It is said that couples who meet under Lovers Arch in Blissville would find their soul mate in each other.
Ruby Lou was there to debunk that myth.
She leaned against the stone wall, listing out in her head all the things she could be doing instead. She could be job-hunting (never too soon to find gainful employment). She could be working extra hours at the library. She could be catching up on her reading list instead of putting her life on hold to investigate the mystery of Blissville. She could be working on her senior-year project.
Then again, this was for her senior-year project. Exposing the secrets of the sleepy little town of Blissville, which made the papers and several tourist guide books for its inordinately high proportion of romantic couples in recent years, as nothing more than a commercial gimmick. If romance could be manufactured, everyone would be coupled up and happily in love all their lives.
Blissville was a scam, and Ruby was going to uncover the truth- for the sake of her psychology degree, if nothing else.
The screech of rubber tires jolted her out of her reverie. “Incoming!” someone cried.
Ruby yelped as a boy on a faded yellow bicycle came careening towards her. Her phone flew out of her hand and clattered to the floor as she spun around. The boy swerved to avoid her, but the sharp turn made him crash sideways into her instead and they went tumbling to the ground.
As she picked herself off the boy, Ruby unleashed a string of protests and choice words that made him wince.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“Just got mowed over by you, but I’m sure I’ll be fine,” she snapped. She glanced at her phone now lying dead by the foot of the arch. “And so will my phone.”
“I’m so sorry, but it’s an emergency!” He straightened his bicycle after finding it intact.
He threw a leg over the saddle. “Sent a batch of pies to the wrong house.”
“That’s an emergency?” Maybe Blissville was named as such not because of its high proportion of couples, but because this sort of triviality constituted an emergency.
“Let’s just say we might actually have A Midsummer Night’s Dream situation if I don’t rectify it in time.” He set his foot on the pedal and offered a sheepish smile that made Ruby think of Cream Puff, her neighbour’s samoyed. “I’m really sorry. Come by our bakery. I’ll give you our best loaf – on the house.”
Ruby watched him whiz away with the wind on his tail. Here was her proof then - no way in hell was a boy like him meant to be her soul mate.
The next day, Blissville was in uproar.
Ruby hadn’t been here long enough to understand the situation. She didn’t understand why everyone was so inordinately concerned about the “wedding of the season” being “over”.
As she walked down the cobbled streets of Blissville with Tess, occasionally consulting her phone for directions, Ruby picked up pockets of conversations from groups of locals.
“Breakup pie!” a lady exclaimed next to her, making Ruby almost jump out of her skin. “Of all the packages to misdeliver!”
“Didn’t anyone stop it?” another asked.
“Well, Henry himself tried,” the third woman said. “But he was too late. Said he was waylaid and the package got to Verona in the end. Poor woman was devastated – threatened to throw her nine-carat diamond ring into the sea.”
“What a shame!”
“Shame that those marine animals might choke on that ring,” Ruby muttered.
“Poor Verona, though,” Tess said. “Whoever she is,” she added when Ruby sent her a withering look.
Verona, it turned out, was an up-and-coming local starlet who had met her fiancé, Bruce, under Lovers Arch while filming a movie. And her hopes for Happily Ever After were dashed, two weeks before her wedding, after she opened a box of what she thought were bliss cakes only to find a breakup pie.
“Just like a movie!” Tess cried as they neared the central market. “Will the lovers overcome their misunderstanding and reunite stronger than before? Will they have their happy ending?”
Ruby rolled her eyes. “It’s only a happy ending if she shared that pie instead of throwing it away.”
“I think it’s safe to say that she threw it away,” Tess said, pointing at a woman perched by the stone fountain in the middle of the square.
She wore a dark-red slip dress with mascara running down her face and had a handbag with the name Verona embroidered across its face. In front of her, a man in a well-pressed navy blazer, white rolled-up pants and boat shoes was holding out his hands imploringly.
People crowded around to watch. Tess dragged Ruby into the fray.
“It was a misunderstanding, my dear!” said the man. “I meant to send you a bliss cake. Of course I would never send you a breakup pie.”
Verona sniffled. “But the trauma, Bruce! Do you know how I felt when I saw that horrid ‘I’m sorry’ on the pie?”
“What a tragedy,” Ruby muttered. She caught sight of yesterday’s Bicycle Boy across the fountain, murmuring apologies as he edged his way to the front with a large paper bag in tow.
“Henry, there you are,” Bruce said in an exhale. “Please explain the situation to Verona – this is partly your fault, you know.”
“This is a misunderstanding, Verona,” Henry said. “It’s a mistake on our part, and we deeply apologise for it. Bruce did order a bliss cake and a hundred red roses for you.”
“I received yellow roses!” Verona shrieked, breaking into fresh sobs. “Yellow!”
Henry grimaced. “That was a mistake too. But if you’d like, we will sponsor all the wedding confectionery you need.”
Another sniffle. “I don’t even know if I can go through with the wedding after what happened.”
“Darling, no,” Bruce breathed, close to tears himself. The onlookers gripped their hands as they watched on. Ruby received a glare when she let out a snort.
“I brought the bliss cake your fiancé ordered.” Henry said, raising the paper bag. “Please have some, and then decide if you want to carry on with the wedding.”
Bruce grabbed the bag like he was out at sea reaching for a life buoy.
“There you go,” said an old lady white-framed cat-eye sunglasses behind Ruby. “Problem solved. Anything from the Wild Thyme will work like magic.”
Despite herself, Ruby turned around. “The Wild Thyme?”
“My dear, how can you not know the Wild Thyme Bakery? It’s featured in all the tourist pamphlets and the papers. Henry makes the most delightful, glorious pastries. They say his confectionery is magic.”
“A modern-day Cupid, he is,” her friend, another old lady in a floral pantsuit, agreed. “One bite of his magical cakes and every single Pringle will get paired up.”
“Every unrequited love returned in kind –”
“Every marriage fixed –”
“Of course, there are breakups too. But Henry can reduce the messy damage, make breakups amicable.”
With each outrageous declaration, Ruby felt her brows creep higher up her face – until at last Floral Pantsuit said with a knowing pat on her arm, “You’ll have to try it to understand, dear.”
Perhaps, then, this was the secret of Blissville. Spiked confectionery. How they worked was still a mystery, but at least this was a lead. This was where she would start. Her grand expose would boil down to this shady bakery and its “magic cakes”.
Back at the fountain, Bruce had finally managed to mollify his fiancée. He offered her his hand. She didn’t take it, but left with him anyway. The crowd cheered, some shouting words of encouragement to Bruce, before dispersing.
Bicycle Boy (Henry, Ruby corrected herself) watched the turbulent couple retreat, letting out a sigh of relief, before turning to leave as well.
This was her chance.
“Wait!” Ruby blurted, her feet already taking her to him. His eyes widened when he saw her. “Henry, am I right?” She offered a hand, but made no effort to smile. “We met yesterday.”
“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.”
― William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
About the Author
Joyce hails from the tropical island-city of Singapore, where she spends the perennially sunny days writing YA novels and short stories. Since graduating with a degree in English from the National University of Singapore, she has won a nationwide novel-writing competition organised by the National Arts Council and published her YA contemporary romance, LAMBS FOR DINNER (Straits Times Press, 2013). She subsists on green tea and baked pumpkins, and blogs about books, writing, and TV shows at The Writes of Passage in between writing her next novel. You can read all of her short stories here.