The shaking of his hand was amplified in the piece of paper he was holding, blurring the words written on it. With a groan he put the paper back onto the table, pressing it down with his fists. His head sank towards his chest as he closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. His overly tense muscles relaxed a bit.
The man opened his eyes and grabbed a pen lying on the kitchen table between the ingredients. Bit by bit he went through the list on the paper, ticking off everything he saw, until he was sure that nothing was missing.
"Fine," he said, his voice rasping a little. "What do I do now?" His index finger followed the next few lines as he read the instructions aloud. "Melt honey with margarine and allow to cool. Whip eggs with sugar and rum until frothy. Mix wheat flour with oatmeal, gingerbread spice, baking powder and the honey mixture. Stir in the eggs. Mix grated apples, almonds, raisins and sugar.
Put half the dough into a spring form and scatter apple mix on top of it. Add the other half of the dough. Bake and allow to cool. Cover with couverture and decorate with almonds."
With slow and deliberate motions, the man sat to work, his eyes flickering back to the recipe every few minutes. His hands had stopped shaking; only a fierce line across his mouth betrayed his nervousness now. From time to time, the tip of his tongue would peek from a corner of his mouth while he concentrated on more difficult tasks, like separating eggs from eggshells or mixing everything thoroughly.
Finally he was done. The cake sat in his oven and he sat down on a kitchen chair and watched it, exhaling the air he had been holding all the while with a sigh. For the next forty minutes the man busied himself with cleaning the kitchen, risking a glance into the oven from time to time. Then he sat down again and stared at his masterpiece cooling down on the kitchen table. His eyelids dropped.
"The couverture!" he exclaimed and jumped to the stove to melt the chocolate.
She sat curled up in a nook of her red sofa, reading a book. Her flat was filled with silence, only broken from time to time by the sighs she gave when her unfocused eyes returned to the story she was reading. The corners of her mouth were slightly pointing downwards.
Suddenly the doorbell rang and the woman jumped. Frowning she put down her book and went to the door, looking through the spyhole. There was nobody there. An angry reddening was creeping up her neck to her cheeks. She opened the door and made to follow whoever had rang the bell when she stopped dead. She wasn't wearing any shoes.
Looking down at her feet her expression changed from angry to amazed to happy. There was a cake waiting on her doorstep. It was covered in dark chocolate and decorated with white almonds. In the middle sat a red heart made of sugar, which said "Be My Valentine".
Smiling in wonder, the woman knelt down to examine the present when the door to the next flat opened. Looking up she saw her neighbour watching her with a glowing face and hesitant smile.