Emma’s younger brother Jake has been getting sore throats for quite a while. When her parents take him to the doctor, their suspicions are confirmed: Jake needs to get his tonsils out. The Cupcake Club rallies around Jake, and even bakes him a special batch of cupcakes to make him feel better. Emma feels bad for him, but wants to stay as far away from hospitals as possible—she’s a bit squeamish and gets woozy at the sight of blood. But Jake throws a fit the day of his operation and says he only wants “Emmy” to stay with him. Emma’s mom tells her she doesn’t have to stay, but Emma realizes Jake isn’t faking; he’s really scared. Can Emma get over her own fears in order to help her little brother?
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Emma Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice
Please, Emmy! Just one more lick!”
My younger brother, Jake, was whining at me, which always drives me crazy. I sighed in exasperation.
“Come on, Em, don’t be such a tough guy,” said my best friend Alexis. Though Jake’s the only person I’ve allowed to call me “Emmy,” lately everyone’s been calling me “Em,” though my full first name is “Emma.”
“Great, now you’re on his side?” I complained.
“I’m always on his side,” said Alexis, winking at my little brother.
The Cupcake Club—my best friends Alexis,Mia, and Katie, plus me—were having a baking session in my kitchen. Whenever we bake at my house, my little brother, Jake, always comes scrounging around for tastes and licks of the batter and frosting, and he’s so high maintenance that it drives me crazy.
Jake smiled up at me now with his most winning grin. Alexis put her arm across his shoulders.
“Come on, Em,” she said.
“Fine, but he’s eating up our profits, you know,” I said, trying to appeal to Alexis’s astute business sensibility. “Here, at least use a clean spoon. You’ve had a sore throat.”
“I always have a sore throat!” cried Jake, gleefully scooping a big lump of buttercream frosting out of the mixing bowl.
“Strep again?” asked Mia, her brow wrinkling in concern.
I sighed. “Probably.”
Jake was right; he does always have a sore throat. And usually an ear infection to go with it. The doctor says Jake’s just prone to infections, because of the way his throat and ear canals are built. I can’t think about things like ear canals too much because I get really queasy with body stuff, especially if it comes down to words like pus, or needles, or most especially, blood (even the word, never mind the sight of it!). Lately, I’ve even started to faint at the doctor’s office and twice, almost, at the dentist’s. Most people don’t know this about me, because I’m pretty embarrassed about it. It just seems weak and a little babyish, especially at my age. Alexis was at the doctor’s office with me once when I had to get a shot and a blood test, so she knows all about it, but no one else really does.
Anyway, I do feel bad for Jake, with all the ear and throat problems, but I am a tiny bit jealous sometimes that he gets to stay home from school so much. Mom makes him soup and pudding, and he watches cartoons in his cozy clothes all day. It looks like heaven, and a sore throat seems like a small price to pay.
Just then my older brother Matt walked in, calling out a hello as he dumped his backpack in his locker in the mudroom. (Yes, we have lockers at home. Kind of pathetic, but my mom says it’s the only way to contain the chaos with four busy and athletic kids in the house.) Matt’s only a grade ahead of me, so we see each other a lot at school as well as at home, obviously, but Jake doesn’t see him that much, so he gets bowled over by excitement when Matt shows up.
“Matty! Come see my drawing I did of the Miami Heat!” says Jake, dropping his spoon with a clatter into the sink and taking off.
“Hey! What about us?” asked Mia, who is Jake’s special buddy.
But he didn’t even hear her.
“The second you arrive, we’re dead to him,” joked Alexis, who has a crush on Matt. The same can be said about you, my friend, I thought, suppressing a giggle.
Matt smiled and shrugged, palms up in the air. “Hey, I can’t help it if the kid worships me. Either you’ve got it or you don’t got it, you know?”
“Trust me, you don’t got it,” I said, turning to the sink to start the cleanup.
Jake came tearing back in, a piece of drawing paper flapping in his hands. “Look! Look, Matty, isn’t it cool? See that’s LeBron, and that’s Ray Allen, and here’s the basket, and here’s you and me in the stands. . . .”
Matt glanced down at it. “Sweet,” he said, barely standing still for even a second. He passed by Jake, went to get a glass from the cabinet, and poured himself some juice. Jake stood still in the middle of the kitchen, unsure of whether to follow Matt or not.
“Hey, can I see it, Jake?” asked Katie, swooping in to mask Matt’s lack of enthusiasm. She reached for the drawing, but Jake snatched it away.
“No! It’s just for boys! It’s basketball!” said Jake, all snotty.
“Jake! That’s rude!” I cried. “Katie’s just trying to—” I caught myself before I said “make you feel better.” Phew. “Um, see how far your drawing’s come,” I finished lamely.
“No,” said Jake. “Matty, what are you doing now?”
There was a pause as Matt finished gulping down his juice. “Homework,” he said, clearing his throat and giving a huge burp.
All the girls groaned, but Jake giggled gleefully. “Good one!” Jake said.
“OMG, he even worships your burps,” I said. “Pathetic.”
Matt smiled and shrugged again. Then he reached out and tousled Jake’s hair. “See ya later, little buddy.” And he grabbed his backpack from the mudroom and then went upstairs.
Jake sat down in a kitchen chair, his drawing hanging limply from his side. He put his forehead in his hand, like he always does when he’s thinking really hard.
“Want to draw with me?” asked Mia, who’s very artistic. Jake loves drawing with her. She’s so good, she can copy anything on paper and have it look like what it’s supposed to, unlike me. Everything I draw ends up looking like a chicken.
Jake shook his head.
“What are you thinking about?” asked Katie, all perky and trying to cheer up Jake.
He looked at her and then kind of snapped out of his trance. “How I can draw better so Matty will like it.”
We all looked at one another in pain. The poor kid. He so looks up to Matt and our oldest brother, Sam, but they are just too busy for him. I’m the one who spends all the time with him, but he couldn’t care less about me, unless I have some sugary thing he wants to eat.
“Jake, you’re a great artist!” Mia declared.
“Not that much,” said Jake. He put his drawing on the kitchen table. “I’m going to watch TV,” he said, and left the room.
“Okay, my heart is officially broken,” said Mia once he was out of earshot.
“I know. It’s sad,” I agreed. “But he is high maintenance, and after a while it gets old.”
“It would never get old for me,” said Katie, who’s an only child.
“Me neither,” agreed Mia, who has only her older stepbrother, Dan.
I sighed heavily and sat down at the table, drying my hands on a dishtowel.
“I get it,” said Alexis. “I still think it’s sad, but I do get how Emma feels.”
I alternated between feeling very sympathetic to Jake or very frustrated with him, sometimes within seconds. Like now.
“Okay, enough about Jake,” I said. “Let’s talk about what jobs we have lined up for the Cupcake Club.”
We all sat at the table, and Alexis, who is our CEO, took out her laptop and began our meeting.
“Let’s see, we have Mallory Clifford’s birthday party this weekend. Three dozen Mud Pies. Plus Mona tomorrow . . .”
Mona is one of our regular customers. She owns The Special Day bridal salon and has a standing order for four dozen all-white mini cupcakes each Saturday. They’re for her brides to eat, so they don’t get all hungry and cranky while they’re trying on dresses.
“Any modeling jobs coming up for you?” asked Katie.
I shook my head. I’ve done a bunch of modeling this year for Mona—mostly trunk shows, where I walk around in sample junior bridesmaids’ dresses—but also a little bit of print work, which is really just another word for a newspaper or magazine ad. I got started doing a print ad for Mona, and other clients saw it. “There’s not much on this month. It’s kind of the off-season for trunk shows,” I said. Even though I was kind of happy for the break (modeling is hard work, believe it or not), I could use some money. A little job would be okay right about now, especially some print work. The cash is good.
“Focus, people, and we can wrap this up,” said Alexis, who is all about being an efficient manager.
“Oh, one of my mom’s friends from work wants us to do a dessert for the book club she’s hosting. My mom is going to it, too,” said Mia. “I’ll follow up on that.” She punched a reminder into her phone.
“Good,” said Alexis. “We could use some more business and some new clients. We need to branch out.”
“Hey, don’t forget we have that bachelorette party for Mona’s client in two Saturdays,” I said.
“Yup. Got it right here,” said Alexis, looking at her calendar. “Three dozen. Our choice of flavor.”
While we were reviewing the order, my mom walked in. “Hello, Cupcakers!” she greeted us cheerily. My mom loves my friends, which gives me such a happy and cozy feeling.
“Hi, Mrs. Taylor!” they all replied. They love her too.
“What’s up?” asked Alexis. My mom doesn’t usually get home from work until five fifteen, and it was only four thirty now.
My mom grimaced. “I’m only here for a second. I have to take Jake to the doctor again. They’re talking about taking out his tonsils.” She whispered the last part.
“Bummer,” said Alexis.
“Dan had that done. It really hurts,” whispered Mia.
“I know. But it’s a pretty routine outpatient operation, and I guess the long-term payoff is worth it,” said my mom.
“Definitely,” Mia agreed, nodding. “He hasn’t had a sore throat since.”
“Well, here goes,” said my mom. Then she called out, “Jake! Hi, honey! Time for the doctor!” and left the room in search of my little brother.
“I didn’t want to say anything in front of your mom to worry her, but,” said Mia quietly, “Dan couldn’t eat anything but soft food for almost two weeks.”
“Wow. Maybe we’ll have to make Jake big bowls of frosting to fatten him up!” said Alexis.
“You’re making me frosting?” asked Jake, walking into the room and shrugging on his hoodie at the same time.
“Maybe!” said Alexis, with a twinkle in her eye.
“I’ll be good! I promise!” said Jake.
Mia grabbed him in a playful hug. “You’re always good! It has nothing to do with that!” she said, tickling him.
He laughed and shrieked, and she let him go.
“Bye, big guy!” called Mia.
He waved and followed my mom out the door.
“He doesn’t even know what’s coming,” said Katie mournfully.
“It’s just tonsils!” I said, swatting her with the dishtowel. “He’s not having heart surgery!”
But I knew Jake would not be psyched. It might as well be heart surgery. And deep down inside, I worried for him just the same.