Read an Excerpt
The aroma of her madre's magdalenas rising in the oven made Jenna Medina open her eyes and leap out of bed-even though it was 6 a.m. on a Sunday and the sun was barely up. The light, sweet muffins with just a hint of lemon zest were one of her favorite breakfasts and her mom's specialty, usually reserved for special occasions. It wasn't her birthday...or any of her siblings'. So why the special treat? Jenna wondered.
"Where are you going?" her big sister Gabriella grumbled. "It's too early."
"Go back to sleep," Jenna whispered. She hoped her mami would give her a delicate pastry right out of the oven before they were all gobbled up. That was the thing about having two older sisters and twin younger brothers-you had to fight for your share of practically everything, from food to clothes to the TV remote.
"As if I could ever sleep with all the snoring that goes on in this room!" Gabby gestured to the bunk bed above her, where Jenna's oldest sister, Marisol, was making a loud, hissing sound through her nose.
"She's worse than you are...and that's saying a lot!" Gabby groaned. She pulled the pillow over her head, trying to drown out the racket. Sharing a room with two sisters wasn't easy!
"Buena suerte...good luck!" Jenna chuckled. She wrapped the purple, fuzzy cupcake robe her BFF Kylie Carson had given her for Christmas over her pj's. "I'm going to see what Mami is up to."
She tiptoed down the hall of their small house and then down the stairs. She could hear her mother banging around in the cupboard. Uh-oh, Jenna suddenly thought. I hope we didn't use up all her sugar on our last cupcake order.
Peace, Love, and Cupcakes-the club and cupcake business Jenna and her four friends Kylie, Lexi, Sadie, and Delaney ran while trying to be normal fifth graders at Blakely Elementary in New Fairfield, Connecticut-had a knack for baking up a storm. Their last batch of St. Patrick's Day cupcakes had used up four dozen of her mom's eggs, Jenna recalled. Not to mention all that food coloring, flour, and vanilla extract. Kylie was sure she had bought enough to make their weekly order of two hundred cupcakes for the Golden Spoon Gourmet Grocery and four more dozen custom orders. But then Lexi decided she needed to experiment more with the color of the icing.
"I'm not sure I like the green," she sighed, piping it on a vanilla cupcake. "Does it say St. Patty's or split pea soup to you?"
Jenna shrugged. "It kinda says ‘Spinach stuck in your teeth' to me. I'd put in a little more blue-but you're the artist."
Lexi closed one eye and squinted out of the other. "I say...back to the drawing board!" Jenna wasn't surprised; when it came to icing color, Lexi was very picky.
Each of the girls in the club had a special talent: Lexi, a talented artist, created beautiful fondant decorations and elegant swirls of frosting on each cupcake. Sadie, a star basketball player on the Blakely Bears team, was the most coordinated, able to crack an egg in one hand while stirring chocolate on the stove with the other. Kylie was the club's president-which meant she kept track of orders, organized meetings and baking schedules, and generally kept everything running smoothly (most of the time!). Jenna liked to think of Kylie as PLC's lemon zest-she added a "kick" to the club, whenever they needed a little push or inspiration. She reminded them what was really important ("friends and frosting!").
Delaney-who joined PLC after Kylie met her at sleepaway camp-had not only become a great baker and decorator, but also the club's DJ. She pitched in whenever PLC was overloaded with orders. Anytime the girls were stressing over a crazy deadline, Delaney would crank up her iPod and break into song and dance (usually Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, or Adele). It was so much fun and got everyone pumped up.
When Jenna complained last week that she was tired of the usual sound track and wanted some Latin rhythms, Delaney obliged. She jumped on the couch and sang "La Bamba" into a wooden spoon. Delaney was a riot-and the only person Jenna knew who could sing the entire "Gangnam Style" in the original Korean!
"How did you memorize that?" Sadie gasped. "I can barely memorize my multiplication tables!" Sadie had dyslexia and found anything involving numbers a challenge since they often appeared backward. Still, she had conquered her math phobia and become a valuable member of the PLC team-even leading the girls in a recent Battle of the Bakers competition on TV. They hadn't come in first place, but received a special award for being the youngest bakers in the competition-and a check that paid for an awesome new icing printer.
Delaney smiled. "I am a whiz with lyrics. Anything I need to learn, I sing. I got a 98 on my American history test because I could rap the entire Preamble!"
Then there was Jenna. Kylie made her the official taster for the cupcake club right after their first meeting. Jenna had to admit she had some talented taste buds. She could tell with one bite what type of vanilla (Madagascar? Tahitian? Mexican?) went into a cake batter or what brand of chocolate (Callebaut from Belgium? Amadei from Italy? El Rey from Venezuela?).
While other kids at Blakely Elementary teased her about being overweight, her friends never judged her. That was the thing about PLC: everyone appreciated each other for the unique talents they possessed-and the special people they were.
In a family of five kids where she landed smack in the middle, being appreciated was all Jenna ever wanted. She felt most of the time like she got lost in the crowd. She wasn't as pretty as Gabby or as smart as Marisol. And her twin brothers, Enrique and Emanuel, were just too much trouble to compete with. They were six years old and in kindergarten at Blakely. Kylie had nicknamed them "Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum," but Jenna preferred "the Disaster Duo." Wherever they went, chaos followed.
This morning was no different: the living room looked like a tornado had swept through it. There were toys, blocks, sneakers-even a tube of toothpaste-scattered around the room. Manny was busy building with Legos in a corner, and Ricky...where was Ricky?
"You the only one up?" Jenna asked, peering behind the sofa and in the closet. Ricky loved to jump out and scare her to death, and she suspected that was what he was plotting.
"He's with Mami mixing cake." Manny pointed to the kitchen. "He says he's going to join your cupcake club."
Jenna bristled at the thought. That's all she needed: her crazy little brother finger painting the walls of Blakely with frosting. She knew Kylie would feel the same, but Juliette, their club advisor, always reminded them, "the more the merrier." She didn't think anyone who wanted to join a club should be excluded. She'd never met Ricky.
"Cake? You mean magdelenas. My favorite Spanish sweet!" Jenna replied.
"No. She said it's a wedding cake."
Jenna looked puzzled. "A wedding cake? Why would Mami be making a wedding cake?"
Manny scratched his chin-that's what he did whenever he was thinking something over. "Dunno."
"Ay, dios mío!" Jenna exclaimed. It was her Spanish version of "OMG." She would have to get to the bottom of this.
She barged through the kitchen door and found her mother and Ricky at the counter frosting a white cake.
"Buenos días, mija!" Her mom smiled brightly. Ricky held up his hands, covered in frosting: "Hola, Jenna!"
"Everyone is up so early today," said a voice behind her. It was her mother's boyfriend, Leo. Jenna spun around and gave him an icy stare. What was he doing here?
He tried to kiss her on the top of her head, but Jenna pulled away. Hadn't she made it clear every time he was here that she didn't like him? Her mother had scolded her for practically ignoring him the entire Christmas Eve dinner. Jenna had kept her face buried in her plate of cordero asado-her mom's famous roast lamb.
"You're very quiet, Jenna," Leo had remarked. "Hope you're not feeling baaaa-d." Manny and Ricky cracked up and began making more barnyard animal sounds.
Jenna didn't glance up once from her plate. She didn't know what her mother saw in this guy! He thought he was funny...but he wasn't. And no one was about to out-pun her.
She picked up a plate of veggies and pushed it under his nose. "Would you like some? You know what they say at the holidays: ‘Peas on Earth, goodwill toward man?'"
Leo slapped his hand on his thigh. "Now that's a great one!" He laughed out loud. "But I find your mother's orange flan more a-pealing. Get it? Oranges are a-pealing?" He continued to laugh 'til his cheeks turned red and his eyes watered.
Jenna glanced around the table: everyone was cracking up at his dumb joke. Everyone except her.
"He's very handsome and smart," Marisol leaned over and whispered. What did she know? She was a junior in high school and totally boy-crazy!
"And he works in manufacturing for Ralph Warren, the famous fashion designer," Gabby sighed. "Do you think he could get me that red gown Taylor Swift wore to the Grammys for my spring dance?"
Jenna's mom was just as smitten as her sisters. From the moment Leo Winters came into the dry cleaning store where she worked as a seamstress and remarked how beautiful and neat her stitches were, she was practically head over heels.
"We have so much in common," she told Jenna. "We both love fashion and the Yankees and food! Leo loves my cooking!"
Well, that was clear. He made himself a guest in their house every other Friday night for dinner-whenever it was his ex-wife's turn to take their daughter.
"He's such a devoted papi to his little girl," her mother cooed.
Jenna's dad was anything but devoted. He had packed his bags suddenly one day when she was only five years old and the twins were babies. She remembered that he simply kissed her on both cheeks and walked out the door. No explanation, no good-bye. Most of the other details were fuzzy: her mom crying, her sister Marisol standing at the door and waiting for him to return.
But he never did. It was like he simply vanished off the face of the Earth. She knew Marisol pretended he was in heaven-at least that's what she told her friends. But Jenna knew the truth-he was alive and well and living in Ecuador with his new family. Her abuela talked about it with Jenna when she went to visit her relatives in Ecuador last summer.
"Do you want to talk to him?" her grandmother asked her one day. "I can call."
Jenna shook her head. "No. He's gone." She could never forgive him, and she didn't need him. The Medinas stood by each other and they survived. Jenna's mom got a job at Dress 4 Success Dry Cleaning, and her two sisters worked there on weekends and in the summers once they were in high school. They didn't have a lot of money or a lot of "stuff," but they had each other, and that's all they ever needed.
Until he came along.
"Leo's a really nice guy," Marisol told Jenna. "He makes Mami happy."
Jenna wanted to see her mother happy. But she wasn't convinced that Leo was the answer. He tried too hard-and it got on her nerves.
On her eleventh birthday in January, he showed up with an extravagant present. "I hear you're a Yankees fan like your mother," he said. He tossed her an autographed ball. "That's Derek Jeter's signature."
Jenna caught it and rolled it between her fingers. "Wonder how much I can get for this on eBay."
"Jenna!" her mother scolded her in Spanish. "Dar las gracias!"
But Jenna wasn't about to say "Thank you" or apologize for how she felt. Nothing he could do or say would ever change that. But Leo kept pushing.
Today, he was determined to show his expertise in the kitchen. This should be good for a laugh, Jenna smirked. He tied on one of her mother's aprons and stuck a finger in the vanilla frosting.
"Hmmm, delicioso!" he said, taking a lick. He then kissed her mother on the lips. Jenna wrinkled her nose and turned away.
"I see where you get your baking talent from, Jenna," he added. "You know my daughter, Maggie, is your age. I told her about your cupcake club, and she said it sounded-I quote-‘awesome.' Maybe she could help you guys out sometime?"
First Ricky wanted to join PLC...now Maggie? Things were getting worse by the moment! Jenna ignored the question and sat down on a stool to watch her mother frost the cake.
"You like my cake?" her mom asked Leo.
"It's bonita, Betty...just like you."
If they kiss again I'm going to scream! Jenna thought.
"It's a wedding cake," Ricky piped up.
"No, not a wedding cake. An engagement cake," her mother corrected him.
"Why are you baking an engagement cake? Who's engaged?" Jenna asked.
Her mother smiled and held out her hand. On it was a sparkly pear-shaped diamond ring. "I am!"