SUGAR AND ICED
“We need to have a staff meeting,” Angie DeLaura said. “Stat.”
She was standing in front of the bakery’s large picture window, which looked onto the street. Then she began making retching noises.
Melanie Cooper glanced up from the glass display counter that she was loading with the specialty item of the day at Fairy Tale Cupcakes, salted caramel cupcakes. The moist caramel cake frosted with salted dulce de leche icing and drizzled with caramel had become a favorite among the Old Town Scottsdale tourists and regulars alike.
“Why?” Melanie asked. “What’s going on?”
“Marty and Olivia,” Angie said. She tossed her long brunette braid over her shoulder as she turned to face Mel. Her curled lip and wrinkled nose made it clear what she thought about the new couple.
“Oh,” Mel said. “Give it time.”
“Time?” Angie cried. “They’ve had months. I’m telling you we need to have an intervention.”
“I thought you wanted a staff meeting,” Mel said.
“Yes, a staff meeting which is a code word for an intervention,” Angie said, making quotation marks in the air with her fingers.
Mel put the last cupcake in the display case and straightened up. She kept her blonde hair short in the back but long on top and had to blow her bangs out of her eyes so she could meet Angie’s gaze across the bakery.
“I’m pretty sure employers are not allowed to tell employees who to date,” she said.
“But she’s the competition!” Angie argued. “He could be giving her your recipes.”
“He’s not,” Mel said.
“How do you know?” Angie insisted. “Maybe she’s using sex to coerce them out of him.”
“Ew,” Mel said. “Thanks for that visual. Now how am I supposed to look Marty in the face?”
“I’m telling you, this is not good,” Angie said. She jerked a thumb at the window.
Mel came from behind the counter and moved to stand beside Angie. She glanced out and saw Marty leaning on the open driver’s window of Olivia’s bright pink bakery truck with the word Confections, the name of her bakery, written on the side.
Marty was a scrawny, bald, old guy which was a perfect counterpoint to Olivia’s sturdier build. They had a Jack Sprat and wife sort of thing going that Mel had to admit seemed to suit them.
While she watched, Olivia said something and then Marty said something back. They glared at one another. Olivia said something else that appeared to make Marty even madder. Then he kissed her.
“I’ve never seen two people who enjoyed annoying each other more,” Angie said. “This cannot be good for his heart. I’m telling you we need an intervention.”
Mel glanced back at Angie. “You’re just sore because his love life is running more smoothly than ours are.”
“No, I’m not,” Angie argued. “Okay, maybe I am, but still…Olivia Puckett? Bleck!”
The front door to the bakery banged open and in strode Marty. He took one look at Mel and Angie standing in the window and frowned at them. Mel felt her face heat up as she realized he knew they’d been watching him.
“Sorry,” she said.
“Sorry?” Angie looked at her as if she’d lost her nut. “We’re not the ones who should be sorry. He should be sorry.”
“Me?” Marty asked. He clapped a hand onto his bald head. “You two Nosy Parkers are watching me through the window and I should be sorry?”
“Yes!” Angie said. She marched across the room and jabbed him in the chest with her pointer finger. “You’re fraternizing with the enemy!”
The door to the kitchen swung open and in walked Tate Harper, formerly the money behind the bakery but now just an employee.
“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” he said.
They all turned to look at him.
“What?” he asked. “Wasn’t that a movie quote? You know, when Ron is jealous because Hermione goes to the ball with what’s his name.”
“Viktor Krum and we’re not playing that game right now,” Mel said. Having grown up together watching old movies and eating junk food, Mel, Tate and Angie had a fondness for trying to trip one another up with movie quotes. “Angie was actually referring to Marty dating Olivia.”
“We’re not dating,” Marty said. He rubbed his chest where Angie had poked him and gave her a reproachful look. “We’re friends…no, that’s not it. We’re lovers…no, that’s not it. We’re enemies…no, that’s not it either. Oh, hell, I don’t know what we are, but either way, it’s none of your damn business.”
With that, he strode past Angie went around the counter and pushed through the swinging door into the kitchen.
“He’s right,” Mel said. “Like it or not—“
“I don’t,” Angie interrupted.
Mel gave Tate a bug-eyed look. Since Tate and Angie were sort of dating, although not really because Tate had some sort of manly macho thing going on about making it on his own to prove his worth to Angie, Mel figured he’d have more luck trying to get her to see reason.
Tate gave Mel a small nod to let her know that her message was received. He ran a hand through his wavy brown hair and said, “Angie, it’s Marty’s life--”
“Exactly,” Angie said, interrupting again. “And it’s getting shorter with every minute he spends with her. He’s too old to be under that sort of constant stress.”
“Listen,” Mel said. “At the first sign that his health is deteriorating, we’ll have a staff meeting.”
Tate gave her a questioning glance.
“Code words for intervention,” she explained.
“Ah,” he said. “I think that is the best plan.”
Glancing between them, Angie obviously realized that she was outnumbered. She did not look happy about it.
“Fine, but when he strokes out because of her, it’s on your heads.”
Tate and Mel exchanged a glance and they both shrugged. Mel suspected that if anything Olivia was giving Marty a reason to get up every morning.
It had been a year since Marty had arrived at Fairy Tale Cupcakes, wearing a ratty old cardigan and a bad toupee and dishing out a surly attitude to match. A lonely widower, Marty Zelaznik had plopped himself down into one of their booths and had nearly eaten his way to a sugar coma in order to win a contest they were having for a free night out on the town for two.
Like a wrinkled up fungus, Marty had grown on her and Mel had hired him to man the counter. Now she couldn’t imagine the bakery without him.
“Can we talk business now?” Tate asked. “I have a new idea.”
Mel stifled a groan. She’d known Tate even longer than she’d known Angie. They’d been best buddies since junior high school when he made her laugh by doing what had to be the worst Groucho Marx impression ever, and she in return had shared with him her Hubba Bubba bubblegum from the secret stash in her locker.
There was nothing she wouldn’t do for him. Since he had left his multi-million dollar investment business behind and come to work at the bakery, however, she had begun to think there was too much a good thing. Lately, she had been suffering from too much Tate.
The bakery had been Mel’s dream. After an unfulfilling career in business, she’d gone to cooking school and decided to open her own bakery. Angie had left teaching to join her while Tate had been kind enough to bank roll the operation. Without him, Mel knew there never would have been a Fairy Tale Cupcakes bakery.
Since joining them, Tate had spent his days not merely baking and frosting and schmoozing customers, oh no. He had decided to take the bakery to the next level and hit her daily with one scheme after another to make the bakery not just the successful small business that it was but to turn it, oh horror, corporate.
“So, I’m thinking we need to get on this whole buy local train,” Tate said.
“I’m listening,” Mel said. Which, of course, meant that she wasn’t.
“Okay, how about we start carrying our cupcakes in local grocery stores?”
“Don’t most of them have bakeries?” Angie asked. “Why would they want the competition in there?”
“Because we have the local grown, organic thing going for us.”
“We do?” Mel asked.
“We could,” Tate said. “If we change a few of our suppliers. What do you think?”
Mel felt a heavy sigh welling up inside of her. She clamped it down. She didn’t want to burst Tate’s bubble, but what he wanted would require expansion and she just wasn’t ready for that yet.
Mercifully, the front door opened, keeping her from having to answer. Saved by the customer. Mel turned toward the door with a welcoming smile.
When she saw who entered, her smile faded. In strode her mother Joyce, who hadn’t spoken to her in three months, and her mother’s bff Ginny Lobo. Ginny was wearing a fur lined leather coat over skinny jeans and matching fur lined leather boots. It was January but she looked like she was dressed for Minnesota not central Arizona. Mel shook her head and looked at her mother who was dressed more appropriately in jeans and a light turtleneck sweater.
“Hi, Ginny,” Mel said. “Hi, Mom.”
Joyce Cooper, with the same fair hair and hazel eyes as her daughter turned to her friend and said, “Tell Melanie that I am still not speaking to her.”
“Why?” Ginny asked. She paused to take a sip out of her pink water bottle. “I’m sure she heard you.”
Mel rolled her eyes. Tate and Angie gave her commiserating looks and then the traitors both went over and gave her mother hugs. Backstabbers.
“Hi, Joyce,” Angie said.
“You’re looking lovely, Joyce,” Tate said.
“Ahem,” Ginny cleared her throat.
“You, too, Ginny,” he said. “You really defy age.”
Ginny gave him a beaming smile and Mel wondered if it was his compliment or the vodka in her water bottle that made her so happy. She suspected a combination of the two.
“Ginny, tell my mother that she has to speak to me eventually,” Mel said.
Ginny glanced between them. Then she heaved a put upon sigh. “She hasn’t forgiven you for being engaged to “dear Joe” and not telling her until after you broke it off, which is another thing she is not forgiving you for.”
“I know,” Mel said. “But it’s been months. Really, Mom, come on.”
Joyce glanced pointedly at her watch and then turned away from Mel with a humph that somehow packed a wallop of guilt in it. Guilt was Joyce’s weapon of choice and she had used it to mold and shape Mel and her brother Charlie into the responsible adults that they were. Of course, Mel was pretty sure it also contributed to her emotional eating habits. Was it too early to taste test a salted caramel cupcake?
She shook her head. No. She was not going to feel guilty about keeping her personal life personal. That’s why it was called a personal life. Besides, things were complicated with Joe. They may have called off the engagement, but it didn’t mean she didn’t love him. She just wasn’t sure she could handle the ‘until death us do part’ portion of the whole marriage thing. And then, complicating it even more there was this certain homicide detective who kept fluttering around. Mel sighed. She wanted a vacation. In Tahiti. Now.
“She’s not ready to forgive you yet,” Ginny said.
Mel blew out a sigh. “Then why are you here?”
“I have a proposition for you,” Ginny said.
Mel looked at her mother’s friend. The alarm bells in her head were ringing so loudly that it was hard for Mel to hear what Ginny said next, but she was pretty sure she heard the words “beauty pageant” and “cupcakes.”
“I’m sorry,” Mel said. “Could you repeat that?”
“This year is the 75th annual Sweet Tiara Beauty Pageant,” Ginny said. “I was Sweet Tiara 19--, well, it doesn’t really matter. As a former Miss Sweet Tiara, I promised to help with the event. So, Joyce and I were talking about you, it’s always about you,” Ginny paused to give her a bored look, “But then, I thought that since it’s called “Sweet” Tiara, we should have a portion of the competition be devoted to having our contestants design cupcakes that you bake for them.”
“Brilliant!” Tate said. “Think of the exposure for the bakery.”
“Oh, hell no!” Mel stated. “Absolutely not.”