Home > Christmas at the Cupcake Café (At the Cupcake Café #2)(10)

Christmas at the Cupcake Café (At the Cupcake Café #2)(10)
Jenny Colgan

But what she was doing was the same as always. For him, life seemed to be becoming very different.

Issy racked her brains to try and think of something to talk to him about, but came up short – compared to New York, her day had been the usual: talking to sugar suppliers and trying to convince Pearl to let her hang some tinsel. And the rest of the time … well, she couldn’t say this, because it felt like it would be unfair on him, that she was blaming him for being away, or turning into one of those awful clingy women she didn’t want to be, always moaning at their other halves. So she couldn’t tell him that pretty much all she’d been thinking of, all that was filling her head, was how much she missed him and wanted him home and how much she was dreading him uprooting their lives just as, for the first time in years, she felt she was coming into safe harbour.

So she didn’t say anything at all.

‘So what’s up?’ said Austin, confused. Getting Issy to talk was rarely a problem. Getting her to not talk when the cricket was on was usually far trickier.

‘Oh, nothing really. Same old.’

Issy felt her face grow hot as the silence drew out between them. Austin, however, was waiting to cross a four-lane highway without being entirely sure of which way the traffic was coming, and was blind to minor emotional nuance. He thought she was cross with him for leaving Darny with her.

‘Look, Aunt Jessica said she’d be happy to take Darny …’

‘What?’ said Issy, exasperated. ‘There’s nothing wrong with me and Darny. He’s fine. Don’t worry about us.’

‘I’m not worried,’ said Austin, as a yellow taxi cab honked loudly at him for having the temerity to pause before crossing the road. ‘I was just saying. You know. It’s an option.’

‘I’m coming home every night after a full day’s work and managing to check his homework and make his supper. I think it’s fine. I don’t think I need options, do you?’

‘No, no, you’re doing brilliantly.’

Austin wondered just when this conversation had started to drift out of his grasp so badly.

‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘I didn’t mean to …’

His phone was beeping. Another call was coming in.

‘Listen, I have to go,’ he said. ‘I’ll call you later.’

‘I’ll be in bed,’ said Issy, sounding more huffy than she meant to. ‘We can speak tomorrow.’

‘OK … all right.’

Issy felt alarmingly frustrated when she hung up the phone. They hadn’t managed to talk at all, not about anything proper, and she’d no idea what he was up to or how it was going, apart from the definite sense she’d got from talking to him that he was having a really good time.

She told herself she was being stupid; this was a big fuss about nothing. She was getting all wound up for no reason. Her last boyfriend had been very emotionally distant, and had treated her like dirt, so she was finding her new relationship sometimes very difficult to manage. With Graeme, she couldn’t say anything at all or he would coldly close up; she knew Austin was very very different, but wasn’t sure exactly how far she could go. Men – no, not just men, everybody – shied away from neediness. She didn’t want to look needy. She wanted to be warm, casual, breezy, reminding him that they were building a loving home, not defensive and shrewlike.

Issy sighed and looked back down at the fruit she was mixing.

‘No,’ she said, feeling a bit self-conscious and daft. ‘You can’t have negative thoughts when you’re making the Christmas cake. It’s unlucky. DARNY!’ she hollered up the stairs. ‘Do you want to come and drop twenty pees in the cake mix?’

‘Can it be two-pound coins?’

‘NO!’

Austin sighed. He didn’t want to worry Issy, but sometimes it was easy to do. He’d been called in just before he left. Kirsty Dubose, the primary headmistress, had always been very soft on Darny in the past, knowing his background. Plus, unbeknown to Austin, she had had the most enormous crush on him. Mrs Baedeker, Darny’s new head at secondary, had absolutely no such qualms. And Darny’s behaviour really was appalling.

‘We’re looking at what you might call a last-chance situation,’ Mrs Baedeker had barked at Austin, who sometimes found it difficult in school situations to remember he was meant to be a grown-up.

‘For answering back?’ protested Austin.

‘For persistent class-disrupting insubordination,’ Mrs Baedeker said.

Austin’s lips had twitched.

‘It’s not funny,’ she added. ‘It’s stopping others from learning. And let me tell you this. Darny Tyler might be clever and sharp and well-read and all the rest of it, and he may well turn out noisy and fine and all right.’ She hit the desk with her palm to make her point. ‘But there are a lot of kids at this school who don’t have what Darny’s got, and do need good teaching and organised lessons and proper discipline, and he’s stopping that process from happening and it’s not right and not welcome in my school.’

That had shut Austin up very quickly indeed. He’d put Mrs Baedeker’s argument forcibly to Darny that evening, and Darny had argued back, equally forcibly, that formal examinations were a total waste of everybody’s time so it hardly mattered either way, that those kids kept trying to set him on fire at playtime so it was righteous vengeance, and surely critical thinking was an important part of education. Issy had hidden in the kitchen and made a smoked haddock quiche. But Austin found it hard to worry about Issy and Darny at the same time, and his thoughts at that moment were with his brother, even as Issy was thinking endlessly of him.

Chapter Four

Perfect Christmas Cake

I make no apologies for this, wrote Issy in her recipe book for the extra staff she liked to think she would employ one day. It was a tradition her grampa had started, and she was determined to continue with it; she had kept all his hand-written recipes and her friends had bound them for her into a book. She never, ever let herself think about perhaps one day having a daughter to pass it on to. That would never do. And anyway, she thought, if she did have a daughter, she’d probably be just like Marian and only eat mung beans and run off travelling and send mysterious postcards and interrupt crackly Skype conversations with long, involved stories about people Issy didn’t know. Regardless.

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