To Real Danny & Anna
(who's really a cupcake)
With deep, deep thanks to: Patricia McCormick (this book's fairy godmother and this author's cherished friend); Señora Sandi Merrill (gracias for the español); Sharon Brown at Oren's Daily Roast on Waverly (who doses the love into the caffeine); David Levithan (way more a Jimmy Stewart than a Thelma Ritter); Cecil Castellucci (the Queen of Cool, and of Los Feliz); the many fine and dedicated folk at S&S and WMA who have made these books possible--in particular David Gale, Alexandra Cooper, Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, and Alicia Gordon; my friends and family (for the ongoing love and support); and last but certainly not least, all the lovely readers who wrote asking for more, more, more.
A cappuccino cost me my life.
I have only myself to blame, thinking myself even capable of starting a new life.
Also, I blame my mother. She lured me to my doom.
"Cyd Charisse, how many times do I have to ask you?" my mother had said into my cell phone as I traipsed down the stairs of my new apartment building in my new life in New York City. "Have you registered for a culinary school class yet or not?" Just like my mother, to send me off into the world on my own and then let barely a week pass before attempting to micromanage my every move from a coast away in San Francisco.
"Soon, my little pretty," I promised. "I have more important business to take care of first." Like, go out for a coffee--then figure out how to execute the Plan for my new life. No civilized person
should be expected to go about the routine of their daily lives until they are properly caffeinated in the morning. It should be written into the Bill of Rights.
Proving miracles do indeed happen, I'd passed through the first stage of the Plan for the new life by graduating high school. (Pause for moment of shock and a giant sigh of relief from my parents.) That mission accomplished, my Plan laid out that I would then celebrate liberation from my parents' college dreams for me by (1) moving into the empty bedroom in my half brother Danny's apartment in Greenwich Village (done); (2) possibly enrolling in some culinary school classes (working up to it), where I'd definitely win all the important awards like Student with Most Potential to Perfect the Art of the Peanut Butter Cookie, or the coveted So Culinarily (shut up, it is too a word) Blessed She Can Jump Right into Building Her Own Sweets Empire After Only One Class; and (3) the linchpin of the whole Plan--I would not obsess over turning down the marriage proposal from Shrimp, the love of my former high school life, so he could move to New Zealand like he wanted and I could move to Manhattan like I wanted (not there yet with achieving the non-obsession part of the goal). Of course, let's not forget (4)--find the perfect cappuccino in my new city (I was on my way).
And besides, why would I--hello again, (3)--bother mourning the end of my relationship with my beauty surfer boy when I'd be
too busy scamming all the hot guys in NYC, right? The Plan had wiggle room to allow for the probability that almost immediately upon embarking on my new Manhattan existence, I would jump into some sexual experimentation, not with the usual same-sex relationship or the even more unusual longing for androids, but like experiment-fling with a really old and sophisticated guy, like maybe thirty years old. He'd own some anti-hip music club, not one of those chic clubs with VIP rooms for supermodels and underfed movie starlets, but like some raging punk thrasher club. The club would probably be called something like Che or Trotsky, and it would be the choice dive venue, where starving artist musicians wailed from grimy floors and a snarly ambience of hot punk guys with crazy hair and tattoos lit the room and wait a minute, why am I going for the older owner guy when all these gorgeous young indie boys with spiked hair and fully kissable lips on stubble mouths are right in front of me?
SHRIMP!!!!!!!!!!! WHY DID I LET YOU GO?!?!?!?
"CC," my mother stated, for a refreshing change acknowledging my preferred letter name over that movie star name she'd stuck me with, "Are you still there? I said which class are you planning to take first? I looked through the catalog, and it looks to me like if you intend to pursue the pastry rather than the cooking curriculum, you need to start with Introduction to Baking Techniques and Ingredients. And have you looked through the home decorating
catalog I sent you? I flagged the pages with window treatments I thought you'd like in your new bedroom."
"Caffeine," I muttered into the phone. I needed caffeine before I could think about following through with the culinary school part of the Plan. I'd need a whole new identity before I'd let my mother choose bedroom window treatments for my new room.
The caffeine quest beckoned me out of doors. I craved a reminder taste of Shrimp and our espresso-and-fog-hued old life together in San Francisco. So I wanted to cheat a little on the Plan. What choice did I have? My new bedroom in my new life in New York City lacked the vibe only Shrimp would have brought it--his paintings on the walls, his surfboard parked at the door, his weird art of smashed pieces from cell phones and pagers melded into crucifix sculptures, his rap songs whispered into my ear as I fell asleep spooned inside his body. No catalog could deliver me Shrimps fundamental Him.
Damn. Shoulda been part of the Plan--Shrimp. Me and my ignorant aspirations for self-actualization. What drug had I been on? I had to be so mature about letting Shrimp go. Big mistake number one.
I tuned my mother out and repeated a mantra inside my head-- stupid CC, stupid CC, stupid CC --as I banged down the stairwell of my new apartment building. Five freakin' flights down, five freakin' flights to ponder the Shrimpless fate and the questionable
Java awaiting me once I reached ground level and flung myself out onto the streets of New York City.
The strange, unspoken truth about Manhattan: It is very hard to get a good coffee here. Believe it. Here in one of the most bohemian neighborhoods in the world, finding a quality espresso is about as easy as finding an available straight man at the Whole Foods store in Chelsea. No, it doesn't make sense.
I'd already spent my first week here hunting through the Village in search of that perfect espresso shot: dark, thick, and rich, a tan layer of crema on top, at just the right temperature, in just the right properly warmed espresso cup, as Shrimp taught me to appreciate. A dozen different cafés, and zero luck. It's not that the espressos I consumed on my quest were terrible. They were worse. They were mediocre. Flat and too watery, made with beans ground too coarsely, using machines clearly not maintained with the proper measure of reverence and affection, brewed without love or any discernible sense of quality control. Don't get me started on the cappuccinos I sampled. Foaming milk is an art form, but no place I went seemed to care. The baristas were all about moving the customers through the line and shouting back "TALL SKIM VANILLA SOY LATTE" orders like they were working the drive-through window at Burger King. Posers.
I had expected more from New York.
I had expected the top-secret alternate Plan to have kicked in
and for Shrimp to have voluntarily given up on New Zealand and found me here by now.
At least I could count on my brother Danny to get me through, no matter what the Plan. He'd sent me bounding out of our apartment with tales of a place on a Village alleyway somewhere near Gay Street (bless him), where some man-god barista called Dante made the perfect espresso shot. Dante was a true coffee legacy, descended from a long line of Corsican baristas, according to Danny. The trick with Dante was you had to catch him. He'd be there for days or weeks, and word would spread of his greatness, and soon the café would be packed with the obsessive es
That very morning Danny had told me the neighborhood was rife with rumor that Dante was serving up again in the West Village. I had decided to believe my concierge, I mean my brother. Big mistake number two. I had dared to answer my mother's telephone call as I walked down the stairs in pursuit of that Dante cappuccino. Big mistake number three.
My mother said, "You don't mind if we give your bedroom to Ashley, do you? Your little sister is taking your leaving San Francisco very hard, and she's been begging to sleep in your room, and with the new baby coming, we could really use the space."
I replied as any sane just-moved-out daughter would to such a
query--I hung up on my mother. As I did so, I tripped and fell down the flight of stairs between floors two and three of the apartment building.
Fractured my leg in three places.
All for a cappuccino.
NOT PART OF THE PLAN!!!!!!!!!!!
The upside was the gorgeous EMT worker who helped lift the stretcher down the stairs and into the ambulance. His name is George, he's training to be a firefighter, and he's a burly guy with curly brown hair, smiling brown eyes, and a pudgy-muscley Guinness Man body. I would bet that if George puts in quality gym time, he will one day look fightin' fine as Mr. August in the firefighter calendar. As George left me in the ER at Saint Vincent's, I was very brave and did not scream my digits, even though I wanted to when he asked for my number. I whispered the phone number very politely, and I hope the reason he hasn't called me yet isn't because when the nurse touched my leg and asked "Is this where it hurts, honey?" I replied "YES, THAT'S WHERE IT FUCKING HURTS!" even though it wasn't personal against the nurse.
I just missed my mommy.
You think it will be so great to turn eighteen and move out on your own, but then you have it, and you hardly know anybody in the giantropolis of a gazillion people swishing right past you, and your new bedroom is too small and the stairwell in your apartment
building is dark and creepy and taunts you to fall down it. You think it will be so great to be liberated from your parents and their home and their rules. You think it will be so great to have almost-firefighters flirting with you in your moment of dire pain. But once you have it, you think: Eh, maybe it's not so great.
It's lonely here. Different cool, and different scary.
The pint-size surfer-artist love of my life is somewhere on the flip side of the universe with apparently no thought to tracking me down in Manhattan and begging my forgiveness for his having chosen the sea over the CC. My mother was practically to blame for my accident (in my opinion), yet she and my father abandoned me after it. "Broken leg? Oh, that's too bad, dear. Keep the leg elevated and get lots of test!" My parents are too consumed with the household I left back in San Francisco to worry over the tragedy that has befallen their eldest child. My father told me, "I know you're not ready to give up on Manhattan so soon, when you've only just gotten there. Right, Cupcake?" I said, "Right," even though I meant, Wrong! I mean, I may technically be Sid-dad's stepdaughter, but I am his Cupcake, his pet, and how he figured I would prefer the delivery of a lavish bouquet of Get Well Soon roses to a chartered plane to deliver me home to recuperate, I have no idea. I don't know my own family anymore.
Now the giantropolis is closed off to me. When you have a broken leg with a cast and crutches, you do not want to climb five flights of stairs every day.
I am stuck in my new room but in what is not my new life-- it's no life. All I do is watch movies, sleep, eat, and wait around for something-- anything --interesting to happen. My favorite inspirational movie to watch is Rear Window, because that's the other thing I do in my new not-life. Alllll ... dayyyy ... looooooong I convalesce on a long chaise, looking out my bedroom rear window and sweating in the glare of the afternoon summer sun, cursing the Plan.
When I fall asleep into a painkiller-induced commune coma of me and a rear window, I dream of Shrimp. Our reunion opens like the first love scene in Rear Window, where Grace Kelly greets James Stewart. I'm asleep in my chair at the rear window at dusk, the binoculars on my lap, my leg propped up, with a cast that reads, Here lie the broken bones of Cyd Charisse. She prefers to be called "CC" now. A shadow falls over my face, and even though I am half-asleep, I sense movement--someone is near. The soundtrack of some mournful-sexy jazz music coming from God only knows where syncopates my racing heartbeat. I glimpse him through the fogged-in lens of my slowly opening eyes. As my eyelids raise, I see Shrimp in colors: the platinum patch of light blond hair spiked over a head of dirty blond hair, the cherry red of his lips, the deep ocean blue of his eyes. I almost want to stay in my half-awake Crayola Shrimp dream state, to hold on to the anticipation of his nearness. Then I feel his tight little body leaning over to kiss me, and my eyes spring wide open. He's here, finally, and I must touch him. Shrimp
is dressed like the King of Hearts, surfer version, in a black wet suit with red hearts emblazoned on the left side of his chest, and a white string necklace with heart-shaped puka shells. As my lips turn up into a lazy smile, Shrimp closes in for our close-up kiss. Like Grace Kelly, he can make even a closed-mouth kiss sexy. But when I try to part his mouth with my own, smother him in kisses, he is gone, because I am awake for real. Shrimp is on the other side of the world and I let him go, and I'm left here in the most exciting city in the world with nothing to do except long for him.
More than I want a good coffee, I'd like a new Plan, one that assures me that by the time I am liberated outside of this apartment again, the Dante barista-man of the perfect cappuccino will not already be back in Corsica, and my Shrimp-man of the dreamy kisses will not be in love with some g'day-sayin' surfer bitch in New Zealand. I still want the new-life-in-New-York part of the old Plan, but I wouldn't mind it revised to include some of my former life in San Francisco, where it's never warm but it's always safe, and I had a true love supposedly for forever.
True love. I'm starting to suspect the concept is pure illusion, an insipid brand name manufactured by Hallmark and Disney.
"There, there, Ceece," Danny soothed. "So young to be so jaded. If true love is pure illusion, then what is this the two of us have here?" He sat on the toilet next to the bathtub, a dark shower curtain allowing him to see just his sister's face and her garbage-bag-wrapped-cast leg propped up on the bathtub ledge, rather than a full-on vision of her nakedness. From his side of the curtain he handed me a pitcher of water to rinse out the conditioner in my hair.
"This is just weird, bordering on platonic incest, if such a concept is also available for branding," I answered. I poured the water over my head, then dipped my head under the bathwater for an extra rinse.
Branding is what Danny oughta do for the cupcake business he started after the café he owned with his former boyfriend went under. This city has gone crazy for cupcakes. They're sold everywhere: in cafés, in bakeries, even in street corner bodegas. The heavenly creations Danny sells to these establishments go way beyond the simple devil's food cake with buttercream frosting formula to include Oreo, Reese's, and Snickers concoctions; genius with marshmallow fluff; and pastel-hued fondant layers with Matisselike confectionary portraits on top. And while I would very much like not to be seduced by anything so fashionable, I can't help myself either. When I came up from under the bathwater, I told the cupcake mastermind, "And I'm gonna be really happy if you tell me you baked the chocolate cupcakes with your signature cappuccino-flavor frosting as a reward later tonight for me making it through this bath experience."
Even if I hadn't known my biological half brother my whole life, I still couldn't think of a single other person now whom I'd want sitting alongside me in the bathroom as I attempted the annoying and painful task of not only stepping into the tub, but
had a wife and children, namely Danny and our other sister, lisBETH. Yet for all that I've only known Danny for a small fraction of my life, from the instant we met I felt this instant ka-pow! connection with him. Maybe a shrink would say the ka-pow! was really ka-phony!, but that assessment would be wrong, because mostly what I've felt with Frank and lisBETH since getting to know them has been, We share nothing besides some random DNA, and it's gonna be a long time before--and if--we ever truly bond.
"Then be happy, Dollface," Danny said. "I made you a special cappuccino cupcake batch this very afternoon." He placed a bottle of bubble bath on the ledge, and I couldn't help but pause and (non-incestuously--seriously) admire his nice face before turning my body slightly to run fresh warm water into the bath. Sometimes when I look at Danny's happy face with kind brown eyes shaped and colored as perfect as espresso beans, framed in bushy brown eyebrows and a mop of messy black hair, a chronic grin charming his lips, I think, How did I get so lucky to discover you?
"Oh, be Thelma Ritter, would you?" I asked him. She's the wisecracking, all-knowing insurance nurse who tends to James Stewart in Rear Window. She's kinda my hero.
"You start," Danny said.
I mimicked clipped consonant Grace Kelly-speak. "Did you bring me dinner from 21, darling?"
Danny rolled his eyes like Thelma Ritter and imitated her exasperated, seen-it-all, middle-aged lady nasal tone. "Didn't you heat, Dollface? 21 went out of fashion years ago."
"Darling," I repeated, trying hard at Grace Kelly's cool sophistication, but succeeding mostly with CC's spazification, "are you aware that the swank new restaurant where Aaron took the chef job does home delivery? I bet if we called him now, he'd deliver dinner to us himself!"