The Lemon Meringue

A Culinary Catastrophe #3

Beate Boeker

“I need your help.” Jenny sounded as if a killer was running behind her. Her breathing came short and hard, and she leaned against the frame of my apartment door with her last ounce of strength.

I threw a panicked look over her shoulder but couldn’t see anybody with a battle ax rushing up the staircase. Acting without thinking, I gripped her by the elbow and pulled my best friend inside. Then I kicked the door close behind her and turned the key in the lock.

Jenny gave me a confused look. “What are you doing?”

I checked the apartment for something we could use as a weapon. Living in Eppendorf, a safe area of Hamburg, I was not used to self-defense at home. The frying pan? “Is someone following you?”

Her eyebrows soared. “Following me? No, of course not! You have to stop reading thrillers, Tak.” She threw her sweater onto a chair and looked around. “I swear, every time I come to your apartment, it seems smaller.”

I wasn’t to be sidetracked. “But why are you rushing up to my apartment at full speed, shouting that you need my help?”

“I didn’t shout.” My best friend took off her sandals and massaged her feet. “I was merely using the last of my breath. I also didn’t rush. On the contrary, I went so slow that two people overtook me on the forth floor. I’m not as athletic as you, so arriving at your lofty heights without any breath to spare is normal for me!”

I placed my hands on my hips. “So you’re telling me everything is hunky-dory?”

Jenny shrugged. “Well, not exactly hunky-dory. In fact, I do have a problem.”

I decided to forgive her for scaring me. Jenny is my best friend, and she’s the most positive person on earth. If she admits to having a problem, it’s not trivial. I perched on a chair opposite hers, pulled up my knees, and hugged them. “Shoot.”

She played with the fringe of her t-shirt. “Remember how you made that chocolate cake for Zen?”

I smiled and nodded. How could I forget? The night of the chocolate cake had been the true beginning of Zen’s and my relationship. It had happened four weeks ago, a whole month, and I was still as much in love as on the first day. No, that was wrong. I was more in love than ever before.

Jenny pulled a face. “I’m really happy for you, but please stop grinning like that.”

I wiped the smile from my face.

Jenny’s expression turned morose. “That didn’t help.”

I tried to look suitably serious for whatever the problem was.

“Do you remember Thomas?” Jenny looked at me with the expression of a hopeful puppy.

“Thomas?” I searched my brain. It’s a bit difficult to keep up with the many men in Jenny’s life. “Ah, Thomas. Wasn’t he the one with the rose between his teeth on your first date?”

Jenny sighed. “No, that was Stefan. Thomas is not given to romantic gestures at all.” She put her head to the side. “Though maybe that’s a good thing. Whenever I kissed Stefan, I wondered if maybe there was still a plant louse stuck between his teeth.”

I shuddered. “Let’s forget Stefan, then. What happened with Thomas?”

Jenny twirled one of her red curls around her finger. She does this a lot when in thought. A dreamy smile settled on her lips. “Thomas is a hunk.”

“I know.”

My best friend opened her green eyes wide. “How do you know? You’ve never met him, have you?”

“No.” I grinned. “But you always fall in love with hunks.”

“Oh.” Jenny shrugged. “The problem with hunks is that they are addicted to sports, otherwise, they wouldn’t look quite so . . . hunky.”

I looked at her with commiseration. Jenny is the least athletic woman on earth. “Yes, I know. That’s why you spent a whole season at the hockey stadium and shouted yourself hoarse.”

Jenny sighed. “Thank God that time is over. Unfortunately, Thomas is a soccer fan.”

“Ugh.” I frowned. “You don’t need my help with soccer, do you?”

Jenny shook her head. “I’d ask someone else if I needed help with that.” She took a deep breath. “I need your help with a dessert.”

“A dessert?” My heart sank. “You know I’m not great at making desserts. Can’t I help with some sort of dinner? I can give you self-made bread, soup, roast-beef, lasagna . . .” my voice trailed out.

“No.” Jenny’s response was firm. “I need a dessert. And not just any kind of dessert. I need a lemon meringue.”

Alarm bells started to ring in my head. “A meringue? They say meringues are super difficult. Tons of things can go wrong with meringue!”

Jenny shrugged. “You made a chocolate cake for Zen, and it worked, didn’t it?”

“Yeah, but I almost died from the strain. It was a catastrophe from beginning to end.”

She grinned. “Not quite to the end, wasn’t it?”

I refused to answer.

“And then you made the strawberry mousse together with Zak.”

“Which was even more of a catastrophe.” I dropped my head in my hands.

Jenny bent forward and put her hand on my knee. “Please?”

I lifted my head. “Why a meringue? Can’t we make something less sophisticated?”

“No.” Jenny shook her head until all her curls wobbled. “His sister told me he loves lemon meringue.”

“I bet his mother makes them every Sunday.” My voice turned sepulchral. “And no matter how much you try, your pie will never beat his mother’s.”

“No.” Jenny’s shook her head again. “His sister told me they once had such a pie while on vacation in France, and ever since, he’s been raving about it.”

“You can’t beat a memory that has been glorified for years,” I said.

“Tak!” Jenny jumped up. “It sounds as if you don’t want to help me.”