Pistachio Cupcakes

*My entry for Challenge 1 in the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest 2020. My assignment prompts were Romantic Comedy, Farmer’s Market, An Eraser. I hope that you enjoy!

Claudia double-checked her sister’s list. Two people had called in sick, leaving both the bakery and the Farmers’ Market booth short. So here she was, late and rushing to open “Kerry’s Kreations Bakery” with an insanely detailed prep list.

Everything was done except the sign. Claudia grabbed the large board and chalk markers. She checked the cheat sheet that Kerry had given her and found the specials for the day.

People were already perusing the stalls, so she periodically glanced toward the passing crowd as she wrote. She didn’t have the best handwriting, but she tried. Kerry would expect pictures of everything. Claudia didn’t blame her. Everything here was representative of her brand. Davy was the one with the excellent handwriting, but he was sick.

A lady in her forties paused by the tarts before moving down the line. Another stopped by with questions about the bakery and said she’d return. Refocusing on the sign, Claudia went back to work on the daily specials.

Claudia glanced up, dutifully again and saw her. Her skin drank the light that reflected off her dark curls. She looked momentarily sad, but then laughed at something the guy beside her said.

“Of course, she’s straight.” Claudia shook her head but didn’t take her eyes away from the woman’s broad lips, or the way that her eyes crinkled as she laughed. Taking a deep breath, Claudia tried to release the tension in her chest.

Looking back at her work, she saw that she’d drawn one long line where a small dash should have been. She cursed quietly and grabbed the eraser that her sister had packed for the board. Rubbing out the mark, she stared resolutely at the sign until she’d finished it. Claudia finally placed it on the ground, and looking up came face to face with her.

*

When Gary had insisted she go with him to the Farmer’s Market, Lilly had been secretly grateful. She’d complained, but they both knew that a change of scenery would do her good.

Since Sharon had left, he’d given her space. Gary had been her best friend for a long time, and he knew that she needed time to let go of people.

“There might be some cute girls there,” Gary had mentioned, brows wagging, as a means of incentive. Lilly wanted to move on, and he knew that. Getting out of the house was the first step. She’d grieved long enough. He wasn’t wrong, even if she still struggled with comparing other women to Sharon.

“Pistachio alert,” he said at one point. She looked at him, confused. He subtly nodded to his right. A particularly cute girl stood behind the booth. “That looks like a snack.”

“She’s really adorable, but that’s a bit objectifying.”

“What?” He paused in confusion before his eyes grew wide with realization. “Oh! No, they’re selling pistachios. I just meant that we should get some for a snack.”

Lilly started laughing to the point that she was bent over. “I should have known better.”

“Where is your head at?” It quickly became an ongoing joke throughout the morning.

Lilly found herself stuck in her thoughts again when Gary said, “I bet they have pistachio cupcakes over there.”

She started laughing abruptly, and for a moment, she’d forgotten about Sharon again. To patronize him, Lilly looked over at the bakery stall. That was when she saw her.

Long swaths of dark hair fell over her face, but it couldn’t hide her high cheekbones or the intense concentration that she held over the chalkboard in her lap. Lilly watched her long legs as she walked confidently to place the sign down on the ground. For almost no reason at all, Lilly felt a strange flickering in her chest.

Then she saw the sign. “Pistachio Cupcakes – $2 each.” Something came over her, and Lilly didn’t hesitate to walk over to that sign and that girl. For the first time since Sharon had left, Lilly was oddly grateful and hopeful. She didn’t know why.

 The girl looked up, and Lilly came face to face with the most astonishing brown eyes she’d ever seen. They pulled her in, and her breath caught in her throat.

“Hi,” the woman said, slightly startled.

“Hey.”

“I’m Claudia.”

“Lilly.”

“Lilly,” She breathed the name like it was a prayer, then glanced around like she was looking for someone.

“Could I have two of your pistachio cupcakes?”

“Of course.” Claudia’s eyes shifted. Lilly recognized customer service mode when she saw it. “I hope you and your boyfriend like them!”

“Boyfriend?”

“Yeah, the guy you were with, earlier.”

Lilly laughed loudly. “Gary? No. Though I’m sure, he would find that funny. He’s my best friend, but he’s not my type.” Lilly paid her and watched her making change. “Keep it.”

“Thanks.” Claudia smiled again, this time a real one.

“Do you like pistachios? Well, I guess you must, it’s your shop.”

“It’s my sister’s actually, but I do like pistachios.”

Lilly held out one of the plastic containers. “Would you like the other?”

“Oh no, that’s okay. I would hate to get between a beautiful woman and her desserts,” Claudia laughed, and her whole face lit up with it.

“But I bought it for you.” Claudia gaped at her, and Lilly just smiled. “Pistachios are my type, and so are you,” Lilly said it a bit too fast and almost cringed at her joke but held steady, smiling as confidently as she could.

Returning her smile, Claudia accepted the cupcake and offered Lilly a seat in the shade. Two years later, they served Kerry’s pistachio cupcakes at their wedding.


You can also read my entry for Challenge #2, “Souvenirs.”

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Quiet Time

*TW: Self-care for Mental Health

My Quiet Time is an essential part of my self-care routine.

I will admit that I heard the term when I was still a part of the church. Because of my past associations with it, I avoided it for a long time.

I don’t see Quiet Time as a religious practice anymore, although it can be. Years later, when I was discovering self-care routines that worked for me, the term Quiet Time was there waiting. It was the easiest way to describe to friends and partners what I needed to do for myself.

If it brings you peace, then bring it into your Quiet Time. It can be a few minutes with your coffee and silence. It can be your morning prayers. It can be sitting down with your tarot cards. It can be meditation. It can be thirty seconds where you take a few breaths to calm yourself. It can be countless other things.

It’s about meeting yourself where you are emotionally, mentally, and physically. It’s about getting to know yourself and appreciating all of your needs. It is about self-love, and loving yourself will influence the way that you actively love others. The best way to have Quiet Time is to choose practices that fit you and your life.

I don’t always do the same things, but my Quiet Time often looks like:

  • Being still
  • Playing music
  • Looking at affirmations
  • Reading
  • Meditation
  • Contemplation
  • Journaling
  • Mindfulness
  • Focusing on gratitude
  • Being Present
  • Whatever I need at that moment
Quiet Time is a flexible self-care routine.

I might use any or all of these techniques. I meet myself where I am at that moment. Some of those techniques you might have heard used interchangeably, but the subtle differences can change how they work for you. I have had different experiences with them all.

Quiet Time doesn’t have to take long. It can be ten minutes to yourself before you get ready for school, work, or before the kids are awake. As long as I’ve known her, my mother has had Daily Devotions. It is a spiritual practice that prepares her for the day and all of its uncertainties. For you, it might look completely different.

It’s an essential part of both my morning and evening routines.

At night I use it to let go of the day that’s already gone. I use it to clear my mind before bed and forgive myself for the blunders of the day. I calm my thoughts and minor anxieties. As a result, I tend to sleep better on nights that I respect my Quiet Time.

I use it in the morning to prepare for the day ahead. There is a notable difference in my mood before and after my Quiet Time. If I’ve taken time to fill my glass, it’s much easier to have something to pour into others.

On days that I take advantage of Quiet Time, I feel far more capable of facing the day with its inconveniences and uncertainties. I started to learn how to make myself feel better even when my anxiety was high for no reason. I find myself beginning my day in peace and confidence instead of worry and hurry.

If you take medicine for anxiety or depression, Quiet Time is not a replacement for your medication. Medicine may also be an essential part of your self-care. Quiet Time is only a companion to take on the journey.

Set yourself up for success. Create a space of time for yourself every day. It doesn’t have to be called Quiet Time, and it doesn’t have to look like mine. But give yourself some peace in the present. You deserve it.


If you liked this article, then you might also enjoy Surviving Seasonal Depression in 2020: Routines to Help You Cope, on Vocal.

Spring Cleaning

The first day of spring arrived, rainy and full of thunder. Spring always sparked a strange excitement in the town of Haverston. The widow, Gloria, re-opened her shop today. She was open each year from the first day of spring through Halloween. Outside of Haverston, no one believed the hype, but the locals swore by her.

Rain streamed down the edges of Ava’s red umbrella, as she reached the storefront. The only indication that it was more than a house was the white sign on the lawn. It read, “SPRING CLEANING – Declutter your home, declutter your life.” As Ava opened the door, a bell sounded above her. It looked even less like a shop, on the inside.

 “Hello.” Ava turned her head toward the voice. The woman was young. She couldn’t have been older than forty. Her face seemed to glow a bit, but that was probably only a trick of the light. Ava wasn’t sure what she’d expected.

“What can I do for you?”

Ava felt lost for words. She’d planned a speech, but it was gone. There was no way to recover it now. Gloria seemed to understand. Smiling quietly, she led Ava to a side room. A sturdy table held a china tea service. Ava hated tea.

“Don’t worry. I have coffee there too.”

Ava smiled gratefully as she settled into one of the over-sized armchairs. The silence drew out between them as Gloria filled their cups. Gloria smiled and glanced out the parlor window, as though they were only two friends, enjoying a quiet moment. Despite herself, Ava fell into the comfortable silence. Amidst that stillness, the courage became more substantial than her fear.

“I need to move on from my Ex.” Gloria smiled kindly but didn’t respond immediately. Ave continued, “One of my friends told me, that what you do…helps. She said that one visit from you, and her uncle never touched another drop of liquor. She told me about her parents and how you saved their marriage. Kayla said that they’re happier than ever, and they were about to divorce. She said that you can do anything. I need anything.”

Gloria looked at her for a long time. Ava started to open her mouth again, but an unusual peace fell around her. The way that Gloria looked at her was like being wrapped in a warm blanket on a cold day. All of her thoughts disappeared, and the quiet deepened, as Gloria sipped her tea.

“I didn’t save their marriage, you know. I just helped it along. I’ll tell you what to do to start the magic, but you’re the one that’s going to make it happen. That is if you really want to move on.”

 “How much?”

Gloria seemed to consider the question. “However much you want to give. No more, no less.”

“Okay, what do I do?”

“I want you to go home and clean your house. When you’re finished, go get your hair cut.”

“That’s it?”

“Yep.”

“Does it always work this way?”

“Nope.” Gloria chuckled.

Shrugging her shoulders, Ava paid her and walked toward the doorway. A man was waiting inside the foyer when she entered. She’d barely reached the front door when he said, “I need to get some vermin out of my flower beds.” By the time she’d crossed the street, he was back on the sidewalk.

*

When she arrived home, the heaviness and loneliness hit her like a brick. She didn’t waste any time. As she vacuumed and scrubbed, Ava thought about the life that she wanted to build in Haverston. She imagined herself washing all of that pain away.

Ava started to notice things in her house that she didn’t need or want anymore. As she packed up the items in a donation box, it felt like she was curating her life.

When she reached her bedroom, her eyes went straight to a single unpacked box by her bed. She didn’t have to ask what was in it, but she opened it all the same. A few things went into the donation box, and some went into the trash. Satisfied, she headed to the salon.

“We don’t take walk-ins. Would you like to make an appointment?” The older woman asked when she arrived.

“I guess I’d better.”

The woman looked at her curiously. “What do you mean?”

Ava didn’t know why the woman had bothered to ask or why she answered so honestly. “Gloria, from ‘Spring Cleaning,’ told me to.” Ava shrugged.

The woman’s entire face changed. “Well, then, I’ll make an exception.” A bell sounded, and two older ladies seated themselves. “Tonya,” A young girl with pale pink hair walked over to them.

“What’s up?”

“Will you take care of Ms. Lathum and Ms. Harris? This lady has a prescription from Gloria.” All three women perked up their ears, and Tonya nodded eagerly. “I’m Charity, by the way. Follow me.”

As Charity washed and massaged her scalp, Ava felt something heavy wash away with the dirt. Strangely this special treatment made her feel connected in a way that she hadn’t managed since she’d moved to Haverston.

“Are you new here?”

“Sort of. I moved here over the winter, but…” Her eyes welled up with tears that choked her throat.

“Hmm…say no more.” They didn’t speak again until Ava was in front of the mirror. “How do you want it?”

 The thought came to her in an instant. “Cut it short. I want it all gone.”

Silently Charity cut away. Ava’s glasses sat on the counter. Although she couldn’t see, she felt it all drop off. It felt as though he was dropping away too.

Charity handed her glasses back to her. As they slid onto her face, her new image slid into focus and new feeling beside it. It was then that she decided that she was going back to “Spring Cleaning,” and she was going to give Gloria more money.