French Kisses

This was a piece for @bunnifuku, who you should definitely check out! She does super cute art and is really great!


There was an ethereal quality to the dusk Anais found herself walking in. It felt like at any moment the overcast clouds would give way to the sun could shine onto the cobblestone streets she was crossing. Though most were in their homes, there was a buzzing energy to the air — soon the tension would snap, and the day would begin in earnest. Normally the streets were filled with students on their way to class, their boots stamping through the spring-time rain, and various business owners opening up shop, getting their stalls ready for passerby. Instead, Anais was traveling alone. It was nice — like getting a second look at the town as if she were only just getting a better view of the trees and flowers that helped give it its beauty.

Anais had a reason to be out and about so early, and she was looking up at it with a proud gleam in her eyes by the end of her short walk. She could hardly believe it if you were to ask her. Years of sweat, work, disappointment, more work, more disappointment — and yes, even a few tears, though she’d never admit it — had led her to this moment. The French Kisses bakery was hers. It didn’t feel real, even as she ran a finger over the wooden sign that had its name emblazoned on it, lazily swinging in the air next to the door. She gave it a good tap, before stepping inside.

Everything inside the bakery was spotless. Anais had made sure of that beforehand, ruthlessly combing over every bit of dirt and dust she came across and forcing her boyfriend Donnie to wipe every surface of the building down somewhere between two and two-hundred times. What remained was a bright and open room that had the morning light filtering into it from the front windows, welcoming to any customer that happened to walk by and notice it.

Anais cracked her knuckles as she made her way past her bakery’s lobby and into the kitchen that sat behind it. Somehow, this section of French Kisses was even cleaner than outside, but that was inevitable — a clean bakery was a happy one. She tied her long, silver-blue hair into a ponytail to keep it out of the way, throwing on an apron and taking note of her stock. She had gone over what she wanted the first batch of goods to be in her head a hundred times the night before, but it was a different thing entirely to be making it. Sure, Anais had been baking for a while now — enough to open a shop, actually — but it was always for her, or her friends. This would be the first time she’d be serving a customer alone. She had to make sure that everything came out perfectly.

Thus she started with cookies. Not exactly a breakfast meal, but a good warm-up. Everyone loves a cookie, no matter the time of day. There were a million ways to make them and just as many ways to decorate them. Anais prepped the dough and frosting as the shadows outside grew longer, with the sun finally deciding to show a trace of its face to the world. As that first batch sat in the oven after Anais politely told the cookies to make sure they tasted delicious, she could feel herself getting into the groove, deciding to multitask with some croissants, moving between the butter that needed to be made while shaping them into petite crescents. Anais debated whether to give them a filling or not, before deciding to drizzle them with a chocolate syrup she had made up a few days ago as a happy compromise. Satisfied, she turned back to the now baked cookies, deftly frosting them with a variety of cute heart-shapes.

The bakery was beginning to fill with the smell of fresh goods, lulling Anais into an almost hypnotic state as she went from one pastry to the next, humming quietly to herself all the while. She was happy she had given herself enough time this morning to prepare, as she found herself making more than she anticipated. That wasn’t a huge issue, however — anything she didn’t sell she could take home with her. A perk of the job, she’d say.

Finished, Anais took the trays of food outside and meticulously placed them on the displays in front of the store, as well as next to the cash register. It was more work than using mock deserts, but she needed to make a good impression on opening day. And speaking of opening…

Anais took the “Closed” sign and held it in her hand for a moment, taking a deep breath. This was it! She flipped it so that “Open” faced towards the outside world, welcoming any and all to enjoy themselves at French Kisses.

…Oh dear.

Anais hadn’t thought this far ahead. What was she going to do while waiting for a customer to show up? She had already made everything she wanted to for the day. The girl paced back and forth for a few seconds in distress, before deciding to plop herself on the stool in front of the cash register. She smoothed her pleated skirt and tried to look as natural as possible, which was admittedly difficult, considering she was staring straight ahead and waiting for someone to walk through the door.

The day had finally begun for the rest of the town, as demonstrated by the foot traffic that Anais could see filtering past French Kisses’ windows. Each time someone walked past the store, her heart would jump just a little bit higher from her chest. She gulped, patting her knees in comfort. Anais had considered the possibility that the day would be slow, even with all of her marketing attempts.

Though hers was the first bakery on this side of town, it was always difficult to get the attention of people, let alone asking them to give you their money. Plus, they were probably busy…should she have started later in the day? Or waited for the weekend? Or maybe—

But before Anais could ruminate further, biting her nails with anxiety, she heard the tinkling of the bell at the front door. If her heart jumping in her chest before, it had now definitely leaped out of her body entirely and took a ride on the nearest roller- coaster. Anais shot up from the stool and gave a sharp bow to her potential first customer.

“Welcome to French Kisses!” she said. It might have been too loud. Was it too loud? Oh well, no turning back now. Anais looked back up to see a small old woman hunched over in front of her, leaning on a cane.

“French Kisses, huh? That’s quite the name…thank you dear, I didn’t realize this was a hot spring, as opposed to a bakery,” the woman said, rather drolly. Anais blushed a deep crimson, bouncing from one foot to the other.

“I…um, sorry. You’re my first customer.”

“Of the day?” the woman asked, an eyebrow raised. “E-ever!” Anais said, stuttering.

The woman clacked her cane lightly against the store’s stone tiles. “Ah! No wonder this place didn’t seem familiar. I’ve been in this neighborhood for decades, you know. Something or another is always changing or getting replaced. Oh but I’m rambling. First customer, ‘eh? That’s quite the honor.”

“The honor is mine, ma’am!” Anais said, bowing again. Such vigor was in her movements that her ponytail uncoiled itself back into its full length, reaching to her skirt. The older woman gestured at the girl dismissively.

“Cut that out before you hurt yourself. And my name is Gladys — it is most certainly not ‘ma’am.’”

“Oh! Mine is Anais.”

“Very good Anais. Do you mind if I take a look at what you’re selling?”

“Of course! I mean, of course not!”

Anais stepped aside and let the woman past to examine the display. She made to look busy, even though she absolutely wasn’t, while occasionally stealing glances at Gladys as she focused intensely on the food she had laid out. It was taking her quite a while. Anais was about to make a recommendation when the older woman finally spoke up.

“I’ll take one of each of these please,” she said, pointing.

Anais moved so quickly behind the display she may as well have materialized there. “One brownie and one croissant coming up!” she said. She took a small breath to calm her nerves so as not to drop the pastries as she pulled them out from the display and on to the counter.

“Will that be for here or to go?” Anais asked, finally starting to feel a bit more like a professional.

“For here, young lady. Lord knows I don’t have anything else to do.”

Anais couldn’t suppress a smile as she laid the pastries out on two plates and moved them over to the counter where Gladys was sitting.

“Thank you, Anais,” she said. Anais nodded. The woman looked up at her as silence grew between the two.

“Anais?”

“Yes?”

“Why are you standing there?”

Anais clasped her hands together. “I have to see you take the first bite!” “You do?”

“Yes, I do! I have to know if it’s good! You can always tell in the first bite, you know.”

“I…hmm. Fine,” Gladys said, shrugging her shoulders. She cut a piece of the brownie off with her fork and plopped it into her mouth. Anais held her breath while she waited.

Gladys chewed for a moment before her eyes widened in surprise. Anais leaned forward.

“Well?”

“This is…” the older woman started, before stopping. She took another bite of the brownie.

“Well!?” Anais repeated, her eyes glowing in excitement.

“I’ve been in this neighborhood a long time, Anais, as I’ve mentioned. And I have to say, this is the best dessert I’ve ever had here.”

Anais jumped into the air, clapping in excitement.

“That’s great to hear, thank you so much! Please enjoy the rest!” The girl retreated back to the counter while Gladys ate.

“Would you like some tea or anything?” she asked. The older woman waved her away. “No, no, I had some before I left this morning, thank you.”

“Where were you going before you stopped in?” Anais asked, leaning her chin on her hands behind the cash register.

“It’s the same routine every day, really: morning walk, then chess at a friend’s house.” “Wow, that sounds really nice!”

Gladys chuckled. “Well, it certainly keeps the mind sharp. But tell me, Anais — what got you to open a Bakery in this little town?”

Anais looked up at the ceiling, watching the fan above lazily spin to keep the bakery’s air from getting stale. She smiled.

“It’s always been a dream of mine! I just always thought the idea was cute, and I was always pretty good at baking, so…having a place where people could come enjoy themselves with a pastry after a busy day really appealed to me.”

“That’s quite the dream, especially for someone so young,” Gladys said, biting into her croissant. Anais shrugged.

“I guess! But it’s coming true! And that’s partly thanks to you. Thank you!”

“You might be giving me too much credit, but I suppose I’ll take it,” the old woman said, shaking her head with a laugh.

“What about you, Gladys? You’ve had a dream you always wanted to make come true, haven’t you?”

“I did.”

“Did you get to make it come true?”

“No. Don’t get me wrong,” Gladys said, waving away the frown that was spreading across Anais’ face. “I’m very happy with the life I’ve lived. No regrets there. But there’s always that ‘what if?’ that lingers in the back of your mind. I didn’t think I could make it happen, so I never tried. But you’re trying. I suppose that’s what’s so impressive about this little bakery.”

“What was it that you wanted to do?” Anais asked, leaning forward.

“Hmm…maybe I’ll tell you the next time I swing by. You are very easy to talk to, Anais.”

The girl grinned in response. “Thank you! I get that a lot.”

Gladys rose from her seat, having finished off her food. She handed the money to Anais, but the girl refused to accept it.

“You’re my first customer,” she said. “It’s on the house. Just tell your friends that French Kisses is open!”

Gladys nodded. “I most certainly will, Anais. Make sure to bake enough for all of them.”

“I will!”

Anais held the door open for the older woman to walk out of the bakery. As she let it swing closed, Anais looked out the window with a smile. Her dream officially wasn’t a dream anymore.

One down.

The rest of the town to go!