Music hummed through the kitchen in time with the knife on the board, citrus being expertly sliced. Half, quarter, eighths… Rick swept the fruit wedges into a bowl and selected a fresh one, swapping the knife for a zester.
Thin ribbons of green piled up in the bowl as he worked, releasing the perfume into the air.
The last of the fruit sat aside to be juiced, ready to add to baking and drinks. Fruit juice was his favourite secret ingredient, always had people wonder what the flavour was. They always knew it was there, they just couldn’t quite place it.
The tree he’d put in the backyard had been the first he hadn’t killed, and after a few years it had sprouted. He had more than he could use, even when his girlfriend took the fruit and distributed it around work, even when he set a bowl on the counter with a sign indicating they were free to paying customers.
The humming of a juicer added to the music and he tipped the juice into the cake ingredients.
“Rick, you got that cake done yet?” called a female voice. His coworker Emily appeared, pausing to take in the workspace. A half-smile appeared as she inhaled, and she took two steps closer as he pierced it with a skewer – clean.
“Finished,” he said, swatting her hand away from where she was trying to steal a chunk of cake. Relenting, he cut it and set a square on the plate, watching first anticipation and then disappointment as again, she was unable to identify it.
She collected another few plates for the store’s front cabinet.
Later, they were winding down. His T-shirt was dusted with flour, and Emily’s artful ponytail was drooping. They’d had a late crowd, and his thoughts were slow with fatigue. She peered at him as he hastily constructed sandwiches, a pre-dinner for closing up.
There was the aroma of toasting bread as they ate, bites snatched as tables were cleared and equipment cleaned.
“How d’you do it?” she asked, eyes bleary. “Sell so many cakes, I mean.”
“Secret ingredient, you know that.”
She half-heartedly throws a teatowel at him. “You know what I mean. What’s the ingredient?”
He moves to the bowl on the counter, selects a fruit. Tosses it back and forth, leans in close. She gets it – she won’t say anything.