Charlie’s mother leaned in the frame of the kitchen door, lost in some kind of memory. It wasn’t a good one. Her eyes were far away, and her jaw clenched. Sometimes Charlie wondered if his mother had any happy memories. She’d never told them anything about her life before he and Chase were born; it was an extremely touchy subject.
The sun slanted through the kitchen window, lighting flames in her red hair. Annika had already pulled and secured the shades in the rest of the house, so it would be ready for his sister when she got home. “Chase will be home soon, don’t forget your shade,” she signed as well as spoke. No one in the family was deaf, but Charlie didn’t speak so they all learned ASL. Annika always liked to keep in practice, she said it made it easier to understand Charlie if her own hands were moving.
Charlie gave his mother a look; they both knew he would keep the shade over the sink open until the last minute. “What are you making?” she asked looking around the kitchen eagerly. Charlie growled and shooed her with shortening-covered hands. “I think you need a new hobby,” she said. “You’re as pleasant as a cave maggot!”
Charlie rolled his eyes. He had long ago given up trying to make sense of his mother’s weird sayings. He stepped closer, wiggling his greasy fingers threateningly. Shaking her head in mock exasperation she quickly left, as if it were her idea. He smiled a little at her exit and turned back to his baking experiment.
The kitchen was his domain. He’d painted the cabinets white, the walls a soft gray, and had Nana Viv make the navy blue curtains. It was pretty masculine for a kitchen, except for all the candles. They were more functional that decorative, the only source of light that didn’t make Chase sick. He cringed as he remembered he was supposed to meet her at the wishing well today. She wouldn’t tell him why she wanted to be there, and all they had done the first two days was sit, so he didn’t feel that bad. Besides, it was too late now; he was right in the middle of a recipe.
The majority of his ingredients were laid out on the butcher-block island, a Goodwill find fixed up by Papa V. He greased one round cake pan, fingers sliding across the bottom and up along the sides. Pinching flour in his dry hand, he sprinkled it evenly onto the surface then turned the faucet on with his elbow. He tried to fight the urge but had to flip the faucet on and off an additional eight times before he could let it go. Today he had been feeling weirdly apprehensive, and he couldn’t figure out why. It was the anxiety that put him into recipe mode. When he was lost in creating something, he usually left behind his tics.
He glanced at the kitchen door to see his mother’s reaction. Normally tics didn’t show up in the kitchen, and he knew she would worry. She was in the living room folded back into her desk chair staring off into space and scratching at the scar on her lower back. He was relieved she hadn’t seen, he hated to stress her out. As it was, the fragrance of her inner turmoil was already messing with his recipe.
Charlie could smell people’s emotions. Like a seasoned wine tester, he could identify many layers. It was kind of like receiving a photograph through his nostrils. Charlie smiled at the idea of a glossy 5x7 floating up his nose. While he was with food, he could put his weird talent to good use. His sniffer had found some truly unusual combinations that he tested out on his family. And, usually, the aromas of baking were a good distraction from the complex scent of emotions that accosted him daily. He was getting better at handling that as he got older; it was the rituals and the pain that kept getting worse.
The water flowing from the tap was finally hot enough to wash the shortening off. Hands dried, he picked up the pan gently tapping flour around in a circle as he reviewed his plan. Brownie cake, espresso cream cheese frosting and one top secret ingredient. Charlie was glad his mother hadn’t seen the small silver bucket on the shelf below the counter. In it was freshly turned earth, from Papa V’s garden.
Papa V was an old school granola, and Charlie knew that only organics had ever touched this dirt. It was rich and velvety with the faintest sparkle, like the coffee grounds his mother emptied into the garbage every morning. Although he was not a dirt eater normally, Charlie trusted his nose, and his nose told him that the earth’s contribution was the thing that would take his cake to the next level.
He’d been planning to filch the dirt on his way home after school with Papa V. He’d found a fancy silver vase half buried by the side of garden where he meant to dig, so it seemed the earth itself agreed. He had quickly abandoned his plastic cup in favor of this new find. Charlie enjoyed a good presentation, even if he was the only witness.
He wasn’t sure if he would reveal the secret ingredient. He weighed the pleasure of seeing his family glow with happiness while they ate his cake, with the equally enjoyable sight of their eyes bugging out in disbelief as he unveiled his bucket of soil. It was a tough call.