The Piemaker marveled at the uncanny resemblance between his life, and his livelihood.
The Piemaker marveled at the uncanny resemblance between his life, and his livelihood. In actuality, it was more probable that since his whole life was built around pies now, the two had just merged together. Or, maybe, there was no real similarity at all and his recent late hours at work were getting to him.
But in any case, he found it fascinating that one specific moment, or even a person, in his life could be compared to a pie he was baking or just thinking about baking.
First, there was himself. Apple pie. The Ol' Reliable of pies. Simple. Classic. The staple of all family gatherings, the symbol of southern hospitality, and the sort of pie, if you had a pie-baking sort of mother, that your mother baked. It was not flashy, or new. It would be good just about any way you could prepare it, but it was best on its own. Accompanied by a little something, like vanilla ice cream, maybe, it was simply perfection. It was most common during fall, when the apples were ripe, and school was in session, and the holidays seemed just around the corner (even though it would still be a few months). It was the pie that made you smile just a little when you took a bite. It was just what you expected. It played by the rules. Sure, if you added a little extra cinnamon, or maybe even a little dollop of whipped cream, it could go out on a limb. But for the most part, it was plain and familiar and loveable.
Then there was Olive. Oh, good and faithful Olive. Sweet Olive. Yearning Olive. Perky, sometimes wild, Olive. She would be strawberry. You could dress it up or down anyway you liked, but you had a feeling that it would always be there. It made you think of summer, and sunshine, and sweetness. Some people don't like strawberry (for reasons Ned did not understand). He supposed that it could be a little overbearing sometimes. The flavor was strong, after all. But it still seemed wrong not to have it, even if you could not eat it. (He could understand that.) It was very good, but it always seemed like it could always use a little something else. Ned slaved over this, but as he usually couldn't eat the pies he made, he could not tell. Somebody else normally had to give him their opinion. For this reason, strawberry pie frustrated him. But if he ever had to bake a pie for a friend, it would have to be strawberry.
Emerson would probably be lemon meringue. When you got down to it, it would seem like it was bitter. But add in the fluff and sweetness – that was what it was really all about. Sometimes you wanted no part of it. It looked a little intimidating. But at the same time, all that crème was so inviting, you just wanted to shove your face into it and profusely thank its maker. It made you think of spring and new beginnings. It made you remember, with its slightly melancholy taste, about what you had lost, too. It was a thoughtful pie, and those thoughts, it spoke. Within all those layers of goodness, there had to be a secret or two that wasn't being spoken. It was smart and snappy; it could sweet talk you and surprise you all of a sudden with its lemony-ness. It all really depended on how you looked at it. If you only thought of the "lemon" part, you probably would not like it. But the "meringue" was the important stuff. Lemon meringue was many things, but mostly, it was just good.
The last part of the unusual little group Ned had come to know (and, well, love) was Chuck. He sighed. He didn't really know what she was. He couldn't define her. He thought about it a few moments before moving on.
Aunt Lily was pumpkin. It was nice at the holidays, but other than that, you got tired of it and really didn't want it around. It was only really good with some nice whipped cream to sweeten it up and balance out its spices. Sometimes someone would bring it up out of season and you would want to throw it across the room. But when you wanted it, it was very nice, and just eating it reminded you of all the things you had and were thankful for.
Aunt Vivian… peach pie. All sweetness. It was a muted sort of flavor, that you had to try to uncover yourself if you wanted it. If you ate a slice right after you ate a slice of a different kind of pie, the peach would be overshadowed. You would still taste the old pie. That's how soft peach was. It wasn't in your face. Well, sometimes it was. But for the most part, it was the nice, gentle pie that you'd want to eat if you had just had a good cry. It was a hug pie.
His father, when he thought about him, reminded him of a banana cream. Dull and forgettable, but in the back of your mind, you have at least one good memory about it. Once it was gone, it was gone, and you weren't sure when you would taste it again.
Then he thought of someone else he had not thought of for a while: Dilly Balsam. She was like raspberry pie. (Messy. Vulgar. Offensive. Very in your face. He did not like raspberry pie, anymore. It had a strong flavor that wasn't making any apologies. It was almost fake, it was so full of flavor. And it wasn't very sweet. It washed out everything else you had eaten previously. It came in and stole those flavors away. It was an evil pie…
At this moment, Chuck strolled through the door. Ned's face immediately melted into a smile at the jingle of the little bell in the doorway. Even in her sunglasses and scarf-covered head, she looked beautiful. Delicious, Ned added as an afterthought, his face suddenly flushing with guilt and longing.
"What?" Chuck asked sweetly, taking a spot on one of the stools at the counter and spinning in it.
"Just you," Ned replied, with an unintentional sigh. "So, erm, what can I get for you?"
"Oh, whatever. I really just came in to see you," was the playful response. She leaned forward until her face was almost touching his.
Ned bit his lip to restrain himself and laid his palm flat on the cold counter. "Chuck," he said, his voice almost a growl. "You know how dangerous that is."
"I brought plastic wrap," she tempted him, pulling back.
"Here ya go," Olive chirped, whirling by and plopping a plate of pie down in front of Chuck, effectively separating them. She was humming a song as she went.
"Mmm. This looks delicious. Right out of the oven," Chuck noted, watching steam rise in soft curls from her plate. She lifted a forkful to her mouth and closed her eyes, smiling. "Heavenly."
"What is it?" Ned asked, eager to distract himself from his thoughts. Without thinking, he produced a fork of his own from an apron pocket and quickly took a bite.
"Careful," Chuck said, at the last minute.
Ned's eyes widened suddenly, and he was about to spit it out, but the fruit did not die. It was just hot.
And then he had another thought.
Blueberry pie was his most favorite pie. He wasn't sure why. It was unusual. It was a surprise: you thought it was cool, but when you took a bite, the little blueberries were still hot. They burned your tongue, until all you could taste was blueberry. And he realized that the reason he was okay with a blueberry burn was because it reminded him of Chuck.
When she came into his life, it was unexpected. She was wild and dangerous and familiar, all at the same time. She had branded his heart and now she was all he could think of.
"What happened?" Chuck whispered.
"I burned my-thelf," Ned lisped back.
"Does it hurt terribly?"
"So… it wasn't… dead?"
Ned shook his head.
"It should have been. It-it's been in the storage room, for over a year." He thought furiously. "I remember bringing those berries back to life…"
"Oh, no. No no no no."
"Oh, please, Ned. Maybe this is another rule. I'm a special case. Me and Digby and those berries are the only one. You haven't tried it."
"I don't like to change the rules. I like the old ones. They keep me safe," Ned blurted. "They brought me you and I don't want you taken away."
"Alive again for a minute, someone else dies. Alive again for a year, and you never die again?"
"Stop it!" Ned shouted, slamming his palm onto the counter. The others in the restaurant stared. He ducked his head and everyone returned to their pies. He lowered his voice. "Don't say that. Don't even think about it. I won't have it."
"Ned, I have to know. Please, touch me."
"I can't," Ned whispered, his voice breaking. "I can't lose you, again."
"Well, I can't take this anymore. I'd rather die than go another day without touching you," she declared, and she pressed her face to his.
Every fiber of Ned's being was screaming. This was so wrong, so very wrong. His life was about to change forever. His burned tongue felt like it was on fire. Everything was a symphony of blueberries. He inwardly cringed, waiting for the spark, and the hum…
But it never came.
"Chuck?" he murmured, against her lips. "Are you all right?"
Her eyes were dancing and her cheeks were flushed. "Oh, Ned, I've never felt better!"
"Don't… don't touch me again," he cautioned. "Maybe it was a fluke."
"You're not getting away with that," Chuck responded, her lips meeting his once again.
"Oh, don't," Ned groaned, turning his face away, this time more out of restraint than out of fear. He could see people beginning to stare, once again, out of the corner of his eye. "I should get you home before you cause a scene… or, what if, there are more numbers and rules and something happens..."
"Third time's the charm, then." She stood on her tiptoes and stamped a kiss on his forehead.
"God, I love you," he mumbled into her neck.
"What do I taste like?" Chuck wanted to know.
His lips curved upwards in a smile.