With love comes sacrifices. Sacrifices that could ruin your dreams, your desire towards freedom.

The bus came at nine in the morning every day.  Shiny and red, it was filled with people yearning to get out of the small dreary town of Victoria Falls. It would take the people to the train station in the outskirts of town. But the bus tickets were a bit too expensive and only a few could afford to bid this town adieu.

Clara looked longingly at the bus every time, just as it left with the few townspeople who had scored their ticket to the outer world. If only she could manage to get herself a ticket for this bus. It would take her far, far away from this hell hole.

But that ride was just a dream.

She heaved a sigh and walked to her bakery. The sign above the door read 'Sugary Sweet'. Her father had suggested that name and she had loved it. Another day of working hard to appease customers. It was the only time of the day she enjoyed. The delight that her pastries brought to her customers was the only thing she lived for. If she could, she would stay at the bakery all night. Just the thought of returning home scared her.

Aren’t homes supposed to represent a happy family? A place where you are wanted? A place where you are loved by everyone? But that wasn’t the case back at her house. So she couldn’t call it a home. It was hell.

Clara shook her head to clear it of all unhappy thoughts. Now was the time to bake. To be happy. To be in her own world.

She mixed the dough and hummed a happy song as she thought about the wonderful days she had spent with her little boy, the apple of her eye, the one she could not live without. He was the best thing that had happened to her. It was his birthday tomorrow and she hadn’t got enough time to bake a cake in the morning. So she would bake it now and she promised herself that it would be the best cake she had ever baked.

As she put the mixture into the oven, she ordered Anna, her only other help in the shop, to get all the ingredients needed to bake today's cakes, cupcakes and cookies. She then got busy decorating the pastries for the customers who had already started coming in.

The bell jingled to announce the arrival of a new customer. A man, not much older than Clara stepped into the shop with a phone pressed to his ear. He was wearing a business suit and he teemed it with shiny black shoes and hair slicked back. Everything about him screamed money. Clara kept her icing packet aside and smoothed out her apron. She frowned.

He looked like a rich businessman. She was sure that his order would be extravagant and it is common knowledge that all extravagant orders take a lot of time to prepare. She hoped that whatever it was, she would still have time to finish the birthday cake for her son.

The man surveyed the inside of the bakery as he continued his conversation over the phone. The moment his eyes landed on Clara, who was making her way towards him while nervously wringing her hands together, he ended his call and took a step towards her.

"Welcome to Sugary Sweet, what can I get you?" she asked meekly.

The man's stare intimidated her. She looked down at her hands while she waited for him to answer. After a pause he extended his arm and said,

“Hello Mrs. Rodriguez, my name is William Anderson. Nice to meet you.”

He smiled slightly after his introduction as Clara gaped at him. He knew who she was? But how is that even possible? She never recalled having seen him before today. She looked down at his outstretched arm and reluctantly shook it.

“H-How do you know my name? We've never met before, have we?”  she asked utterly confused and slightly apprehensive.

He smiled wider and replied “We haven't actually. This is the first time. Don't worry I'm not stalking you or anything” he said with amusement.

Clara grew rather embarrassed and retracted her hand immediately. You see, that is exactly what she had been thinking. But now that he said it out loud, the thought seemed rather absurd. She composed herself and started with an apology. But the moment she opened her mouth to begin, he cut her off,

“I am actually the head of Anderson Incorporate. Have you heard of it Mrs. Rodriguez?” he asked while cocking his head to one side and continuing to scrutinize her.

Clara looked thoughtful for a moment. Yes! She had heard of it. It was one of the largest and the leading IT company at the moment and it was situated in a city miles away from this town. She had read about it in a magazine last month. But what did she have to do with it?

Yes I have heard of it. But what could I have possibly done to bring the CEO of a leading IT company miles away from this small dingy town?”  she asked with an expression of uncertainty.

William nodded his head and answered “We'll get to that. Can we sit and continue the conversation Mrs. Rod-"

"Please call me Clara." she interrupted "And yes we can. Please come this way."

She hurried him to a booth on the left. She was running out of time. She still needed to finish the cake for her son. This discussion needed to end quickly. She looked back at the counter to see Anna handling all the customers alone. She gave her an apologetic look and gestured that she would be back to help her in a few minutes. She turned back to the man.

“So how can I help you Mr. Anderson?” she asked him with an expression that said that he should just get right to the point. She knew it was rude, but she had no time to waste.

William got the hint and started right away. "You see Clara, my associate, Ms. Emma Carter, visits this town quite often. I believe she has family here. I'm sure you are well acquainted with her?" he asked expectantly.

Clara brightened immediately. She knew Emma. She was Mrs. Arundale's niece. She came to Victoria Falls whenever she had time to visit. She was a lovely young girl. Full of life and madly in love with Clara's bakery. Whenever she visited, she made sure to come by to have some of Clara’s sweet delights and have a heart to heart with her. Emma had been there during her darkest times and Clara had found a faithful friend in her. But she hadn't know Emma worked with this man. But any friend of Emma's was her friend too. She instantly warmed towards him.

She smiled brightly and replied “Of course I know her! She's a very dear friend of mine. I'm sorry Mr. Anderson for being so rude in the beginning. You should have just told me you were Emma's friend. You would have witnessed a whole different side to me.”

William laughed. “It's alright, Clara and please call me William. Mr. Anderson makes me feel old!" he added playfully and continued.

"I've been working with Emma for a while now and we've become fast friends. She is one of the closest friends I have. You see it's her birthday, day after tomorrow and I want to give her something she loves. So I came to you. She loves the cakes you bake. I've had them too and they are delicious. So I was hoping you could bake her a cake. The best you've made till date and I'm ready to pay whatever amount you want. Could you do it?"

Clara listened quietly. Now that he mentioned it, she did remember that Emma's birthday was here. She was so caught up in her own miserable world that she had forgotten about it. But what got to her was that he was willing to pay whatever she wanted. Immediately a vision of the red bus flashed in front of her. Her hands started shaking. She asked him 'Whatever I want?'

He nodded enthusiastically. She took a deep breath in and slowly let it out. Then she stated her price. It was the amount needed to buy the bus and train tickets, the tickets to her freedom. She held her breath as she waited for William to answer.

"Sure. I can. It' settled then? I pay the amount to you, in cash and you bake me a cake by 7:30 in the evening, because I'm leaving at 8. I've a conference to attend. Is that okay?" William asked.

Clara nearly had a heart attack. This was her chance. Her chance to fly away. Her chance to leave this town behind. A chance to start fresh. But then her heart sunk. By 7:30 in the evening? She wouldn't have enough time to bake her son's birthday cake then. She had promised him and if she accepted this offer, she would have to break that promise. Clara was deep in thought. William sat their patiently waiting for Clara to agree. After for what seemed like eternity to him, Clara looked up. She looked determined.

“Yes. I’ll do it. I’ll bake you the best cake I’ve made till date and you can come and pick it up at 7:30.”

William looked ecstatic. Now he would be able to give Emma what she loved.

Thank you. Thank you so much. So I’ll come back in the evening to collect it and will also get your payment.” With that William stood up, dialled a number on his phone and exited the shop with the phone pressed to his ear once again.

Long after William left, Clara sat their contemplating what she had done. Was it right to break the promise she had made to her son? Was it right to give more priority to her freedom than to her son’s happiness? But what could she do? This opportunity would not come to her again. She couldn’t take it anymore. She had to leave.

So she got to work. She poured her heart into making Emma’s cake. She mixed and poured and mixed again till her hands felt numb. Finally she put the different parts of the cake together to complete her masterpiece. It looked beautiful. She hoped it tasted as wonderful as it looked. Just as she was packing it into a box, the bell above the door jingled announcing William’s arrival. He wore that same black suit but instead of his cell phone, he had an envelope in his hand.

Clara laughed to herself silently when she realised how out of place William looked in his businessman attire in the middle of her quaint bakery. But he was the angel that gave her the gateway to freedom. She could never thank him enough. William strode towards the counter with an excited smile on his face.

Can I see it before you seal the box?” he asked expectantly. “Sure! Here it is.” Clara turned the box towards him. He was amazed. It was beautiful. William could clearly imagine how excited Emma would be to see this. Clara was simply brilliant. He was so happy that he threw her arms around her and gave her a hug. “Thank you Clara! Thank you so much. Emma will love it. I just know.” Clara just smiled and returned his hug.

Here’s the payment for your hard work.”

Her hands shook as she accepted the envelope from William. Tears threatened to fall out. But she restrained them. She bid William adieu after another session of thank yous and take cares. She simply stared at the envelope as the tears broke free now. Finally. Finally she would be free. The clanking of pots and pans broke her out of her trance and she kept the envelope in her bag and went ahead to help Anna clean up and close the bakery.

Half an hour later Clara made way back to her house. She had the envelope in one hand and a small cake for her son in the other. She had made sure to bake him at least something. She would not deny him of his happiness. The bigger cake could wait till next year. She slowly opened the door of her house and tiptoed inside. If she were lucky, the monster would be asleep now. But things never happened the way she wanted it to. Just as she hid the envelope and the cake in her room, she heard an angry growl.

Clara! Where the hell have you hidden the liquor! Get it out now or I’ll kill you!”

She sighed. When would this stop? The fear and anger inside her had died. She just wanted to escape. She hoped for it every second. She walked towards the drawing room to find her husband sitting on the floor with glass pieces shattered around him. The moment he saw her he got up and walked towards her with a snarl.

You think you’re very smart? You think you can do what you like? Well then you think wrong!” With that he delivered a slap so hard that Clara fell to the ground with a thud. She fell over a piece of glass that stuck to her palm and immediately blood started oozing out of the cut. It was followed by a swift kick to her gut. She doubled over in pain and sobbed quietly. She would not scream. She would not let him win.

Now get me my drink! Fast!” he ended with another kick to her side which made Clara clutch the place in pain.  She took a few deep breaths and got to her feet with great difficulty. She saw that blood had pooled on the floor due to her cut and the glass piece was still there. She plucked it out and suppressed another sob. She often wondered why she couldn’t just die of these bruises. She limped her way to the kitchen and took out a bottle of rum from under the sink. She poured him a drink and took both the bottle and the glass to him. Drops of blood were visible on the floor of the kitchen. She needed to treat her cut immediately.

As the monster calmed down with a drink in hand Clara hid in her bedroom. She got the first aid box and treated her cuts. She had run out of tears. She just wanted the morning to arrive quickly. Then she would be free. She packed her bags and waited. She closed her eyes and pictured the red bus. She thought of all the places she could go to. She decided that she would take the train to the city where Emma and William lived. They would help her. She would have a new life. The chirping of the birds woke her from her disturbed slumber. It was time to leave. She quickly grabbed her bags and tiptoed out the door. The moment she stepped outside the cold morning air hit her. She was finally going to leave.

An hour later Clara sat at the bus stop with the tickets in her hand. The remaining money for the train tickets were still in her envelope. She counted the minutes until the bus arrived. She couldn’t wait to get away. She thought back to the time earlier this morning when she gave the cake to her son. She promised him that she would come back for him. That she would find a nice place for themselves and then take him there. She was sure he was upset, but she insisted this was for the best. She had also stopped by at Anna’s house, asked her to take care of the bakery. She asked her to love and care for it as her own. She knew Anna would. It was as much Anna’s as it was hers.

She broke out of her reverie as she saw the bus pull up. It looked exactly the same. Red and shiny. Clara joined the line of people getting up on it. She found herself a window seat. As she settled herself into it, the bus left the stop. This was it. She was leaving. Leaving all her suffering behind. She was starting a new chapter. Now, she would be happy. But just as the bus crossed the cemetery, she started to feel different. This was wrong. She couldn’t leave him behind. It would be unfair to him because she knew that once she left she wouldn’t come back. No she couldn’t do this to him.

She jumped up with her bag in hand and ran to the front of the bus. She asked the driver to stop, that she had changed her mind. She would go back.

The driver open the door for her and she stepped out of the bus. She slowly walked towards the cemetery, to the grave that had his name. The box that held his cake still sat there. The stone read Alexander Rodriguez (September 5th 2009-September 5th 2015) She could still remember that day clearly. It had been his birthday and Clara had baked a beautiful cake for him. It had been a wonderful evening. But then the monster had woken up and started torturing her brutally. He had wanted to kill her that night. But her son had taken the fatal hit for her.

Clara broke down into tears and fell to her knees in front of the grave. She could never leave her son. He had sacrificed himself for her. No, she couldn’t be free, she couldn’t go away.

It just wouldn’t be right.