“What the hell is that?” I asked. Then winced, because even I could hear how sharp I’d sounded. The small room we were using as a changing area had bare, whitewashed walls, and sound echoed off it like a football chant on Saturday afternoon.
Simon’s eager, wide-eyed expression faltered, but he clung grimly to his smile. “Happy Valentine’s Day, Arne.” And he thrust out his arms.
I looked at the fuzzy pile of goo covering his hands—and part way over his wrists too—and tried to put a name to it. There was no distinguishing shape, it wasn’t in any specific bowl or plate, and the colour seemed to wander between pink, white and… steel-grey.
“It’s not Valentine’s Day until the weekend,” I said, stupidly. “And what the hell is it?”
Simon licked his lips. It wasn’t a come-on. He’d just got some of the stuff stuck on his mouth. “It’s candy-floss. It was invented in Victorian times, when sugar became more plentiful.”
“That stuff’s been around since then?”
“In concept, I mean. This stuff, as you call it, was made today.” He frowned at me. “I made it.”
Oh fuck. Simon had never been known for his cookery skills, not since the day he set fire to my kitchen.
“Try it,” he said doggedly.
It had been a long day. We’d been running the cookery vlog from the grounds of Kensington Palace in the heart of London, as part of a Victorian Fayre. But by now, I’d had enough of cooking the same Victoria sponge cake, treacle tart, and bread-and-butter-pudding over and over, though the visitors had all seemed thrilled to watch. Obviously, while we were at the Fayre, we didn’t have access to all the ingredients I would have had back at the Haven, so we’d chosen just a few Victorian-inspired dishes to demonstrate. And although we took some footage of me cooking and Simon chatting for the vlog, there were all kinds of privacy issues with members of the public involved, so we were also gonna edit the live sessions into one single, digestible vlog later on. So, the more practice runs I had, the better.
But I’d tired as the afternoon wore on. The treacle started to get too heavy to work with; the smell of cinnamon was cloying at the back of my nose. The jam for the cakes had started to run thin, getting everywhere except on the sponge. There’d have to be a few adjustments to our plans for the following sessions, or we’d never survive the remaining weeks of the contract.
Simon had been his usual fabulous self, fearlessly cheerful, confidently fielding some of the most batty questions I’d ever heard—did Queen Victoria eat curry?—and chattering away about what I was doing at each step. And he did it all, dressed like a respectable Victorian gentleman, courtesy of Tom’s endlessly inventive wardrobe and a friend of his who ran a steampunk costume hire shop. But even Simon looked weary, and his stove-pipe hat was listing dangerously to one side.
Still, he was so bloody gorgeous. I wanted to roll him over and do him, same as ever. Here and now, over the bench or up against the wall, even if other stallholders could wander in at any time, now the festivities were winding down for the day. I wanted Simon at all times and in all places, even with his stick-on sideburns and an ill-fitting coat tightly buttoned up to his lopsided cravat.
“It looks… odd.” I patted the top of the goo. Yeah, it was sticky. But not fluffy and airy like candy floss. And what the fuck was that lingering smell?
“You’re wondering about the smell, aren’t you?” Simon looked defensive, awkward. Guilty. “Liquorice was very popular in Victorian times, too. At first I was intending to make a cake, but our free time is limited here, and I wasn’t sure I could get the flavouring right in a smaller size…”
Oh Jesus. Were there cupcakes, too? Liquorice cupcakes? I fucking hated liquorice, but to make Simon happy…. I swallowed hard.
“So, anyway, I gave up on that plan,” Simon continued with determination, “and I decided to make candy floss instead, because I knew you’d brought the sugar thermometer to the Fayre, and it’s just a couple of ingredients, and like I said, I didn’t have much time alone, except when you were taking your coffee break with those guys from the market garden who wanted to talk about supplying the vlog. Though I rushed a bit, and I think some of the liquorice flavouring must have leaked onto my coat sleeves, because I had everything hidden together in my rucksack—”
I grabbed his hands. “Please. Stop.”
He did, eyes blinking, jaw still dropped open. I kissed him. For a long time, with a lot of tongue.
“My God,” he said breathlessly, when we came up for air. One of his sideburns was flapping loose. “I should cook for you more often—”
“No, you shouldn’t,” I said quickly. “But I appreciate the thought. And, anyway, I’ve already made a cake.”
His eyes softened. “For us?”
I nodded. “If we can get through this week’s work, I have our Sunday all planned as a reward. Three course meal, nice wine, and cake for dessert. A good, rich, chocolate, modern-day cake. To tell you how much I love you.”
“Arne,” he breathed, cheeks flushed.
“And if you’re really lucky—”
“I’ll eat my portion right off the top of your dick, just before I swallow you down the back of my throat—”
He sounded shocked, which wasn’t like Simon, who could be Mr Bold in bed, and yelled like a Covent Garden market trader when he came. And no one else was here to see us. I moved closer again, ready to make out some more.
That was definitely a bark.
“What the fuck?”
He wriggled his wrists and yanked on my hands; I pulled back. His hat toppled off onto the floor and my apron came unfastened. We groaned. Tried again. But nothing else came apart.
“I’m stuck,” he wailed. “We’re stuck. Together!”
I just laughed and kissed him again. After all, things could be worse.
He could taste of liquorice.
copyright Clare London as Stella Shaw 2022