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

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

Issy leapt into action. Caroline was a good, efficient worker, but she definitely lacked a sensitivity chip since her husband left her, and now he was trying to cut her maintenance. Caroline had never really known anything other than a very comfortable life. Working for a living and mixing with normal people she still tended to treat as something of a hilarious novelty.

‘Well, it is nearly the last week of November,’ said Issy. ‘Everyone else is doing red cups and Santa hats and jingle bells. Frankly, London is not the place to be if you want to escape Christmas. It does the most wonderful Christmas in the world, and I want us to be a part of it.’

‘Ho ho ho,’ said the fat man with the white beard. They looked at him, then at each other.

‘Stop it,’ said Pearl.

‘No, don’t!’ said Issy. She was so excited about Christmas this year; there was so much to celebrate. The Cupcake Café wasn’t exactly going to make them rich, but they were keeping their heads above water. Her best friend Helena and her partner Ashok were going to join them with their bouncing (and she was very bouncing indeed) one-year-old Chadani Imelda, and Issy’s mother might come too. The last time Issy had heard from Marian, in September, she’d been on a Greek island where she was currently making rather a good living teaching yoga to women who were pretending they were in Mamma Mia. Marian was a free spirit, which was supposed to make her romantic, but didn’t always make her very reliable, mother-wise.

And then of course there was Austin, Issy’s gorgeous, distracted boyfriend with the mismatched socks and the intense expression. Austin was curly-haired and green-eyed, with horn-rimmed spectacles he tended to take on and off again a lot when he was thinking, and Issy’s heart bounced in her chest every time she thought of him.

The door pinged again, unleashing another torrent of customers: young women in to have a sit-down after some early Christmas shopping. Their bags overflowed with tinsel and hand-made ornaments from the little independent shops on the pretty local high street, and their flushed cheeks and wet hair meant they brought the cold in with them in a riot of shaken anoraks and unwrapped scarves. Perhaps just a quick chain of fairy lights above the coffee machine, thought Issy. Christmas in London. Best in the world.

Christmas in New York, thought Austin, looking up and around him, dazzled. It really was something else; as dramatic as people said. Early snow was falling, and every shop window was lit up with over-the-top displays and luxury goods. Radio City Music Hall had a tree several storeys high and something called the Rockettes playing – he felt as though he had fallen through time and emerged in a movie from the fifties.

He adored it, he couldn’t help it. New York made him feel like a child, even though he was supposed to be here very much as a grown-up. It was so exciting. His bank had sent him here on an ‘ideas-sharing exercise’ after the American office had apparently requested somebody calm and ‘not a bullshit artist’. It appeared New York had tired of its crazed, risk-taking bankers and now desperately needed anyone with a reasonably level head to hold things together. Austin was disorganised and a little impatient with paperwork, but he rarely made loans that went bad, and was very good at spotting who was worth taking a risk on (Issy had most definitely been one of those) and who came in spouting pipe dreams and the latest management jargon. He was a safe pair of hands in a financial world that, increasingly, appeared to have gone completely crazy.

Issy had helped him pack, as otherwise he couldn’t be trusted to keep hold of matching socks. She’d kissed him on the forehead.

‘So you’ll come back full of amazing New York know-how and everyone will have to bend and scrape before you and they’ll make you king of the bank.’

‘I don’t think they have kings. Maybe they do. I haven’t climbed up to those esteemed heights yet. I want a gigantic crown if they do.’

‘And one of those pole things. For whacking.’

‘Is that what those are for?’

‘I don’t know what the point is of being a king if you can’t do whacking,’ pointed out Issy.

‘You’re right about everything,’ said Austin. ‘I will also ask for fake ermine.’

She had gently pinged his nose.

‘What a wise and gracious king you are. Look at me!’ she said. ‘I can’t believe I’m balling socks for you. I feel like I’m sending you to boarding school.’

‘Ooh, will you be my very firm matron?’ said Austin teasingly.

‘Are you obsessed with whacking today, or what? Have I just had to wait all this time for your disgusting perv side to come out?’

‘You started it, perv-o.’

She had driven him to the airport. ‘And then you’ll come back and it’ll be nearly Christmas!’

Austin smiled. ‘Do you really not mind doing it the same way as last year? Truly?’

‘Truly?’ said Issy. ‘Truly, last year was the best Christmas I’ve ever had.’

And she had meant it. The first time Issy’s mother had left – or the first time she remembered clearly, without it getting muddled in her head – she was seven, and writing out a letter to Santa, being very careful with the spelling.

Her mother had glanced over her shoulder. She was going through one of her rougher patches, which usually corresponded with a lot of complaining about the Manchester weather and the dark evenings and the sodding leaves. Joe, Issy’s grampa, and Issy had exchanged looks as Marian paced up and down like a tiger in a cage, then stopped to look at Issy’s list.

‘My own piper? Why would you want a piper? We’re not even Scottish.’

‘No,’ explained Issy patiently. Her mother had no interest in baking and relatively little in food, unless it was mung beans, or tofu – neither of which were readily available in 1980s Manchester – or some other fad she’d read about in one of the badly mimeographed pamphlets about alterative lifestyles she subscribed to.

‘An icing piper. Gramps won’t let me use his.’

‘It’s too big and you kept ripping it,’ grumbled Grampa Joe, then winked at Issy to show that he wasn’t really cross. ‘That butterscotch icing you made was pretty good, though, my girl.’

Issy beamed with pride.

Marian glanced downwards. ‘My Little Pony oven gloves … My darling, I don’t think they do those.’

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