This story is by Miruna Filon and was part of our 2023 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It’s almost midnight, and Ryan still hasn’t reached his wife.
It’s been several hours since he’s trying, and he can scarcely breathe. His palms burn, but it’s easy for him to ignore all the pain and exhaustion. He needs to finish all this before…
A first blast startles the man, and now, gripping the handle tighter, his hands tremble while fireworks resonate from all directions. The fireworks are loud and plentiful, just like the night they first met.
The explosions were deafening, but the noise of the applause and shouts was even worse as the prettiest woman Ryan had ever seen walked in with the cake. He was participating in a dual celebration among his family and colleagues: the New Year and the grand opening of California’s biggest luxury events venue – the latest asset in his father’s empire. Celemaster had managed to get a five-year contract with a renowned team of chefs, and the menu was phenomenal, but the cake looked from a whole different universe. Ryan was working as a catering manager at their location back in New York, so he figured out that the charming lady was the master patissier while she was supervising the perfect cake-cutting. No one expected the uniqueness of the dessert. It looked like a chocolate cake. It tasted like ice melting on your tongue, oxygen in your lungs, and a massage while you throw yourself off a waterfall – a sweet one.
“Did you enjoy the dessert tonight?” the woman approached their table with a lovely smile.
“A little too much,” mumbled Frode Keller, the Celemaster’s CEO, penetrating her with the gaze under the ashamed looks of his wife and sons.
“Allow me to introduce Darah Soler to you, the sweetest talent in our team,” the director stood up to rescue her from the awkward situation.
“I am delighted to meet the people who made this fantastic workplace possible,” Darah said, looking around with admiration before meeting Ryan’s eyes, where she rested hers for a while.
Ryan couldn’t understand why, but during the eye contact, his mouth watered uncontrollably. He thought it might have been because he associated her face with the most delicious thing he had ever eaten. He kept stealing glances at her table throughout the rest of the party until he finally caught her looking back at him once. After that, in his ears, the rhythm of his heartbeat accompanied the orchestra.
As the event was nearing its end, the marketing manager suggested taking photos with the entire team. All the staff lined up, with the Keller family in the foreground. Ryan called Darah over:
“Darah, please come to the front because your masterpiece was the star of the night.”
“Oh, because of the cake. I thought it must be because of the boobs,” Darah whispered when she got next to him.
Ryan looked at her chest, pressed beneath several layers of flawless uniform, and began to love her sense of humor. Both were caught in the photo sharing a hearty laugh.
Later that night, Ryan better understood what Darah meant, right in the chefs’ locker room.
The following evening, he was at the airport with his family, unable to shake the thought that he must see that woman again.
“Dad, I’ve been considering extending my stay here. I’ve been truly impressed with this team’s skills, and I believe a new perspective could contribute positively to our projects in New York.”
“Sounds alright,” Frode answered, and before he could say anything else, Ryan hastily turned around, leaving his checked suitcase behind.
He took a taxi directly to Celemasters. When she spotted him, Darah’s face lit up. He told her he would stay another week at his father’s hotel, but eventually, both headed to her apartment after work. Her cute apartment was more like a vast, livable kitchen. The cooking space was enormous and packed with equipment – three ovens and an array of gadgets, an island with tall stools, behind which stood two floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled with recipe books on either side of a grand window, and a bed with a lovely view into the kitchen. A few frames with pictures of cakes were hanging on the walls, along with some fancy speakers – no TV.
“What do you do for fun?”
“I bake,” Darah responded instantly.
During the week they shared a home, Ryan felt like he had woken up in paradise every day. Darah had a fascinating morning routine: she played classical music as she got out of bed, and by the time her new roommate opened his eyes, she already finished preparing breakfast. Usually, it was something sweet, but even her salty dishes resembled pastries. Ryan had experienced fine dining his entire life, but nothing compared to what she cooked, as she poured her heart into everything she did.
They went to work together and came back together, and it seemed like they had been doing it for a lifetime, not just a few days. Darah’s green eyes softened his soul, and her chestnut hair always carried the sweet scent of melted sugar.
Throughout the six-hour return flight, Ryan couldn’t stop tearing up, even though they parted ways as if the past week meant nothing.
“I can’t shuffle teams to different ends of the country just because you crave some New Year’s cake. These are real people, Ryan; they have families, and I can’t juggle their stability at my whim. Do you think this company is worth billions because I’ve been an inhuman and exploitative boss? No, son, I genuinely care about all these people,” Frode’s enraged voice ended the heated argument.
“Then I’ll work in California.”
“Oh, God, please don’t let him ruin my business after I die,” Frode addressed Rob, his firstborn and CFO, who rolled his eyes.
The day after, Ryan nervously knocked on Darah’s door, prepared for rejection. She opened it with teary red eyes. She wasn’t able to go to work that day.
Soon, the time they spent together had become insufficient.
“Perhaps we could quit our jobs and go on a culinary excursion. To truly get to know each other, you know. I have enough savings to support myself for a year, and after that, we’ll surely…” Darah hesitated one morning as they lay undressed.
“I have enough saved to support us for thirty years and shares in my father’s company. But I didn’t know if this was what you wanted.”
At that moment, Ryan revealed the emerald ring matching her eyes, a secret kept since his return from New York. Shortly after, the two married and embarked on their dream culinary journey, savoring the exquisite food and each other’s company to the fullest.
Darah started to look fluffier after a few months of traveling, but Ryan loved her new look – until they found out she was pregnant. Despite their passionate lifestyle, the news surprised him, and he couldn’t help but feel a hint of jealousy at the thought of sharing his wife.
Ryan’s life remained a pure fantasy for a year until the twins arrived and Darah left.
The blood from his peeled palms drips along the shovel’s shaft, and his clothes are soaked. After another hour, Ryan strikes a solid surface, a sign that he has finally reached the coffin. He desperately struggles to open it, striving to minimize any noise. As he succeeds, tears start streaming down his cheeks. Darah’s precious eyes are completely gone. They did a commendable job with the effort put into embalming, as only a few patches of her skin had turned black after nearly a year of absence. He tenderly ran his fingers through her hair, sensing a shiver down his spine. One thing’s for sure – her beauty did not die. He can’t resist, so he leans down and kisses her cold lips. The softness has vanished, and the heady scent of formaldehyde sends him back to the day of the funeral.
People stared at him like he was insane as he kissed his wife’s lifeless body, screaming with all his might. When they buried her, he collapsed to the ground near the crib where the nameless twins cried inconsolably, babies whom no one dared to touch.
A nun approached him as he was the only one left in the cemetery. As he looked closer, he realized she was albino, just like his sons.
“The Devil hides in the colorless duality of existence. Within the fragile balance between the two worlds, one life must balance the scales. Like my twin, seventy years ago, one of the cursed newborns must be offered.”
On January 2nd, a mailman hears desperate cries from a house. After they don’t stop for several minutes, he enters. Shocked by the disturbing sight of a dead man holding a mummy, he immediately takes the starved children into his arms and calls the police. While waiting on the street, he receives a call back from the police.
“Yes, still waiting.”
“This is Collin Martin from the county’s Medical Examiner office. Your wife…”