Chapter 1: Saturday Morning
CHAPTER 1 Saturday Morning
How are those macarons coming, Katie?” Melissa asked me.
I gently touched the top of one of the pale orange, circular cookies with the top of my finger. Teeny dots of the cookie stuck to my finger.
“No skin yet,” Melissa replied. The pastry chef’s cheeks were flushed red, and strands of her brown hair were spilling out from under her white bandana. “It’s this humidity. How can it be so humid already? It’s only May!”
“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s not even Memorial Day, but it feels like summer.”
My own brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail, which was doing a decent job of keeping me cool. But Melissa was right. It was unusually sticky in the Chez Daniel kitchen that Saturday morning.
“How’s that lemon curd coming?” Melissa asked.
“I was just about to put it in the blast chiller,” I told her. She walked up and dipped a spoon into the pot. Then she tasted it. “Nice! Not too sweet, and not too tart.”
“Thanks,” I said, and I could feel my cheeks flush but not from the heat—but from pride.
I’d been working in the kitchen of Chez Daniel, a fancy restaurant near my town. The place is owned by my Dessert Dad, Marc Daniel Brown, which is how I got the gig. I call him my Dessert Dad because he wasn’t here for the first courses of my life. He divorced my mom when I was a baby and went off to become a chef. Recently, he’d been trying to make up for lost time, and since he knew I loved to bake, he offered me an internship at the restaurant, helping Melissa.
Once I figured out that Marc Daniel Brown was my Dessert Dad and would never be a real dad to me, working at his restaurant became a lot easier. It was an amazing experience.
“What can I do now?” I asked Melissa.
“I’ve got ten pounds of strawberries that need to be hulled,” she replied. “They’re in the cooler.”
“Great,” I said. “I should be able to finish that before Jeff picks me up.”
I went to grab the strawberries from the cooler and bumped into Dessert Dad on the way in.
“Hey, Katie,” he said. “What’s on the menu today?”
“A trio of macarons with vanilla ice cream, and strawberry mousse with shortbread cookies,” I replied. “I made the cookies myself.”
“Great, I can’t wait to try some,” he said. “Hey, Cecile has been begging me to bring you bowling with us again. Are you free on Tuesday after school?”
Tuesday was the one day during the week that the restaurant was closed, and the day Dessert Dad liked to do things with his daughters—me and my three little half-sisters, Cecile, Ella, and Riley.
“I have to check my schedule,” I told him. “Things have been kind of crazy lately, with the …”
I didn’t finish my sentence. Dessert Dad knew what I meant. My mom—his ex-wife—was marrying Jeff in a few months. I knew Dessert Dad was happy with his wife, Jasmine, but still, it felt weird talking about Mom’s wedding with him.
“Sure. Text me,” he said.
“I will,” I promised, and I piled the quarts of fresh strawberries onto a metal pan and carried them back to the pastry prep area.
I managed to do all the strawberries, plus finish the orange-lemon macarons, before it was time for me to go at noon.
“Thanks, Katie,” Melissa said as I hung up my apron. “Going to a Cupcake meeting?”
“Yeah, we’ve got to plan the cupcakes for the wedding,” I told her. Talking about the wedding with Melissa wasn’t weird at all.
“That sounds like fun,” she said. “Let me know if you need any pointers. I used to work for a wedding caterer. Weddings are so much fun!”
“Thanks! I’ll let everybody know,” I said.
Then I stepped outside into the May sunshine. My soon-to-be stepdad, Jeff, was parked in the back of the restaurant. My soon-to-be stepsister, Emily, was in the back seat. I slid in next to her.
“Hey, Katie,” Jeff said.
“What did you make today, Katie?” Emily asked, her dark eyes shining.
I told her about every item on the dessert menu in detail. She’s in sixth grade, and she’s pretty cool. At first I thought we were nothing alike. She’s superneat and clean, and she likes to eat healthy food like salad most of the time. But since Mom and Jeff started dating, Emily and I started to spend more time together, and she was very curious about the Cupcake Club. Now she’s kind of an honorary member who helps us out sometimes.
“That strawberry mousse sounds amazing,” Emily said.
“And good job on making those cookies all by yourself,” Jeff said.
I shrugged. “They’re just shortbread cookies. Pretty easy.”
“Yes, but they’re being served in a top-rated restaurant,” Jeff said. “That’s something special, Katie.”
I looked over to see Emily smiling at me, which was kind of a relief. A lot of things can go wrong when you take two families and stick them together. Emily could have gotten jealous when Jeff was nice to me, or I could get jealous when Mom did something nice for Emily. But luckily, things weren’t like that with us.
In fact, ever since Jeff had proposed to Mom, we’d starting acting like a family. We went to Vinnie’s Pizza every other Friday, when Jeff had Emily, and got our “usual” order: two veggie pizzas, salad, garlic knots, and chicken fingers. When we went to the movies together, we all shared a jumbo popcorn. We all loved running, and we had a special trail through the park that we’d dubbed the Green-Brown Trail—because Jeff and Emily’s last name is Green, and Mom and I are Browns.
Jeff pulled up in front of my friend Mia’s house, where we were having an afternoon Cupcake Club meeting. Ever since I formed the club with my friends Mia, Alexis, and Emma, we’ve been busy “building our business,” as Alexis would say. We put up flyers and handed out business cards, and now we have a baking job every week. That all takes a lot of planning, and we often do it during school at lunch or in our free time at one another’s houses. That day we were planning for something really special to me: Mom and Jeff’s wedding. It was special to Emily, too, and she was coming to the meeting.
“When should I pick you girls up?” Jeff asked.
“Around four,” I replied as Emily and I got out of the car.
We said good-bye to Jeff and walked up to Mia’s front door. It opened before we could ring the bell.
“Yay, you’re here!” Mia said, and her teeny white dogs, Tiki and Milkshake, yapped at our feet with excitement.
Emily knelt down to pet the dogs. “They’re so cute!”
“Cute and loud,” Mia said. “Tiki! Milkshake! Quiet down!”
The dogs obeyed, and we followed Mia into the house. I heard the sounds of roaring car motors and squealing brakes and traced it to the video game being played in the living room by her stepbrother, Dan, and cousin Sebastian.
“Can you please turn that down?” Mia yelled. “We’re trying to have a Cupcake meeting.”
The boys paused the game. “We’ll do anything you say if you give us cupcakes,” Sebastian said with a grin.
“We’re not baking today,” Mia told him.
“No deal then!” Dan cried, and they continued their game.
Mia rolled her eyes at Emily and me. “Sorry. You would think I was the oldest one in this family,” she said.
She led us into the dining room, where Emma was scrolling on a laptop and Alexis was opening up giant spreadsheets on the table. She’d pulled her wavy red hair into a ponytail away from her face and looked ready for business.
“Wow, this looks like you’re planning some kind of military operation,” I remarked, sitting down at the table.
“A wedding is like a military operation,” Alexis replied. “Everything has to be planned out to the minute, and if one thing goes wrong, the whole thing collapses.”
“Isn’t that exaggerating a little bit, Alexis?” Mia asked.
Alexis looked at her. “Even if I am, why take a chance? The Brown-Green wedding needs to be perfect!”
After Mom and Jeff had decided that they wanted cupcakes at their wedding instead of cake, they’d asked the Cupcake Club to make them. The club had said yes, of course, and then Alexis had volunteered to help organize the wedding.
I think it will be fun to plan a wedding, Alexis had said. Besides, it will look amazing on a college application!
Mom had agreed because she knows there’s nobody more organized and professional in Maple Grove than Alexis.
I leaned over to look at her spreadsheets.
“Which one of these is for the cupcakes?” I asked.
Alexis tapped one. “I began by listing all the things we need to figure out. How many cupcakes do we need to bake? How will we display them? Do we need a special cupcake for the bride and groom? How long will it take to bake and decorate? Whose kitchen will we use?”
“Does it say anything about what flavors they’re going to be?” I asked. In my mind, that was the most important thing. I’m not great at decorating cupcakes—Mia and Emma are best at that—but as long as a cupcake tastes amazing, I don’t care what it looks like.
“Yes, there’s a chart here,” Alexis said. “And Emma has been researching wedding cupcake trends.”
Emma, who had been quiet up until now, looked up from her laptop.
“Sorry, the images are so beautiful that I think they hypnotized me,” she said. “These cupcakes look like works of art!”
Emma turned her laptop to face us, and we saw a collage of images of beautiful cupcakes arranged on towers to mimic the shape of a tall, stacked wedding cake. Close-ups of the cupcakes showed smooth white icing, some carefully decorated with piped rosettes, and others with gold, silver, or rose-gold pearls.
“Those are so pretty!” Emily said. “They look like something from a fairy-tale wedding. Can we make ones that look just like these?” She pointed to a tower of white iced cupcakes decorated with pink icing flowers.
Mia spoke up. “First we need to know the wedding colors—like what color dresses everyone will be wearing, and what color flowers will be on the tables. Do we know that?”
“I’ve been asking Mrs. Brown, but she hasn’t decided yet,” Alexis said. She looked at me. “Can you get her to decide, Katie?”
“I can ask her,” I replied. “I’ve been mostly thinking about cupcake flavors. Mom and I don’t talk about wedding details too much. I don’t even know what dress I’m wearing.”
“Me either,” Emily said.
Alexis shook her head. “Well, if I were you, I wouldn’t wait too much longer to figure it out,” she said. “Your mom told me the head count for the wedding is around a hundred and ten. That’s a lot of cupcakes to make. And that takes planning, too. We want everything to be perfect. ”
I was starting to feel anxious. “Can we talk about flavors now?” I asked. That was something I could control. “I was thinking maybe we do cupcakes with one of Mom and Jeff’s favorite flavors. Like, they both love gingerbread.”
“That’s a good idea, but gingerbread kind of feels like winter, doesn’t it? And this is a fall wedding,” Emma pointed out.
Mom and Jeff didn’t have a date yet, but they were thinking of getting married in October because they loved the fall.
I took out my phone and scrolled through the list I had made. “Okay, what about apple? They both love apple pie.”
Emma’s blue eyes lit up. “Ooh, apple cupcakes with brown sugar icing! That feels very fall-like.”
Then Emily chimed in. “I know! They both like Earl Grey tea, right, Katie?” she asked. “I looked it up, and there are lots of cupcake recipes based on tea flavors.”
Emma started typing on her laptop. “You’re right, Emily. And we could do a white vanilla icing with pretty decorations.”
“That does sound yummy,” I said, wishing I had thought of it.
“But we have to remember,” Alexis said, “not everyone likes Earl Grey tea. One of the most popular wedding cake flavors is vanilla with strawberry filling. Maybe we need to do something basic, so everyone will enjoy it.”
“Basic and boring,” Mia said. “I think we need to know the colors of the wedding before we can decide on a flavor. Because if they’re pink, then the apple pie ones might not work.”
“I don’t think Mom would pick pink,” I said. “But I’m not sure. I promise to ask Mom.”
“We should do test batches of some of the flavors soon,” Alexis suggested. “And even if we don’t use them for Katie’s mom’s wedding, we could offer them to our clients. They’re always looking for something new.”
“We can bake at my house,” I offered. “But we have plenty of time, right?”
Alexis frowned. “Most weddings are planned a year in advance. We don’t even have half that time. We should do a test session as soon as possible.”
“Maybe we should bake somewhere else, and that way we could surprise your Mom and Mr. Green,” Emma said.
I shrugged. “Sure. Whatever you think.”
“In the meantime, we’ve got to make a plan for the two dozen chocolate cupcakes we need for that birthday next week,” Alexis said.
Then we launched into our regular meeting, but my head wasn’t in it. Suddenly, I felt panicked.
My mom’s wedding was happening in five months. We didn’t have wedding colors, I didn’t have a dress, and the Cupcake Club had to figure out how to make more than one hundred gorgeous cupcakes that everyone would love to eat.
Even with Alexis organizing things, it seemed like an impossible challenge!