Nellie Zander didn’t believe in love. Which was strange for someone who worked in a sweet shoppe called Candy Hearts. Nellie’s vision was flooded with pinks, reds, hearts, and cupids every day at work. She shook sprinkles from her coat every night. She could tell the difference between vanilla and French vanilla frosting with a single whiff.
She hated it.
But she had a gift.
“Get those hearts done yet?” Betsy said as she bustled into the kitchen.
“You know I need to concentrate.”
Betsy rolled her eyes. She had flour in her red hair, chocolate frosting on her brow, and rosy cheeks that turned scarlet when she was stressed. They were a nice apple hue at the moment. “Just hurry. There’s a line out the door.” She shook her head. “If it wasn’t such good money, I’d turn them away.”
Nellie smiled. Betsy would never turn away a customer, and not just for the money. Under her rough exterior had a heart as sweet as the ones Nellie made each morning.
“Just give me a minute.”
Betsy grumbled out the door and Nellie returned to the pastel-colored sugar hearts. They were in piles before her, and unlike those that came in the boxes with “I do” or “kiss me” etched onto them, these candy hearts were blank and just waiting for someone with a spark of magic.
Someone like Nellie.
She dipped her enchanted quill into her inkwell of black liquid-sugar, then picked up the first heart that was the size of her palm. She whispered, “You will find love on Monday at 2:00. You’ll spill his milkshake.” She then wrote “Meet Cute” on the heart’s shell. A tremor of magic ran through her fingers and into the candy, which sparkled momentarily before returning to pale pink.
“It never gets old,” a deep voice said.
Nellie whipped around, nearly spilling her ink sugar. “Frank.” She glowered. “What doesn’t get old? Spying on people?”
He smirked, and she wanted to smack it off his face with a spatula. His blue eyes sparkled entirely too much, and those freckles were ridiculous.
Frank tied an apron around his waist. Though it was mid-winter he was wearing a t-shirt that revealed muscles as toned as the challah bread he baked. The nerve. He caught her gaze and she blushed, returning to her task at hand.
“How do you know who the hearts go to?” he asked, standing so close she could feel his warmth.
“The magic just knows. It isn’t a science like baking.”
Frank leaned on the table, watching her dip the quill. It hummed with guilt.
Nellie ignored the man beside her and whispered to the candy, “You will receive forgiveness on Tuesday. Take her somewhere nice,” while writing, “Make Amends.”
Frank whistled appreciatively. “Hope he deserves her.”
Nellie glared, hands on her hips. “Do you need help finding the oven?”
Frank flashed a confident smile, his gaze softening. “I need help winning you over, Nellie Zander. Think you could scribble a little something down for me?”
Nellie ground her teeth. Frank had asked her out at least seven times over the last year, and each time she’d responded with a resounding no. Not because she didn’t find him charming, or easy to talk to, or exceptionally handsome.
She bit the inside of her lip. It wasn’t about him at all.
Frank huffed a laugh and retreated to his station. Nellie opened her mouth to say something. Anything to stop the sinking feeling in her gut. But then she plucked up another heart. He’d ask again. She was sure of it.
And if he didn’t?
Well, then she’d finally be done with this game.
The sinking feeling remained the rest of the morning, and her magic ran on autopilot as she whispered enchantments and sealed them with ink. By evening, her back was sore and her fingers cramped.
“Closing time, dearies,” Betsy said, coming into the kitchen. “Valentine’s Day has been a hit. Clean up and head home.”
Having already cleaned her station, Nellie drifted past Frank, who was scrubbing a cupcake tin, and entered the café. She wiped tables and straightened chairs, then ripped down a few Valentine’s Day signs, briefly wondering if she should burn them or store them for next year.
Nellie didn’t believe in love—not since her parents had split when she was a kid. Not since her fiancé had cheated on her a month before their wedding. It was all a sham. Nellie’s heart was safer without it.
Still, on Valentine’s Day, she felt herself leaning into the thought of love just a little bit. It threatened to splinter her non-candy heart. The heart that beat with grief but was encased in an enchantment that had been whispered by her own lips five years ago:
“Don’t fall in love.”
Sometimes, she regretted doing it. Especially on lonely nights like these.
Nellie walked to the sweets case and began wiping the outside, when she noticed a single candy heart that had been left behind. She frowned. Her magic always knew how many hearts to make for the customers who would need them. It was never wrong.
Curious, Nellie slid behind the counter and opened the case. She picked up the heart and read it. “New beginnings,” she whispered, narrowing her eyes. “I don’t even remember this one.” It must have been when she was on autopilot. Suddenly, she had an insatiable urge to eat it.
When Frank came to check on Nellie, he found her with tears streaming down her face.
“Nell? You alright?”
As Nellie finished swallowing the candy heart something inside her shattered—the enchantment whispered in bitterness that had imprisoned her heart for five years.
Her heart now felt raw. Vulnerable. Breakable.
The candy had tasted of a bitter past and a sweet, sweet future. And she knew who it would be with. Nellie smiled nervously up at Frank who seemed like magic himself.
“How about that date, Frank James?”
Emily hosts a flash fiction challenge every Friday through her Instagram that is open to any who want to participate.
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