“I just want to be friends.”
Those words startled me midway through a magical second date this past summer.
It had already become a season of endlessly empty encounters–from the rushed affair with the overly eager engineer to the coffee date with the already involved lawyer–but none of the inevitable endings had surprised me as much as this abrupt revelation.
“I felt as if I’d been sucker punched . . . in the stomach,” I told my mom the next morning as we crossed the quaint, sunshiney streets of downtown Hinsdale, Ill., and parked before a tiny new shop named Sweet Ali’s Gluten Free Bakery.
And because I leaned across one of their few small tables to recount the past night’s confusing particulars–the initial awkward conversing, the gradual lengthening of gazes, the midnight swinging . . . and touching at a deserted playground, and then the sudden shifting of his behavior–I will always associate Sweet Ali’s with sadness.
But what could soothe the sorrow of that summer infatuation–or my frustrating diet limitation–better than an impossibly light angel food cake paired with an equally airy whipped cream? And what could dissolve the stress of subsequent workdays better than a thick, chewy chocolate chip cookie delivered by my mom during lunch breaks?
For breakfasts at my desk toward the end of summer and then into fall, the flavors of carrot and pumpkin muffins proved as deep and complex as a kiss from a new man. He took me for magical dates filled with comfortable conversations, long gazes, midnight walks–and caresses–in secluded parks, and then a pledge of his commitment.
His consistent sweetness has lasted into the holiday season of red velvet cupcakes, iced sugar cookies, and m&m treats that have inspired my New Year’s Day dessert–to be compiled with the reasonably priced flour mix responsible for the enigmatic authenticity of Sweet Ali’s entire product line.
But its most delicious offering–the tomato focaccia–is the most anticipated element of my New Year’s Day meal. Expected to accompany the gluten-free lasagna, the inconceivably elastic dough of this cheesy roll rivals any pre-dinner bread ever enjoyed at Macaroni Grill during pointless past dates.
So to celebrate the sweetness of my next magical date–and erase the sorrowful memories of 2010–I might share a Sweet Ali’s focaccia . . . or cupcake . . . or cookie with my best friend: my boyfriend.