Sunday after church, Milli rushed around the Anemone making sure everything was ready for her to be gone. The only orders she had for the upcoming week were for Mrs. McConnell’s infused cookies and a regular spice cake, and a ombre rose cake for the Women’s Auxiliary meeting, then Tiana’s birthday cake the day after she got home.
“Milli, come on, you’re going to miss your flight.” Molly practically yelled at her as she helped Aunt Elizabeth out to the Minivan.
“Are you sure can manage things, sweetie? Emily is quite a handful,” Elizabeth asked.
“It will be fine, Auntie Elizabeth, you have fun in New York.” Molly grinned. “The princess and I shall hold down the castle.”
Milli reminded her about the two bakery boxes, “Those are your grandma’s cookies and a cake, and the cake for the Women’s Auxiliary is in the cooler. Remember, don’t eat the cookies.”
Molly’s smile faltered. “Thank you for telling me. I didn’t realize you were still baking for the Dispensary.”
“Only for certain clients, and honestly, it is such a hassle having to have a separate certified kitchen, I might quit just to not do the paperwork.” Milli huffed.
Auntie Elizabeth laughed. “Oh pish posh. You love being able to comfort and heal people with your baking or you wouldn’t be taking on the cancer patients and training Big Ed’s bakers.”
“I just wish Grandma had told us,” Molly said sadly.
“I wasn’t supposed to tell you, it violates HIPPA. I’ve never discussed a patient with anyone, but when you almost ate one of those cookies, I was afraid for the baby. Please Molly, you can’t tell that I told.” Milli begged. “She’s in remission, it will be over soon.”
“She didn’t tell me because of Garrett.” Molly nodded, her voice sounded like she wanted to cry. “Milli, I think I am going to call your therapist. You and Lalani are right, being this depressed can’t be good for the baby.”
Milli reached over and squeezed her hand for a moment before gripping the steering wheel again. “Molly, you’re a strong and loving person who lost a lot. You’ll make it through this. I know you will.”
Elizabeth tutted. “There are no women stronger than Pagosa women and our darling Molly is from five generation of Pagosa women.”
Molly nodded as she wiped her tears. “Thank you, Auntie.”
Lloyd stopped at the Wild Anemone on his way home to check on Molly and Emily. Milli wasn’t there. She had taken Elizabeth with her to New York to film some cake contest show. Molly had declined bring Emily to his house, preferring to stay in Milli’s house so Emily could stay in her own room. Molly asked him to take their grandmother’s treats to her since he lived on the opposite side of the homestead from their grandparents.
Driving out to the Rocking M, Lloyd wondered what the real reason was that Molly wanted to stay at the Anemone and not with her kin. Molly had begun pulling away from the whole family since Garrett’s death. The cake and cookies on the seat next to him filled his truck with the smell of Milli’s baking. He reached into the bakery, lifted the top of the box of cookies and pulled one out. The cookies smelled like apples, molasses, and spices, he shook his head amused at the holiday green frosting. Ms. Elizabeth had always been Christmas crazy and he guessed it was rubbing off on Milli. The cookie was soft and tasted different from the ones she had given out for Halloween.
Lloyd knew Milli and Elizabeth were making plans to decorate the Anemone as soon as they got home from New York. They had already Carlo and Jorge hired to do the Christmas lights. Chewing a second cookie, he tried to figure out the flavor. He felt relaxed and happy as he ate a third one. He swung wide onto the drive up to the houses. His head was starting to swim, but he shook it off as being overly tired. He had work from midnight to noon, and it was nearly 4PM. He just finished munching on a fourth cookie when he parked in front of his grandparent’s house. The steering on his truck seemed very loose, and he mildly wondered if perhaps his power steering or alignment needed to be checked.
Opening his truck door, he stepped out with the bakery bag and almost fell down. Everything was spinning like he was drunk, but instead of being alarmed, he laughed.
“Lloyd, honey, are you okay?” His grandmother was staring at him shocked. “Have you been drinking again?”
He unsteadily staggered toward the porch, “No, Grandma. I was hungry. I ate four cookies and I’m still hungry.”
“You ate four of my cookies!” Fern rushed down the porch and wrapped her thin arms around him, helping him up the steps. “Oh, Lloyd. How could you?”
“I’m sorry I ate your cookies, Grandma Fern. They’re Milli’s cookies, so good and... and she even frosted them green for... for Christmas.” He staggered and sagged against her.
“Humphrey Lloyd McConnell! You keep walking.” Grandma Fern ordered him, as she guided him to the living room. She managed to get him to the couch before he collapsed and began rambling.
“I love you, Grandma. And I love Milli’s cookies, and don’t tell Milli, but I love her too. I really think I do and I blew it. She only wants to be friends forever, and I’m never going to get to kiss her again ’cause I thought she was fu*cking Jackson.”
“Lloyd, language!” She scolded as she dialed 9-1-1.
“Sorry grandma,” Lloyd looked remorseful, before his eyes rolled back in his head, as he passed out he heard his grandmother tell his Aunt Ruby.
“Send an ambulance, Ruby. Lloyd overdosed.”
A/N: Accidental Cannabis Exposure resulted in a 300% increase in pediatric and adult visits to Emergency rooms across Colorado in the first year alone. Cannabis is a plant, but it is also not harmless in elevated doses. Accidental exposures happen when adults and children do not realize that cookies, cakes, brownies, candies, and teas contain Leaf Marijuana or Canna-butter or Canna-oil. While, as a cancer survivor, I support its use as a medical treatment, I believe that it should be carefully controlled and that Canna-Green should be the norm used to differentiate infused edibles from other foods.
Lloyd opened his eyes slowly; his head was pounding. and his stomach felt like he had been punched repeatedly. He had an IV and heart monitor. Feeling around he hit the nurse call button. He was surprised when Tank and his grandfather came in.
“What happened?” Lloyd asked, his voice was weak from his throat hurt.
“You had your stomach pumped, son.” Dr. McConnell explained.
“Deputy, all you have to do is ask for a day off, instead of overdosing on cookies, even if they are Ms. Milli’s excellent cookies,” Sheriff Tanner chuckled.
Lloyd’s head was still foggy, “I don’t understand. How could I overdose on cookies?”
Dr. McConnell looked very concerned. “It’s our fault, Lloyd. We asked Ms. Milli to make the cookies for Fern while she was on chemo.”
Trying to raise up, he couldn’t seem to find the strength. It was like he was too relaxed to move, and his mind too muddled to make sense of what his grandfather was saying. Turning to his grandfather, his voice was emotional. “What are you talking about? What was in those cookies? Why does grandma need chemo?”
“Easy Lloyd. Fern is going to be fine, she’s in complete remission and only has one treatment left. Ms. Milli has been making medical cannabis cookies for her. We asked her not to tell you kids because we found out a day before Garrett died and we didn’t want to add to your woes.” Dr. McConnell tried to explain.
“What happened to me?” Lloyd demanded, “I barely remember getting home.”
“You ate the equivalent of 16 doses of medical cannabis. The doctor pumped your stomach, because it was so much. You’re going to be sore for a few days. And I’m sorry but even though it was an accidental exposure, I still have to put you on leave for a week.” Tank explained.
Lloyd gave a curt nod. Part of him wanted to rage about it, but there was nothing he could do about it now. So, he focused on getting answers because his grandfather had not completely answered his question. “What is wrong with Grandma Fern?”
The show filming was chaos as usual. Milli and nine other chefs stood waiting for the theme to be revealed. Steampunk at Midnight. The At Midnight cake in Milli’s sketch book would work for style if she replaced her usual filigree and paisley with fondant gears. Nodding, she rushed over to begin mixing a champagne-flavored white velvet cake with absinthe cocktail creme filling. The flavor based on a popular steampunk cocktail called Death in the Afternoon.
The cake was baking. She began rapidly rolling fondant and cutting out the shapes of gears and polishing the cut-outs with pearl or metalic luster dust. Next, she made a copy of the front of the clock that sat on her Auntie Elizabeth’s mantel from modeling chocolate. A camera man walked around her filming close-ups of her hands as she painted the delicate swirls and numbers on the face of the clock.
As Milli assembled the cake, a host came over to talk about the design and taste a nibble of the cocktail-flavored whipped frosting that would go under the fondant and a slice from the small sample cake for the flavor test. By the end of the day, she was putting the third part of the theme together; Lady in Top Hat and Black Orchids. She made a corset-like a top hat for the top layer to go with the steampunk theme, before adding the required flowers.
The cakes were taken away to be held in a cooler for the next day’s filming. Some of the cakes were flamboyant, while Milli’s had a more traditional shape but she hoped the flavor would carry her to the second round.
Milli and Elizabeth went to one of the famous restaurant for dinner with the three decorators and the assistant producer, Marcus. They were all laughing boisterously over Auntie Elizabeth’s colorful tales about New York back in her day, and the attitude she was giving the maître d’ about the changes to the old Tavern on the Green. The 105-year-old Elizabeth had been there the year it opened. Milli slipped away down a hall to call Emily and tell her goodnight. Turning to look back at the Crystal Room, it was a beautiful view.
The next morning, Milli and Elizabeth had breakfast at a lovely bistro with pre-depression art deco architecture. Elizabeth told how it used to have a speak easy in the basement. The pressed tin ceilings and wood work reminded Milli of the Anemone. As they got in a cab, Milli saw Mitchell’s father opening the door of a limo. He stared after Milli as she hunched down in the back of the cab, Elizabeth looked behind them.
“Do you want to tell me why you’re hiding from Mitchell’s father?”
Milli looked startled, “Mitch’s father?”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes, “I may be old, but I’m not blind. There is no way that man could deny his son. You can sit up now.”
“It’s not Mitch’s dad, it’s his dad’s boss. I just don’t want to get called on to bake for the Valtini family while we are here. I don’t work for them anymore and I’d like to keep it that way,” Milli insisted.
“And?” Auntie Elizabeth’s eyes had a fierce intensity Milli had rarely seen.
“And Marni had a few of the Valtinis as clients, one the week she got pregnant.” Milli confessed.
Elizabeth nodded, “I take it the gentleman in question in unaware that he may have fathered a child?”
“Yes, and we need to keep it that way. He’s the one who bought Roxie,” Milli whispered.
“I see. Well, then you shouldn’t let the producers tell the location of the Wild Anemone or say that you opened a bakery. Perhaps it is time to give your dream a new name for what you children called cyberspace?”
At the studio kitchens, Milli laughed with Marcus about Mitch trying to hook them up, before the host judge interviewed her. They filmed the first and second rounds of elimination. Milli made it to the final five before she was eliminated with another baker. The top three bakers each picked one of the eliminated bakers to help them in the final challenge. Milli ended up working with a Washington baker she had been teamed with before.
During the filming on the third day, the two women laughed hysterically, sharing jokes as they baked while other teams fought over the direction of their cakes. The steampunk dress cakes for the final round had three very different interpretations. They used Milli’s flavor profile and fine detail skill with the other baker’s cake building and sculpting skills. The result was a tall six-tier cake with gears and ruffles, a corset laced tier, and a top hat top tier. They won first place.
After filming wrapped, Marcus took them to dinner at one of the trendiest restaurants. The view from the twentieth floor was amazing, but the menu and food wasn’t, and Auntie Elizabeth’s rapier wit quickly picked it apart, much to the amusement of the professional chefs and dismay of the maître d’. Milli slipped off to a quieter hall in the restaurant, a passage to the office and bathrooms.
She heard the pop of champagne and watched her friends and Auntie have the cocktails the cake they made today was flavored after. Hearing another pop, Milli held one hand over her ear, slightly peeved about the lack of cell service in the much quieter bathrooms.
Emily was jabbering back while Milli was talking to her. She ignored the door that slammed behind her until a man knocked her hard from behind as he walked past.
“Oy, jerk!” Milli snarled over her shoulder, ignoring the rude man. “No, it’s fine, Molly. Some guy bumped me. Tell Emily, mommy loves her precious princess, and we’ll see her tomorrow. Bye.”
Milli felt someone watching her and turned around, her jade eyes caught in the darkest eyes she had even seen. The man was watching her without expression, the way a predator watches prey. His hand reached toward her, and she was too terrified to move. She knew who this was from the pictures in her sister’s boss’s office. He was the murderer she had made a white velvet cake for every month until Marni had died; Giovani Valtini in the handsome but terrible flesh.
“Milli Haywood, what are you doing in New York?” The voice was deep, almost unearthly.
“I... I... uhmmm... there was a cake contest show, and m-my auntie wanted t-to come t-to New York.” Milli stammered. Part of her was screaming to run, the other part reminding her to be respectful, so she didn’t get killed. “It’s good to m-meet you in p-person, M-mr V-valtini.”
He looked over then looked back at her with his dark dead eyes. “I see. Family is important, it is good that you respect that. You and your sister were like family to me. I have missed your cakes, they were one of the few things that brought me pleasure. My cousin enjoyed having some of your cake when he visited Pagosa Cliffs, Colorado. Perhaps you could bake for us again, I’ll be in Vegas visiting my cousin for New Year’s Eve.” He turned and walked away.
Milli spent the rest of the evening, drinking and terrified, but pretending to be fine. She decided she was a fool to think she would ever get away from them.
End of The Wild Anemone