Margie and I huddled at my kitchen table.
“Taste this,” she said.
Blindfolded with a cherry-patterned dish towel, I opened my mouth and something lumpy landed on my tongue. An orange blanket unfurled in my mind. “Sweet potatoes.”
“You’re forgetting the spices, Lori.”
“More potatoes.” I opened my mouth and she obliged. My tongue sifted out ingredients.
In the morning, the Montpelier headquarters of Humdinger’s Ice Cream was holding an open call for their Elite Eight Taste Testing department. Their ad had appeared three weeks earlier in the Burlington Record, a torn-out copy which was tacked to my refrigerator.
“Cinnamon and nutmeg,” I said.
Icy rain—typical for Vermont’s October weather—tapped against the windows of my rented one-bedroom cottage. “Saffron.”
I imagined her lips spreading into a duck-like grin, one that flashed the crooked incisor that she hated, but that I thought gave her character.
“If I get this job, I bet I could even keep doing my restaurant reviews,” I said.
“Humdinger’s will suit you better than Green Hills.”
“Only we won’t see each other as much.”
“This is your dream job.” Margie’s chair creaked closer.
“I wish I loved Green Hills the way you do. But we both know I completely suck at our job.”
“You don’t suck. Not completely.”
“At birth you got problem solving laced into your DNA, while I got superhero taste buds.”
I would miss seeing Margie every day. I’d miss it a lot. Between nine and five, we worked in side-by-side cubicles at Green Hills Insurance, both as assistant claims adjusters. We ate lunch together and talked about everything, including our romances. Mine were brief, usually with women met on PinkPond.com, while her tempestuous affairs were sometimes with men, and other times with women. None were ever with me, though I wished otherwise.
“Let’s try one more,” Margie said. She had been coaching me for weeks, bringing over all kinds of food samples, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, spreads, yogurts, cheeses, and every flavor of ice cream she could find.
“Ready,” I said.
Then Margie’s lips landed on mine—smooth as velvet and tasting of chocolate lip balm. My earliest memory flashed in my mind: A second birthday party where my mother gently spooned that first bite of Humdinger’s chocolate ice cream onto my toddler tongue, bringing my taste buds to life.
Margie slipped off my blindfold. “What did our kiss taste like?” Her hands smoothed the towel’s fringed edges, her eyes glued to the motion.
I lifted her chin. “Like my first spoonful of chocolate ice cream.”
The skin around her hazel eyes crinkled into sunbursts. Then she insisted that we not do anything about our relationship until after the competition.
“Why did you help me with all this?” I asked.
“It’s selfish. If you get this job then things will be easier for us. I like you a lot. But I won’t shit where I eat.”
“What if Humdinger’s doesn’t pick me?”
She laced her fingers with mine and said that if things were meant to be, then they would be. “Faith, fate, and ice cream.”
Then I kissed her and felt a light-headed buzz akin to consuming homemade fudge washed down with a bold Cabernet.
The next day, fifty-three people showed up at Humdinger’s and the tasting hoops we jumped through lasted three hours. My taste buds were in tip-top shape and thanks to Margie’s kiss, I was laser focused. I savored each morsel, jotted down the dominant and subtle flavors on my sample sheet, and not once doubted my findings.
Notifications would come by snail mail.
On Saturday morning, I trucked up to my mailbox with my elephant-head slippers scuffing against the driveway. A single envelope rested inside the box and the return address glowed off the cream paper—Humdinger’s Human Resources Department.
My trembling fingers negotiated the flap, slipped out the folded sheet.
Dear Ms. Abramson,
Congratulations and welcome to Humdinger’s Elite Eight.
I yanked my phone from my jeans. Wind bowled up the street and the day smelled maple-sweet and metallic.
Margie came on the line a breath later. “Did you hear anything?”
“I got it.” Three glorious words that tasted like chocolate ice cream.