Peals of laughter and the soft clink of glass filled the small townhouse. It was the end of the first day of summer. In the dim light of the living room, tiny metal figures and miniature plastic houses lay scattered about. The old board game was dogeared in places, but that didn't matter because my friends and I were all in one place for the first time in months. Together the five of us lay sprawled out around the coffee table, in our mismatched pyjamas, laughing like fools. Taking a sip of rum, a giggle escaped me as Seraphina jumped on the marble countertop of the kitchen, singing the dirtiest sea shanty I had ever heard.
Heat flooded my cheeks as I ducked my head into a pillow; the laughter reverberated through my bones, and my chest feels warm. I didn't think it was possible to miss my friends this much, but as usual, I was wrong. This year we decided to spend summer break together. The boys took Boris's townhouse next door, and while we girls slept in mine, but since there was a boxing match between Rodrigo Calles and Mücahit Okyar tonight, it was just us; playing monopoly, peppered with rounds of truth or dare in-between.
“Rent!” Calliope cheered from her spot opposite me, her ebony curls bouncing wildly around her. Chuckling, she stuck her hand out to Blair, "Pay up."
Slapping a wad of twenties on the coffee table, the blonde girl leaned forward, her well-manicured nails digging into the fake money. “Tell me again why we’re playing this―this human game? The houses are plastic, and the money is pretend. Where's the fun in that?"
“B, it’s monopoly. And we all agreed to play. Remember?” Rae chided, taking the dice in her hand.
“Besides,” Rae cut in, adjusting the silk wrap around her head, “it’s the only board game Roslyn keeps in this place. The only other game is UNO, and I am doing that again."
I couldn't help but smile. "Cheer up. You own all of the orange properties. You could still win.”
Blair pouted, sipping on her glass of absinthe. The corner of her lapis silk nightgown falling off her shoulder. “Say’s the one who owns half the board.”
Shaking the dice, Rae rolled snake eyes. Landing on the Go To Jail square. "Roslyn, it's your turn," she smirked, "truth or dare?"
“Truth,” I wined, pulling my knees to my chest, nervous as to what my question could be.
“Who’s the mystery man that’s been sneaking in and out of your rooms at the crack of dawn?”
Heat flooded my face, and I didn't need a mirror to know that I was redder than a tomato. Pressing my face into a nearby pillow, I groaned. Of course, she was asking such a thing. I was never the one guys looked or chased after, so when Seraphina had spotted a man walking out of my room at dawn a few months ago, they knew something was up. I had been dodging my friend’s questions about him for weeks, and now they had me cornered.
“Dare!” I spluttered, “Dare, I choose dare instead.”
“But you chose truth! You can’t―” Seraphina protested, crossing her arms over her chest. The green tint of her skin and pointed ears of her fae heritage did little to make her intimidating, but I still couldn’t meet her eyes.
“Do we at least know who he is?” Rae chimed in.
"Well, we know he's tall.” Blair chuckled, clinking glasses with Blair.
“What’s the dare?” I begged, “I’ll do anything. Please!”
“Okay… fine.” Seraphina relented, walking over to the fridge to pull out another bottle of wine. “But it's not going to be easy."
Jumping to my feet, I threw my hand in the air, “I don’t care, give it to me. I’ll do anything."
“Steel a cake from Amorette’s Confectionary.”
“But you know I’ve been banned from there―”
Walking back to the board game, Seraphina resumed her position on a lace embroidered pillow, "You could just answer the truth question, you know."
“Alright. Amorette’s Confectionary it is,” I yelled, racing out of the living room and down the hall. With my friends cackling and cheering in my wake, I stripped off my pyjamas, tossing the soft, oversized t-shirt and sweats onto my bed in exchange for my fighting leathers. The sleek suit was a second skin and held tiny knives in the lining. Perfect for a stealth mission or stealing a cake from one of the most overpriced bakeries to ever exist.
Slipping on my coat, I patted down the fabric, and sure enough, the hidden knives and poisons I kept were there. Steeling myself in the mirror walked back down the hall, earning another round of cheers from my friends.
“Pick up a strawberry one!” Blair shouted.
“No!” Calliope yelled, “Get a chocolate cake! The kind with the little flowers and gold dust.”
I rolled my eyes and gave an exhalant bow, tipping my invisible hat, before walking to the linin closet. Placing my hand on the brass doorknob, I summoned the extra portal that we kept there.
The grandfather clock in the corner tolled ten bells.
“Be back in an hour,” I called, stepping the whirling wall of shadows and stardust.
The streets of the Arcānum were damp and overrun with crooks and gangs, each of them trying to make a bit of coin. Keeping to the main street, I kept my hood up. This wasn't a place where you wanted to be recognized. Already afternoon, the sun was grey and watery, and the stone buildings of this neighbourhood pieced the grey sky ruthlessly, and except for Amorette’s Confectionary in the distance, not an ounce of colour could be seen. Dull grey rooftop gardens and verandas were a favourite fixture within the city. There wasn't a building without one, except for the confectionary, which was open to the elements, bare, laden with gravel and unguarded. The bright bubblegum pink building would forever be an eyesore to the residents here, but I think it was the finest this saint forsaken city had to offer; pastries as light as air, gorgeous sugar fish, and confectionaries so delicious they deserved their own hall of fame. Eight stories tall, the building looked absolutely monstrous and could quickly fill two New York city blocks put together.
Running through the layout of the building in my head. Turning into the alleyway before the confectionary, I checked the guttering and stifled a groan. Chips of crushed glass lined the pipes, and bits of metal were welded into the tubing. Great. I’ll just have to scale the rooftops another way. Examining the rain-soaked ally, I spotted a rusty iron fire escape. That’ll have to do, I guess.
Scaling the half-rusted escape for a staircase was more precarious than I had initially planned. Of the six flights of stairs, two of them had almost given way underneath her, three were disgustingly covered in grime, and the last one could only have been described as a biohazard waiting to explode. Finally, on the rooftop, I sized up the gap, positioning myself at the furthest end of the roof, and sprinted towards Amorette's Confectionary. My feet dug into the gravel, but they did not falter as I approached the lip of the roof. Pushing off the ledge, I stretched my body into a streamlined position, just as Blair had taught me. Once I cleared the call, I tucked myself into a ball and rolled onto the gavel of their rooftop.
Springing to my feet, I dusted off my knees and started to pick the locks to the staircase. I could feel the minutes tick by as the pins of the lock held shut. Locking picking had never been my speciality, it was always a hit and miss, and right now, I had no clue how to finesse the mechanism. Stepping to the side, I started working on the hinge, and within seconds I was on the other side, sliding the pins in place, clicking back into place with ease.
The stairwell was brightly lit with white fluorescent bulbs that somehow made the pale pink walls grey. Gently walking down the stairs, I checked my pocket watch, and it was already 10:18 pm, which meant that I had a little over forty minutes left to get back. Sliding the cold medallion back beneath my bodice, I listened for the sound of footsteps. Faint chatter and the clattering of porcelain platters leaked through the door, and along with it, a warm breeze carried the smell of candied almonds, freshly baked cakes, and burning sugar.
From memory, I knew I was probably in the corridor between the fry kitchen and the pantry. Which meant that the cakes were baked in an industrial oven on the opposite side of the building. With my ear pressed to the door, I listened and waited for a lull, but none came. Digging around in my pockets, my fingers curled around a flash bomb. Softly opening the door, I rolled the delicate ball of glass on the floor with enough force so that once it touched the wall, it would detonate, but before it could reach the wall opposite, a leather boot crushed it. I pulled the door shut behind me. Shielding my eyes from the bomb's blinding flash. Once the great whoops of the bomb detonated, I peeked behind the door and found grown men and women on their knees, eyes shut, grabbling for balance—fine china splintering across the grey and white marble floor.
Dashing through the melee of disoriented waitstaff, I ran for the bakery. The classical carving of the old gods was carved beautifully into the walls, and if it weren’t for the fact that the waitstaffs’ sight would return in five minutes, she would have paused to pay tribute to the mastery, but she didn’t have time. In ten minutes, the manager would be searching the halls for whatever ruffian had infiltrated the building. With the door to the bakery wing insight, I pulled out a pair of smoke bombs to cover my entrance. Sliding the mask and goggles on, I smashed one of the bombs. Its bright crimson powder would linger in the air for at least a few minutes, causing its victims a coughing fit and about 5 minutes of dizziness if inhaled too long. The door to the bakery was glass and cold to the touch. With intricate glasswork etched into it, I almost felt bad for jamming it shut with a chair.
The bakery wing was vast and not at all as I remembered it. Before, this wing used to be the showroom for decorated cakes, but now it held a long hallway of doors and a wall of windows that stretched the other. Opposite me, the row of labelled doors leads to the ovens, chillers, icing room, and something called assembly and production. The carved wood was painted ivory, but I doubted that any finished cakes would be behind them. Glancing at the wall of windows to my left, I dragged my hand across my face, a moan escaping my lips.
About two floors below me stood a tower of cupcakes, staked to look like a knoll of grass. Butterflies made of fondant, flowers made of sugar, and fairy floss sat on top of the marvel of icing. Sparkling in the bright display lights, it must have been ten feet tall, and behind it was a glass display of the most beautiful pasties and cakes I had ever seen. Cerulean sugar blown fish leapt over waves of molten chocolate, and a tower of lilac macrons wasn't too far away. I could have kicked myself because the cakes were displayed out in the open for everyone to see. There was no way I could get down there without being seen…unless. Dashing down the hall, I raced down the steps and praying that they hadn't also moved the locker room for the staff.
Folding my coat behind a shelf, I downed the white livery of the pastry staff, thankful that my suit was formfitting enough to go unseen. Retying my hair to match the sleek bun of the staff, I strode into the main hall with renewed confidence. Members of staff were hastily running upstairs, and in the distance, I could hear yelling and the clattering of dishes. Ducking my head, I bent to tie my shoe, dodging the wild eyes of the manager; his shiny tiepin and periwinkle waistcoat made him impossible to miss. Hefting a tray of croissants turned to go into the display section, but before I could disappear into the crowd, a burly bald-headed man pushed a cart in front of her.
"Take this to take 23," he barked before going back to the kitchens.
Placing the croissants on the cart, I pushed the trolly full of tea, fingerling sandwiches, and petit fours. The assortment reminded me of what old grannies or aunties ordered at high tea or brunch. With the table number insight, I pushed the trolly up against the table, freezing when I caught sight of the iron grandfather clock in the corner of my eye―I had twenty-five minutes left.
I nearly dropped the steaming teapot. The ivory and cobalt porcelain shocked me back to attention.
My eyes snapped to the boy who called my name. Bottle-green eyes lingered over my face. I could feel the eyes of my friends dig into me, and it took everything in me to school my features into blank expression, but my tone gave me away.
"Boris!" I whisper hissed, setting the teapot down on the white linen table cloth. "What are you doing here?"
“What am I―what are you doing here?”
"What are you doing in a suit? I thought you guys went to the boxing match downtown?”
"You're not the only one who enjoys petite fours and lemon lavender tea."
"Yeah, and high tea isn't just for ladies," Kimoni called out from across the table. His dreadlocks were neatly tied to the nape of his neck; his navy blue suit complemented his nut-brown skin well.
Bolin cleared his throat, “We were going, but then―”
“But then,” Boris cut it, a smile curling on his lips, “Chase said he’d never had a croissant, and Kievan said we were lying about what a petite for was, so one thing leads to another, and we're here. Now you.”
I started to clear away the empty try, mumbling slightly. “We were playing truth or dare… so I have to steal a cake.”
“Right, cause that makes sense.”
"Well, if you excuse me, I'll be going now, see you later," pushing the cart back, I wheeled the empty dished through the crowd and sent them up the dumbwaiter to the dishwasher. Taking one last look back, I saw the boys laughing and passing around a tray of chocolate flowers; those fools, I couldn’t help but love them.
The display section had six servers, and to my relief, believed me when I said I was a trainee boxing up takeout orders. Glancing at one of the worker's wristwatches, I hastened my speed, tying a sad bow on top of the fifth cake box―I had fifteen minutes left.
With my head held high and arms full of cake boxes, I ducked back into the locker room, grabbed my coat and head for the front doors. I had made it this face, and all I needed was to make it down the block, and then I'd be home.
I quickened my haste that turned into a jog, that evolved into a run. Calling out a futile, "A customer forgot these," behind me. With the guards satisfied by my excuse of a lie, I shamelessly sprinted through the doors. My boots hit the concrete, then asphalt. Running towards the phone booth I had come through, I slammed the door shut behind me, gingerly cradling the boxes against me. I dialled the phone and willed myself back home, squeezing my eyes shut as the whirling cloud of shadows and stardust closed in around me.
“How?” Seraphina spluttered, “How did you break into Amorette’s without anyone noticing you?”
Unboxing the cakes onto the counter, I couldn't stop smiling, I stole seven cakes, and none of them was smooshed. "Stealth―"
“―and luck,” Calliope giggled, taking a bite of a decadent chocolate cake, the gold dust clinging to the corners of her mouth as she spoke with her mouth full, “you’re like a cat with nine lives!”
“If only I was that lucky,” I said, slicing a lemon meringue cake.
A cold breeze ripped through the kitchen, and we all whipped our heads towards the door. Boris stood in the doorway, his suit tea-stained and rumpled.
I handed him a plate and fork, “So how was your night?”
“Good, and yours?” He crooned, taking the knife from me to cut himself a piece.
"Good, but I did miss my sweet boys," I laughed, knowing that he would catch my joke.
“You went to Amorette’s instead of the fight. Sweet boys.”
“You’re just bitter that we didn’t bring you with us.” Bolin laughed, taking a bite of cake off Blair’s plate.
“Bitter girls and Sweet boys,” Boris chuckled, licking icing off his thumb.
Taking another plate, I cut myself a piece, “Really?"
“To the sweet boys,” Seraphina called out, raising her glass.
Kimoni looped an arm around my shoulders, cheering gleefully, “To the bitter girls.”
Gathered around the kitchen island, we laughed late into the night, resuming our game of truth or dare. At some point, Seraphine and Rae looped arms and started to sing another equally as dirty sea shanty; and in the dim light of the kitchen, we were young and foolish and happy. Singing at the top of our lungs and eating cake, there was no better way to start the summer.