Teenage baker Syd sends ripples of heartbreak through Austin’s queer community when a batch of post-being-dumped brownies turns out to be magical—and makes everyone who eats them break up.
“What’s done is done.”
Unless, of course, it was done by my brownies. Then it’s getting undone.
Syd (no pronouns, please) has always dealt with big, hard-to-talk-about things by baking. Being dumped is no different, except now Syd is baking at the Proud Muffin, a queer bakery and community space in Austin. And everyone who eats Syd’s breakup brownies . . . breaks up. Even Vin and Alec, who own the Proud Muffin. And their breakup might take the bakery down with it. Being dumped is one thing; causing ripples of queer heartbreak through the community is another. But the cute bike delivery person, Harley (he or they, check the pronoun pin, it’s probably on the messenger bag), believes Syd about the magic baking. And Harley believes Syd’s magical baking can fix things, too—one recipe at a time.
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The splintered crack of my egg on the counter sounds like an ending. I raise my hand and tip the runny liquid into the bowl, letting the yolk slip out. It’s bright, orange, unbroken. It’s beautiful, and I want to keep it that way.
But I have to whisk it, and with a few turns of my wrist the batter swallows it up. The yolk disappears like it was never there.
I dump the dry ingredients in with the wet, then check my recipe card for the fourth time. Red velvet. My hands know how to do this. Snap the bowl into place on the stand mixer. Stir on the lowest setting until everything barely swirls together. Don’t overmix, or the cake comes out stodgy. I flick the switch at the perfect moment, as the last of the dry, crummy bits dissolve into silk. My hands are good at this. Which is helpful, because the rest of me isn’t really here.
I slap butter-flour paste into four round cake pans, then pour batter into each one. It folds on top of itself like a ribbon. This part usually feels like I’m finishing off a present, and the people who eat the cake later will be able to taste that it’s a gift I made with them in mind. Even if we’re strangers. They’ll taste it, and they’ll know I want them to be happy.
Baking is magic that way.
But I don’t feel like giving presents right now. And I’m not really here because I’m still in her bedroom, wrapped in her towel, shivering as she peers at me without her glasses on and says, “Maybe this isn’t working.”
Like we’re a recipe that isn’t coming together right.
“Syd, do you have a minute to take muffins to the front?” Marisol calls from across the kitchen.
She’s being delicate with me. Marisol isn’t delicate with anything, not even meringues. On a normal day she’d let me know how unacceptable it is that I’m four cakes behind when we’re about to open. She’d remind me that I’m so young, too young to be a full-time baker, even though she’s only a few years older than I am. I do the whole routine in my head. Then I throw my red velvet rounds in the oven.
I grab the muffins, warm and waiting. Drop them in pale wicker baskets, inhaling the comforts of triple ginger, oatmeal and peaches with a brown sugar crumb topping, cherry vanilla strewn with dark chocolate. Each smell hits my nose and burrows into the part of my brain that believes things will be all right. But then I get to the savory breakfast muffins, sharp cheddar and smoky bacon and green onion. Those are W’s favorites.
I don’t know whether I should put one aside for her. I don’t know what she wants anymore.
I head to the front, where Vin is standing at the cash register, settling rolls of change into the little nooks. “Hey, Syd darlin’. ” His voice is a dark crackle, his southern accent like a drizzle of honey on top of burnt popcorn. Actually, that sounds good. I start a recipe in my head. Anything to avoid thinking about W.
“Need to talk?” Vin asks, without looking up from the quarters.
“Seems like you’re holding something in,” he says. “That’s not good for your constitution.”
I look around the bakery. The front room is filled with early morning light and nooks where people can have private conversations. Beyond that is the wooden porch painted in thick rainbow stripes, and wrought iron tables set in a lush, wild garden. Upstairs is a wide-open community space lined in vintage couches and bookshelves stuffed with queer literature. Vin and Alec have done everything they could to make this place safe and comfortable for someone like me. Every day since I found it on a lucky wander through South Austin, that’s how I’ve felt. Safe. Comfortable.
But right now the Proud Muffin’s magic isn’t working. I feel foul.
And Vin can tell just by looking at me.
“Don’t worry,” I chirp. This isn’t my normal voice. Did I leave it behind at W’s? How much of me is missing?
“It’s my job to worry about all of you,” Vin says. He means it, too. He and Alec treat everyone who work for them like the ever-expanding family that seems standard in Texas. I was born in Illinois. I have parents, a sister, a scattering of aunts, and a single awkward cousin. When I told her I was dating W, she said, and I quote, “That’s a bad idea, but okay.”
“Syd, you still with me?” Vin asks.
I can’t let him think that my feelings about W are shaking my ability to get through a shift. I could lose the best job in the world. No matter how nice Vin and Alec are, I’m the youngest person they’ve taken on as a baker—and it wasn’t a picnic to convince them.
Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, every picnic I’ve been on has felt like a high-stakes situation involving me making lots of food with the likelihood that the entire outing will be ruined by some unforeseen factor.
Convincing them was exactly like a picnic.
“I think I’m hungry,” I say, and my voice sounds as least halfway mine. “Didn’t get a chance to eat this morning. I’m going to grab a Texas Breakfast if that’s okay.” Those are the peachy oatmeal muffins.
Vin nods sagely. He does everything sagely. He rides a motorcycle and listens to endless history podcasts and works out constantly. His tanned white skin is heavily tattooed, mostly with poetry running in all directions, and even though he’s as friendly as Alec, he hides it better—which all adds up to a burly dad vibe. “Take the register for a few minutes, will you? Gemma’s coming in, but I need to run to the bank and get change. Y’all keep going through my singles like this is a strip bakery.”
Marisol would have laughed at that. I just nod at Vin, completely mature and trustworthy.