Author's Note: Written for kissoffools for Yuletide 2012. Contains brief discussion of canonical miscarriage.
When Rosie broke up with Billy, her first boyfriend, she needed an outlet for her grief - despite the fact that she was fourteen and had only dated the guy for less than two months. She holed herself up in her bedroom with her mother's cookbooks, poring over the creased and folded pages, learning the measurements and techniques needed to make anything that Julia Child could make. Or Betty Crocker, or the people at Good Housekeeping or Southern Living or any of the other publishers of countless cookbooks that lined both the walls of her house as well as her grandmother's. She memorized the notations various people over the generations had added to the margins - whether it was to switch out milk chocolate for white in chocolate chip cookies, or to use lard instead of butter. Something always made it better, or taste different, or added a certain spark, and she wanted to learn all the combinations.
There was something cathartic about putting together a bunch of ingredients that may or may not look like they should go together - after all, for every time someone put asparagus and macaroni into a strange-looking and even less appetizing-tasting loaf, or someone decided to stuff mushrooms with Dr. Pepper, someone else put together meats and suet and a variety of spices and called it mincemeat pie.
It took all kinds to make food work. And she was willing to do whatever it took, no matter the course it would take.
That was a determination that lasted so much longer than her relationship with Billy ever did.
In the aftermath of what happened with her - the miscarriage, even though it hurt to even think about that word, let alone to say it out loud - Rosie threw herself into working on the food truck. Expanding the menu. All part of having a food truck was getting to expand the palates of the customers, which meant that she could do experimentation in the name of customer service. It was better to occupy her mind with trying new recipes, new ways of thinking about things that made sense in her life; there was so little that made sense anymore that she had to cling to what did.
Besides, cooking was one of the things she unequivocally knew she was good at. She needed to take her mind off the baby, off Marco, off anything that could throw her further down the well of sadness.
She never realized, in the before - her life was now defined by the before and the after, as much as it hurt her to put it in those terms - how many of her childhood favorite foods were made with cheese: the grilled Keen's cheddar panini reminded her too much of tugging on her mother's apron in the kitchen, and dicing up foccacia bread crumbs to top the four-cheese macaroni and cheese was so much like what her father would have made. Although she would argue that hers was so much better than Kraft's, no matter how comforting the dark blue box in the pantry was. These were things she could have made for her own child, to create a new generation of fond, cheese-related memories. One day.
She tested what Parmesan cheese and dark chocolate would taste like together in a grilled cheese slider; she spread a thin veneer of melted blue cheese on top of ovals of roasted pear. It all tasted good - more than good, even - and the food truck's menu was expanding by ever more creative leaps and bounds, to customer raves and increased business - but there was always something still missing. There was no spark.
So she kept on cooking, looking in vain for whatever the spark was that was missing.
Their eyes scanned out over the hospital nursery, looking for some indicator of which cribs held her cousin's new twin babies - two perfect little babies, complete with names - although their name tags just said "Baby Cooper." They'd never named their child, of course. It had never gotten that 'd always privately thought of the child as Riley - a name that would be suitable for either, but now, not one she'd ever consider using again.
Not that she ever could, once the association was made. It was essentially putting a little red x through the name Riley in all the baby books in the world.
But to hold his hand, to feel his hand in hers again - everything felt right, for that moment, until he turned to her and said, with a regretful frown on his face, "look, I hate to do this, but I had plans with a few of the guys for tonight, so I'll call you later? Like tomorrow?"
As she laid awake in bed that night, she thought over that day, and a flash of inspiration came over her. She ran to her kitchen and began to throw ingredients together - she was like an artist, having to work when the inspiration struck. From the ingredients, she made it come together just so - just right.
One bite, and she was sold.
"Want to meet at the park at four?"
Four o'clock came, and the two of them walked across the parking lot toward each other, Marco's hands empty, Rosie holding a small parcel in her hands. "For you," she said, handing it to him, twiddling her fingers as she did so.
Marco unwrapped it and looked at the small sandwich that lay inside, and turned it over in his hands - back and forth, rolling the flat slices of bread between his palms. "What's this?"
"It's a sample of my food truck's newest slider. You're the first one to try it. Well, first after me, and my roommates, so I guess you're really the fourth."
"I feel so honored," he said, laughing. He took a bite out of it and looked down again, examining the slider with a grin. "It has ham in it. You know that's from a pig, right?"
"It's equal parts ham and provolone, I'll have you know." She looked at him, and then cast her glance down to the ground, dragging her foot in the dirt. "I - I tried making it with less ham than cheese, and then with less cheese than ham, but it only really worked when they were balanced evenly."
"This isn't just about some sandwich, is it?" He set the sandwich down on the table and placed his hand over hers; she looked up at him and offered him a small smile.
"When I saw you at the hospital yesterday, it all clicked for me," she whispered. "I miss you. And I hate that it took me this long to realize that."
"I miss you too." His simple declaration set off sparks for her, and she leaned across the table and kissed him; she could taste the faint taste of ham and provolone on his lips, and she smiled at the taste. There was nothing else like it in the world, not that she ever wanted to try. "Let's go back to my -"
And she was already tugging his hand to get him to stand up, to get him to come along with her, before he could even finish his sentence. And it was almost like nothing had changed from the start of their relationship, even though in reality, everything had. Some things never changed.
When she awoke the next morning, in his bed but distinctly alone, she found something sitting on the nightstand next to her. It was a small parcel, resting on a chipped green plate, with a toothpick message sticking up out of it; as she picked it up, she realized that the parcel was in fact two strips of bacon, with little white corners peeking out between the strips. She took the toothpick out, set it down, and took a bite out of the bacon. And then - then she realized what he had done, because inside the bacon wrappings was a gooey, cheesy interior. The distinct taste of Babybel cheddar flooded through her mouth, and she could only smile at the taste.
She picked up the toothpick message and twirled the toothpick back and forth in her hands as she read what it said, in his thick, distinctive scrawl: I agree. "There's cheese in here!" she called out, with an uninhibited laugh as she fell back on the pillow.
"So?" he asked, coming out of the bathroom, a towel wrapped loose and low around his waist; his hair was wet and spiky. "Someone wise once told me that things are better with an equal proportion of both ingredients. And I think she's laying in my bed right now."
She tossed her hair back over one shoulder and flashed a broad, seductive grin at him. "I think that you need to get back over here. And lose the towel."