When the girls bake cupcakes for a big “Adopt a Pet” fundraiser, Emma’s little brother Jake decides he wants to get a puppy! At first it seems like a really sweet idea, especially when Mia says Jake can walk and groom her two dogs to get used to what needs to be done. But when a neighbor goes on vacation and leaves Jake in charge of his four-legged friend and the dog goes missing, the girls realize perhaps Jake is still too young for a pet. Will the girls find the missing pup before her owner returns?
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Emma Raining Cats and Dogs . . . and Cupcakes!
I am a major dog-lover, but the barking was even getting to me! Twenty happy dogs in all shapes and sizes were excited and running around the grassy yard, playing with balls and ropes and jumping in and out of a doggy play structure in the center of the action.
Mrs. Barnett, the petite, blond director of ARF (Animal Rescue Fund), laughed and called above the din, “Why don’t you girls come back to my office so we can hear ourselves think?”
The Cupcakers and I all laughed in agreement, and we followed her out of the fenced-in play yard and back down the tiled hall.
We, the Cupcake Club—me (Emma Taylor) and my best friends and business partners, Alexis Becker, Mia Vélaz-Cruz, and Katie Brown—were at our local pet shelter for a meeting about some cupcakes we would be baking for an event they were having. The four of us have a business baking cupcakes for special events for friends, family, and clients (who often become like friends and family). We’ve done everything from kids’ parties to movie premieres, celebrity weddings to moms’ book clubs. We are creative and our cupcakes are reasonably priced, and we deliver! Our motto is: Professional cupcakes with a homemade twist.
Today we’d been recommended to ARF by a boy from our school who volunteers there—Diego Diaz. Diego is always Instagramming things about pets that need homes, and events being held at the shelter. He’s really into helping animals and has raised a lot of awareness about abandoned animals, as well as helping to raise money for ARF. Now, ARF is having an adopt-a-pet event next weekend at our local park, and Diego suggested they hand out cupcakes to entice passersby to stop and mingle with the cats and dogs they’ll have on-site for adoption. Mrs. Barnett loved the idea, so she’d contacted us and asked us to come in for a tour and meeting.
We settled into her cramped office—Alexis on an extra chair, taking notes on her laptop, Mia and Katie perched on a windowsill, and me leaning in the doorway—and chatted about what kind of turnout ARF could expect for the park event and what they hoped to gain from it.
Mrs. Barnett explained, “Usually, we bring four kittens, two cats, at least two or three puppies, and then two older dogs. We expect to have about seventy people stop by the table during our three hours in the park. So maybe let’s order . . . five dozen cupcakes, since I don’t think everyone will take one. How does that sound?”
Alexis was nodding as she jotted it all down. “Great. So it’s next Saturday. And we’ll meet you at eleven, in the park, right? It’s easier than you having to transport the cupcakes if we bring them there first.”
“Yes. Thanks,” agreed Mrs. Barnett.
We exchanged cell numbers.
“We’ll come up with a design proposal for you to approve before this weekend,” Alexis said and continued to outline the terms, but all I could think about were the poor animals that needed homes. Cupcakes were far from my mind.
“Um, excuse me, Mrs. Barnett? How many of the animals do you usually place at an event like this?” I had to know.
Mrs. Barnett smiled. “The kittens are the easiest. We’ll almost always place a kitten. About once every three or four months, we’ll place a puppy. Maybe once a year we place an older dog this way. But we do yield about five on-site visits from these events. . . .”
I must have looked confused, because she looked at me kindly and explained.
“People follow up with a visit here to the shelter. And those tend to be more productive for us than the park events because, of course, if people are bothering to come see us, they are usually pretty ready to adopt.”
I felt my chest relax a little. “Oh. Good. I just can’t stand to think of all those poor animals . . .” I wasn’t sure how to finish my sentence.
Mrs. Barnett nodded sympathetically. “I know. We are a no-kill shelter, though. We won’t put down animals just because we can’t find homes for them. Every once in a while there’s a really difficult animal that we have to refer elsewhere—severe biters, feral cats, attack dogs, what have you—but we do eventually find someplace for everyone. It can sometimes take more than a year.”
“Poor little guys,” I said.
She nodded again, then she said briskly, “But our pity really doesn’t help them. People need to have their animals spayed and neutered so they don’t reproduce, and we need to keep the profile of ARF in the public eye so people continue to donate to us. That’s where your cupcakes come in!” She stood up to signal that our meeting was over.
Alexis closed her laptop and stood to shake Mrs. Barnett’s hand. “Thanks so much for the opportunity to bake for you,” said Alexis. “We’re sure you’ll love the results!”
Mrs. Barnett laughed and patted her stomach. “That’s what I’m worried about!”
We laughed with her, and my stress eased a bit. Alexis was always so professional, and it kept things flowing. We were quickly outside and ready to call for our ride. Even from the sidewalk, though, the barking was pretty crazy.
“Those poor doggies,” I said.
Katie looped her arm across my shoulders and gave me a squeeze. “I know. I could tell you were taking it hard, you little animal lover, you.”
“I’m going to give Tiki and Milkshake extra doggy treats when I get home today,” said Mia. She shook her head as if to clear her mind. “It’s so sad that people just ditch their pets like that. I can’t even imagine it. It just breaks my heart.”
“Pets are expensive,” Alexis said briskly. “It would be sadder if they ditched their kids when times got tough.”
“Alexis!” I reprimanded her.
She shrugged. “Sorry, but it’s true. I’m stunned by how much money is spent on pets in this country.”
“All right, boss lady! We don’t need an economics lesson!” teased Mia.
Alexis sniffed. “I might just have to go into the pet-supply business when I get older.”
We giggled, and pretty soon after, my dad rolled up in our minivan and we piled in.
“How did it go?” he asked as the door slid shut behind us.
“Oh, Dad, it was so sad!” I wailed, buckling my seat belt. “There are so many animals that need homes!”
He nodded. “I can’t even go into those places. I’d come out with enough pets to fill an ark!”
“Maybe we should!” I said enthusiastically.
But he smiled and shook his head. “I don’t deny that we are getting closer to convincing your mom to get a dog. But there is still much work for us to do . . . ,” he said in a fake formal tone.
My three brothers and I have wanted a dog for years, ever since our old Lab, Sissy, died. My youngest brother, Jake, in particular, is dying for a dog of his own. Since he’s pretty spoiled, he’ll probably get it. I’m just hoping he’ll be willing to share.
I’ve always loved dogs—I like cats, too, but not in the same way—and snuggling with Sissy is one of my earliest memories. Her warm, soft fur; her silky ears that she’d let me play with whenever I wanted; her strong, quiet heartbeat when I laid my head on her and used her as a TV pillow; that coziness that always made me feel happy. I loved how safe she made me feel and how she was always overjoyed to see me. It was the best feeling.
For the past few years I’ve been earning extra money by walking dogs in the neighborhood. I used to have a bigger business, but it got overwhelming and I had to dial it back. It is pretty incredible how many pets are out there and how much money can be made from them. But as much as I love other people’s pets, there’s nothing quite like having one of your own. More importantly, I just don’t like to see animals suffer.
“It’s just so sad, all those animals in there—”
Alexis interrupted me. “Wait. It would be sad if they were all boxed in, in cages and whatever. But it’s not sad, because ARF has those play yards for the dogs, and that indoor playroom for the cats, and all the volunteers, and good food. . . . It’s pricey but worth it. Kind of like a boarding school for pets. Think of it that way!” Then she frowned. “Hmm. Maybe that’s an idea for my Future Business Leaders project.” She whipped out her phone and began making notes, her fingers flying.
I laughed and shook my head. Alexis is so practical and driven.
“Listen, what are we thinking to bake for them?” asked Katie. “I have loads of cute ideas on my computer that could be good. We could do little sugar cookies cut in the shape of dog bones on top of chocolate frosting. . . .”
“Cute,” agreed Mia. “Or paw prints?”
Katie nodded. “Or I have some more elaborate designs we could try. . . .”
I agreed. “I’m up for anything. I think Mrs. Barnett is too. Lex?”
“Hmmm?” She was texting away madly.
“I had a thought. . . .”
Mia and Katie looked at me as we turned onto Katie’s street.
“Lex?” I asked again quietly.
She looked up at me.
“What if we didn’t charge?”
Alexis blinked, not comprehending. “What?” she said finally.
I glanced at the other two Cupcakers. They understood what I was getting at. Mia’s eyebrows were raised in surprise, but a smile was forming on Katie’s face.
“What if we made the cupcakes a donation?” I pressed.
Alexis sighed a huge sigh. I could see her running the numbers in her head. . . . Well, sixty cupcakes . . . and at a unit cost of seventy-five cents per . . . plus transport time . . .
“Just think about it, okay?” I asked.
Mia and Katie nodded from the back row.
“Okay. I’ll think about it. I just don’t want to set a bad precedent. Lots of our clients are nonprofits,” said Alexis.
“I know. But those poor doggies. . . .”
“We’ve never done that before,” continued Alexis. “Not charged.”
“What about a deep discount?” offered Mia.
Alexis started to nod.
“Don’t decide now, Lex. You look into it, and we’ll discuss it at the weekly meeting on Wednesday, okay?” I felt good, though. I could tell I was going to win this one. I smiled to myself.
“By the way,” added Katie, “we should do something as a thank-you to Diego Diaz for the referral, don’t you think?”
“Good call!” I agreed heartily. A smile spread across my face, and I could feel a blush coming on. Katie looked at me, and I am sure she noticed my reaction to hearing Diego’s name, but she was kind enough to not say anything.
“Yeah. Maybe let’s bake a few extra for him, and Emma can drop them off,” Mia teased. So now I was really blushing. I gestured to my dad driving, and they got my drift and quieted down quickly, thank goodness.
We pulled into Katie’s driveway, which was a welcome distraction from the topic at hand.
“Okay, Katie! Hope to see you soon!” joked my dad. My friends come over all the time.
“Thanks, Mr. Taylor,” she said, sliding open the door and hopping out onto the blacktop.
“So four o’clock at the movies?” she asked.
We agreed. We’d meet after we finished our weekend homework, and then we’d see the new Liam Carey movie and have a quick bite at the mall.
Our next stop was Mia’s, and of course, what I was dreading most happened. Her cousin Sebastian, who I thought was really cute when he moved here a while ago, was hanging out with her stepbrother, Dan, on the front stoop. I’d had a crush on Sebastian, but things got all mixed up and he asked out Katie, and now I just really never want to see him again. Even if he is still pretty cute.
Mia saw them and glanced quickly at me. “Thanks, Mr. Taylor. I can get out right here. . . .” We were still a house away, and my dad was obviously aiming to pull into her driveway. Then there’d be no avoiding Sebastian.
“Oh, it’s no problem,” said my dad.
“Dad,” I said sharply. “Please don’t pull in.” I sank low in my seat in hopes the boys wouldn’t see me through the tinted window.
He gave me a weird look in the rearview mirror, but luckily, he did as we asked. Mia slid open the door on the street side so she wouldn’t have to climb over me.
“Careful, honey!” said my dad as a car inched by on that side.
I squeezed Mia’s hand before she left. She knew I was thanking her for her consideration in not exposing me to Sebastian again. She squeezed back.
“Thanks, Mr. Taylor. See you girls at the mall!” She hopped out and pushed the close button on the door so fast, it nearly caught her as she exited. “Oops!” She laughed.
My dad was shaking his head. “You girls are going to be the death of me,” he said. “Always some kind of mystery agenda going on. . . .” He eased his way back onto the road and continued until we dropped off Alexis.
As we drove home from her house, I could feel my dad checking on me in the rearview mirror again. “Everything okay, lovebug?” he asked.
I nodded and looked out the window. The Sebastian and Katie thing had been embarrassing, and I was only just feeling like I was over it, but now it was all back again. I was new to the whole boy thing, and I wasn’t sure I liked this kind of drama.
“Who’s Diego?” Dad asked with a smile.
Oh, well, Diego was another story. Not much of a story, actually. Yet. Maybe. A smiled bloomed on my face, anyway. “A guy from school.”
My dad smiled again at me, clearly waiting for more. But I just continued to look out the window. There truly wasn’t any more to say right now. So after a pause, during which my dad realized he wasn’t getting any info out of me, he reached over and turned up the radio, which was playing some dorky eighties song from his youth. Then he bopped his head and patted the steering wheel in time to the beat for the final part of our trip home. It was majorly embarrassing.