Home > Meet Me at the Cupcake Café (At the Cupcake Café #1)(6)

Meet Me at the Cupcake Café (At the Cupcake Café #1)(6)
Jenny Colgan

‘We shall start,’ he said, ‘with drop scones. Even a child of five could make a drop scone!’

‘But Grampa, I’m six!’

‘You’re not six!’

‘I am! I’m six!’

‘You’re two.’

‘I’m six!’

‘You’re four.’

‘Six!’

‘Now here is the secret to the drop scone,’ he said seriously, after he had made Issy wash her hands and patiently scooped up the four eggshells that had fallen on the floor. ‘It’s in the burner. Not too hot. A hot burner kills pancakes. Gently now.’

He held on to her, up on the brown kitchen stool that wobbled slightly because of the hole in the linoleum, her small face poised in concentration as she let the mixture drip gently off the wooden spoon and into the pan.

‘And patiently now,’ he said. ‘You can’t rush these things. A burnt drop scone is no life. And this cooker …’

Joe had poured all his energies into his beloved granddaughter, teaching her the techniques and tricks of baking. It was his fault, thought Issy. She would definitely bake less this year, lose a couple of pounds. She realized she was thinking this while absent-mindedly licking orange buttercream off her fingers. Soon!

Still no sign of the bus. As Issy looked round the corner, glancing quickly at her watch, she felt a heavy raindrop hit her cheek. Then another. The sky had been grey for so long now, it seemed, you could never tell when rain was coming in. But this was going to be a bad one; the clouds were nearly black. There was no shelter at the bus stop at all, unless you counted three centimetres of guttering from the newsagent’s behind them, but the proprietor didn’t like them leaning against his windows, and often said so when Issy went in to get her morning newspaper (and occasionally a snack). The only thing to do was hunker down, cram your hat over your head and wonder, as Issy sometimes did, why she wasn’t living in Tuscany, California or Sydney.

Suddenly a car – a black BMW 23i – squealed up to an illegal stop on the yellow lines, splashing most of the queue, some of whom groaned while some swore prodigiously. Issy’s heart lifted – and simultaneously sank. This would not make her popular with her number 73 posse. But still. The door opened opposite her.

‘Wanna ride?’ came the voice.

Graeme wished Issy wouldn’t do this. He knew this was where she had to get the bus but it made her look such a martyr. She was a lovely girl and all that, and there was no doubt he quite liked having her about and everything, but he needed his own space, and it just wasn’t the done thing, sleeping with someone – someone your junior – from the office. So, anyway, he was glad she understood about not staying over – that was lucky, he was busy and couldn’t have handled someone right now who would give him a lot of aggro – but then when he was heading into work, feeling pretty good in his X-series, thinking about corporate strategy, the last thing, really, he needed to see was Issy standing soaking bloody wet at the bus stop, her scarf up around her neck. It made him feel uncomfortable, like she was letting the side down somehow by being so … so wet.

Graeme was the best-looking person at Issy’s firm. By far. He was tall, honed from the gym, with piercing blue eyes and black hair. Issy had already been working there for three years, and his arrival had caused a stir with everyone. He was definitely cut out for property development; he had an authoritative, fast-moving style and a manner that always said if you didn’t snap up what he was selling, you were going to miss out.

At first Issy had regarded him as one might a pop star or a tele vision actor: nice to look at, but stratospherically out of her league. She’d had plenty of nice, kind boyfriends, and one or two total arseholes, but for one reason or another nothing had ever worked out; they weren’t quite the right man, or it wasn’t quite the right time. Issy didn’t feel she was in the last chance saloon just yet, but she also knew, in the back of her mind, that she would like to find someone nice and settle down. She didn’t want her mother’s life, hopping from one man to the next, never happy. She wanted a home, and a family. She knew that made her hopelessly square, but that was how it was. And Graeme clearly wasn’t the settling-down type; she’d seen him pull away from the office in his little sports car with gorgeous-looking skinny girls with long blonde hair – never the same one, although they all looked the same. So she put him out of her mind, even as he cut a swathe through the office’s younger girls.

That was what made it such a surprise to both of them, when they were sent on a training day to the company’s head offices in Rotterdam one week. Trapped indoors by the howling rain, their Dutch hosts having retired to bed earlier than expected, they had found themselves together in the hotel bar, getting on far better than they’d have expected. Graeme, for his part, was intrigued by the cloudy-haired, pretty, curvy girl who sat in the corner and never flirted or pouted her lips or giggled when he walked by; she turned out to be funny and sweet. Issy, slightly giddy on two Jägermeisters, couldn’t deny the absolute attractiveness of his strong arms and stubbled jaw. She tried to tell herself that it meant nothing; that it was just a one-off, nothing to worry about, a bit of fun, easily explained away by the alcohol and kept a secret, but he was terribly attractive.

Graeme had set about seducing her partly for something to do, but had been surprised to find in her a softness and a sweetness that he hadn’t been expecting, and that he really rather liked. She wasn’t pushy and sharp-angled like those other girls, and she didn’t spend her entire time complaining about the calories in food and retouching her make-up. He had rather surprised himself by going against one of his golden rules and calling her after they got back. Issy had been both surprised and flattered, and had gone round to his off-plan minimalist flat in Notting Hill and made him an outstanding bruschetta. They had both enjoyed the experience very much.

So it had been exciting. Eight months ago. And gradually Issy had started – naturally, she couldn’t help it – she had started to wonder if maybe, just maybe, he was the man for her. That someone so handsome and ambitious could have a gentler side too. He liked to talk to her about work – she always knew who he was talking about – and she liked the novelty factor of making dinner for him, and them sharing a meal, and a bed.

Practical Helena of course had not failed to point out that, in the months since they’d got together, not only had he never stayed over at the flat but he often asked Issy to leave before morning so he could get a proper night’s sleep; that they went to restaurants but she had never met his friends, or his mother; that he had never come with her to see Gramps; that he’d never even called her his girlfriend. And that while it might be nice for Graeme to play housie on a casual basis with some girl from the office, Issy, at thirty-one, might be looking for a little bit more.

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