Authors: Lisa Graff
Tags: #Action & Adventure, #Family, #Juvenile Fiction, #Fantasy & Magic, #General, #Orphans & Foster Homes
Fifty-Three Years Later . . .
a cake that’s sweet, simple, and hard to dislike
FOR THE CAKE
small sliver of butter (for greasing the cake pan)
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups sliced canned peaches (about 1
2 cups flour (plus extra for preparing the cake pan)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
cup chopped walnuts
FOR THE FROSTING
3 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
4 tbsp butter, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar
tsp ground ginger
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease a 10-inch tube pan or Bundt pan with butter, and flour lightly.
2. In a small bowl, beat the eggs lightly with a fork. Set aside.
3. Drain the canned peaches into a sieve or strainer and rinse them lightly. Pat them dry with a paper towel and measure out 2 cups. Set aside.
4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon. Set aside.
5. In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, granulated sugar, and oil with a wooden spoon until just blended. Slowly add the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Carefully fold in the peaches and nuts.
6. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a cake rack to cool completely before frosting.
7. While the cake is cooling, make the frosting: In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla with a mixer on medium speed, until well combined and smooth, about 1 to 2 minutes. Reducing the mixer to low speed, gradually add the powdered sugar and ginger, and beat until smooth. Apply frosting to the top of the cooled cake.
ISS MALLORY’S HOME FOR LOST GIRLS IN POUGHKEEPSIE
, New York, was technically an orphanage, but there were hardly ever any orphans there. In fact, most days, if you peeked inside the window, you would see only one orphan, all by herself but hardly lonely, standing on her tiptoes at the kitchen counter, baking a cake.
Cadence, that was her name.
She was standing there now, Cady, deciding what to add to her bowl of batter. If you squinted through the window, you could just make her out from the chin up (Cady was barely a wisp of a thing). You’d see the shiny, crow-black hair that hung smooth as paper from the top of her head to the bottoms of her earlobes. And you’d see the petite—pixieish, Miss Mallory called them—features of her face. Tiny nose, tiny mouth, tiny ears. Cady’s eyes, however, those were large in comparison to the rest of her. Large and dark and round, and set just so on a face the color of a leaf that has clung too long to its tree.
Flour, sugar, butter, eggs. Cady studied the bowl in front of her. She closed her eyes, digging into the furthest reaches of her brain to figure out what would be the perfect addition to her cake. At last her thick black lashes fluttered open. She had it.
Cinnamon. She would make a cinnamon cake.
No one knew exactly when Cady’s Talent for baking had first emerged—just as no one knew exactly where she had come from. But one thing was certain: Cady was a Talented baker. She could bake anything, really. Pies. Muffins. Bread. Casseroles. Even the perfect pizza if she put her mind to it. But what Cady loved above all else was baking cakes. All she needed to do was to close her eyes, and she could imagine the absolutely perfect cake for any person, anywhere. A pinch more salt, a touch less cream. It was one hundred percent certain that the person she was baking for would never have tasted anything quite so heavenly in all his life. In fact, what the orphanage lacked in orphans it made up for in cake-baking trophies. Five first-place trophies from the Sunshine Bakers of America Annual Cake Bakeoff lined the front hall, one for every year that Cady had entered from the age of five, when her oven mitts swallowed her up to the elbows. No matter who entered the competition—professional bakers, famous chefs with exclusive restaurants—none of their Talents were able to match Cady’s, not for five years running. Cady’s cakes were never the most beautiful, or the most stunning. Last year not one but two bakers had crafted fifty-layer-high masterpieces of sugary wonder, studded with frosted stars and flowers and figurines. One even included a working chocolate fountain. Cady’s single-layer pistachio sheet cake had looked pitiful in comparison. But nonetheless, it had been the judge’s favorite, because Cady had baked it specifically for him.
This year’s bakeoff would be held in just one short week in New York City, a two-hour drive away. Miss Mallory had already cleared space in the hallway for a sixth trophy.
The kitchen door squeaked open and in waltzed Miss Mallory, a polka-dot tablecloth folded in her arms. (Miss Mallory’s perfect cake, as far as Cady was concerned, was just as scrumptious as she was—a nutty peach cake with cream cheese frosting.)
“What did you come up with?” Miss Mallory asked, crossing the room to peer into the cake bowl.
Cady found the cinnamon in the cabinet above her and popped off the lid. “Cinnamon,” she replied, shaking the spice into the bowl. Cady had no need for measurements. “A cinnamon cake, three layers high.”
Miss Mallory took a deep breath of pleasure. “And the frosting?”
Cady did not even need a moment to think. She
the answer, sensed it the way other people could sense which way to walk home after a stroll in the woods. “Chocolate buttercream with a hint of spice,” she replied.
“Perfect,” Miss Mallory said. “Amy will love it.” She snuck a finger out from under her tablecloth to poke a tiny glob from the bowl. “I hope this fog finally gives up,” she said, sighing as the taste of the batter hit her tongue.
Cady had been so intent on her baking that she hadn’t even noticed the haze. She peered out the window. Out on the lawn, the thick mist obscured all but the legs of the picnic table, and puddles speckled the steps to the porch.
It had been foggy the morning Cady was brought to Miss Mallory’s, too. Cady had been much too young to remember it, but she’d heard the story so many times that the details were as real and comfortable as a pair of well-worn shoes. The damp smell of the dew outside. The mystery novel Miss Mallory had been reading when she heard the knock at the door. And most especially, Miss Mallory’s surprise at the arrival.
“I’d never seen a baby so small,” Miss Mallory always told her. “And with such a remarkable head of hair. There was a braid woven into it.” Here Miss Mallory would trace the plaits across Cady’s scalp, making Cady’s skin tingle delightfully. “It was the most intricate braid I’ve ever seen, twisted in and about and around itself like a crown. Whoever gave you that braid was Talented indeed.”
Miss Mallory snuck one more fingerful of batter from the bowl. “Perhaps we should move the party inside today,” she suggested.
“But Adoption Day parties are
outside,” Cady protested, slapping Miss Mallory’s hand away playfully. There wasn’t much consistency in the life of an orphan—new housemates coming and going like waves on a shore—but Adoption Day parties were always the same. Adoption Day parties took place outside, with presents and card games (it was difficult to play other sorts of games with so few people about) and a cake baked by Cady for the lucky little girl whose Adoption Day it was.
People sometimes suspected, when they learned how few orphans lived at Miss Mallory’s Home for Lost Girls, that it must be a sorry excuse for an orphanage. But the truth was quite the opposite. The truth was that most of the orphans at Miss Mallory’s found their perfect families astonishingly quickly. Miss Mallory had a Talent for matching orphans to families—she felt a tug, deep in her chest, she said, when she sensed that two people truly belonged together, and she just knew. Most of the little girls who came through the orphanage doors were matched within days of arriving, sometimes hours. Miss Mallory had famously matched one girl only seven minutes after she stepped off her train. They would send photos, those lucky little girls who had found their perfect families, and Miss Mallory would frame them and hang them in the front hallway, just above Cady’s row of trophies. Smiling kids, beaming parents.
Cady had studied them carefully.
Cady was the only orphan at Miss Mallory’s who had ever stayed for an extended period of time. Oh, Miss Mallory had tried to match her. Over the years Cady had been sent to live with no fewer than six families—loving, happy, wonderful families—but unlike with the other orphans, it had never quite worked out. Cady had always done her best to be the perfect daughter. She
ed and ate all her vegetables and went to bed on time. But no fewer than six times, Miss Mallory had come to return Cady to the orphanage long before her one-week trial period was over. “I made a mistake,” Miss Mallory always told her. “That wasn’t your perfect family.”
But Cady knew that Miss Mallory didn’t make mistakes. Somehow, for some reason that Cady couldn’t explain, the fault lay with her. And Cady vowed that if she ever got another chance, with another family, she would do whatever it took to make it work. One day she would have an Adoption Day party of her own. One day she would bake the perfect cake for herself.
“Maybe,” Cady said slowly, glancing outside at the beautifully foggy morning, “maybe today’s the day I’ll meet my family.” The very idea warmed her through just as much as the heat from the oven. She tugged an oven mitt onto each hand and opened the oven door, then set the cake pans on the center rack. “Maybe,” she said again, “my real and true family will step right out of the fog.”
T WAS AN UNUSUALLY FOGGY MORNING, SO MURKY THAT THE
Owner of the Lost Luggage Emporium at 1 Argyle Road in Poughkeepsie, New York, could scarcely see the ground in front of him. But the Owner had very little use for ground these days.
He tapped his toes at the air, two inches above the soggy soil, as he finished affixing the sign to the Emporium’s door.
ROOMS FOR RENT
The Owner (that’s what they called him around town, ever since he’d opened up the Emporium, and it was how he’d come to think of himself, too) was not thrilled at the idea of renting out the building’s empty upstairs bedrooms. But a hard look at his finances had finally convinced him that he had no other choice. Although his mother had amassed quite a fortune—an especially impressive feat for a woman with no Talent—it hadn’t been enough to last him fifty-three years.
The telltale sound of tires starting down the long wooded stretch of Argyle Road sent the Owner floating back inside the building. It couldn’t be Toby already—the dolt had only just left for the morning’s luggage pickup an hour ago. The door slammed shut behind him with a crooked
One more thing the Owner couldn’t afford to fix.
The building had once been an architectural beauty, as famous for its two tall, round turrets as for the goods that were produced inside. Now, its white paint was peeling, its shutters were cracked, its windows were grimy with dust. As old and bleak as its owner, that’s what Toby liked to say.
The Owner reached the circular wooden counter at the center of the main storeroom and lifted the hinged section to float inside, settling himself behind the register. A hastily hand-lettered green sign hung above the countertop, displaying the store’s motto:
LOST LUGGAGE EMPORIUM
DISCOVER WHAT EVERYONE ELSE IS MISSING
“This is quite the setup you’ve got here,” the customer called as he entered the store. Tendrils of fog curled their way in behind him before the door had a chance to close.
The customer jerked his head on his spindly neck, indicating the various sections of the store—the racks of clothing, the shelves of books, the electronics, the appliances, and, of course, the suitcases. “All this stuff really come from lost luggage?”
The Owner did not look up from his book. It was the latest Victoria Valence mystery,
and it really was quite good (although it wouldn’t have mattered if it weren’t). “Mmm,” he replied.
“Nice Talent you got, too.” The customer flicked a hand toward the Owner’s legs, exposed beneath the hinged section of the countertop. “Floating, huh? Been a while since I saw a Talent like that.”
The Owner stopped his toe-tapping just long enough to nudge a powder blue suitcase farther under the countertop. “It keeps the mud off my shoes,” he muttered, turning a page in his book.
“Keeps the mud off your shoes!” The man hooted. “That’s a riot.” He shook his head, grinning like an imbecile. “Wish I had a Talent that good. All I got’s whistling.” And he puckered his lips and began to whistle a happy little ditty, right there in the store.
Finally he wandered off to peruse the merchandise.
He returned much too quickly for the Owner’s taste, however (still whistling, unfortunately). “Ring me up!” the customer cried cheerfully, placing two worn leather bags and a winter jacket on the counter.
As the man dug for his wallet, the Owner, quietly and stealthily, slipped his right hand into his own pocket to find the small glass jar he always kept ready for a ripe opportunity. With practiced ease, he unscrewed the lid. Then he squeezed his hand into a fist. His palm grew icier and icier, until—
—an almost imperceptible whisper of a noise escaped from the jar, and the Owner’s feet dropped—
—to the ground. The customer was too busy stuffing his items into a plastic bag to notice.
The Owner removed his hand from his pocket, just as he’d done so many times before, and stretched it across the counter. “I appreciate your business,” the Owner told him. The customer suspected nothing. None of them ever suspected.
“Ooh!” the customer cried suddenly. He rubbed his fingers. “Cold hands.”
“Really?” The Owner’s attention turned back to his novel. “Must be my poor circulation.” And he didn’t raise his eyes again until the customer reached the front door, where he (still not suspecting a thing) puckered his lips to whistle.
But, of course, all that came out was a weak cough.
When the sound of the man’s car had at last receded down the long stretch of Argyle Road, the Owner clasped and unclasped his icy fingers, the way a child might test out a toy he hadn’t played with in some time.
Then, pursing together his lips, the Owner began to whistle.
* * *
There were eight bedrooms on the second floor of the Lost Luggage Emporium. On that foggy Friday morning, six of them were available for rent.
The Owner didn’t know it then, but in just one short week, all eight rooms would be filled. Some would be occupied by people with great Talents, others would not. One would house a thief, a person in possession of an object worth millions of dollars. Several would be inhabited by liars. But every last person would have something in common.
In just one short week, every last one of them would have lost the thing they treasured most in the world.