A student cook and bus-ad major mix it up to create a Ya-Ya box.
| "Honey, hand me the sugar, will you?” Ann purred to Tony, who was standing beside his apartment pantry.
He grabbed the Domino sugar bag, gamboled to the kitchen table, and playfully stroked his lover’s back. “Sugar, will you hand me your honey?”
Ignoring his humor, Ann gave Tony a quick cheek-peck, while swiping his mischievous hand away with a grin while thinking, I hate his groping. “Not this granulated sugar. The one I brought. The confectioner’s sugar … over there! … The bag of powdered sugar on the second shelf.”
“Oh.” Tony muttered. He was smarting more from her physical rejection than his ignorance. He tracked his route back to the cupboard and retrieved the indicated box. Returning behind Ann, he flashed to a vision of a sexual position that they had imitated once from a book Ann had brought over. He couldn’t recall the title of the book—Kama Sutra? Perfumed Garden?—it didn’t matter to him at the moment. He wanted to steer her into the bedroom now and imitate the pictures in the book, whatever its title was. He ground his hips toward her, while suggesting, “Aren’t we, you know, going to mix up a hot batch now?”
“Your homemade sex recipes. Aren’t we going to try another position this afternoon?”
“Tony, sweetie, do want my help on this project or not? We’ve got to get moving on it now.” She blushed slightly with the thought, I need to leave early. “This batter needs time to set up.”
“Okay, chef.” He attempted to hug her. “But, you know, ‘nothing says loving like—’”
“—forget it, bub.” She dodged him. “Maybe later. We’ve got to get this done today so it’ll be set by Monday.”
“Gotcha. Later.” Denied a “Like a Mare” opportunity, he felt like a gelded stallion.
“Are you sure you don’t mind baring your soul to my class?”
“Nah, it’s okay. I don’t mind,” Tony fibbed. He was reluctant about exposing his life to Ann’s culinary school confections class. She had invited him once along to her class and he had seen how her mostly male classmates acted around her. He hadn’t liked the way she bantered with the fellows, nor had he cared for the suggestive way the men teased her. He had no scruples about sharing his personality assignment with his seminar buddies, but he was having second thoughts about exposing his life’s display to Ann’s horn-dog bench mates.
Both had agreed to share in the afternoon project: Tony wanted to add pizzazz to a required business class project and Ann told him she wanted to get extra course credit in a confections class. Near the launching of the project, however, Tony wanted to scuttle their compact. Can’t we just play?
The couple had met accidentally at a Sugar Bowl party hosted by Tony’s college fraternity. About to graduate with his management degree at the end of the school year, Tony had been practicing his networking skills that would be a valuable attribute in a corporate career. He had been regaling a fraternity-alum executive with a swaggering rendition of some anecdote, when he gestured too broadly and accidentally splashed his beer on Ann, who had been carrying a food tray through the crowd. Her cooking-school class had been contracted to cater the affair with any array of their experimental refreshments.
Tony had been smitten with the diminutive server and the aspiring chef had been attracted immediately to him. Their chance meeting had led to several months of casual dating and weekend tantric exercises that their busy scholastic lives had allowed. Their relationship was entering its fifth month, and Tony wondered whether they would move to another level.
He was ending his collegiate career and he was exhausted from his studies. Ann would complete her program by the end of summer. They had discussed the possibility of a partnership: a restaurant that she would operate while he tended to its business angle. But, that may have been pillow talk.
Tony had grown tired with a student’s lifestyle that had included fraternity bashes and endless bar-scene mating games. He figured that he might commit to a permanent girlfriend: Ann perhaps. He sensed that his transition into a business life might be easier if he were supported by a long-term union with the right woman. He considered that Ann might be that person. Yet some things nagged at him; he had his doubts.
He knew Ann was flirtatious. He had witnessed that in her culinary class. She was like a gypsy moth that Tony was unable to keep near his burning light bulb. He suspected that other men might have designs on her. Ann worked part-time at La Maison des Sucreries, a pretentious and mediocre French bistro run by a former Calvin Klein model. Ann had mentioned the owner’s name in passing, Jeeves, Hives, or something like that. Tony’s suspicions deepened after one night when he had shadowed Ann to work. He had witnessed their behaviors in public that struck him as more intimate than merely professional business contact. Tony had chewed on a slice of jealousy that night. Then too, after sampling the menu, Tony thought the place should be called Le Château de les Crêpes. Tony didn’t understand Ann’s attraction to that pancake eatery. Despite his jealousy and doubt, his emotions compelled him into doubling his efforts to capture Ann.
He sometimes had measured Ann as marriage potential. But he usually concluded that, since Ann was such a beauty and a tease that, as a wife, she might inflict more emotional traumas on him than he currently suffered. They hadn’t seriously turned their discussions toward marriage. They both seemed too young and inexperienced for that commitment. Tony had judged from Ann’s indifference that she was not about to order their wedding cake. Maybe we should end this, often crossed his mind; but he enjoyed sex with Ann too much and he thought she relished him as well.
Ann was determined to excel in her courses and to finish her certification. She realized she would never achieve Cordon Bleu status, but she resolved to run her own restaurant—or better yet, to latch on to an established moneymaker like Ives LeCroix, the owner of the restaurant where Ann worked part-time. She cared little for men generally and was intolerant of their foibles. She had considered that males were only good enough for an occasional romp—when she desired one. Ann was single-minded in her pursuits and how she could manipulate men. Tony, for instance, was merely a passing fling for her. She often deliberated, How can I ditch Tony? But the harder she tried to desert him, the more intensely he would cling to her. Even though the couple had talked about a restaurant partnership, her career plans did not include Tony—she had designs on Ives LeCroix. She considered that Tony’s shadowbox project might be just the item to impress Ives.
“So, I’ve got the ingredients here: eggs, almond paste, and confectioner’s sugar. Let’s check on the equipment.” Ann configured her work area as efficiently as her pastry instructor had advised. She was a bit leery about working with Tony, whose kitchen skills were limited to burnt toast and instant coffee. He is so clumsy and inept, she thought as she tied up her apron. She lacked patience to for a slow learner. “Okay, I’m ready with this. Let’s go over your design. What is this thing again?”
Tony spread his sketch on the table. “It’s called a Ya-Ya box.”
“Yeah, yeah, a box.”
“No, that’s what it’s called: a ‘Ya-Ya box’. I need to construct this thing for my management seminar.”
“Describe your project to me again—slowly. I don’t want any surprises after I start working with this mixture. It looks tricky—intricate—but, if I handle it correctly, I’ll wow my pastry teacher.” She grinned while thinking, This will knock Ives’ socks off.
“Remember in grade school or someplace when we had to make a shoebox diorama?”
“Well, this box is supposed to be decorated to show two sides of me: the outside is how I think people see me and the inside is how I actually see myself.” Tony looked into her intense green eyes. He sensed she was listening but not quite grasping the theory.
“So, it’s some kind of psych therapy thing?”
“Yeah, I guess, sort of a therapy. It’s supposed to open up my personal estimation and unlock a deeper consciousness to make me a better manager, according to my professor.”
“Oh.” Her look was dismissive.
“And when you mentioned how you were making figurines out of frosting, I thought you could really help me elevate my project beyond what my classmates would do out of magazine clippings or papier-mâché.”
She studied the sketch diagram. “It’s doable. I’ll figure out what I need. I can make it work.”
“I’m glad you’re helping me.” He moved to embrace her. “Thanks for making this maxipad stuff.”
“Marzipan,” she snapped and danced away from Tony.
“Yeah, I know; I’m just teasing you.” He jammed his hands inside his jeans pockets and slouched. “It’ll be a tasteful marriage.”
“Marzipan is an ancient baking receipt. I haven’t used it on such a large construction before. But, I’ll make my pastry instructor proud, you know?” Ives will be thrilled. “I’m glad we thought of it.”
“Well, you know, it’ll be a kind of sardonic pun. I heard that most of my classmates are merely painting or pasting decorations on shoeboxes. That lacks imagination, doesn’t it?” He noticed Ann’s slender foot at the end of her five-foot-four frame tapping the floor.
“Yeah. Well, I’m sort of pulling my prof’s leg on this assignment. Once you’ve finished, I’ll have a sweet, visual metaphor. You see, there’s a business concept called the ‘Marzipan Layer.’ It describes those managers who function beneath the top executives. You know, those subordinates who function under corporate partners, bigwigs, or nabobs and who do all the work unnoticed. The Marzipan Layer consists of those employees who keep a business glued together like a cake’s marzipan filling helps hold its shape.”
Tony noticed Ann nodding slightly in understanding. “Anyway, the term sort of describes me: a marzipan layer. So, this’ll be a kind of visual double entendre. I just thought it’d be a hoot to twist another business concept into my Ya-Ya box assignment.”
“You mean you’re not going to start your own company or be key-man in some big corporation?” Her eyebrow arched with her thought, You slacker.
“I don’t know, sweetheart. Wherever destiny leads me after B-school will be all right with me.” Shrugging, Can’t you take me the way I am? “Hmm.” Ann shook her head in disapproval. “Well, I think I get this Ya-Ya thing. Okay, let’s start.”
“What should I do?”
“Just stand there—but out of my way.” Ann began separating and measuring the ingredients. “Oh, no. Damn, I forgot. Tony, go and measure out another cup of water—then fill a bowl with water, will you?”
Following her directions exactly, Tony brought her eight ounces of water, which she immediately stirred into her dry ingredients. He returned to the table with a water bowl filled to its brim.
“Not that much,” she scolded. God, what a dunce! Looking into his wounded blue eyes, she gulped, “I’m sorry. I did say ‘fill a bowl,’ but I meant you should put just enough water in a bowl so I can rinse my fingers or douse the dough. I’ll need water when I sculpt the marzipan.”
He grinned and stood watching her across the table.
“I’m going to make double batches to start. We’ll need to firm up the miniatures once they’re done. It might help to refrigerate them. Do you have enough room in your fridge?”
“I’ll look.” He rearranged his refrigerator and hoped it met with Ann’s approval. He stood behind Ann and stared at the blue bandana that wrapped her auburn hair and ogled her tight jeans that wiggled under her apron. As she moved from side to side from one ingredient to the next, Tony envisioned how he might use her waggle to distract themselves with “He-Goat” position that they had tried one time.
Encouraged by lusty thoughts, Tony moved his five-foot ten-inch frame closer against her body in a comfortable cuddle. She didn’t protest as he put his hands on her shoulders. “Can I help?”
“Nobody’s going to eat this, right?” She kneaded the mixture.
“Right. I don’t think so.” He scooped a finger of the mixture, playfully smeared batter on her neck, and then licked it off.
She giggled and shrugged. I’ve got to get going. “Okay. Here, why don’t you—?”
Ignoring her protest, Tony moved his hands over her shoulders, along her arms, and into the batter. His naked fingers plunged into the batter and wrapped around her plastic-gloved hands to join in her kneading. Just like that scene in Ghost, he mused. Their soggy physical contact aroused another of Tony’s body parts.
Geez, he’s horny. “Not too hard, sweetie. This mixture shouldn’t be over handled.” Ann whisked around—arms in surgeon stance—and faced him fully. “Okay, this batch is done.” She kissed him lightly and began to fashion a couple of figurines with the marzipan. While forming objects, she examined Tony’s diagram. “Now, as I see your sketch, this box only has five sides, right?”
“Yeah, I think so.” Tony nestled beside her and, with one arm draped over her shoulder, studied the sketched plan with her. “The bottom will need the strength of a plate, or a platter, or whatever we use to contain the box—maybe a cookie tray. Anyway, you can see that I’m using this shipping box, not a shoebox, see? So, there should be enough room all around the space to include these scenes, right? I mean each partition should have figurines about—what—one to three inches tall? And you said that you can glue more figures on the outside, right?”
“Sure, I can fasten them with toothpicks or tubes; seal them with piping gel or gum-tex in fondant. But this box needs a stable bottom, you know, I need to strengthen the whole box—have some footing for your figurines. I’m pretty sure that a good slathering of fondant can fix that. I brought a can with me but there’s not much left. I might need more almond paste, though.”
“Well, if making all these little figures and stuff is too much trouble, I’ll just use cardboard cutouts.”
“No, no; I can create these miniatures. No problem.”
“Great.” He kissed her forehead.
“But I do need more ingredients. I’ll need more eggs, sugar—powdered sugar—and almond paste. See if you have any pastry or paint brushes. And, do you have any food coloring? I didn’t notice any around; but then, I’ve been concentrating on the batter. I really should mix the color into the batter; I hate to do painting or filigree work. Oh, yeah, and I’ll need more toothpicks and a lot more clear wrap.”
“I’ll get more,” Tony sighed as he grabbed his keys to leave.
The Saturday shopping crowd allowed Tony plenty of time to assess their joint effort. While he waited in the checkout line with his purchases, he realized that his plans for a leisurely—even romantically interrupted—afternoon were thwarted. What Tony wanted to be a frolicsome adventure, Ann had whipped into some feverish obsession to impress her cooking teachers. She’s awfully anxious to finish our project. He felt isolated from his own designs.
While Tony was at the market, Ann called the restaurant on her cell phone. “Pronto, Ives?” Ann intoned in a sultry voice, speaking her rudimentary French. “Oui, mon cher”. She tittered as she listened. “I can be there. Oui. By eleven thirty? Certainement, mon énorme, ensueur cheval,” she continued her amorous chat with her boss.
While carrying the grocery bags back to his apartment, Tony’s head bowed like a beaten plow mule. He plotted how he might salvage some play time with Ann. This afternoon had not been the bonding time he had imagined for them. He began stressing about his assignment deadline that lacked production as his own product. He feared, too, that if Ann’s skills failed, he could lose a girlfriend as well as gain a failing grade. On the other hand, if the day’s work became utterly ruined, he judged he could salvage his Ya-Ya box in crayon and cardboard before Monday.
As he climbed the apartment steps, Tony wondered why Ann seemed in such a rush to finish the project that afternoon. They would have another day. I don’t trust her. With his next step, he realized he was disappointed that she was acting distant and distracted. Another step, he loathed the way she was so unresponsive to his sexual overtures. Maybe she is just a semester squeeze. One more step, he was tired with suffering bouts of her rejection laced with intermittent waves of jealousy of her. Standing on the landing, Maybe I should just dump her.
Ann heard footsteps. “I’ll see you then,” she murmured before signing off. “Au revoir.”
Scuffling at his apartment door, Tony thought he heard voices inside. Who’s she talking to? When the door opened, he saw Ann hide something under the towels. Puzzled, he asked, “What’s going on?”
Ann smiled—a guilty smile, Tony thought—and leaped off her chair. “Oh, nothing, sweetie.” She snooped through the shopping bags that Tony placed on the counter. “Good, you got everything. Now, I’ve been thinking about your sketches here. I want to make the murals in three dimension, you know, like this sports stuff on the one side—I can fix it so it sort of pops out of the wall. What do you think?”
“But, some of these inside figures. Are you sure you want this? What is it? Is this a penis?”
“Tony, I’m not going to make that.” You randy old goat.
“Oh. Well, let me think of some other way of displaying my private sexual side to the public.”
“Damn, Tony.” Ann had been emptying the bags. “You forgot the paint brushes. Now how am I going to color the marzipan?”
“We’ll think of something. Hey, how about Q-tips?”
“Argh. That’ll be messy; but I’ll make it work.” Ann huffed back to her work. “Right now, I’ve set the walls in fondant and I’ve got some of the marzipan miniatures finished. What is this? It looks like a casket.”
“It is. That’s when my dad died while I was in grade school and how people thought I was so brave to endure family life without a father.”
“And what’s this? A football?”
“That’s going to go on my athletic tableau. People always thought I was such a jock since I played so many sports. I wasn’t really that good and I hated pain. But people thought I was very athletic.”
“Why is there a tree inside here?”
“That’s the elm I fell out of when I was eleven and broke my arm. That was a turning point for me because I learned to become ambidextrous and I began using both sides of my brain.”
“Okay, let me get started. I want to hurry before this batch hardens too much.” I’ve got to leave soon. “I hope the wall’s strong enough. I think I’ll roll it out thicker—unless you think I should …”
“No, no. Whatever you think you need.” Tony watched her for a while. His amorous attentions cooled; his visions of Kama Sutra evaporated. Restless and frustrated, he strolled into his bedroom to watch Discovery Channel.
Six hours, one Chinese take-out carton, and a nap later, Tony ambled into his kitchen. Ann, humming softly to herself, was finishing the slide-away portion of the box’s roof.
“There you are. I’m done. It turned out great, don’t you think?”
“Uh, yeah. Great.”
Ann stowed the almost-finished diorama box plus a cookie sheet holding extra miniatures inside the refrigerator. She sniffed her T-shirt. Damn, I stink. “Listen, sweetie, I’ve got to run. I need to clean up. I want to get my camera and take some pictures of this thing when it’s completely finished. You’re not going to move it or touch it, are you? I’ll need it for my class by eight o’clock on Monday. You can have it back in time for your afternoon class.”
“Okay.” A new stratagem popped into his mind. He thought they might squeeze in the “Splitting the Bamboo” position or some quickie. “Ann, it’s terribly late. Why don’t you stay the night? You’ve been working hard all day and I’ve been waiting to reward you. Let’s just go to bed now and—”
“—I’m too pumped right now, Tony. Besides, I promised my boss I’d help him at the restaurant tonight. He’s going to show me practical ways of menu organization, inventory control, and business records. You understand, don’t you?”
“At this hour? On a Saturday night?”
“You bet. Ives is closing early tonight.” He can’t wait for me to get there. “So, the customers will be gone.” And so will most of the staff. “It’s the best time for him to give me his full attention. I’ll call you tomorrow. See ya.”
After a brief good-night peck, Ann scampered off.
Tony locked the door behind her. His mind’s eye played an imaginary scene of her late-night rendezvous in the restaurant. He projected that, if he had the owner’s model-looks and money, together with his own current sexual desires for his beautiful girlfriend, he wouldn’t be taking inventory of vegetables or canned goods; he’d be inspecting Ann’s luscious bodily goods. Tony’s jealousy spiked. I’ve got to get off this roller coaster.
Before turning off the kitchen lights, Tony opened the refrigerator door and examined his Ya-Ya box. He felt alienated. He knew he should have insisted on working more closely with her on his personal display. He had allowed her too much artistic license. The icon of his personality was now a confectioned fantasy. What has she done to my life?
He pulled out the box to inspect it. On the funeral wall, his father’s coffin looked like a sleeping fisherman in a rowboat. His gridiron performance in the sports tableau seemed like a beach-bum’s Frisbee toss or a gymnast’s ball dance. Tony had sketched his parents, siblings, and intimate friends—even a neighborhood bully—that he had wanted to be pinned along another outside border. He knew his sketches were mostly impressionistic; but in Ann’s marzipan miniatures, each head had become a mottled and unrecognizable abstract.
He examined the figurines more closely. His saw that the designated elm tree had been transformed into a meaningless holly bush. The teachers, music instructors, and other counselors who had influenced his life had been changed into nothing more than anonymous, candied lumps. His montage of books, movies, and other creative inspirations that had impacted his life had become distorted, under Ann’s skill, into a colorful hodgepodge of Halloween candy.
The structure was well-built, elegant, and very colorful. He admired how Ann had splashed colorful swatches on all the walls to blend the box into consistent, glistening garishness. Tony applauded her confectionary craftsmanship. Ann probably would gain high marks from her instructors for her creation: Ann’s Mardi Gras trophy. This was not his Ya-Ya box. What is she doing in my life?
Tony realized that their joint project had disintegrated into Ann’s masterpiece. Her diorama hadn’t captured the poignant points of Tony’s life the way he had planned to display. He sensed that she had revealed herself. It’s time to change. She could keep this fiction, he figured; and she could continue to make more of them on her own—without him. Ann would simply disappear as a marzipan memory.
Tony shoved the box back into the refrigerator. He calculated that he had more time to complete his assignment. As he switched off the overhead lights, he nodded in resolve to build his own Ya-Ya box—alone.
# # #