Home > Meet Me at the Cupcake Café (At the Cupcake Café #1)(4)

Meet Me at the Cupcake Café (At the Cupcake Café #1)(4)
Jenny Colgan

Helena looked at the two dozen perfect cakes emerging from the oven.

‘Who are you cooking for, the Red Army? Give me one.’

‘They’re too hot.’

‘Give me one!’

Issy rolled her eyes and started squeezing on the icing with an expert flick of the wrist. Really, of course, she should wait till the cakes had cooled enough not to melt the buttercream, but she could tell Helena wasn’t capable of waiting that long.

‘So what happened?’ she asked, when Helena was comfortably ensconced on the chaise longue (she’d brought her own chaise longue when she moved in; it suited her. Helena never liked to expend more energy than was absolutely necessary) with a vast vat of tea and two cupcakes on her favourite polka-dot plate. Issy was pleased with the cakes; they were as light and fluffy as air, with a delicate sense of oranges and cream; delicious, and they wouldn’t spoil your dinner. She realized she’d forgotten to get in anything for dinner. Well, they were dinner then.

‘I got punched,’ sniffed Helena.

Issy sat up. ‘Again?’

‘He thought I was a fire engine. Apparently.’

‘What would a fire engine be doing inside an Accident and Emergency department?’ wondered Issy.

‘That’s a good question,’ said Helena. ‘Well, we get all sorts.’

Helena had known she wanted to be a nurse when she was eight years old, which was when she’d taken all the pillowcases in the house and arranged all her stuffed animals in hospital beds. At ten she’d insisted that her family start calling her Florence (her three younger brothers, all of whom were terrified of her, still did). At sixteen she left school and went straight into training the old-fashioned way – on the wards under a matron – and despite much government meddling in the system, now she was a Grade B ward manager (‘Call me Matron,’ she’d said to the crusty old consultants, who happily complied) and practically ran the busy A&E department at Hemel Park, still treating her trainees as if it were 1955. She had almost been in the newspapers when one had grassed her up for carrying out a fingernail inspection. Most of her girls, however, adored her, as did the many junior doctors she had prodded and guided through their first anxious months; as did her patients. When they weren’t off their heads and throwing punches, naturally.

Even though she made more money, got to sit down all day and didn’t have to work ridiculous shifts, Issy, in her safe corporate job, sometimes envied Helena. How lovely to work at something you loved and knew you were great at, even if it was for a pittance and you occasionally got punched.

‘How’s Mr Randall?’ asked Helena. She adored Issy’s grandad, who admired Helena as a damn fine woman, accused her of continuing to grow taller and opined that she wouldn’t be out of place on the front of a ship. She had also cast her formidable professional eye over every care home in the district, an act for which Issy felt she would be forever in her debt.

‘He’s good!’ said Issy. ‘Except when he’s good he wants to get up and go baking so he gets cross and starts cheeking that fat nurse again.’

Helena nodded.

‘Have you taken Graeme in to see him yet?’

Issy bit her lip. Helena knew full well she hadn’t.

‘Not yet,’ she said. ‘I will though, he’s just been so busy with stuff.’

The thing was, Issy thought, that Helena tended to attract men who worshipped the ground she walked on. Unfortunately she found this incredibly annoying and spent most of her time crushing on hot alpha males who were only interested in women with the BMI of a small shaky dog. Nonetheless, anyone looking for a normal – or normalish – relationship couldn’t hope to compete with Helena’s admirers, who wrote screeds of poetry and sent roomfuls of flowers.

‘Mmm,’ said Helena, in the exact same tone she used to teenage skate punks who came in with broken collarbones. She popped another cake in her mouth. ‘You know, these are divine. You really could be a professional. Are you sure they don’t contain one of my five a day?’

‘Definite.’

Helena sighed. ‘Oh well. We all need something to aspire to. Quick! Telly on! It’s a Simon Cowell day. I want to see him be cruel to someone.’

‘You need a nice man,’ said Issy, picking up the remote control.

So do you, thought Helena, but she kept it to herself.

Chapter Two

Orange Cupcakes with Marmalade Icing for a Grumpy Day

Multiply all ingredients by four to get too many cupcakes.

2 whole oranges, divided. Try not to buy bitter oranges. Blood oranges may be useful to squeeze out frustration.

8 oz butter, melted. Use the fire of your righteous anger to melt the butter if a pot isn’t handy.

3 whole eggs. Plus an additional three to break therapeutically by throwing at the wall.

8 oz sugar. Add more sugar if life needs a little sweetening.

8 oz self-esteem-raising flour

3 tbsp marmalade

3 tbsp orange zest

Preheat oven to 350°F/gas mark 4. Butter cake tins.

Chop one orange – yes, skin and all – into chunks and place in your mixer with the melted butter, eggs and sugar. Mix on high until well combined and the satisfying noise of the mixer makes you feel a bit better. Pour the mix into a bowl with the flour and whack repeatedly with a wooden spoon until subdued.

Bake in the oven for 50 minutes. Allow to cool for five minutes in the tin, then turn out on to a wire rack to cool completely. Spread marmalade on the top. Attempt to rediscover zest.

Issy folded up the letter and put it back in her bag, shaking her head. She hadn’t meant for Gramps to have a bad day. It must have been discussing her mother again. She wished … She’d tried to bring it up with Marian, that Gramps would appreciate a letter every now and again. Obviously it wasn’t working. Well, there wasn’t much she could do about that. It was such a plus to know, anyway, that he was somewhere where they’d stamp and send his letters. The last few months, when he was turning on the oven in the flat at 5am prompt every morning but then forgetting why, had been difficult for everyone. Besides, she had problems of her own, she thought, glancing at her watch. There are pretty horrid days to go back to work, and then there’s today, Issy thought, peering out along the length of the queue to see if the bendy bus was starting to trundle round the corner of Stoke Newington Road. An ungainly thing, it always took a few attempts to make the sharp bend, all the while being honked at by vans and yelled at by cyclists. They were taking them out of commission soon. Issy couldn’t help feeling sorry for them, poor silly buses.

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