When he enters my shop, I don’t serve him.
He finds my door on a Monday morning, tucked between a nougat store and a brasserie on the cobbled Montmartre street, appearing to only those who are looking for me—whether they are aware of it or not.
His loose curls hang like the branches of a weeping willow, framing his tanned face with ebony, and his sad eyes don’t meet mine, nor do they steal glances of the carved wooden mask I’m wearing like others do. In a low whisper, he asks for what he wants; not knowing what he needs.
‘Un macaron noir, s’il vous plaît.’
I don’t have them on display.
Behind the glass front, there’s a palette of rainbow pastels, macarons in pure white to deep turquoise, each flavour promising to fulfil their heart’s desires.
Even the darkest ones.
The black ones I hide under the counter are the ones I have never tried. Never sold. With sweet notes of black garlic, dark chocolate and a hint of pepper, I’m sure they are delicious, but they can only be tasted once.
They should not be sold carelessly.
‘What’s your name?’
‘Louis,’ I bite my lip, thinking of how to refuse him, ‘come back tomorrow.’
‘Will it be ready tomorrow?’ he asks quietly, his eyes downcast.
‘Well… It’s complicated,’ I say, though it is simple: those macarons are ready, but I don’t wish to poison him. However, if I turn him down, he will just leave and find another way. In that situation, I wouldn’t be able to help. Lying to him is what feels the safest. ‘I need to see how you react to the other colours first.’
My hand hovers over the rainbow rows, and I steal a glance of him. He stands so stiff, eyes on the counter and his jaw tense. I pick up a lavender one and offer it to him.
‘Why don’t you try this one today?’
He doesn’t take it just yet, his eyes are fixed on the little treat.
‘What does it do?’
‘Calms the nerves. Tastes lovely.’ I smile behind my mask. He is still reluctant, so I break it and put half in his palm. ‘Trust me.’ I lift my mask and push the other half into my mouth. His eyes flicker to my lips as he bites into his.
With the lick of lavender, his features relax, and he sighs deeply. His almond eyes meet mine for the first time, a warm gaze of melted chocolate with a caramel shine, matching his sweet voice as he speaks.
‘I’ll come back tomorrow…’ He hesitates.
I offer my hand.
Dawn finds me in the kitchen, dim in the warm gold of the first light of day, caressing shine onto the rim of the mixing bowls. Taking a deep breath I close my eyes, run the tips of my fingers over my hands and arms, slow and light. I imagine those first electric touches, both soft and maddening, until my skin is all tingly and the butterflies awaken in my stomach. I imagine catching feelings; falling in love until I have fallen.
I imagine Louis.
My breath hitches as my fantasy catches me off guard. I didn't mean to picture him, but I can’t dwell on it now. The only thing I can do is feel love; make my breath catch and my pulse jump, my skin burn under a touch that in my mind isn’t mine. I open my eyes, my gaze soft and dreamy, my head in a pink cloud. With the exhale of hot breath, I start to bake. For the entire process, I am anchored in that daydream; the secret ingredient. It’s the essence of my feelings, that infuses the macarons with magic; be it love, lust, or happiness they will give. The pink and red ones are my favourite to create.
When they are ready, I place them behind the glass to display in neat blush rows. I’m tempted to taste one, but I must open the shop. Maybe in the evening.
I smooth my apron and put on my mask, brushing my fingers over my lips once more. My heart is still pounding in my chest; my face is hot from my imagination running wild. It takes time to adjust. Time I don’t have to myself.
The doorbell chimes, and Louis walks in, wearing a crisp, slim-fit shirt, with the top three buttons open. I tear my longing gaze from that fourth one I’d like to add to the list of undone buttons.
‘Bonjour, Sébastien.’ He smiles, handing me coffee in a takeaway cup. My eyes flicker to his full lips.
Snap out of it.
I force myself to look into his eyes, try and ignore the yearning that still lingers.
‘Merci beaucoup.’ My fingers brush his as I take the drink.
It’s easier to focus on work after baking the other colours.
We sit at the little table in the corner with the coffees and I give him a tangy tangerine macaron. My fingertips tingle as they touch his palm and his eyes hold mine whilst I take off my mask.
‘Why do you wear it?’ he asks, examining my face with a curious expression.
‘Are you surprised I have nothing to hide?’ I suppress a smile.
‘N-no, I–,’ he stutters.
‘It’s okay. I just don’t want my customers to recognize me when I go out, simple as that.’
He tilts his head. ‘I will recognise you.’
‘You got me coffee. If you recognise me, you can invite me for another drink.’
Pink spreads across his cheeks and looking away, he puts the macaron in his mouth. His eyes sparkle from the taste of a long-forgotten feeling. Joy.
Maybe his craving of happiness is what brings him back to my shop, to share breakfast with me every morning. Sipping coffee and enjoying macarons, before going to the veterinary practice, doing the job that drove him to me. Where saving a life is dependent on money.
‘How are you?’
‘Better.’ He looks up from his pistachio macaron with half a smile. ‘Alive.’
‘How does it work? What do you put in them?’ he asks one day, with a gleeful smile after eating a blue macaron.
‘Nothing. Only the best ingredients, and whatever I wish to feel.’ I smile.
That’s how the black ones came to be, too. Soon after the first batch of pinks and reds I shared with my best friend, Maël. My recklessness cost me our friendship, and any dwindling hope for more.
The macaron’s magic comes from my heart’s desires, and after hurting him, it just so happened to be death.
No matter how hard I tried, black was the only shade I could bake.
By now, I have better control of it.
Louis’ eyes flicker to mine and hold my gaze gently, like one holds a small robin.
‘All these colours you bake… you crave them too?’ he asks quietly, and thanks me for not giving him a black one. ‘I don’t want you to make those—I don’t wish for you to feel that way.’
His voice is caring as he reaches over the table to touch my fingers, and for a moment, I forget to breathe.If he asked me now, I would place my beating heart in his hands for safekeeping.
The next dawn when I bake, my heart is unruly. I cannot conjure the pure feelings and the colours come out all wrong: the blues more purple, the yellows peachy. And the whites–
I thought I would be wiser than this by now. Shaking my head, I place my hand over my heart and close my eyes with a defeated smile.
‘You never learn,’ I whisper to the flutter.
It’s young and naive, despite everything we’ve been through; not thinking about how it’s going to break.
Marie-Amance finds me unmasked, staring at the pink-tinged macarons when she delivers the fresh ingredients before opening time.
‘What am I supposed to do now..?’
‘Mon chéri,’ she cooes, picking up a peachy macaron from the tray of discoloured ones between us. ‘They are fine, look!’ She bites into it, and I can’t tell if it affects her; I can’t see if she blushes under her perfectly applied makeup.
‘A little love never hurt anyone, Sébastien.’
A nervous laugh bubbles up my throat and I avoid meeting her bright blue eyes as I rub my hands over my face.
‘Have you forgotten about all my breakups?’
‘Oh, live a little; this is the city of love! And tell me, who is the lucky man? Does he know? Is he hot?’ She wiggles her eyebrows and I shake my head helplessly.
‘Bonjour monsieur!’ She beams when Louis opens the door with two coffees in his hands. ‘Can you smell it? Love is in the air!’
Standing in the door, Louis’ eyes flicker between us. ‘Shall I come back later?’
Out of the corner of my eyes I catch Marie-Amance’s pearly grin.
‘My friend is just about to leave.’ I jump up, determined to get her out the door.
She winks and kisses me on the cheek as I push her outside. ‘See you next week, cher. I hope you will have a story to tell!’
‘Yes, yes, bye for now!’ I close the door behind her, turning to Louis. My heart is like a bird trying to escape its prison, beating against my ribcage.
‘Who is she?’
‘My business partner. She just dropped off some ingredients for the macarons.’
He sits at the table and picks up my mask, covers his face with it.
‘What about that love talk?’ he asks, his eyes regarding me from the safety of the cover. My face burns.
‘Nothing.’ I join him at the table and reach for my mask.
His hand closes around mine, stopping me from taking the mask back to hide behind. Unable to withstand the eye contact any longer, I avert my gaze to the tray between us.
‘I messed up the macarons,’ I admit in a whisper.
He blinks. ‘What? These ones?’
I nod. ‘They aren’t supposed to be so… pink.’
Louis laughs. ‘Honestly? They look perfect, don’t worry!’ He squeezes my hand and my stomach churns.
‘Yes, but the colours all mean something.’ I meet his gaze, and the confusion slowly turns into realisation in his eyes. He takes the mask off and puts it over my face, his hand covering the eye holes as he holds it in place.
‘Louis, let go!’ I hold onto the mask and lean back, away from him, tying it behind the back of my head. He drops his hand and I adjust my mask with a frustrated sigh.
‘What’s gotten into–’
He licks his finger.
‘Did you just eat one of these macarons?’ I stare at him, my face burning under the mask.
‘Uh…’ He bites onto his finger to hide his smile, a rosiness spreading across his cheeks. “Was I not supposed to–’
My eyes widen.
‘No,’ I breathe, holding onto the tabletop between us.
His eyes flicker to mine as he reaches for my hand. My skin tingles at the touch of his fingertips as he places a pink macaron in my hand. His voice is a hopeful whisper.
I swallow, weighing up whether I can… No, whether I want to resist.
His eyes follow my movements in anticipation as I lift my mask and push the macaron between my lips, unable to muffle a small groan of pleasure as the rose and raspberry kiss my tongue.
It would be easy to pretend it affects me—make sweet mistakes and blame it all on a macaron. But it would be wrong, because I fell for him, and he is high on sugar.
I’ve made those mistakes before. I can't forget Maël sneering at me as I lay with my legs trapped in tangled sheets; dusted with crumbled remains of my red and pink mistakes. The colours I didn’t find in his heart; just blame.
‘No.’ I shake my head. ‘This isn’t real, and you know that.’
‘I don’t,’ he mutters as I stand and distance myself from him.
‘I’ll get you some water. It will take a while for the effects to wear off.’
His fingers stroke mine as he takes the glass and there is a sadness in his eyes again as he looks up at me.
‘If the colours all mean something… Do you not feel the same?’
I swallow. I do. But I felt the same for Maël ten-something years ago, and for my ex who only ever visited to taste red and leave me sore, covered with carpet burn. It never worked when my crush only liked me on macarons.
‘I’m used to it.’
Louis falls silent, but today, he doesn’t leave. He stays and follows me with that soft look in his eyes, not trying to hide his feelings for me.
‘It was a mistake to have one of those macarons,’ he says when I’m closing the shop. The effects would’ve worn off by now. I clutch a silver tray in front of my chest like it could shield my heart, walking him to the door.
He turns to me over the threshold. ‘The macaron magic doesn’t last this long, right?’ He reaches behind my head and slowly pulls the ribbon that holds my mask.
I let it fall into my hand. ‘Right. You should be back to normal now.’
‘So you can’t tell me this isn’t real.’ He leans in and my heart skips a beat as he presses his lips onto mine. The mask and the tray fall out of my hands, but all I can hear is my own heartbeat in my ears, with Louis’s hot breath in my mouth and his firm lips teasing mine.
It can’t be the macaron. Does he actually want me? Or does he just miss the feeling the macaron gave him? And does it matter at all?! My knees go weak as he pulls me close and I hold onto him, my breath catching as his lips graze my neck.
‘Good night, Sébastien,’ he whispers into my ear, sending shivers down my spine before pulling away. I have to hold onto the doorframe to steady myself.
Only once the echo of his footsteps fades away am I able to move again.
The next morning, he doesn’t come. I keep checking the clock on the wall, and my heart jumps every time I hear the doorbell, but it’s never the person I hope to see.
Towards the end of the day I’m restless, tidying up, trying to clear my mind.
What if he regrets it?
I take my mask off and empty the shelves under the counter to dust them off, putting everything on the top: pretty takeaway boxes, bags, and the box of black macarons.
It was probably just the heat of the moment. He didn’t mean it.
I stick my head under the counter and start wiping the shelves.
He is not coming back. They never do.
When the door is thrown open, I whack my head on a shelf and knock over some boxes, scattering macarons all over the counter as I get up.
‘Sorry I’m late!’ Louis barges in.
Leaning on the counter, I rub my head, tears welling up in my eyes—from the pain or the relief, I don’t know.
Louis’ tone turns worried when he sees me. ‘What happened?’ He hurries over.
‘Just… Hit my head. Nothing serious.’ I close my eyes as he slides his fingers into my hair.
‘Here?’ He strokes my head gently. My scalp tingles.
‘Mm-hm,’ I take a shaky breath and wipe my eyes. He is back. ‘Louis, about yesterday, I…’
He plays with my short hair whilst he waits for me to gather my thoughts. I cannot.
‘Why did you do it?’ I ask finally.
‘Look at me,’ he asks with a smile audible in his voice. I obey, meeting his gentle gaze.
His lashes flutter. ‘Sorry I couldn’t resist. I’ve been wanting to do it for some time, and… Tell me if you want none of it, but I’d like to do it again. And more.’ Turning a deeper and deeper shade of red as he speaks, he pushes around the macarons on the counter. ‘For as long as we can stand each other, if you are up for it,’ he says quickly and shoves a macaron into his mouth.
My heart drops.
The corners of his lips turn down. ‘No?’
He swallows the macaron in disappointment.
‘No, I mean, no, you just ate a black macaron!’
The blood drains from his face as he forces a faint smile.
‘You’re joking… right?’
I shake my head.
He legs it to the toilet, and I grip the counter, stare at the macarons. The colourful many and the six black ones. My head is spinning and I feel sick to my stomach. I’m about to lose the man I love– And be charged for murder?!
Hang on. …Six? It was a box of six. I check them all. They are definitely black. Oh, is there a seventh? I pick it up and as the light hits it, it’s harmless dark purple. For sweet dreams. I examine the black ones again.
My knees give out and I sit on the floor, shaking with a laughter I cannot stop.
Louis comes back, dishevelled and terrified.
‘I really hope you are crying–’
‘Yes!’ I’m laughing.
‘You’re safe. So, yes. For as long as we can stand each other…’ I stuff the black macarons back into the box and shove them under the counter. I’ll get rid of them finally. Despite the risk, I dare myself to admit, ‘I want it too.’
Even if pink can hurt.