Before writing this short story earlier this year the last time I had written any fiction was when I was in my second year of university in 1994. So it’s been a long time between creative writing pieces! I wrote this story for the Country Style short story competition and didn’t win, but thought you might like to read it.
As Sarah pulled her suitcase along Sydney’s streets towards her Pyrmont apartment she wondered why she hadn’t taken one of the taxis queued at the airport, but reminded herself she needed time to prepare before seeing her flatmates Zoe and Anna.
The three girls had met as KPMG accounting trainees and had been inseparable ever since. Now, eight years later, they shared a flat overlooking Sydney Harbour. Sarah was the only one who had stuck with accountancy – Zoe was now a sought-after fashion photographer and Anna was a producer on Channel 7’s Sunrise. She couldn’t wait to see her best friends, but her heavy heart needed more time.
That Thursday afternoon Sarah had flown in from Istanbul, after spending almost six weeks backpacking. The highlights were island hopping through Greece and the poignant Anzac Day dawn ceremony, but the best part of her holiday was meeting Eren.
A first generation Australian with Turkish parents, Eren went to Turkey to experience the sights, sounds and flavours of where his parents were born, but also honour the men who died representing his homeland. He was on the same tour to Gallipoli as Sarah, and when he saw her standing at the bus depot, absent-mindedly twirling a long strand of blond hair, he knew she was the perfect travel companion.
Sarah looked up as Eren stopped in front of her. She met his brown – almost black –eyes, thinking she could swim forever in those deep pools. He introduced himself as a marketer from Melbourne, hastily adding his single status. Sarah laughed, and blushed, but smiled and took him up on his offer to amuse her on the long journey from Istanbul to Gallipoli.
The pair alternated between chatting like old friends and napping, knowing they would have trouble sleeping on the cold Turkish beach amongst thousands of other Anzac pilgrims. Then they sat together for the dawn ceremony, cuddling up as the Last Post was played against the backdrop of the sun’s first rays.
Eren kept Sarah awake throughout the day with songs, jokes and tales of growing up in Coburg as the only child of very Turkish parents. Her favourite story was about the Turkish sweets Eren’s mother, Pinar, cooked for her son. A keen baker of sweet things herself, Sarah was inspired by other’s ingredient combinations.
By the time their Anzac tour returned to Istanbul, Eren and Sarah were spending every waking moment together. They visited Istanbul’s spice markets, drinking in the heady scents and wondering at the brilliant colours of the saffron, chilli, pepper and curry pyramids.
The morning Eren left he took her to a cafe that served thick, black coffee and Turkish delight made with pistachio nuts. Sarah thought the sweet pink jelly and the bright green nuts toned beautifully, but when she tasted the combination she knew it was a perfect match!
Sarah wasn’t leaving for Australia for another two days, but joined Eren in the taxi to the airport. She held his hand tightly as they chatted, but after half an hour he went quiet and stared out the window. Surprised at his now-sombre mood, Sarah poked Eren in his side and jokingly asked if he was sad to be saying goodbye.
“Yes, of course I am,” Eren said gruffly, and returned to staring.
“So why not make the most of the time we have left?” Sarah asked.
Eren grunted and turned further away from Sarah. The tears she’d been trying to control welled up, but she remembered Eren had given her his mobile phone number so she could always call him.
The taxi pulled up outside the Ataturk Airport departures area and Eren thrust some notes into the driver’s hand, grabbed his backpack and jumped out of the car before Sarah had a chance to do anything. She leapt out, into the path of another taxi, quickly jumped out of the way and turned around, but Eren wasn’t there. She looked through the airport window and saw his familiar back. Sarah ran after Eren and caught up just he joined the check in line.
“What sort of a goodbye is this?” she demanded.
“What do you mean?” Eren asked, not meeting Sarah’s eyes.
“Well, we’ve had 10 wonderful days together and now you’re leaving without saying goodbye.”
Eren gently took Sarah’s arm and guided her towards some nearby chairs. He gestured for her to sit down and he sat opposite. Only then did Sarah notice the tears rolling down Eren’s cheeks.
“What’s the matter? Why are you crying? We’ll see each other again soon,” Sarah exclaimed, her words all running together.
“No, we won’t,” Eren said simply.
“But we agreed we’d meet up in Melbourne next time I had time off, and you’d come to Sydney,” Sarah said, but felt the words choke in her mouth.
“My parents wouldn’t let us be together. They want me to marry someone I’ve known since I was four. It’s been planned my whole life.”
“This trip was my last chance to do something for myself before I did the right thing and got married. I wish I hadn’t met you, Sarah, because it just makes this unbearable, but I can’t see a way around it. My parents expect me to announce my engagement when I get home,” Eren said, his voice breaking and shoulders slumping. He walked towards the check in counter, spoke to the woman behind the desk, put his backpack on the conveyer and took the boarding pass, not looking back.
“But I love you,” Sarah murmured quietly, defeated.
Pressing the button to take her to the 14th floor, Sarah steeled herself for the impending onslaught. She put her key in the lock, but Zoe opened the odor for her. The girls squealed, “You’re home!” together and hugged Sarah before she could put down her suitcase and handbag.
Sarah burst into tears and Zoe and Anna stared, puzzled.
“You’re supposed to be happy to be home,” Anna laughed.
Sarah explained what happened, telling her friends about Eren’s sense of humour, his beautiful olive skin and his warmth. She finished with the airport scene and collapsed in a crumpled heap on the lounge.
Zoe picked up her bags and Anna steered Sarah towards her bedroom. She fell on the bed and stared blankly at the roof, exhausted. The last thing she remembered was Zoe taking off her shoes.
When Sarah woke, bright sun was streaming in through her window. She wondered why she’d gone to sleep in her clothes, and then everything came flooding back, along with her tears.
Walking out into the kitchen, Sarah heard Zoe and Anna talking excitedly together.
“We’ve taken the day off to be with you,” Zoe smiled, touching Sarah’s arm gently.
“And I’ve got something to cheer you up, and make you forget about that silly man,”Anna grinned. “Sunrise is having a Cupcake Queen competition on Monday.”
“Anna, thanks, but I don’t think that’s the best thing for me right now,” Sarah said and grimaced.
“I knew you’d say that, but you can’t say no. It’ll keep you occupied,” Anna pleaded.
The girls spent the day watching Pretty Woman, Bridget Jones’ Diary and Shakespeare in Love, consuming chocolate and sharing break up stories and laughs in equal measure.
By Monday morning Sarah was ready to face the world again and got up early to shop for the ingredients to bake a new cupcake flavour she was sure would be a hit – rose water and pistachio. She bought unsalted butter, raw caster sugar, free range eggs, vanilla essence, self raising flour, baking powder, cream cheese, rose water, pistachio nuts, icing sugar, rose pink colour and pink cases, packing them in her favourite hessian bags and walked to the Channel 7 studio in Martin Place.
Anna met her in the foyer and quickly whisked her off to make up, grabbing the bags from Sarah’s hand and replacing them with an orange Sunrise apron.
“Wear this. You’re on in 10 minutes,” she called down the stairs.
There was no time to think about what those words meant as the make up artist tidied Sarah’s hair and added some lip gloss.
“You’ve done a great job on your eyes already, so off you go and cook up a storm,”she said, sending Sarah into the studio.
As Sarah approached the set, she saw four counters set up with an array of cooking appliances and ingredients. Her pink cupcake cases were on one counter and she headed over to her station.
The next hour was a blur as she put together what she hoped would be a winning combination, but wishing she had cooked red velvet cupcakes because they were tried and tested. But Sarah knew rose water and pistachio went well together. She thought of the 10 glorious days she spent with Eren in Turkey, hoping her love – and a few tears – would infuse her cupcakes with something extra.
As she whipped the icing sugar, butter, cream cheese and pink colouring together, Sarah sniffed the rose water before adding a dash into the mixer bowl and was instantly transported back to that morning in the café before everything went wrong. She smiled as she crushed the pistachios, remembering how the thick, bitter coffee rolled down her throat and how the sweet, sticky texture of the Turkish delight felt. Sarah generously spread the icing on her soft, spongy cupcakes and sprinkled the crushed green nuts on top before arranging her 12 sweet treats on a platter.
Sitting on the lounge with her three competitors, Sarah watched with delight as Mel, Kochie, Natalie and Mark progressed from polite bites of her cupcakes, to devouring them, licking their fingers in appreciation. As Kochie reached for another she laughed, knowing the Cupcake Queen title was hers.
Two days later, Sarah was grinned while looking at the photo of her accepting the enormous $2000 cheque that was part of her prize, and wondering when she should book her cupcake masterclass with Paris Cutler from Planet Cake, when her phone rang. She looked down at the number and saw it was Eren.
Wondering whether to answer or not, she decided to pick it up and said “hello”, trying to sound like she couldn’t care less.
“Sarah, I’m at Central Station and want to know which stop I should get off from the City Circle train,” Eren said hurriedly.
Confused, Sarah responded, “Wynyard, but why?”
“I’m in Sydney! I had to see you. I’ll be there soon. Can you meet me at the station? I love you,” he exclaimed.
Stunned, but elated, Sarah picked up her bag and keys and ran out to the lift. She practically skipped to the station, but curbed her happiness wondering what could have changed since Eren had left her crying in Istanbul.
As she walked towards the gates, Eren strode towards her confidently, dropped his bag to engulf her in a hug and then kissed her tenderly.
“What’s happening? Why are you here? What about your fiancée?” Sarah asked, the words tumbling out in her emotion.
“I thought about you all the way home on the plane and told my parents I wasn’t going to get married because I had met someone and was in love.”
“They were annoyed with me and said it had already been decided. I said they couldn’t force me to do anything, but then on Monday morning I was watching Sunrise with Mum and we saw you cooking cupcakes. I couldn’t believe it!
“Mum said it was obvious how much the pretty blond girl loved cooking and how clever she was knowing rose water and pistachio went so well together. When I told her it was you, she laughed and said my face lit up when I saw you.
“I booked the next flight to Sydney, and here I am!” Eren said, his trademark smile spreading across his face, and hugged Sarah so tightly she wasn’t sure she could breathe.