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She hoped it...
She hoped it was an email from one of her friends saying they’d arrived home from summer break. But no such luck. It was just an ad for a back-to-school supplies sale at New Fairfield Stationery. “Ugh!” she moaned.
Most kids loved summer vacation: sun, fun, and no homework! But Lexi missed Blakely Elementary School. She missed her teachers. She missed art class. And she especially missed Peace, Love, and Cupcakes, the cupcake club that had grown to mean so much to her in fourth grade. It was where she had learned to pipe beautiful designs in frosting and sculpt fancy flowers and figures out of gum paste and chocolate. But most importantly, it was where she had met her three BFFs: Kylie Carson, Jenna Medina, and Sadie Harris.
At first, none of them were eager to join Kylie’s baking club—it sounded a little lame. But then, something magical happened. Though they were all very different people, they came together to form an awesome, unbreakable team! In just a few short months, everyone wanted to hire them to bake cupcakes. Mr. Ludwig, owner of the Golden Spoon Gourmet Shop in Greenwich, Connecticut, even placed a weekly order of 300 cupcakes!
But for Lexi, being in the cupcake club wasn’t about being popular or even making money. It was about belonging. Just knowing that she had Kylie, Jenna, and Sadie by her side made her feel less shy. No matter what happened, she wasn’t alone. Yes, there had been some crazy adventures (like the time their Leaning Tower of Pisa 3,000-cupcake display toppled to the floor!), but it was the best year of Lexi’s life!
When Juliette Dubois, the club’s adviser and Blakely’s drama teacher, suggested they shut down the club for the summer, Lexi was devastated.
“I think it would be wise to take a break, recharge our batteries over the summer,” Juliette had said. “You girls are going your separate ways for a few months, and there’s no PLC if there’s none of you here.”
“But I’m here!” Lexi piped up. She had no plans to go to camp or on vacation with her family. Both her parents had to work.
“You can’t run the entire business by yourself,” Kylie said. “Even Mr. Ludwig said he goes to Paris in July and closes down the Golden Spoon. We’ll start up again at the end of August, just in time for the back-to-school rush!”
Sadie and Jenna thought this was a good idea. But Lexi was silent. She couldn’t imagine a week without baking cupcakes—and without her friends.
“You okay, Lex?” Kylie read her mind.
“I guess. Just sad that PLC is over.”
“It’s not over!” Jenna insisted. “We’ll be back, bigger and better than ever! I’m going to get my abuela to give me all her recipes. You know she makes a cuatro leches cake instead of tres leches? Can you just imagine a four-milk cupcake? Yum!”
“And we’ll write to each other all summer,” offered Sadie. “Every week! It’ll be like we’re all still together.”
Lexi shrugged. So that was it: PLC would be on break till September. Sadie was off to a basketball camp in North Carolina, Jenna was visiting her grandparents in Ecuador, and Kylie was going to sleepaway camp for the first time in Massachusetts. That left Lexi all alone in New Fairfield, Connecticut.
• • •
“You could go to Camp Echo Pond with your sister, Ava,” Lexi’s dad pointed out one night at the dinner table. “You’d have a great time.”
Lexi shook her head. “I hate bugs and I can barely doggie paddle.”
She remembered last summer, when her parents had enrolled her in Hallard Day Camp—and she came in absolute last place in the swimming relay. Everyone was already out of the pool, drying off, and she still had one lap to go.
“Come on, slow poke!” her counselor Gabby teased. “Stroke! Stroke! Kick! Kick! Big arms!”
Lexi tried her best, but the water stung her eyes and shot up her nose and she was sure she swallowed half the pool.
Everyone in her group had gone back to their bunk when Gabby finally fished her out of the water and handed her a towel. Lexi felt like a prune. Even worse, a pathetic loser prune.
“Nice try,” her counselor said. “You gave it your best shot.”
But Lexi was completely humiliated. Even the preschool group could swim faster than she could. No matter how hard she kicked and paddled her arms, she seemed to get nowhere. She sunk like a rock to the bottom of the pool. Once the swim teacher made her go into the deep end to try to tread water. As the rest of her group watched and whispered (she was sure about her!), Lexi clung to the edge of the pool, terrified to let go.
The lifeguard jumped off his tower and kneeled over her. “You okay down there?” he asked, ready to dive in and rescue her.
“Um, yes,” she replied, mortified. “Just hangin’ out.”
“You want a kickboard?”
Lexi glanced at the shallow end where all the little kids in swim diapers were using kickboards.
“No thanks…” she began. But it was too late. The lifeguard handed her a bright pink Dora the Explorer kickboard. “Just hang on and make your way back to four feet.”
After that near-drowning Dora disaster, there was no way, no how, she was going to go to Camp Echo Pond!
“Well, they’d teach you to be a good swimmer,” Ava assured her. “There’s a zip line and canoeing—and Color War is awesome.” Lexi remembered the photos Ava had showed her from last summer, her face striped with green war paint. She looked ridiculous.
“I think I’ll just stay here and paint pictures—not my face,” Lexi said quietly.
Then her mom found out that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City was offering an art intensive program for kids ten and up. This was the first year Lexi was old enough to go. It did sound pretty cool, studying with museum curators and learning the techniques of famous artists for a month in the Big Apple.
“Lexi could stay with my sister, Deanna—she lives a few blocks from the Met,” her mom suggested. Dad groaned. Aunt Dee was what he called “a wild card.” She was nearly thirty years old and still taking college classes. Last year, she was going to be an accountant (not a good idea, since she was always asking her mom to lend her money!). But this year, she had decided Japanese would be a “way cooler” major—and she might even get to travel.
“She’s probably waitressing at night, so that won’t work,” her dad protested. He was a lawyer and had wanted to be one since he was six, just like his dad and grandpa before him. He couldn’t understand anyone who “lacked focus and direction.”
“Nope. I checked. Deanna’s taking the summer off to work on her thesis,” replied her mom. “So it’s perfect. She can watch over Lexi for the four weeks.”
Her dad finally gave in, although he suspected that Lexi would be watching over Aunt Dee and not vice versa. Her mom’s kid sister was colorful and spontaneous—everything Lexi secretly wished she could be. She wore funny, floppy hats and owned a pair of clogs in every color of the rainbow. She ate cold pizza for breakfast and packed pickle chips in her purse. She was never embarrassed, never sorry, and never too shy to speak her mind.
• • •
When Lexi stepped off the train at Grand Central Terminal with her mom, Aunt Dee was waiting on the track, holding a big sign that read “Welcome to NYC!” She was jumping up and down, whistling through her teeth, making sure they spotted her in the lunch hour crowds pouring out of the train and into the station. Lexi giggled—Dee was hard to miss!
“How’s my brilliantabulous niece Alexandra?” Dee asked, hugging her.
“Good!” Lexi replied. And for the first time in a few weeks, she actually felt good. She was excited to be in the Big Apple, and Dee had plans…lots of plans.
“So first, I thought we’d grab some pizza at Two Boots and cheesecake at Junior’s,” she began. “You hungry?”
Lexi nodded and her stomach rumbled to second the motion.
“Just make sure you listen to your aunt…and don’t talk to strangers…or wander off…” her mom reminded her. “And don’t forget to use hand sanitizer!” She’d packed Lexi’s bag with at least six bottles of it!
“Your mom is a worrywart,” Dee shot back. “We’ll be just fine. Right, Lexi?”
Lexi nodded. If Grand Central was any indication, New York City was a pretty wild, crazy, crowded place. But her aunt seemed to love it—and she fit in perfectly. Lexi kissed her mom good-bye and Dee pulled her along.
“I thought we’d take a walk through Times Square, maybe check out the huge Ferris wheel in Toys‘R’Us, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum…” her aunt suggested.
Lexi could barely catch her breath as they zigzagged through all the commuters. Grand Central was bigger and more bustling than she had remembered it. She hadn’t been here since first grade, when her class took a trip to see the toy train exhibit at Christmastime.
“Look up!” Aunt Dee said, pointing to the turquoise ceiling covered in constellations. “It’s the only place in New York City where you can see the stars during the day…unless you count a Broadway matinee. But that’s not till next Wednesday!”
Lexi noticed that everyone seemed to be in an awfully big hurry. There was a huge four-sided clock in the center of the information booth. Everyone was checking the time, rushing to make their trains. One lady in a pinstripe suit was talking on her cellphone and almost ran Lexi over.
“Watch where you’re going!” she snapped at Lexi.
Aunt Dee stuck out her tongue at the woman and barreled straight ahead, down the escalator, and through the dining concourse. Lexi noticed there were lots of different foods on display: sushi, salads, hot and crusty loaves of bread, rich chocolate candies. Then her eye caught a small bakery stand in the corner filled with pastries…and cupcakes!
“Can we stop here, please, Aunt Dee?” she pleaded. She simply had to check out the competition.
“Sure! Dessert before lunch. My kind of gal!” Dee replied.
Lexi surveyed the trays of frosted cupcakes. They were nothing fancy: just simple vanilla and chocolate icing with rainbow sprinkles on top. “I’ll take a chocolate,” she said, handing the saleswoman two dollars. She took a bite and wrinkled her nose.
“Oh, Jenna would just hate this. It tastes like it’s been sitting in a fridge for days!” she exclaimed.
Aunt Dee broke off a corner of the cake. “Tastes okay to me.”
“No, Kylie is really particular about the frosting to cupcake ratio. This is way too much frosting. It overpowers all the other flavors.”
“You sound like you know what you’re talking about,” the saleswoman said. “Are you a professional baker?”
Lexi smiled. “Yes! My friends and I have this amazing cupcake club called Peace, Love, and Cupcakes!” Then she caught herself. “I mean, we had this amazing club. It’s kind of on hold at the moment.”
“Oh, that’s really too bad,” the woman replied. She handed Lexi a vanilla cupcake. “Maybe you’d like this one better?”
“Thanks,” she answered. And yes, it was fresher tasting and even had a pink rose piped on top in buttercream. But it didn’t make her miss her friends and PLC any less.
Over a pepperoni pizza for lunch, Lexi was a bit distracted, even when Aunt Dee took out a map and unfolded it practically in her plate. She couldn’t help thinking about Kylie, Sadie, and Jenna. What were they doing right now? Were they thinking about her too? She doubted it!
“You see this?” Dee asked, circling a street on the map with a neon pink highlighter pen she just happened to carry in her purse. “This is where I live. Right near Central Park, right near the Met.”
Lexi flicked some basil leaves off her slice.
“Do you snore?” Dee suddenly asked.
“Huh?” Lexi snapped to attention.
“Do you snore? It’s a simple question.” She twirled a gooey strand of mozzarella cheese around her finger.
“I don’t think so,” Lexi answered. What if her aunt didn’t really want her staying with her for the next few weeks? She had never thought of that…
“Well, we’ll have to do something about that,” Dee said, slamming her hand on the table. “I insist that all my roommates snore, leave dirty laundry on the floor, and watch late night TV. Extra points if you clog the toilet and it overflows.”
Lexi laughed so hard, Sprite sprayed out of her nose.
“Well, that’s better!” Dee said, patting her on the back. “No Lexi long faces in my apartment.” She winked and held up her Diet Coke can to offer a toast.
“To an August of fun!”
Lexi clinked her can. “To fun!”
“As a 5th grader myself, it was a fun read . . . I am looking forward to reading more books in this series, Winner Bakes All sounds fun! In all, this book was baked to perfection!”...
“As a 5th grader myself, it was a fun read . . . I am looking forward to reading more books in this series, Winner Bakes All sounds fun! In all, this book was baked to perfection!” - The Brain Lair
“This was a fun book that combined two things that most kids love, cupcakes and friends. The book was light and fun, but also brought in a great story line that any child will enjoy. . .The book had some great messages about friendship that I liked and as a parent that I was happy to share with my own girls!” - Dad of Divas
“Sweet read.” - Time for Kids
Length: 7.5 in
Width: 5.25 in
Weight: 6.80 oz
Page Count: 192 pages