Chantilly was the reason you'd decided to apply in the first place. She was the prettiest Acara you'd ever seen, powdered sugar white with periwinkle eyes, and she was sweeter than sunlit honey in the summer.
You were in the bakery to buy your angered sister a few pastries to prevent her from kicking you out within the month – you lived with her, then, on the outskirts of the plaza while you searched in vain for a job. You were twenty-two, a year out of school, with a degree in economic sciences that wasn't helping you get anywhere. You were smart but you were a mess, a blundering fool of a blue Kyrii who could run into the side a twelve foot-wide doorway if it ever arose.
She was at the counter, having already worked there for a few months, gently explaining to a young Gelert that he could not buy an entire pound cake with a few hundred points. He looked so downcast that in her sympathy she gave him as much cake as she could with the amount of money he had on hand and said she'd save the rest if he came back within the day.
He thanked her profusely and left with a third of his precious dessert, leaving the both of you alone in the shop.
You had never been good with girls, but this was a different matter entirely. Your heart was beating so fast you truly believed it would leap out of your chest at any moment.
When you reached the counter you were unable to do anything but stare until she smiled and asked how she could help you.
A—a genoise, you stuttered, glancing down at the display case – your tongue tripped over the foreign word. And a couple of puff pastries, please.
She reached for the tongs and while she was placing your requested confections in a small white box with the words Augustin's Pastries in flowery print, your eyes darted around the room so that you were looking at anywhere but her.
There was a small whiteboard leaning against the cash register, and this was what your eyes were upon when she pushed the box towards you and added up your total.
We're looking to hire, she said when she saw where your gaze was directed, as she tapped the buttons on the register with delicate fingers. You should apply.
You said nothing, but the offer stayed on your mind even after you left and your sister had been appeased.
Less than a week later, you finally had a job.
She was named, of course, for Chantilly cream, while your own name came from castor sugar. You often wondered if the both of you had been hired for your names and nothing else – in her case, it could have been for an array of other reasons, from her unfaltering pleasantness to her inherent hardworking tendency; you, on the other hand – no one in their right mind would take you in, inept and incompetent as you were, to work around something as fragile as pastries. But Vincent was as down to earth as a Lutari could get, and so you second-guessed your causes for employment multiple times, settling on your name when you noted his partiality to pets with pastry titles.
You were not dumb. You knew what he and Marie thought of you – you saw them roll their eyes when they thought you were not looking, heard their exasperated sighs as you left the room. You were merely the too-clumsy delivery boy, leading cause of all lost profits, stammering, stumbling tornado who couldn't walk two steps without tripping over his own feet.
But they kept you, out of growing love and pity, and you stayed because of her.
When Marie was at the counter and you were not in the truck, and Vincent was too busy baking to pay heed to anyone, you watched Chantilly frost cakes. She was a master of not only the icing bag but fondant and modelling chocolate too; she was best at buttercream roses and sugar flowers. She could decorate anything you put in front of her, Chantilly Bourbon, whether it was sponge cake or pound cake or a two-ton steel anvil.
She talked to you while she frosted, and you listened, nodding often, commenting rarely. Out of the few who worked there, she was the only one who you felt genuinely liked you, but you could never be sure because it always seemed like she genuinely liked everybody.
You never grew particularly close. She was nearer to Vincent and even to Marie than she was to you. But you were sort of all right with that. You were fine with her just knowing your name.
The Xweetok – her name was Madeleine – came three times. You remember each visit with clarity, because her arrivals were the most dramatic happenings in the bakery and even untainted, pure Chantilly could not resist the urge to whisper to you about it. Marie seemed oddly distant after she first turned up, and so you were the recipient of all the gossip, though you did not trust yourself to return any observations.
Vincent was undoubtedly head-over-heels in love with the girl, wonderstruck every time she appeared. He paced the kitchen often in between her visits, and dropped a lot of eggs – there was a serious decline in the request for the lighter pastries for a while, so often were bits of shell and membrane found in pets' desserts.
Mid-February was when she first arrived, and you remember because it was the day after Valentine's: you had nearly drawn up the courage to ask Chantilly to dinner and after getting cold feet, you were feeling miserable.
She returned a few days later again near the end of March.
The third of April was the day Vincent walked out.
You found her leaning against the still-empty display case that morning, staring in a sort of vaguely composed panic at the set of shop keys in her paw, her eyes wide and shining. It was Vincent's copy, you noticed, spotting the miniature Lutari Talisman clipped to the ring.
Castor, she said, fumbling with the keys and pulling herself upright when she finally noticed you standing there, cap and scarf still on and your fur windswept from the weather. Sorry. Sorry – it's just that. I... um... I'm not quite sure... what to do.
The confusion in her voice was strange to your ears, the sight of her puzzlement an oddity. You asked her what had happened, troubled by her incongruity.
She told you the story, how she had discovered Vincent with red eyes and matted fur sleeping against the door – he had stumbled towards the kitchen, almost lifeless, stared into it for a few seconds and then after asking her if she would like to own a bakery, pressed the shop keys into her paws and left.
You listened, baffled, and asked her what this would mean – for the shop, for you, for her.
I suppose this means I own it, now, she had answered and the two of you just stood in silence for a while.
You'll stay, right? she whispered, almost inaudibly, after a time.
And the words were out of your mouth before you could stop them.
For you? Always.
She stared at you, and in mind-numbing fear you could not think. Then she smiled.
Marie was late, as always. By then she was mostly back to her normal self, but when she asked Chantilly where Vincent was and for a second time she related the tale of your employer's departure, the Usul clasped a paw to her mouth and you heard a muffled scream.
I've got to go, she said, her voice high and shrill in rising hysteria. I have to leave. Now.
Chantilly yelled after her as she made for the door – it was the first time you'd heard her raise her voice – and dropped a bowl of rising dough in the process. She did not stop to pick it up; she raced after the pink blur that was Marie and the two sprinted down the whole block before she lost her. You watched, your head peeking out from the shop door, and you saw the hopelessness in her eyes as she turned around and trudged back.
What was that all about? you asked when she was once again inside the shop, and she just shook her head. It doesn't matter. We've got pastries to make.
It did matter, you knew. Co-workers did not just flee their job screaming and then never turn up in the land again.
You never did find out why Marie left. You asked only twice more after the incident – she would not give you a proper answer and you gave up, sacrificing that one mystery's solution so that you did not have to see her guard go up, hear the agitation in her honeyed voice.
When you began receiving applicants to fill the now abundant empty positions, they remarked that Augustin's had been around for years and never had they seen so many employees leave at once – and most had never even been inside the bakery without Vincent in it. The display counter was nearly unrecognisable without the blue Lutari.
One young Kacheek by the name of Chiffon, whom you ended up hiring, questioned as to where the 'rude one' had disappeared. You truthfully answered that you wished you knew, and she said – and this struck you – that perhaps her past had come back to haunt her.
She would not give you further explanation. And that was all you ever got out of your inquiries.
The disappearance of so many at once left a gaping hole between Augustin's and the rest of the world, one that was filled in time by the light of Chantilly. Sometimes you still felt like that same dumbfounded Kyrii in the center of the bakery, watching her in star-struck silence while she merely went on being her -- but you became more, eventually. Both of you did. You realised this long after it had come to be, when you noticed that people no longer called you by a single name. The two of yours had simply become inseparable: Castor and Chantilly.
It was that, and that was all. And there was far more you never came to know, but you did not need to – you had Chantilly, always.
And that was enough.