This story features characters from The Belinda & Bennett Mysteries, a cozy mystery book series. In this story, Madame Russo is Belinda’s…client?
Belinda gazed down at the fragile cupcake of hope. With trembling fingers, she carefully removed it from the pastry box, peeled off the wrapper, and set it down on a white china dessert plate. She hadn’t taken any chances in presentation that day. If this was going to work, everything had to be good enough for a queen.
Or her grandmother.
Actually, Belinda thought serving a queen might be less stressful. She’d barely slept the night before and had to force breakfast down that morning. She shook, her stomach quaked, and she couldn’t keep her mouth wet to save her. Over and over, she’d wondered how on earth she’d gotten into this situation. Why did her grandmother want Cake Diva to provide dessert for her charity luncheon? To Belinda’s knowledge, her grandmother had never even eaten a cupcake, but now she wanted a whole lot of them for a function.
But Belinda told herself to suck it up. They could not only use the money, but the publicity as well. People might love them and hire them for other functions. It could be a whole other source of revenue.
So Belinda and Mia, her pro baker cousin, had hashed out the best cupcakes for Madame Russo to try. Mia wasn’t any less freaked out than Belinda. Madame Russo was her grandmother too. Mia had slaved over the decorations and they’d tested various presentations. In the end, they went with white china with a pearled edge, sterling silver forks, and cloth napkins.
As Belinda stood back, admiring the white-domed cupcake with delicate coconut shavings sitting perfectly centered on the plate, she had a sudden urge to laugh. This was the last cupcake, the best one, she thought, they’d given her grandmother to sample. Her grandmother had yet to express how she felt about any of them, and Belinda couldn’t read her expression. Madame Russo never exactly looked happy, but she did have degrees of satisfaction. Part of Belinda hoped this passed the test. The other part thought it might be better if it didn’t.
She inhaled deeply and blew the air out, picking up the plate and carrying it out to her grandmother’s patio in the backyard. It was a mildly warm day and her grandmother lounged at the table in the shade of the umbrella, her sunglasses hiding her pistachio-shaped eyes. Belinda forced a smile and set the plate in front of her, trying not to shake noticeably, and stood back. She clenched her hands together in front of her, bobbing up and down on her heels.
Her grandmother swiveled the plate in different directions, leaning back and then closing in. She’d done that every time, and Belinda wasn’t sure if she was checking for flaws or doing it to psych her out or what. After seconds passed, Belinda desperately wanted to yell for her to just eat it already, but she pressed her lips tight.
Finally, Madame Russo sliced her fork through the cupcake and slowly raised it to her mouth, taking a million years to chew and swallow. The whole time, her face never changed. This must be what it felt like to compete in one of those food competition shows, Belinda thought. She also considered her grandmother would make a terrific judge.
After finishing her bite and staring blankly ahead of her, her grandmother dabbed at her mouth with the napkin draped on her lap and leaned back in the chair. “All right. We’ll serve all of them.”
Belinda blinked, her mouth parting in surprise. “All of them?”
“That’s what I said, yes.” Her grandmother stood, her chair grating across the wood.
“Are you sure?” Belinda knew she should just leave it at that, but her mouth had other ideas. “I mean, I’m a little confused as to why you want to serve all of them.”
“You are?” Her sunglass-covered eyes fixed on Belinda. “Do you not like all the choices you presented yourself?”
“Of course I like them,” Belinda said indignantly. “But I really didn’t know if you did.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. They were all delicious. I can’t decide between them, so I want you to serve them all.”
“Then why didn’t you just say so?” Belinda put her hands on her hips, feeling really put out. “We’ve stressed and slaved over these samples like they were the last hope of mankind. And you can’t even tell me you liked them without prompting?”
Belinda’s grandmother looked visibly surprised by her outburst, and swiped off her sunglasses, appraising her granddaughter.
Belinda folded her arms, shaking her head. “I’m sorry. It’s fine. We’ll set up the delivery details later.”
She started to collect the plate and go inside to gather her things, when she felt a hand on her arm. Belinda turned to face her grandmother. “You know what you’re doing,” her grandmother said, “and you’re good at it. I didn’t have a doubt in my mind that I would like everything you set in front of me today.”
Belinda’s hands dropped. “Really?”
“Of course. I hired you because I had full confidence you could deliver.”
For possibly the first time ever, Belinda was speechless.
“I’ll call you with the details.” After patting her arm, her grandmother swept back into the house.
Belinda stared down at the plate, a small glow of something warm and fuzzy budding inside her. Had her grandmother just praised her abilities? She smiled to herself. Mia would never believe this. She picked up the plate again, ready to go home and start organizing for the luncheon, when her grandmother poked her head out the door.
“You will be sure not to wear any tacky uniform T-shirts to the luncheon, won’t you?” her grandmother said.
Belinda turned, her smile fading. “We never wear tacky T-shirts, Gram,” she said between clenched teeth.
“Good. No worries, then.” She smiled and shut the door.
Belinda narrowed her brown eyes, settling them on a bird perched on the patio rail. The bird chirped at her.
“You’re right. I should’ve served them on paper plates.” The bird cocked its head and flew off.
Belinda watched until the bird vanished into the brush behind the house. She sighed and opened the glass door leading into the kitchen. Yep. She would definitely regret this.
~ * ~