Authors: Darlene Panzera
The Cupcake Diaries: Sweet On You
For my children,
Samantha, Robert, and Jason
And in loving memory of
Denise Bova Gant
February 11, 1979−March 25, 2012
Forget love . . . I’d rather fall in chocolate!
NDI CAST A
glance over the rowdy karaoke crowd to the man sitting at the front table with the
clear plastic bakery box in his possession.
“What am I supposed to say?” she whispered, looking back at her sister, Kim, and their
friend Rachel as the three of them huddled together. “Can I have your cupcake? He’ll
think I’m a lunatic.”
“Say ‘please,’ and tell him about our tradition,” Kim suggested.
“Offer him money.” Rachel dug through her dilapidated Gucci knockoff purse and withdrew
a ten-dollar bill. “And let him know we’re celebrating your sister’s birthday.”
“You did promise me a cupcake for my birthday,” Kim said with an impish grin. “Besides,
the guy doesn’t look like he plans to eat it. He hasn’t even glanced at the cupcake
since the old woman came in and delivered the box.”
Andi tucked a loose strand of her dark blond hair behind her ear and drew in a deep
breath. She wasn’t used to taking food from anyone. Usually she was on the other end—giving
it away. Her fault. She didn’t plan ahead.
Why couldn’t any of the businesses here be open twenty-four hours like in Portland?
Out of the two dozen eclectic cafes and restaurants along the Astoria waterfront promising
to satisfy customers’ palates, shouldn’t at least one cater to late-night customers
like herself? No, they all shut down at 10:30, some earlier, as if they knew she was
coming. That’s what she got for living in a small town. Anticipation but no cake.
However, she was determined not to let her younger sister down. She’d promised Kim
a cupcake for her twenty-sixth birthday, and she’d try her best to procure one, even
if it meant making a fool of herself.
Andi shot her ever-popular friend Rachel a wry look. “You know you’re better at this
than I am.”
Rachel grinned. “You’re going to have to start interacting with the opposite sex again
Maybe. But not on the personal level, Rachel’s tone suggested. Andi’s divorce the
previous year had left behind a bitter aftertaste no amount of sweet talk could dissolve.
Pushing back her chair, she stood up. “Tonight, all I want is the cupcake.”
NDI HAD TAKEN
only a few steps when the man with the bakery box turned his head and smiled.
He probably thought she was coming over, hoping to find a date. Why shouldn’t he?
The Captain’s Port was filled with people looking for a connection, if not for a lifetime,
then at least for the hour or so they shared within the friendly confines of the restaurant’s
casual, communal atmosphere.
She hesitated midstep before continuing forward. Heat rushed into her cheeks. Dressed
in jeans and a navy blue tie and sport jacket, he was even better looking than she’d
first thought. Thirtyish. Light brown hair, fair skin with an evening shadow along
his jaw, and the most amazing gold-flecked, chocolate brown eyes she’d ever seen.
. He could have his pick of any woman in the place. Any woman in Astoria, Oregon.
“Hi,” he said.
Andi swallowed the nervous tension gathering at the back of her throat and managed
a smile in return. “Hi. I’m sorry to bother you, but it’s my sister’s birthday, and
I promised her a cupcake.” She nodded toward the see-through box and waved the ten-dollar
bill. “Is there any chance I can persuade you to sell the one you have here?”
His brows shot up. “You want my cupcake?”
“I meant to bake a batch this afternoon,” she gushed, her words tumbling over themselves,
“but I ended up packing spring break lunches for the needy kids in the school district.
Have you heard of the Kids’ Coalition backpack program?”
He nodded. “Yes, I think the
featured the free lunch backpack program on the community page a few weeks ago.”
“I’m a volunteer,” she explained. “And after I finished, I tried to buy a cupcake
but didn’t get to the store in time. I’ve never let my sister down before, and I feel
The new addition to her list of top ten dream-worthy males leaned back in his chair
and pressed his lips together, as if considering her request, then shook his head.
“I’d love to help you, but—”
.” Andi gasped, appalled she’d stooped to begging. She straightened her shoulders
and lifted her chin. “I understand if you can’t, it’s just that my sister, Kim, my
friend Rachel, and I have a tradition.”
“What kind of tradition?”
Andi pointed to their table, and Kim and Rachel smiled and waved. “Our birthdays are
spaced four months apart, so we split a celebration cupcake three ways and set new
goals for ourselves from one person’s birthday to the next. It’s easier than trying
to set goals for an entire year.”
“I don’t suppose you could set your goals without the cupcake?” he asked, his eyes
sparkling with amusement.
Andi smiled. “It wouldn’t be the same.”
“If the cupcake were mine to give, it would be yours. But this particular cupcake
was delivered for a research project I have at work.”
“Wish I had your job.” Andi dropped into the chair he pulled out for her and placed
her hands flat on the table. “What if I told you it’s been a really tough day, tough
week, tough year?”
He pushed his empty coffee cup aside, and the corners of his mouth twitched upward.
“I’d say I could argue the same.”
“But did you spend the last three hours running all over town looking for a cupcake?”
she challenged, playfully mimicking Rachel’s flirtatious, sing-song tone. “The Pig
’n Pancake was closed, along with the supermarket, and the cafe down the street said
they don’t even sell them anymore. And then . . . I met you.”
He covered her left hand with his own, and although the unexpected contact made her
jump, she ignored the impulse to pull her fingers away. His gesture seemed more an
act of compassion than anything else, and, frankly, she liked the feel of his firm
yet gentle touch.
“What if I told you,” he said, leaning forward, “that I’ve traveled five hundred and
seventy miles and waited sixty-three days to taste this one cupcake?”
Andi leaned toward him as well. “I’d say that’s ridiculous. There’s no cupcake in
Astoria worth all that trouble.”
“What if this particular cupcake isn’t from Astoria?”
“No?” She took another look at the box but didn’t see a label. “Where’s it from?”
“Hollande’s French Pastry Parlor outside of Portland.”
“What if I told you I would send you a dozen Hollande’s cupcakes tomorrow?”
“What if I told
,” he said, and stopped to release a deep, throaty chuckle, “this is the last morsel
of food I have to eat before I starve to death today?”
Andi laughed. “I’d say that’s a good way to go. Or I could invite you to my place
and cook you dinner.”
Her heart stopped, stunned by her own words, then rebooted a moment later when their
gazes locked, and he smiled at her.
“You can have the cupcake on one condition.”
Giving her a wink, he slid the bakery box toward her. Then he leaned his head in close
and whispered in her ear.
There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate.
to Rachel and Kim with the prize in hand—or at least three-fourths of the prize.
She set the gourmet chocolate cupcake topped with white icing and crushed toffee candy
sprinkles on the table in front of them.
“You got it!” Rachel squealed. “Did you get his phone number, too?”
Andi flushed. She didn’t even get his name. After he smiled at her that second time,
all she could do was stare at him like a gaping idiot. “No, just the cupcake.”
“Why is there a piece missing?” Kim pointed. “Did he bite into it before you got there?”
“No,” she said, unable to stop grinning. “He said instead of splitting the cupcake
three ways, we’d have to cut it in four.”
Rachel bobbed her curly head. “Fair enough.”
Kim helped Andi divvy up the three remaining cupcake pieces onto paper napkins, and
without being asked, their waitress brought over a candle and a pack of matches.
“Compliments from the man up front,” the waitress told them.
Andi turned around to give him an appreciative nod, and he smiled a third time.
“Somebody’s in trouble,” Rachel sang getting up from her seat.
Andi frowned. She wasn’t in trouble. For once in her life, she’d accomplished what
she’d set out to do: she got the cupcake.
“Oh, no,” Kim moaned.
Andi followed her sister’s fearful gaze toward Rachel, who had walked over to the
karaoke singer with the microphone. The sound system crackled twice.
Then the male singer, whose belly strained against his red suspenders, cleared his
throat and announced, “I hear we have someone celebrating her birthday tonight.” He
pointed at Kim, who looked as if she wanted to crawl under the table to hide. “Everyone
sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Kimberly Nicole Burke.”
Andi lit the candle on the cupcake, and after the song, Kim blew out the flame to
the applause of everyone in the room.
“I’m surprised you didn’t take the microphone out of his hands and perform your sultry
nightclub rendition,” Andi teased when Rachel returned to her seat.
“I don’t sing in public,” Rachel said, tossing her red curls over her shoulder. “It
might ruin my image.”
“You’re wrong,” Andi said, distributing the remaining three bite-sized pieces of the
sweet, perfectly iced, dreamy-gooey, chocolate lovers’ cupcake. “I think your voice
Rachel grinned. “That’s what friends are for.”
Andi turned to her sister. “Did you make a wish?”
“I wished for a job, so I can get my own apartment instead of living at home with
Andi’s heart went out to her. “You didn’t get the position at the art gallery?”
Kim’s delicate dark brows drew together as she shook her head. “No. They gave it to
someone else. How about you?”
“There are only so many dentists in Astoria, and the offices I visited aren’t hiring
any dental assistants right now. It doesn’t help that I haven’t worked since before
Mia was born, and I’m not familiar with the new technology.”
Kim leaned forward, her face solemn. “Any word on your deadbeat ex?”