The Sweetness of Life

By: Kathryn Andrews

For my boys . . .

“Oh my God, you have to try this, Shelby,” Meg says, startling me as she bumps her hip on the kitchen door, forcing it to swing open. Cinnamon and clove floats through the air of the empty restaurant and hits my nose. I watch as she crosses the small dining room to sit at my table.

It’s Sunday night, we’re closed, and the last of our staff left a while ago. The light from a streetlamp outside pours in the front window, illuminating the partially lit room. I hadn’t even realized the sun had set. We’ve both been here for fifteen hours, and it’s true what they say, time does fly when you’re having fun.

Closing the lid to my laptop, Meg takes the first bite of the dessert and drops the fork. It clatters to the plate as she leans back in her chair and lets out a low, satisfied moan.

“You’re so dramatic,” I scold, shaking my head and fighting a smile.

Her eyes snap to mine and sparkle with laughter. I’ve known Meg since we were freshmen in college and I swear the older we get, the more theatrical she becomes.

Snatching the fork, I cut off a bite of the dessert for myself, watching as the honey strings between the warm pastry layers and the fork. I’m not gonna lie, it smells divine, and I’ve been waiting for the last forty-five minutes to taste it.

“Yeah, but you love me anyway.” She grins. “Tell me, did I kill that recipe or what?” she asks, waiting for my reaction and watching me chew my bite. Then, as if she can’t handle the anticipation of my answer, she wipes her hands across her thighs to smooth down her apron—a light green-and-white gingham apron that once belonged to her grandmother. She wears it every time she’s creating something new in the kitchen. It’s like her thinking cap, and when she puts it on, I know to let her be.

Focusing on the individual flavors, I sort through each one to see if anything is lacking or overpowering. Swallowing the bite, my eyes find hers, and I smirk, knowing I’m about to set her off. “It needs salt.”

Her jaw drops, and a piece of her brown wavy hair escapes from the messy bun on top of her head.

“What! No way.” She blows the hair off her face, grabs the fork, and sinks it back into her version of baklava. In the South, we’re ruled by pecans, so she’s substituted them in place of the walnuts.

“Yes way.” I lick my lips. “And the cloves are a bit too strong.”

Silence falls between us as she takes another bite and then hands the fork back to me. Together, we finish off the piece, and she swipes her finger across the plate for the last remaining crumb.

“You’re crazy. That”—she points to the empty plate—“was delicious.”

“I’m not saying it wasn’t, but I’m right.” I reach for the sweet tea sitting next to my laptop and take a drink while letting her think through the recipe.

The sharpness in her eyes dissolves and the defensiveness in her posture relaxes as she lets out a long, loud sigh. “I hate it when you’re right.”

“No, you don’t. Just like I love you for your brand of crazy, you love me for my awesome, perfect palate.” I grin at her, and she rolls her eyes.

“I can’t argue with you there.” She wraps the fallen piece of hair back up into the knot. That’s what makes us so great together: she’s brilliant at creating, and I’m spot on at tasting.

Meg pushes away from the table, grabs the plate, and heads back to the kitchen, her heels clicking across the wood floor. That’s the other thing that connects us—we love—LOVE—high-heeled designer shoes.

Packing up my laptop, I look around at our two-year-old restaurant that I adore, Orange Blossom Avenue, or OBA for short. OBA isn’t a huge place, but we don’t need it to be. During the week, we’re open for breakfast and lunch. On the weekends, we open for brunch and the occasional special dinner, and we are always open for private events. The ambiance is quaint, clean, and Southern chic, with the color scheme focusing on orange, green, and white—like an orange blossom.

Owning this restaurant is Meg’s dream whereas mine is to have my own show on Food Network. Over the last ten plus years, I’ve spent almost every moment thinking about and working toward that moment when my dreams will finally come true and three weeks ago, I interviewed for a host position of a new show at their headquarters. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve lost hours of sleep dreaming about what my life will be like when I get to New York City.

“So, what are you going to call it?” I ask, walking into the kitchen.

“Southern baklava, of course.” Meg flashes a smile at me as she wipes down the prep station. “Who knows, maybe it’ll end up on your blog.” She eyes me with mischief.