Home > Christmas at the Cupcake Café (At the Cupcake Café #2)(6)

Christmas at the Cupcake Café (At the Cupcake Café #2)(6)
Jenny Colgan

She thought about it too as they rode the bus home together, Louis helpfully pointing out every Christmas tree and decoration in every house they passed – and there were many. When they reached the centre of town to change buses, his eyes grew huge and round as he looked at the window displays of the famous department stores: Hamleys, with its feast of magical moving animals in a woodland scene; the great cascade of lights down Regent Street; John Lewis, its windows seeming to brim with every form of bounty imaginable. The pavements were full of excited shoppers looking for bargains and soaking up the atmosphere, and already pubs and restaurants, festooned with gaudy garlands and turkey menus, were packed full of revellers. Pearl sighed. She couldn’t deny it. Christmas was definitely coming.

It was just, it had been such a hard year. Not for her – the shop was doing well, and Issy had been more than kind, making her a manager, paying her as much as she was able, as well as being flexible for Louis’ sake. Pearl had even, for the first time in her life, been able to put a bit by; to begin, possibly, to think about a future; moving closer to the shop and Louis’ school and away from the estate. Not that it was a bad estate, she thought loyally. Not the worst, by any means. But to move into a little place that wasn’t exactly like everyone else’s, where she could decorate how she wanted and have an extra room for her mum. That would be nice. That would be very nice indeed. And it had looked, briefly, like it might be possible.

That was before the economic downturn had taken its terrible toll on Benjamin.

If Pearl had had a Facebook page – which she didn’t, as she didn’t have an internet connection – her heart status with Benjamin would have been ‘it’s complicated’. Ben was absolutely gorgeous, and they’d dated and she’d got pregnant, and whilst obviously she wouldn’t swap Louis for the world – he was the best thing that had ever happened to her – nonetheless, Ben had never lived with them and came and went in their lives far more than she would have liked. The problem was that Louis absolutely worshipped him; thought his tall, handsome, muscular dad was a superhero, swooping in on the family from time to time in between top-secret missions. And Pearl couldn’t bear to burst his happy bubble; his cries of joy when Ben came round, and it felt, for a while, like they were a proper family. So she was stuck. She couldn’t move on. It wasn’t fair to Louis. Things had been starting to get better for Ben too, the work coming in more steadily … until the last six months.

The building site jobs had dried up, just like that. He’d got some work up at the Olympics park, but it felt like every contractor in the whole of Europe had bowled up there, and the competition was fierce. Elsewhere, there wasn’t much either. People were putting off moving or building extensions or finishing renovations or expanding their premises till they found out how the cards would fall; whether they would lose their jobs, or have their hours cut or see their incomes fall; whether their pensions would flatline and their savings would become worthless against inflation. Pearl struggled with the one bedroom; sometimes, she thought, looking out at the rain, she had no idea how people managed to heat larger properties at all. Keeping her power key charged up was a job in itself.

It wasn’t Benjamin’s fault, it really wasn’t. He was looking for work, trying everything, but there just wasn’t anything for him, and he’d had a few problems with the benefit office in the past, so he got the absolute bare legal minimum.

She knew him so well. He was easily led, but he was a proud man. A hard worker when he had work, but if he didn’t … Well. He had a lot of friends who dabbled in things she didn’t want Louis’ daddy anywhere near.

So she’d been helping him out, here and there, and more and more, and she didn’t know where it would end. Benjamin hated taking the money too, hated having to ask and beg like a dog from a woman. Which meant that their rare nights out, the odd meal, the odd staying over – it killed her to admit it, but he was still the best-looking man she had ever seen in her life – became less frequent. It was no fun taking your woman out to dinner when she had to pick up the tab.

Pearl was really feeling the pinch. But oh, Benjamin was so good with their boy. He played with Louis for hours, was genuinely impressed by his daubings and scrawlings from school; would kick a ball round the waste ground or discuss diggers and cranes till the cows came home. Pearl would starve before she deprived her son of that.

It wasn’t going to come to that. But Christmas was going to be tight, that was all, and she hated being reminded of that fact in every decorated window and expectant-looking face.

Chapter Two

Christmas Cherry Chocolate Biscuit Slice

This is a no-cook cake that is utterly delicious. You can add a slug of rum if you want to be extra seasonal, but bear in mind it won’t burn off in the cooking. ☺

275g butter (I used about 200g unsalted)

150ml golden syrup (2 very generous tablespoons)

225g good-quality dark chocolate

200g digestive biscuits (roughly crushed)

200g Rich Tea biscuits (roughly crushed)

125g mixed nuts (walnuts, brazils, almonds) (optional)

125g glacé cherries

1 packet of Maltesers (plus if you have any other sweeties – Rolos, Munchies, etc. – lying around, they can go in too)

Line a 15cm round cake tin or a 2lb loaf tin with a double layer of greaseproof paper. (I used a silicone loaf mould. There is no need to line the silicone mould.)

Melt the butter, syrup and chocolate in a pan over a low heat. This took some time as I used the lowest setting on the hob. Make sure that the pot is large enough to take all the crushed biscuits, etc. Stir to mix the ingredients thoroughly.

Add the biscuits, Maltesers and fruit and nuts (if used). Stir well. Make sure to break the biscuits relatively small as they will not fit in the mould/tin otherwise.

Transfer to prepared tin. Level it on top and press down well to avoid air gaps. Allow to get cold and hard. It needs about two hours in the fridge or about 45 minutes in the freezer. The longer the better. It tasted much better on Saturday. Wrap completely in greaseproof paper and store in a fridge.

Decorate with holly. Do NOT count calories. This is a time of joy.

Helena picked up Chadani Imelda and gave a grim smile of satisfaction that denoted the size of her achievement. Even though Chadani had hollered unwaveringly, she was now dressed in frilly knickers, a frilled shirt, a ballet skirt and a pompom coat, plus lacy tights with small pompoms at the back, baby-pink Ugg boots with tiny stars and a pink pompom hat with long dangling ribbons. Her fierce red hair clashed outlandishly with all the pink, but Chadani was a girl, Helena thought determinedly, and therefore needed to be identified as such.

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