Dona Teresa crossed her arms, a stern expression on her face. She pointed towards two red scarves. “Put them over your eyes, this will settle the dispute for once and all.”
Ana tentatively took one of the scarves while shooting a glance at Felicia. The red-haired woman was pouting, clearly not happy with Dona Teresa’s plans.
“Oh, don’t you try your antics with me, young lady, I’ve had enough of it.” Dona Teresa wasn’t a woman to be easily stirred from resolve.” All I want is to enjoy some peace and quiet while looking out of the window and you two unnecessarily arguing all the time make that impossible.”
Felicia put her arms akimbo. “But the customers need to know where they get the best pizza and that’s my place.”
“Put your scarf over your eyes, Felicia, or I do it myself.” Ana tapped her foot. “The sooner we are done here, the sooner I can serve the world-famous pizza Ana and not some cheap imitation of my creation.”
Showing off her swanlike neck, Felicia threw back her hair, long red curls drifting in the wind before she put the red cloth over her eyes.
Of course, she had to put on a show. Ana snorted and took a step closer towards Felicia. She reached out to get a hold of Felicia’s scarf, but got her hands entangled in Felicia’s hair.
“Hey, what are you doing?” Felica asked, her fists slightly shaking.
“Making sure you don’t cheat.”
When Ana retied the knot of Felicia’s scarf, she couldn’t help but notice how soft those curls felt. Then, Felicia shouldn’t get herself distracted about small things like this. After all, this was about the taste of pizzas!
Felicia removed Ana’s hands vigorously, but not forcefully from her hair. Ana noticed that Felicia seemed to possess a strength that was just right for kneading dough, bringing it into shape without overdoing it.
“And how do I know that you don’t cheat yourself, Ana?” Felicia haughtily asked.
“I am your impartial arbitrator,” Dona Teresa slammed her foot down. “Now stop the me me me for once and all. Your customers don’t deserve your bickering, they deserve all of your attention.”
Ana finally decided to put her blindfold on. The sooner Dona Teresa would announce her the victor of this pizza competition, the sooner she could return to her restaurant. She was pretty sure she would recognize her own dish by its distinguished taste.
The heavenly smell of a well-baked crust, melted cheese, roasted ham and fresh tomatoes was already enticing her nose as Ana listened to the sound of two plates being set down in front of her.
Dona Teresa cleared her throat. “Let me repeat my rules, so you can’t say afterwards you didn’t know about them. There are two slices of pizza, you have ten minutes to savour them. Then, after you have eaten up, you score them on a rating card with hearts. I will collect the cards and announce the winner afterwards.”
“Pfft, ten minutes?” Felicia remarked sharply. “I don’t need ten minutes to find out which pizza was made by me.”
Ana heard the other woman take several bites. To be honest, she had to agree with Felicia on this point. Ten minutes were a waste of precious time. She searched with her hand for one of the pizza slices and took a bite as well.
Oh, how divine.
Ana knew that self-praise was no recommendation. But after all the truth was what counted. And she had to admit that she had outdone herself with this masterpiece. The aged gorgonzola cheese was creamy against her tongue, its rich taste well matching the piquancy and saltiness of the crunchy ham. This was well-balanced by the sweetness of the juicy tomatoes sprinkled with just the right amount of basil leaves to give the pizza a certain amount of freshness.
Was there really a need to taste the second slice of pizza now? Well, for the sake of fairness and for good sportsmanship she had to do it. Ana went ahead to try Felicia’s dish, already mentally preparing herself to be disappointed by a bland dough, mushy vegetables and half-burnt pieces of meat.
To her surprise Ana didn’t need to force the food down her throat. Surprisingly, it felt lovely in her mouth: the crispiness of the pizza’s crust, the thin dough topped with buttery mushrooms sautéed in garlic and caramelized onions very much appealing to the discerning palate.
Not too bad, Felicia, Ana thought to herself, but decided anyway to give the first dish, her dish, nine hearts and Felicia’s pizza seven hearts.
There was the sound of Dona Teresa shuffling about. Ana assumed she was collecting the rating cards.
“Can I take this scarf off now? It itches, and besides I need to go back to the kitchen,” Felicia complained a few feet away from Ana.
“If it makes you happy,” Dona Teresa remarked. There was a subtle undertone in her voice that Ana thought was strange, but didn’t know what to make of it.
She took off her blindfold, and blinked her eyes against the sudden brightness. For a moment, Ana thought there was a smug smile on Dona Teresa’s lips, but when she looked a second time, there was a neutral expression on the other woman’s face. Maybe it just had been Ana’s imagination.
“Step closer, you two,” Dona Teresa waved her arms about, the four rating cards tightly clutched in her hands, “we have a winner to announce.”
Tentatively, Ana und Felicia stepped towards each other. At first, Ana thought she would feel uncomfortable with her rival in close proximity, but then she realized she didn’t mind at all. Quite the contrary. Felicia smelled nice, it wasn’t just the mouth-watering scent of warm food. There was a whiff of almond and rose oil on her that enticed Ana’s nose.
As Dona Teresa cleared her throat, Ana offered her hand to Felicia without thinking. To her astonishment, Felicia put her hand indeed into Ana’s, gently squeezing it.
“Actually, we have two winners. Ana, you’ve got overall sixteen hearts from Felicia, and Felicia, you have received sixteen hearts from Ana as well.” Dona Teresa quickly shook her head to stop any rash protests. “Before you ask, how these results are possible, let me please explain. Each of you rated one pizza slice with a nine and the second one with a seven.”
“But that’s a tie, not a winner, not two winners,” Felicia furrowed her brows.
“Well, look at the plates,” Dona Teresa demanded.
Felicia went back to the table where she had tasted the pizzas and took a sceptical look. Her eyes suddenly widened. “But none of these plates are mine. They both have pictures of vegetables on it, mine are designed in the colours of the Italian flag.”
Ana decided to check the plates on her table as well. She pointed to the green-white-red striped plates. “You tricked us, Dona Teresa! You served each of us only the pizzas of the other, right?”
Dona Teresa shrugged her shoulders and the smug smile Ana imagined to have seen earlier reappeared. “So, what? You obviously loved each other’s pizzas. I didn’t see a look of disgust on your faces, you both were equally delighted. If your competitor’s dish had been as bad as you claimed before, you surely would have made it known to the world during the tasting.”
Ana didn’t know if she should be outraged or if she should laugh. She had to admit that Dona Teresa was quite a clever woman. She actually couldn’t find a fault in Dona Teresa’s argumentation.
Ana cast a glance sideways to find Felicia equally baffled. Well, they could both start to bicker and fight again and waste a lot of precious energy… .
Or… Ana pursed her lips, trying to find the right words. It wasn’t easy to swallow her pride, but someone had to start making concessions. The worst she would hear would be a no and the situation would remain as it had always been. Theoretically, she could live with that.
But if her suggestion was going to be met by Felicia, it could mean a huge success for both of them.
“Felicia,” Ana finally said, “please hear me out. I have to honestly admit that I really enjoyed eating your pizzas. You are a great pizza baker, but I still believe that I have it in me, too. However, what if we joined forces? If we put our minds, our creativity and energy together, couldn’t we even come up with greater creations and make more customers happy?”
Felicia didn’t immediately reply. Usually, very vocal, she now stood there, silent, unmoving save for her right hand massaging her chin.
Dona Teresa hovered in the background, keeping her eyes glued to the two of them.
“Fine,” Felicia replied after some minutes, “if the next pizza gets to be named after me.” Felicia threw back her red curls, so they fluttered past by Ana’s face and Ana could admire Felicia’s neck again.
Was Ana mistaken or was Felicia flirting with her the way Felicia always showed Ana her best features?
Well, Ana was sure to find that out in the near future.
“Fine,” a grin spread on Ana’s face, “Feliciana, it is then.”
Dona Teresa started clapping and cheering, and Ana had to admit that not only Teresa had won the day, but Ana as well. She couldn’t wait to start working together with Felicia, and who knew, what else would become of their relationship.