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Unbirthday Surprise

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One rainy day in the popular Bonbon Cakery...

For Sue Flay, this was a dream job that she hoped could lead to a dream career. She wanted to own her own sweets store some day. Whipping up pretty delights, enjoying the customers smiles, and not to mention getting some of the treats herself: it was a perfect fit for her. Of course, she was only on the first steps. She had to complete a chef's course of education with a smattering of business mixed in. And she was only in the hole right now, running the register, dealing with customers, and setting the cakes out for sale. Still, this was going to be an invaluable experience. The owner seemed like a creative person who could teach her a lot of things.

Although, Sue hadn't seen much of them yet. She'd only started two weeks ago and the owner had gone off to a seminar for restaurant owners. But they should be back soon. Of more concern to her was that she wasn't sure where the other two workers who were supposed to be out here were. Were Pam and Gustav back in the kitchen? There were plans to switch out the offerings soon, but that was supposed to wait until the owner got back.

It was quiet, at least, so it was easy enough for her to keep things going out here. But the start of the rush period of the day was coming soon. It'd start with the kids who got out of school, continue with adults getting off work, and end with various folks who came in for dessert after eating dinner elsewhere. What would the cakery offer next? Sue personally hoped the Choco-Cherry Torte would stick around, as she liked it a lot. But maybe a softer lighter kind of cake would be nice to have around too. Like angel food cake.

A woman came in and glanced around as if familiar with the place. Sue was starting to recognize some regulars, but she wasn't sure if this was one too. From the way she went right to the Sakura Cake Roll display, she might be. She went right ahead and picked up six plates, clearing out much of that shelf. Well, Sue thought, it was a nice sale, but really? “Good afternoon,” she said cheerfully as she got to the register to handle the purchase.

“Good afternoon to you too,” the customer said with a smile that seemed glowing with happiness. “I’ll take these.”

“Okay, are you giving them out as gifts?” Sue asked, starting to reach for the takeout wrap.

“Oh no, I’m eating these all myself,” she said, still beaming. “Have you heard of that new day off diet? I decided to give it a whirl, but of course all the lovely treats over here are off limits. But this is the day off where I can eat whatever I like! So I’m making up for all the days I had to miss out on coming here.”

“Is that really how that works?” she asked. It didn't sound right, but she started ringing up the purchase.

The customer nodded. “Of course it works that way, I’m sure of it. Although I’m not so sure about the diet even though everybody online raves about it. I don't mind going strict on some other things like potatoes and pasta, but sugar? That's just plain torture to live without.” Her eyes shifted, a gleam of madness to them. “I need my sugar, I just want to tear up everything if I don't get my sugar.”

“Uh...” was Sue imagining that? Or was the customer messing with her? “All right. Although you have made a lovely choice with the cake rolls, I love them too.”

She started beaming again. “Of course, the owner of this place is a right genius in the kitchen!” She paid for her treats and then took them over to a table.

Well, business wasn't all fun and games. Sue went to the conveyor drop-off to pick up the three Sakura Cake Rolls that were there. By the time she got back, no more had come in. It was quiet, so she poked her head back in the kitchen. “Excuse me, but do you have more of the Sakura Cake Rolls coming? Somebody wiped out the stock.”

“Sure, sure, got a couple more in the oven,” Banana called over.

And here were the other two that were supposed to be out in front, washing up at the sink. “And what're you guys doing back here? Things are going to pick up soon.”

“We know, that's why we came back here now,” Gustav said.

“Yeah, in a minute,” Pam called. “See, the owner got delayed in a transfer flight and is going to come in later than usual. So we thought we'd create a group of our own sweets to cheer them up from all that mess. Like an unbirthday celebration!”

“Really?” Sue asked. “Well it does stink to end up spending all day in airports and airplanes.”

“We thought so too,” Sly said. “You want to try making something?”

“Uh, sure, I'll give it a try.” While she didn't know the owner as well as they did, she didn't want to be left out of this little celebration.

Once Gustav and Pam (and the cake rolls) came out, Sue checked on the time. There wasn't a lot left until the customers would come streaming in. But she could put together something simple, right? Since this was an unbirthday surprise, she guessed that most of the others would have made cakes. It only made sense from there to do something with ice cream. She made sure to find a cold plate for the vanilla ice cream, then gave it a few classic toppings and set it back in a freezer to keep cold.

It wasn't until evening that the owner came in, looking a little worn down from the long day but still wanting to check in. “How are things going in here?” they asked.

“Just fine,” Pam said, already excited over this. “But we have an unbirthday treat for you!”

“Right, we've all made our own desserts to surprise you with,” Gustav added.

The owner raised an eyebrow. “Oh really? That'll be interesting.”

Once the last of the day's desserts were made, Banana and Sly came out from the kitchen; Pam bugged them all into singing the unbirthday song, although they’d had to look up the lyrics for it. They'd decided on what order to present their treats in before Sue got involved, so she was going last. That was okay, though she hoped the plate was enough to keep the ice cream in good shape.

Gustav went first, offering a donut with a drizzle of chocolate and some little pink herbs that puzzled Sue for a moment. Were those pink peppercorns? “I’ve heard you say that originality is a big factor in creating memorable desserts, so I tried to do something that hasn't been done before,” Gustav said calmly. He was kind of an Eeyore, moody but sweet at times.

“It's a daunting challenge, but you've got to try,” the owner said before taking a bite of the donut. They immediately winced and their eyes started to water. “Um, could one of you get a glass of milk? What'd you put in this?”

Since it was closer, Sue went ahead and got a bottle of milk out of the shop freezer. They could switch one out from the staff room later. While she did, she heard Gustav say, “Sorry, but I saw that bottle of tabasco sauce and thought that'd be unlike anything else. And spicy is supposed to go well with chocolate, right? So I thought it and the peppercorns with chocolate would be a different combo.”

“That was from Bob Fish; I've been using it mostly for sandwiches.” Once Sue handed them the bottle, they opened it up and took a drink. “Thanks.” Then they actually took another bite out of it and thought while chewing. “It is quite a shock factor, with some dare potential. The pink peppercorns and the tabasco don't quite mix on a donut because they're different sorts of spicy. But do one or the other with some more chocolate, that could be interesting. Traditionally, it's supposed to be chili powder with dark chocolate for a Mayan flavor. That'd actually be nice if we could convince our supplier to sell us both of those ingredients. It's not in the usual cakery inventory, but that would make us stand out.”

Sue wasn't so sure about using tobasco in sweets, but that Mayan chocolate seemed like it could be good, just as long as the chilies weren't too hot. Pam offered her dessert next, an actual cake in a tiramisu. “I know tiramisu is supposed to be a coffee flavored dessert, but I noticed you never take coffee with cake, drinking tea with it instead. So I made it into a matcha tiramisu.”

“That's a nice idea too,” the owner said, taking a taste of it. They seemed pretty happy with that. “Hmm, you even used the new matcha chocolate in this. It still has a bit of the coffee flavor in it, but some alterations could make it entirely tea based. Although,” they tapped the colorful plate she'd used, “the presentation could be better if we used the Japanese plate. It would match the theme and really impress critics and those who take food seriously. Good job, a few more tweaks could make it into an elegant favorite among customers.”

“Thanks, I'm glad you approve,” Pam said, beaming in spite of the few criticisms.

Banana was the next to present. Sue wasn't sure yet if she'd be insulted if she asked about her name. Then again, her own name was rather punny. Banana presented a fruit-adorned cheesecake. “Sorry if it's a mess, but I was trying for that pyramid decoration look because of that contest that was just announced. It all tumbled over, though.”

“It's okay, that's going to be a tough challenge to meet,” the owner said with a smile. They picked out a particular place to start, where a pink fruit was. “Hmm... I would not have thought to put grapefruit on a cheesecake.”

“I thought the flat surface of that and the kiwi on top of the melon balls would stabilize the berries and cherry on top,” Banana said.

“It might work with strawberries instead of the rounder berries,” they said. “And a glaze to secure the structure. Maybe if the glaze could mellow out the tartness of the grapefruit and kiwi too, although the cheesecake does that. Although, I also think the cheesecake could also look good with the grapefruit and kiwi slices alternating on the surface, maybe some of the melon balls placed around in balance. The color is certainly appealing with those fruits, which might also improve the perception that it's healthier. Though I'm not surprised this is what you put together, Banana, thanks for this.”

“You're welcome, glad to help inspire you,” Banana said.

Even though they thought that was colorful, Sly's offering was even more colorful. While the base was a white panna cotta, he'd put a rainbow of rice puffs, sprinkles, and sugar candies on top. Each décor had a different intensity too, giving it an artistic appeal. “Since we're having an unbirthday celebration, I thought I should make something that looks like one.”

That made the owner smile. “Unusual base choice since that combination usually goes on cakes, but it does fit the idea of an unbirthday better.” They took a taste of it, then seemed intrigued. “Hmm, there's something... it's a touch of rose water, isn't it?”

Sly grinned briefly. “You've got it.”

“Nice idea,” the owner said, taking a deep breath before another bite. “Gives it a special touch, a bit more of a candy taste. Although a little more would give it a very appetizing aroma. That'd be really nice to display in the shop. The panna cotta itself hasn't done very well when we've had it available, partly because younger customers weren't sure what it was. But this could change that.”

And finally, they got down her offering. Sue set the ice cream on the table, glad it hadn't melted. Not even the chocolate straws had slipped out of place. “Well, I didn't have a lot of time and I wasn't sure what you'd like, so I went for a classic mint chocolate topping to the vanilla ice cream.”

“Nothing wrong with the classics,” the owner said, still happy with it as they gave it a taste. “Could place a chocolate logo along with the drizzle and mint leaf, that would appeal to customers. And I like the addition of the straws, it's a good visual addition and pulls more of the chocolate flavor into the ice cream itself. Getting some mint oil to add a drop into the ice cream itself could help as well, although keeping things simple to keep the price low will satisfy customers who don't have a lot of extra money. Very good, Sue, thank you all.”

Happy that the owner had ideas from all the gifts, they went back to their tasks of finishing up the day for closing. The owner stuck around to make notes on the table, which was fine as the cakery wasn't as busy now. Sue even got a chance to talk with them a bit while she cleaned off the tables. “She said she was on that day-off diet, but I still don't think having six cake rolls at once is what they mean by having one day off the diet,” she said, since that was one of the more memorable customers in this time.

“Right, but a sugar craving can be strong,” the owner said, pausing in their note making to ponder something. “Actually, who was that?”

“I'm not sure,” Sue admitted. “She had a card for shop loyalty, but I don't remember the name from it.”

The owner stayed thinking for a moment longer. “Hmm, that might not be so good for her. Dieting is nice and all, but it's not too good around here because of... hmm.”

“Because of what?” Sue asked, curious.

“Because of the virus,” the owner said in a serious tone. “There's something that's infected the people of this city to turn them strange, perhaps even violent in time. While it may seem nefarious, whoever cooked it up missed something huge as eating sweets will satisfy the virus instead. If she keeps at that diet, even with the day off, she might snap and become someone dangerous. We could be in trouble.”

Sue stopped, shocked to hear that. “Uh, really? That seems kind of unbelievable.” But then she had seemed a bit crazed.

Then the owner laughed. “I'm just messing with you, there's no such thing. Some people are known to get cranky and short-tempered if they try to cut off sugar cold turkey. I just want people to have a little joy in their days, you see.” They tucked their notes in a pocket, then started shifting the remainder of the desserts onto one plate to take home. “And some days, my imagination is too restless. It's been completely hyper having been stuck with the airport delay. But that's good. Silly fantastical plots like that one should give me plenty of inspiration for next season's menu.”

“You had me scared there,” Sue said, but ended up laughing at a wink from the owner. “That would make creating recipes more fun.” Maybe she'd try that herself more often.

“Fun's the important ingredient,” the owner said. “And I do need an outlandish idea pretty soon if we're going to do well in that pyramid contest. I saw something at the conference that made me wonder, how big could I make a tower of macaroons?”

This was already a part of her dreams, but Sue could see that working here could be a great deal more fun with the owner back.