Authors: Sue Watson
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Humor, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Contemporary Fiction, #Humor & Satire, #General Humor
A week later, the Fashionista Feast was almost upon us. By Thursday, Al and I were reeling from the sheer magnitude of work we’d done and the amount we still had to do. In the final 48 hours, we filled the kitchen with enormous piles of flour bags, butter, sugar and tins. You could barely turn around without falling over a sack of something or knocking a cake tin onto the floor. I really would have to think about this in the future. With Al’s help and my double oven we could just about do it but if we ever got a bigger order we’d need a bigger kitchen and probably more help.
I’d worked long and hard before, but the cake thing was physical. It involved standing continuously, whisking incessantly and working nocturnally. When 50 cakes were in the oven, another 50 sat naked on the kitchen table waiting for their sugary coats of adornment and another 50 sat dressed and waiting to be packaged. There was also shopping, planning and not forgetting the full-on singing throughout which was done with feeling and had given us both headaches, hoarse voices and sore throats.
I was even managing to handle Sangita; probably because I’d worked with the most evil, stressed and warped managers in the world, she was a walk in the park. When she screamed words like ‘deadlines’, ‘schedules’ and ‘NOW,’ I just calmly agreed with everything she said and answered with her favourite words; ‘yes’ ‘OK’ and ‘that’s fine’. She always called when I was running late, in the middle of something very delicate or needing to turn the oven down. Instead of screaming what I wanted to say (‘
If you get off the bloody phone I can get back to doing it’
) I just managed my feelings, remembered that it was my business and said ‘really?’ and ‘thanks for that’.
Throughout the whole week, Grace had been wonderful. In the evenings she sorted through all the crystallised rose petals and gold leaf so we could ‘dress’ the fairy cakes as soon as they were iced and before they hardened. Now more flower-power than vampire, Grace had come through her gothic phase of black lipstick and leather cuffs since her father had left taking his punk record collection. Every cloud had a silver lining.
By Thursday, we were tired, tearful and exhausted but nearly ready for our first big event. We manically worked into the night and at about 2am, Sebastian arrived with dinner. He came in looking fresh and handsome, despite the late hour. He picked his way over bags, avoided trays of cake and cleared a space on the table. Looking at Al, he said, “Hello beautiful.”
I rolled my eyes and shouted, “Enough! You’re making me want to vomit.”
Sebastian smiled and began hunting around in my cupboards for plates. As Al and I put the finishing touches to a batch of handbags, Sebastian served us up some beautiful French food from his restaurant. “Here you go people,” he said, placing the food in front of us. “The finest Sebastian’s has to offer – enjoy!”
Al and I gratefully wolfed down the delicious garlic chicken (with little toasts to spread the soft, hot garlic cloves across). This was served with the lightest duchesse potatoes and followed by the best chocolate mousse I’d ever tasted. Sebastian rolled up his sleeves and unloaded kilos of icing sugar and paste, dozens of eggs and several sheets of edible gold from his van; he had been to his catering suppliers earlier in the day and bought the goods at a discounted rate.
“Thanks so much, Sebastian,” I said, through a mouthful of hot chicken. “You’re a real lifesaver.”
He flashed me a smile. “No problem. Al, I’ll see you at home later.” He blew Al a kiss and disappeared quietly out of the door. Then Al and I got back to work. We whisked, blended, baked and tasted later and later into the night (or should I say, earlier and earlier into the morning). It was wonderful and exhausting.
At 5am on Friday morning, we finally finished the Vivienne Westwood basque which was a triumph. The creamy ruffles were magnificent, draped across the left breast and dotted with huge, wet, scarlet cherries, the red ribbon icing tied in pretty bows all the way down. Al created a black lace-effect from the finest feathery, bitter-chocolate icing and designed the Westwood trademark bustle with the precision and fine-tuning of an aircraft engineer. Thanks to Al’s cake engineering nothing would droop or fall off, regardless of cloggy climate or flouncing fashion queens.
“Stella, I think you need to start making notes,” Al suddenly said, sitting back and admiring the ‘installation’.
“What do you mean ‘notes’?”
“Well, we are both using your ideas straight from your head when it comes to recipes and – if you wanted a holiday and weren’t here well...”
“Or if I died,” I said pulling a face.
“Too early for drama,” said the original drama queen; “but you really need to start writing your recipes down properly – like in a book.”
“Ooh yes, like Nigella – mmm I like that idea.”
“It’s not a chance for you to swish around the kitchen like Nigella love – it’s about being organised and writing EVERYTHING down. OK?”
“Ok...but if anyone can swish around a kitchen it’s you my sweet.” I grimaced at him and blew a kiss.
Grace came down in her pyjamas at around 6am as Al and I were having a break and a well-earned cup of tea. The house was still quiet and the early morning light streamed in through the kitchen window. I watched as Grace got out three bowls, cereal and milk and placed them all carefully on the table. She looked up and smiled at me, watching her. “What?”
“Nothing,” I smiled back. “I was just thinking how you’ve changed and how the pink flower in your hair looks so much better than the fake tattoo skulls used to.”
“I think you’ve really grown up,” commented Al. “You’ve had a tough time sweetie, but you are turning into a lovely young lady.” He was right. When Grace was little and I worked long hours, I’d bribe her with presents and sweets, rarely saying no to any of her requests. She’d become spoilt and selfish, only thinking about the next gift or treat. It wasn’t her fault; she was a product of two, very busy parents who were working too hard and gradually falling out of love with each other.
Al put his head on the worktop and closed his eyes. The phone rang. Al jolted, but didn’t wake.
“Stella. Erm, it’s me, Tom,” he announced, quietly.
“Yes?” I said, frostily, still smarting from the Diego rebuke.
“I was just phoning to say I’ll pick Grace up at 7am tomorrow as I know you’ve got a busy day,” he offered.
“Thanks,” I said, in a clipped voice.
“Look, Stella, I’m sorry.” He said. “I shouldn’t have said what I did about you and the doctor. The truth is, things aren’t so good with me and Ra…well, anyway, I just overreacted.”
I was surprised and, I have to say, rather pleased. So things weren’t going too well with the ‘good sort’ then? What a shame.
“That’s OK Tom,” I said, magnanimously. “I decided he wasn’t good enough for me anyway.” A small lie, but never mind. I hung up the phone feeling relieved. It would make things easier when he picked up Grace, at least. And maybe, just maybe, things would get easier between us, too.
On Saturday morning, after another frenzy of work, everything was ready for our first big gig and nothing had been left to chance. The cream had been kept in the fridge and the chocolate icing stored away from radiators and when the Vivienne Westwood life-size basque was finally lowered into the rented van, along with 300 marzipan Manolos and 500 sponge Chanel handbags I wept with joy and relief.
As we waved the van off, Al and I smiled nervously at each other and Sebastian appeared in the doorway with a bottle of pink Champagne.
“Congratulations both of you – this is The Cake Fairy’s first event and we must celebrate,” he said, popping the Champagne and filling three glasses. The pink bubbles tasted good on my tongue, but in my tummy I felt bubbles of fear and anticipation. We had a lot riding on this, emotionally and professionally. We’d worked so very hard and invested so much time, money and love. The success of the Fashionista Tea Party was the only thing standing between me and the Job Centre. I wasn’t religious but as I sipped Champagne in my icing and flour-covered kitchen, I prayed that the divas would dump their mineral water and fags to devour our fashion fairy cakes with gusto.
Al and I had drunk the best part of the bottle when my mobile rang.
“Oh hi, the cakes are all on their way – we’re not late, are we?”
“Tea Party – come if you like – some spare tickets on the door for you, 8pm tonight.”
I put the phone down and Al was beside himself with excitement; “Stel, we HAVE to go,” he said.
Sebastian smiled, “Mmm, I’ve always wanted to watch supermodels at play. I can probably get cover at the restaurant and drive you there.”
go and we can see those skinny bitches chomping on couture cakes – then spewing them right back up,” laughed Al.
I had mixed feelings about being present for the actual party. What if no-one liked the cakes and it was a big flop? On the other hand, I was as keen as Al and Seb to observe the beautiful people and had a twisted desire to put myself in the very vulnerable situation of finding out for myself if the cakes had passed the test. After two sleepless nights and half a bottle of Champagne I was feeling more than a little light-headed so I said “Why not? Let’s go. Grace is with Tom this weekend and who knows – it might be fun.”
By the evening I was too nervous to worry about what to wear so I found something at the back of my wardrobe that covered everything and consisted of two hundred yards of black jersey. Wrapping a colourful scarf round my neck, adding long glass earrings and slicking ‘Red for Bed’ across my lips I made a vain attempt at ‘bohemian’.
Seb drove us at breakneck speed to London and Al chatted animatedly whilst I sat in the back with nausea rising up my throat.
“I feel sick,” I said, like a child, opening the window and gulping cold air like water.
“Yes, it might help if you slowed down, Seb,” Al smacked him playfully on the arm.
“Sorry Stel, I’ll try to slow down but you know I’m just Jeremy Clarkson in a gay man’s body,” he laughed.
“I still may need to vomit,” I announced weakly.
“Ohh, mind our posh frocks,” warned Al. “I don’t want Kate spotting me in crushed-plum and puke.”
By the time we arrived at the hotel I was really, really nervous, feeling very sick and trembling with fear.
The event had been designed around the small fashion collections being showcased by new designers and the Fashionista Afternoon Tea was what Sangita had described as: ‘a spectacular fusion of Laura Ashley florals and pastels with an oriental flavour of Willow Pattern’.
We’d arrived early because we wanted the opportunity to oversee the cake-setting and walking into the enormous, high-ceilinged room we all gasped at the sheer loveliness of it all. Pastel walls and delicately painted murals of oriental tea pots in pinks, greens and florals adorned the walls, with lots of tiny tables in different styles and colours dotted around the room. Ornate gold chairs sat at small shiny tables next to wrought-iron chairs with embroidered silk cushions. The tables were dressed in pure linen and lace – and all of afternoon tea was here, the air warm and heavy with rich Orange Pekoe and fragrant Earl Grey. Even the waitresses looked stunning in high heels, elegant fitted dresses in Willow Pattern and tiny white cotton pinafores tied at the back in huge bows.
White platters of crustless sandwiches sat under cellophane and were placed next to mountains of pastel macaroons. Tiny, vibrantly-coloured wraps with fillings I’d only dreamed of were brought in and laid side by side near our glossy handbags and baby-pink, polka-dot confections. The salty tinge of savoury, mixing with the icing was sweet on the back of my throat and took me back to birthday parties as a child. I was suddenly eight-years old and waiting for everyone to arrive.
It wasn’t long before our beautiful sanctuary was invaded by voices, the loudest of which was Sangita’s ordering the silent, beautiful waitresses to open bottles and pour tea. Plates began to clatter quietly, glasses clinking elegantly as Champagne and Earl Grey were poured into fine crystal or delicate china. Steam and bubbles rose along with the chatter, which started low and reached a clanging, laughing climax as more guests arrived. The fashion divas arrived en masse and were a sight to behold with impossibly long limbs and porcelain skin. Despite their thinness they all alighted on our cakes, enthusing about the look and the taste unaware that the creators were within earshot and glowing with pride. ‘Ooh, these are daahling!’, ‘I’m eating a whole one!’ and ‘OMG, these cakes are DIVINE!’
“I feel like I shouldn’t be here. Like they’re talking about us,” I whispered behind my hand to Al.
“Don’t be intimidated, they’re just fat girls in thin bodies,” he breathed, never taking his eyes from the celestial creatures. He’s so right, I thought, watching them lick perfect lips and stare in awe at the cakes while moving elegantly around the room like sleek, shiny racehorses.
Suddenly, a loud voice pierced our ethereal moment: “You two are stars, stars!” It was Sangita, and I think she was actually smiling. She seemed so pleased that I thought she might hug me, but after an awkward moment where we both faced each other – she obviously thought better of it.