Dream Under the Hill

Oberon:  Book Eight

 

It was a beautiful day for a wedding, Chenoa Johnson reflected as she put the finishing touches on the cake she was decorating.  The sky was blue and cloudless, the weather surprisingly warm for the third week of March.  True, it was a little bit windy, but she didn’t think that sort of thing would bother the bride.

Siobhan Quinn lived within a stone’s throw of the Bay; surely she would not object to a little weather on her big day. 

Chenoa took a step back and studied her handiwork.

“Very nice,” a male voice said from the bakery’s open back door.  “Seems a shame to let anyone eat it.”

“Thanks,” Chenoa murmured, smiling as she gave the turntable a spin, so she could examine the cake from every angle.  It was nice, she thought; in fact, it was more than nice.  Since she’d taken over the bakery last October, following her grandfather’s death, she’d tried very hard to uphold the bakery’s reputation for creating desserts that appealed to all the senses.  She might not be the equal to Paco’s artistic mastery, but, now that she’d taken a really good look at it, she did believe that Siobhan’s cake might just be her masterpiece.

To honor the bride’s Marine Biology background, Chenoa had covered the cake with pearlescent sheets of rolled fondant, tinted in a variety of pastel shades; peach, rose and lavender, ivory and blue and pale sea green, all swirled together, running into one another; in an attempt to create the impression of a beach at sunrise; of white sand glimmering under dawn washed water.

And, just in case anyone missed the marine motif, she’d crafted a variety of white chocolate confections--shells and snails and starfish, crabs and a variety of other crustaceans--and set them spiraling up the sides of the cake, climbing from layer to layer to layer.

“We like to think of it as edible art, Liam,” she explained, turning to smile at her friend.  “So it would defeat the purpose if it didn’t get eaten sometime.  I just hope it’ll taste as good as it looks.”

“I’m sure it will,” Liam McKnight replied, as he left the doorway and sauntered closer.  “But, you know, if you’d like to be sure, I’m more than willing to act as taste-tester.”

“And, how do you propose to do that, at this point?” she asked raising an eyebrow at him.  She had a pretty good idea what he had in mind, and if he laid one hand on her cake she was going to slap him with a spatula.

“I’m sure you could cut me a small piece--from along the edge, or something,” Liam answered, gesturing at the cake.  “Cover it up with more icing, and no one will ever know the difference.”

Chenoa rolled her eyes.  “Oh, yeah, great idea.  Thanks, but I think I’ll just have to hope for the best.”

“That’s not very nice of you, is it?” Liam answered in mock sorrow.  “You flaunt a delicious looking cake at a man and then tell him he can’t have any?”

“I didn’t flaunt anything,” Chenoa replied, severely, barely hiding her smile.  “It’s your own fault for invading my kitchen uninvited.  There’s plenty of pastries for you to sample in the front of the store, you know.  That’s where all my other customers go when they’re looking for handouts.”

Liam looked affronted.  “I’m truly hurt.  Are you saying I’m just another customer?”

I don’t know what you are, Chenoa thought, ignoring his question to add just a couple more starfish to the cake.  She’d first met Liam some six or seven months earlier, when he’d come to her grandfather for help in balancing the energy in his chakras—something he’d very much needed.  Since Paco’s death, Liam had been coming to her for energy work on a fairly regular basis.  With his piercing blue eyes and unkempt good looks, he was undeniably attractive; but as Chenoa was slowly coming to realize, Liam was an empath.  His extreme sensitivity to the feelings of others might have been something of a bennie, in his police career, but it also left him vulnerable to frequent emotional upsets and impulsive behavior.  That, coupled with his occasionally rigid views of right and wrong, made him a little too high maintenance for Chenoa’s tastes.

She hadn’t thought either of them were interested in taking their relationship beyond the professional level, but lately...she’d begun to wonder if Liam wasn’t interested in something more.

“Well, if you’re not going to give me a taste now, I guess I‘ll just have to crash the wedding to get a sample.”  Liam said, apparently still focused on the cake.  “What’s inside, anyway?”

“Devil’s food,” Chenoa replied a little absently, as she moved a tiny chocolate crab that seemed in danger of sliding right off the cake.  “Apparently, it’s the groom’s favorite.”

“Yeah, that figures,” Liam responded.

Chenoa looks at him questioningly, struck by the note of something akin to bitterness in his voce. “You don’t like him?”

Liam shrugged.  “Ah, it’s not that.  Henderson’s okay, I guess.  Better than some.  It’s just--”  He shrugged again.  “I don’t know, maybe it’s a cop thing; you know, the lure of the dark?  I mean, when you consider all the time we spend exploring the darker side of human nature-- We must all like it a little bit, don’t you think?”

I’m not sure how that extends to cake, Chenoa thought.  But, she just smiled and said, “Maybe that’s true for all of us?”

Liam clapped a hand to his heart.  “Oh, no, don’t tell me that.  Leave me with just a few illusions about the rest of humanity.”

But, Chenoa had been struck by one word--we.  “So, what are you planning on doing, now that you’ve quit the police?” she asked.  Now that you’re no longer a cop.

A look of surprised dismay, crossed Liam’s face.

Just as I thought, Chenoa sighed to herself.  Deep down, he still thinks of himself that way.  She imagined she’d be doing a lot of energy work correcting Liam’s self image, once reality sunk in.

“I don’t know,” Liam said quietly.  “Maybe go back to school, or something?   I’ve got some money saved, so I’ve got time to think about it.”

For a moment, they both lapsed into a thoughtful silence, then Liam roused himself.  “Well, I’d better get out of your way, let you finish up.  I guess I’ll see you later, huh?”

She looked at him in surprise.  “Later?  When later?”

A mischievous grin curved his lips.  ‘Why, later this afternoon, of course.  When I crash the wedding.”

Chenoa watched him go.  For the life of her, she couldn’t tell if he was serious, or not.  But one thing was certain.  She was going to keep a very close eye on her cake, until after it was cut.

***

Outside, Liam paused and looked around.  The sleepy town of Oberon looked beautiful today, bright as a dream in the clear, Spring sunlight.  In fact, he thought, the town was a lot like Chenoa’s cake; so shiny and smooth on the surface, unspeakably dark beneath.

And, sometimes, it was hard to say which side was sweeter.

     

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