“Thanks Harold. I’m gonna miss you and Buddy. Both of you are so sweet,” I moan, pushing one of my apple pie specialty cupcakes with extra sprinkles in front of him.
Harold sympathy-pats my hand while licking his lips. At least somebody’s salivating over my cupcakes, even if it is a seventy-year-old man.
“Hey, for what it’s worth, I adore your cupcakes and these sucky Boston folks don’t know what a true treat Cramer Delights is. Buddy and I are sad to see you go.”
I stare down at the ball of mongrel fluff wagging his tail. Woof! Woof!
“Thanks Harold. I guess I couldn’t make it work in the big city.” The last thing I want to do is go back to Dulver Springs, but hey, thems the breaks of life, right?
Buddy sure doesn’t care about my cupcake failure. His tail is busy wagging like a windscreen wiper.
“Things have a way of working out, dear. Besides, your family probably misses you, right?”
A tight ball of failure knits itself inside my stomach. My family. Descendants of the original founders of the town of Dulver Springs, and proud of it.
Don’t think about it, Melody. Don’t think about it. It’s not that bad. It’s no worse than going to school with a bowl haircut in the sixth grade. Now that was an entirely tragic moment.
I fake smile with a weird cough at Harold, staring blankly into the crowd of expectant cupcake patrons’ faces. “Yeah, I guess they do,” I reply with a slow head nod.
I was like a cat who got the cream when I strolled up out of Dulver Springs at twenty-one with the whole town talking.
Byeeeee! No more burnt cupcake disasters for you to laugh at. I’m gonna be great. Just you wait.
Back then they were talking behind me, and now…they’re going to be talking about my failure to my face.
“We’ll all miss you here. You’ll stay in touch, won’t you?” Harold asks with hurt in my eyes.
I might not have been flooded with customers, but the ones I did have were loyal.
I can’t stand too long wallowing in my misery as I’ve got a line waiting for me. I look past the crowd at the glass window facing to the busy Boston street, wondering if I’ll recoup my sense of dignity once I do the cupcake walk of shame back into Dulver Springs.
Martha—one of my long-standing customers with a cute, nervous disposition and college books in hand—scrambles to the counter. “Omigosh! Is it true?” She proceeds to chew at a hangnail as my stomach sinks some more.
“Yeah, it’s true. I’m closing down. It hasn’t worked out. That’s why the cupcakes are half price. Funny how on my last day I’ve got a line. It’s the first line I’ve had in months.”
Martha readjusts her heft of books, switching her weight to her other foot and blowing her hair out of her face. “What am I gonna do? I sit right there in the midday sun and study. Who’s going to make a white chocolate cupcake with spearmint like you?”
Her face crumples as tears well in her eyes and it breaks my heart. “I’m sorry, Martha. I can’t do much. It’s one of the situations, but luckily—”
In the sea of customers are new people. Ones I’ve never seen before. Where did they come from? I narrow my hazel eyes at them.
Here just in time for half price cupcakes.
“Hey! Can you hurry up? I’ve got a three o’clock meeting. No wonder you’re closing down,” a man shouts from the back of the line.
I don’t even have my usual feisty fisticuffs on to challenge him, so I just reply to him with slumped shoulders. “You’re probably right. I’ll be right with you.”
Martha does her best to be my stand in, however. “Shut up! You’re not even a regular customer. This is my friend. Stop it.”
Great. Just shoot me now. Preferably with a water gun. I don’t really want to die. Just a temporary death where I sink under the cafe and pop back up after the liquidators seize the place.
Prickles of nervous sweat line up on the back of my neck, but a sweet, toasty burning brings my nostrils online.
What the heck is that smell? Shit, noooo.
“She’s burning the freaking cupcakes, what kind of nightmare of a place is this?” an obnoxious lady yells out as I scuttle to the back.
Picking up my oven mitt with cupcakes all over it, I wave away the cupcake smoke, opening the industrial oven door. An appliance that took me five months of my summer money of working at the family bakery back home to save for.
“Shoot! What the hell is this?” I proceed to kick the oven as it beeps and shuts itself down and the smoke alarm begins to wail at me.
Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. “Shut that thing off.”
“I’m trying! I’m trying!” I call out, exasperated, waving my mitt at the alarm from a chair. After my armpits have warmed up with sweat from waving my mitt so hard in front of the smoke alarm, I get myself down from the chair.
What a day. Please don’t let it get worse. Please. For the love of god or some other religious figure.
Dropping down to my knees I shake my head, accidently touching my bare arm to the oven and jolting back from it. “Ouch!” I yelp in pain.
Great, now I’ve seared my arm on a broken oven.
I am a complete and utter failure. How can it be this bad? I come from a long line of bakers! My mother, my grandmother, her mother, shit!
Coughing profusely, my eyes smarting and my lungs burning from cupcake fumes I race out front to inform customers of my mishap. “Sorry everyone. It’s only what’s left in the display case. My oven’s decided to shut down on me. So sorry.”
Amongst the chaos, the phone rings and I’m tempted to leave it, but I know it’s the liquidators and that’s important. I’ve promised to be available.
“Hello! Err—hello,” I splutter. “I’m right—I’m right in the middle of serving customers. Can I call you back?”
“Sure. I’ll be waiting for your call,” a stern man says on the other end of the line.
I wipe the smoke-inhaled tears from my eyes and lean over the bench. “I bet you will,” I splutter.
“What was that, Miss Cramer?”
“Ahh-ahh, nothing. I’ll ring you back a little later. Is that okay?”
“Yes, but make sure it’s before five.” The phone clicks dead as I keep fanning the air to clear the smoke.
A couple of minutes later I re-emerge to the front counter.
Mutters of upset sound off in the line as Martha does her best to console my broken cupcake heart. “Are you all right? Is there anything I can do?” she gasps in horror as wafts of smoke billow out.
I pat my hot cheeks, returning to the counter. “No. Unless you’ve got twenty thousand dollars I can borrow?” I smile weakly as her pitiful eyes commiserate my loss.
“I so would. I love this place, but I’m robbing Peter to pay Paul right now. I can barely cover my student loans.”
“Life sucks, doesn’t it?” I lament, automatically sorry I’ve offloaded onto one of my faves. Martha nods as I slide her last cupcake into a brown paper bag, which she holds up to my face.
“College sucks a little less when I have your cupcakes in my hand.”
“You’re too kind, and I’ll say that’s one thing we can agree upon.”
I keep serving cupcakes and the smoke slowly dies down. Thank the cupcake gods, but just when I think it can’t turn into a bigger prick of a day the last person I want to see is standing right in the line looking around, sniffing what can only be the remnants of my industrial oven disaster.
Please turn around and leave. Since when do you eat cupcakes? You always hated mine in Dulver Springs. You told me so many times. Go now. Go now. Go now.
I perform the chant in my head, but it doesn’t work because the line is getting shorter and shorter, and he’s getting closer and closer.
Is there no mercy for this Cramer gal?
A smug, and unfortunately hot, green-eyed, sandy blond, well-polished lawyer-to-be—not to mention my brother’s best friend—is hovering in my cupcake line, and it’s inevitable for me to join my industrial oven in meltdown mode.