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Fiction by Yona Zeldis McDonough
Illustrations by Oscar Herrero
Cam finishes applying the frosting to the last of the 24 unicorn cupcakes he’s just baked. He’s really outdone himself with this batch: vanilla buttercream faces with mini marshmallow ears, pastel piping for the manes and everything dusted with sparkling sugar. Now he can add the mini ice-cream cones, and they’ll be done.
Too bad Sophie can’t see them — she broke her wrist so she couldn’t ride over, the way she usually does. But he snaps a bunch of pictures and texts them to her. She immediately texts back three big thumbs-up emojis. Then she texts him the address of where the cupcakes need to go. It’s her job to take care of those details.
Cameron and Sophie are best friends and business partners. After school and on weekends, they spend their time baking cookies, brownies, sticky buns and scones. But they are best known for their elaborately decorated cakes and cupcakes.
Everyone in town loves their fanciful creations: cupcakes in the shape of Scotties or chicks, cakes in the shape of sports cars, handbags, high-heeled shoes, alligators.
But what no one knows is that Cam, not Sophie, does all the decorating. He’s got the artistic flair and he loves using the pastry bag, working with fondant and mixing a whole rainbow’s worth of colors. Still, it’s not a thing he wants to get out there, so he and Sophie keep it to themselves.
Cam packs the cupcakes, and his mom drives him over to the address. She waits in the car while he goes up to the house and rings the bell. To his surprise — and dismay — when the door opens, he sees Ian Byrd, the snarkiest boy in his class. Right behind Ian is his little sister Jade. The cupcakes are for her birthday party.
“Ooh, they’re here! They’re here!” Jade cries. “Let me see!”
Cameron shows her the cupcakes and she’s enchanted. He’s about to make a hasty exit — Mrs. Byrd can Venmo him later — when Ian asks, “Who made these, anyway?”
“Uh, well, you see—”
“Sophie’s got a broken wrist. No way she did these decorations.” He looks at Cameron. “That must mean you did them, dude!” His voice scales up in an imitation of his sister. “Oooh, unicorns! Are they magic, Cam? Did you sprinkle them with magic fairy dust?” He laughs, a mean little laugh. “Just wait until everyone at school hears about this.”
Cam slinks back to the car, his face burning with shame.
Ian wastes no time in telling everyone in their class that Cameron, not Sophie, is the one responsible for the fancy decorations.
He dubs him “Cupcake Cam,” and for the next two weeks, that’s all Cameron hears: Cupcake Cam this, Cupcake Cam that. There’s no way around it or out of it. He just has to put up with it until it blows over and they are on to something — or someone — else.
Then one night a fire starts in Cam’s neighborhood. He hears the engines tearing down the street, sirens blaring. The next day, he finds out that though no one was hurt, a house was burned to the ground. Its owners, the Worrells, are left homeless and almost everything they own is gone.
Cameron feels terrible. They’re a super nice family. Becca Worrell used to babysit him when he was little and she would make popcorn and read him scary stories. Her brother Theo was the assistant soccer coach. Mr. Worrell is a gardener and liked to give Cam fruit and veggies he grew. Cam made raspberry muffins, zucchini bread and carrot cake from the generous gifts.
Now he wishes he could do something to help them all out. But what? Then the answer comes to him — it’s so obvious that it’s ridiculous. He asks Ms. Balconi, his school principal, for permission to hold a bake sale on school grounds. He wants to sell his baked creations and donate all the money to the Worrells.
“What a great idea,” Ms. Balconi says. “Of course you can. And we can ask a few of the teachers if they want to help. I know they will.”
It’s all set. Signs go up, ads are placed in the school paper, posted online and all around town, too. Cam assembles all his ingredients and equipment and starts to bake and decorate like he’s never baked and decorated before. He makes cupcakes that have Dalmatian faces and others that are fire hats or hoses. He makes cakes in the shape of a firetruck, and the house the Worrells lost, relying on his memory to get the details right. He gets some kids at school to help, but he’s the one giving the directions and providing the recipes. And he still does all the decorating himself.
The day of the sale arrives and even though Cam is exhausted, he wants to be there.
It’s a good thing he is, too — the sale is mobbed, and they need all the help they can get. Everyone wants to buy his cakes and cupcakes.
At the end of the day, there’s nothing left. Sophie is counting the money. “I can’t believe how much we made.” She clips a bunch of twenty-dollar bills together. “This is really going to help the Worrells out.”
“I think it will,” says Cam, who is counting the tens. “Mrs. Worrell came by and hugged me. I think she was crying.”
He glances up and finds himself face to face with Ian Byrd. At first Cam tenses — he can just imagine how the other boy is going to tease him.
But then he’s filled with the dawning realization that he doesn’t care — his talent for baking and decorating can help people who really need help, and he has no reason to feel embarrassed or ashamed. On the contrary, he’s proud of what he’s done.
Ian touches an empty tray, littered with crumbs and a squiggle of frosting. “Hey Cupcake Cam,” he says, looking straight at Cameron.
“Yeah?” Cam returns the look. His gaze is steady. Defiant, even.
“I was wondering, that is, if you have the time. … It’s my birthday next month. And I was thinking, I mean, hoping that … you, uh, would make the cupcakes for my party?”
Cam is beyond surprised. He looks at Ian and now sees not contempt but something else: admiration.
“Sure,” he says with a smile. “I’d love to do it.