John was a baker. That was his identity. He started baking for his father when he was old enough to hold a spoon. He could bake a cake from scratch by the time he was 12.
His sister Anna, on the other hand, never understood John. She wanted to create her own recipes. She loved to experiment with all of the flavors their father kept in the kitchen. Her ten-year-old mind wanted freedom!
One day, as John and Anna were baking together, Anna decided she wanted to try making a peppermint cake.
“We don’t have a recipe for peppermint cake,” John told her.
“Well then I guess I’ll have to make one,” Anna replied.
“Fine, but if you make Dad mad don’t come crying to me,” John said, and went back to stirring his chocolate cake. Two hours later, a horrible smell was coming from the oven.
“Anna, is that your cake?” John asked.
Anna’s eyes widened. “I don’t think it’s supposed to smell like that.” She went over to the oven and pulled out the steaming, bubbling concoction. Her head tilted to the side, and she smiled. “I guess my recipe didn’t work.”
Just then, Dad came into the kitchen. “What is that horrible smell?” he asked.
Anna giggled. “It’s supposed to be peppermint cake.”
Dad frowned. “Do we have a recipe for peppermint cake?”
Anna looked down. “No, but it sounded good so I tried to make one.”
Dad sighed and ran his hand down his face. “Anna, you really should just try to get better at my recipes. We need more cakes for the shop.”
John made sure to keep his eyes on his bowl. This was bound to get worse.
Before he knew it, Anna was screaming at Dad, and Dad was barely staying calm.
“You never let me be creative!” Anna yelled. “All I’ve ever wanted was to make something you’d be proud of, and you just yell at me for not doing it your way!”
The door slammed behind her as she left the room.
Dad stared at the door for a long moment before walking through it quietly.
Alone in the kitchen, John stayed busy. He threw out Anna’s cake, and scrubbed the pans until no trace of the awful peppermint smell was left. He finished his own chocolate cake, making sure the frosting and decorations were just right. He washed his dishes, and swept the floor, making sure everything was perfect before he left for the night.
John walked down the hallway silently, and knocked softly on Anna’s door. He opened it slowly. He didn’t want to startle her.
His stomach dropped when she wasn’t there. He checked everywhere – under the bed, in the closet, behind her desk, but she wasn’t there. Anna was gone.
John thought about telling Dad what had happened, but decided to go to his room instead. He sat on his bed and stared out the window. He wondered where Anna had gone.
“It doesn’t matter if she comes back,” John said to himself. “Maybe without Anna Dad will pay more attention to me. I’m going to focus on being the best I can.”
And that’s exactly what John did. Over the next few years, he became an even better student than before and mastered every recipe his father could come up with. He spent every day working for Dad, searching for any kind of recognition.
Dad, on the other hand, seemed to only care about Anna. He kept her room the same way she left it, and cleaned it every day. He spent his nights on the phone, calling his friends from anywhere Anna might be. The only attention John received was when Dad tasted his baked goods before they were put up for sale.
John refused to be discouraged. He pushed himself harder, and graduated baking school at the top of his class. He made the bakery more famous and successful than it had ever been, but it still didn’t seem like Dad cared about anyone other than Anna.
One night, as John was cleaning up the kitchen from baking all day, Dad came in with tears running down his face. John looked up at him.
“I just got off the phone with Anna,” Dad said. “She’s coming home.”
John’s jaw dropped open. “Is she okay?” he asked.
Dad just smiled. “She will be when she gets here,” he said. “I want you to bake your best cake for her. We’re going to celebrate!”
The next morning, John headed straight to the kitchen. He had a mission. He remembered that Anna’s favorite was strawberry cake. He got straight to work. Anna was coming home that night, so he didn’t have much time. He channeled all of his energy into making this cake for her.
Around noon, Dad came into the kitchen to check on John’s progress.
“I just cleaned her room and put sheets on the bed. I bought her a new dress, too. Do you think she’ll like that?”
John smiled back at Dad. “Even if she doesn’t, she’ll love this strawberry cake!”
Dad’s eyes went to the layers of cake John was frosting. “I’m sure she will,” he said. His voice sounded distant, distracted. Without warning, Dad turned and left the kitchen.
John was suddenly angry. He had worked so hard to earn Dad’s recognition, and now it was being wasted on Anna, who had been gone for six years! John spent all afternoon working on his masterpiece in a silent, focused anger.
Just as he was putting on the finishing touches, Dad came back. John looked up but said nothing. Dad just smiled.
“She’ll love it, John,” he said.
“Do you love it?” John asked.
Dad looked into John’s eyes. “Today is about Anna, John, not me.”
“Our whole lives have been about Anna,” John complained. “Why can’t you just pay attention to me for once? I’m the one that’s been here all along!”
Dad came closer. “John, you’ve always been a good kid. I’ve been here with you your whole life, and I always knew you’d have a future here. I couldn’t be more proud of you for that, but Anna is coming home today. Think of all she’s been through! She left, and now she’s coming back! I’m happy for her, and you should be too.”
Just then, the doorbell rang.
Dad smiled at John and went running for the door. John hesitated, but followed.
Dad met Anna at the door and wrapped her in a tight hug. Anna was crying.
“I’m so sorry,” she sobbed. “I never should have left. Please take me back.”
“Of course, Anna,” Dad said. He kissed her hair. “Of course.”
Anna broke the hug and looked at John. John realized how much he had missed Anna, and how happy he was to have her back. He felt bad for spending so much time trying to get attention for himself, when he should have been searching for his sister.
John went to Anna and gave her a hug. “I’m glad you’re home.”