The ‘It’ Girls
‘Why is the box just plain white, Mum?’ She twists in her seat and frowns at it. ‘Did they change the packaging, or something?’
‘Must have,’ I say, swallowing a yawn. ‘Eyes front, Marie. You’ll get sick, otherwise.’
‘Whatever. I haven’t been carsick since I was a kid.’ She twists further, and I’m terrified she’ll lift the lid.
‘Wow. That long?’ I mutter as I flick the indicator.
‘Ha ha,’ she mutters, rolling her eyes, but she settles back into her seat. ‘Hey, I hope they didn’t, like, cost loads, or whatever.’
I wait for the throb in my heart to subside before I’m able to answer. ‘Why would you say that?’
‘No reason,’ she sing-songs. Sometimes she sounds just like the TV. ‘It’s just – thanks, you know. For getting them.’
‘Yeah,’ I say, pretending to be distracted by a passing car.
‘Georgia’ll have made such an effort, you know? To have the perfect party?’ I cut a glance across at her. She’s staring out the side window, chewing the inside of her mouth. Her hands are hidden in her sleeves, but I can tell she’s picking at her nails.
‘It’s just going to be a few of the girls from class, isn’t it?’ I say, looking back at the road. The turn for Georgia’s house is less than a hundred metres away, and the base of my skull begins to throb, slowly.
‘Well, yeah. But they’re the important girls,’ Marie sighs. ‘And don’t give me this ‘you’re all equally important’ stuff,’ she interrupts, loudly, right before I’m about to say those exact words. ‘You know what I mean.’
‘All right, darling.’ The turning light changes to red, and I fight the urge to swing the car into a U-turn and zoom back into town, but I know the shop is shut. Christabel’s Cupcakes, even though the woman who runs it was baptised Tracey and God knows where she got her notions about ‘cupcakes’ from, because they were simply called ‘buns’ when I was growing up. Christabel’s sell their wares in light pink boxes, not plain white ones, and they wrap them like Christmas presents, and there’s always a queue out the door. I should have just found the money from somewhere and slid it across the counter in return for twenty identically perfect cakes, buttercream with silver sugar accents in silver paper cases, delicate vanilla sponge, light as a dream.
I should have. But instead I stayed up till 2 a.m. trying to bake quietly enough not to wake my sleeping child upstairs, and I found a plain cake box from somewhere, and that’s what’s waiting on the floor of the car. I’m not even sure if any two of the buns I made would pass for the same in a bad light, from a distance, and this is what I’m sending my girl into a party with.
‘So, like – are they pretty? The cupcakes?’ Marie asks, and for a second I don’t know what to say. The light turns green, and she doesn’t press me for an answer as we wait for a break in traffic. We turn off up the hill towards Georgia’s, and I press the pedal too hard.
‘Whoa, mum,’ laughs Marie over the roaring engine. ‘Cool it with the F1 stuff!’
‘Sorry, love,’ I say, looking for a space to pull in. Georgia’s driveway is full, and the grass verges and pathway are crowded with 4x4s and Land Rovers. I double-park beside a Jag and something I don’t recognise and flick on my hazard lights, and Marie leans over to kiss me goodbye. She flings herself out of the passenger door, and she leans in to pick up the box of cakes, touching it like it contains a sleeping baby. I want to tell her then, but I don’t. My heart thrums as I stare at her, clutching the tiny white rectangle with its battered corners and its grease stains, gazing fearfully up at the house, and I know I have to leave. Lights spill through open doors and windows, and I see crowds of people who all look perfectly the same, and I have to concentrate on not throwing up. I haven’t even washed my hair.
‘Aren’t you coming in?’ calls Marie to me. I gesture at the traffic.
‘I’ve got to get home, love!’ I shout. ‘I’ll be back at ten, okay?’
She tries to smile. ‘Okay, mum,’ she says, and blows me a kiss.
I catch the kiss she blows me, and I indicate to pull out, and I drive away and leave her there.