#bimini bon boulash
Down with the Recipe, Bake from the Heart (3/10) - Juno
Chapter summary: Bread week will sort the wheat from the chaff, with a fruity signature, a fiddly technical, and a showstopper that will push the bakers to their limits. Meanwhile, Asttina wants to try something vegan, and Cherry’s gossip about Tia and Veronica sparks an idea for Tayce. But what will Aurora think of it?
A/N: I really appreciate all the support on this fic, thank you!! Here is the third chapter, I hope you enjoy. One CW for mild references to alcohol.
WEEK 3: BREAD WEEK
On the platform at Reading Station, waiting for the next train down to Newbury, Tayce’s phone vibrated. Her notifications told her that Aurora added Tayce on Instagram, as well as the twitter they were contractually required to have set up. The others had all followed each other on twitter, but no one else had sought her out on Instagram.
Her chest swelled as she tapped the notification.
Tayce’s own Instagram was filled with pictures of her and her friends on nights out around the UK, trying never to post the same outfit twice, a battle to look the most sexy among the seven or eight women in the group.
Aurora’s was filled with pictures of cakes she’d baked.
She’d held back gasps at the different things Aurora had put her name to. Cupcakes with lettering spelling out messages. Christening cakes with baby blocks and tiny fondant figurines. Mirror glaze cakes, drip effect cakes, minimalistic cakes - Aurora had them all, illuminated with a ring light and resting on a patchwork quilt of a tablecloth, normally with some backdrop of flowers that did not detract from the beautiful cake creations in the foreground.
But best of all, Aurora was tagged in a million other posts from other people.
Pictures of her with her arms around beaming elderly people blowing out candles on the cakes she’d made. Pictures of her having her knees hugged by toddlers and holding babies with a Christening cake in the background. Pictures from a local homeless shelter, tagging her in plainer but still stunning cakes and breads and writing long posts of thanks for her contributions.
She’s so … loved.
A lump formed in Tayce’s throat, her eyes stinging with sudden tears as she read the posts she’d been tagged in, a seemingly endless stream of affection and adoration for the woman who shook with fear behind the workbench every week.
She’s already a Star Baker. She doesn’t need a badge or a title.
As they waited for everyone to arrive that Saturday morning at Norton Hall, Tayce made a beeline for Aurora, who stood alone at the tea machine, filling her mug.
“I looked at all your cakes on the train on the way down here,” Tayce said to her, holding her phone to Aurora. “They’re stunning! How can you bake like that?”
“Oh,” Aurora giggled, averting her gaze to the ground. “They’re just things people like to see from me, so I bake them for them!”
“You’re amazing,” Tayce reached a tentative hand to her shoulder. “You really are.”
She tried to put as much sincerity into her voice as she could, but Aurora just smiled, sliding from her hand, leaving Tayce alone with her mug and her thoughts.
They hadn’t really talked much last week - mostly because every time Tayce had glanced her way, she was with someone else, normally Ellie; and Tayce had held back, hesitant, in case she was interrupting something. And admittedly, it had left Tayce with a slight twisting sensation in the pit of her stomach when Aurora had taken Ellie’s hand at the judging for Showstopper last week.
Maybe it didn’t mean anything when she held mine. Maybe she just does it to everyone.
Part of Tayce had resigned herself to that. Even though cake week had seen her excited to come back to bake, bread week had seen her wake up this morning, her stomach bubbling with anticipation, at the thought of seeing Auroraagain. Tayce had told herself she’d make more of an effort to bond with Aurora, still a little ashamed at blanking her at the end of last weekend. There was a fascinating person under all the nerves, and Tayce wanted to dig deeper.
But trying to compliment her bakes had resulted in this strange, modest reaction, and Tayce was still puzzled by it as they all made their way across the grounds to the tent.
Out in the tent, the space seemed to be expanding, but maybe it was because after Joe’s departure Tayce had been moved one step closer to the front, to Cherry’s old workbench. It must have been a real bugger moving all the colourful KitchenAids up with each departure, but it was happening every time they weren’t there.
“Bread week!” Cherry said as they all waited, rubbing her hands together. “Who’s good at bread?”
Bimini nodded. “Bread is my thing. Love bread. All types. Focaccia, ciabatta - “
“Bless you,” Cherry chuckled.
“My favourite ones are my Belgian buns - always nice on a Friday night - but I brought some into my office, and someone called them brexit buns by mistake, and the name has stuck,” Bimini said dryly, showing the group of them the Instagram page for the newspaper they wrote for, picture after picture of the same iced buns, with Bimini’s Instagram handle tagged in them all.
“Why brexit buns?” Tia said with an ironic laugh.
“That was all we were writing articles about at the time.” Bimini shook their head.
“How do you make your brexit buns then?” Tia asked.
“Oh, just 52% bollocks, and 48% bullshit.” Bimini snorted. “Not a joke, just a fact.”
Tia nodded. “Yep. Yeah, just a fact.”
“Anyone worried about bread week? Ginny asked, while Tayce chewed her tongue, wondering if anyone would admit to having a weak spot in a baking contest.
“No one? Well, I’m a bit worried. I haven’t made too much bread, I don’t really eat lots of bread.”
“Don’t you like any bread?” Ellie asked.
“Not really. And I noticed there wasn’t too much bread on your Instagram either, Ellie. Don’t you like to bake bread?”
“Yeah, I do,” Ellie nodded, her voice had dimmed a little. “I’ve baked some bread, it’s just not my favourite things to do.”
“Well I was just a bit curious,” Ginny continued, but Lawrence’s voice piped up.
“I didn’t see any lemons on your page either, Gin, but that’s all you seem to be offering at the moment, so maybe you shouldn’t be judging people on their Instagram pages, and think about how you’re gonna fit lemons into your bread.”
Ginny didn’t seem perturbed by Lawrence’s sarcasm, simply raising their eyebrows. “Maybe you’re about to be surprised then, bab, because I can fit lemons just about anywhere.”
Signature: 12 Teacakes
“The fuck’s the thing with calling them teacakes?” Lawrence asked as the whisk was whirring, looking round at the rest of the room. “Teacake, that’s a choccie biscuit thing with marshmallow in it, right? Right?”
Ellie was nodding, but everyone else was staring at her.
“No, it’s definitely bread, Lawrence,” Cherry said, her brow furrowed. “If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be in bread week, would it?”
Lawrence waved her hand dismissively and went back to her dough, while Tayce twisted her lips to stop everyone from seeing her chuckle.
The teacakes had to be filled with a fruit of their choice. Tayce had already measured out the dried cherries and coconut, hoping to try something a bit different flavour-wise, having taken into account the judges’ critiques the last two weeks. Good presentation, but a bit bland.
It was almost a Bake Off running joke.
Aurora was being told the exact opposite. Good taste, but the presentation could use some work, and Aurora had twisted her jaw at their words.
Mash us together and make one master baker.
Kneading the dough for the teacakes was taking a little while - the dough was enriched, everyone kept saying, and enriched dough needed a longer knead and a more precise proving time. It was delightfully calming though, and Tayce took the opportunity to look around the tent.
And there was plenty to see.
Firstly, Tia and Veronica. When had Veronica joined Tia at her workbench, and were they both making kneading motions next to each other? They were about a foot apart at first, but within five minutes Tayce could not see a gap of light between them at all. When Tayce was putting her own dough into the drawer for its first prove, Tia and Veronica had already done theirs, Tia’s grateful hug to Veronica lingering a couple of seconds longer than Tayce would have expected.
On the other side of the rows of benches, Asttina was right at the end of hers, turning to chat to Bimini and compare their dough balls. Behind Ginny, Lawrence had moved to the other side of the workbench, so she could turn slightly over her shoulder and chat to Ellie while they kneaded. When Tayce looked again, Lawrence had actually moved her dough to Ellie’s workbench too, both of them at opposite ends, talking quietly and occasionally flicking flour at each other.
Everyone was starting to fall into pairs, helping each other in this cramped environment.
Opposite Tayce, Aurora was growling frustratedly, scuffling in her drawers for the proving bowl, but she couldn’t seem to see it.
“Rory -“ but Aurora took no notice, putting her hands to her temples.
“Calm down! It’s here!” Tayce crossed over from her kneading, pulling it from the bottom drawer that Aurora had already opened and put her hands into, but hadn’t brought it out.
She was breathing heavily as Tayce met her frantic eyes, holding out her hands for the bowl, muttering half to herself. “Sorry, don’t know how I missed that -“
“Don’t stress! Don’t worry, be happy! Come on, girl, you can’t be defeated by twelve teacakes!”
“Yeah,” Aurora nodded, pushing strands of hair out of her eyes. “Thanks, Tayce.” She gave Tayce’s hand a squeeze in thanks, a little bit of the usual sparkle back in her eyes, and Tayce found herself wondering if she had noticed everyone pairing off too.
Proving was the boring process. There wasn’t really much to do while the dough was in the drawer until they had to come out and be shaped into the rolls. The cameras weren’t failing to notice the little things everyone was doing though, and they’d been trained on Tia and Veronica this morning, much to Veronica’s chagrin.
“I’m trying to bake,” she muttered through gritted teeth as she stood at the tea machine with Tayce, “and they just keep following me around, like I have something on my face!”
“Weren’t you showing Tia how to knead earlier?” Tayce teased. “Maybe they thought something else was coming!”
She meant to joke, but Veronica’s head whipped up in sudden fright, her eyes widening.
“They don’t know, do they?”
“Don’t - oh.” Veronica seemed to regain her composure. “Maybe not then. Ignore me. Anyway, no - I wasn’t showing her how to knead, she knows how to knead. She was helping me out.”
“With a bake?” Tayce put a hand to her chest and gasped. “I thought you knew all there was to know about baking!”
“No - not with the bake itself,” Veronica waved a hand. “Just with - with me. And my - well, never mind.” She looked down at the mug and blew the steam away. “Anyway. I should go and see how the dough is getting on.”
As they went back into the tent, Veronica grimaced, speed-walking to Tia, calling “No, no, put them in the proving drawer, not the oven yet!”
“They’ve definitely kissed, at least.”
“They what?” Tayce leaned closer to Cherry, whose eyes sparkled with the fresh gossip she had.
“Aye, I didn’t believe it either, but Lawrence said she saw it!”
“Well,” Cherry lowered her voice a little more, leaning even closer to Tayce and Aurora, “Lawrence was last coming out of the tent last week, right? And Veronica was a bit upset that Ellie had won Star Baker last week, right? So Lawrence said she saw that Veronica was like, almost in tears - and Tia was holding her, and all of a sudden -“ Cherry raised her eyebrows and gave a knowing smile.
“That’s good! Maybe Veronica will lighten up then!” Tayce nodded, but Aurora looked a little flushed next to her.
“Maybe Veronica will give Tia tips. Maybe they’ll cheat.”
“How’s it cheating? Everyone helps each other out, don’t they?” Cherry shrugged. “And if anything, it’s just helped out Veronica, hasn’t it? She got the Hollywood handshake this week.”
It was true. Back in Norton Hall, everyone was solely focused on Veronica today; circling her and making her look even more nervous than she had all contest, even with the rare smile on her face.
“Your tea cakes kind of fell flat, didn’t they Tayce?” Cherry’s voice brought her back to reality, as Cherry clicked her tongue. “They didn’t like the burnt fruits on the outside, did they? I know they pulled you up on those.”
“They didn’t really have anything good to say about yours, either, did they?” Tayce flipped her hair over her shoulder. “I’ll make up for it in Technical. Anything you can do, I can do better and all that.”
“If you say so,” Cherry’s jaw set as she spoke, and with that she walked away from them, over to the table, where the tea cakes were all sat waiting to be eaten.
“Do you think that’s true?” Aurora murmured.
Tayce spluttered, nudging her in the arm. “Yes! I’m definitely going to do better than Cherry at Technical, what do you mean?”
“No, not that …” Aurora muttered, inclining her head to Veronica at Tayce’s confused expression.
“What, that they kissed? Maybe. Who cares? It’s not like baking skills can be caught through kissing. Even if Tia wishes they could be.” Tayce shrugged. “But if it is true, and it gets caught on camera, this season of Bake Off is gonna have the best ratings ever.”
Hang on a minute.
Tayce blinked, glanced at Aurora, who was watching Veronica.
It had been on her mind, but Aurora’s attraction to women was all but confirmed from the lesbian flag pin she wore on her bag. And Tayce couldn’t deny that she was being drawn to her, even after only these three weekends.
Tayce licked her lips as she pondered the embryonic idea that had taken root in her mind.
… would she want to?
Technical: 12 Pretzels
Tayce wondered about her idea all through the Technical challenge. Making pretzels probably required more concentration than Tayce was affording it, and maybe she under-proved the dough in the process, but she wasn’t bothered. The idea turned over and over in her head so much that baking became mechanical.
Even if she doesn’t feel the same way about me, if Aurora wants to … maybe pretend to date, for the show …
There were definitely feelings there, Tayce recognised them in herself. Out of everyone there, Tayce wanted to know Aurora most. Wanted to know what lurked beneath that sweet, modest veneer, to know her hopes and her cares and her plans, to know her. And maybe, just made, for her to know Tayce too.
It wasn’t normal for Tayce to find someone on her mind this fast, but this was an unusual environment for all of them, sparking emotions much faster and deeper than normal. They already knew they had baking in common, at least. Maybe there was plenty more, too.
The question was, could Aurora feel the same way?
The thought of it took up all of Tayce’s mind, until she realised, taking her tray of pretzels to the front, that she’d baked two less than everyone else.
The only stool left at judging was right on the end, so she sat there, with Lawrence on her left, while the judges came in and went down the line.
“I’ve fucked this up,” Tayce muttered to Lawrence as the judges came in.
Lawrence turned, frowning. “Not necessarily, Tayce. Yeah, you can’t count, but who says that’s gonna stop you from making a good bake? Unless you can’t count numbers on the scales, then yeah it could be a problem.”
Lawrence chewed all her nails as the judges went through the pretzels, passing her own, and getting to Tayce’s third from last. Only Cherry’s and Asttina’s were to be judged after hers, both of them getting much better critiques than hers did.
“In tenth place,” Paul announced after the deliberation with Prue, “we have this one here, whose is this?”
Tayce’s stomach dropped through her body to the stool as she realised the judges were behind her own photo. She raised her hand.
“Tayce - you’ve got two missing, they were under-proved, over-baked, and the flavour was all gone. Did you swap the salt with sugar by accident?”
“Yeah,” Tayce murmured.
“I don’t think you were the only one,” Paul mused, while down the line, Ginny squeezed their eyes tightly shut.
Lawrence still chewed her nail. Tayce gave her a pat on the knee.
“Oh, don’t worry Lozza, it’s not the end of the world!” She whispered. “Look at it this way. I’m bottom of the pack this week, so you can’t get any further down than me!”
Bread week was there to sort the wheat from the chaff - literally - and that it did. Ginny, who had been in the middle the last two weeks, had her first low placement at ninth; and Cherry came eighth. Ellie had dropped from third to seventh, Asttina was a surprise down at sixth, and Tia had redeemed herself at fifth. Aurora was fourth, and Veronica’s tight-lipped smile settled for third.
Lawrence’s jaw dropped further and further with every name being called, until hers was finally listed at second, leaving Bimini, who everyone knew was itching for a win, to hold their hands high in triumph as they were picked as the winner, to no one’s surprise - their pretzels looked incredible even from this distance.
When the polite applause had dimmed, Tayce rubbed Lawrence’s knee again, and Lawrence returned the motion with a weak smile and surprisingly damp eyes.
“I’m just so nervous about bread,” Lawrence confided, as they all rested back in Norton Hall, “and I don’t know why, I love baking bread!”
“Maybe that’s why, then, if you’re really good at bread - you’re just wanting to get it right. That’s normal! It means you care!”
Lawrence sighed. “Fucks sake, I wish I didn’t care then, it’s just making me all nervous. It’s a lot of pressure to do well when … I don’t know, when everyone you know expects you to do well.”
“Look -“ Tayce motioned across the room, “you’re here on Bake Off, with nine other people, so you’re one of the best bakers in the whole of Scotland, and you’re representing Glasgow - they’re gonna love you, you know - and you can do bread, alright?”
“I know I can do bread, I just don’t know how not to be nervous! How are you so relaxed all the fucking time, Tayce, you seem like you just don’t care if something goes wrong.”
“I do care!” Tayce protested, but Lawrence shook her head.
“No. When you were called last in Technical, you were just trying to comfort me, and I came second; that - that’s the wrong way around.”
Tayce smirked. “Well, we can’t all be on top.”
Lawrence, shaking her head, gave Tayce a playful shove. “Gobshite.”
Tayce didn’t know what Lawrence was worried about. From the rose biscuits to the pretzel that they were now sharing together, she’d barely put a foot wrong. She just hadn’t achieved a badge for her efforts. Yet.
“Lozza, you’ve just got to do your best. You’re already gonna be liked by everyone, you know? You don’t need to push it! Just put your best bake forward.”
When Tayce went to the bench with all the day’s bakes, she found she couldn’t stomach much more in the way of pretzels, even though she wanted to try everyone’s; so she went for the fruity teacakes instead. She settled for Aurora’s, Lawrence’s, Veronica’s, and a one with a vegan label that she found was Bimini’s.
“Bim!” Tayce went to sit with them, on the two-person sofa that already held Bimini with Asttina and Cherry, squeezing in by Asttina’s side. “I didn’t realise you were vegan!”
“What? Oh, yeah.” Bimini nodded. “Yeah, three years now. I can’t wait for vegan week, if I’m still here. I mean, I bake lots of things for my non-vegan friends, but I’ll make it vegan. I can’t always do that here, and I don’t really like using all the eggs and butter and all that.”
“It must be tough,” Asttina nodded in sympathy.
“Yeah. I’ve been trying to reconcile my own thoughts on baking with animal products for a tv show. But I want to be here,” Bimini continued, “I do, ‘cause people can see that you can do it without them too. That’s why I was so happy when they announced we were doing a vegan week again.”
“Is it just the Technicals where you have to use animal products?” Cherry asked.
“Yeah, most of the Signatures and Showstoppers I’ve been able to make mostly vegan at least.”
“I can’t wait to try them all,” Asttina said warmly. “I never really realised how much of baking involves things that aren’t great for vegans.”
“You should give vegan baking a try,” Bimini said earnestly, as Asttina’s hand lingered on their forearm. “If you have any vegans you know, they will thank you for it.”
Asttina seemed keen to talk more about Bimini’s vegan bakes, but Tayce was distracted by Aurora, walking away from the table with a plate, heading out towards the stairs up to the rooms.
She stood up and followed after her, catching her halfway up the stairs. “Rory! Aurora!”
“What?” She spun round, eyes wide, but she waved when she saw her. “Hi Tayce.”
“Are you going to your room?”
Aurora nodded, running a hand over her forehead. “Got a bit of a headache. Don’t think I can deal with loads of people tonight. I think I’m just gonna have an early one, maybe put some telly on.”
“You - you’ve got a telly in your room?”
“No - sorry -“ Aurora smiled. “I’ve brought my tablet with me, I was just gonna put on Netflix or something.”
Tayce nodded as Aurora started to turn back to the stairs; but then she paused, her brow gently furrowing, chewing her bottom lip, before turning back to Tayce.
“D’you - want to join me for a bit?”
“Yeah. Why not?” Tayce shrugged, hoping her face appeared nonchalant still, and she jogged up the stairs to join Aurora, following her back to her room.
The next five minutes were calm and quiet, sat on Aurora’s bed as Aurora set up Netflix and Tayce halved each bun to eat. Bimini’s were good - better than Tayce had expected, if she was honest with herself - and Aurora recognised her own as they had been a little burnt, the colour deeper brown than the others.
“I made a mess this week,” she muttered, “but bread isn’t my strong point.”
“Why does everyone stress so much about bread week?” Tayce chuckled, shaking her head in disbelief. “All you do it prove it, bung it in the oven, Bob’s your uncle and Fanny’s your aunt, bing bang bong and there you go - bread.”
“Are you worried at all?” Aurora asked, her voice suddenly hushed and serious. “You were last in Technical. It must have been a bit nerve-wracking.”
Dread sat in the pit of Tayce’s stomach, dormant mostly, but at Aurora’s words, it started to sprout and grow like ivy.
But Tayce shook her head, determined to quell it straight away. “It’s done! I misread the instructions, it happens. I’m gonna concentrate on the Showstopper and bake something that will make sure I stay.”
“I hope so.”
The words were quiet, but there they were. Tayce glanced at Aurora, but she seemed to realise they had escaped her mouth too, a thought that maybe she’d wanted to keep hidden for now. She smiled and blinked, averting her eyes to the tablet as she popped more teacake into her mouth.
A fleeting moment of tenderness hung in the air between them like a silk thread, so delicate that the slightest movement might disturb it.
Then came the icy fingertips of uncertainty as they crept into Tayce’s chest, wrapping around her heart. She must have hesitated a moment too long; Aurora’s warm fingers found hers, slipping around her hand and clenching, and the cold dread started to shrink away again.
“Yeah,” Tayce sighed, goosebumps spreading up her arm from Aurora’s touch. “Yeah, me too.”
Showstopper: Bread sculpture, to include at least three naturally-occurring flavours of breads
Tayce would never have admitted to anyone, but she hadn’t really slept.
She’d gone back to her room, tossed and turned, and finally given up at six, in time to hear Asttina and Bimini heading downstairs, and going to her window, she saw them on a jog out the front door of Norton Hall and round through the grounds.
She was first down to breakfast, for her beans on toast - never failed to perk her up - and to catch Bimini and Asttina coming back in, beaming at each other and comparing timings for their run. She’d smiled at them both, but they hadn’t even noticed she was in the room, engrossed in each other.
They’re crazy. Going for a run before Showstopper? Could never be me.
By the time they were due to start filming for the Showstopper, Tayce was still feeling jittery, but some breakfast and the bakers around her was starting to dissipate those thoughts.
Everyone else looked nervous. Aurora’s hands were drumming on the workbench again, and Ellie was bouncing on the balls of her feet. But Tayce tried not to absorb the nerves, letting them pass over her instead, to keep her head for the bread sculpture.
“We’re looking for some original sculpture designs, and some great flavours,” Prue said at the start, her usual sweet smile lighting up her features, “so don’t be afraid to be creative with your bakes and your flavouring. Remember, it’s got to be worth the calories!”
Once they’d started baking, the warmth of the tent, and the smell of bread around Tayce brought on such a wave of nostalgia that she started to daydream. Losing herself in memories of her nana’s house, warm and fragrant with baking breads, until halfway through she leaned against the workbench, her head down, eyes closed, holding on because letting go would send her floating.
She didn’t remember what she said to the judges when they came round - probably a quick bore da and some spiel about how incredible her octopus and treasure chest bread sculptures were going to be - ignoring the words ambitiousand time consuming from the judges and focusing on just getting it as good as she could.
She heard a few words from the other contestants as well - something about Ginny putting lemon in their bread for some reason, Bimini saying they’d be basing it on fruits in a fruit basket, and both Cherry and Ellie talking about Coraline and realising they were doing similar things.
But Tayce floated, dissolving into the warm hazy air.
Hopefully I can just survive this week.
“You alright, Tayce?”
Aurora’s accent was becoming familiar, something she audibly heard in her head when she thought of her. Her face swam before Tayce’s eyes, concern etched into the lines of her face.
“Yeah, I’m good.”
“You don’t look good.”
“Just a bit tired. And it’s warm today.” Tayce couldn’t help but smile as Aurora’s fingers ghosted along her shoulder and arm, gently bringing her back to the room. “I’m fine, honest. Don’t worry!”
“As long as you’re sure,” Aurora mumbled. “If you need anything, tell me, okay?”
But Tayce could only nod, Aurora’s care stripping Tayce of a sincere verbal response. By the time she’d opened her mouth to speak, Aurora was on her way back over, the ten feet or so separating them looking closer every single bake.
When Cherry accidentally launched her proving bowl along the workbench, everyone else started to crumble and the warm, dreamy sense in the room started to wane. Ellie’s kneading technique almost saw her dough being thrown to the ground, and Ginny was using her arms to knead, knocking her baking tray over with a crash. Even Asttina dropped a plate.
Tayce just tried to focus on her bake. She knew what she was doing, she knew how to do it, she’d done it ten times before so it seemed; but the lack of sleep combined with the heat permeating through the day and the harried nerves of the other bakers was getting almost unbearable.
The warm tent was fizzling with electric nerves, sparking fear through all of them. Cherry’s high-pitched sound of frustration left a chill in Tayce’s spine every time she heard it. In front of Cherry, Veronica froze in place now and then, her hands shaking for a few seconds, only seeming to break free when Tia - somehow telepathically knowing - turned to talk to her and bring her back to the room.
Tayce needed to get away from her side, where the static hummed in the air. Wringing her hands, she went over to see Aurora, whose face was red and tongue was chasing her lips as she tried to focus on her kneading.
“What’s your sculpture going to be, then?” Tayce asked her.
“Ice creams. Neapolitan. Cones. Yeah.” Aurora replied, her speech punctuated by a knead each time, not even glancing at Tayce, fully immersed in her own bake.
She didn’t even ask Tayce what her own bake was going to be, so Tayce went back to her own kneading, trying to channel the nerves out of her as she did.
Watching the bakers on the other side of the room once again, Lawrence and Ellie were back on one workbench, kneading together, while Asttina’s bench was empty, and Tayce spotted that she’d left to join Bimini on theirs.
Four and a half hours passed in the blink of an eye when you were having fun, or when you were struggling with bread.
Tayce found herself chewing a nail, a habit she’d sworn she wouldn’t take up again. She took her fingers away from her mouth and surveyed her sculpture. The treasure chest looked a little less golden brown than she would have liked, but there was nothing she could do about it now.
“Tayce, we’ll start with you this week. Would you bring your bake to the front please?”
Tayce swallowed back the sharp edges in her throat and tried to stop her hands quivering as she picked up her sculpture and brought it to the front.
“It’s a pirate treasure scene. The octopus is made from squid ink, the treasure chest is flavoured with turmeric, and the coins that make up the treasure are coloured with paprika and have a bit of chilli in the flavour.”
She tried to focus on keeping her breathing steady, although her feet were leaving the floor. It had been three weeks of this now, and the silence was still too loud as the judges sliced into the bakes, pondering it as they ate, far better poker faces than Tayce could ever hope to achieve.
“It’s very … impressive.”
“I agree,” Prue continued, “you’ve managed to get a lot in on the design, and the flavours are just impeccable. I like the slight hint of chilli you’ve got into the treasure. It’s not too much.”
“Not enough for me,” Paul murmured with a grin.
“It really is an impressive Showstopper. It looks great, it tastes incredible - what a redemption. Well done, Tayce.”
When Tayce gathered up her bake to bring it back, the applause in the tent was a tidal wave of relief, genuine for the first time that day. Asttina’s eyes twinkled as she smiled; Lawrence’s grin was soft and friendly; and Ginny nodded at her, muttering something Tayce didn’t catch.
“Nice one,” she heard Aurora say, that single dimple emerging once again, and Tayce had to stop herself detouring to her workbench to give her a hug.
The fizzing in the air evaporated as the nerves felt by everyone vanished. The judges were imposing, but even their criticisms were kind, and their praise was always a warming balm, like honey on their skin. And that left indents on the bakers - the more kindness filled the tent, the more they all supported each other.
Tayce found that all her thoughts towards all the bakers in the room, all nine of them, were nothing but warmth and camaraderie.
It’s weird. There’s so much pressure, but so much love at the same time.
Everyone wanted to do well in bread week, that was a personal achievement for them all, but no one wanted to win more than Bimini. But their bread didn’t have as good critiques on the aesthetic as Lawrence’s had. Lawrence had done a really intricate scene from some horror film that Tayce didn’t recognise, but Bimini’s was apparently the better tasting bake.
They all knew one of the two of them would win, but the person to go home seemed a tricky decision. Tayce knew her bake was likely to save her, but she didn’t know who would go in her place. Aurora’s bread had had mediocre feedback, and while Cherry and Ellie had both done poorly in Technical, Ellie had redeemed herself in the Showstopper yet again, her Coraline design getting better feedback than Cherry’s.
“It’s so annoying,” Cherry muttered, passing the cigarette to Tayce as they sat outside Norton Hall, “because I knowwhat I’m capable of, but as soon as I get into the tent …” she sighed out the smoke, the fight seeming to leave her body with it. “I don’t know, man. I don’t know why I can’t just - chill.”
Ellie held her hand out for the cigarette.
“Aren’t you a bit young to smoke?” Tayce teased, passing it to her.
Ellie said nothing, giving Tayce a middle finger.
“I’m going.” Cherry shook her head, closing her eyes tightly. “I’m definitely going.”
And Tayce didn’t want to patronise Cherry. So she stayed silent, noticing Ellie did the same.
But back in the tent, they were all in for a surprise after Bimini had been nominated as Star Baker, accepting the baguette-shaped badge and pinning it to their chest. Tayce glanced at Lawrence, who was smiling, but whose knuckles were white at Ellie’s hand.
“I have the horrible job,” Noel began, “of announcing who is going home this week. This person should really be proud of themselves for all they’ve done, and how far they’ve come, but the person leaving us today is …”
Tayce could hear Cherry’s shuddering breathing, could see Lawrence stroking Ellie’s knuckles, could feel Aurora’s arm shiver next to her.
“… it’s me, isn’t it?”
But when Ginny’s voice piped up, everyone turned to them in wonder.
“It’s definitely me, you don’t need to say it, Noel, love, I know it’s me. I’m too - lemon-y to carry on. When life gives you lemons, make lemon bread.”
Noel blinked. “What?”
“I know, babs, I know - it’s my time. The lemon is leaving the building. Well, goodbye folks!”
And with that strange speech, Ginny stood from their stool, smiling serenely, and without another word, rose and left the tent, turning to give them all a wave and a cackle as they went.
“I just don’t get why they did it,” Bimini kept muttering under their breath. “We don’t know if the judges wanted them gone. Now we’ll never know. Maybe it was them, but what if it wasn’t?”
“Weird,” Asttina nodded. “Bit rude, too. I bet the audience would love them, and they’re not giving the audience the chance to root for them.”
“Yeah that too,” Bimini nodded solemnly, holding up their drink. “Well folks … cheers to Ginny … and to a win for NORWICH!” Bimini shouted the city name unexpectedly. “Let’s be havin’ you!”
“Yeah!” Asttina waved her hands along with Bimini, echoing their enthusiasm.
Tayce shook her head at them both.
After an hour of their evening after the Showstopper, Bimini was a bit drunk. They weren’t the only one, Cherry was definitely getting there too; but they were definitely feeling it more than anyone else.
Ginny’s departure had surprised them all. The judges had been commenting on their lemon flavourings since the end of last week, but no one had known if Ginny was really about to go. They were all feeling the strain of their actual leaving, Bimini more so than anyone.
Asttina had taken a bit of time to open up to the group, but this was the first week she was letting them see her. The confident smile she normally wore had disappeared, leaving a much more natural grin that lit up her eyes.
Now Asttina was someone who looped her arm through Tia’s in the Technical to stroke her hand comfortingly; someone who had echoed Ginny’s battle cry of FANCY A SLOOIICE when she’d presented her bread to the judges. And with a little persuasion from alcohol, someone who had found Bimini’s vegan whipped cream in their bag, and was squirting it into their open mouth, before turning the can round to squirt some into her own.
“I’ve never tried vegan whipped cream,” Asttina said to Bimini, as they both sat giggling. “It’s alright!”
Bimini grabbed the can back from her. “Here, have some more!” And they squirted a bit onto her chin, Asttina shrieking with laughter, before Bimini leant towards her to slurp it off.
By now everyone was watching them both excitedly, and Tayce felt Aurora pressing into her right side on the opposite sofa, watching gleefully as Asttina grabbed Bimini’s hand to stop them putting more cream on her …
No one was sure who initiated it, but the rest of them were collectively whooping when their lips met, crowd and whipped cream forgotten, Asttina’s long hair falling around them like drapes, obscuring them.
Aurora’s hand suddenly found Tayce’s forearm and gripped tightly.
Neither of them came up for air; as the noise died down, they still didn’t draw away.
“Maybe we should give them some privacy.” That was Tia’s cautious voice, and they all dispersed in a rush, leaving them to it. “Maybe they should do a new show. GBBO, the After Hours.”
But Tayce wasn’t paying attention. Aurora’s face was a little red once again, and she still clutched Tayce’s arm. When Tayce met her eyes, she could have sworn she’d seen something stir behind them.
Something almost … longing.
NINE BAKERS REMAIN
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Bimini is literally gonna change the world and I love that for us
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I will not rest until bimini and katya collab on SOMETHING
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Down with the Recipe, Bake from the Heart, 2/10 (Multi) - Juno
Chapter summary: It’s cake week, and the bakers have to deal with a fruity signature, a tangy technical, and a showstopper that should be child’s play. Surely nothing can go wrong. Meanwhile, Aurora is looking forward to cake week, and not just to see Tayce again, and Asttina has an admirer of her own.
A/N: Thank you for your support so far on this fic!! I hope you enjoy the second part of this.
WEEK 2: CAKE WEEK
Aurora knew cakes like the back of her hand.
Cake had been her gateway into baking as a teenager. Whenever she’d had a bad day at school, she could spend a couple of quid at the local Aldi on some filling ingredients, bring them home, find her nan’s flour, and bake them into something beautiful, something that everyone would love. Baking a cake would always be available to her to ground her, and to remind her that pouring positivity into things made them seem light as air.
Arriving for filming the second week was nowhere near as daunting as the first. Biscuit week had been a little bit of a concern for Aurora, whose biscuits tended to crumble as soon as she looked at them, but she forced herself not to think about it any more, pushing it to the past where it belonged. She came in now, her cake recipes in her head and on her paper, feeling better than she had all of last week.
I survived biscuit week. But I can really excel in cake week! This is exactly what I know. I can make a Vicky sponge in my sleep with one hand behind my back and a sleep paralysis demon on my chest. It’s mine to win.
As Pip had gone home at the end of the last episode, Aurora’s side of the desks had all been shuffled up by one person to account for that. Her side of the room now had Asttina at the front, then Ginny, Lawrence, Ellie, and finally Aurora on the fifth bench instead of the back.
Instead of being opposite Tayce, she was opposite Cherry this time. Their side was unchanged - Bimini at the front, then Joe, Tia, Veronica, Cherry, and Tayce at the back. Cherry’s pillar-box red KitchenAid gleamed in the sunlight - it was starting to get sunny again - and Aurora saw that her own was in similar condition, the turquoise colour as bright as if it was the first week again. Good as new.
She managed to calm her breathing, but her fingers still drummed on the workbench, and she couldn’t stop them for more than a few seconds.
I can do this. I can do this.
Signature: Fruit Cake
“For your Signatures this week,” Matt began, “the judges would like you to bake a fruit cake. Any fruit is allowed - “
“ - but no vegetables. We can’t have vegetables sneaking into the tent disguised as a fruit.”
“Maybe a tomato.”
“Matt, a tomato is technically a fruit, even if no one wants tomato cake.”
Aurora giggled at Matt and Noel’s back-and-forth, but really, she wanted to get on with her bake. All her baking knowledge felt like it had lodged herself at the very front of her mind, and any slight distraction could let it tumble back down again into the abyss, lost forever - or at least until the baking time was over.
When they finally announced “BAKE!” Aurora dove into her bag to grab her ingredients. Flour, butter, sugar, eggs. Flour, butter, sugar, eggs.
“What are you baking?” Ellie didn’t even last a minute this week before she had turned round to talk to Aurora, but she kind of wished she wouldn’t, from the amount she chatted last week after getting over her initial shyness. Aurora was trying to concentrate; she had to pour her whole focus into this, or it just wouldn’t taste good.
“Apple cake,” she said simply, wondering if Ellie would take the hint.
“Oh. I’m making rhubarb and custard!” Evidently Ellie hadn’t, and Aurora bit her tongue behind her forced smile. “That was my favourite when I was a kid, did you have lots of rhubarb and custard as well? This one time me and my brother …”
“Have you got nothing better to do than prattle on to Aurora?” Lawrence’s voice from the bench in front of them was even louder than Ellie’s, her hands on her hips as she swooped in to save the day, an unconventional Wonder Woman. “She’s trying to bake a cake, and so should you!”
“I am baking a cake -“
Ellie spun back to face Lawrence, and Aurora took the opportunity to make a quick getaway to the tea tent for a break. From her experience being behind Ellie last week, the woman could talk all day, and that wasn’t what Aurora needed, much as she had warmed to her.
By the time she’d poured herself a fresh brew, Ellie and Lawrence were both at Lawrence’s desk, apoplectic with laughter, faces and hands covered in flour, while the cameras had sprinted down to record this golden television moment.
Viewers tune in for baking and get a flour fight. And that’s why the nation loves this show.
“I’m gonna have to start again!”
That phrase was starting to sound like a broken record from Tia’s desk, on the other side. The woman might not normally be a disaster in the kitchen, but so far they’d done four challenges, and this was the third time she’d announced she was restarting. Her normally orange KitchenAid was splattered deep purple from the blackberries she’d somehow managed to spray all over the side in an effort to make jam. Some of it had even gone into the cake mixture, and she was running her fingers through her curly hair, turning to Veronica on the bench behind her and laughing dryly.
“What have you done?” Veronica’s tone always softened when Tia talked to her. That was something Aurora had already noticed, and it was … interesting, to say the least.
“Messed up my cake mix,” Tia shook her head, still laughing. “How long do we have left?”
Veronica looked at one of the five timers she’d set up. “An hour, twenty three minutes, and fifteen seconds - fourteen - thirteen -“
“Okay, okay!” Tia waved her hand. “Do you - d’you think I have time?”
“If you’re really precise,” Veronica nodded grimly, “then you should just about do it. You’ve done the jam, you’ve done the icing … you just have to bung the cakes into the freezer straight away so they have enough time to cool.”
“Oh, good.” Tia sighed. “Let’s hope I don’t mess it up again! Thanks, Vee.”
Veronica reserved her quota of smiles for Tia alone, so it seemed, because this smile was the first real one any of them had seen from Veronica. Nervous, pinched, but there it was all the same.
“Yeah,” Aurora called over to them, hoping to join in, “thanks Vee, and can you make it for Tia if she messes up the jam again?”
She’d meant it as a joke, good-natured, to try to brighten the anxiety forming a cloud between the two of them. It had the desired effect on Tia, whose expression slackened into an ironic grin; but Veronica’s face immediately became stony, her eyes surprisingly cold as she glared at Aurora, before turning back to her KitchenAid.
“It’s just a joke -”
“Yeah, well, it wasn’t very funny.” Veronica snapped. “It’s not very nice to comment on things like that. Oh great - now I’ve over-weighed the sugar. Thanks, Aurora.”
Aurora opened her mouth to protest - Veronica’s implication felt unfair - but she was taken aback by the sound of gentle, muffled laughter; Tayce was still behind Cherry, a hand over her mouth, giggling to herself.
“I was laughing at Veronica! Blaming you for weighing out her own sugar wrong!” Tayce exclaimed as Aurora chewed her nail during the break before Technical.
“Maybe I went too far … maybe I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“She’s just too sensitive.” Tayce flipped her hair behind her back. “Everyone could see you were just joking! Tia saw the funny side, and I bet Veronica’s probably already forgotten it. Forgive and forget, right? It’s just baking! It’s not all that serious!”
“Yeah but …” Aurora trailed off, looking over at the two of them, by the door to the outside, hovering as if trying to decide to go out.
Tayce chuckled. “And Tia’s got a few disasters under her belt, hasn’t she? The wagon wheels last week where all the chocolate melted? Her Signature this week? It’s only week two!”
Aurora opened her mouth, but closed it again.
This is how it all starts. One misunderstood joke, and suddenly I’m an evil bitch.
Cakes were meant to calm her, but suddenly cakes were linked to this show, and now intertwined with making another contestant upset. A golden opportunity to shed her still-lingering hometown reputation as a Bad Girl; scuppered before the end of the second week.
I may as well just get eliminated now.
Aurora broke away from Tayce to go to the table of cakes, where everyone’s was laid out in a row. Ginny and Bimini were standing there, Ginny piling a slice of Tia’s cake - which she’d called “Bananadrama cake” - on top of Bimini’s vegan orange cake, but both turned when Aurora approached.
“Hey!” Bimini said, grabbing her shoulder. “That apple cake you made, with the toffee apples on the top? That looked amazing. If it was vegan I’m sure I’d love it, but Gin said it was good!”
“It was a treat for the taste buds, Aurora, an absolute treat,” Ginny nodded, their eyes crinkling up kindly.
“Congratulations on getting the first Hollywood handshake, Ginny!” Aurora smiled mechanically, but Ginny’s smile spread from ear to ear. “I bet you’re never gonna wash your right hand ever again!”
“Definitely not,” Ginny nodded, holding up their right hand to their face and wiggling their fingers. “Not after I broke the seal on the Hollywood Handshakes, first one of the season! I hope they’re all talking about it on Twitter by now -“
“Will make a change from them talking about your obsession with lemons,” Bimini nudged them, causing Ginny to glare at them with mock disgust.
“Cheeky. My lemon drizzle Signature is a labour of love. You have no idea how long I spent perfecting that recipe, Bimini Bon Appetit.”
“You know what, Gin? I believe you.”
“Is there any of your lemon drizzle left?” Aurora asked.
“Yes! Fancy a sloooice?” Ginny yelled the last word in the same way she’d yelled it when she’d initially presented it to the judges.
“Erm, yeah I do!” Aurora grabbed the knife to cut herself a piece of Ginny’s handshake-worthy lemon drizzle cake, wondering if there was nothing that Ginny wouldn’t put lemon into if given the chance. Bimini stroked Ginny’s bag, putting their plate down.
“I love your bag, where did you manage to find a bag with the non-binary flag colours on it? I kept meaning to ask you last week, I saw it and I immediately went ‘Yes, another enby, the enby gods have smiled down on me’ and I wanted to know where you got that bag so I could get one of my own -“
“Oh, I didn’t buy it, bab, I crocheted it! I couldn’t find one that I liked so I had to make one, and it’s so good for finding other enbies out in the wild, it’s like a code, isn’t it!”
“Yeah definitely - look, if you crochet a lot, would you fancy making me a scarf with enby flag colours? I can pay you or give you bakes or something -“
“Oh Bimini Bab, don’t worry about that - I can do you one for next weekend if you want -“
Aurora decided to leave them to it, looking around the room for someone to talk to. Tayce was with Cherry and Joe again, and Tia and Veronica had been joined by Asttina, the three of them comparing something on their phones. Ellie was nowhere to be seen, which was a shame as Aurora was starting to feel a bond with her more than anyone else in the room.
But is that even real in itself?
That thought persisted, no matter how hard Aurora tried to quash it.
Everything’s just really distorted right now.
The actual filming of the episodes was being done on Saturdays and Sundays, and would be every weekend from now until the end of June, so it meant that they would all go back to their normal daily lives while the weeks were going on; back to work, back to friends and family, back to their routine.
It was as if they left the real world into a fantasy land for two days a week, a frenetic rollercoaster of baking and emotions, pressure and strangers, before being dropped back into the mundane weekday world, a reality where they were forbidden to disclose how they were all doing, or what they were all doing, every weekend.
There were eleven of them left on the competition, and it was only the second weekend of them filming so far. They’d known each other for just over a week, and spent almost three total days in each others’ pockets, surrounded by cameras and production crew and editors. But it was virtually impossible to get to know everyone here, to really know them, hard to read their intentions while filming was happening, because it was such a short but busy time they all had together. Because no matter how much they all smiled, how much they all laughed together - they were all here for one reason, and that was for themselves, to win.
That made the room feel still lonelier to Aurora, even filled with eleven people.
Take Ellie for instance. Ellie was always making conversation, and Aurora hoped they’d bonded; but then again Ellie was a trainee hairdresser, and it was probably part of her job to be able to chat. Tayce, her charming accent and witty smile aside, gave nothing away, and as much as Aurora’s stomach leapt somersaults when she was around her, Tayce was a complete mystery.
Looking around the room at everyone pairing off, the community here was more important than ever. It was a long filming schedule for just ten episodes, and the NDAs they’d all had to sign bound them together, keeping a juicy secret from the outside world.
At the same time, it was surreal.
Every word was emotive. Every sensation was deeper than normal. Every movement was significant …
But until the series aired on Channel 4, everything here was only as tangible as a dream.
Technical: 12 Jaffa Cakes
Jaffa Cakes? Fucking Jaffa Cakes?
Sure, Aurora had eaten them for years, but baking them? As far as Aurora was concerned, Jaffa Cakes were just a thing that came in a box, that probably grew on trees. The concept of baking them felt alien.
But the basic instructions from Prue’s recipe might have been in Latin for all Aurora knew. And Aurora sure as hell didn’t know Latin.
She took less time than last week annotating, instead getting to work setting up the bain marie in a saucepan to melt the chocolate, tossing cake ingredients into the KitchenAid as she went, ignoring the crash as Joe’s baking tray went flying onto the next bench, where Ginny was glaring at her as she dramatically rolled her eyes and went to pick it back up.
She looked at the main timer she used. Twenty minutes had gone, which meant she was slightly ahead of her annotated schedule.
So far, so good.
But the issue came when the cake sponges were cooling.
“Aurora!” Ellie’s whisper was frantic as she turned to her bench, the panic in her voice making it impossible to ignore. “I’ll give you a can of my Monster if you tell me which way up these sponges are meant to be!”
As Aurora met her eyes, all memory of what a Jaffa Cake looked like evaporated, fizzing and floating away like steam.
Shit. She’s got a point. Which way up do they go?
She knew that one side was covered in chocolate and the marmalade jelly circles they’d all made, but which side?
“I don’t know, do I!” Aurora sighed, clutching her hair. “God, you just said that and now I can’t remember what a Jaffa Cake looks like and I’ve been eating them from the packets for years!”
“Same here!” Ellie muttered.
Aurora caught sight of Tayce’s head jerking up out of the corner of her eye, curiously watching them both, but she forced herself to concentrate on the matter at hand.
“If we do it this way,” Ellie turned one of the sponges she’d made upside down, “there’s less room for the jelly, but the discs fit perfectly, and there’s more room for the chocolate, is that right?”
“Uhm,” Aurora murmured, wracking her brains. “I think - maybe, yeah - you’re right I think …”
Across the room, she saw Cherry, who had already turned hers upside down and was already halfway through putting the chocolate and marmalade jelly on them. Joe, a few rows in front of her, was also turning hers over and over, frowning.
But as Ellie turned her cake again, the right way up, Aurora could practically see a lightbulb light in her head; her eyes widening and her mouth dropping in realisation.
“No! It’s the right way up! Because it’s a flat tray! For the jelly! And the chocolate kind of spreads to the edges, doesn’t it? Like, over the sponge too. Right? Please tell me I’m right, Rory,” Ellie pleaded.
Aurora wasn’t sure what to think. “I’m not sure now. Some people are doing them upside down, and they look …”
“No, I’m sure I’m right,” Ellie nodded, grimly determined suddenly. “Trust me on this. They’re meant to be the right way up.” She nodded again, putting the baking tray and the sponge down again. “Here, have a Monster.”
Aurora frowned as she took it. “Mango Loco?”
“Of course! What else?”
The way Ellie was looking at her, she might have sprouted another head. Aurora opened the can and took a swig, praying to the Monster gods that Ellie wasn’t trying to trick her and that the energy drink would give her the final push.
Aurora had taken half a step into Carr Hall after the Technical challenge winner’s interview was over, only to be engulfed by Hurricane Ellie, all six feet of her, dragged into a very fluffy pink hug against the fake fur of the jacket she wore.
She shook Ellie off, laughing. “Oh, it’s alright love, you’re the one who figured it out without me, don’t worry - “
“I was so nervous for Technical!” Ellie’s voice was so loud that Aurora winced in discomfort. “I came eleventh last week! And now I’m third! I could cry! But you - God, you came top! Oh god I’m sorry! Congratulations on coming top!”
Aurora couldn’t hold back the grin. She had to admit, she felt pretty smug about coming top in the second Technical challenge, especially having been seventh the previous week. It just showed that she had lots to offer to the show and the judges. Her heart was hammering, although whether that was with elation or electrolytes, she was uncertain.
“Well done, Aurora.” She turned to face Asttina’s cool smile and steady gaze, accepting the handshake she offered. “Your Jaffa Cakes looked amazing. Really nice one. I can’t wait to try one.”
Aurora just returned her smile. Something about Asttina made her lose her tongue, maybe the formal, business-like way she went about her bakes, or her polite, reserved manner of speech. Aurora didn’t feel that she knew much about her yet - not enough to fill in the gaps in her head about Asttina.
“Congratulations, bab,” Ginny sidled up to her next, giving her a grin. Bimini followed them, holding the narrow bottle of limoncello that Ginny had been liberally adding to their lemon drizzle cake earlier, both of them swigging from it.
“Nice one, Aurora,” Tia was next, her easy smile matching her eyes as she rubbed Aurora’s shoulder. “Your Signature was so good too, you deserved to get top in Technical this week!”
And Aurora immediately felt another twinge of guilt for her words earlier. Tia radiated sincerity, probably the only person in the room whose whole demeanour was relaxed and genuine. A lump rose in her throat and Aurora found her words stuck at it.
She just nodded, smiling, before she took the opportunity to move out the way to the cake table, wondering if she fancied another slooice of Ginny’s handshake-winning lemon drizzle cake before it was all gone, when she felt long cool fingers at her shoulder and turned to meet Tayce’s brown eyes.
“Good job in Technical today,” she murmured, a smile tugging at her lips.
Tayce’s low voice, and that accent, started off the butterflies in Aurora’s stomach once more, along with a tingling dancing up her spine. Last week it had been a pleasant addition to being here, having such a stunning contestant opposite her, but this week, Aurora found that the nearer Tayce was to her, the less Aurora was able to form coherent words.
“Thanks,” she heard herself say after what seemed like an eternity of a pause.
“Did much better than me. Seventh! Like we switched positions, eh?”
“Seems like it!” Aurora’s face was getting warmer and warmer, and she resumed prayer to the Monster gods that she wasn’t blushing -
“Anyway. Congratulations, A’Whora.”
“A’Whora! Bloody cheek!” Aurora slapped her playfully on the arm, and Tayce smiled as she wandered away, leaving Aurora to join Bimini and Ginny, as they curled up on the sofa together.
“You know who I’m enjoying seeing here every week?” Ginny muttered, dropping their voice to ensure no one else overheard.
“Asttina.” Ginny rested their chin in their hands, elbows on their knees as they gazed wistfully around the room.
Aurora followed their gaze to Asttina, who was chatting to Ellie, a hand on her forearm.
“I don’t really know much about Asttina,” Aurora admitted in a soft voice. “She hasn’t really spoken to me much yet, and she just seems kind of … aloof.”
But Ginny shook their head. “I’ve met her before at charity bakes in Birmingham. She does a lot of these kinds of charity bake offs, you have to put on a certain persona for that - and yeah, maybe she’d brought it to the contest here a bit - but honestly, once you get past that, she’s lovely.”
Asttina was pulling Ellie over to Tia and Veronica on the other side of the room, her smile genuine and her eyes crinkling at the corners, as happy as Aurora had seen her yet.
“Charity bakes? For contests and stuff?” Aurora asked.
“Sometimes. Have you seen her Instagram? I was looking at her page before we even all came to the show, for inspiration for something for my birthday - not that I enjoy getting older but we all enjoy cake! And she made one with some weird flavour combo - can’t remember - and I messaged her about it, and she just came back with it fell to bits after this photo, give it a miss - and I couldn’t stop laughing!”
“What kinds of things does she bake?” Bimini asked.
“All sorts, bab - anything you could ask for and more. But the flavours she was using! Oh my days - the things she’s tried and made work - she’s a genius, I’ll tell you that. She’s gonna go to the end.”
“Yeah,” Bimini murmured, their eyes hooked on Asttina as she crossed the room to the table, looking over the Jaffa Cakes for one to try. “Yeah, hopefully.”
Aurora looked from Asttina to Bimini, their chin cupped in their hand, not tearing their eyes away from Asttina, smiling a soft smile.
“Bimini,” Aurora said, but Bimini didn’t look away.
“Bim!” She nudged them, and Bimini blinked, evidently coming back into the room from cloud nine.
“Yeah - yeah, I know.”
Ginny raised their eyebrows, letting out a low whistle. “Are we gonna have our first Bake Off romance on the cards? Sorry, second? Can’t forget Blu and Cheryl last year.”
“Nah, not likely.” Bimini shook their head. “Not on the show anyway. Too much like hard work, innit, trying to balance getting to ask someone out with baking.”
“So, like, how many of us here are queer?” Aurora asked. “Do you know?”
“No,” Ginny shook their head, “but from what I’ve heard so far, a fair few - I’m pan, you’re a lesbian aren’t you Aurora? I’ve seen your pin - and I know Asttina has the bi flag on her instagram page, Tia and Veronica obviously like women as well -“
“What about Tayce, Gin?” Bimini asked slyly. “I think that’s what Aurora wanted to know.”
“Wait, wait, hold on,” Aurora held her hand up, trying to get them off Tayce. “What do you mean, Tia and Veronica obviously like women as well … what have I missed?”
Ginny pursed their lips, and Bimini chuckled.
“Let’s just say they’re getting pretty close.”
Showstopper: A children’s dream birthday cake with at least two different sponge flavours and three layers.
Aurora wasn’t going to let anyone stop her today. The Star Baker title and the cake-shaped badge was hers for the winning. Top in Technical, good critiques in Signature - she knew the judges would be talking about her as one of the top bakers in line for Star Baker this week.
She cast her gaze round the room, wondering who else was in line.
Veronica, for sure. She’d come second in Technical for the second week in a row, and her Signature pineapple and coconut cake had been praised. Much as Aurora hated to admit, Veronica was a great baker.
Ginny too, was probably in line for Star Baker, with their Hollywood Handshake from yesterday. They still looked smug, running a hand through their yellow hair and giggling to themselves.
It was probably between the three of them to win.
But as she carried on around the room Aurora’s eyes narrowed pensively as they fell on Ellie, right in front of her. She’d come third in Technical, and the rhubarb and custard cake had … actually had pretty good feedback as well.
Maybe it’s a four-horse race. Ellie’s a bit of a dark horse though.
“Have fun with the bake today,” Prue told them all, the familiar twinkle in her eye as she spoke. “Give us plenty of flavours and let your imaginations run wild. Remember, the bake has to be worth the calories.”
Veronica’s mouth was set in a thin line as she placed all her cake tins and containers in a line, licking her lips as she concentrated on setting all five stopwatches on her bench. Tia, by contrast in front of her, was piling her ingredients onto the workbench, muttering loudly to herself and causing the cameramen to run to her side and film her as she talked nonsense as usual.
It was an uneventful start. But something was bound to happen, and when Cherry passed Aurora’s workbench, she hovered, motioning pointedly with her gaze outside towards the tea tent outside; and Aurora turned off her KitchenAid for a second to follow Cherry over there and grab a mug as if to make tea.
“Joe’s pre-bought her fondant.”
“What?” Aurora put a hand to her mouth.
“I said to her - I was walking past her to get to Bimini’s workbench - and I saw her unrolling it. And I said, just jokingly, did you get that from Tesco’s, and get this - she leaned towards me,” Cherry mimicked Joe’s lean, putting a hand to the side of her mouth, “and she just whispered, ‘M&S’!”
“No!” Aurora’s eyes widened, her head shaking, but Cherry was nodding, licking her lips.
“I - well, I still am speechless!” Cherry’s eyes were alight, her glee as always seemingly awakened by gossip, but Aurora wasn’t sure what she’d do with this information. Was Cherry about to tell the judges? Should she do it instead? Was it any of their business at all?
Cherry didn’t give any clues away when they went back to the tent either, sipping her tea, greeted by the sound of Tia announcing she had to start again. Veronica was running over to see what she’d done now, probably to try to fix it again.
But Aurora had her own issues. The cake mix, still in the KitchenAid, had flattened decidedly while she had been away.
She turned the whisk on, but she could not persuade the mixture to aerate, no matter how hard she whisked.
“Fuck,” she muttered, angry tears stinging the backs of her eyes. “Am I gonna have to do a Tia?”
One more minute. It may still be salvageable, come on cake, come on -
After three more minutes of whisking, Aurora rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand and took the bowl off the stand, emptying the mixture into the bin.
“You starting again?” That was Noel’s voice, and a cameraman beside her, and Aurora was temporarily blinded by Noel’s brightly-painted outfit, obviously his own design, bold patterns and neon colours.
“Yeah, gonna have to aren’t I? It went flat.”
“You’ve got this, alright?”
Noel’s smile and tone were light and airy, not really with any substance.
That was how Aurora wanted her cake, not her support.
She closed her eyes, allowed her breathing to settle, then leaned forwards, a lump forming in her throat as she gathered fresh ingredients and set back to work all over again on the cake mixture.
As the whisk was whirring for her second time, she glanced up in awe at Ellie’s which was just coming out of the oven, smelling divine; and over at Veronica’s, already partly formed out of a green grass stand. Aurora blinked back the tears, seeing her chances of becoming Star Baker this week starting to fade away.
She glanced at Tayce.
And although part of Aurora wanted nothing more than to look at Tayce, watch Tayce bake all day, listen to her speak all day, as the tingling feeling ran down her spine … another part of her was infuriated by how relaxed Tayce was, nonplussed by everything around her.
It was difficult to make head or tail of what Tayce was thinking. Right now, she was holding up a layer of cake, and slicing into it with a palette knife, trying to carve a shape; looking up only to grin at Noel as he approached her for some banter for the television.
Aurora wanted to go over and see what she was making, but she didn’t want to have to restart again, so she turned her eyes to the KitchenAid and tried to tune out everyone else in the room.
One thing no one had prepared any of the bakers for was that judging for the Showstoppers was terrifying.
Watching it on the telly made it look like everyone was judged in a single minute, and everything was smooth and light and relaxed. In reality, everyone stood there for a good five minutes each at least, feeling all eyes in the room on them from their fellow contestants as well as the judges, and with lifting and carrying times it meant they were all dead on their feet by the end.
Aurora was right at the end of the pack, being in the position she was in - on the right, at the back.
So she had to wait past everyone getting pulled up in order.
Bimini and Asttina, both on the front two rows, both getting good feedback on flavours but mediocre feedback on the aesthetic of their respective cakes. Joe was next, and Cherry’s news turned out to be true, with Joe openly admitting to the judges that her fondant was pre-bought from M&S.
Ellie gave an audible inhale.
“What’s up?” Aurora whispered as loudly as she could.
“You’re not meant to do that!” Ellie whispered back.
Ginny was told that while their lemon cake was delicious, doing a lime-flavoured layer was probably not a wise choice, and she needed to not do lemon every single time. Veronica and Lawrence were both praised, even though they’d made similar cakes in the shape of train sets, the second time they’d done a similar design to each other.
Ellie’s hand shook where it rested on Aurora’s workbench, as she stared glassy-eyed outside the clear panel of the tent. And even though Aurora tried to remind herself that this show was full of people who just wanted to win a competition, seeing Ellie’s fear made her chest ache. Aurora reached forward to rest a hand atop hers, and Ellie blinked, swallowing, still staring straight ahead.
“You’ll do great,” she whispered, and Ellie nodded stiffly, her hand quivering in Aurora’s.
Tia’s cake was next. The game of Operation which was starting to crumble and fall apart as Matt Lucas helped her to carry it to the table, was called the best lemon and poppy seed cake Prue had ever had.
When Ellie was called after that, and Aurora got a better look at her cake, she didn’t know why Ellie was worrying; she’d made a beautiful and intricate pink castle, complete with towers, detailed brick patterns, and a little portcullis; but when she got it to the judges table, the judges were sniggering quietly behind her.
“Me and my brother, we always had just one plain cake between us on our birthday, nothing to make it that personal for either of us, that way it was fair,” Ellie explained, cupping her elbows in her hands. “But if I’d not been a twin, this would have been my dream cake. A huge pink castle.”
Cherry’s eyes widened from the other side of the room, clapping a hand to her mouth; and Aurora finally spotted it. The pink towers with the purple rooftops, standing out from the rest of the cake …
They look a bit … questionable, Aurora thought.
By now everyone was sniggering to themselves, apart from Lawrence, whose face was in her hands; when she raised her head, Aurora could see she was trying not to laugh too.
Aurora chanced a glance at Tayce, finding that she wasn’t laughing much either, a cool indifference behind her eyes. But she wasn’t looking at Ellie. She was looking straight at Aurora herself, before turning her eyes away back to the front.
Tayce’s turn had come, and Tayce had presented the owl she’d made to be told that her bake was good, but her design wasn’t up to parr. And Aurora’s judging was as expected - she was praised on her buttercream, but she hadn’t left the sponges in long enough, worrying she was running short on time; so she’d removed them early to cool; and they’d come out a bit dense as a result.
That’s probably cost me the Star Baker badge. But I probably won’t be going home at least.
It was disappointing. Cakes were her forte, cakes were what she knew best.
But it doesn’t mean I’m a bad baker, she said firmly to herself. I just had a less-than-perfect bake. I am not my art.
She breathed out her worries, knowing there was nothing more she could do now that judging was over, and left the tent with the others to the outside area, where the chairs had been set up. It was still sunny, although clouds were drifting over and the early evening chill was starting to pinch in the air.
Aurora flopped down on the seat next to Tayce, sighing heavily.
“Mine was alright, I think,” she said, “and Paul loved my Italian meringue buttercream.”
Tayce nodded, but her expression remained the same; staring towards the tent, her eyes distant and pensive.
“I can’t believe that Joe actually told the judges that she’d bought the fondant from M&S! Do you think that’s true? If so - I mean, she won’t be staying until next week if she’s done that, will she?”
Tayce carried on nodding, her face flat, the distance between them growing with every second that passed.
Aurora sighed. “I don’t think I’ll get Star Baker this week though, even though I came top in Technical. They all loved Ellie’s cake, didn’t they?”
That was the first motion Aurora saw; Tayce’s jaw tensed for a split second, her eyes narrowing just a fraction as she continued her slow, rhythmic nodding.
“That cake was something else,” Aurora said dreamily, twirling a strand of hair around her finger.
“Maybe you should talk to her about it, then.”
With that low, cool sentence, Tayce stood up and made her way towards Carr Hall, not even turning around to see Aurora’s confused expression growing more so with every step she took.
Inside, the tent was still stiflingly hot as Noel announced Ellie as the shock winner. Ellie put her hands to her face, while Asttina, sitting on her right, wrapped an arm around her waist and tugged her towards her for a gracious cuddle.
Matt had to announce the person leaving, but no one was surprised that Joe’s name was called, not even Joe herself. She stood from her position between Ginny and Bimini, both of them clutching one of her hands each, and gave her infamous cackle, blowing them all a kiss and leaving the tent behind to go to her exit interview.
“Well done, Els,” Aurora murmured, as Ellie bent down to hug her, wiping tears away from the corners of her eyes with her thumbs.
Over her shoulder, Aurora caught Tayce staring at her for a split second before she turned away, following Joe out of the tent, presumably back to Carr Hall to collect her things for the week ahead.
Those same thoughts from the previous day were running circles in her mind. She only saw Tayce at weekends, in a very enclosed environment, and although last week they’d exchanged some kind words, and Tayce had held her hand, did it mean they were bonding?
Ellie let Aurora go, moving to hug someone else, but Aurora carried on looking at the exit, trying to decipher what had made Tayce turn cool this week.
Her hand in Aurora’s had been more welcome than Aurora had expected last week, a faint thrill up her spine as she remembered it. But this week they’d barely spoken, and Aurora struggled to figure out why; until she heard Ellie’s laughter as she hugged Lawrence, who tilted her chin up to rest on her shoulder, pouring words of affirmation into Ellie’s ear.
Is - is Tayce really that annoyed? Because she didn’t win?
TEN BAKERS REMAIN
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i’ve not caught a live from any of the girls in so long is this what it feels like to be in withdrawal
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druk s2 alignment charts for @artificialortega and everyone else in the druk s2 fandom
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Bimini Bon Boulash
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are you watching DRUK
I watched the whole season as it came out yeah - I’m happy for Lawrence but in the end Bimini stole my heart 😩
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Bimini Bon Boulash
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Bimini Bon Boulash
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Follow @blackoutdragqueens on tumblr and my main page @joeyblackout
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Bimini Bon Boulash for Sicky Mag
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Never The Same, Always Together (Diamond Chaney) - pureCAMP
A/N - Well, this started as a fic challenge entry but very quickly veered off in a different direction so I’ll have to see if I can make something else for that. In the meantime, here’s around 12.3k words detailing two average Scottish gals.
CW for mentions of body image and body shaming, although fairly brief
Summary: Lawrence and Ellie from the start, and the story of how they came to be.
“How did you know she was the one?”
It’s mid-September. The last dregs of summer are still clinging on, far from ready to abandon ship, and although the leaves on the trees around the edge of the playground are starting to turn brown, sunlight still warms their bare arms as they run with blue cardigans tied around their waists in loose knots.
Lawrence is a proud five years old in comparison to some of her classmate’s barely four years, an advantage that makes her feel powerful. Adults often describe her as “a right little character”, but her young mind has yet to realise that they mean bold, talkative, and still untouched by the childish nervousness that claims many of her peers. She is, in essence, blissfully unaware of what the world thinks of loud little girls with accents so thick they question her coherence.
There is another little girl sitting on a bench. It’s the friendship bench, Miss Darling told them, where children can sit when they feel lonely and upset, allowing other children to invite them to play. No one really sits on it because nobody wants to waste their precious play time sat down when they could be running like the wind and making up stories.
The little girl is crying, very quietly. She has blonde hair in two neat plaits, tied off at the end with pink checkered ribbons, and she’s wearing one of the school summer dresses with a little patterned collar. Lawrence’s mum didn’t want to pay the extra money for a patterned collar, so she’s immediately a little jealous that this girl has one and she doesn’t. Her cardigan is all rumpled, falling off one shoulder, the sleeve over her hand which she uses to wipe her face dry every so often. She has clean white socks pulled up mid-calf, and black patent shoes on her feet, dangling in the air as she’s too little to touch the floor.
Lawrence is tall for her age. She can reach the floor with her feet when she sits on the bench.
As yet unaffected by the aforementioned nervousness, Lawrence bounds her way towards the crying girl. The girl looks up, teary blue eyes meeting tactlessly wide ones, and wipes her nose with her sleeve.
“Why are you sitting on the bench?” Lawrence asks, too young to know better than to speak bluntly. Subtext is a skill for older children, one that she will one day wish she had never had to learn. Life is easier as blatant, honest children.
The girl sniffs. “I’m on my own.”
“No you’re not.” Lawrence tells her, arms folded across her chest. “I’m here, so that’s not true. Why are you crying?”
“My brother’s in the other class and they won’t let us be in the same class and he’s playing with the boys and not me,” The girl explains, still crying but less so, pointing a shaky finger across the playground.
Lawrence follows her gaze towards the big stretch of field that, for now, they’re still allowed to play on, soon to become banned once the slightest hint of autumn rain hits and turns it into a mud puddle treacherous to school uniforms everywhere. A group of boys, scruffy and dirty, are kicking a foam football around, running like crazy, shouting at one another. She counts carefully, finding six in total. More than five and less than seven. One of them is blonde and little, like the girl.
“What’s your name?”
With little patience left in her small body, Lawrence grabs Ellie by the wrist and pulls her up off the bench. “Right. You’re the princess and I’m the big scary monster, you have to run away or I’m going to catch you! Rarrrrr!”
Ellie screams, tears her wrist away, and starts running as quickly as she can, little legs moving at a million miles an hour. Lawrence chases her, growling and biting behind her to let her new friend know how close she is. For fifteen minutes, though to their five and four year old selves it could have been days, they are a flurry of squealing, yelping, monster snarls and giggling.
When the bell rings, Ellie stands behind Lawrence in the line - she takes the front, unafraid to lead her peers back to the classroom, where Miss Darling is waiting to teach them about ai and ay. She sits next to Lawrence on the carpet, both cross-legged, her tears of separation from her brother quickly forgotten. She giggles as Lawrence is told off for her wandering attention span and chatty nature. At lunchtime, she plaits Lawrence’s hair the same as her own, and though it looks bad, they see it as the same perfect standard of Ellie’s mum’s handiwork.
Birthdays are the most specialest days in the world ever. Something about them is just magical. It’s the way that Lawrence goes to bed in her house as normal and when she wakes up, there are banners and balloons everywhere, diagonal on every door, above the fireplace, even on the letterbox. Presents neatly wrapped that seem to appear from the middle of nowhere, hidden expertly well and then piled in the living room ready for eager hands to tear open and play with. A day where no reasonable request can be refused, and silly hats can be worn.
Silly hats make both adults and children laugh, and Lawrence loves to be the centre of attention and making everyone laugh. At seven - no, eight now, eight today - she has been labelled a “class clown”. This, supposedly, is a bad thing, but it depends on how you look at it. Classmates and friends love class clowns, invite her to play their games because she’s funny, pay little attention to her big height and chubby body because she makes them laugh. Teaching assistants like class clowns, they laugh at them when they should be chastising them, and gently warn them to tone it down a little with kind smiles. Teachers, like Mr Macpherson, don’t like class clowns. They put them in time-out and shout at them.
But Lawrence doesn’t care, and Ellie always laughs.
Her party is at the big play warehouse, and the whole of Primary 4 have been invited, because they all wanted to come. Everyone is wearing baggy jeans and colourful leggings, racing down the rainbow slide, throwing balls from the ball-pit at each other, climbing through the foam structures with cherry-red faces and sweat dripping from their wet foreheads. Everyone is sectioned off into their little groups, playing as they see fit, exploring every inch of their veritable wonderland.
Lawrence is with Ellie, at the very top. Ellie is still seven, and as such, a bit scared of the great height that comes with the rainbow slide. Her sparkly unicorn t-shirt says “go, girl!” in swirly pink letters, a sentiment that she enthusiastically repeats to her trembling friend. They are sat in the very middle, classmates whizzing down on either side of them, building up the courage together.
“It’s too high! I can’t do it!” Ellie pleads, her eyes huge. Her cheeks are bright pink, play exertion written all over her, but her energy still not depleted. Lawrence is raring to go, but has learned the art of tact, kindness, and helping a friend.
“We’ll go down together, Ellie Bellie!” She proposes, an idea that makes Ellie pause and consider it. “I’m bigger than you so if you hold onto me we’ll get to the bottom super fast and then it’ll be over, and when you see how fun it is we can go again and again and again!”
She chews her lip. “What if you let go?”
“I won’t!” Lawrence assures her. “Look, we’ll hold hands all the way down, and then I’ll race you back to the top. Bet I’ll win.”
Ellie gasps, affronted. “Will not!”
“Only one way to find out, Ellie Bellie!”
They grab hands, sweaty and gritty from playground rubber and climbing on all fours. Ellie screws her eyes shut as Lawrence starts them off, and before they know it, they’re zooming down the techicolour mountain at speeds hitherto unknown, records unbeatable, aided by the slippy fabric of pink leggings and purple capris. Their hands remain linked the whole way down, until they stumble into the netting at the bottom and break apart. Ellie flops down in breathless laughter, euphoric at both defeating her fear and discovering a new sensation.
“You did it!” Lawrence squeals.
Ellie’s eyes are wild. “We have to go again!”
They race to the top. Ellie wins the first time, Lawrence the second. The third time, they tie, and bicker about who won all the way down the slide and back up again, after which Lawrence claims another victory. Each time, they go down hand in clammy hand, fall over themselves laughing, and carry on.
It repeats until a little jingle plays, and all of Primary 4 race in a mass exodus towards the special party room, where they have buffet lunch and drinks. Lawrence guzzles her paper cup of orange cordial like her life depends on it, a dehydration like she’s never felt gripping her throat, and Ellie laughs at her so much that she chokes on her blackcurrant cordial, leaving Lawrence’s mum to run for paper towels to clean her up.
Lawrence wears a gold cardboard crown as her classmates sing Happy Birthday, Ellie sitting at her right with a lopsided paper tiara slipping off her head but in pride of place nonetheless. They eat chicken dippers smothered in ketchup and party rings and a slice of cake, and Lawrence ends up with a big ketchup splodge on her lilac t-shirt that, while making her mum go spare, makes Ellie hysterically giggly.
“Oh, Lawrie, what are you like?” Her mum fusses, smiling and shaking her head all at once. “How you and Ellie can be so different yet so close, I’ll never know. She’s all nice and neat, see?”
Ellie beams up at what is essentially her second mum. “I think she’s funny!”
“She is!” Her mum agrees. “Funny little madam, aren’t you?”
Little madam is another turn of phrase that Lawrence will come to learn has other meanings attached to it that previously she had not considered, but as a happy eight year old at the world’s best birthday party, she pays it no mind.
Ellie ends up with white birthday cake frosting in her hair, so she’s not really as neat as Lawrence’s mum suggests. It doesn’t matter that Lawrence is the one who put it there.
The first year uniform is ugly as sin, no matter how much Lawrence’s mum fawns over how smart and grown up she looks. It’s a white polo shirt with the school logo stitched on the right hand side, a heavy black blazer with white piping around the cuffs and lapel, a tie with your house colour, and black trousers if you’re Lawrence, or a black skirt if you’re Ellie.
Lawrence and Ellie are both in the green house, sporting their forest-coloured ties with fat knots and rucksacks at the ready on their shoulders. They’re in the same form, too, a stroke of luck that is appreciated by both of them. Most of their primary school went to another local secondary school, leaving the two of them to start elsewhere and forge their new identities as awkward tweenagers thankfully with each other side by side.
Their mums insist on a million photos outside in the driveway together, right up until the bus is about to pull up to the bus stop and they have to leg it to catch it in time. The photos, though awful, will come to be treasured by Lawrence one day, sweet innocent memories to be stuck inside albums, frames and on walls and mantelpieces.
Form is first thing in the morning, a group of thirty terrified first years headed by Mrs Buchanan. She’s an older lady, fifty or so, and not nearly as kind and gentle as they’re all used to, thus requiring a bit of getting used to. But they’re in secondary school now, so growing up quickly and adapting into a new way of learning and being is critical. Lawrence makes sure there’s space for Ellie to sit next to her, and as their timetables get handed out, she squeezes her friend’s hand under the table. The worry is soon alleviated; they have all classes together for the whole year.
Over time, the friendship group expands, even as Lawrence and Ellie remain firm best friends, ever the duo within the circle of new people. Aurora’s string of three-week maximum boyfriends earns her the nickname A’Whora, and she brings Tayce along with her, who brings Asttina. Ellie befriends Tia who brings Veronica. Bimini just appears out of nowhere and slots right in, and they have a designated little collection of people to spend all their time with.
Secondary school is rough. Mean-spirited girls and overconfident boys poke fun at Lawrence’s weight while having the audacity to laugh at her jokes, and Ellie’s girly nature is picked on and mocked as if there’s something wrong with just liking the things you like. Together they ignore the hurtful words, shake their heads in silence, stand up strong and pretend endlessly that it glances off them. Truthfully, it’s an unnecessary stress on two girls just trying to figure out who they’re going to be one day, but they’re glad to have each other.
They’ve learned to thicken their skin, at least. Lawrence can hardly believe the difference in shy little Ellie from Primary 1 to now, third year, virtually prepared to throw hands in defense of her best friend.
It’s PE, fourth period, right before lunch. The changing room is in a bizarre L shape, and Lawrence likes to change behind the bend, increasingly aware of how her body differs from the girls around her and conscious of it in a way she never has been before. Sometimes her eyes unwittingly fall on Bimini, in her bright pink M&S bra, or on the smooth slim back of a girl changing opposite her, but she just tears her gaze away and doesn’t dwell on why it ended up there in the first place. She usually changes red-faced, embarrassed of herself, having mastered the art of not removing any uniform until the sports one is safely on top of it.
A girl across from them watches Lawrence’s fail-safe method of changing and laughs cruelly, nudging her equally-bony friend. She pretends not to notice, swallows hard, fights the angry blush.
“Look at the fuckin’ size of her!” She overhears, a whisper not really meant for disguise, quiet enough only that the teacher won’t hear, but Lawrence will. It’s a deliberate trick to damage her self-esteem, and it works exactly as intended.
Besides her, Ellie bristles. Lawrence touches her arm, then takes her hand away, feeling weird about a platonic touch when they’re half undressed. “Ignore em, Ells. They’re just catty bitches.”
Ellie herself isn’t the waif of a girl she used to be - she’s tall, now, and not quite stout but sporting a thick athletic build, tied in with a girlish waist and a strong physique. Her fists clench at her sides.
“Get fucked!” She calls across the changing room, shocking even Lawrence. A hush descends over the girls, a mixture of dread, horror and excitement for drama looming over them. Undeterred by the silence, she continues, “Nasty wee cows, commenting shite like that. You’re mad because she’s got tits and you haven’t, and you’re mad because you’re built like a netball goal post. Embarrassing.”
Somewhere around the corner, Lawrence hears A’Whora, Tayce and Bimini stifle a burst of unexpected laughter, Bimini carefully styling it out as a cough that fools absolutely no one. The two offenders look bewildered, as if no one has ever taught them not to bully, and as Ellie’s words dawn on them, hurt flashes across their faces, visible even beneath the orange foundation. It’s a glorious moment right up until-
“Ellie Diamond! How dare you speak like that? Girls, what on earth is going on here?”
Miss Brown, the PE teacher, rounds the corner with a furious glare, which Ellie shrinks down under and swallows nervously. Her hands sit on her hips, demanding, waiting for an explanation that Lawrence knows Ellie can’t give. She’s lost her bottle, all of it used up on telling the girls not to be so vile, and now she’s left floundering under the inevitability of a detention no matter what her story is.
Well, Ellie just helped Lawrence, and she’s never been one to wait upon a debt.
“Miss, they were calling me fat and Ellie had just had enough of them being horrible bitches, treating her like the bad guy is a bunch of shite. She did nothing wrong.”
It’s carefully calculated; a defence of Ellie so that her anxieties settle down, and a cleverly thrown-in swear to ensure she gets nailed with a detention of her own. It works like a charm, of course, Ellie and Lawrence scheduled for Tuesday evening and the thoroughly humbled arseholes scheduled for Thursday.
Lawrence always takes goalkeeper in netball, so Ellie takes goal defence. They stand together at their third of the court, the entire game happening at the other end, rubbing their arms to keep warm.
“You didn’t have to do that, Loz. Now we both have detention.” Ellie complains, though she doesn’t sound upset. Lawrence knows she’s grateful, but saying so would just make it weird. Subtext makes up most of their conversations now, a series of vicious bickering and ridiculous jokes that convey you’re my best friend of course I had to do that in a language that only they can decipher.
Lawrence shrugs, unbothered. “Think about it, hen. If I don’t have detention and you do, I have to sit alone on the bus. If we both have it, we can walk home together, grab a couple of Monsters from the shop and have tea at mine.”
“You’re a fuckin’ genius,” Ellie grins, bumping her shoulder. “They didn’t hurt your feelings, did they? Once Brown’s not around, I’m not above smashing their noses in with a netball.”
Lawrence is fourteen years old. Breathing in her direction wrong hurts her feelings - comments about her physical insecurities and inferiorities are completely soul-destroying.
“Nah, babes.” She brushes it off, smiling at her best friend. “I mean, watch this.”
The game progresses into their third. The goal scorer for the other team is pretty good, tall enough to reach the hoop and rail thin, but Lawrence herself is tall and stocky and provides the perfect obstacle to scoring a point. She intercepts, lobs the ball as hard as she can in Tayce’s direction, and it ends up back in the opposite third once again. They score another point, and Ellie whoops at their victory.
“Fuckin’ smashin’ it, hen. A skinny bitch could never.” She gloats, chest heaving, beaming with pride.
Ellie’s hair is pulled into a high ponytail, the neat plaits of her past long forgotten. Over the game, little wisps have fallen out to frame her face, which is pleasingly pink and flushed with effort. She has a neat wing of eyeliner and mascara that makes her look like some kind of Disney princess, and as the nightmare of puberty goes on around them, Lawrence notes with an entirely unselfish happiness that her best friend is going to be really, really pretty.
She sort of already is.
Bimini’s sixteenth birthday comes with a party. She’s never one to go halves - her mum is thirty two, a fact that makes A’Whora and Tayce elbow her that she needs to get busy to continue the family tradition - and since the weather is uncharacteristically Mediterrean for the middle of May, up comes the gazebo, on goes the hot tub, and out come the drinks.
Lawrence and Ellie have a bottle of summer fruits rosé between them, two straws poking out of the top. Ellie insists on holding it because she doesn’t trust Lawrence, in case she decides to do something stupid for a laugh and spills it onto the grass. It’s not like it matters, because Bim’s mum will provide them as much as they like so long as they’re safe in the garden, but she lets Ellie take control anyway, because it makes her smile and her smile makes Lawrence flutter a bit.
She’s been realising some stuff recently. Sixteen feels like the right age to be realising stuff.
Ellie got braces when she was newly fifteen, prompting months of merciless teasing from Lawrence. She still has them now, at sixteen, a pretty pale pink colour that matches her Pretty Little Thing dress that she ordered on her phone with next day shipping at Lawrence’s house last week. Her smile is radiant, her glittery lipgloss only highlighting it, though over only a few years her makeup has progressed so far that Ellie paints herself like she belongs in a museum.
Her face is a work of art full of meanings that Lawrence could spend a lifetime pondering. Sometimes, alone, late, she wishes it was a viable career choice.
It’s only nine o’clock, but everyone’s completely bladdered and quite happy about it. Lawrence passes Tia, who can’t stop repeating “Oh my god I’m so drunk” to anyone who’ll listen, and finds A’Whora and Tayce leaning on each other for support, sloppily humming stripper tunes as Bimini wiggles down her ASOS dress to reveal the bikini underneath. She winks at them both, announcing “Bimini’s swimini is now open for business!” and hops into the hot tub, half of the party rushing to join her. Tia, A’Whora, Tayce and Asttina all follow Bim’s lead, stripping down and settling into the bubbly water with excited giggles and shrieks.
“Come on, Lawrence! Get in, join us!” A’Whora urges, gesturing wildly with a wet hand that splashes drops of water all over the porch.
Tayce nods eagerly. “It’s lush, babes! Come on!”
Lawrence snorts. “Fat fucking chance. If I get in, the water will get out.”
Everyone roars with laughter at her joke. It’s something of an ego boost, especially when she hears Ellie a little way behind her, giggling.
“Aww babes, please?” Bimini calls out, rising up out of the water so that she’s in up to her waist. “I’ll show you my tiiiiiits……..”
For show, she shimmies her shoulders, the whole garden erupting into wolf whistles, scandalised giggles and outright cheers. Lawrence rolls her eyes playfully and sticks two fingers up at her, internally wondering how and when Bimini figured it out. Still, her drunk brain doesn’t want to dwell on it, so she forces it away and stumbles back towards Ellie for another sip.
As the night grows darker and the girls grow drunker, the cloud of sleepiness starts to descend onto them. Bimini’s mum had set up the gazebo with a Tetris-like arrangement of sleeping bags and air mattresses in it, cleverly keeping her house from being infested by a bunch of pissed fifth years while still able to keep an eye on them. As usual, when Lawrence claims hers, Ellie claims the one next to it.
“Bloody hell, it’s like you two are attached at the blumin’ hip!” Tayce comments, an offhand observation that’s perfectly spot on.
Ellie is a bubble of pure light and laughter. Her face brightens at the acknowledgement of their friendship, her ponytail swinging from side to side as she lifts her head to look up at Tayce. She bumps hips with Lawrence and bursts into a fit of giggles, nodding her agreement.
“Look who’s talking, hen,” Lawrence teases, nodding towards A’Whora. “Attached clit to clit, eh babes?”
A’Whora splutters her indignance. “Oh my god, you’re vile! Shut your fucking hole, Loz!”
“I will when you stop Venus Fly-Trapping Tayce with your fanny,” She shoots back, high-fiving Ellie and dissolving into identical hysterics.
An empty can of something is lobbed at Lawrence’s head, but thanks to A’Whora’s shitty aim and however many drinks she chucked down her neck, it misses by miles and rolls off into the grass, never to be seen again. She considers throwing something back, potentially waging a fight of epic proportions amongst the girls, but one glance at Ellie reveals an undisguisable tiredness in her gaze that influences her otherwise.
Ellie always gets this tired look before she actually sleeps. It’s not something Lawrence can tangibly describe; it’s just a heaviness behind her eyes, a sort of barely-there serenity wiping her mind clean of anything other than its purest, most unfiltered thoughts and inclinations to sleep. A sweet, lazy smile crosses her lips and she starts to speak quietly, softly, like raising her voice is too much of an effort for her body to keep up with. Year after year after year of sleepovers has well-equipped Lawrence for an exam in all things Ellie Diamond, one that she’s certain she could achieve an A in without any revision at all.
They settle down in their sleeping bags, and muffled sleepy conversations float out for a short while. Bimini, drunk as a skunk and high on the birthday bliss, lays in the middle of everyone, doling out nicknames that ensure the night will live on in their memories long after the morning has broken. For years to come, Taycegarean - a strange bastardisation from Game of Thrones - will crop up in group chats and pub meetups seemingly out of nowhere, and the entire night will be fondly remembered.
Lawrence herself will remember it for a multitude of reasons. Good reasons, all of them happy and positive, but they will warm her heart at one stage of life and in another, sting like gentian violet on grazed knees.
She hunches down on her side and feigns sleep for what feels like hours, until a symphony of heavy breathing around her suggests that everyone is finally asleep. Once she’s sure, she shifts onto her back and laces her fingers together, just letting all her thoughts run wild in her head in the hopes they’ll eventually tire her into slumber.
Evidently, she’s not careful enough, as within minutes, a soft voice whispers, “Lawrence? Are you awake?”
Nevertheless, she can’t help the smile that crosses her face. “Yeah. Are you?”
Ellie snorts. “Nah, hen, I’m asleep.”
“Stupid question, stupid answer.”
“Stupid bitch.” Ellie quips, Lawrence acquiescing and laughing.
There’s an open flap in the top of the gazebo, right above Lawrence’s head. It’s not the most practical thing in the world, given the very real possibility of a downpour of Scottish rain soaking them to the skin, but the night sky is clear and Bimini’s house is just enough out of the way of the city that the stars are visible. She remembers reading somewhere that Sirius was the brightest star in the sky, but that can’t be true when Ellie’s eyes could rival the entire Milky Way.
Neither of them have anything to say; they lie side by side in a comfortable silence, connecting patterns between the tiny dots of light above them, content to just be. Still, one thought of Lawrence’s jumbled up brain won’t stop tugging on her vocal chords, begging to be freed, so she decides to give in and just let it have its own way.
“Ells,” She whispers, rolling onto her side to face her best friend. “I got something to tell you.”
Ellie mirrors her without even realising, turning onto her side and even resting her face on her hand the same way Lawrence has. It’s a testament to just how connected they really are, and it swells a little balloon of confidence and hope in her chest that this is definitely the right time to do it.
“Go ahead, chick. I’m all ears.”
The night is quiet. Nothing rustles, nothing moves, the air itself is still and silent as if holding its breath at Lawrence’s coming out. She waits, both terrified and exhilarated, for the person she cares most about in the world to react to the news.
It’s a snorty giggle, well-intentioned and free of malice, that follows a few seconds of silence. “I could’ve told you that, hen.”
She’s a cheeky shite, always has been and always will be. Lawrence grins, shaking her head.
“Hey, bawbag, this is a big fuckin’ moment for me!”
Even without makeup - Lawrence made sure Ellie took hers off to save her skin, ever the helpful best friend - Ellie’s a Renaissance beauty, her expression a picture of adoration and warmth. “Aye, I know. I’m really proud of you, Lawrie. Thanks for trusting me.”
With the gentlest of smiles gracing her lips, Ellie reaches out a hand and softly rubs Lawrence’s cheek. Her fingers are bitter cold on Lawrence’s flushed skin, but the gesture is so tender that she would endure the sensation for a thousand lifetimes before she would utter a complaint about it. Their usual way would be a joke, a mocking statement with subtext of support and gratitude, but now feels right for a fleeting moment of sincerity beneath the stars.
“If I can’t trust you, Ellie Bellie, I can’t trust anyone.”
Ellie snuggles down into her sleeping bag. “You can always trust me.”
Sometimes it’s baffling how quickly time flies. Lawrence crosses off days on her calendar as an old habit her mum passed on to her, and before she knows it she’s in her sixth year, exams on the horizon, the enticing glow of study leave calling her name in just a few short months. There’s an acceptance letter for the University of Edinburgh sitting on the desk in her bedroom, slightly crumpled and splashed with coke and scribbled on with pens she wasn’t sure worked or not, but nonetheless taking pride of place.
Poor Ellie is never out of the art block, slaving away on her twenty hour final piece that Lawrence just knows is going to look amazing. While she’s busy, Lawrence sits in the common room with A’Whora and bitches about stressful teachers, irritating students and the impossibility of having ever been as annoying as the current first years are.
Lawrence maintains she was never that short or that childish.
Every weekend, Ellie pops over to revise English, although it usually deteriorates into we hate the English why are we revising this shit again and turns into an excuse to hang out separately from the group. There’s a weird stigma about only inviting some of the group somewhere ever since A’Whora and Tia’s big falling out in fourth year, but it never really seems to apply to Lawrence and Ellie. It’s just a given that they can branch off at any time and no one’s being left out, it’s just their time.
At present, Ellie lies flat on her back on Lawrence’s bed, legs hanging off the side, groaning loudly about how much work she has left to do. She reckons it’ll be done in two months, but only two months of hard graft with no social life, no sleep, and no eating.
“You better fuckin’ let me see it when it’s done, for all you’ve fucking moaned about it,” Lawrence tells her, spinning on her desk chair. “I deserve compensation of that at the very least, if not more.”
Ellie blows a raspberry. “How about I give you a blowie and we call it even?”
It’s one of those jokes that makes Lawrence laugh and blush at the same time. They’ve become increasingly common as of late, but as a far cry from her former bluntness, Lawrence masks with a disgusted face, a forced retch, and some exaggerated mimed vomit.
“You’re gonnae make me throw up, hen. I know you’re just gagging for a taste of the old Chaney to confirm your bisexuality but at the very least I expect to be taken for dinner before that,” She shrugs.
Ellie sits up, sticks out her tongue, and rolls her eyes. “I’ve paid for enough of your lunches, thank you very much! I feel entitled to it at this point.”
“Fuck me. Anybody’d think you actually wanna be with me.” Lawrence teases, one eyebrow raised.
In the last few weeks, Ellie had taken to drawing these tiny pink hearts underneath her eyes, a ridiculously cute addition to her already perfect makeup. It was only last week that they crammed themselves into Ellie’s mum’s bathroom and dyed her hair pastel pink to match Lawrence’s vibrant purple, and she’s since curled it, where it now rests prettily on her shoulders from the signature Ellie Diamond ponytail that she just can’t let go of.
Something unusual flashes across Ellie’s face, something Lawrence recognises with a jolt but hasn’t seen in years. Nervous Ellie feels like a thing of the past, but it’s definitely that - a moment of hesitation, a spike of courage followed by a drop. Ellie’s nervous about something.
She swivels her chair around to face Ellie properly. “Ells?”
Ellie coughs. “My mum always says the person you date should be like, your best friend. ‘Cause no one knows you better and understands you better than they do.”
Lawrence’s hopes shoot up before she can warn them not to, and she’s sure her face says it all, much to her embarrassment. “Aye, I’ve heard that before too. Interesting idea, don’t you think?”
“Very interesting.” Ellie agrees. Already she looks calmer, and Lawrence prides herself on her ability to always soothe Ellie’s fears, years down the line. She would argue it’s her only natural talent, but she’s big enough to admit that she’s also hilarious, great at sewing, and the fastest at chugging out of the whole group.
For the first time, she allows images previously forbidden to enter her mind. She imagines going with Ellie to the formal at the end of the year as her date, dancing close to something slow and sweet, dancing even closer to some Whitney Houston once the real bops start playing. She imagines how Ellie’s cherry lip-balm will taste, how it’ll feel to thread her hands through Ellie’s hair in a real, proper embrace. She imagines Ellie Diamond as her girlfriend, a sentence both weird and wonderful to think about.
“Ellie, darling! Your mum’s here!” The voice of Lawrence’s mum from downstairs interrupts them.
Ellie stands up. Lawrence doesn’t move.
“You need to pass your fucking driving test so you can stay here longer.” Lawrence states. Glaring subtext: I like you.
“Booking my test next week. Hoping I don’t kill any primary kids or drive over a roundabout.” Ellie grins back. Glaring subtext: I like you too.
“Fat fucking chance of you passing first time, Dirty Diamond. You’ll probably bowl over a pensioner.” You’re my favourite person in the world.
“You’ll visit me in jail though, right?” I know. I feel like I’ve always known.
“I’ll smuggle you some lipstick, hen, but don’t be asking me for fuckin’ Morphe palettes.” I’m willing to try.
“What else could I ask for?” What else could I ask for?”
Ellie smiles, and the room lights up. “Just a second, I’ll be there!”
The twenty seconds that it takes for Ellie to gather her books into her bag are excruciating, and Lawrence sits full of frenzied energy, fingers tapping on her knee as she tries and fails to play it cool. This is new territory, previously unexplored land, and she has no idea how to navigate it, nothing to fall back on except the cushion of thirteen years worth of friendship. It dawns on her that it’s an exceedingly soft place to land, should she fall.
As she makes to leave the room, Ellie stops right by Lawrence’s swivel chair, her cheeks rosy and her eyes bright. With one hand, she turns the chair in her direction, and the other caresses the side of Lawrence’s face. Then she leans in for a brief kiss, eyes fluttering shut, and pulls away looking as if every bit of love in the world is concentrated into one beautiful girl.
“I’ll see you on Monday, Lawrie.”
Monday, they hold hands in the common room. Ellie’s feet rest on the table, her legs extended, and Lawrence leans her head into the crook of her shoulder, exhausted from a late-night History essay she’d totally forgotten about it (too busy texting her girlfriend, not that she’ll ever admit that). No one bats an eyelid, the conversation focused on Joe Black’s completely against the dress code and yet fucking amazing new facial piercings. It’s not like this sort of affection is unheard of between them, anyway. It’s definitely not enough to cause a stir.
Just for shits and giggles, Lawrence plants a casual kiss on Ellie’s cheek. The room goes dead silent.
“You! Fucking whores! As if! You two!” Tayce splutters, whacking an equally astonished A’Whora on the arm, as if she could have somehow missed the spectacle.
“What the fuck! You just- Babes! Oh my god!” A’Whora squeals.
Bimini whoops obnoxiously, then flips the bird at a disgruntled group of fifth years giving them dirty looks. “Oh, piss off with your negativity, we’re celebrating young love, you should try not being a bunch of miserable virgins!” She calls over, before turning back to them. “Aww, bless yous!”
Ellie flips her hair and smiles. “Fuck out of our business, you nosy shites.
Lawrence ignores the funny feeling in her chest, dismissing it as a reaction to the sudden change of all their friends knowing about it, and deciding that it’ll go away once she’s used to it. She kisses Ellie again, just for fun, and wills it to settle down.
The art classroom has to be one of the weirdest spaces in the school, though Lawrence quite likes it. In one of the corners, there’s several twisted models of human bodies, contorted and stretched in a way that makes her back ache just to look at, all splattered with paint. Elaborate pencil drawings and smudgings of chalk hang from the ceiling, and everywhere she steps seems to be a hazard to someone’s work.
Ellie stands tucked up against the wall, a huge canvas in front of her. Lawrence remembers something about the art brief she’d come up with, a commentary on prejudice and hate represented in a way that conveys - okay, she doesn’t remember much. She likes listening to Ellie’s art rambles, but they tend to go in one ear and out of the other.
It’s okay, though. Ellie knows this, and she chats away happily anyway.
Two months of work have shaped the piece nicely; it distinctly shows two embracing figures from afar, and upon further inspection reveals thousands of carefully printed words to make up the image. The darkest parts read negatively, homophobic slurs and hatred and bullying, and as the colours lighten and transition into softer, prettier shades, the words themselves soften, becoming love, light, companionship.
Apparently, Ellie’s art teacher had predicted her a grade B for her efforts throughout the course. Lawrence thinks she should easily get an A*, but then what does she know? She always thinks Ellie deserves the best.
Ellie deserves the best. Her stomach twists just thinking about it.
“Lawrie!” She greets, arms flinging upon for a hug before freezing and pushing her away. “Oh my god, forgot about my paint shirt. Sorry, no hugs. Can’t have this all over your clothes,” She gestures at herself, her everyday clothes covered by a big white t-shirt that Lawrence suspects is her own, not Ellie’s.
“What the fuck is this, then?” Lawrence jokes, her sarcasm sharp as ever, arms folded as unimpressed.
Ellie immediately shoves her away and laughs, grabbing her forearm to stop her from going too far away and pulling her back in. “Hen, shut it! What do you think?”
“It’s fuckin’ brilliant, Ells, it’s really really good. I told you you should believe in yourself, look what happens when you do!” Lawrence cheers her on, the facade not worth keeping up.
She should kiss her. Ellie’s her girlfriend and they’ve been together for two months and this beautiful piece of art that she’s been working on forever and consuming all of her time is finished and looks absolutely fantastic. Lawrence should kiss Ellie and tell her how proud she is, show her how proud she is, love her the way she deserves to be loved.
She can’t. She doesn’t.
Instead, Lawrence clears her throat awkwardly and steps back, taking in the canvas again. “Yeah, yeah, really good that. I like it a lot.”
They perch on the table, legs swinging for want of something else to do. Not that anything extreme should be happening, but they’re completely alone and Lawrence thinks to herself that love isn’t meant to be this awkward, this uncomfortable, this unsure. No one is watching them and yet it feels like an invisible set of eyes is there, and they’re performing for someone or something.
Ellie reaches for Lawrence’s hand across the table, neither of them making eye contact - the safe zone is the canvas, and that’s where they remain. Their hands link for a few seconds, but both girls pull away at the same time, an uncomfortable energy claiming the should-be romantic moment.
“This is fucking weird,” Lawrence mutters.
“I- yeah,” Ellie agrees, sighing. “I’m sort of glad you said it because I don’t know if I would have been able to.”
Something sinks; the anchor falls from somewhere in Lawrence’s chest and the weight crushes down on her, pinning her in place. Every decision feels like the wrong one, every direction blocked off in an endless route of diversions that leads nowhere. Going back the way she came seems impossible, but forging ahead can’t be done either, and every alternative route is full of brambles and obstacles and ultimately doesn’t exist.
“I don’t really know what to say.” Lawrence shrugs. There’s about four inches between them physically, but the emotional distance could be miles. Lawrence and Ellie are in the same room, but on different planets. Solar systems apart, even.
Ellie coughs, hesitating, horribly unsure of herself. “I think,” She laughs, though mirthlessly, empty, “Maybe mum meant the person you date should become your best friend, not start off your best friend. ‘Cause this is weird.”
Heartache is at once cold and hot, it freezes and burns simultaneously, a sensation that Lawrence can’t properly register or explain. On one hand, this is exactly what she’s been thinking about, the only real cure for the weirdness that taints the air around them. On the other… she doesn’t even know.
Pretending to be unaffected, Lawrence is conscious of her face tightening and forces herself to relax, injecting a casual note into her voice. “You think?”
Ellie starts chewing at her fingernails; out of habit, Lawrence gently takes her wrist and pulls it away from her, before dropping it like hot coal and going red. Why does everything require so much forethought now? Why can’t they just sit with their legs hanging off a friendship bench until the world rights itself with brutal honesty and a complete lack of tact? Why now does Lawrence have to consider feelings and implications that never used to exist?
“I mean, I dunno,” Ellie shrugs eventually. “We were more affectionate before this, honestly. We’re just thinking too much about it and it’s making things weird. Kinda liked it better before.”
It stings, but at the same time of the sting, there’s a wash of relief. It’s not to say that the two feelings cancel each other out into a calm neutrality - no, Lawrence feels both concurrently, at once nauseous and healed, not sure where she stands. All she knows is that it’s ending and it’s probably a good thing, definitely a good thing, and it’s what she wants, and she also doesn’t want it at all.
“Yeah. Yeah, same.” She manages, mustering strength enough to agree.
“Well!” Ellie perks up, claps her hands, dispels the tension in the air as much as possible. “We gave it a go, it didn’t work, and now we know. I count that as a win. Thanks, Lawrie.”
She pulls Lawrence into a side-hug, mostly just wrapping her arms around Lawrence’s neck and shoulders and squashing her face into Ellie’s chest. At least they’re both in-tune enough to know how they should pretend, Lawrence fooling even herself into thinking she feels fine as she plasters a smile on her face and wriggles away again. On a surface level, everything seems fine again, and they’re both grateful for it.
“Love you,” Ellie tells her, eyes sparkling. “God, it’s nice to be able to say that without it being weird. You’re my best friend in the whole wide world.”
Lawrence raises her eyebrows, laughs, masks everything behind her funny friend demeanour. “Oh fuck off with that lesbian shite. Love you too, Ells, now don’t ever talk like that again. Best fwend in da whole wide wowld.”
Ellie laughs so hard she collapses, head on Lawrence’s shoulder, shaking with giggles. Once her fit comes to a stop, she pulls herself upright and grins sincerely, the very weight lifted off her chest happily deposited in the pit of Lawrence’s stomach. Ellie deserves the best and I just can’t be that for her.
“Anyway,” Lawrence starts, smacking her hands down as she hops off the table and makes to leave, “Your art is fab, you’re gonna nail this assessment, I’m glad all your whining was worth it. See you tomorrow, hen.”
It takes roughly an hour and half after receiving the news that it amicably ended for their friends to start making jokes the following day. Lawrence, as the funny friend, is at the heart of everything, firing off quips about how everyone makes mistakes and relating everything to silly miscalculations and swears that with each laugh, her heart heals itself just a little faster. She even convinces herself everything is fine, and it’s better this way.
Her sole relief is that her friendship with Ellie remains unchanged through it all.
University is an utter shitshow.
Every second of it is awful, nothing like she’d hoped, assignments that she consistently fails and snobby students with weekly budgets higher than her entire student loan and flatmates that she fucking hates. Worst of all, she hates her course, hates the professor, hates that she decided to do this while still freshly eighteen. Worst of the worst, she’s further away from Ellie than she has been since the first day they met, Ellie off in fucking Manchester of all places having the time of her life on a beauty course while she’s hating her life in Edinburgh.
Ellie doesn’t need a beauty course, anyway. She’s naturally beautiful and naturally good at enhancing it on herself and others. Ellie radiates beauty so much so that even the ugliest people seem to be that little bit more attractive when Ellie is around.
It’s not that Lawrence hates Edinburgh, anyway. The city is stunning, somewhere she could happily see herself spending the rest of her life. It’s a hub of culture and art and life, a niche suited to everyone somewhere within it. Edinburgh is gorgeous, but Lawrence feels like she’s wasting herself at this university being so miserable.
Not a single person she’s met so far laughs at her jokes. She desperately needs someone to laugh.
She ends up in a smoky little bar one night, some dingy little place that hosts proper comedians during the summer and vaguely funny wannabes for the rest of the year. On a whim, she writes down her name on the amateur volunteer list for a slot doing some stand up and chats some shite on stage mostly pertaining to the comments she’s gotten on all of her failed essays. Mercifully, people laugh.
Being the centre of attention is something Lawrence knows she’s always thrived at. Even when Ellie was her sole cheerleader, the one little pest who stuck by her side and always loved her, Lawrence was good at commanding favour from others purely from being a right character and a little madam and all of the rest of it. She’s bolshy, loud, unafraid to call people out in the name of a laugh. Stand up is enjoyable, and she wonders what it’ll be like when she has time to actually prepare real sets.
The logical next step is to drop out of university. It’s the best decision she’s ever made. Lawrence works shifts at the big Tesco and volunteers all her off time telling stupid jokes on a little stage until she’s eventually handed a small paying gig, not quite enough to stop scanning eighty-five year old Barbara’s fem-fresh on the weekly, but enough that she feels like she’s progressing. Life finds a way, she thinks. Then she tears her mind away from the hope that it really does find a way.
Hopefully Ellie visits from Manchester soon.
“Aye, alright then, what’s your name? No, not him, you in the fuckin’ heinous orange shirt and green khakis like a fucked up Oompa Loompa. You, what’s your name?”
Lawrence is twenty two years old. She’s known for a couple of things - the colour purple, her offensively Scottish accent, and being the most highly recommended local comedian in the entire city. Sure, there are bigger and better stars in the world of comedy, but as far as a fairly cheap night that doesn’t require booking months in advance, Lawrence’s stand up is a sought-after night for anyone visiting the area.
The fact that people book tickets for the nights she’s working now rather than stumble upon her and have a bit of a laugh at the glamorous fat girl ripping the piss out of the audience before them - that’s shocking enough. Weekends always need booking a couple of days in advance, and she even manages to sell out on weeknights now. It’s slightly less fabulous than it looks, her sparkly purple outfits a stark contrast to her shitty flat, but she loves everything about her life.
Loneliness is a slight issue. Everyone is busy all the time, except at night, when Lawrence is working, and she misses everything. The group chat is most active when she’s on stage; messages go unanswered when she’s sitting at home just writing. But she’s learned to be okay with it. She hardly even misses El- hardly misses everyone anymore.
Adults naturally drift apart, sometimes. Life is busy, and no one knows that better than Lawrence.
Besides, she’s hardly been in the mood for socialising, this week. It’s nearly Ellie’s birthday - that’s not why, just a fact that has been burned into her brain - and she’s finally been booked somewhere else, a much better venue than she’s ever worked in before. It’s bigger, more well known, and when the list of comedians that have performed their sets on there is revealed to her, she nearly faints.
But walking inside in a purple glittery pantsuit, hair all done, makeup slathered on, she feels like this is who she’s meant to be and what she’s meant to be doing. She’s rehearsed her new set endlessly, could recite it in her sleep, drunk, backwards, in alphabetical order, anything and everything. Most importantly, she doesn’t feel nervous. She can just play it by ear, read the room, and the idea of not having a totally solid plan doesn’t terrify her.
Lawrence trusts herself to make the room laugh no matter what. No bad for twenty fucking two.
The orange-shirt man laughs and mouths his name. He likely shouts it, but Lawrence can’t hear, so she lipreads.
“Sta- did you say fucking Stanley?” She teases him, frowning in horror. “I’m sorry, you’ve thrown me off, who the fuck is called Stanley in this day and age? I’m assuming Albert and Brent were already taken? Your fuckin’ brothers or some shite? Jesus Christ, you’re called fucking Stanley.”
The laughter is uproarious; someone near the front row has this god-awful titter, snorting and high-pitched and breathy, but the fact that they’re so entertained that they can’t control their ugly laugh makes Lawrence feel like she’s killing it.
She walks across the stage, shaking her head in disbelief. “I mean, we were on the topic of mistakes, weren’t we? Fuck me, your mum made one fucking hell of a mistake naming you Stanley, I’ll tell you that one for free.”
Stanley shouts something inaudible.
“Eh? Shut up, you lot, I’m communicating directly to Stanley now. This show isn’t about you anymore, pipe down and let me bully him for a bit.”
The audience cackles and goes quiet. Stanley repeats himself, “My mum’s dead!”
A ripple of gasps and laughs emanates from the audience, waiting for Lawrence’s reaction. She’s good at this - faking it while knowing exactly what she’s doing. She pretends to pause, freezing in place and sucking her teeth as if this has thrown a spanner in the works, and then shrugs.
“Killed by your dad for giving his son such a stupid fucking name, I imagine.” She replies flippantly, the thunderous laughter that follows evidencing a job well done. “Mistake after mistake. I’ll tell you, though, not to worry Stanley, or the rest of you lot I guess. I’ve made tons of mistakes.”
She launches into a favourite crowd-pleaser. It’s the perfect set up, an emotional moment of her life, the build up to telling her mum a crucial bit of information about her life, and them wham- she imitates her mum, screams “Niiiiick! Your daughter wants to tell you she’s gaaaaay!”
It’s the perfect intersection of a joke well told, a slightly sensitive topic, and a haha gay is funny moment that always ends with howls of laughter from her audience. Maybe she’s slightly overconfident, but being this good at twenty two feels like a fucking achievement, and she’s seriously proud of herself.
Her next story has been told so many times she hardly thinks about it anymore. It hurt at first, the first few times she told it, the chuckles just solidifying the idea of having fruitlessly attempted something that would never work, but by now it’s just a cringey look back on the past and a good opportunity for some pity, relatable laughs.
It’s not like it matters, anyway. They text sometimes, every few weeks probably, but Lawrence hasn’t seen Ellie since she came home for a week in her second year of uni. The ache is virtually gone, and she’s always had a knack for finding the humour in pain.
“See!” Lawrence finishes, spreading her arms wide. “Making mistakes is fine, hens! I haven’t seen her in about two years but that’s in the fine print and we all know no one fucking reads that. It totally won’t destroy the things you love if you take a risk!”
She grimaces as if grinning in pain, feigning a heartache that has long since left her. Lawrence is at peace with everything life has thrown at her thus far, something that has taken patience, hard work, and plenty of distraction techniques.
“Edinburgh, as always you’ve been fuckin’ amazing, I’ve been your favourite fat bitch Lawrence Chaney and this has been a waste of your time. Goodnight to you all!”
There’s something she’ll always find funny about naming her show A Waste Of Your Time. It’s so stupid and yet so perfect.
Once she’s off stage, she disentangles herself from the microphone and reaches for her water and her phone, both parched and interested to see if anyone has tweeted about her in the five minutes they’ve had leaving the venue. Instead, she glances at the screen and her heart drops.
Ellie Diamond [20.04pm]: Hiya slag!! Good luck with your show tonight, keep an eye out for a familiar face in the audience ;) xx
No, no, no, no, no.
Lawrence tears through the dressing room, out through the little back door, aware of venue technicians probably gawking at this flurry of purple sequins and panicked yells. She all but races out of the fire exit and frantically scans every passing figure on the street, her stomach churning and twisting horribly.
“ELLIE!” She shouts, more than conscious of how ridiculous she must look. “Fuck, fuck, fuck. ELLIE! ELLIE DIAMOND!”
She legs it further down the street. It’s Scotland, it’s night, and it’s fucking freezing, but Lawrence ignores the cold. The streets are mostly full of people ready for their nights out, heels clicking through puddles illuminated by orange street lamps, and here is Lawrence barrelling through everyone, desperately hoping to see a flash of pink amongst them all.
Her heart feels like it’s beating at a mile a minute, thumping so hard it could burst right out of her chest. In some sick way, she hopes it does, hopes to see the wet muscle glistening and bleeding on the pavement before her in the hopes that Ellie, dependable Ellie, always there for her Ellie, will rush to her aid and help fix everything.
Why would she, though? Why would she when she’s just sat and listened to Lawrence slander their poor attempt at loving each other and shrugging it off as if they’re better apart, distanced, no longer joined at the hip? It’s all a lie, it’s all a fucking lie constructed for stage that Lawrence has foolishly duped herself into believing until now. She really had herself convinced that loving Ellie was a thing of the past, and that she thrived best on her own, when in reality Ellie held the key to everything that Lawrence considered good and right and beautiful about herself.
Ellie, Ellie, Ellie. Where the fuck is Ellie?
In the midst of her blind panic, it hits her that Ellie hasn’t moved home yet, meaning she will have gotten the train into Edinburgh for the show. Pushing down the wave of guilt that engulfs her at the thought of Ellie’s endless support, she dashes across the roads, dodging buses and running like her life depends on it towards the station. She’s lucky it’s not too far from the venue, but there’s still no guarantee she’ll find her before the train sweeps her away back to Manchester or wherever the fuck else she decides to go to get away from her shitty excuse for a friend.
Everything that happens next feels like it’s solely fuelled by adrenaline, panic, and sweat. Lawrence vaguely remembers squinting at little digital times and place names until she found one that seemed right, her eyes so frenzied in their search for the correct platform that it’s a wonder she’s not arrested or phoned an ambulance on suspicion of too many hallucinogenics.
On her way down the steps to the platform, she’s going so fast that her foot slips and she crashes all the way down, embarrassingly unhurt besides the humiliation and a bruised arse, but it makes such a commotion that everyone on the (thankfully almost deserted) platform turns to look at her.
Including a tall, pretty girl with pastel pink hair tied in a curly high ponytail, big pink heart earrings dangling from her ears, and a surprisingly not pink, but lilac, minidress.
“Oh my god,” Ellie murmurs, just as Lawrence swears, “Fucking OW, Jesus in a fucking minivan!”
She looks hurt; perfect eyeliner smudged in the corners, as if she’s been blinking tears away, but in spite of that she giggles. “A minivan?”
“I don’t fucking know,” Lawrence curses, dusting herself off and huffing at what’s now an uncomfortably wet trouser suit and a myriad of bruises from arsecheek to thigh. “My life just flashed before my eyes.”
Ellie extends a hand to help her up. Lawrence takes it, and doesn’t let go.
“Lawrence,” She says uneasily, “I- my train’s in five minutes–”
“Fuck your train.” She responds, too achy and upset for nuance. “Ellie, I’m so sorry, you have to let me explain–”
“You explained yourself quite well on stage, hen.” Ellie cuts her off, sniffing. “You were very eloquent. It was funny.”
The flatness in her voice is agonising to hear. Lawrence thinks she might burst.
“You- I- I mean, fuck me. You must- you must know when I’m bullshitting, right? Hen, I’ve been telling this narrative for years trying to make myself believe it but you always could tell when I was lying about something,” She rushes out, terrified that Ellie’s train will arrive and she’ll disappear forever.
Ellie’s face crumples. She pulls her hand away from Lawrence’s grasp and as she sobs, hides behind her palms, as if her shuddering shoulders and heartbroken cries will vanish along with her face. The loss of contact is felt sorely, Lawrence feeling as though a piece of her is suddenly missing, and reasoning that a piece has been missing for a long long time, and she’s only feeling the excruciating loss now that she almost had it again.
Lawrence has never known what to do what someone cries. It just hurts and feels awkward and she’s terrified that this will be another day in the art classroom, hiding feelings behind smiles and waiting uncomfortably for something else to happen.
“I know,” Ellie gasps through tears, surprising her. “God- Lawrence, I- I knew you were lying but it fucking hurts that you’d give me this stupid hope that something could happen when we already know it’s the shittest idea either of us has ever had-”
Ellie’s still talking, but Lawrence tunes out completely as the two glowing eyes of the train approaching glare at her with a malicious intensity. Times up, Chaney. Life doesn’t always find a way.
Fuck that, she thinks. Fuck relying on life to fix everything. Life didn’t hand Lawrence her comedy job. Life didn’t hand her Ellie on a friendship bench. Lawrence applied for the job. Lawrence approached Ellie. She’s in control, she can take control back, and she fucking will.
The train draws closer.
Lawrence kisses Ellie.
Both of them are crying - the kiss is uncomfortable, salty, wet. Lawrence didn’t even know she was crying, but she’s so close to Ellie slipping through her fingers that it’s no surprise her emotions have run away with her. It’s been too long without her best friend, too long suppressing and ignoring and laughing it off, and if this is another mistake then she’ll add it to her stand up routine and move on, but she’s never been more sure of anything in her life.
The rest of the world disappears in the moments following the kiss. Their foreheads touch, and the only sounds are Ellie’s shaky breaths, the only smell is her sweet perfume, the only sensation is her skin against Lawrence’s. There are no trains, no passengers, no cold draughts sweeping through and chilling them to the bone.
There is just Ellie Diamond and Lawrence Chaney.
Reality, eventually, floats back in - just as the train pulls away from the station. Ellie looks at Lawrence.
“You made me miss my train home.”
“Hen, y’already are home. This is home, us, me and you. I’m shattered from pretending like that’s not the case.” She pauses. “No, actually. I’m fattered. Fat and shattered.”
Ellie laughs, and her eyes fill with tears. “Christ. Lawrence. I’ve missed you so much.”
Lawrence wakes up feeling suffocated. Upon closer inspection - she’s being suffocated.
She groans, low and tired. “Ells. Ells.”
The monster slumbers on.
“Ellieeeeee,” She groans again. “Move off me, you fat bitch.”
That one works. Ellie yawns, stretches, and slides back onto her side of the bed, rather than on top of her girlfriend.
“Rude,” She replies, voice thick with sleep. “I thought I told you not to mention the stone I’ve put on over Christmas.”
Lawrence snorts. “And I agreed not to, but you were crushing me to death. No more mince pies for you.”
Ellie buries her face in the pillow. “Yeah, ‘cause you scoffed them all.”
This is her favourite kind of domestic bliss. They will never be able to hold a conversation without delightfully destroying each other’s characters, but as they do so, Ellie wriggles the covers back over them and cuddles up to her back like a warm little leech, hooking a leg over her and pulling her close. Christmas is a flurry of making sure everything’s done but Boxing Day has time for slowing down, sleeping late, giggling against one another’s skin.
Lawrence isn’t sure how they made it work, what they did different, but they’re four years strong and hosting their friends for Boxing Day dinner to make up for the family fiascos that Christmas inevitably brings. Somehow, they just found their way, and now they’re here. Wrapped up in bed in matching Snowman pyjamas (thanks to Ellie), having some kind of family of their own.
Ellie flips over, lying flat on her back, and groans. “Lawrie, I can’t be arsed to cook.”
“Well I’m not cooking an entire fucking roast for everyone by myself, you lazy bawbag. We’re in this shit together.” Lawrence tells her.
Ellie shakes her head. “No, think about it. What if we ordered one of the readymade ones from that place up the road and then just stick it in the oven to pull out when whoever gets here first gets here?”
Lawrence stretches, enjoying the satisfying pops and clicks. “You mean, when Bims gets here? Tayce and A’Whora will be late, we all know that.”
“Yeah. Like, ta-dah, we cooked this, no one’s any the wiser, Bob’s your uncle’s fanny or whatever.”
“Bob’s- Ellie, what the fuck did you just say?”
“I am very, very tired.” Ellie defends herself, as Lawrence howls with laughter. “I’m not sure what language I’m even speaking hen. Can we just order dinner and be done with it?”
Lawrence is a weak, weak woman.
The prepared meal smells amazing, a fake chicken absolutely smothered in all the goodness of a Christmas roast, veggies all neatly packed together, everything steaming and hot. Ellie turns the oven on to keep everything warm and they high-five one another a job well done before scrambling to get ready.
Everything goes according to plan. Bimini, predictably, is on time, and A’Whora and Tayce show up late, flustered, apologies spilling from their mouths as soon as the door swings open. Lawrence tries to play housewife and reveal her perfect roast from the oven, but burns herself on the tray and sits swearing next to the cold tap while Ellie, smartly equipped with oven gloves, takes it all out instead.
“Oh, this is lush!” Tayce clinks her glass with Bim’s, the Bucks’ Fizz freely flowing. “Absolute bang up job, gals, just brilliant. And the atmosphere too, so cosy! Love the candles. Especially love the distinct lack of pointed homophobic stares.”
A’Whora laughs. “Oh my god, don’t even. Yesterday was a disaster.”
Lawrence frowns. “I’m sorry, are my looks not reading as homophobic? They were meant to. I’ll work on it, don’t you worry.”
The table is merry; Bimini asks if every dish is vegan despite being told in advance that everything was, Tayce and A’Whora rant about their nightmare families, and Lawrence basks in the warmth of having a real family gathered at her table, deciding it was worth the effort to get them all to come.
Plates cleared, Bims grins. “Ellie, you’re not one to forget, make sure you thank Gosling’s down the road for this roast. Easily a ten out of ten.”
Bimini, Tayce and A’Whora all burst into laughter. Ellie gasps, Lawrence folds her arms.
“How’d you know?” She demands, certain their ruse was foolproof. Bimini points at the bin.
“The delivery bag’s sticking out, babes. Also, neither of you can cook worth shit. Not a joke, just a fact.”
Lawrence smacks Ellie’s arm. “You fucking twit! Didn’t even hide the bag!”
Ellie yelps. “Lawrie! Abuse! Abuse!”
A’Whora simpers. “Aww, I love it when you two get all cute and affectionate like that. It’s such a classic romance.”
Four simultaneous middle fingers, though great for getting their point across, make the perfect bait for a night of teasing to fill the rest of the evening. These girls are absolutely rotten to the core, and Lawrence loves them to death.
“How did you know she was the one?”
It takes a moment for Lawrence to flip through her rolodex of memories that contain Ellie; god knows there’s millions, and though she maintains that thirty five isn’t old, she has to admit at least privately that her memory isn’t as quick as it used to be. Tayce gives her the time to think about it, eager to be sure as if she’s not one of the most cautious people regarding relationships that Lawrence has ever met.
The café is in the middle of the city, yet tucked away behind the high street. It’s become something of a sanctuary, somewhere for her to relax, to write, or just waste the hours where going home feels too far but staying feels too close. Tayce has been visiting as a show of support, but undoubtedly her second motive was a factor in it too.
“Hen, there’s not a moment I could tell you. It’s just a feeling, you’ll know. I think you know, but you wanna know if I knew the same way you know.” She answers, feeling like a bit of a cop-out, but unable to muster the mental energy to come up with something better.
Tayce sips her latte thoughtfully. “Yeah, I mean…” She pauses guiltily, but continues, “the thought of doing what you’re doing - I feel like I couldn’t, but then I know that if it came to it I absolutely could.”
Lawrence nods. “Right. When you have to, you just do. You don’t think about.” She smiles, internally focused on what happened that made her so swoony and sappy after all this time. “Babes, when you’re ready, just do it. You don’t need me to tell you how you feel. The fact that you’re asking is enough.”
It’s pretty fucking sound advice, not bad for a university drop-out turned full-time comedian. What expertise does Lawrence have beyond her own lived experience? Certainly not enough to advise someone like Tayce, who still looks twenty five.
The woman in question looks down at her watch and sighs regrettably. “I’ve gotta go. Want me to walk you back?”
Lawrence shakes her head. “Nah. I know the way like the back of my hand, trust me. Go get your girl, get them invites out as soon as you can.”
They embrace tightly outside the café door; Tayce whispers encouragement in her ears, presses kisses to the side of her head, wills her to be strong. Lawrence watches her until she’s gone, then begins the same walk that’s etched into her brain, a groove of familiarity at this point. She even knows where the wind will whip through separations between buildings, when to put her hands into her pockets to stop the rush of cold from attacking them and when she’ll be shielded.
She knows the exact placement of each hand sanitizer dispenser so well that she can press each of them along her walk without stopping or fumbling. She knows roughly who will be on duty, whose smiling faces she’ll be greeted by. She knows that Ellie will be awake.
“It’s looking good!” Ellie informs her, mere seconds after she’s entered the room. “Just spoke with the nurse. No longer than a month.”
She looks tired, but she looks beautiful nonetheless; free of makeup, hair piled up on top of her head, dressed in a pink nightie that Lawrence had to run out and buy from Sainsbury’s since she didn’t need nor want one of the horrible hospital gowns. There are tubes and machines around her bed that Lawrence has grown to take no notice of, instead just leaning down to kiss her wife’s head before settling in the chair beside her and squeezing her free hand.
“A month? I like the sound of that.” She appraises, peppering Ellie’s fingers in kisses. “Plenty of time for us to get ready for Tayce and A’Whora’s wedding.”
Ellie squeals excitedly. “Stop it! Are they?”
She laughs. “Not right now, but any minute. Tayce just asked how I knew, as if I’d be able to answer.”
“Bitch.” Ellie sticks her tongue out. “Still not able to find a single nice thing to say about me?” She laughs at her own joke and then frowns. “Rude of Tayce not to tell me about her proposal plans.”
Lawrence rolls her eyes. “Hen, you were fast asleep. She wasn’t about to wake you up for random gossip.”
Ellie pouts. “Tell her I’m upset.”
“And to reserve us the biggest slices of their wedding cake.”
“Oh, definitely gonna do that one. Knew I married you for a reason.”
Ellie beams triumphantly. “See! Stick that in your text to Tayce, having a wife is helpful.”
“I’d say you’re a handful more than you’re helpful, babes, but whatever you say.”
Lawrence promised years ago to love her wife in sickness and in health. She has kept true, and always will.
“If this DJ plays one more Lady Gaga song I’m going to fucking lose my mind.”
Ellie rolls her eyes, shushing her wife with a glare. “It’s the bride’s choice! You miserable old bitch.”
Lawrence looks at her, properly. She’s alive with light again, eyes like the starry sky, always complementing her prettily flushed cheeks with her pink hair and dress. Ellie bleaches her roots now to hide the encroaching greys, but Lawrence knows she’d be just as gorgeous with a full head of silver.
“I love you,” She says, the words slipping out before she can thinking about it.
Ellie smiles, and every problem in the world dissipates. “Sentimental old cow. I love you too.”
Fuck the brides. Lawrence kisses Ellie and promises she’ll dance to as many shit songs as the DJ will play. That’s just sort of what love is.
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Down with the Recipe, Bake from the Heart, 1/10 (Multi) - Juno
Summary: This year’s Great British Bake Off will see some baking for sure, but also a few surprises. Tayce goes into the Bake Off tent determined to bring the winning cake stand to Wales, along with a few Star Baker badges, but her attention may not be on baking for too long as she gets to know fellow baker Aurora, on the same row as her. And judging by the other contestants, Tayce might not be the only one focusing on something other than baking this season.
A/N: This is a DRUK2 group based on GBBO - there are a few ships! It’s also on AO3 with 12 chapters but I will post here with 10 for ease as the first two and last two will are being done together. No CWs for this chapter! I hope you enjoy.
PROLOGUE - October 2021
It had been Cheryl who had suggested a live react to the grand finale of this season of Bake Off, so the twelve finalists could all gather together, watch the finale, and then the winner’s reaction could be captured on film and put on the internet for the whole world to see. Cheryl hadn’t even been in the cast - she’d been on the previous season - but she said she’d become invested in the season and the bakers so much so that she hadn’t wanted to let them go yet.
And judging by the public’s reaction to her tweet about it, she wasn’t alone.
Pip had mentioned in their group chat that her sister had a big town house in the Wirral, and she’d offered to let them all use it as a base for their live watch. Channel 4 didn’t have anything purpose-built for them, and the filming location wasn’t available, so they’d all jumped at the chance. Plus, Liverpool served as a good mid-point for them all - it saved Joe having to go all the way to Dundee or Ellie having to go to Brighton.
Aurora had marvelled at the amount of space there was once they’d all arrived the previous day. The living room and dining area were one, with a dining table probably big enough to fit a couple of football teams at it; and the kitchen led into the room with an arched doorway. The kitchen itself was enormous too, in highly polished white surfaces that Aurora was terrified to touch with her probably-impure fingers
“Bit posh, isn’t it!” She’d muttered to Tayce.
Pip’s sister and her husband were staying away, and they had the place all to themselves - the twelve of them reunited, with just Blu and Cheryl for company, operating a handheld camera with the intention of sending the finale footage for Channel 4.
As three endings had been recorded back in June, with each of the finalists winning one of the takes, the actual winner’s reveal would be a surprise to all of them, including the three finalists, and ensure no slip ups from the production team.
That didn’t stop all twelve of them worrying. None of them had slept a wink, all of them keeping an eye on Prue’s twitter to make sure she hadn’t accidentally tweeted the winner again. But mostly they’d been together, reminiscing on some of the moments from the season that had made them laugh. All the funny moments, all the tense moments, and one or two viral moments loaded with innuendo.
Not to mention everything else that had blossomed in tandem with nature that springtime.
It had been quite a season. They’d started out as strangers, and now they were so tightly-knit that they hadn’t even entertained the thought that they would possibly be watching the finale without all of them in the same space.
Aurora swilled the glass of champagne that Joe had insisted on pouring for everyone, and watched all of the people she’d grown close to on the season, a peaceful atmosphere in the room as they waited for the finale to start.
Well, not all of them were peaceful. Lawrence and Ellie were being their usual loud selves, jousting with wooden spoons and shrieking as loudly as they ever did - but Bimini was utterly still for the first time since Aurora had met them, laid against Asttina’s chest as they both reclined on one of the sofas, while Asttina raked her fingers through their mullet; and Bimini’s eyes were closed, their lips in a sleepy smile.
Aurora felt familiar hands creep around her waist, a familiar chin rest on her shoulder from behind, and familiar lips at her cheek.
“I can’t believe it’s coming to an end now,” Aurora murmured, her thoughts escaping her unfiltered, as they sometimes did with Tayce at this close range.
“Well, it was never gonna be forever,” Tayce said into her ear. “But we’re all gonna be friends after this, aren’t we! The wonders of technology! Come into the twenty-first century, Rory. We have this thing called the internet, and group chats, and phones -”
“We’re not all just gonna be friends, though, are we?” Aurora replied.
“We’re all just besties, nothing more than that. Rory, I’m joking!” Tayce laughed at Aurora’s horrified expression. “All I’m saying is that this isn’t the end - just the beginning.”
“That’s so cheesy.”
“Yeah, but I’m right, you can’t deny that!”
Aurora let her eyes drift around everyone else in the room.
Tia and Veronica who had barely left their corner of the sofa, hands and legs wound tightly together, both with hearts in their eyes and bigger smiles than anyone else in the room as they chatted quietly, simply enjoying each others’ company.
Lawrence and Ellie, wooden spoons still in hand, making the most noise in the room in delighted laughter as they jousted with each other, almost knocking Pip over as she carried in another tray of snacks to lay on the dining table.
Bimini resting against Asttina’s chest as they reclined on the other sofa, Asttina still running her fingers through Bimini’s freshly-dyed mullet, both of them letting out a contented sigh in tandem.
“Yeah,” Aurora murmured, as Tayce held her tighter, “I guess so.”
WEEK 1: BISCUIT WEEK
Tayce grinned at the cameras as they panned around everyone. She’d given the interviewer her spiel about how much she’d always dreamt of being in the gingham tent and how excited she was to bring the winning cake stand to Wales for the first time in Bake Off history; and a surprising calm settled in her chest, nerves dissipating, at the genuine warm aura from everyone and everything in the room.
At least Tayce wasn’t in full view of the judges right at the front. That privilege was reserved for two people from London, both of whom looked right at home in front of the cameras, although their names were a mystery for now.
It was all very familiar from seeing it on the telly the last eleven years. Immaculate worktops with varnish that shone like glass; the tent walls decorated with bunting and flowers, and the pastel shelves and adorned with china cups; the multi-coloured KitchenAids ready to whisk, fold and anything else - Tayce’s was pure white, while the woman from Nottingham on the bench opposite her had a turquoise one.
Tayce chanced another glance at her; the tight-lipped smile showed a single dimple, and her long blonde hair was tied off her face, but her fingers drummed nervously on the workbench, and she evidently wasn’t as poised as the veneer she displayed for the cameras.
Tayce smiled to herself. It’ll be fun winning this thing.
Signature: 24 Iced Biscuits
The best bit of the show when it was on the telly was the banter between Matt and Noel. Seeing them in person, even from a distance away, made Tayce’s stomach bubble with excitement, and she had to cling to the workbench a little tighter to stay upright.
“Well, bakers, welcome to the gingham tent! Back for another season of Prue-Paul’s Baking Race!”
Prue’s sweet smile was complemented by her brightly-coloured glasses and sharp, matching blazer, while Paul’s cool stare lingered on everyone in the room a split second longer than they all would have liked.
“For the signature today,” Matt said, “the judges would like you to make twenty-four iced biscuits. The biscuits can be any flavour -“
“ - but should tell the judges a little bit about yourselves or where you’re from.”
“Where are you from, Noel?”
“Oh, you know, the moon.”
Everyone was laughing, even Tayce; although it wasn’t that funny - but the whole room was dancing with nerves by now, starting to become contagious from the people around her.
“On your marks -“
“Get set -“
Once Matt Lucas and Noel Fielding had declared the immortal lines to the room, everyone was scrambling for ingredients from their bags and the fridges.
Tayce was still cringing a bit at the dragon-shaped cookie-cutter her mum had found in some gift shop near the castle in Cardiff. She didn’t understand why tourists would be making dragon-shaped biscuits inspired by their trip to Wales, but for once she was thankful for tourists. Her friend Cara had customised it a little when she’d seen her a couple of weeks ago, by melting the tail with her lighter, elongating it a little, and extending the jaw and ears to make it look a little more ferocious.
“Can’t have people thinking you’re not breathing fire,” she’d said, passing the cigarette back to Tayce, “otherwise they won’t think you’re competition.”
And Tayce had nodded, holding smoke in her lungs half a beat longer than usual, wondering if she cared whether anyone thought of her as competition. After all, it was Bake Off. The last sabotage attempt there had been a national scandal the following day.
The most unproblematic, drama-free show on the telly.
Nothing was going to happen here.
“The judges are coming for you next,” one of the cameramen nudged Tayce out of her thoughts, just as she was measuring out her flour, causing it to fly upwards in a cloud “Just a heads up. Oh, sorry love.”
“Right, right.” Tayce nodded, brushing flour from her face. “What do I say to them again?”
“Just … talk. It’s the first episode. Show them your personality.”
“Personality,” Tayce repeated, nodding. “I’ve got oodles of that.”
“Great stuff. And don’t forget to be doing something bake-ey while they’re coming over.”
The cameraman dodged out of the way to make room for the medical team, running to help the woman in front of Nottingham, who had managed to slice her finger on something already.
“Here they are,” Tayce muttered to herself, taking a deep breath and straightening as the judges, along with Matt and Noel, came over to her.
Paul Hollywood was shorter than he appeared to be, and Prue Leith was taller, but nothing prepared Tayce for meeting either of them. Tayce held her breath for a split second, smiling somewhat mechanically to try to mask the sudden heat in her face.
“Bore da, folks! I’ve brought the weather with me!” Tayce beamed, indicating the heaving downpour of rain that was falling outside the tent; and they all laughed politely.
Tayce momentarily stopped concentrating on the judges and noticed the woman opposite her, turning to watch Tayce interact with the judges. And every time she was describing the perfect quality that her dragon-shaped shortbread biscuits would turn out, she seemed to slow her actions, looking up over at them.
The conversation was light, but Tayce could feel the calm authority of both judges before her, making words freeze on her tongue. It only went on for a minute or two, but Tayce was left feeling as if she should have prepared more.
Oh well. What’s done is done.
The ingredients for her biscuits were mixing slowly in the KitchenAid, the gentle whirr of the blades almost lulling Tayce to sleep as she sipped her cup of tea, before she took out the ball of shortbread dough and rolled it out to cut into biscuits.
“Your accent is so nice.”
Tayce looked up from her biscuits, to see the woman from Nottingham had come over, tucking her hair behind her ear, leaving her hand resting at the back of her neck to play absently with the strings of her apron. Up close, the dimple in her cheek was emphasised as a shy smile twitched at the corners of her mouth.
“Thank you!” Tayce stood to her full height. “This place doesn’t look like Barry Island yet but give it some time!” She leaned against the workbench, tossing her hair away from her shoulders.
“My accent is … well, it’s just … northern,” she continued with a giggle. “I’m Aurora, by the way. I’m so bad at names, I’m sorry, you’ve probably already said yours!”
“Don’t worry, I am too. I’m Tayce. And if I forget your name, well - yeah, same.”
Aurora’s gaze lingered half a second too long as she tested the name on her tongue.
“Tayce.” Her smile widened. “Nice to meet you.”
Tayce was terrible at names. She had no idea how she was going to remember who all eleven of these other people were, especially as one of them would be going every week - the pool of people getting smaller and smaller until Tayce would be remaining with whoever else was any good out of these lot.
As the day went on, she started to pick them up.
She had to learn Asttina’s for one, because Asttina seemed to know everyone’s name from the word go. Asttina was one of the two Londoners at the front, and was the only one of the group who had made a deliberate effort to come round to all their workbenches to formally introduce herself during the bake itself, her demeanour confident but her handshake gentle and light as air.
“Nice to meet you, Tayce,” she’d said, with a cool smile that reminded Tayce of a Miss World competition. “Looking forward to tasting all your bakes!”
She knew Pip’s name too, on the bench just behind Asttina, as she’d turned up in the tent wearing elf ears, claiming they were for luck. Everyone had been staring at her workbench, where she’d positioned a tiny blue handbag with a red circle in the middle, saying she took it with her wherever she went.
“I had a sesh with a psychic,” Pip explained to them all as a group of them crowded round her. “She’s a bit of a local celeb in Liverpool, Psychic Sally they call her, but - anyway, she told me to look for a sign in blue and red, said it was from me great-grandpa - and the same day I walked past one of those handbag shops on Paradise Street and there it was, in the window, 70% off!”
“Definitely couldn’t have been a coincidence, Pippa,” Tayce grinned, and Pip shook her head in agreement, but she had a mischievous glint in her eye and Tayce wasn’t entirely sure how serious she was about the whole affair.
Ellie’s name too had become familiar, because of the amount of times the show’s medics would groan it when she managed to hurt herself on something that episode. Ellie herself had been quiet most of the day, seemingly a little shy and evidently the youngest in the room; but she’d bounced on the balls of her feet at meeting Matt Lucas, garbling something about her and her brother doing all the impersonations as kids.
The soft-spoken woman in front of Tayce was called Cherry, and Tayce had found that out because she’d pointed it out to everyone when she put cherry flavouring in her biscuits.
“Does that actually, y’know, work as a flavour?” Tia had asked her when she was explaining it to them.
Tia was another name that Tayce knew, mainly because the woman was so tall and striking. She looked like she’d come straight off a catwalk and wandered into the Bake Off tent by complete accident on her way to London Fashion Week, happening to become covered in flour in the process.
Cherry had huffed. “I don’t know, but you eat cherry-flavoured things all the time! What could go wrong with putting it in biscuits?”
Tia grimaced. “Wait. Have you … never put cherry flavouring in biscuits before? Didn’t you practise at home?”
Tayce couldn’t help but feel a twinge of mirth as she watched Cherry chew her tongue, her cheeks flushing, but her jaw set obstinately. “I know what I’m doing. I can do this.”
“You haven’t even practised this bake? Okay. So how late do the trains run from here to Newcastle?” Tayce had asked Cherry, and Aurora had doubled over in wheezing laughter as Cherry had folded her arms.
“Darlington. Darlington, not Newcastle. And there’s been trains there for nearly two hundred years, love.”
That had just made Aurora laugh harder, clutching her stomach and shaking in silent giggles, leaning on Tayce as Tayce had led her back to her workbench and let her wipe the tears from her eyes before continuing with her biscuit dough.
That was the most important thing Tayce had learned so far in the tent. The woman from Nottingham opposite her was Aurora, and Aurora lit up the whole bench.
When the judges had stood with her earlier, she’d cooed about how much she adored baking everything for all her family - making fairy cakes for charity bakes for work, birthday cakes for her family, tipsy cakes for her best friends for their birthdays, or anniversaries, or whenever they were just feeling crap.
From the smile that she couldn’t hold back, Tayce knew that Aurora was the only person in the room who meant it when she said that she loved baking.
“One hour break, folks, and then filming starts for Technical, okay?”
The first bake was over, and Tayce’s shortbread biscuits shaped like dragons had gone down pretty well with the judges. She wasn’t sure if she’d had the best feedback, her nerves kicking in and blocking out most of the other contestants’ comments; but she thought she’d done enough for this round at least.
One of the producers herded them like sheep - or maybe cats, judging by how Ginny had gone chasing after a squirrel they’d seen - back into Norton Hall where they were all staying for the weekends while filming was happening. It was a huge, Georgian manor mouse with ceilings touching the clouds, far more halls than were necessary, and so many excessive bedrooms that each contestant had a room each.
Tayce had half-expected four-poster regal luxury as she’d opened the door to her own, twice the size of her room in her flat; but no such luck - it was furnished sparingly, and all the beds were normal. A small double, she noted. Not that she was likely to get lucky with these master bakers, but a woman could dream.
The floorboards creaked as she crossed the room and flopped backwards onto the bed, gazing at the ceiling, the elation sending a shiver through her skin as she realised again that she had made it to Bake Off.
The Bake Off!
They weren’t meant to change clothes between takes unless they’d made a huge mess with the food, so Tayce just retouched her eyeliner and went back down to the communal room, where most of them had gathered back in the group, polite conversations carrying on amongst relative strangers as they sampled each others’ biscuits.
What a surreal scene.
A group of almost strangers, half of their names unfamiliar, and she was meant to discuss baking with them all.
“Alright, babs?” She heard someone pushing a plate in front of her. “My name’s Ginny, Ginny Lemon, and if you don’t like lemon, well - just skip my biccies, alright love?”
“No, lemon is great,” Tayce forced a smile, taking one of Ginny’s biscuits. “Thanks hun.”
“You’re welcome! Which ones did you make - wait, I remember, the Welsh dragons?”
“Now how did you guess that one?” Tayce raised an eyebrow at them. “My mum’s idea, she was like, do it for the Welsh! So of course she found a dragon-shaped cookie cutter from somewhere. One of the tourist shops in Cardiff. Tourists love dragon biscuits apparently.”
“Oh I know love, I know - speaking of weird biscuits, have you ever tried a Worcester sauce biscuit? I don’t recommend it if you haven’t, but have you?” Ginny shook their head, tutting. “Tastes like shit! Waste of biscuit. Waste of Worcester sauce too, though. Anyway, Pip’s looking lonely without me. Nice to see you!”
And Ginny fled from Tayce’s arm, scurrying back over to Pip. Tayce tasted the biscuit, bracing herself for Worcester sauce, blinking with surprise to find it was actually pretty good, the lemon flavour really tasty, and finding she wanted another.
Most of the rest of the biscuits were arranged on a bench at the back. Tayce picked up another of her own and went down the line, eager to see which had depleted the most.
Gravestone biscuits were the biggest shocker for her - two different sets of biscuits were there, iced to resemble gravestones, mostly untouched - but Tayce politely picked up the better-looking of the two and found a lovely chilli kick to it when she tasted. But gravestones weren’t the only common theme - two different rose patterns were there, one set iced in different shades of pink, and the other with a deep red icing. The pink roses were almost all gone, and Tayce took the second-to-last one, enjoying the raspberry flavour, and grabbing one of the other roses to go.
Tayce peered around the room at the other contestants from her vantage point at the table. Most of them had dropped into twos and threes - with twelve people it was bound to happen - chatting amongst themselves, quietly and politely for the most part, although the two Scottish women in one corner were laughing as if they’d known each other for years.
Eventually, she joined Aurora, who was talking to someone whose white-blonde hair and pencil-thin eyebrows looked very familiar …
“Joe Black,” she said, extending a heavily-tattooed hand to Tayce, whose stomach flipped upon hearing the name.
“You’re - on Instagram, that woman -“
“My internet infamy precedes me, but in that case I hope so too do my bakes, and of course my sense of fun.” Joe’s voice was theatrical, her gestures affected; but her smile was warm, and Cherry looked as enamoured with her as Tayce was feeling.
“And who wins the biscuit version of the wars of the roses?” Joe continued, pointing down at the two rose-shaped iced biscuits on Tayce’s plate. “Lawrence, or Veronica? I must say, the amount that Veronica worried about her own bake, that time probably could have been spent thinking up a better biscuit flavour than rosewater, don’t you agree?”
Tayce glanced at Veronica’s biscuit, then up at Aurora. “Does it taste that bad?”
But before Aurora could answer, they were interrupted by “Alright, babes! How’s it hanging?”
The woman joining them had rich violet hair scraped off her face into a bun at the crown of her head, and an intense green stare. Tayce took the hand that was extended to her, finding a firmer handshake than Asttina’s, trying to follow the stream of words from this woman’s mouth.
“I’m Lauren, but you might as well call me Lawrence, that’s all Ellie’s been calling me all day, thinks she’s fucking hilarious, and I’ve not really met any of you yet because, you know,” Lawrence paused for breath, waving her hands, “baking contest, ooh I’m not here to make friends, et cetera, but now that we’re all here and we’re not baking right now, I thought I’d better find out who everyone is! Are you the one who made the dragon biccies?”
“That’s me, baby!” Tayce grinned. “Bore da, bitches!”
“See, I knew you were Welsh, and there Ellie was trying to convince me the dragon biccies were by someone who just really liked Puff the Magic Dragon, she owes me a tenner now - and you’re - oh wait, I know you!” Lawrence wagged her finger at Joe, whose expression didn’t change apart from the slow blink. “That Instagram video!”
Joe fixed Lawrence with a stare. “Yes, that Instagram video; I know that precedes me, but I hope by the end of this competition that can be eclipsed by my culinary skills.” Her voice still kept the throaty drawl, but Tayce was starting to sense her irritation at the association.
Cherry had already offered her hand to shake, and Lawrence took it. “Alright, I remember your name, because you put it in your biccies as flavouring! Where’re you from, do they grow cherries there?”
“No - I’m from Darlington.”
Lawrence blinked, frowning. “Darlington, near Sweetie-shire is that?”
“No, it’s near -“
“I’m joking babes, I’m joking! I know it’s - hey, hey Ellie!” Lawrence stopped to shout to Ellie, who had evidently reappeared. “Els! It’s not Puff the Magic Dragon! Where’s my tenner? Hey!” And she was gone in an instant, Tayce turning to watch her chase Ellie as she scurried out.
“Anyway,” Joe continued, motioning to Tayce’s plate and one of the gravestone biscuits, “I’m so glad you’re enjoying mine! I know my sense of humour is a little … ah, morbid, but I didn’t count on being one of two people with this bake, let me tell you that!”
Joe glanced over to the left out the sides of her eyes; Tayce followed her gaze to Pip, oblivious, making herself a cup of tea.
“She didn’t - like, you don’t think she -“
“Oh, no, not in a month of Sundays! But it’s a strange little coincidence, isn’t it? The viewers will love the drama!”
Joe opened her mouth wide to let out a violent cackle, a sound that might have made a shiver glide down Tayce’s spine if she hadn’t been mid-biscuit.
Technical: 8 Wagon Wheels
The Technical challenge was the first time Tayce felt her nerves return in a rush.
Everyone had identical ingredients and an identical recipe, but nothing prepared any of them for whipping the gingham cloth from them all and flipping the instructions over. Tayce ran her pencil down them, her head spinning.
On the first read, she recalled nothing.
She took one steadying breath, letting go of as many nerves as she could, and then ran her pencil back down the list, jotting down timings and a couple of notes. They only had an hour and a half; precision was key.
On her right, Aurora was fidgeting with her apron, twisting her hair around her finger, before grabbing as many bowls as she could from the drawers and setting them all down ready.
It almost felt like more pressure, rather than less, having no judges in the room - just Matt and Noel, and they couldn’t really interact with the bakers at this point, mostly just talking amongst each other and having to film occasional silly quips for the television interludes.
You’re not gonna get this finished if you keep looking at Matt and Noel!
So Tayce mentally blocked out everything and anything around her, not taking her eyes off her workbench. Instructions, ingredients, whisk, repeat. Oven, timers, filling, cooling, done.
She barely remembered anything else that happened in the room.
As she put the last wagon wheel on the tray to take to the front, she wiped her brow, took a swig of tea, and then heard the immortal lines.
“Bakers! You have one minute to go!”
Tayce looked around the room. Tia, three desks ahead, was looking flustered, covered in flour from head to toe - a difficult feat when you were six feet tall - and Veronica, just behind her, was rounding the corner to help her move the biscuits over to the tray one by one as she spread on the jam and marshmallow fluff. Bimini, who Tayce was sure had finished about ten minutes earlier than everyone else, was doing the same thing for Asttina, leaning over her workbench and talking soothingly to her as they both moved biscuits around.
On the other side, Ginny was rubbing Pip’s back, trying to help her load wagon wheels onto the tray but only succeeding in knocking the handbag to the ground. Ellie broke two of her wagon wheels by dropping a palette knife on them, her squeak causing Lawrence to turn from her bench and put her hands on her hips.
But Tayce felt an unexpected wave of relief when she saw Aurora finishing her own biscuits right on schedule, stepping back with a sigh, rolling her head and her eyes to the ceiling.
They had to bring the biscuits to the front table, and put them behind their respective photographs for blind judging. Looking at the other biscuits on the bench, Tayce nodded to herself in satisfaction. She definitely wasn’t the worst. The photos were all a blur, but there was definitely one disaster, chocolate and marshmallow oozing; Ellie’s broken biscuits; and another tray with a biscuit missing.
It was easy to breathe a sigh of relief for herself.
“Just get into any order,” the producer said, pointing to the stools that had been set in front of the table, “but don’t sit directly behind your photo. Otherwise it just looks obvious.”
Tayce’s biscuits were second from the right, so she bunched towards the left, and found herself between Aurora and Joe. Joe had pretended to trip over her feet while carrying her own biscuits up, cackling gleefully at Veronica’s pained expression as she watched. Veronica, mercifully, had sat as far from Joe as she could.
Aurora was breathing rapidly next to her, and Tayce gave her a nudge with her knee.
“Chill girl! Relax! It will be fine!”
Aurora nodded, but said nothing, focusing on trying to breathe at a normal rate once again. Tayce could practically hear her heart hammering. She nudged her again playfully, and Aurora nudged her back, taking a deep breath out and seeming to calm from then.
Once Prue and Paul were back, Tayce grew a little sleepy. The judging went on for much longer than on telly, and tent was hot from all the baking and warm bodies, plus Aurora’s knee jogging rhythmically was enough to make her feel a little drowsy. Her biscuits were second to last, and Tayce wasn’t really focusing on any of the other critiques as they went down the line, not even those of the two women on either side of her.
She hated tents. They reminded her of camping. This one wasn’t like any of the camping tents, propped by firm wooden walls and decorations but it still reminded her of trips to the Gower when she was at primary school. And thinking of the Gower made her think of day-tripping to Tenby, where the air was hazy with salt and fresh fish, and the sea was far too cold as they skimmed stones, watching them bounce once, twice, three times …
A nudge at her side from Aurora brought her down from her reverie; blinking, Tayce saw the judges had reached the biscuits behind her photo, looking up expectantly to see who would claim them.
Oh, yeah. It’s the Technical, and I’m here to be judged.
She raised her hand, realising that she’d been in a dream so long that she didn’t even know what place the judges had called her for.
“Tayce - good flavour, biscuits had a good crunch, and the chocolate has set well; it just wasn’t quite filled enough.”
Nodding and smiling, she waited for them to move on to the next person before she leaned over towards Aurora, muttering from the corner of her mouth “Where did they put me again?”
But before Aurora could answer, Paul spoke up. “And in second place, we have -“
“You came third, you bitch!” Aurora whispered, her mouth open in awe, and she looped her hand into Tayce’s and squeezed. “How do you do it? You always look so put-together! Not like - Miss Second-Place down there.”
Tayce glanced at Veronica, right at the end of the line of bakers on their stools, whose hand was raised to claim second place. She was nodding earnestly at the praise, but she still wasn’t smiling, her lips tight and her other hand still quivering a little in her lap.
“That means that first place goes to - Asttina!”
But Aurora hadn’t let go of Tayce’s hand, and Tayce was suddenly more aware of that contact than whoever the winner was, even as she slowly drew her hand away for the polite applause that followed.
“Where did you come?” Tayce asked her in a whisper.
“Seventh. Not great. I over-baked them a little bit,” Aurora shrugged. “I’m never gonna be good at technical.”
“Congrats on coming top of Technical!” Tia clapped Asttina on the back as they came back into Norton Hall, and Asttina responded with her winning smile.
“Thanks, babe. I thought you all deserved a taste of what I can do!”
There was a collective amused murmur around the other bakers at Asttina’s slightly smug tone. Tayce grinned, staying silent for now, wondering what the others would have to say to that.
“Oh, there’s more to come, is there?” Tia continued.
“I should hope so.” Asttina licked her lips. “From all of you lot as well.”
“There’s no need to be cocky,” Veronica said, the first time any of them had really heard her speak. Veronica was tiny, with blonde hair and a nasal voice that was louder than any of them had expected; most likely feeling the sting of coming second.
Asttina shook her hair back. “I’m not cocky, Veronica, I just know what I can do. Read the CV, it’s all there! If you want to win stuff, you need to know yourself. Do you want to win?”
“Does the Pope shit in the woods?” Veronica retorted.
It was Tia’s snort of laughter that started them all off, diffusing the vague tension creeping into the room. Asttina’s laugh was only drowned out by Veronica’s as she realised what she’d said.
“Is the Pope a Catholic, does a bear shit in the woods … I know, I know. I mean, yeah, I definitely do want to win.”
Asttina shrugged. “Then there’s no point being modest about what you can do. Let your bakes do the talking!”
One of the producers came in at that moment, motioning for them all to come round, and they all bunched together.
“Alright folks, the day’s filming is done, we’ll begin tomorrow at nine sharp for the Showstopper challenges. Until then you’re free to relax and have a nice time - please don’t go into any areas marked as Private, and no excessive drinking, but otherwise, have a good night!”
“Thank you!” They chorused, clapping for some unknown reason, as some of the staff rounded up the leftover biscuits and cleared them away.
“The filming crew get them,” Veronica explained to Tia, “I asked earlier what happened to them all because I knew we wouldn’t be able to eat them all.”
“You know what this means?” Cherry said, addressing them all from on top of one of the sofas. “This is the last evening we’ll all be together. Let’s all cheers to the cast of GBBO!”
She pulled a bottle of something from her bag, and the rest of them grabbed a mug each, sharing out the gin Cherry had brought, and bringing all their drinks together in cheers.
Showstopper: A gingerbread sculpture of a place that makes you nostalgic.
The Showstopper was about as broad as you could get. Everyone seemed to have something different in mind. Bimini and Asttina, on the two front benches, looked as poised and confident as they had all the previous day; and Asttina, buoyed by her Technical challenge win, puffed her chest in pride.
Tayce had practised her gingerbread over and over, but nothing prepared any of them for being in the tent, where the pastel colours and the novelty of the bright, friendly conversations started to switch to a competitive edge.
Especially after the Technical, where they had all been ranked. Having a number against your name now, combined with a vague grade against the Signature challenge, meant the Showstopper was the be-all and end-all for some of them.
That was it Tayce thought to herself, as she watched Aurora’s grim determination pass her face every second.
And she wasn’t the only one.
Cherry, on the workbench in front of her, had come sixth; but she’d been much quieter all morning, concentrating on reading and re-reading her instructions, tapping her pencil against her chin and growling frustratedly every now and then.
Ellie, wearing a pair or Pip’s elf ears, was doing even worse. Being ranked eleventh had done very little to ease the nerves she had displayed the day before, and her morning had already started with another blue plaster on yet another finger.
But Aurora was the only person Tayce was concentrating on. Something about the way she’d held her hand … and Tayce was far too quick to let her mind run away without her, thinking it meant anything, when obviously it probably didn’t.
“What are you doing?” Tayce called to Aurora over the chatter of everyone else around the room; but Aurora didn’t reply, her tongue running over her lips as she surveyed the mess that was the butter and sugar mix before her.
“Aurora?” She asked, making her way to stand by her behind the bench.
Aurora was still silent, but the noise from the bowls and KitchenAid she was using spoke volumes for her without her needing to say a word.
“D’you want a cup of tea?” Tayce asked her eventually, waiting for the curt nod from Aurora before sprinting to the tea station, in a tent outside.
When she got back, Aurora had moved up to Ellie’s workbench, and even though her back was to Tayce, she could see her shoulders shaking and Ellie’s hand rubbing her back, before offering her a can of the Monster she always had to have, the label covered in masking tape to escape product placement.
Tayce approached them both to comfort Aurora too, but as she did, cameras zoomed in on all three of them. Aurora pushed them both away and walked out of the tent, covering her face.
Ellie looked from the camera to Tayce and then back again, confused more than anything, and Lawrence, turning from her bench, looked back at them all with a frown.
“What’s going on here? Is she alright?” Lawrence pointed to Aurora, who was busy wiping her tears away in the far corner, with Matt Lucas at her side and a camera in her face.
“No,” Tayce muttered, “and she won’t be while there’s a lens on her.”
After that, Tayce kept half an eye on Aurora as she baked. She mostly ignored the cameramen as they hurried around the tent, taking stock footage of them cutting gingerbread shapes, using their ovens, and decorating, but Tayce purposely kept her mouth tightly closed, and her expression firmly neutral.
As Noel called for ten minutes remaining, Tayce was finishing the detailing of the roof of the stadium. The band were meant to be playing biscuit instruments and there was meant to be a crowd, but Tayce had settled for calling it a backstage pass moment, where VIPs could meet them, and just made models of herself and her friends.
“Time is up! Bakers, step away from your bakes!”
Noel called time, and Tayce took a step back to properly admire her finished product - and really, she was blown away by her own bake. The gingerbread houses she’d made in practise had gone alright, but this one, even in the pressure cooker environment of the tent, had gone almost perfectly, down to the timing of the bakes.
“Wow,” Tayce whispered to herself, “week one is done!”
She took a few seconds to admire everyone else’s in the tent. Some were much better than others. Joe’s looked a little strange - she’d meant to do a wedding scene with the gingerbread church, but the roof was crooked, and the gravestones falling over, not supported by the sticky sugar mixture they’d all used as adhesive. Cherry’s ambitious building was incomplete, and Tayce didn’t even know what it was meant to be.
But Asttina’s was incredible - a beautiful beach scene with a model of a beach hut and even a Ferris wheel. Ellie’s technical slip up was definitely repaired by the pub she’d built, adding fondant banners inside and making the dull gingerbread colours come alive with her imaginative take on the icing outside; while Lawrence had made a theatre, melting jelly babies to create beautiful stained glass in the windows, something Tayce kicked herself for not thinking of.
They all had a chance to leave the tent for a break, to sit outside in the shelter, and to have a breather before the actual judging of the bakes was done.
“I don’t envy the judges,” Joe said, her drawling voice awed, as she took in all of the gingerbread houses from their vantage point outside the tent. “They definitely have their work cut out for them, don’t they?”
“Everyone did amazing,” Aurora nodded, “it’s just a case of who did less amazing. D’you reckon they’ll just take this into account, or the whole weekend?”
Tayce didn’t know why she was worrying. Aurora had come middle of the pack in technical, but had been praised for her Signature, and her gingerbread house - modelled on her Nan’s, she had said - was so prim and dainty that Tayce knew the judges were going to eat it up, and not only literally.
“It won’t be you, chillax!” Tayce reached to rub her hand.
“Who d’you reckon it will be then?”
“Well, they tend to take into account the numbers assigned at the Technical challenge, and the Signature comments, to make the first analysis, at least,” Joe chuckled, “that’s what we see on the television. Who were the bottom three for Technical? I was tenth, Ellie was eleventh, who was twelfth again?”
“It’s - erm,” Aurora pointed, but the name escaped her for a second. “Tia. Tia was twelfth.”
“It’s probably between the three of us, then,” Joe said brightly, “unless something goes … horribly wrong to one of the Showstoppers. And how likely is that?”
As they looked through the panels of the tent, one of the gingerbread houses collapsed into pieces onto the tray it was set on.
Tayce glanced around the other eleven bakers to see whose it was.
One of the bakers had her head in her hands, shoulders tensed, while the two people on either side of her hugged her tightly.
“Seriously, Joe, how did you make that happen?” Aurora’s voice was hushed, tense, after the award for Star Baker and the first elimination had taken place.
Joe’s eyes widened as she shook her head. “I don’t quite know - maybe it was just something, spoken into the universe, made to happen.”
“Or maybe it was just gravity and shitty caramelised sugar sticking it all together,” Tayce added.
“Yes,” Joe replied, “or that too.”
Joe, Ellie and Tia had all survived their stint in the bottom at Technical - but Pip, who had come ninth in Technical, and whose Signature had received mediocre feedback, had laughed behind gritted teeth at presenting her collapsed gingerbread house - “More of an Ikea house,” Paul had commented cheerily - which had ultimately turned out to be too hard to bite into and had sealed her fate. Not even the lucky elf ears saved her from the first elimination.
“I was so sure I was going home this week,” Aurora sighed later that night, back at Norton Hall, where everyone had eaten so much of each others’ gingerbread houses that they all felt ill.
“You wouldn’t have, yours was good!” Tayce rubbed her arm. “Relax! It’s done now. Just focus on next week instead.”
“And I can’t believe Prue said she’d like to try a bit of carpet when they were looking at Ellie’s pub,” Aurora said, shaking her head. “Did anyone else catch that?”
“Yeah, I did!” Tayce sniggered. “They’re so innocent! This is just gonna be a load of innuendos all season, isn’t it? Imagine what they’re gonna say for next week too.”
“Oh, yeah. It’s cake week, isn’t it?” Aurora seemed to perk up. “That’s a bit more my comfort zone.”
Suddenly the door opened, and Asttina was led back inside the area by the cameraman and a producer. Everyone broke into applause - this time genuine, not the muted, polite sound that had echoed round the tent in the technical. Asttina had just given her winner’s interview and called her family, and now wore the Star Baker badge proudly on the lapel of her jacket, her grin wider than the Cheshire Cat’s.
“How did your mum react when you said you were Star Baker this week?” Bimini asked her.
Asttina smiled the warmest smile any of them had seen all weekend from her at the mention of her family. “They screamed so loud that you probably all heard it in here. My mum was falling off the sofa, my dad was waving a wooden spoon, my brother was banging on the floor with his feet - oh, it was great.”
“Well-deserved, babes,” Bimini nodded, and Asttina pulled them in for a hug.
Everyone else was clamouring around Asttina, congratulating her on her Star Baker win this week and admiring the badge she’d won - biscuit-shaped, or at least cookie-shaped - but Tayce hung back, exchanging a glance with Aurora, a glint in her eye; and both of them knew what the other was thinking.
Let’s not cross Joe Black. She might make our Showstoppers crumble.
ELEVEN BAKERS REMAIN
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Think someones drunk
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Bimini Bon Boulash
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