Read The Sweetest Thing Online

Authors: Christina Mandelski

The Sweetest Thing

stw

he eetest

Thing

stw

he eetest

Thing

c h r i s t i n a m a n d e l s k i

n e w y o r k

First published by Egmont USA, 2011

443 Park Avenue South, Suite 806

New York, NY 10016

Copyright © Christina Mandelski, 2011

All rights reserved

1 3 5 7 9 8 6 4 2

ww.egmontusa.com

www.christinamandelski.com

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data TK

ISBN 978-1-60684-129-7

eBook ISBN 978-1-60684-253-9

Book design by Torborg Davern

Printed in the United States of America CPSIA tracking label information:

Random House Production · 1745 Broadway · New York, NY 10019

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher and copyright owner.

To Michael,

Best friend, husband, voice of reason. and soul mate.

You
are
the icing on the cake.

Chapter One
out of the frying pan,

into the fire

I make cakes. It’s what I do. It’s what I love.

But today, I’m standing over a mermaid, wondering what’s wrong. She’s as long as my arm, and beautiful—no doubt about that. Carved from devil’s food, she’s got a cute face, pouty red lips, fierce blonde hair. And her tail fin is nothing short of amazing.

It should be. Last night, while most girls my age were panting over their boyfriends at the Grand Rapids Cineplex, I was sculpting fish scales out of fondant.

The colors are perfect: shades of teal, indigo, and turquoise.

On the board beneath her, there’s an underwater garden on a cobalt blue buttercream ocean. There are coral-colored gum paste anemones, green royal icing seaweed, graham cracker sand, and silver oysters made from modeling chocolate. And inside each oyster, a single, edible pearl.

But something is definitely missing, and it’s making me nuts.

Plus, we’re late for church, and when Dad gets here, he’s sure to be in a wonderful mood. The man’s obsessed with getting his own cable cooking show, and now it looks like it might happen. You’d think that would make him sort of happy, but instead he’s a moody ball of stress.

I turn away from the cake, hit “next” on my iPod, randomly land on “It’s the End of the World as We Know It,”

which seems like a bad sign. So I yank out the earbuds and wait for inspiration.

In the meantime, I lean over and pipe “Happy Birthday, Tara” in fancy purple script across a delicate white chocolate banner the size of a dollar bill. I carefully lift it off of the waxed paper and place it in the mermaid’s hands.

Tara McIntyre, birthday girl, is a junior cheerleader who I don’t know at all, except as an object of envy. She dated Ethan Murphy for about six weeks last year. I don’t know
him
, either, except that he’s the most perfect guy I’ve ever laid eyes on. I’ve seen him at my dad’s restaurant a few times, but for the most part, he sticks with the ultra-popular set and whatever lucky girl he’s dating at the moment. In a nut-shell, he doesn’t know I exist.

Slam!
The back door flies open. My thoughts of Ethan fly away. Dad’s here.

2

“Oh, come on!” He roars. “You’re not done yet? We’re late!”

I straighten up and throw him a dirty look. “Good morning to you, too, sunshine.”

He glances at his watch.

“Come on, Sheridan. Much later and we might as well not bother.”

“Fine,” I say. “Then let’s not bother. Not like going to church twice a year counts anyway.”

Even the great chef Donovan Wells can’t argue with that.

We’re only going today because the Bishop is in town for Palm Sunday mass, and he’s my dad’s biggest fan.

Dad huffs, pulls out his BlackBerry, and leans against the counter. “We’re going. So please hurry,” he says, crank-ing out a text.

I step back and survey the cake again, tapping a finger on my lower lip. He reads another message and is suddenly standing next to me.

“What’s the problem? It’s done, it’s great, fantastic. Let’s go!”

“It’s not done,” I whisper.

His phone vibrates and he walks away.

What’s missing? I stop and close my eyes. I hear the doorbell jingle over and over again at the front of the bakery as customers stop by for their Sunday muffins, pastries, and coffee cakes. It’s a happy sound that reminds me of better days.

3

“We are so late!” Dad rails in a deep vibrato, like he’s going to blow.

Better days. When my father’s voice was not volcanic; when my mom was here for me. I picture her. Soft hair, streaked golden. Long fingers with trimmed nails painted cotton candy pink. Pastry bag in hand. Always smiling.

It’s all in the details, Cupcake.

That’s what she’d say.

And then, like magic, I know what’s missing. Shimmer dust. Yes.

I make a beeline for the supply shelf, grab a jar and a small paintbrush. A light touch with the fine glittering sugar on her scales and the apples of her cheeks and the mermaid comes to life under my hand.

Now she’s done.

Thanks, Mom.

I push the cake toward the corner of the stainless-steel counter. It must weigh at least fifty pounds.

“Dad? A little help?” He’s sending another text.

Finally, he pockets the phone and lifts an end. We move Tara’s mermaid into the cooler, where she’ll wait for someone to pick her up.

Poor thing doesn’t have a chance. She’ll be ravaged by the St. Clair High varsity football team, while the birthday girl and her fellow cheerleaders munch on carrot sticks and watch.

Makes me sad, but it is part of the job. Cakes are made 4

to be eaten.

Dad is already at the back door, holding it open, waiting.

Just once I wish he’d take some time to look at my cakes.

Notice the details, maybe compliment me. But he doesn’t do that, ever.

I tear off my pink polka-dot apron, grab my winter coat, and stick my head up front.

“See ya, Nan!” I yell to my grandmother, who owns the place, but she can’t hear me because her head is in the muffin case. Sweetie’s Bake Shoppe is bustling, and I smile. I love this place, where I’ve spent a part of almost every day since birth. Where I learned how to decorate cakes and discovered that it’s what I do best.

These days, I’m the go-to girl in town for awesome cakes. I can make anything, for anyone, for any occasion. I am Cake Girl.

“Oh my God, Sheridan. Let’s go!” And then there’s my father. In his world lately, I’m barely a blip on the radar.

As we walk in the freezing cold to Blessed Sacrament, Dad mumbles that he needs to get in and out because he’s expecting a call from Sebastian. Sebastian is the agent from New York who is trying to make my dad a TV star.

The church is only two blocks away, but by the time we get there, it’s standing room only. It looks like everyone in St. Mary is here.

But we’re okay, of course; the Bishop has reserved seats 5

for us. In the front row.

Walking up the center aisle of the jam-packed sanctuary twenty minutes late is utterly mortifying. Almost every face is familiar, and I can see the words “Who do they think they are?” floating in the air like a cartoon word bubble.

The Bishop smiles and nods at us, probably imagining the dinner Dad will make for him later. But Father Crowley (aka Growly), who is here every week and knows we never come, watches us with his fire-and-brimstone eyes.

We excuse ourselves past Mr. and Mrs. Durbin, who are sitting in the front row because they were on time. Then Dad and I settle in and listen to the end of the sermon about Jesus’s final ride into Jerusalem, when all the people waved palms and screamed at him like he was Elvis or something.

Nanny took me to her church a lot when I was little, so I know some Bible stories, and this one always bothered me.

I mean, these people got all excited about seeing the Son of God and then a few days later they killed him?

The lesson here: even Jesus couldn’t count on people.

How sad is that?

I’m contemplating these deep thoughts when an ear-piercing ringtone jolts me back to reality. It’s coming from Dad’s pocket. You can hear the collective turn of every head in the place. Even the Bishop looks a little annoyed. But Dad doesn’t notice; he just flings back his lapel and pulls out his phone.

He peers at the screen and stands up.
Don’t do it, Dad.

6

Don’t take a call during church
. Surprise: he pushes his way past the Durbins without a word to me.

I grab the thick hymnal in front of me and flop it open to a random page, hoping it will suck me up and spit me out in some alternate universe where my father still behaves like a human. I look up and see Growly’s forehead vein popping out as he prays for our doomed souls.

The choir starts singing, and I rise to join the communion line. Mrs. Faxon stands behind me and gives me a sym-pathetic squeeze on the arm. She’s been the secretary at the elementary school since the beginning of time and was there the day Mom didn’t come to pick me up. That afternoon, Mrs. Faxon held my hand and let me eat some of the dusty conversation hearts from the dish on her desk. She knows the whole sad story.

I make my way up to the altar. Growly stares daggers into my eyes as I stand in front of him, my palms open.

“Body of Christ,” he says, jamming the wafer into my hand. He’s probably surprised that I don’t burst into flames.

He’s one of my grandmother’s best friends (don’t ask me why), so he knows the whole story, too: my mom ran off with a stranger, leaving Dad with both a crazy busy restaurant and a really confused seven-year-old.

“Amen,” I say, trying to look as sorry as I feel.

When I get back to the pew and lower myself to the kneeler, I squeeze my eyes tight, thankful that this is almost over.

7

The Bishop says the closing prayer, and I feel my cell phone vibrate in the pocket of my dress. I ignore it and sneak out the side door as quickly as I can, trying to avoid Growly and anyone else who just witnessed my father’s horrid behavior. Outside, I dig under my thick white parka for the phone and see a text from Dad.

Come to S&I now.

My heart falls with a plop into my stomach, and I walk down the hill toward Sheridan & Irving’s, the restaurant that Mom and Dad opened before I was born. It’s named after the street corner in Chicago where they met. Romantic, yes—minus the fairy-tale ending, of course.

The redbrick mansion swallows me up as I climb the front steps and push through the heavy oak doors. The restaurant is closed today, but Dad is in the kitchen. As always.

When I walk through the main dining room, I smell something wonderful. He’s cooking. I sniff. Pancetta? My favorite Italian pork product. Like bacon, only better. Sniff again. Garlic, oregano, basil. The air swells with this heavenly scent. My mouth is watering.

I walk through to the kitchen. He’s behind the counter, suit jacket off, white chef’s jacket on.

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