Jennifer had been up since 4 a.m., when Madeleine had kicked her in the back for the fourth time since they had fallen asleep at 9. She was at her computer scanning in transcripts and test scores when the girl came down the stairs carrying her Hello Kitty blanket, stood beside Jennifer’s desk, and asked for a soy ice cream sandwich.
“No you may not have an ice cream sandwich, young lady. That is unacceptable. How about a pop tart?” was Jennifer’s answer.
“A brown one,” Madeleine said.
Jennifer got up, poured another cup of coffee, and opened the box of pop tarts.
Madeleine sat down at the table and waited for her breakfast.
“Can we make the cupcakes today?”
“Maddy, I don’t have time today. I have that interview at the bakery this morning. You are going to Grandma’s house.”
“But you said we’d make the cupcakes,” Madeleine cried, burying her face in her hands.
Jennifer put the pop tart down on a plate in front of the crying girl, got out a bowl and a measuring cup. Together they made the cupcakes, omitting the butter and eggs and substituting oil and applesauce. These were to be healthy “vegan” cupcakes, not because Jennifer was a healthy vegan, but because Madeleine was allergic to eggs and dairy products.
She began to melt the soy butter for the frosting and soon realized that she only had half the suggested amount of confectioner’s sugar. What would happen if she used miniature marshmallows in place of sugar?
The cupcakes were fantastic. Jennifer put one in a pink cardboard box to take with her to her interview with Mr. Antonelli at the bakery. She also took her portfolio, which contained all of her transcripts, test scores, lesson plans for teaching vegan cooking, the results of all her background checks, driving records and four letters of recommendation.
Her degree was in philosophy, but now she wanted to teach cooking classes three nights a week at Dough Boys, a trendy bakery downtown. What she really wanted, if ambition were no object, was to open her own bakery and offer cooking classes there. She’d start a franchise, become a millionaire and give 20 percent of her earnings to charity. And she would buy all the Pampered Chef products her little heart desired.
Mr. Antonelli tasted the cupcake.
“It’s good,” he said.
“What do you know about teaching?”
“Well,” Jennifer replied, “I’ve taught a few private cooking lessons at my home with up to eight people. Actually, I’ve been baking since I was 13. They used to sell my stuff at the Country Store on Route 629. Then in college I worked in the cafeteria and I made all the pies. I love to make pies. And since I had Madeleine I started baking at home and I’ve had a pretty good business going. I can make up to $200 a week, but of course if I get the job here, I’ll just do this. I don’t want to compete with my employer.”
“You say you’ve got a kid?” Mr. Antonelli asked.
“Yes, Madeleine, she’s 5.”
“What does your husband do?”
“He’s a restaurant manager.”
“He must work long hours.”
“Who’s going to take care of your little girl while you’re teaching these classes?”
“Oh, my mother. And my husband, when he’s home,” Jennifer said.
Mr. Antonelli opened the binder Jennifer had given him, which was all decorated in cupcakes and pies. He studied her transcripts.
“A 3.5. Honors graduate?”
“That’s right,” Jennifer said, adjusting her collar. “I’ve been told I’m very organized and dependable.”
“Look, Jennifer, I’m looking for somebody who’s going to be around for a few years. Something tells me you think you’re on your way to something else. You know this job only pays $10 an hour.”
“Oh, Mr. Antonelli, I really want this job. If I get this job, I promise I’ll be here three nights a week.”
“What are you going to do when your daughter gets sick?”
Jennifer stared at Mr. Antonelli, then reached across the table and took her portfolio. She stood up and headed for the door, but before she left, she turned to face him one last time.
“You know that question is illegal, don’t you?”
When Jennifer got home, she poured a glass of wine and started to cry. She had done it to herself. She’d said too much. She’d tried too hard. It seemed like if there was a choice between trying too hard and not trying hard enough, you were much better off to err on the side of laziness. At least then you didn’t face the rejection. You knew the what, but you didn’t know why.
The door opened and Madeleine came bursting in with a bag from the Dollar Store.
“I’m sorry,” Jennifer’s mother said, keys in hand. “I needed cat food.”
Madeleine emptied a bag of trinkets that included dice, a Minnie Mouse figurine, and a plastic cylinder containing glow-in-the-dark bugs.
“Let’s use these to decorate the cupcakes,” Madeleine said.
Together they put the bugs on the cupcakes. Jennifer left one out for Paul to eat when he got home. She and Madeleine went to bed.
The next morning, Paul asked her what she used in the frosting.
“Brown sugar, butter and marshmallows,” she told him.
“They were great. Might have to get that recipe for the restaurant,” he said.
“You know, Jenn, you’re a good baker, but doing something isn’t the same as teaching it,” Paul said.
She agreed. He was right. She should quit screwing around and stick to baking, to doing what she knew she was good at. She’d probably make more money that way anyhow.
For two days, Jennifer did nothing but dishes and laundry and baking and deliveries. And she cried. Not a steady, nervous breakdown kind of crying, but the kind where you stare into the refrigerator and forget what you’re looking for, then realize your eyes are full of tears.
On the third morning, when Madeleine kicked her in the back at 4 a.m., Jennifer got up, turned on her computer, and started filling out a loan application. Waterford needed a new bakery.