Phoebe stared through tear-blurred eyes at the tasteful magnolia card in her hands. Another wedding invitation. She turned and tucked it into the kitchen drawer, where a jumble of pens and odd batteries jostled side by side with the Christening invitation she had received yesterday from Jessica.
Phoebe was delighted her friend Amy had set a date. And she couldn’t wait to be little Sienna’s godmother. But underlying her joy at her friends’ flourishing personal lives was a sadness that she was still single, still living alone, in a flat untarnished by small socks and mucky finger prints.
Phoebe checked her Facebook, looking for something to cheer her up. Jessica had posted up a photo of the beautiful cake she had made for Sienna’s Christening. It looked sumptuous, lovingly swathed with pale yellow buttercream, and topped with tiny roses, expertly crafted from sugar. Phoebe carried on scrolling and stumbled across a photo that her other friend Lyndsey had posted, a delectable selection of brownies for her three hungry little boys.
Phoebe commented: “Those brownies look amazing! Wish I could bake like that!”
It didn’t take Lyndsey long to send a response – “Thanks! Stay away from the baking trays – you promised!” The comment was studded with laughing face emojis.
Phoebe’s terrible culinary skills were a long-running source of mirth for her friends. There had been the cheesecake disaster, in which she had forgotten to defrost it and almost broke her friend’s jaw. The cookie debacle, when she mistook salt for sugar. And the many cake mishaps, brownie disasters, and cupcake fiascos.
Normally the jokes didn’t bother her, but today the comment stung. Phoebe swiped at her tears with her sleeve and sat up straight, a determined scowl on her face. She was going to be like her more successful, settled, happily married friends. She was going to learn to bake. And she was finally going to stop dating a string of awful men. Like Steve, who had carelesly dumped her by text an hour ago.
“I’ll show them all!” Phoebe cried out. She shoved her chair back, rolling up her sleeves, determined to break the cookie curse.
Her determination began to falter when two hours later she removed her third batch of cookies from the oven, only to find them a blackened, smoking ruin.
“Why?!” she cried out, flapping a tea towel at the blaring fire alarm, which almost drowned out the sound of her phone ringing.
“Hello?” she sighed wearily as she answered, still waving the tea towel, pushing one of her unruly blonde curls out of her eyes.
Despite her despair, Phoebe smiled to hear her beloved grandmother’s voice, her gentle Scottish lilt crystal clear despite the many miles between them.
“Hey gran,” Phoebe said, abandoning the tea towel, the alarm finally silenced, and curling up on the sofa.
“What are you up to today love?”
“Um, I’m baking,” Phoebe said, trying to sound enthusiastic.
“Baking! Whatever for? You hate baking!”
Phoebe sniffled, blinking hard against her tears. “I just wanted.. to try…” she swallowed and took a breath. “I just wanted to try again. Everyone I know seems to be so good at it.”
“But you don’t want to be like everyone else do you, pet?” Phoebe could hear the clink of a mug as it was set back into place, her grandmother tweaking and tidying as she talked, never still even though she was approaching 90.
“Maybe I do now,” Phoebe said sadly, thinking of the invitations, the Facebook posts, the happy smiles from happy familys that she yearned for for herself.
“Oh dear, you’ve never been like everyone else. You have always been extraordinary.”
Phoebe gave a wry smile. “I think you’re biased.”
“You may think being like other people will get you the life you want, but being yourself is the greatest gift. You just have to be patient, and be content with what you have and who you are. As I always say, that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.”
Phoebe nodded, knowing her grandmother was right, her wisdom always delivered with tact and a smile that Phoebe couldn’t see but could hear in her voice.
“Thanks gran,” she said.
“You go and do what you do best, and be the extraordinary person that you are.”
“I’ll try,” Phoebe promised and hung up the phone. Her grandmother was the only one who had ever called her extraordinary, and though the old woman’s opinion was heavily biaised in her favour, it still made her feel special.
Phoebe returned to the kitchen and chucked the cookies in the bin. She had been so sure that the right batch of cookies would somehow make her break up with Steve easier, or make her feel more capable. But it hadn’t.
The doorbell interupted her thoughts and she hurried to answer it. The man on her doorstep gave her a sweet, sheepish smile.
“Um hi,” he said. “I’m Andrew, I just moved in next door. I’m Sadie’s cousin.”
“Oh yes!” Phoebe exclaimed, remembering. “Sadie told me her cousin would be moving in. I’m Phoebe.”
“Nice to meet you,” he grinned, and two dimples appeared on his cheeks, his bright blue eyes holding her gaze.
“I brought these over, as a hello.” He held out his hand, revealing a package neatly wrapped in baking paper. Phoebe couldn’t help but chuckle softly as she saw what it contained.
“Cookies,” she said happily. “They smell wonderful.”
Andrew beamed at her joyful expression. “I work in a bakery. Anyway, I hope you enjoy them.”
“Do you want to come in for a cup of tea?” Phoebe asked hesitantly, keen to find out more about her new neighbour.
“Sure,” Andrew followed her inside. “Was there a fire in here?” he asked, with a slight frown at the acrid smell that lingered in the air.
“No, I had a cooking mishap,” Phoebe stammered. She was about to explain but Andrew gasped as he entered her living room.
“Oh wow!” he exclaimed. “Did you paint these?”
He gestured around to Phoebe’s many works of art, her giant canvases of colour, making her living room as bright as the inside of a butterfly’s wings.
Phoebe could never stand any drabness, no magnolia for her, no tasteful grey walls like her friends. Instead her rooms were a riot of purple and crimson, verdant greens jostling for attention with sunshine yellow, oceanic shades of blue nestling next to dappled orange and golds. Phoebe didn’t believe colours could clash, not if they were placed together in the right way.
“You’re very talented,” he said, with an admiring glance that made her cheeks warm.
“Thank you,” she said modestly. “But I can’t bake to save my life,” she added, waving the package of cookies at him.
“Baking is a pretty ordinary thing,” he said, laughing. “But I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s…” he paused, as if lost for words. “Extraordinary,” he said finally.
“Extraordinary?” Phoebe repeated softly.
“Absolutely,” Andrew said, grinning at her.
Phoebe smiled back. Perhaps the right batch of cookies she had been so intent on making had found their way to her after all, with something even better in tow…
Thanks for reading! If you liked this you may also like my latest novel, The Great Christmas Cook Off – a tasty Christmas romance with baking and love at its heart.