who knew marriage could be so marvelous, so enjoyable, so…” she drew in a long breath, “…satisfying. I thought I was happy just sharing his flat and living in with him, but getting married and making it all official took this happiness to a whole new level.” Bukola grabbed her hands and squeezed them. “Do you know what I mean?”
“Err…” Cate gave a swift shake of her head. “I don’t think so. But I’m willing to take your word for it — marriage makes us happy. Amen.”
Bukola snorted and let go of her hand. “You are such an unbeliever, Cate. I don’t get what you have against marriage or even men for that matter.”
“I haven’t got anything against marriage… or men.” And just because she was there and they were there, she lifted the oval top of the display glass case and lifted out a cupcake. She bit into it, savoured the taste before she continued. “I’m all for it, if it’s what anyone wants and if it makes you feel fulfilled. But…”
“… it’s not what you want or what will make you feel fulfilled.” Bukola completed for her. Then took her hand again. “Cate, when you meet the right man…” she pinched her palm when Cate snorted. “You will meet the right man some day soon, little, doubting Thomasina… and when you do, I’ll be here to tell you I told you so.” She jumped down from the high-chair, swiped the cupcake from her hand. “Gotta go. Kunle will already be closing from work and he loves to find his little woman home when he gets there.”
“Ain’t nothing little about you, amazon.” Cate glared at her.
Bukola chuckled and bit into the cupcake, munching with delight as she bent to retrieve her handbag.
Cate lifted the glass top again and quickly picked two portions of the peanut butter, dark chocolate pound cake Kunle so loved and began to wrap them.
“If you are giving him some takeaways, then I would be wanting a couple of those brown-sugar cherry cakes.” Bukola said, dumping the wrapper in the dustbin and walking around to the other side of the glass case. “After all, I played salesgirl while you were baking away in the kitchen.”
“And ate four cupcakes for your trouble.” Cate told her, adding the cherry cakes to the takeaway pack anyway. “Just make sure your husband gets his, gourmand. And I’ll be calling to ask if he did.” She narrowed her eyes at her as she passed her the closed brown envelope takeaway bag.
“I hear you, madam.” Bukola snatched the bag and then marched over to the side of the display glass to give her a tight hug. “See you later, sweets. And don’t you dare forget we are picnicking this weekend. Bring a boyfriend… even if he’s a temporal one.” She tweaked her cheek and then hastened for the door.
“Where do they find temporal boyfriends?” Cate asked, grinning mischievously. “I think I like the sound of them.”
Bukola tossed her a baleful stare over her shoulder. “Open your eyes, Catie, they are hovering all around you, begging you to notice them.” She shook her head and pulled open the glass door, almost running smack into the gentleman trying to get inside. “I’m so sorry sir.” She started to apologise, then stopped short when she saw it was Detective Calvin Vaikosen. “Oh, it’s you, Detective. Wow! What are you doing here? I mean is there a problem… we are not in trouble, are we?”
Cate almost laughed out loud at the stream of nervous questions. Police officers always gave Bukola the jitters. She sat back with a smile, observing the scene. She hadn’t seen him since their wine toasting at her boutique three months ago. He’d called twice, sent text messages a couple more times, but they hadn’t seen each other since then.
She was surprised he was here now. Surprised he’d just appeared at her store, literally out of the blue.
“You seem to have a habit of asking that particular question, Miss Adewale.” Calvin was saying now with a friendly smile. “And I do apologise if we Police officers have managed to give you the impression that we only appear when there is trouble… because that is not always the case. Matter-of-fact, I’m only here to call on Miss Makinde — a friendly, social call.”
“Oh, okay. That’s alright, then.” Bukola laughed and stepped back to allow him in. “Anyway, I was just on my way out, so… err, goodbye.” She made as if to go on, then stopped. “And it’s Mrs. Adepoju now.” She added with a laugh, jiggling her left hand.
Cate’s amused smile widened.
“Ah, indeed it is. My congratulations and best wishes, Mrs. Adepoju.” Calvin dipped his head.
“Thank you, Detective.” Bukola smiled demurely, then turned to wave at Cate. “Talk later, Catie girl.”
The emphasis on talk amplified Cate’s smile. But she switched to a bland expression when Calvin shut the door and started towards her. He was dressed in his usual unofficial, casual way — black jeans with rolled-up light blue striped shirt and loafers. She thought of her own boot-leg blue jeans and V-neck T-shirt and wondered if she looked just as easy on the eye and casually attractive as he did.
Possibly yes. Not that it mattered.
Something was new about him — the stylised circle beard. No sideburns, just a bit of moustache that continued down to meet his chin strap. He didn’t have it before, the beard. Just had this constant stubble, like a not-properly-shaven facial hair, but never a full beard. Since she liked facial hair on a man, she decided the circle beard suited him.
But since that was neither here nor there, she leaned a hand over the counter and tilted her head to the side. “Hey, Detective, stalking someone in the neighbourhood?” She asked, flashing him a gay smile.
“Actually on the lookout for a certain Miss Cate Makinde.” His easy smile twinkled as he stopped beside the mahogany counter. “I’m told she is about five-four, extremely pretty and extremely mouthy. You wouldn’t know her by any chance, would you, lady?”
Cate let out a merry laugh. “Looks like someone I might have met. But you hold that thought, Detective, while I dash inside to check on some stuff.”
She rushed off into the kitchen, just in time as the timer went off. She quickly brought out the cake and set it on the formica table to cool off. Since it was a simple enough cake, she entrusted the butter icing to Divine. Then rushed over to the refrigerator to grab a pack of soy milk. Moments later, she walked back into the room, a tray with the milk drink and a glass in hand.
Calvin turned from his looking around. “My goodness, this place is really something, you know.” He said, his eyes wide with admiration.
“It is, isn’t it?” She laughed, feeling the excitement that hasn’t deemed in the two months of her opening. She set down the tray and gestured for him to join her on the other side of the counter. “How about a glass of soy milk with some cupcakes?”
“Ah… are those croissants?” He asked, looking a little dazedly into the display glass.
She nodded, grinning. “Mmm hmm.”
“Wow!” He sniffed appreciatively. “If I’m getting anything free, I’d love the croissant please.”
Cate chuckled and opened the glass top. “No problem. I’ll add this galette to it. They are also a French delicacy and quite crunchy the way I make them.”
“How about you save the galette for another time. The croissant will do just fine.” He’d walked around and took the chair Bukola vacated.
“No matter, I’ll wrap it up as a takeaway.” She served him the croissants and started wrapping up the galette.
Calvin took a bite of the roll and moaned in pleasure. “Utterly amazing. Gosh, these are not common pastries. I bet they are a great hit with your customers.”
“Not just them, everything is.” She grinned as she retook her seat. “Mum and I found this shop and I just couldn’t believe my luck, because of the perfect location.” She rolled her eyes. “Of course her royal majesty thought and still
thinks a shop on the Island would be better.”
“I see she’s still her royal majesty, what happened to grandma?” Calvin teased.
“She’s just too aristocratic to be a common grandma.” Cate grinned. “But she’s also been like my number two fairy godmother.” She nodded when Calvin arched a brow. “Oh yes, an unexpected fairy godmother. I made the cake for mum and Mr.T’s wedding…”
Cate narrowed her eyes. “You interrupt again, mister, and you won’t hear this amazing true story.” She warned, pointing a finger at him.
“Sorry. I’ll just keep my mouth busy with this delicious croissant.” He grinned, biting into the roll as prove.
“Good boy, Detective.” She laughed, then went on with her narration. “The cake turned out to be such a hit, not to talk of the pastries I also made.” She giggled in delight. “Her many wealthy and very connected friends and acquaintances were so taken with almost every pastry served and with her majesty generously singing my praise, I
garnered a big list of very important clientele.”
She twinkled as she cupped her jaw in her palm. “With the base of such illustrious customers, Catie’s sweet treats took off with such unbelievable speed even I am still speechless.” She paused and grinned. “I haven’t had a free weekend since I opened shop. It’s one event or the other. And those who simply stopover for quick purchases or smaller orders… it’s just been awesome.”
Calvin smiled back. He’d finished his rolls and was wiping his hands. “Yeah, I can only imagine. It looks like you might have to add a seating place though for those who might want to relax and eat-in.”
Cate gave the store a speculative glance-over. “Hmm, that’s an idea. Just one I’m not ready for right now. This place isn’t big enough for one thing and for another, I don’t just want to do too much all at once. I think I’ll just with stick my baking, supplying and takeaway sales for now.”
Calvin nodded. “That’s good. Still, congratulations are in order, for you’ve really made a success of becoming a pastry chef.”
She beamed. “Oh, it’s early innings yet. But I’ve got good vibes about this.”
“It shows on you.”
Calvin studied her. She could see the open interest in the dark eyes. She’d seen it that last day at her boutique but hadn’t thought much of it. Didn’t want to now either.
“Really?” She laughed gaily. “I guess success suits everyone.”
“It surely does.” Calvin smiled. Then asked. “So, how’s your car?”
“Oh, it’s been riding well. Hasn’t given me any cause to worry since the battery change. I’m glad I didn’t give in to the temptation of selling it then.” She didn’t mind the change of subject. She’d have preferred they stopped talking about her altogether. “And you, were did you reappear from?” She asked, doing just that. Or shouldn’t I ask?”
“I’ve been on an undercover assignment out of the state.” He said mysteriously, taking a sip of his milk drink.
“Hmm, how all cloak and dagger. Did you catch the bad guys?” Her eyes danced with mischief.
He lifted his shoulders in a casual shrug. “They are now facing the brunt of the law.”
“Gosh, Police lingo again.” She flashed a wink.
He started to say something but stopped when his phone. Giving her an apologetic smile, he angled his body away to take the call.
Cate busied herself with clearing up. And was just coming back into the room, when he was slipping the phone back into his pocket.
“That was my DPO.” Calvin sighed regretfully. “I thought I was done for the day but it looks like something else came up.” He pushed down from the chair. “Gotta run. Sorry.”
“Hey, don’t forget your galette.” She stretched forward the takeaway envelope.
He took it. “Thanks for the amazing treats and the great conversation, Cate.” He smiled warmly. “You know, I just wanted to let you know in person that I was back in town.”
She nodded, smiling. “I appreciate your stopping by.”
Did his eyes suddenly turn intense, or was she just imagining things?
“I’ll call you later.” Calvin promised, flashing a bright smile before turning towards the exit. At the door, he said a brief hello to the lady coming in before walking out.
Cate remembered belatedly Bukola’s order for her to bring a temporal boyfriend to the picnic and sighed. She should have asked Calvin. But she banished the thought almost immediately. Uh huh, nothing temporal or even boyfriend about Detective Calvin Viakosen.
“Evening, anything I can help you with?” She smiled at the lady who was now gazing into the display glass.
All thoughts of Calvin and temporal boyfriends were pushed to the background and temporarily forgotten.