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red velvet

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  Sam comes home to the poor kitchen looking like it’s been a veritable baking frenzy. Flour on every conceivable surface. Batter-caked bowls, whisks, and spatulas, all piled haphazardly in the sink. A long red smear on the counter that she isn’t sure isn’t blood. Ingredients not put away - a half-torn bag of flour, an open bag of sugar, a softening stick of butter. The carton of milk is just sitting out.

  “Cat?” she yells.

  She only meant to check if Cat was at home or not, but like she’s done a summoning spell, Cat Valentine pops up immediately from beneath the kitchen counter with a sunny smile. Her red hair is tied back in a perky ponytail, but she’s still managed to get flour in it, and on her nose and all over her cheeks. “Hi, Sam!”

  “Uh.” Sam puts both hands on the counter for some leverage and leans over slightly, careful not to get any flour on her black leather jacket. White dusty patches on a leather jacket does not a badass image cultivate. “What, uh. Whatcha doing down there?”

  “I spilled flour on the floor,” Cat says. She’s holding a dustpan and brush. “Don’t worry, I think I got most of it.”

  There are probably two cups of flour in the dustpan. “Babe, you know you could have probably just used the vacuum?”

  Cat lights up. “Oh, yeah! I forgot.”

  Sam snorts fondly, straightens back up, surveys the kitchen. “Were you baking?”

  “Yes!” chirps Cat, voice muffled from behind the counter. Sam goes to peer into the oven while she keeps talking. Sure enough, there’s some vaguely cake-like... thing in there, baking away. (So sue her. Sam has never made a cake in her life.) “I love red velvet cake, so I thought I’d make one today. Try new things!”

  Sam turns off the oven light, leans over to grab the milk and chuck it back in the fridge. “Sounds fun.”

  “I hope it turns out well,” Cat says, as Sam closes the fridge door. “I’ve never baked before.”

  Sam stops. Turns to her girlfriend, who’s cheerfully and blithely sweeping away at the last bit of her flour spill. Bites down on the Hey, remember the last time you tried to cook? because there’s a good chance it’ll accidentally sound mean. “Huh,” she says carefully, neutrally, and looks back at the oven. It just sits there, an innocent oven. Poor innocent oven. There’s a good chance this will be its last hurrah, depending on what Cat’s cake does to it. “Well, this should be interesting.”

  “I couldn’t find cake flour, so I just used regular,” Cat says. She dumps her dustpan of flour into the trash. “That’s okay, right?”

  Sam shrugs. How would she know? “Hey, you didn’t cut yourself, did you?”


  Sam jabs a finger at the suspicious red not-blood smear.

  “Oh. No.” Another one of those sunny smiles. “That’s just food dye. Can you pass me a rag?”

  “Nah, I got it. I can wipe the counters while you do the dishes,” Sam offers, grabbing a rag from the oven handle. “You’re going to need space for the cake to cool, right?”

  Cat dimples. It really does take so little to make her smile that Sam often finds herself trying for it, again and again, just to see. “You’re so sweet,” she says, and as Sam joins her at the sink to wet the rag, she leans up to kiss Sam on the cheek. “Thank you.”

  There’s a thing Cat does, where she leans up on her tippy-toes to kiss Sam. It’s less necessary and probably more of an instinct, since they’re about the same height, but it never fails to give Sam the warm fuzzy feelings anyway. She also never knows quite what to do with them. “‘Welcome,” she mumbles, flustered, and starts earnestly wiping the counters down.

  She doesn’t know when exactly Cat put the cake in, but she does start to have a sneaking suspicion that it must be done by now, surely. This thought comes twenty minutes later, after she’s put all the ingredients away and wiped down the counters, after all the mixing bowls and utensils have been cleaned and dried. How long does a cake even take? “Cat, how’s the cake?”

  Cat bounces over to the oven, where she pulls the cake pan half out, sticks a toothpick in the center, and looks at it. “It’s not done,” she says, putting the cake pan back in. “Maybe another five more minutes.”

   Another five more minutes goes to another ten goes to maybe just another five. The cake stays stubbornly uncooked at the center. “I think it’s burning,” Cat says, frowning at the cake through the oven door.

  “Can I see?” Sam joins her. Together they peer through the glass and. Wow. Yeah, that’s a very burnt cake. “I think you need to take it out.”

  “But it’s not ready!” Cat says. “The recipe says you have to bake it until ‘only a few moist crumbs stick to the toothpick when you test it.’”

  “What if you test it again now?”

  Miracles of miracles, hallelujah and all that, the toothpick comes out fairly clean this time. About time, Sam thinks, digging for the oven mitts in a drawer.

  Cat is frowning into the cake pan. “That doesn’t look like a cake.”

  “Slap enough frosting on it, no one will ever know the difference,” Sam tells her, bumping Cat gently out of the way so she can pull the pan from the oven. It...well, yeah. It definitely does not look like a cake. For one thing, it’s almost completely black. “I... well,” she says, as she and Cat just stand there peering at it. “I guess we should make a lot of frosting?” She looks at Cat. “Or I should make a lot of frosting. You should take a shower.”

  Cat looks puzzled. “Why?”

  “There’s flour in your hair, babe.”

  “Oh!” Cat tugs at a few loose, powdery strands and smiles sheepishly. “Yeah, I should do that. I can give you the recipe?”

  “Good plan.” She starts pulling out one of the clean mixing bowls and lugging out the big mixer, and she’s just begun to consult the recipe Cat’s set out, muttering the ingredients under her breath as she reads, when she catches movement out of the corner of her eye. Cat hasn’t gone off to shower yet - she’s standing there, watching with a little smile. “What?”

  “Nothing,” Cat says, dimpling again. “You’re just really cute when you’re focused.”

  Sam flushes. Honest-to-god flushes, her cheeks heating up. “Go shower,” she says, flapping a hand at her girlfriend.

  It’s not very complicated - cream cheese, butter, a lot of sugar, just a tiny bit of salt - but Sam puts more effort into the frosting than she’s ever done for anything else. It has to go right, because a good cake is 40% cake body and 60% frosting, and the blackened burnt thing in the pan is not going to be pulling its weight. She doesn’t want to think about how disappointed Cat might look when she tastes it.

  She also doubles the recipe once she tastes the frosting, because - hey, this is pretty good.

  By the time she’s about finished up, Cat’s sitting at the kitchen counter, tentatively poking the hard surface of the cake. “Do you think it’s cooled?” she says hopefully.

  “Probably, yeah. Should we cut off the burnt bits before we try frosting it?”

  They don’t cut off the burnt bits. This is only because the “burnt bits” are actually a hard crust, like the shell of a coconut. Eventually Sam has to saw into the cake with a very large bread knife, straight down the middle. It’s red and fluffy and very moist inside. But the outside? Rock.

  She cuts Cat a piece. She cuts herself a piece, too. They eat cake from the burnt crust like watermelon slices.

  There is an unmistakably burnt taste to it.

  “This tastes really bad,” Cat says mournfully.

  Sam crams another chunk of cake in her mouth and mentally high-fives herself when she manages to not choke on the bitter taste. She’s eaten a lot of questionable things, but dang. “I mean,” she allows, “could be worse.”

  Cat sighs. She pushes her plate away, with its half-eaten piece of cake, and leaves the kitchen, wanders into the living room just as there’s knocking at the door.

  Cat flops down on the couch. “Come in, Dice,” she says, sounding as crestfallen as Sam’s ever heard her.

  Dice saunters in, drops his backpack on the floor like he owns the place, and immediately frowns. “Whoa, who died?”

  “Hey, Dice,” Sam calls, gesturing to the pan with the bread knife. “You want some cake?” Kids’ll eat anything, right?

  Dice’s eyes light up. “Score!” he says cheerfully, scurrying over to partake in the Cake of Good Intentions.

  “It’s not good,” Cat warns.

  “But we have frosting,” Sam tacks on. She puts a generous dollop of cream cheese frosting on her plate and leaves Dice to his own devices so she can go sit with Cat. Knives, cake (burnt or unburnt), and frosting with about half a pound of sugar. Kid’s probably having a blast. “Hey,” she says, nudging Cat with her shoulder. “Don’t be upset. It really isn’t that bad.”

  “I guess,” Cat says glumly. “It just doesn’t taste anything like red velvet cake.”

  “One thing went right, though,” Sam says. She swipes her finger through the frosting and dabs a streak down Cat’s cheek, which prompts an adorably belated, Hey! “Try it,” she orders, licking her finger clean.

  Cat swipes the frosting off her cheek and tastes it. She perks up and breaks into a smile. “That’s really good!”

  Sam can’t help smiling. Cat is the sweetest person she’s ever met. It’s hard not to enjoy her delight. “Yeah?”

  “Yeah.” Cat’s bright smile gentles. She starts to lean in, and for a moment Sam does, too, thinking she’s going for a kiss, before she feels the cold swipe of frosting. “Cat!” she yelps.

  Cat laughs. “Got you,” she says, and then leans in for real, pressing her lips to the frosting smear on Sam’s cheek.

  (“I don’t know what you guys are talking about,” Dice calls from the kitchen, his mouth full. “This cake is really good.”)