Sweet Secret


Alternate Universe - RNLI

Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.

Authors Note: A second go at the August challenge. Thanks as ever to Helen for proof reading.

JD came in from his shift washing bottles at the dairy and poked his head into the big commercial kitchen. He had been expecting to see Inez cooking but was surprised to find Buck, his chef's jacket on, clearly working. His curiosity piqued he came further into the room.

"What yer doing?" he asked.

Buck looked up and smiled. "What does it look like?"

"I can see you're cooking, but I thought you didn't cook for the pub?"

"Well I don't, as a rule, but they've had a flood at the tea room, burst pipe or some such thing - so - we're three puddings short."

The tea room down the street had a contract to supply the pub with desserts, the bakers a similar contract for cakes.

"I've got lemon meringue pie done already, there's two apple pies in the oven and I'm about to finish this and put it in." JD finally looked at the worktop to see what Buck was actually cooking. Neat triangles of bread lay on a chopping board, clearly he had been in the process of buttering them. Next to the board was a large shallow dish. JD couldn't see the bottom of it but he could see the tips of the few slices of bread already in place. "It's bread and butter pudding…JD are you alright?"

JD's head snapped up, he hadn't realised he'd been daydreaming.

"What…oh…yes I'm fine."

He stood and watched for a while as the big ex-navy chef buttered the bread quickly, putting the unbuttered side down in a shallow dish of milk and laid it in the dish with the points lying like overlapping roof tiles until the dish was full. Buck then poured fresh milk into a jug and added three eggs. He beat the mixture and then poured it over the bread in the dish, finally he sprinkled the top with sugar.

As Buck stood up from putting the dish in the oven alongside the pies, he again looked at JD, still standing in the doorway. He looked lost and distant.

"Kid? You sure you're okay?"

"Mmmm. I'm gonna go get cleaned up. I'm working at Aquarius in an hour." With that he turned to go upstairs to the flat he shared with Buck. Mac, Buck's idle greyhound, met him at the door, his tail waving gently. Mac rarely got to his feet unless it was to his benefit, so JD was touched by the dog's sign of affection.

"Hi, old boy, you waiting for opening time?" He fondled behind the hound's ears, and got a stronger tail wag in response. "Lots of punters who are so soft-hearted, they'll fall for your doe-eyed look and feed you crisps and sausages and chips, won't they, you old fraud you."

The dog, confident he had snared the young master for a good long tummy rub, sank to the ground. And just as Mac knew he would, JD sat down on the floor and began to rub and scratch the dog's belly obligingly.

"He's making bread and butter pudding you know? It's my favourite or it used to be, before …mum's bread and butter pudding was the best."

Mac made a small grunt.

"That’s the problem you see, no one else's comes close to it. Hers was just different to everyone else's, sweeter, lighter. I don't want to have anyone else's, I don't want to forget what hers was like." He sighed and continued to stroke the dog. Mac was a good listener. JD's mum had been a housekeeper and she made bread and butter pudding for all the gentlemen she worked for, and when she did she always made a second smaller one for herself and JD. It was comfort food like no other.

+ + + + + + +

His shift at the shop was a long one, and by the time he got home he was shattered and ravenous. The pub was quiet; Buck smiled from behind the bar as JD made his way around the bar and upstairs to the flat. Mac was on the rug in front of the fireplace. He looked up and wagged his tail, thumping it up and down noisily on the floor. JD walked wearily into the kitchen in search of food. Even though there was a big well-stocked commercial kitchen downstairs the small flat kitchen was always well stocked. He found some bread and ham and made some sandwiches, picked up a coke and was about to go, when he spotted a bowl in the fridge, which he recognised as coming from the pub. Picking up the plate that covered the top, he found a large portion of bread and butter pudding. Half of him wanted it, he really did love the traditional dessert, but half of him didn't want to dilute the memory of his mum's wonderful pudding. He ignored the pudding and sat down with his snack and drink.

The aroma of ham got Mac's interest and he instantly sat up, and moving to JD's side, laid his head on the teenager’s knee. When the moment was right he would lift his head and knock some tasty morsel to the floor, where it became fair game. It was an old game he played with everyone who would let him. A few sandwiches were not enough and JD went in search of more food. Again the pudding called to him and again he resisted, helping himself to a bowl of cereal, some biscuits and crisps. Falling asleep on the sofa he was woken by the noise of closing time. Getting up he wandered back into the kitchen, where, tired and still hungry, he finally took the bowl of bread and butter pudding out of the fridge. He grabbed a spoon and standing in the kitchen took a mouthful; he would have preferred it hot but he couldn't be bothered to reheat it.

He stood still, there in the middle of the kitchen. Mac had followed him to the door and stood hopefully wagging his tail as JD just stood there with a spoon in his mouth.

"Hey kid, what's up?" The shock of Buck's powerful voice made him almost choke on the spoon. "Now I know it's not that bad," Buck added with a smile.

Suddenly coming to life JD pulled the spoon from is mouth. "No! No it's fantastic! It's…it's just like my mum’s…I didn't think I'd ever taste one that good again." Suddenly his voice died and he looked less like a lifeboat man and more like the orphaned seventeen-year-old he was.

Buck stepped closer. "You don't have to eat it, if you want I won't cook it again, I know what it's like to have things bring back the memories," he offered.

"No!" JD tightened his hold on the bowl. "You don't get it. It's my favourite, but I stopped eating it after she…well, when she got too sick to cook, because no one else's was even close to hers, usually they were dry with little burnt things on top. But mum's - and this - just heaven. I thought if I ate others I'd forget what hers tasted like, that I'd lose another bit of her, she never told me what she did that made hers different."

Buck came all the way into the room. "It was mum's recipe, and her mum's before that, the secret is to put the sultanas in the bottom of the dish not on top and - and this is the real secret - you put golden syrup in the bottom as well."

"That's it! That's what made hers taste so good. God, it's so simple."

"The best recipes are usually the simplest one in my experience."

JD looked down at the bowl in his hands then he turned to his friend. "It's like she's still here, still cooking for me - thank you."

"My pleasure kid, glad you like it, anytime you want it just let me know, it's no trouble we've always got the ingredients around here someplace.

JD took another mouthful and savoured it, the crisp sweet top and the soft succulent underside melted in his mouth. "Mmmm," he said when he had swallowed. "Maybe we could have it for Sunday supper?"

"That’s tomorrow."

"Yeah - I know."

The End

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