Home > Meet Me at the Cupcake Café (At the Cupcake Café #1)(3)

Meet Me at the Cupcake Café (At the Cupcake Café #1)(3)
Jenny Colgan

Wind blew up the main road once more and Issy turned off towards the flat. Home.

Issy had bought her flat at the very height of the property boom. For someone who worked in the property business, it hadn’t been very astute. She suspected prices had started to decline about thirty minutes after she’d picked up her keys. This was before she began dating her boyfriend, Graeme, whom she’d met at work (although she had already noticed him around, as had all the other girls in the office), otherwise, as he had said several times, he would certainly have advised her against it.

Even then, she wasn’t sure she’d have listened to him. After hunting through every property in her price range and hating all of them, she’d been on the point of giving up when she got to Carmelite Avenue, and she’d loved it straight away. It was the top two storeys of one of the pretty grey houses, with its own side entrance up a flight of stairs, so really it felt more like a little house than an apartment. One floor was almost entirely an open-plan kitchen/dining room/sitting room. Issy had made it as cosy as possible, with huge faded grey velvet sofas, a long wooden table with benches, and her beloved kitchen. The units were going cheap in the sales, almost certainly because they were a very strong shade of pink. ‘Nobody wants a pink kitchen,’ the salesman had said, slightly sadly. ‘They just want stainless steel. Or country cottage. There’s nothing in between.’

‘I’ve never seen a pink washing machine before,’ Issy had said encouragingly. She hated a sad salesman.

‘I know. Apparently it makes some people feel a bit queasy, watching their washing go round in one of those.’

‘That would be a drawback.’

‘Jordan nearly bought one,’ he said, momentarily perking up. ‘Then she decided it was too pink.’

‘Jordan decided it was too pink?’ said Issy, who had never thought of herself as a particularly pink and girly type of person. This, however, was such an endearingly full-on Schiaparelli pink. It was a kitchen that just wanted to be loved.

‘And it’s really seventy per cent off?’ she asked again. ‘Fitted and everything?’

The salesman looked at the pretty girl with the green eyes and the cloud of dark hair. He liked rounded girls. They looked like they would actually cook in his kitchens. He didn’t like those sharp ladies who wanted sharp-edged kitchens to keep their gin and face cream in. He thought kitchens should be used to make delicious food and pour lovely wine. He sometimes hated his job, but his wife loved their annually updated discount kitchens and cooked him wonderful meals in them, so he soldiered on. They were both getting terribly fat.

‘Yup, seventy per cent off. They’ll probably just throw it out,’ he said. ‘On the scrapheap. Can you imagine?’

Issy could imagine. That would be very sad.

‘I would hate for that to happen,’ she said solemnly.

The salesman nodded, mentally locating his order pad for a sale.

‘Seventy-five per cent off?’ she said. ‘After all, I’m practically donating to charity. Save the Kitchen.’

And that was how the pink kitchen had arrived. She had added black-and-white-chequered lino and implements, and after guests had first screwed up their eyes and rubbed them to get the spots away, then tentatively opened them again, some were surprised to find that they actually quite liked the pink kitchen, and they certainly liked what came out of it.

Even Grampa Joe had liked it, on one of his carefully choreo graphed visits, and had nodded approvingly at the gas hob (for caramelizing) and the electric oven (for even heat distribution). And these days, Issy and the sugar-sweet pink kitchen seemed made for one another.

In it she felt properly at home. She would turn the radio up and bustle around, gathering her vanilla sugar, her finest French patissier’s flour that she bought from the tiny alimentaire in Smithfield and her narrow silver sieve, and selecting which of her trusty wooden spoons she would use to whip her lighter-than-air sponge into shape. She cracked eggs perfectly two at a time into her large blue-and-white-striped ceramic mixing bowl without even glancing, and used her eye to measure out the exact amount of creamy, snowy Guernsey butter that never went in the fridge. She got through a lot of butter.

Issy bit her lip sharply to stop herself beating the cake mix too hard. If it got too much air in it the mix would collapse in the oven, so she slowed her arm right down and tested to see if it would peak. It would. She had squeezed in fresh Seville orange juice and was planning to attempt a marmalade icing, which would either be delicious or quite peculiar.

The cupcakes were in the oven and she was on her third batch of icing when her flatmate, Helena, pushed open the door. The trick was to balance out the flavour so it wasn’t too tart or too sweet, just perfect … She noted down the exact combination of ingredients that would give just a delicate edge in the mouth.

Helena never arrived subtly anywhere. She simply wasn’t capable. She entered every room bosoms first – she couldn’t help it; she wasn’t fat, just tall, and extremely generously proportioned in true fifties style, with large creamy breasts, a tiny waist and a wide bottom and thighs, crowned by a towering mass of Pre-Raphaelite hair. She would have been considered a beauty in any period of history other than the early twenty-first century, when the only acceptable shape for a beautiful woman was that of a hungry six-year-old who had inexplicably grown solid apple-shaped tits out of her shoulder blades. As it was, she was constantly trying to lose weight, as if her broad, alabaster shoulders and luscious curved thighs were ever going anywhere.

‘I have had a terrible day,’ she announced dramatically. She glanced up at the cooling racks.

‘I’m on it,’ said Issy hurriedly, putting down her icing sugar nozzle.

The oven dinged. Issy had dreamed of an Aga – a big pink Aga – even though it couldn’t get up the stairs, or in any of the windows, and even if it did there wasn’t room to plumb one in, and even if there had been the floor wouldn’t have been able to take the weight, and even if it had she couldn’t have stored the oil, and even if she had, Agas were no use for making cakes, they were too unpredictable. Plus she couldn’t afford one. Nonetheless she still kept the catalogue hidden away in her bookcase. Instead she had a highly efficient German Bosch, which always was at the temperature it said it was going to be, and always timed everything perfectly to the second, but it didn’t inspire devotion.

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