Friday, November 14, 2014

Free Fiction: The Nightingale's Confection, by Tray Ellis

 This short story is set just before the events in How Sweetly the Whippoorwill Sings (available at  Molly is shopping for her wedding cake and her brother is along to keep her company and offer his opinions. Told from the perspective of the shop owner (and wedding cake baker and artist!), the reader gets a glimpse of events before the Big Day.  Wistful and waiting, Jake doesn't know that romance is right around the corner.

Title: The Nightingale's Confection
Author: Tray Ellis
Length: ~1100 words
Genre: male/male romance
Parent Story: How Sweetly the Whippoorwill Sings


The old-fashioned bells jingled as the door to her cake shop opened and Lissa glanced at the clock.  Five minutes until two in the afternoon and her wedding cake sampling appointment was early. 

"I'll be out in a moment!" she called into the main area and received a friendly confirmation from two voices, a woman and a man.

She took the time to clear the catalogs and order forms she had been working on.  This would give her customers a few moments by themselves to peruse the shop and get comfortable before she approached them.  Her store, The Nightingale's Confection, was mainly a bakery for special occasion cakes, but it also had a small café space for customers to indulge in coffee, tea, and pastries. In the busy mornings she had assisting staff, but the afternoons quieted down and she often cared for the store by herself.

Lissa checked herself in the mirror to ensure she didn't have smudges of flour anywhere and was pleased to see she looked properly professional.  With her dark hair and skin, rogue sprinkles of flour and powdered sugar were obvious.  Some days she went home dusted thoroughly and other days she remained pristine.  Luckily, today was one of those nothing-can-go-wrong days.  Even this morning, her newest brainstorm of butterscotch and bittersweet cocoa cupcakes had briskly sold out.

With one last pat to smooth down her apron, Lissa left her office and entered the display and café area.  "Good afternoon!" She shook hands with both her potential customers.  "I'm Lissa Robinson.  Welcome to my shop.  You're here to try some cake flavors?"

"Molly Mountbatten, and this is my brother Jake."  The petite woman looked competent and extraordinarily poised, and her brother was ruggedly handsome. 

He gave Lissa a smile that could have stopped traffic. "It's very nice to meet you."

"It's good to meet you both." Lissa led them over to one of the tables.  "I have the samples prepared for you.  Give me a moment to retrieve them. And you'd mentioned that you had some possible special requests?"

"Yes."  Molly pulled a folder out of her large handbag and offered it to Lissa.  "The theme for my wedding is going to be whippoorwills, and the colors are going to be pink and white.  I have photos of my dress and some drawings in here. Also color swatches.  Would it be possible for you to come up with a sketch of the cake design so I can make sure it will fit with the overall theme?"

Impressed with the preparation, Lissa took the folder and flipped through it.  The photos were well taken, with both overall shots and in-focus close-ups of the embroidered details.  The sketches were rough, but gave an excellent impression of the aspired to style.  Lissa said a silent prayer of thanks for the color swatches because it meant she could match them perfectly.  Too many brides showed up with haphazard, incomplete ideas and while Lissa enjoyed the challenge of making sure they came away with something spectacular, it certainly involved more work when she started from almost nothing.  Molly already had a firm grip on what she wanted for her final product.

"Absolutely I can work with this.  Let me look it over more closely while you try the samples."  She brought back the prepared tray as well as two glasses of water and an informational sheet that listed prices.  Weddings were almost always conducted on strict budgets and Lissa found it best to be upfront about the costs.  "Here you are.  These are the flavors I have available every day and I can mix-and-match them with the frostings.  I can make other types, but those are by request only and require an additional small fee.  Today's tasting is complimentary."

Lissa pointed out the three different kinds.  "Amaretto-vanilla cake with vanilla butter cream.  Chocolate fudge cake with chocolate ganache.  Lemon cake with lemon curd and fondant.  The fondant is popular because it allows more creativity with the design, but some find it doesn't quite taste as expected."

She left Molly and Jake alone so they could nibble at their own pace and she went behind the counter to peruse the folder more closely.  Grabbing a sketch pad from the drawer below the register, Lissa began to roughly outline her concept of incorporating whippoorwills.  Eavesdropping wasn't exactly her intention, but she did keep a small amount of attention on her customers in case they had a question or comment for her.

"Mmm, this one's delicious," Jake said.  "And this one, too.  I don't see how you're going to pick."

"It is a tough one."  The click of a fork on the plate was distinctive.  "But I knew this was going to be the right store just from the name."

"The Nightingale's Confection?" The penny must have dropped a moment later because when he spoke again it was without the questioning tone.  "Oh, I see.  Whippoorwill. Nightingale.  You do love birds."

Lissa darkened a line on her sketch.  She had little doubt now that Molly would choose her shop.  She didn't know much about whippoorwills, but she already liked their form.  Like the nightingale, they seemed lighthearted and meaningful.

"Of course.  Sometimes you just know what you know," Molly said. 

"Like you know that Irving is the one for you."

"Sometimes you just know what you know," Molly repeated.  "When it happens to you, you'll know too."

"I hope so.  Haven't met that special guy yet." Jake sounded wistful, with a hint of long-suffering dejection.

There came the distinctive soft crumple of a napkin being used.  "Any of these flavors would be perfect, but I think I like the lemon and the fondant."

"Fondant so you can make sure you get your whippoorwills," Jake teased again.

"Don't joke." Molly's tone was light, but held an edge of warning.  "They bring luck.  They might be bringing you luck right now that you don't know about yet."

"How can you be so logical and a lawyer and still believe in magical birds?"

"Life is full of contradictions. Sometimes you just need to enjoy the ride," Molly said.

"Getting engaged has made you wise."

"I'm your older sister.  I've always been this way.  You're just finally starting to realize it."

Jake laughed, and Lissa felt like that was her cue to interrupt. 

She brought the folder back along with her impromptu sketch.  "How is everything?  Any questions?" 

Molly picked up the sketch. A smile spread across her face as she studied it.  "These are beautiful.  You have a gift."

"Thank you," Lissa said. 

Molly sat up straighter in her chair and her gaze became sharp. "Let's start with what information you need from me so I can order a cake. I'm getting married this winter and this needs to be perfect."

Lissa nodded and bent forward, eager and excited about the prospect of creating a whippoorwill themed cake.  It would be a triumph of her skill and creativity.  Plus, every cake she put out there was an advertisement for her shop.  "Excellent," she said.  "I'll make it perfect."


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