Let Them Eat Cake

Let Them Eat Cake

by Sandra Byrd

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Overview

"Let Them Eat Cake is a culinary delight ... with a wonderful surprise ending."-Rachel Hauck, author of The Wedding Dress What do you do when you've got a degree in French and absolutely no job prospects? You slide into your favorite French bakery, of course! When a lighthearted conversation with the manager of the local patisserie turns into a job offer, Lexi Stuart gladly accepts. She indulges in tasty pastries and wins over skeptical coworkers, but the actual glamor is minimal and the pay less than generous. Trouble by the handful is stirred into her life as she juggles the flirtatious baker she has her eye on and a handsome young executive who likes Lexi even more than her Napoleons. As she folds together dilemma and delight, Lexi learns that it's not satisfying to try to fulfill everyone else's expectations. Instead, she embarks on an adventure in trusting herself and God with her future.Download and devour this delicious series, lashed with romance and fun, and then spiced with a lightly Christian world view. Bon Appétit!

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781937647483
Publisher: Quaystrokes
Publication date: 08/25/2016
Series: French Twist , #1
Pages: 344
Sales rank: 1,035,154
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.99(h) x 0.72(d)

About the Author

Sandra Byrd is a prolific writer of fiction, including the popular Friends for a Season series for teens, and the bestselling Girls Like You and Secret Sisters series for young girls. She is a regular contributor to national Christian publications. Before she began writing full time, Sandra worked in marketing, sales, and acquisitions for an educational publisher. She and her husband have two children, and make their home in Seattle, Washington.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Chaque personne sait où sa chaussure pince.
Each woman knows where her shoe pinches.

Catbert avoided catching my eye–never a good sign. He prowled the aisles all day but didn’t stop to say hello or ask about my plans for the weekend. My cubicle had recently been expanded by three inches to accommodate my new cellmate, Celine, who silently typed nonstop. The woman was a machine. I tried not to compare the stack of nutrition labels she had robotically processed since eight that morning with my own paltry offering.

I pulled up another document and studied it. Hmm, I wonder why they used an emulsifier in this recipe? I closed my eyes and thought about it. And was this soft wheat?

I heard a cough behind me and quickly opened my eyes. “Should I help you?” Celine asked in French, eyeing the stack I still had to translate.

“Oh…ah…non, merci,” I answered. “I was thinking about the flour.”

“Bon,” she said. She had a smile like sour milk. I’d asked her to lunch when she first joined us. She’d informed me that she didn’t take lunches, and would I please stop burning lavender candles at the desk. Les allergies.

I glanced at the clock. It was nearly five. In order to get my quota done today, I’d have to stay at least another hour. Again. Celine tidied up her station, turned off her Moroccan music, and bid me a stiff good night. Everyone else began to pour from the room like mice from a hole. I typed faster.

I felt, more than saw, him standing behind me.

“Miss Stuart?” Catbert said.

I turned around and looked up. “Yes?”

“Can you come with me?” He nodded toward his glassed-in office overlooking the cubicles.

“Should I finish these labels first?” I asked, cotton-mouthed.

He shook his head. “That won’t be necessary.”

Uh-oh.

I followed him into his office, and we sat across the table from each other. “Your French is really very good,” he said. “You simply don’t translate enough documents in a day to make it worth your time…or ours.”

“I’m just so fascinated by the business,” I said quickly. “I enjoy seeing what’s going into each product.”

He nodded curtly. “But you are not here to evaluate contents, Miss Stuart. You are here to translate.”

“I see,” I said, feeling desperate and hating myself for begging for a job that I loathed. “I can certainly work more quickly.”

He shook his head. “That’s what the thirty-day trial period was for. I wish you the best.” He handed me my final paycheck and a cardboard box for the few items I had at my cubicle. “I’m sorry.”

I nodded and took the paycheck and the box, not trusting myself to speak for fear of releasing the tears. What was I going to do?

I packed up my half-burned lavender candles, got into my car, and drove slowly in order to collect myself before pulling up in front of my parents’ West Seattle house. I’d moved back in a little over a month ago to find a job and save some money for a rental deposit on my own place.

I left my box of cubicle gear in the trunk, stashed like a dead body. I pasted on a smile and walked into the house. My mother was just hanging up the phone and looked exultant.

“Guess what?” she said.

“What?”

“All the permits are in place, and we’re ready to go.”

“How long until your new place is ready to move into?” I asked, trying to dredge up enthusiasm from somewhere deep within.

“Six months,” Mom answered. “No longer.” She glanced at me out of the corner of her eye.

I’d lived for twenty-four years in a family rife with unspoken conversations and unstated expectations. I knew what she meant. “Get a life, Alexandra Stuart. You have until July.”

I went into “my” room–recently the storage room, before that Nate’s room–and closed the door behind me. Dad had stacked my mail, forwarded from my old apartment, on the dresser. I shuffled through the magazine subscription advertisements and a manipulative plea for alumni donations from the college I’d attended just an hour and a half to the north in Bellingham.

No wedding invitations so far this week. God is good. I opened the last envelope.

Not again.
I’d been overspending on clothes for a job I hated.

Had Dad guessed what this was when he’d stacked the mail? I sat on the bed, lifted the box that held my vase, and rested it on my lap. With the money from my last paycheck I had bought this tiny Chihuly bud vase from a friend who was moving to Spain. I’d always wanted a Chihuly piece, and it was a bargain. If I'd known it was going to be my second-to-final paycheck, of course, I’d have applied it to the final five car payments on my coughing VW.

I set the vase, still carefully swaddled, on the shelf in the corner of the closet. Chihuly would debut in my real apartment. Or maybe in my room at the downtown YWCA shelter. I walked into the hall, shut the bedroom door behind me, and went into the kitchen. My mom stood in front of the stove, wide-checkered apron hugging her postmenopausal curves.

“What time will they be here?” I lifted the lid on the homemade spaghetti sauce my Italian family calls “red gravy.” A thick tomato steam, flecked with dried summer twins, basil and rosemary, rose into the air. Mom chopped fresh mozzarella and dressed it with balsamic vinegar. I could taste the tang on my lips even now.

“About seven. You can use my curling iron if yours isn’t unpacked yet.”

Subtle, Mom.

They say trouble always visits in threes. My hypochondriac lawyer brother, his très successful lawyer fiancée, Leah–who graduated from high school a year after I did–and my outspoken Nonna were coming to dinner. At least Nonna posed no problem to the job conversation.

No, absolutely not true. Nonna was always stirring up trouble. “Can I help with anything? Make some shortbread for dessert?” I asked. “I perfected a new recipe with vanilla beans before Christmas–the cookies I gave away in tins. Everyone said they were great.”

“No thanks, honey. I have it all under control,” Mom said.

“What’s a mother for except to cook for her family?”

“All right. I’m going to run to the mall for a minute,” I said.

Mom nodded absently, tasting the sauce.

When I’d escaped to my car, I sat for a moment and sighed before turning over the motor. I loved my mother, of course, but I missed living on my own. I headed toward the discount Supermall. My cell phone rang, and the caller ID flashed the name of my best friend, Tanya.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Going to the mall.”

“What’s in your wallet?”

I dug it out at a red light. “One hundred and fifty-six dollars, a Tully’s Coffee card, and a creased photo of Greg with a nose ring penciled in.” Greg and I broke up almost a year ago. Everyone said I should be over it.

“No way.” Tanya laughed. “Don’t spend too much.”

“I’m not going to buy a lot,” I said, wincing at how pathetic I sounded. “I just need time to think. And I can use the clothes for job hunting.”

“Job hunting? You have a job.”

“Uh-oh, light’s green. I’ll call you later. Bye!” I hung up.

I parked in front of the Rack. Even if I couldn’t afford Nordstrom, I could afford their remainders discounted at Nordstrom Rack. I tried on a pair of slim black pants that hid the extra pound or two hitchhiking on my hips, and some black pumps with a skinny-yet-sturdy heel. I headed to the register, and the clerk took out a marker.

“Wait,” I said.

The shoes hung in midair. The ten people in line behind me let out a collective, irritated sigh and shifted their feet.

“Yes?”

“Do you have to write that number on the bottom of the shoes?”

“Yes. It’s loss control. Company policy.”

“Can you make it small?” I asked. The clerk wrinkled her nose but wrote it small. Okay. As long as my feet stayed flat on the floor, no one would know my shoes were discount. I paid, left, and drove home. Now that the retail therapy was over, I felt sad again and blinked back tears. But I managed to put on a happy face and get out of the car, wondering what I’d say at dinner if they brought up my job. I couldn’t let on.

Nate, Leah, and Nonna arrived precisely at seven. At the store I’d felt so chic in black pants and a white shirt, but now I felt like a hostess at Bakers Square. Even though I was unhappy living with my parents, it still felt good to be back home and near my crazy friends and family again.

“How are you?” Leah said, hugging me. I hugged her back, warmly. It wasn’t her fault that she was pretty and successful, or that she had graduated a year behind me and was already clerking at a law firm in town, or that, to top it off, she was a Pied Piper to children and small pets everywhere.

“Really good to see you, Leah,” I said, meaning it. Hey, if I never found another job, maybe I could nanny their kids!

“Hey, sis,” Nate ruffled my hair, the same rich dark brown as his. But I scored the blue eyes and dimples, for which I offer a hearty thanks to all recessive genes everywhere.

Nate and Leah kicked off their shoes, and Nonna slipped off her loafers after brushing a feathery kiss on my cheek. As soon as everyone had gone into the dining room, I turned Leah’s shoes over, hoping to see a scribbled number on their soles. Nothing. Just soft leather. Real leather.

I am so pathetic.

I followed them into the dining room, where we all sat in the same seats we had used our whole lives, with Leah as an addition, of course.
“So.” Nate looked at me, twirling ribbons of linguine around his fork. “How’s the new job?”

Everyone looked at me, smiling. There had been vast relief when I’d finally scored a job. I knew there’d be major disappointment when they found out I’d lost this one. I’m all about postponing pain.

“The company is interesting,” I said evenly. “They translate nutrition labels from English into French so they can be used in Canada too. It’s a Canadian requirement that all labels are published in both languages.”

Nate grinned and ate another bite. Leah, more sensitive to the vibes, looked up in alarm. She knew I’d neatly dodged the question. Catbert-like, I avoided eye contact. “I guess studying Madeline and Tintin was a great career decision after all, eh?” Nate forked another mouthful of linguine, and Leah elbowed him slightly. I couldn’t decide whether to be glad that someone finally disciplined my older brother or jealous of his and Leah’s intimacy. They were getting married in June.

“I studied French culture,” I said, “and literature. Contrary to popular opinion, the literature goes way beyond the Madeline books.”

“They sure never read up on how to fight a war,” Dad snickered.

“They haven’t won anything since Napoleon.”

Nonna gave him a hard look.

“Excuse me,” he said, pushing his chair back. “I’d better refill the water pitchers for Margaret.” Dad always called my mother Margaret, even though everyone else called her Peggy.

“Would you like to have lunch this week?” Leah asked me. “I only get forty-five minutes, but we can go somewhere close or eat in the atrium of my office complex.”

“Thanks,” I said. “I’d really like that. What day works best for you?”

She thought for a minute. “Wednesday? Do you have enough time to get away for lunch?”

“I have a lot of time at lunch,” I said. More than you know.

“I’ll bring something good for both of us.”

“You sure?” she asked. “I invited you, after all.”

“I’m sure,” I said firmly, not wanting to be the designated charity case.

I hoped I could buy something both classy and cheap. I didn’t want to show up with homemade sandwiches like Red Riding Hood and her picnic basket.

After dinner we talked for a while, mostly about Nate and Leah’s wedding.

“You’ll help me shop for dresses, won’t you?” Leah asked.

I nodded. “Of course! It’ll be fun. I’m glad to be back in town for that reason, if nothing else. I’d like to give you a shower, too, if no one has spoken up for it.”

“I’d love that,” she said.

“I have three possibilities to escort me to the wedding,” Nonna chimed in. “One has a walker, so dancing might be tough. I may have to choose between the other two.”

“Maybe you can give one to Lexi,” Nate teased.

I threw a balled-up napkin at him. “How do you know I don’t have a date for your wedding?”

He raised his eyebrows, but Mom walked in with a tray of cookies right then, which thankfully stopped the conversation.

“Do you?” Nonna whispered. I shook my head and winked. “But I will. Promise.”

“That’s my girl.”

After coffee, Nate got ready to drive Leah and Nonna home.

I gave Nonna a peck on the cheek. Her skin was soft and floury with face powder, like freshly kneaded dough. “Bonsoir,” Nonna said, kissing me back. She was the only one who tried to speak French with me.

“Bonne nuit,” I answered.

As soon as they left, I called Tanya. “Come over,” I said. “I need some get-a-life support.”

She laughed. “I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

I hung up the phone and began to unpack a few books. I opened a bookstore bag and took out the three I’d bought earlier that week. When I was a freshman, I’d decided to buy books at the local bookstore, save the receipt, read them, and return them for credit.

I did it twice before I’d realized it wasn’t right. Things were so tight now. Was it really that bad? I looked at the books on the bed, unwilling to return any of them.

I shredded the receipt and sprinkled the confetti into my garbage can, then started hanging up my new clothes. A knock sounded on my bedroom door, accompanied by a soft “Hey.”

“Help!” I called from inside the closet. “I’ve been swallowed by a shrine to Nate’s childhood!” When I’d moved out, my mom had changed my smaller room into her sewing and craft room. When I moved back in, only Nate’s old room was available.

Tanya came in and helped me lug Nate’s old dartboard out of the closet.

“I barely have enough room for my stuff,” I said. “I’ll put it in the garage. Or he can take it to his apartment with the rest of his stuff.”

“He might want to wait until he and Leah have their own place,” Tanya said.

“Yeah, or she may want me to deep-six it.” I grinned.

“How’d it go tonight?” she asked.

“Dinner was a little rough.” I sighed and plopped down on the bed.

“Nate and Leah doing well?”

“Yeah. It’s not their fault they’re both great. It’s just that I seem so…so…unproductive next to them.”

“You’re not unproductive.” Tanya sat on my floor. She nodded at the open box of books. “Want me to hand these books to you while you put them on the shelf? We can talk while you do. You’ll feel better when they’re up. It’ll feel like your own space.”

I frowned. “I don’t want it to be my space at all. That’s why I hadn’t unpacked yet. And anyway, it can’t be my space for long. In six months, my parents are moving to a fifty-five-and-older community nearly two hours away.”

“You’ll have your own place then, which will really be your own space.”

“My room at the Y?” I joked. I sat down next to her. “Tanya, I lost my job today.”

“Oh, Lex, I’m sorry. I thought maybe you had when you said you needed to go job hunting. What happened?”

“I wasn’t translating enough labels quickly enough.”

“Are you sad?”

“Sad? A little. I feel like a loser, but I hated that job. I counted every minute I was there. I made no friends and did no meaningful work. Scared? Yes.” I rubbed my fingers over a worn guide to Montreal. Then I handed it to Tanya. “I should have stayed there.

I had my own place. I liked it there.”

“So why did you come back?” Tanya asked.

“I was broke, as always. Once it wasn’t part of a room-and-board agreement with the college, I had no choice.”

“You’d wanted to go to France instead, anyway,” she reminded me.

I nodded. Montreal had been my second choice.

“So what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know. My parents are moving to the retirement house right after the wedding. They’re listing this house for sale soon. I guess I’ll try to find a job and then a place to live.”

“How about teaching?” she asked. “You could so totally get a job at the French American School.” Tanya taught fourth grade and lived with another teacher in a two-bedroom apartment. She had started with a local school district and planned to transfer to a private Christian school nearby, but she’d signed a two-year teaching contract and a two-year lease with her roommate. She was stuck for now.

“You want to know the truth?” I asked.

“Lay it on me.” She handed me a copy of Baudelaire.

“I don’t like kids.” There. I’d said it. The pillars of the house didn’t fall in and crush me. I hadn’t been struck with boils.

“Really? I never knew that.”

“I just never felt brave enough to admit I don’t like them. It’s watered-down blasphemy to a lot of Christians.”

She opened the can of Diet Coke she’d brought. “Well, are you ever going to have kids of your own?”

“First of all, that assumes I’m married at some point.”

“Lots of time,” she said. Tanya wasn’t interested in dating, and I knew why. I’d tried to talk with her about it again a couple of months ago, but she’d shut me down.

“And second, they’ll be interesting to me because they’ll be my kids. I’m just not into kids in general.”

“I get it,” Tanya said. “Teaching is out.” She handed me last year’s stack of Paris Match magazines. “What did you want to do with a French degree?”

I shook my head. “I don’t know. I just like the language and the culture and all. Diplomacy or something.” I thought I’d be married. “I worked for that French import firm for a few months after college,” I reminded her. “I had high hopes when I started.”

“Until they made it clear only family moved beyond receptionist.”

“Uh-huh. Then I tried freelance translation, but there was never enough work to make ends meet. Part of my credit card debt is from then. I ate ramen noodles and eggs.”

“What about the account manager job?”

“Phone sales,” I said. “Totally bait and switch. A grunt in a sweaty cubicle begging people to buy extended warranties on their home appliances before midnight.”

“Didn’t your uncle help you find that last job in Bellingham? Marketing executive?”

“Yeah, but, you know…I lost that job too.”

“I know,” Tanya said. “I’m sorry I brought it up. Does your uncle know you were ‘not a good fit’?”

I shook my head.

“Something good will come up soon. Either a job or a place to live.”

“Or a guy,” I said.

She rolled her eyes at me, and we stood up. I knew she thought it was totally impractical to be thinking about men at a time like this, and maybe it was. But when we were in junior high, there was a questionnaire our friends passed around–I love questionnaires–that asked, if you had to pick getting married or having kids, which would you pick? Tanya wanted the kids. I wanted a soul mate. If I could have both, great. If not…

I hung Nate’s old dartboard on the robe hook on the back of my door. I tore out a piece of notebook paper and ripped it into twenty pieces. I wrote “Guy” on four of them, “Job” on six of them, “Place to Live” on six of them, and “Guy” on four more (hey, a girl needs an advantage!). Then I arranged them on the dartboard, sticking them in the twelve, pizza-slice-shaped sections.

“What are you doing?” Tanya asked.

“It’s biblical.”

“What?”

“It’s the twenty-first-century equivalent of casting lots,” I said.

“Mmm-hmm.”

I threw a dart. I aimed hard for guy but got job instead.

“Two out of three,” I said.

I threw two more darts, aiming for all I was worth toward guy, and got two more jobs. Well, maybe that wasn’t too bad. I mean, I needed a job before I could get a place to live, right?
I closed my eyes and threw a fourth dart.

“Hey,” Tanya said. “I thought you said three.”

Even blind, the last dart came up job. Oh, all right. I’ll be responsible. I felt with certainty that if Nate had thrown three darts, he would have hit job, place to live, and wife once each. Winner takes all. “Give me those darts,” Tanya said. “Maybe something miraculous will come along and release me from my teaching contract.”

She threw one dart, then two. They both hit guy.

“I quit,” she said, disgusted.

“Stupid board.” I took it off the hook and stuffed it back into the closet.

Tanya checked her watch. “I’d better go. Are you coming to church this weekend?”

I shook my head. “Nah. Maybe next week.”

Even girlfriends have unspoken conversations and unsaid expectations. I didn’t push her; she didn’t push me. For a while, anyway.

Reading Group Guide

1. Lexi feels a sense of unfairness for many people in their twenties: they’ve worked hard in school and/or at a job, kept themselves mostly unentangled in sexual relationships, and have generally followed God. Yet they seem further away from many life goals – job, great marriage, a place of their own – than people who’ve lived faster lives. Are you ever frustrated by what seems like a lack of justice in your own life? How do you push beyond it?

2. Lexi and her mother have a complicated relationship. Lexi recognizes the many great things her mother has done for her, yet wants to be free to make her own mistakes and live her own life, which may look very different from the one her mother envisioned for her. Lexi’s mom wants to give her daughter all of the things she herself has never had, and use the wisdom of her years to help her daughter avoid life’s pitfalls. How do mother-daughter struggles take place in your own life? How do you find healthy boundaries with your mother or your daughter (or both!) while remaining emotionally engaged?

3. What happens when your best friend seems to hit life’s jackpot and you seem to hit life’s potholes? Can this friendship be saved? How?

4. Lexi has a dream for her life, but she’s fearful of pursuing it. What holds her back, mainly, is fear of what other people will think, and lack of trust that God will see her through. What unrealized dream do you have for your life? What can you do to bring it about? What holds you back?

5. This book was written for and about the “quarter life crisis” group, people who arrive at their twenties and suddenly have no clear direction for their lives. Do you identify with that? Is that something that you believe happens regularly during our lives?

6. Lexi has gone to church her entire life, but hasn’t really been personally engaged. In this book, she takes time to build a relationship with God outside of parents, church groups, and anything else “other” led. Is your relationship with God dependant on institutions?

7. Do you think people are able to find life guidance outside of reading scripture? Do your life habits reflect your beliefs? Lexi begins, for the first time, to read the bible book by book rather than topically or the “lucky dip” verse method. How does the approach match or differ from your own?

Foreword

1. Lexi feels a sense of unfairness for many people in their twenties: they’ve worked hard in school and/or at a job, kept themselves mostly unentangled in sexual relationships, and have generally followed God. Yet they seem further away from many life goals – job, great marriage, a place of their own – than people who’ve lived faster lives. Are you ever frustrated by what seems like a lack of justice in your own life? How do you push beyond it?

2. Lexi and her mother have a complicated relationship. Lexi recognizes the many great things her mother has done for her, yet wants to be free to make her own mistakes and live her own life, which may look very different from the one her mother envisioned for her. Lexi’s mom wants to give her daughter all of the things she herself has never had, and use the wisdom of her years to help her daughter avoid life’s pitfalls. How do mother-daughter struggles take place in your own life? How do you find healthy boundaries with your mother or your daughter (or both!) while remaining emotionally engaged?

3. What happens when your best friend seems to hit life’s jackpot and you seem to hit life’s potholes? Can this friendship be saved? How?

4. Lexi has a dream for her life, but she’s fearful of pursuing it. What holds her back, mainly, is fear of what other people will think, and lack of trust that God will see her through. What unrealized dream do you have for your life? What can you do to bring it about? What holds you back?

5. This book was written for and about the “quarter life crisis” group, people who arrive at their twenties and suddenly have noclear direction for their lives. Do you identify with that? Is that something that you believe happens regularly during our lives?

6. Lexi has gone to church her entire life, but hasn’t really been personally engaged. In this book, she takes time to build a relationship with God outside of parents, church groups, and anything else “other” led. Is your relationship with God dependant on institutions?

7. Do you think people are able to find life guidance outside of reading scripture? Do your life habits reflect your beliefs? Lexi begins, for the first time, to read the bible book by book rather than topically or the “lucky dip” verse method. How does the approach match or differ from your own?

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