Authors: Lisa Graff
Tags: #Action & Adventure, #Family, #Juvenile Fiction, #Fantasy & Magic, #General, #Orphans & Foster Homes
HE MAIL’S HERE!
Jennifer Mallory hadn’t noticed the mailman arriving through the fog, but nevertheless the mailbox was full. She clicked shut the mailbox door and headed through the damp gray air to the picnic table by the front door, settled between the carefully groomed bed of petunias on the left and the meticulously weeded pansies on the right.
“Here’s one from the Sunshine Bakeoff,” Miss Mallory told Cady, who was busy making preparations for the party. Little Amy would be arriving with her new parents any moment. Miss Mallory pulled the thick envelope from the stack.
“The tickets!” Cady squealed. And sure enough, there were three tickets inside, just the same as there were every year. One ticket for the baker, and two for her guests. (Since there was never anyone at the orphanage who stuck around long enough to attend special events, it had always only been the two of them—Miss Mallory and Cady—attending every year. Which meant that every year, one of the guest tickets remained, unused, inside its envelope.) “You don’t mind going again this year, do you, Miss Mallory?” Cady asked in that shy, thoughtful way of hers. “It must get awfully boring sitting there, watching cakes bake.”
Miss Mallory put a hand to her chest, where an unwelcome tug had been growing all morning. She had a sinking suspicion that sooner rather than later there wouldn’t be an extra ticket left in that envelope at all. If Miss Mallory was correct about the tug in her chest (and she worried that this time she was), Cady’s perfect family was right around the corner.
“There’s nothing I’d rather do in the world than watch you knock everybody’s socks off with one of your cakes,” she told Cady truthfully. Cady smiled her shy little smile. “I’ll come to watch you bake as long as you’ll keep inviting me.”
“You know I’ll always invite you,” Cady replied. “Every single year.” The tug in Miss Mallory’s chest jerked a little harder, but she said nothing.
While Cady strolled back to the table to straighten out the polka-dot cloth, Miss Mallory stuck her nose inside the Sunshine Bakers information packet.
“There’s a change to the judging procedures,” she told Cady, crossing the fog to read to her. “‘This year, for the first time, the Sunshine Bakers of America Annual Cake Bakeoff will be judged by not one but—’”
Without warning, Cady snapped her head up from the table. “My cake’s ready!” she announced, as though a buzzer had gone off in the kitchen. But of course, there had been no buzzer. Cady seemed to be able to sense things about her cakes, deep in her bones, the way Miss Mallory could with her orphans.
Cady dashed off into the empty orphanage.
Eleven years ago, the orphanage’s upstairs rooms had been practically bursting with girls. Girls giggling, girls fighting, girls making messes. Miss Mallory had never been happier. But as she grew more accustomed to her Talent, Miss Mallory had become faster and faster at matching orphans, and these days, she felt lucky if a girl stayed with her for a handful of hours. Day in and day out, the only constant Miss Mallory had come to count on was Cady.
From the instant Miss Mallory had held the sprite of a child to her chest on that foggy morning eleven years ago, she’d known the girl was special. The tiny little thing had wrapped her arms around Miss Mallory’s neck and shaped her body into Miss Mallory’s curves. And all at once, it had become clear to Miss Mallory that the child’s heartbeat matched up precisely with her own.
Tra-thump. Tra-thump. Tra-thump.
They were beating in time together, a perfect rhythm.
Miss Mallory had named the girl Cadence.
“Who braided her hair?” Miss Mallory had asked, marveling at the intricate, almost unearthly weave in the girl’s remarkable head of fine black hair.
“It’s been like that since we took her on,” the couple who brought her told Miss Mallory. “We don’t know much about the girl, quite honestly. Between a batch of misfiled paperwork and a fire at her previous orphanage, we’re not sure if she was picked up one week ago or twenty, down the block or halfway across the world.”
The foggy air grew rich with the scent of cinnamon as Cady pulled her cakes from the oven. Miss Mallory breathed it in, deep and deeper, trying her best to quiet the ever-insistent tug in her chest. She straightened the corners of the polka-dot cloth. Today was an Adoption Day, she reminded herself. A happy celebration. And the future, well, that was still unknown.
OLORES ASHER GLANCED AT THE CHART THE ATTENDING DOCTOR
had just placed at the foot of the newest patient’s bed.
“Isn’t that just the saddest thing?” a nurse asked, noticing Dolores’s gaze. “She had a stroke, poor dear, and can’t speak a word. She won’t even have a place to stay when she gets out of here, if no family or friends come to claim her.”
Dolores plucked a cozy purple shawl from the pile of knits she’d brought in. “May I?” she asked the nurse, then reached to drape the shawl across the patient’s shoulders. The woman was lost in a fretful sleep.
What a lot of stories she must have to tell,
and who knows if she’ll ever be able to tell them?
“Oh, careful there, honey,” the nurse exclaimed, throwing a protective arm over Dolores’s head to block her from a nearby IV stand. Dolores heard a soft
as something dropped to the floor. “Your hairpin,” the nurse told her, snatching up the object.
“Thank you so much,” Dolores replied, taking the hairpin from the nurse. She whisked her limp brown curls off her shoulders and wound them quickly into a bun, exactly the way she’d done every morning for the past eleven years. “I don’t know what I’d do if I lost this thing.” She pierced her mound of hair with the pointier end of the hairpin. It was an unusual piece of decoration, that was for sure—beige and cracked and knobby, as wide as a rib of celery and as long as a pencil. (“It looks like someone dug it out of the
!” Will had once exclaimed. And indeed it did.)
“Thanks again for the blankets and things,” the nurse told her. “You’re so lucky to have a Talent you enjoy. Could’ve been stuck with plant-watering like me.” She laughed.
Dolores nodded and smiled, because it was the sort of thing a person nodded and smiled at. But the truth was, there were times Dolores didn’t feel quite so lucky. There were times when she found herself thinking longingly of the days before three kids and her own yarn shop, when she’d worked at the Poughkeepsie Museum of Natural Sciences on a scholarship for Fair students. Dolores adjusted her hairpin slightly and glanced at the woman’s chart again.
Sometimes that didn’t seem so terrible.
* * *
As Dolores slid into her car, she spied the papers strewn across the passenger’s seat, the mail she’d grabbed from the box on her way out of the apartment. There was one envelope that seemed to be screaming to be opened. M
printed in the upper left corner in fat red letters. Dolores had a sinking suspicion that whatever was in that envelope was not going to make her happy.
Dolores slammed her door shut. Best to head home and worry about unpleasant letters later. She’d been away long enough, and there was a good chance that Will was lost in the apartment walls by now.
She drove off into the fog.
Will’s S’more Cake
a cake that always disappears quickly
FOR THE CAKE:
small spoonful of flour, for preparing the cake pan
14-oz package of graham crackers (about 26 crackers)
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup butter (2 sticks), at room temperature (plus extra for greasing the cake pan)
2 cups granulated sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup milk, at room temperature
FOR THE FROSTING:
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
cup butter (1
sticks), at room temperature
cups powdered sugar
cup sour cream, at room temperature
pinch of salt
FOR THE FILLING:
1 cup marshmallow fluff
FOR THE TOPPING:
extra graham crackers and/or mini marshmallows (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease the bottoms of two 8-inch round cake pans with butter. Using the cake pans as a template, trace two circles onto wax paper and cut them out, placing one wax circle in the bottom of each pan. Grease both pans with butter again, covering the wax paper as well as the sides of the pan. Sprinkle the inside of the pans lightly with flour, and tap the pans to distribute it evenly.
2. Place graham crackers in a blender or food processor, and grind until crushed to a fine powder. (Alternatively, place the graham crackers in a plastic ziplock bag and crush them with a rolling pin.) Measure out 3 cups of the graham cracker powder into a medium bowl, and mix with the baking powder. Set aside. Reserve the remaining graham cracker powder to decorate the top of the cake, if desired.
3. In a large bowl, cream the butter and granulated sugar with an electric mixer, starting on low speed then increasing to medium-high, until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Blend in the vanilla.
4. Reducing the speed on the mixer to low, add about a third of the graham cracker mixture to the batter, combining well. Add about half of the milk and combine. Then add another third of the graham cracker mixture, the last of the milk, and then the last of the graham crackers, combining well each time.
5. Pour the batter into the two pans, smoothing the surface. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the cakes cool completely before frosting.
6. While the cakes are baking, make the frosting: In a double boiler or a heatproof bowl fitted into a saucepan of simmering water, carefully melt the chocolate chips over low heat, stirring often. Remove from heat and allow to cool, about 10 to 15 minutes.
7. In a large bowl, cream the butter with an electric mixer fitted with clean beaters on medium speed until fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Reducing the speed on the mixer to low, gradually add the powdered sugar and beat until smooth, another 2 to 3 minutes. Add the cooled chocolate, sour cream, and pinch of salt, and beat to combine.
8. When the cakes are completely cooled, place one cake layer on a plate and spread marshmallow fluff on top. (If fluff is difficult to spread, microwave it in a microwave-safe bowl for 10 to 20 seconds and stir.) Place the second cake layer on top and frost the whole cake with chocolate frosting. Decorate with graham crackers, cracker crumbs, or mini marshmallows as desired.