Chapter Excerpt

Chapter One

A cappuccino cost me my life.

I have only myself to blame, thinking myself even capable of starting a new life.

Also, I blame my mother. She lured me to my doom.

"Cyd Charisse, how many times do I have to ask you?" my mother had said into my cell phone as I traipsed down the stairs of my new apartment building in my new life in New York City. "Have you registered for a culinary school class yet or not?" Just like my mother, to send me off into the world on my own and then let barely a week pass before attempting to micromanage my every move from a coast away in San Francisco.

"Soon, my little pretty," I promised. "I have more important business to take care of first." Like, go out for a coffee -- then figure out how to execute the Plan for my new life. No civilized person should be expected to go about the routine of their daily lives until they are properly caffeinated in the morning. It should be written into the Bill of Rights.

Proving miracles do indeed happen, I'd passed through the first stage of the Plan for the new life by graduating high school. (Pause for moment of shock and a giant sigh of relief from my parents.) That mission accomplished, my Plan laid out that I would then celebrate liberation from my parents' college dreams for me by (1) moving into the empty bedroom in my half brother Danny's apartment in Greenwich Village (done); (2) possibly enrolling in some culinary school classes (working up to it), where I'd definitely win all the important awards like Student with Most Potential to Perfect the Art of the Peanut Butter Cookie, or the coveted So Culinarily (shut up, it is too a word) Blessed She Can Jump Right into Building Her Own Sweets Empire After Only One Class; and (3) the linchpin of the whole Plan -- I would not obsess over turning down the marriage proposal from Shrimp, the love of my former high school life, so he could move to New Zealand like he wanted and I could move to Manhattan like I wanted (not there yet with achieving the non-obsession part of the goal). Of course, let's not forget (4) -- find the perfect cappuccino in my new city (I was on my way).

And besides, why would I -- hello again, (3) -- bother mourning the end of my relationship with my beauty surfer boy when I'd be too busy scamming all the hot guys in NYC, right? The Plan had wiggle room to allow for the probability that almost immediately upon embarking on my new Manhattan existence, I would jump into some sexual experimentation, not with the usual same-sex relationship or the even more unusual longing for androids, but like experiment-fling with a really old and sophisticated guy, like maybe thirty years old. He'd own some anti-hip music club, not one of those chic clubs with VIP rooms for supermodels and underfed movie starlets, but like some raging punk thrasher club. The club would probably be called something like Che or Trotsky, and it would be the choice dive venue, where starving artist musicians wailed from grimy floors and a snarly ambience of hot punk guys with crazy hair and tattoos lit the room and wait a minute, why I am going for the older owner guy when all these gorgeous young indie boys with spiked hair and fully kissable lips on stubble mouths are right in front of me?

SHRIMP!!!!!!!!!!! WHY DID I LET YOU GO?!?!?!?

"CC," my mother stated, for a refreshing change acknowledging my preferred letter name over that movie star name she'd stuck me with, "Are you still there? I said which class are you planning to take first? I looked through the catalog, and it looks to me like if you intend to pursue the pastry rather than the cooking curriculum, you need to start with Introduction to Baking Techniques and Ingredients. And have you looked through the home decorating catalog I sent you? I flagged the pages with window treatments I thought you'd like in your new bedroom."

"Caffeine," I muttered into the phone. I needed caffeine before I could think about following through with the culinary school part of the Plan. I'd need a whole new identity before I'd let my mother chose bedroom window treatments for my new room.

The caffeine quest beckoned me out of doors. I craved a reminder taste of Shrimp and our espresso-and-fog-hued old life together in San Francisco. So I wanted to cheat a little on the Plan. What choice did I have? My new bedroom in my new life in New York City lacked the vibe only Shrimp would have brought it -- his paintings on the walls, his surfboard parked at the door, his weird art of smashed pieces from cell phones and pagers melded into crucifix sculptures, his rap songs whispered into my ear as I fell asleep spooned inside his body. No catalog could deliver me Shrimp's fundamentalHim.

Damn. Shoulda been part of the Plan -- Shrimp. Me and my ignorant aspirations for self-actualization. What drug had I been on? I had to be so mature about letting Shrimp go. Big mistake number one.

I tuned my mother out and repeated a mantra inside my head --stupid CC, stupid CC, stupid CC-- as I banged down the stairwell of my new apartment building. Five freakin' flights down, five freakin' flights to ponder the Shrimpless fate and the questionable java awaiting me once I reached ground level and flung myself out onto the streets of New York City.

The strange, unspoken truth about Manhattan: It is very hard to get a good coffee here. Believe it. Here in one of the most bohemian neighborhoods in the world, finding a quality espresso is about as easy as finding an available straight man at the Whole Foods store in Chelsea. No, it doesn't make sense.

I'd already spent my first week here hunting through the Village in search of that perfect espresso shot: dark, thick, and rich, a tan layer of crema on top, at just the right temperature, in just the right properly warmed espresso cup, as Shrimp taught me to appreciate. A dozen different cafés, and zero luck. It's not that the espressos I consumed on my quest were terrible. They were worse. They were mediocre. Flat and too watery, made with beans ground too coarsely, using machines clearly not maintained with the proper measure of reverence and affection, brewed without love or any discernible sense of quality control. Don't get me started on the cappuccinos I sampled. Foaming milk is an art form, but no place I went seemed to care. The baristas were all about moving the customers through the line and shouting back "TALL SKIM VANILLA SOY LATTE" orders like they were working the drive-through window at Burger King. Posers.

I had expected more from New York.

I had expected the top secret alternate Plan to have kicked in and for Shrimp to have voluntarily given up on New Zealand and found me here by now.

At least I could count on my brother Danny to get me through, no matter what the Plan. He'd sent me bounding out of our apartment with tales of a place on a Village alleyway somewhere near Gay Street (bless him), where some man-god barista called Dante made the perfect espresso shot. Dante was a true coffee legacy, descended from a long line of Corsican baristas, according to Danny. The trick with Dante was you had to catch him. He'd be there for days or weeks, and word would spread of his greatness, and soon the café would be packed with the obsessive espresso lovers who could find their way to the secret alleyway. Then Dante would disappear for months or years, with no warning.

That very morning Danny had told me the neighborhood was rife with rumor that Dante was serving up again in the West Village. I had decided to believe my concierge, I mean my brother. Big mistake number two. I had dared to answer my mother's telephone call as I walked down the stairs in pursuit of that Dante cappuccino. Big mistake number three.

My mother said, "You don't mind if we give your bedroom to Ashley, do you? Your little sister is taking your leaving San Francisco very hard, and she's been begging to sleep in your room, and with the new baby coming, we could really use the space."

I replied as any sane just-moved-out daughter would to such a query -- I hung up on my mother. As I did so, I tripped and fell down the flight of stairs between floors two and three of the apartment building.

Fractured my leg in three places.

All for a cappuccino.


The upside was the gorgeous EMT worker who helped lift the stretcher down the stairs and into the ambulance. His name is George, he's training to be a firefighter, and he's a burly guy with curly brown hair, smiling brown eyes, and a pudgy-muscley Guinness Man body. I would bet that if George puts in quality gym time, he will one day look fightin' fine as Mr. August in the firefighter calendar. As George left me in the ER at Saint Vincent's, I was very brave and did not scream my digits, even though I wanted to when he asked for my number. I whispered the phone number very politely, and I hope the reason he hasn't called me yet isn't because when the nurse touched my leg and asked "Is this where it hurts, honey?" I replied "YES, THAT'S WHERE IT FUCKING HURTS!" even though it wasn't personal against the nurse.

I just missed my mommy.

You think it will be so great to turn eighteen and move out on your own, but then you have it, and you hardly know anybody in the giantropolis of a gazillion people swishing right past you, and your new bedroom is too small and the stairwell in your apartment building is dark and creepy and taunts you to fall down it. You think it will be so great to be liberated from your parents and their home and their rules. You think it will be so great to have almost-firefighters flirting with you in your moment of dire pain. But once you have it, you think: Eh, maybe it's not so great.

It's lonely here. Different cool, and different scary.

The pint-size surfer-artist love of my life is somewhere on the flip side of the universe with apparently no thought to tracking me down in Manhattan and begging my forgiveness for his having chosen the sea over the CC. My mother was practically to blame for my accident (in my opinion), yet she and my father abandoned me after it. "Broken leg? Oh, that's too bad, dear. Keep the leg elevated and get lots of rest!" My parents are too consumed with the household I left back in San Francisco to worry over the tragedy that has befallen their eldest child. My father told me, "I know you're not ready to give up on Manhattan so soon, when you've only just gotten there. Right, Cupcake?" I said, "Right," even though I meant,Wrong!I mean, I may technically be Sid-dad's stepdaughter, but I am his Cupcake, his pet, and how he figured I would prefer the delivery of a lavish bouquet of Get Well Soon roses to a chartered plane to deliver me home to recuperate, I have no idea. I don't know my own family anymore.

Now the giantropolis is closed off to me. When you have a broken leg with a cast and crutches, you do not want to climb five flights of stairs every day.

I am stuck in my new room but in what is not my new life -- it's no life. All I do is watch movies, sleep, eat, and wait around for something --anything-- interesting to happen. My favorite inspirational movie to watch isRear Window, because that's the other thing I do in my new not-life. Alllll...dayyyy...looooooong I convalesce on a long chaise, looking out my bedroom rear window and sweating in the glare of the afternoon summer sun, cursing the Plan.

When I fall asleep into a painkiller-induced commune coma of me and a rear window, I dream of Shrimp. Our reunion opens like the first love scene in Rear Window, where Grace Kelly greets James Stewart. I'm asleep in my chair at the rear window at dusk, the binoculars on my lap, my leg propped up, with a cast that reads,Here lie the broken bones of Cyd Charisse. She prefers to be called "CC" now.A shadow falls over my face, and even though I am half-asleep, I sense movement -- someone is near. The soundtrack of some mournful-sexy jazz music coming from God only knows where syncopates my racing heartbeat. I glimpse him through the fogged-in lens of my slowly opening eyes. As my eyelids raise, I see Shrimp in colors: the platinum patch of light blond hair spiked over a head of dirty blond hair, the cherry red of his lips, the deep ocean blue of his eyes. I almost want to stay in my half-awake Crayola Shrimp dream state, to hold on to the anticipation of his nearness. Then I feel his tight little body leaning over to kiss me, and my eyes spring wide open. He's here, finally, and I must touch him. Shrimp is dressed like the King of Hearts, surfer version, in a black wet suit with red hearts emblazoned on the left side of his chest, and a white string necklace with heart-shaped puka shells. As my lips turn up into a lazy smile, Shrimp closes in for our close-up kiss. Like Grace Kelly, he can make even a closed-mouth kiss sexy. But when I try to part his mouth with my own, smother him in kisses, he is gone, because I am awake for real. Shrimp is on the other side of the world and I let him go, and I'm left here in the most exciting city in the world with nothing to do except long for him.

More than I want a good coffee, I'd like a new Plan, one that assures me that by the time I am liberated outside of this apartment again, the Dante barista-man of the perfect cappuccino will not already be back in Corsica, and my Shrimp-man of the dreamy kisses will not be in love with some g'day-sayin' surfer bitch in New Zealand. I still want the new-life-in-New-York part of the old Plan, but I wouldn't mind it revised to include some of my former life in San Francisco, where it's never warm but it's always safe, and I had a true love supposedly for forever.

Copyright © 2007 by Rachel Cohn

Chapter Two

True love. I'm starting to suspect the concept is pure illusion, an insipid brand name manufactured by Hallmark and Disney.

"There, there, Ceece," Danny soothed. "So young to be so jaded. If true love is pure illusion, then what is this the two of us have here?" He sat on the toilet next to the bathtub, a dark shower curtain allowing him to see just his sister's face and her garbage-bag-wrapped-cast leg propped up on the bathtub ledge, rather than a full-on vision of her nakedness. From his side of the curtain he handed me a pitcher of water to rinse out the conditioner in my hair.

"This is just weird, bordering on platonic incest, if such a concept is also available for branding," I answered. I poured the water over my head, then dipped my head under the bathwater for an extra rinse.

Branding is what Danny oughta do for the cupcake business he started after the café he owned with his former boyfriend went under. This city has gone crazy for cupcakes. They're sold everywhere: in cafés, in bakeries, even in street corner bodegas. The heavenly creations Danny sells to these establishments go way beyond the simple devil's food cake with buttercream frosting formula to include Oreo, Reese's, and Snickers concoctions, genius with marshmallow fluff, and pastel-hued fondant layers with Matisse-like confectionary portraits on top. And while I would very much like not to be seduced by anything so fashionable, I can't help myself either. When I came up from under the bathwater, I told the cupcake mastermind, "And I'm gonna be really happy if you tell me you baked the chocolate cupcakes with your signature cappuccino-flavor frosting as a reward later tonight for me making it through this bath experience."

Even if I hadn't known my biological half brother my whole life, I still couldn't think of a single other person now whom I'd want sitting alongside me in the bathroom as I attempted the annoying and painful task of not only stepping into the tub, but also bathing with a cast on my leg that wasn't supposed to get wet. I'd only met my brother baker man for the first time the summer before last, because of that small complication of my conception being the result of my mother's twenty-year-old girl dancer-model affair with Frank, the big boss at the advertising firm, who already had a wife and children, namely Danny and our other sister, lisBETH. Yet for all that I've only known Danny for a small fraction of my life, from the instant we met I felt this instantka-pow!connection with him. Maybe a shrink would say theka-pow!was reallyka-phony!, but that assessment would be wrong, because mostly what I've felt with Frank and lisBETH since getting to know them has been,We share nothing besides some random DNA, and it's gonna be a long time before -- and if -- we ever truly bond.

"Then be happy, Dollface," Danny said. "I made you a special cappuccino cupcake batch this very afternoon." He placed a bottle of bubble bath on the ledge, and I couldn't help but pause and (non-incestuously -- seriously) admire his nice face before turning my body slightly to run fresh warm water into the bath. Sometimes when I look at Danny's happy face with kind brown eyes shaped and colored as perfect as espresso beans, framed in bushy brown eyebrows and a mop of messy black hair, a chronic grin charming his lips,I think, How did I get so lucky to discover you?

"Oh, be Thelma Ritter, would you?" I asked him. She's the wisecracking, all-knowing insurance nurse who tends to James Stewart inRear Window. She's kinda my hero.

"You start," Danny said.


I mimicked clipped consonant Grace Kelly-speak. "Did you bring me dinner from 21, darling?"

Danny rolled his eyes like Thelma Ritter and imitated her exasperated, seen-it-all, middle-aged lady nasal tone. "Didn't you hear, Dollface? 21 went out of fashion years ago."

"Darling," I repeated, trying hard at Grace Kelly's cool sophistication, but succeeding mostly with CC's spazification, "are you aware that the swank new restaurant where Aaron took the chef job does home delivery? I bet if we called him now, he'd deliver dinner to us himself!"

Bye-bye, Thelma. It was fun while it lasted. Danny returned to normal voice. "Nope, I'm not playing. I know you love Aaron -- we all love Aaron -- but if you don't give up the campaign to reunite him and me, I'm going to fess up and tell you that my 'hopeless optimism,' as you call it, is indeed just that. I'm going to tell you that there is no such thing as true love. Also, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny? Total fabrications."

I pouted. Danny laughed. Then he announced, "Your punishment!" He ran out of the bathroom long enough to queue up the old stereo turntable in the hallway. He stepped back inside the bathroom to flash me an album cover picturing a fifties-looking, chirpy-happy lady with a bouffant hairdo. "Nanette Fabray!" he said.

Besides cupcakes, my other Danny treat to placate my suffering is the collection of one-dollar old records he buys me from the guy by the West Fourth Street subway stop, who hawks ancient record and book memorabilia laid out on a sidewalk sheet. Danny has made it his personal mission to enrich my convalescent time beyond movie-watching and boredom-whining by introducing me to music that does not involve my preferred brand of musical entertainment, which would be beautiful punk emo boys screaming about "The world's ending, but I love you so fucking much!", or any song fromThe Sound of Musicsoundtrack. So far I admit I indeed have new appreciation for the musical stylings of the Electric Light Orchestra, Minnie Pearl, Liberace, and the Big Bopper. I especially love Danny's selections of wailing blues ladies from the scratchy old turntable days, and in particular I can never hear enough of the Esther Phillips dirty dentist song where she sings about "How you thrill me when you drill me," except the song also makes me homesick because my dentist in SF is so hot and I will never find another dentist like him and why did I have to move to NYC, anyway?

FACT: I miss homemucho, and being laid up in a cast completely sucks. But, FACT: It is very enlightening being housebound in the heart of one of the gayest neighborhoods in the universe. I mean, I need not worry that I chose not to go to college.

I am getting such a better education from my brother Danny.

Copyright © 2007 by Rachel Cohn

Chapter Three

The highlight of being laid up with a cast is all the people who feel sorry for you. They bring treats. Me hate cast, but me like treats.

Autumn led the procession. She arrived bearing a bag of mini-Nestlé Crunch bars, and a postcard from Shrimp.

I wanted to sulk that Shrimp had written to her and not me, but in all fairness, the last negotiated point before he and I went our separate ways was the one called our "clean break." We thought we were so cool -- we'd never be like those pathetic former star-crossed lovers who torture each other with clinging cards, letters, phone calls, and whatnot. We were going to start our independent new lives properly. Independently.


Would Shrimp be tortured to know my new life involved a broken leg that had resulted in my lying on my bed for days on end, entertaining truly naughty sex fantasies about him? I mean, places we'd never gone before. Higher ground, so to speak.

As Autumn handed me Shrimp's postcard, I couldn't help but breathe out a small sigh of relief. The postcard was of the generic tourist variety, picturing a pretty New Zealand beach, and was not a postcard Shrimp had drawn himself, like he used to send to me. Shrimp and Autumn had been longtime friends before their almost-fling back when he and I were broken up the first time. Luckily, their almost-fling resulted in her deciding she was gay and his being totally weirded out to be the guy to have made her realize that, so happy ending all around for the Autumn-Shrimp-CC triangle.

Autumn said, "I find it interesting that our Shrimp, who couldn't be bothered to finish high school, should write haikus so nicely yet, perhaps not so surprisingly, he can't spell for shit."

I turned over the postcard to see what he'd written on it, resisting the urge to pass the postcard quickly under my nose in case I could still pick up any of Shrimp's boy scent, even after the postcard's across-the-equator travel. At least I got to see Shrimp's graffiti-squiggle handwriting, and in haiku, no less!

New zeelind surf calm

Sea sieghs on empty canviss

Big Appel bites girls?

"He's miserable without you!" Autumn said. "How great is that? And he's using me to get to you."

"How do you figure?" I bit into the bite-size Nestlé Crunch bar. Newly discovered understanding about starting a new life: You need old friends along to ease the process. College girl Autumn might be all fancy freshperson at Columbia University uptown, but how lucky for me that she could work a MetroCard downtown to deliver her San Francisco friend's favorite old candy bar treat. It never tasted so good.

Autumn flopped on my bed and picked up Gingerbread. I laughed at the image, my old childhood rag doll being held by the girl literally wearing a rag around her head: doll meets doll. Gingerbread's rag style is timeless and unchanged, but Autumn has adopted the arty-sapphic-chic look since moving to NYC. Along with her baggy white carpenter's pants, black leather belt framing her bare waist, and pink gingham cutoff blouse, she wore a white rag wrapped around her head and tied at the front, Rosie the Riveter style, allowing premium view of her melting pot of a Vietnamese-African-Russian-Irish-American model-pretty face.

Autumn held up Gingerbread and spoke to her in teacher voice. "You see, my little one, it's like this. I've known Shrimp since kindergarten, and he's never once in all the years I've known him sent me a postcard. If we want to decode this haiku of a postcard, I'd guess he's bored and restless in New Zealand, the art isn't happening for him, and while he makes inquiries as to how the recently transplanted New York contingent of our former Ocean Beach girl crowd is, his use of the plural form 'girls' really refers to one certain girl. And not the one he sent the postcard to."

Gingerbread glanced in my direction, as if to affirm,Autumn's right, right?

I wasn't having it. I said, "Or it could just mean New Zealand is like this Zen surfer bliss for him and he hopes you're scoring lots of babes in your new life at Columbia."

"Sure, that's what it means. Because Shrimp's so crude like that. Stop projecting." Autumn tossed Gingerbread to me. Gingerbread didn't mind. She's retired now, but she likes the exercise. Gingerbread also wouldn't have minded for Autumn to continue the Shrimp speculation conversation in painstaking detail, but a VROOM VROOM SCREECH CRAAAAAAAASH boom boom boom series of noises cost Shrimp his focus in our conversation. "What the hell was that?" Autumn asked.

"My favorite part of the day! Mystery man is out to play!" I hobbled over to the window next to Autumn and pointed to the courtyard garden below us. Window-gazing has become my favorite form of solitary leg cast entertainment when not watching movies or imagining me and Shrimp trying out the Kama Sutra poses from the book I found hidden at the back of my bedroom closet when I first moved in. "Could you hand me my binoculars over there on the desk, please?"

My convalescent time has not been completely without educational value about life in New York. What I've learned: Those privileged enough to be able to walk down a residential street in the Village may see townhouse buildings next to old carriage houses next to tall prewar old buildings alongside short modern apartment buildings, but to look down these streets from the front views, you'd have no idea about the whole other worlds that exist on the other side. From my window view facing the backs of the buildings on the next street, I see the usual brick architecture and wrought iron of fire escape landings, window grills, and balconies, but I also observe wild kingdoms back there: gardens everywhere -- on rooftops, on outdoor terraces, in courtyard patios -- and animal life too: There's the lady with the ferrets, the couple with the snake collection, and the freak with a livestock of homing pigeons. Oh yes, freaks! They're the highlight of my new rear window life. You see plenty o' freaks when walking the streets of the Village, but the rear window view takes their entertainment value to the next level. These neighbor freaks are often (a) naked, (b) half-naked, or (c) trying to get naked with someone (or something-- yikes!) else.

My favorite freak is the mystery man who occupies the ground floor garden apartment opposite my building. Although mystery man is very ancient, like probably around fifty or sixty, and somewhat scary-looking, owing to a perpetual case of creased eyebrows and a downturned-lips frown, I am positive he's not the psycho killer of my backyard view, like the Raymond Burr character inRear Window.Mystery man practically lives in his garden, reclining hour after hour on a hot-pink-painted wooden lounge chair under an upright lamp with a blood-red Chinese lantern lamp shade. He is partial to iced tea, which he brews on his outdoor table in the sun, with fresh lemons floating at the top of the pitcher, and he eats random food throughout the day, like cucumber slices, beef jerky, beets from a can, Sour Patch Kids, and lox chips, but never whole meals. Most times he hangs out with headphones on his ears, composing music on a laptop, but sometimes he forgets to plug in the headphones and I can hear the music on his computer. A sampling of what I've heard wafting up to my window from the laptop's portable speakers (with little pride flags affixed to them like talismans) would be: monkey wails, piano bang noises, bird chirps, ambulance sirens, a playground full of kids squealing, a harsh old-man-voice bellowing "Get outta there,"meow meow,and one time Christopher Plummer singing poetic about edelweiss -- and right then I suspected I adored mystery man.

No one ever calls to him from inside his apartment.

I feel a connection to mystery man, because I think his garden is to him what my old bedroom in San Francisco, with a Pacific Heights view overlooking the Bay and Alcatraz, was once to me, during those grounded sentences of my wild child past: prison. I know he's waiting to be rescued, like I used to wait for Shrimp to rescue me.

The not-mystery man who'd arrived at my bedroom door rescued the spy mission from where it would likely have led next -- to the binoculars turning north, up to the porno couple in the penthouse apartment above mystery man's garden. "That's it, young lady," Aaron said. "I have found you in that position one too many times. I hereby revoke your binoculars privileges. C'mon, hand 'em over."

I turned to look at my brother's ex, who still had the keys to my apartment -- what used to be his and Danny's apartment. While their ten-year relationship was not yet a year over, their "just friends" status now had not required the revocation of key privileges. Not like I was complaining. Aaron's key privilege has been working nicely in my favor, as I could see it was now, given the stack of movie rentals he held in one hand for me, and the box of Italian cookies from Mulberry Street in the other hand, also for me.

I smiled and dropped the binoculars, but tucked them under my pillow rather than delivering them to Aaron. He's one of those people you almost can't help but be happy to see, even when they threaten to cut off your peeping privileges. Aaron himself seems to genuinely have no idea how great he is, which maybe is the key to his greatness. Aaron's heart is as big as the vintage Heart band logo on his wrinkled T-shirt, worn completely sincerely and without sarcasm. When I've asked him why he hasn't started dating again (the sooner that happens, the sooner Danny can jump on the I'm an Idiot, How Did I Ever Let Aaron Go jealousy bandwagon), Aaron answers that he's a chunky awkward dork whose one relationship started in high school and lasted ten years -- he doesn't know how to date. Aaron doesn't see the hotness in his husky tallness, in his shoulder-length thinning strawberry blond hair that he sheepishly tucks behind his ears, or in the grease spot on his Heart T-shirt. It's like he's so uncool as to positively burn up with cool. The kind kind of cool.

Autumn appraised the treats in Aaron's hands and wagged her index finger at me. "For a person who can't go anywhere, you really know how to work the system," she said.

Aaron said, "For your viewing pleasure today, m'lady CC:Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Meand the Andy Hardy collection. If David Lynch coupled with Mickey Rooney's scariest film character doesn't break your spirit out of rear window spy mode, I don't know what hope there is for you."

Hope! That came from the doorbell, ringing in the arrival of the last treat.

My month-long stay trapped in my new apartment has not only been of educational value, it's also been a meet-and-greet period. Despite going outside only for doctor visits in the last month, I have personally cultivated relationships with some of the most important people in New York, namely the food delivery guys who make sure I never go hungry. There's Pedro from the (truly original) Ray's Pizza, who seemed somewhat pissed the first time he had to haul ass up five flights of stairs just to deliver me a small pizza, but who quickly forgot his pain when he saw my long black hair and how short I wear my skirts (and, sorry to brag, but may I say, even with a cast, my long legs still got it). Phuoc from the Vietnamese restaurant is only a year here but already more fluent in English than Pedro, who's lived here for a decade. Phuoc is a real sport about occasionally stopping at Duane Reade for Nestlé Crunch bars for me, since he's on his way over with my rice noodles anyway. Unfortunately, I had to let loose one of my best discoveries, Stavros from Athens, who's working at his cousin's burger joint for a year and would like a date with me as much as he'd like a green card wife prospect. When Stavros started delivering me cheeseburgers when I hadn't even placed an order, I knew I would no longer be turning to him for late night carnivorous solace.

Aaron ushered Phuoc into my room. "Hey, CC," Phuoc said, holding up a plastic bag filled with food containers. "How's the leg coming along? You want me to set up the noodles on the tray for you like last time?"

I had a better idea. I said, "There's four of us here now. How about we start a bridge game?"

"You play bridge?" Aaron asked.

"No," I said. But learning the game could keep my treat-bearing friends here for days -- maybe even until the cast came off. "We could try, though, don't you think? Then we all could become bridge buddies, where we meet every week to play cards and drink tea and eat cookies and like gossip about lots of different stuff."

Autumn said, "So basically you want us to expend our valued time by role-playing like we're sixty-year-old about-to-be retirees who just sent their kids off to college and have nothing else to do?"

I swear, Columbia University really did the right thing accepting that smart lass into its lair. "Exactly!" I said. "Don't you agree it'd be fun?"

Autumn, Aaron, and Phuoc answered as a collective: "NO!"

And then they left me to my treats, all alone again. I don't even like tea.

All my cultivation appears to be harvesting a new me. From weeks lying around in stasis with a steady stream of food delivery treats, a new CC has sprouted. Good-bye mutant tall flat-chested scrawny girl with the bottomless metabolism, hello mutant tall woman with the new bottomful bottom, who needs jeans two sizes bigger than her old ones, which isn't so terrible when you consider the upper end of her filling out. For the first time in my life I appear to have boobs! Real ones! Like, truly cup-able. Maybe this convalescence wasn't such a tragedy after all.

Against Gingerbread's advice I placed Shrimp's postcard -- addressed to Autumn, not to me -- inside my desk drawer, out of our sight. No need to obsess over the meaning of poorly spelled haikus from Down Under, what with a bed heaped with mini-Nestlé Crunches, Italian cookies, some Vietnamese noodle containers, and a stack of movies waiting to be watched.

Anyway, I think I might be ready for a different kind of treat.

I want to do something with these new curves.

Copyright © 2007 by Rachel Cohn

Excerpted from Cupcake by Rachel Cohn
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