ever underestimate the power of cupcakes. Or the women who bake them.
Honey D'Amourvell pondered that truth as she sat on the wooden bench behind Ross & Sons auto repair, trying to get comfortable. She'd long since passed any hope of civilized perspiration and had moved straight into actual sweating, so comfort of any kind was a stretch. She curled her fingers around the plastic water bottle and debated the merits of simply yanking her blouse open and rolling the cold bottle directly over her chest. Could anyone blame her? How did people live in heat like this? Much less feel like baking cupcakes? And yet, it didn't seem to be affecting the cupcake ladies in the least.
She watched the action across the narrow back alley, as the happy baker bunch piled out of their cars and trooped through the service entrance into Cakes by the Cup, the local Sugarberry Island cupcakery. They were smiling, laughing, and boisterously chatting with each other as they carted in all manner of baking supplies and tools of the cupcake trade.
Honey knew from her stroll around the small town square earlier that the shop had closed to the public a half hour ago, so she wasn't sure what, exactly, they were up to, but she doubted it was baking cupcakes for the next day's trade. According to the sign in the front window of the shop, the owner prided herself on offering only freshly baked cupcakes. A bit of quick research on Honey's phone had revealed the owner of the cupcakery to be Leilani Dunne. Wife to television star, Chef Hot Cakes himself, Baxter Dunne. Honey had even discovered a whole website devoted to their newest enterprise, Babycakesâa mail order and catering adjunct to the main bakery, located right next door.
Her gaze shifted to the narrow, whitewashed building that shared a common wall with the cupcake shop and she instinctively pressed the cold water bottle to the front of her blouse. It was a vain attempt to soothe the heat . . . and the twinge in her heart. It didn't do much for either.
She'd already noted that a covered walkway had been erected between the rear doors of both shops. She supposed she should be thankful. The covered walkway likely meant they hadn't busted through the common wall.
So, there was that.
Her gaze drifted upward to the two sets of windows on the second floor above the shop, and she pressed the water bottle harder as the twinge became a clutch.
Oh, Aunt Beavis . . . what did you do?
Whatever her aunt had done, or had not done, it was going to take more than a few random internet searches to figure out how things had gone so horribly wrong.
I should go on over there right now,
Just head on in, introduce myself, explain who I am, and why I'm here.
Yeah . . . that wasn't such a great idea. Not right this second, anyway.
She was going to have to cross paths with the cupcake crew at some point, given the surprising set of circumstances she'd discovered upon her arrival on the island. But, whenever that meeting happened, it wasn't likely to leave them wanting to welcome her with cheerful cupcakes and party sprinkles. So why rush things? She'd only been on Sugarberry for forty-five minutes, and already she had more immediate concerns. Like getting her car back up and running.
But they all looked friendly enough, and were certainly a joyful, peppy group. Maybe they were on a giddy sugar buzz high and wouldn't hold against her personally the news she had to share. It wasn't like it was her fault. Someone on Sugarberry, or at the law offices in Savannah, had clearly screwed up. Big time.
On the other hand, Honey had been on the wrong side of pack mentality types her entire life. She knew better than most not to take on a pack leader, especially when said leader was on her own turf, surrounded by her dedicated and loyal packettes.
Don't let the cheerful cupcakes fool you!
Honey plucked uselessly at the front of her damp blouse. During their frequent phone chats, her dearly departed aunt had often mentioned the lovely island breeze and how moderate the temperatures were all year round. Since Sugarberry Island was off the coast of Georgia, Honey had expected the summers would be on the warm side. But Bea hadn't mentioned it turned into a veritable steam bath as early as April.
Not for the first time since packing up her entire life and hitting the road, Honey wondered if she should have stayed in Oregon. It had been silly, not to mention completely irrational, to think things would be different on the island, no matter how many times Bea had insisted they would be.
Honey missed her aunt terribly and would forever regret not getting to spend more time with her, face-to-face. Bea was the only other person on the planet who'd understood. The only person Honey had been able to relax with and completely let down her guard. Be herself. Along with all the lovely eccentricities that entailed.
Honey smiled faintly, hearing her mother's voice echoing in her mind, as that was the term she and Honey's father had taken to using for their only daughter's odd little “differences.”
Of course, growing up in the Pacific Northwest, being different should have meant she'd fit right in. After all, her own parentsâGod rest their unconditionally loving soulsâhadn't exactly been mainstream. Her father had grown up on a commune in northern California and become an herb farmer and wood carver, while her mother was a rug weaver who spun her own wool, straight from her own personal little herd of llamas. Her parents' circle of friends had been equally . . . interesting. If anything, growing up, Honey had always felt like the normal one.
As it turned out, there was a limit on just how different one was allowed to be. And if she'd failed that litmus test in Juniper Hollow, Oregon, why on earth would she expect anywhere else to be more welcoming? Even though Bea had sworn she'd found just that place on Sugarberry.
Of course, Bea had always considered those same eccentricities to be a gift, rather than the curse Honey felt they were. But Honey was working on gaining a new perspective, or trying to, anyway. She was on the island, wasn't she?
“And yet, the joke? Is still on me.” She finished her second bottle of water, staring at the building across the alley. “That's a stunner.”
Honey was still there an hour and a half later, working on water bottle number four and starting to feel like a camel, when the same women exited Cakes by the Cup, boxed up goodies tucked under their arms. The rich scents of freshly baked cake, warm, buttery, and delicious, followed them into the little lot behind the shop, then wafted through the thick air, making her stomach grumble in appreciation.
She watched them pile into their cars, continuing to toss comments back and forth, still laughing and chatting, until they finally pulled out of the tiny lot in their various vehicles and drove off, leaving only the scent of buttery, sugary goodness in their wake. None of them had noticed her, sitting across the way. Maybe they were used to customers hanging out behind the repair shop, waiting for their cars to be ready. Or maybe she was as invisible as she'd been in Oregon.
She pushed up her prescription glassesâagainâand scratched at the mosquito bite on her neck. She couldn't imagine ever getting used to such humidity. Or the bugs. The sun dipping behind the row of shops had only seemed to increase that particular carnivorous hoard. And, again, it had to be said . . . it was only April.
At the moment, she was praying her poor old Volkswagen Beetle would be ready soon so she could stop thinking about the happy, peppy cupcake bakers and start figuring out how she was going to inform the Queen Bee of Cake about her inheritance.
Honey decided she was okay with not being noticed, thankful for it, in fact. She'd had no real idea how she'd planned on introducing herself to her new community, but was well aware how crucial first impressions could be. She'd figured she'd settle in, get the lay of the land, start with plotting and planning out her new enterprise, then see where that might lead. Gradually integrate herself. Given her personal demons, it would be best to take folks on a few at a time, rather than en masse. At least until she felt comfortable, after such a long time spent . . . well, hiding.
Confronting the owner of what appeared to be a very popular island establishment with news that was definitely not going to go over well wasn't exactly the best way to kick things off.
For a very long time, Honey had convinced herself that being a social pariah was a blessing. If she didn't deal with folks, then folks didn't have to deal with her and her “eccentricities.”
But as life marched onward for everyone else, while she hung out, safely tucked away on the perimeter, watching . . . she'd finally been forced to admit what she'd known all along: no matter how rich or fulfilling a life she'd built for herself out on the fringes, not being around people pretty much sucked.
Otherwise, she'd still be working in her barn out in Middle of Nowhere, Oregon, and not sitting on a hard wooden bench in Georgia, swatting bugs, watching the cupcake ladies . . . and allowing herself to wonder what it would be like to be one of them. To just . . . hang out, to chat, laugh, and share.
It wasn't hard to imagine how much she'd enjoy it. She wasn't awkward, socially or otherwise, or even particularly dorky. Sure, she wasn't a stunner in the looks department, but she didn't make babies cry, either. Her body might not turn heads, but it was functional and didn't let her down. She'd always been a fairly confident, self aware, decently sharp-witted person. But being confident and self-assured didn't automatically equal fitting in.
Not when all she had to do was touch someone to suddenly know all sorts of things about what was going to happen or what had already happened, good or bad, to that person. Unfortunately, the bad often far outweighed the good. Neither the party in question, nor Honey herself particularly wanted her to know about those kinds of things, but once she did know, she couldn't exactly ignore them. To her, it was sort of like a moral imperative. If you knew bad things were going to happen to someone, you had to warn them. Right? You had to at least give them a chance to change the outcome.
Otherwise, what was the point in having the stupid “gift” in the first place?
To top it off, folks were rarely grateful for her warnings. Like the bad news was somehow her fault. But she couldn't just sit there and watch the otherwise inevitable thing happen and not say anything. She'd tried that, but couldn't live with the guilt of not saying anything, and then watching something horrible, even tragic, befall the person. Who could live with that? It left her . . . where, exactly?
“The equivalent of Juniper Hollows' Fifth Horse of the Apocalypse, forced to hide out in the family barn, that's where.” She'd spent her time carving from wood and creating from clay whimsical, happy little garden and woodland critters that filled her personal world, as well as the charming and amusing mail-order catalog that had turned a childhood hobby she'd started with her father into her livelihood as an adult. It was easy to pretend everything was fine when she was surrounded by whimsy, cuteness, and the always adorable. Easy to believe she was happy enough and blessed to be doing something she loved.
As long as I don't get close to anyone. Ever again.
happy. She was. In all the limited ways she could be, anyway. She loved her work, enjoyed her customers, and had built a successful, fulfilling, if very secluded life for herself. It was a lot more fun making people happy than sending them running, hiding from the very sight of her. She simply wanted the same things everyone else didâfriends, acceptance, a sense of belonging. She'd actually found a way to have that, too. Just . . . at a carefully controlled distance.
With the launch of the new yearâthe last one before she turned the big three-ohâcoupled with the loss of her last remaining family member, and a newly acquired inheritance, Honey had found herself unable to shut out the niggling thoughts and desires she'd tried to talk herself out of.
The real truth was, she wanted what the cupcake ladies hadâcommunity, partnership, family, and friends. The up close and personal kind. Watching them, knowing she was finally going to reach for what they had, the desire had become almost a physical ache. God, but she was lonely. Thriving business or no, communicating all day long with people via the phone or e-mail was a far cry from laughing, chatting, and baking in the same kitchen . . . together.
Bea's letter she'd received from the lawyer after her aunt's death, along with the packet detailing the rest of her inheritance, had been, in the end, what had dissolved her carefully constructed defenses. Honey held that letter in her heart as her real inheritance. Of far more value than the physical possessions Bea had left to her only niece had been her words of wisdom. One part, in particular, stayed with Honey always.
Don't ever settle for less when there could be so much more. Life is not meant to be lived in the shadows. Don't assume there is no welcome mat out there for you. I know there is one right here, Honey Pie, waiting for you. Trust me enough to come to my island, to my home, and find out for yourself. Love yourself enough to give it a true and honest chance. I love you, child of my heart. Twin to my soul.
Honey heard her Aunt Beavis as clearly as if she were sitting beside her.
“Well,” she murmured, pushing her glasses up and wiping at the corners of her eyes. “I'm here. So . . . now what?”
Bea had been right about one thing; Honey couldn't reinvent herself or turn over a new leaf in Juniper Hollow. So she'd set out for the east coast.
Bea would be proud of her. Hell, she was proud of herself. She'd made it all the way to Georgia. To Sugarberry Island. Albeit barely. Her car had started coughing and spittingâmore like gasping its final death rattleâas soon as she'd crossed the causeway to the island. A sign? She didn't know. Her curse didn't include knowing things that would happen to herselfâwhich she'd long since determined was a definite blessing.