Chapter 1: Black Is My New Favorite Color
CHAPTER 1 Black Is My New Favorite Color
I lay on a beach chair in my backyard under the big maple tree, staring up at the undersides of the tree leaves. It was a hot Friday afternoon in July, and I’d been in the chair for an hour, listening to the bees buzz and the birds chirp, and not doing much else.
Then I heard my mom’s voice drift through the kitchen window.
“I just don’t know what happened, Sharon,” Mom was saying as she talked to the mom of my best friend Katie. “One minute she was my sweet and smiley Mia, and the next she’s wearing black and moping around.”
I looked down at the short black sleeveless dress I was wearing. I’d made it myself. I love to design clothes, and I watch fashion show competitions on TV, and recently, I saw a designer who made this all-black collection and fell in love. She wore only black herself, and I thought she looked seriously cool and put together. I’d decided to go monochromatic and see how I liked it. But because I’d chosen to do this during the summer, Mom—along with my stepdad, Eddie, and my stepbrother, Dan, thought it was weird.
My mom laughed. “Yes, I suppose there are worse things than going through a goth phase,” she said.
I sighed. Mom was getting it all wrong. I had no urge to listen to sad music. I just thought black was classy and looked cool!
“Mmm-hmm,” Mom continued. “Yes, I think she probably does miss Katie. But she understands that this is a busy time in Katie’s life right now.”
Mom had finally said something right. I did miss Katie, which was silly since it had been only nineteen days (yes, I was counting) since I’d last seen her. That was on the day her mom had gotten married, and the Cupcake Club had baked ten dozen cupcakes for the reception, and I had made a Katie a beautiful pink bridesmaid’s dress to wear. We had so much fun!
And then the next morning, Katie had gone to spend a week with her grandparents while her mom and Mr. Green (Katie’s stepdad, and also a math teacher at our school) went on a honeymoon. And after Katie returned she’d been too busy setting up her new house to hang out.
That’s why, after the wedding, my summer had just sort of fizzled out. The Cupcake Club had no upcoming orders; except for our standing order with Mona at The Special Day wedding boutique. Thank goodness people were still getting married, and girls still wanted to be beautiful brides. Alexis had gone on vacation with her family, and Emma was busy with modeling jobs now that school was out.
My vacation with Mom, Eddie, and Dan wasn’t scheduled until the end of August. And in a few days, I was supposed to spend some time with my dad in the city. We’d probably do the usual things—museums, go out to eat, see a Broadway show. Dad always made sure we did something fun every day.
But the past few weeks—they’d been a big stretch of nothing. And without Katie it was almost unbearable.
I’d started out binge-watching fashion competition shows. Then I’d gotten inspired to create my all-black wardrobe, and I’d started sewing and shopping with my Cupcake earnings. But I’d also been sleeping until noon every day, and chilling out under this maple tree and staring at stuff. And I guess that’s what had Mom worried.
Mom was still talking to Katie’s mom. “Yes, I think the baking session later will do them all good.… You don’t mind? Great, thanks, Sharon!”
Then Mom yelled out the window at me.
“Mia, Katie’s mom is going to be here at four to take you to Emma’s!” she said. “Just make sure you’re ready by then. And awake!”
“Ha-ha!” I yelled back. Why did it matter how late I slept, or how much? It’s not like I had anything better to do. Why do parents have to make such a big deal about everything?
I looked at my phone. It was two o’clock. Two hours to go. I got up from the chair, stretched, and then headed up to my room to change.
I take fashion design classes, so my bedroom looks more like a sewing studio. I’ve got a special table for my sewing machine, and there is a stack of plastic bins to hold my fabric, thread, scissors, and other supplies. A few months ago I saved up and got a dress form—that’s the thing that looks like a mannequin, but it has no head, arms, or legs—in my size. You use it to make patterns when you’re designing clothes so you can see how something will look and fit. It’s very cool, but it takes up a lot of room.
I knew a sleeveless dress wouldn’t be the best outfit for baking cupcakes, so I slipped on a black tunic and black capris leggings with black flats. As I looked in the mirror, I thought about how much white flour and white powdered sugar flies everywhere when we bake, and realized that might be a problem.
“I guess I could wear an apron,” I said out loud, but the only one I had was a white one with pink cupcakes on it that my aunt had given me for Christmas. It was cute, but it would definitely spoil my whole look.
I glanced at the yards of black fabric messily draped over my chair. A black apron couldn’t be too hard, could it? I looked online and found directions for a simple bib apron. I cleared off my sewing table and sketched out the pattern on some white pattern paper—its lightweight and comes in big sheets. I cut out the pattern and then found some black cotton fabric that felt like it would be good for an apron.
Then I ironed the fabric, pinned the pattern to it, cut out the pieces, pinned the hems, and started sewing. It may sound like a lot of steps, but an apron is a pretty simple thing to sew, so it didn’t take long. I even added a big pocket in the front. I was finishing up when I heard Mom yell upstairs, “Mia, Katie and her mom are waiting for you!”
“Coming!” I yelled back, and rolled up my apron and stuck that into a bag with my phone. Then I ran down the stairs and past my mom.
“What? No good-bye hug?” she asked.
I stopped in my tracks and hugged her.
“Have fun,” Mom said. I ran out to join Katie in the backseat of her mom’s car. She was wearing a shirt from one her 5K runs and a pair of denim shorts.
“MIA!” Katie crushed me with a hug, and suddenly, it felt like no time had passed since I’d seen her. “I missed you.”
“I missed you, too,” I said. I squinted at her face. “You’ve got freckles on your face!”
“Grandma Carole took me to the beach a lot,” she explained. “I always wear sunscreen, but it didn’t stop the freckles, I guess.”
“They’re so cute!” I told her.
Katie’s mom looked into the rearview mirror. “Mia, I just want to thank you again for all your help with the wedding. The pictures came back, and the dresses look wonderful.”
Like I said, I had made Katie a dress for the wedding and helped her mom redesign an old dress she had so she could wear it as a wedding gown.
“Thanks, Mrs. B—are you still Mrs. Brown? Or are you Mrs. Green?” I asked.
“Well, I thought a lot about it,” she answered. “I’m going to stay Mrs. Brown so that Katie and I will have the same last name. I almost went with Brown-Green, but that sounds like I’m a crayon or something.”
I laughed. “It does!”
Katie and I talked about her visit with her grandmother and the work on the new house, and she caught me up by the time we reached Emma’s house.
When we got out of the car, the smell of a cookout reached my nose. A bunch of boys, including Emma’s brother Matt, were playing basketball in the driveway and blaring loud music. I looked at Katie.
“This should be a fun baking session,” I said.
The front door was cracked open, so we walked inside the house and found Emma in the kitchen with Alexis, setting up the baking ingredients.
“Katie!” they both squealed, and rushed over to her. They hadn’t seen me in weeks, either, but I understand the excitement about Katie. Her whole life had changed so much, and it was nice to see that her life with us hadn’t changed.
“It’s really good to see everybody,” Katie said. “Plus, I’m happy to be baking again. We’re still organizing the kitchen at the new house, so I haven’t baked there yet.”
“Well, you know, it’s just vanilla mini cupcakes, nothing exciting,” Emma said, pushing a strand of blond hair behind her ear. “Mona increased her order, so we need to make more than usual. She says the bridal business is booming.”
“Your mom started a trend, Katie,” I joked.
“Mom’s going to help me bring these to her bridal shop tomorrow because I’m modeling some bridesmaid’s dresses for Mona, anyway,” Emma continued. “We just have to bake and pack tonight. Dad’s grilling outside so we’ve got the kitchen to ourselves.”
“Great! Let’s get baking!” Katie said eagerly.
“And we also need to discuss new orders,” Alexis reminded us. She was the only one of us wearing an official pink Cupcake Club T-shirt. “They’re starting to pick up, and we’ve got to figure out our plan for the summer festival. That’s just a few weeks away.”
“Finally, something fun to do in this town,” I said.
“Really, Mia?” Alexis asked. “I mean, I know we’re not New York City, but there’s plenty to do in Maple Grove. You’ve never complained before.”
I sighed. “I guess I’ve just been kind of bored, with all of you being so busy.”
“Oh, you missed us!” Katie cried. “No worries, Mia. I don’t have anything else exciting planned for the summer. And aren’t you going to be away, like, for most of August? Then it’ll be our turn to be lonely without you.”
I tied on my black apron, and Katie started measuring out flour. Alexis began to put liners in the mini cupcake pans, while Emma brought eggs out of the fridge. She set them down on the counter, and we chatted a little bit while we waited for the eggs to lose their chill. (Room temperature eggs are better for baking.) We had baked these cupcakes so many times that we had a rhythm down.
“A week in a cabin with Mom, Eddie, and Dan, and a million mosquitos is not exactly worth getting excited about,” I said as I measured out the sugar for the batter. “I’m lucky Mom’s letting me leave early for a week at fashion design camp.”
“My mom says you started wearing only black.” Katie looked me up and down. “You look nice, but you look really different from normal Mia.”
“?‘Normal Mia’? I’m not even sure what that means,” I said.
“Well, I think it’s pretty smart,” Alexis said. “Look at Steve Jobs—you know, that guy who ran Apple? He wore the same black turtleneck, jeans, and sneakers every day. It let him concentrate on his business and not have to worry about what he was wearing.”
Emma’s eyes widened. “The same? You mean he never washed them?”
“That would be gross!” Katie cried.
Alexis laughed. “No, I mean like he bought a lot of the exact same thing so he could wear the same outfit every day.”
“I get it, but that’s not why I’m doing it,” I said. “I… I just like wearing black, that’s all.”
“Mona has a whole line of black bridesmaid’s dresses,” Emma said. “They’re very popular for nighttime weddings.”
Then Katie turned on the mixer, and we stopped talking because the mixer gets really loud. We worked quickly, getting the batter into pans to make seven dozen cupcakes—six dozen for the order, plus some extra for tasting, to make sure we’re delivering a good product. And also because whenever we bake cupcakes, everyone close by descends on us and asks for one.
That’s what happened as soon as we put the cupcakes on racks to cool. Matt and his three friends came into the kitchen.
“Hi, Matt,” Alexis said, smiling.
“Hi, Alexis,” Matt said, and Katie looked at me and waggled her eyebrows. Alexis and Matt were always flirting.
“Matt, you guys need to get out of here,” Emma said. “Mom said we could have the kitchen.”
“We’re thirsty,” Matt replied, and opened the refrigerator and took out a pitcher of water. His friends began to hover around the cupcakes.
“Emma, can we have some?” Matt asked.
Emma rolled her eyes. “Dad’s going to have dinner ready soon. Can’t you wait? They’re not even frosted.”
Alexis walked over to Matt. I saw her put a hand on Matt’s arm and then whisper, “It’s okay. We always make extra.” Matt grinned at her.
Emma grabbed Alexis by the elbow. “Come on—let’s go talk about that summer festival.”
We followed Emma out to her backyard and sat at the picnic table.
“I hope you girls are hungry!” her dad called out to us. “I’m making enough burgers to feed an army! I’ve got plenty of veggie burgers, too.”
“Mmmmmm,” Katie said.
“Business, then burgers,” Alexis said.
“The Maple Grove Summer Street Festival is in two weeks?” I asked.
Alexis nodded. “We’ve paid the fifty-dollar vendor fee. If we want to make a profit, we’ll need to sell at least eighteen cupcakes.”
“No problem!” Katie said. “I bet we could sell a hundred and eighty!”
“I think we should do chocolate and vanilla,” Emma said. “Keep it simple, so we can make a lot of cupcakes. And everyone likes either chocolate or vanilla.”
Alexis nodded. “That makes a lot of sense.”
Katie agreed. “It does, but what about our Daisy Donuts problem?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“That new doughnut shop in town,” Katie said. “Every morning they’ve got a line that goes down the block. Mom and I waited on it for twenty minutes the other morning, and I saw a sign that they’re going to be selling at the festival. They’re serious competition.”
Alexis frowned. “They’ll take all our business. Unless… Were their doughnuts any good?”
“Delicious!” Katie said. “They’ve got amazing flavors. Pink lemonade, apple pie, birthday cake…”
“Maybe we need to do some of our amazing flavors, then,” I said, “so we can compete.”
“No problem!” Katie said. “You know we can come up with something great. We’ve done it before.”
Just then Matt and his friends strolled into the yard.
“Those cupcakes were great, but why were they so tiny?” Matt asked. “I could have easily eaten four more.”
Emma’s head whipped toward him. “What do you mean ‘four more’? How many did you eat?”
“Four each,” Matt replied.
“Nooooo!” Katie wailed. “We baked only an extra dozen. But four boys and four cupcakes each is…”
“Sixteen!” Emma finished. “Seriously, Matt?
“Alexis said we could,” Matt said, and Emma turned to Alexis, who was bright red.
“Did you really say that?” Emma asked.
“I said we always made extra, so they could have some,” Alexis said defensively. “How was I supposed to know they were going to eat four each!”
Emma threw up her hands. “Great! What do we do now?”