Home > Meet Me at the Cupcake Café (At the Cupcake Café #1)(9)

Meet Me at the Cupcake Café (At the Cupcake Café #1)(9)
Jenny Colgan

Raw cooking? thought Issy.

‘Now, I thought we’d put the cooker over here.’ The woman was pointing bossily through the window into the far corner. ‘We’ll hardly be using it.’

‘Oh yes, that would be perfect,’ said the estate agent.

No it wouldn’t, thought Issy instantly. You’d want to be near the window for good venting, so people could get a look at what you were doing and you could keep an eye on the shop. That far corner was a terrible place for the oven, you’d have your back to everything the entire time. No, if you wanted to cook for people, you needed to do it somewhere you could be seen, to welcome people in cheerfully with a smile, and …

Lost in her reverie, she barely noticed the bus arriving, just as the lady said, ‘Now, talking about money, Desmond …’

How much money? wondered Issy idly, climbing in the back door of the bus, as Linda wittered on about cross-stitch.

The mirrored glass of the office exterior walls looked blue-grey and cold in the chilly morning light. Issy remembered that her new year’s resolution had been to walk up the two flights of stairs every day but groaned as she decided that actually if you were carrying large items (like twenty-nine cupcakes in a big Tupperware) then you were allowed to take the lift.

As she entered the administration floor, clicking her entry pass (with the wildly unflattering photograph laminated on to it for evermore) to go through the wide glass doors, she sensed a strange quietness in the air. Tess, the receptionist, had said a quick hello, but hadn’t engaged her beyond that – normally she was full of gossip about office antics. Ever since she’d started seeing Graeme, Issy had stayed away from office nights out, just in case she had a couple of glasses of wine too many and accidentally spilled the beans. She didn’t think anyone suspected anything. Sometimes she wasn’t sure they’d actually believe it. Graeme was so handsome and such a go-getter. Issy was pretty but she wasn’t a patch on Tess, for instance, who wore tiny miniskirts but still managed to look beautiful and sweet rather than tarty, probably because she was twenty-two; or Ophy, who was six foot tall and stalked the hallways like a princess rather than a junior payroll clerk. Still, that didn’t matter, Issy told herself. Graeme had picked her and that was all there was to it. She still remembered them stumbling outside the Rotterdam hotel to get away from the others – they’d both pretended they smoked, even though neither of them did – and giggling their heads off. The sweet anticipation before that first kiss; the way the black sweep of his long eyelashes made a shadow on top of his high cheekbones; his sharp, tangy Hugo Boss aftershave. She’d lived a long time on the romance of that first evening.

And nobody would ever believe it, but it was true: they were definitely dating. He was definitely her boyfriend. And there he was, standing at the far end of the open-plan office, just in front of the conference room, with a serious look on his face, clearly the cause of the silence over the twenty-eight desks.

Issy put the cupcakes down with a thud. Her heart thudded likewise.

‘I’m sorry about this,’ Graeme said, when everyone was in. He had thought about his approach for a long time; he didn’t want to be one of those weasel bosses who don’t tell anyone what’s going on and let people find out from rumours and gossip. He wanted to show his bosses he could make the tough choices, and he wanted his staff to see that he could be straight with them. They still wouldn’t be happy, but at least he could be straight.

‘You don’t need me to tell you what things are like,’ said Graeme, trying to sound reasonable. ‘You’re seeing it yourselves; in accounts, in sales, in turnover. You guys deal with the bread and butter; the nuts and bolts, the figures and projections. You know the harsh realities of business life. Which means that although what I have to say is difficult, I know you’ll understand it, and I know you won’t think it’s unfair.’

You could have heard a pin drop in the office. Issy swallowed loudly. In one sense it was good that Graeme was coming right out and telling everyone. There was nothing worse than being in an office where senior staff wouldn’t tell anyone anything and everyone lived in a climate of suspicion and fear. For a bunch of estate agents, they were being remarkably honest and upfront.

But still, she’d thought they might wait. Just a little. Mull it over, see if things picked up in the next month or so, or wait till spring. Or take a partners’ vote or … With a sinking heart, Issy realized these decisions had probably been made, at some level, months ago; in Rotterdam, or Hamburg, or Seoul. This was just the implementation. The little people stage.

‘There isn’t a nice way to do this,’ said Graeme. ‘You’ll all get an email in the next half-hour to let you know if you’re staying or going. And then we’re going to be as generous to you and as reasonable as we possibly can. I’ll see those of you who aren’t going to be staying with us in the boardroom at eleven.’ He glanced at his Montblanc watch.

Issy had a sudden image of Callie, the head of Human Resources, poised with her finger over the ‘send’ button on her computer like a runner at the starting line.

‘Again,’ said Graeme, ‘I’m sorry.’

He retreated into the boardroom. Through the slatted venetian blinds, Issy could see him, his handsome head bent towards his laptop.

Instantly there was a flurry of panicky noise. Everyone charged up their computers as quickly as they could, pressing the refresh button on their email programmes once a second; all muttering to themselves. This wasn’t the nineties, or the zeros, when you could bounce from one job to another in two days: a friend of Issy’s had once picked up two redundancy cheques in eighteen months. The number of jobs out there, the number of businesses out there – it all seemed to be shrinking and shrinking. For every vacancy there were more and more applicants, and that was if you could even find a vacancy; not to mention the millions of school leavers and graduates joining the market every month … Issy told herself not to panic, but it was too late. She was already halfway through one of her cupcakes, crumbs carelessly scattering the keyboard. She must breathe. Breathe. Two nights ago she and Graeme had been under his navy blue Ralph Lauren duvet, safe and comfortable in a world of their own. Nothing was going to happen. Nothing. Next to her, François was typing furiously.

‘What are you doing?’ she asked.

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