BUSTLING, ALWAYS BUSTLING. The candy shop a few blocks from Francesca’s apartment on Calle Mayor was always filled with people—locals, tourists, taste testers, and sweets enthusiasts alike. Everyone wanted a taste of Madrid’s famous chocolate. All so different, but all converged on a single shop.
Francesca loved her job at the shop. Every day new people to meet, all with new orders and new tastes, families, stories. Her favorite part of working there—aside from occasionally getting to take home surpluses at the end of the week—was seeing the wide range of people who came in, getting to talk to them.
She unlocked the shop with her key—she always opened—and stepped inside, locking it behind her. Francesca did all her routine sweeping and cleaning before eight o’clock, at which point she unlocked the door for good and switched the sign to “open.” She and three other women were helping customers satiate their chocolate cravings that day. By mid-morning, the corner shop was crowded, and the voices of her co-workers taking orders and the customers chatting in line echoed throughout the small establishment. A woman in a short red trench coat bent down and examined the rows of chocolates. Francesca kept an eye on her, trying to guess what she would order. Meanwhile, she wrapped up a box of chocolates for Mr. Jeorge, who came in every Wednesday to get a box of chocolates for his wife.
“Que tenga un buen día, Señor Jeorge,” she told him as she handed the box of chocolates over the glass display counter.
Francesca greeted the next customer in Spanish, her eyes flitting over to the red trench coat again, then quickly up to its owner’s face. The woman noticed her looking and smiled.
The line moved fast, and Francesca smiled softly as she greeted the young woman in the trench coat, noting that the painted red of her lips matched her coat.
“Good afternoon. What would you like?”
The woman bent down to look at the display, eyes roaming over the small chocolates, cookies, and cakes.
“We have macaroons, carrot cake, chocolate covered cherries,” Francesca suggested. “What are you in the mood for?”
The woman’s eyes flicked up to her, and Francesca could’ve sworn they rested on her lips for a split second. “Something sweet.”
Trying to hide a blush, she laughed and looked around at all the sweets that surrounded them. “Well, you’ve come to the right place.”
She stood, looking her in the eye. “I believe I have.”
Francesca blinked, then suddenly looked down. “Uh, so have you decided on anything?”
“Yes, I’ll have two pieces of chocolate cake.”
“Two?” She tried to hide her disappointment. “Bringing some home for your boyfriend?” she asked as she took out the cake and put the first slice on a plate.
The woman’s laugh surprised her. “No, I’m hardly the type for a boyfriend.” She held up her hand and revealed a rainbow bracelet. “And the second piece is for you.”
“Eat it on your break,” she said as she took the plate. “How much do I owe you?”
Francesca told her the price for two slices of cake, still amazed by this stranger standing in front of her. She took the euros, then called out after her, “¡Espere! ¿Puedo tener un nombre para la orden?”
“You already took my order,” she said, giving her a knowing smile. “But nice try!”
Francesca stared in dismay as the woman turned to leave the shop. She paused and turned around.
“Me llamo Julia.”
The rest of the day was uneventful. She took orders, wrapped cakes and candies and everything in between, and tried to make sense of all the jarring Spanish coming out of the tourists’ mouths. They tried, they really did, but half the time she had to rely on their pointing just as much as they did.
On her break, she went to a local restaurant a few blocks away and ordered a ham and cheese sandwich with a glass of red wine. She swirled the glass, staring at the dark red liquid intensely. The chocolate cake’s container lay empty; all that remained were crumbs, a memory, and a lingering taste of sweetness on her tongue.
Someone placed their hand on her shoulder, and she jumped, twirling around to see who it was as she gave a small shout of alarm.
“Wow, calm down. It’s just me,” her boyfriend José said. He offered her a warm smile and gestured at a chair. “May I?”
Francesca nodded distractedly, trying to focus her attention on him.
“Already ate, I see.”
“I’m sorry, but you know I only have a small lunch break from—”
“The shop, I know. Did you steal another dessert?” José gestured to the evidence of chocolate cake in the styrofoam container.
Francesca took a deep breath and looked down at her wine. “Uh, um… Well…”
“It’s okay, I know how much you love your sweets.” José elbowed her gently, then signaled to a waiter to get a glass of wine. “It’s one of the things I love about you.”
Francesca smiled, but her shoulders were tense. She twirled the wine glass in her fingers and smiled as she looked down at it. The image of a cheery girl with bright red lips came into her mind.
“Something good happen today at work?” José asked, causing the image to melt away.
Trying not to look guilty, Francesca shrugged. “It was really busy today.”
“It’s always busy.”
“But today was especially busy,” Francesca protested. “And the people were particularly interesting.”
“That’s great, sweetie.”
“I told you I don’t like to be called that.”
“Oh,” José said, leaning in close to her neck and taking a deep breath. “But you are definitely sweet.”
He chuckled and leaned away, raising his glass. “What? It’s true. You’re my little macaroon, and I can’t wait to eat you up.”
Francesca stood up suddenly. “Excuse me, but I have to go to the ladies’ room.”
She turned and stalked away from him, glad that this restaurant had bathrooms, unlike so many of the smaller restaurants in Madrid. God, men are such pigs, she thought to herself. She knew he thought about sex often, and it was reasonable, considering they’d been dating for over two years and hadn’t yet had sex. But she also hated the idea of him getting at all close to her in such an intimate way. Francesca turned on the water in the sink and rinsed her hands in it, trying to wash away her worries and her residual discomfort with José’s comment. She splashed some water on her face and took a few deep breaths before she realized that her own lips were the same shade of red.
A few days later, Francesca stood behind the counter, taking orders spoken in rapid-fire Spanish. As she wrapped a piece of chocolate cake for a German tourist, she saw two teenage girls walk in. For whatever reason, she felt drawn to them. She watched as they reacted to the shop with a knowing smile—she had reacted the same way when her mother first brought her here when she was a young girl: all wide eyes and drooling mouth, grasping for everything trapped behind the glass display cases. They looked around the small sweets store in awe. They tried to step forward, but got caught in the current of confusion and the crazy stream of voices all speaking differing amounts of Spanish. A family barged between them, trying to get to the other side of the shop. After they passed, the girl in front––with straight, short blonde hair––reached behind her for the other girl’s hand. And suddenly, it clicked.
They made their way to the display cases, taking stock of their wares and prices. Francesca served the customers in front of them in line, quickly wrapping or boxing sweets, and watching the girls inch forward. She kept glancing at them, at their hands, at the way they whispered with their heads pressed close together.
“Hola, que quieres?”
“Hola,” the blonde said in an American accent. “Un macaroon chocolate, por favor. Y un—” Her brow furrowed as she tried to think of the word in Spanish. After a moment, she gave up and said, “box… de chocolates.” She offered an apologetic smile as she pointed at the box of chocolates on display behind Francesca’s shoulder.
Francesca asked if she wanted the macaroon wrapped, and after handing it to her with a napkin, said, “Su novia es muy bonita. Espero que esteis felices.”
The blonde blushed and ducked her head, muttering “gracias” as she led her girlfriend out of the shop.
That day, when her boyfriend picked her up after work, Francesca wondered why she was still thinking of that young American couple.
A few years later, the American couple walked back down Calle Mayor and explored Plaza Mayor for the second time. They took a side street leading further out into the city and passed a rainbow flag tied proudly to the balcony of an apartment above the shops. They looked up at it and grinned, squeezing each other’s hand more tightly than before––completely unaware that a candy shop clerk whom they’d once met lay inside watching a movie with her girlfriend.
she, her, hers
College of Arts & Sciences
Class of 2021, English & Media Studies
I wrote this story to reflect on levels of global LGBTQ acceptance after seeing a pride flag hanging on a balcony outside Plaza Mayor in Madrid. This is the first story I’ve written in which I have used two languages, English and Spanish. I have a wide range of influences, but some of my favorite poets are Ellen Hopkins and Rupi Kaur, while some of my favorite authors (so far) are Ray Bradbury and Aldous Huxley.