Mark had tried many variations of the recipe to find that the frozen key lime pie was the best fruity dessert he had ever made. This was no small feat for a man who ran a bakery, whose livelihood depended on daily production of multiple tasty recipes.
But he didn’t make a batch of pies to be sold en masse to the working mothers that lived in his tiny town who had no remaining energy to whip up dessert for their working husbands, nor the lonely grandmas who wanted to woo their grandchildren to stay just a bit longer after weekly family dinners. He knew all of his customers by name, and while he was grateful for their daily purchases of bread, muffins, and cookies, he had made this single particular pie for a single particular person: the most beautiful woman he’d known since his wife died.
Mark kept his cool when she was in his bakery. He gave her samples, topped off the coffee in her traveler’s mug even though she always tried to refuse, discussed her work as a food blogger, advised her where to find fruit that was out of season, and jointly poked fun at small town eccentricities. They both had sought out their second acts in this small town after hardships in their respective cities — Mark’s wife illness in Boston; Lisa’s failed attempts to publish her novels in New York.
After Lisa left his bakery, Mark would replay their conversations in his mind, savoring the moments when she laughed at his low key jokes, and wince when he felt himself overreach at attempts to be witty. Lisa was always laughing, whether he was funny or not, and always playful.
He wasn’t a shy person, but every time he thought of asking her out, he hesitated. The only logical reason he could give himself was that he wanted to save his six year old daughter, Annie, from the emotional turmoil that she might feel if he started dating. He missed his late wife fiercely, and knew that two years was and was not a long time to mourn.
But when Lisa walked into the bakery, the late afternoon sun casting an ethereal glow about her, Mark knew his heart had shifted towards her completely. He found himself abruptly and unceremoniously pulling the pie from the freezer, and placed it on the counter before her.
“New special?” she asked, peering thoughtfully at the pie.
“No. Made this especially for you,” he said.
“Really?” she asked, her dazzling smile nearly blinding him. He couldn’t help but smile back even as he realized that he hadn’t put the whip cream on the pie. He moved towards the fridge.
“Did you make it with real Key limes?” she asked.
“Real Key limes? No, I didn’t have time to go to Key West to forage for limes.”
“Even Key West doesn’t have an abundance of key limes. Apparently Persian limes were planted — ”
“ — after a hurricane wiped out the majority of Key limes in 1926,” Mark said.
“Did we read the same Epicurious article?” Lisa asked, giving him a wink.
Mark pulled heavy cream from the fridge, poured it into his industrial mixer, and turned it on, adding a dash of sugar.
“Not meringue for the topping?” she asked.
“I prefer the tart and sweet combo.” Before she could say anything, he asked quickly, “You wanna stay for dinner?”
Mark held his breath as he looked at Lisa. The industrial mixer mixed on steadily.
“If it means I can eat this pie with you and Annie,” she finally responded, a hint of a blush gracing the apples of her cheeks.
As if on cue, Annie, back from school, opened the door of the bakery and smiled at the sight of Lisa.
Grateful, Mark exhaled.