Home > Christmas at the Cupcake Café (At the Cupcake Café #2)(4)

Christmas at the Cupcake Café (At the Cupcake Café #2)(4)
Jenny Colgan

And now here he was in the middle of Manhattan, Darny back in London with Issy. A year ago, the idea of leaving his headstrong, hyper-intelligent, super-cunning eleven-year-old brother with anyone other than an armed response team and a team of vets with tranquilliser guns would have seemed utter madness. Darny had bounced from school to school and run rings around his elder brother since their parents’ death in an accident. Austin had immediately given up his college course and taken a banking job in order to keep a roof over their heads and prevent his brother being taken away by social services, or any number of well-meaning aunties. Darny had not repaid this by being particularly grateful.

Yet somehow, after being frankly abominable to all Austin’s other girlfriends – girls who had cooed over Darny and gone all mushy-eyed at tall, handsome Austin, which made Darny want to vomit – he had really taken to Issy. Indeed, the fact that Darny had liked her so much had been one of the first things that had attracted Austin to her in the first place – along with her large eyes, generous mouth and easy laugh. Now when he thought of them together in the little house that had been, frankly, a bit of a midden when it was just the two boys together, but that under Issy’s auspices had become cosy and welcoming, he got the sudden urge to ring her. He was on his way to a meeting and, not trusting himself to make his way around the subway system, had decided to walk. He checked his watch: 11 a.m. That meant 4 p.m. in London. Worth a shot.

‘Hey.’

“Hey,’ said Issy, struggling up the stairs with five kilo bags of finest milled Ethiopian blend. People were queuing for their afternoon pick-me-ups, or their post-school treats, but she was still delighted to hear from him. ‘Wassup?’

‘Are you stuffing plum pudding in your gob, by any chance?’ teased Austin. ‘You want to watch for wastage.’

‘I am not,’ said Issy, outraged, letting the coffee drop on the counter. ‘Yes, hello, can I help you?’

‘Do you have any Christmas cake?’

Issy arched her eyebrows at Pearl. ‘Not yet,’ she said. ‘Apparently the little baby Jesus starts to cry if we start celebrating ten seconds before the official beginning of Advent.’

‘That’s a shame.’

‘It is.’

‘Don’t disrespect my beliefs,’ sniffed Pearl.

‘So, anyway, here I am, hanging on the unbelievably expensive mobile phone from New York,’ said Austin.

‘Sorry, my love,’ said Issy as the customer pointed, slightly disappointed, to a cherry-topped cupcake instead. They wouldn’t be, Issy thought, when they got to the glacé cherries hidden inside. ‘How is it?’

‘Oh, it’s amazing!’ said Austin. ‘I mean, just fantastic. The lights everywhere, and they’re skating down at the Rockefeller Center … that’s this huge building with an ice rink outside it, and it’s full of skaters and they’re really good, and there’s music playing around the street corners, and Central Park is all lit up with these amazing lights, and you can take a horse and cart ride through it with a blanket and mistletoe and … well, it’s just fantastic and amazing and wow.’

‘Ooh, really. Bugger. Argh, I wish I was there so much. Stop having such a good time without me!’

A thought struck her.

‘Is it super-brilliant? Are they all being dead nice to you? They’re not going to offer you a job, are they?’

She felt a sudden clutch of panic in her breast that he was going to up sticks and move away, an idea that would make her best friend Helena stop breastfeeding for ninety seconds and snort that that was ridiculous, which was all right for Helena, who was sitting there with Ashok dashing about trying to fulfil her every need, constantly glowing with the joy of winning such a magnificent prize as H, with her wild long red hair and triumphant bosom; her way of sweeping through life felling lesser mortals as she went. Issy just wasn’t that confident a personality.

‘Nah,’ said Austin. ‘They’re just showing me round, swapping ideas, blah blah.’

He thought it was best not to mention to Issy that someone in the back office had asked him if it was true they were shutting half the London branches. There was more spurious gossip in banking than there was in the Cupcake Café Stitch ’n’ Bitch, and that was saying something.

Issy tried to stop her mind from racing overtime. What if they wanted him? What would she do about the café? She couldn’t leave it. She couldn’t just leave and dump everything she’d worked so hard for. But if Austin was in love with amazing, fantastic New York, and she was in love with Austin … well. It was a pickle. No. She was being stupid.

She thought back to their parting at the airport. It had been rather a thrill – Heathrow had no compunction about when Christmas started, and had decorated its huge high-ceilinged terminal with long hangings of purple tinsel and gigantic silver trees.

‘This is like that film,’ she’d whispered to Austin, who was looking rather dashing in a smart green scarf she’d bought him.

‘It isn’t,’ Austin had said. ‘All the children in that film are cute.’

Darny was standing to one side and scowling. His hair stuck up in exactly the same place as his big brother’s.

‘Don’t do that thing. It’s disgusting.’

‘What, this thing?’ Austin had said, nuzzling Issy’s neck till she squealed.

‘Yes, that thing,’ said Darny. ‘It’s having a terrible effect on my development. I am basically scarred for life.’

Austin glanced at Issy. ‘Worth it, though,’ he said, and she had grinned with happiness. She’d watched his tall figure disappear into the crowds at passport control, turning at the last moment to give them a cheery wave before he disappeared. She wanted to shout it to the world: ‘That’s my man! Over there! That’s him! He’s mine! He loves me and everything!’

She’d turned to Darny. ‘Just you and me for a week,’ she said cheerily. It had been unorthodox, falling in love with a man who already had someone else in his life, but she and Darny rubbed along pretty well.

‘I’m very sad,’ said Darny, not sounding or looking in the least perturbed. ‘Can you buy me a muffin?’

‘I am far,’ said Issy, ‘too fond of you to let you eat airport muffins. Come on home, I’ll make you something.’

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