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Week #7 (2023): Cupcake Love

February 19, 2023

The first day of school, a love note, and a recipe with a significant mistake.

“What are you doing?”

“The better question is, what are you doing?” I stare at my older brother where he’s leaning against the doorway. “Are you just getting home? You know it’s almost 5 in the morning. Mom is going to flip her shit when she finds out.”

“Well, it’s a good thing she’s not going to find out, right?”

Jake’s sandy hair looks mussed and he looks sad and sleepy. There are big dark circles under his brown eyes, his pupils are big. I’m sure he’s high, which doesn’t really bother me. It’s only ever pot with him. It’s all he can afford. It bothers me that he thinks getting high with his friends is going to make him happier.

“Come on Nat.”

“Why should I lie to mom when she inevitably asks me where you were and what you were doing last night? I know something’s wrong and you won’t talk to me about it. Why should I help you?”

Jake pushes off the wall and walks over to me at the kitchen island where I’m adding ingredients to a bowl. He puts his arms around me from behind and picks me up. It makes me shriek. “Shut up, Nat.” He puts me back down. “Come on, don’t tell mom.” He waves a little baggie of pot around one of my shoulders as I stir my batter faster and try to ignore him.

“I don’t want your pot, you dork.” I turn around to face him, brandishing my whisk between us. “I want you to stop staying out late with your friends getting high. I want you to stop asking me to cover for you.” I sigh. “And I want you to tell me what’s actually wrong. Maybe I could help.” No one would believe that he’s the older sibling – only by two years, but still.

“Ugh. Nat, why do you have to be like that?”

I push the whisk into his hand. “Stir that for me.” I head into the pantry to find the cupcake tins and liners.

“What kind of cupcakes are you making?” Jake asks.

“They’re lemon and mint.”

Image Credit: Karolina Grabowska via

“For your first day of school?”

“Yeah, for my Shakespeare class. Remember I had that two week workshop over the summer. Well, most of us are in the Shakespeare class, so I thought I’d bring snacks!”

“Perfect,” Jake says soft enough I barely hear him, but I do hear the whisk clicking against the glass bowl. At least he can follow instructions.

As soon as I dump my haul of cupcake tins and liners on the marble of the kitchen island, Jake shoves the whisk into my hand and makes a beeline out of the kitchen. “Don’t tell mom,” he spits at me from the doorway before heading to his room. I hope he takes a shower before passing out. He reeks.

While Jake decided to take some time off after high school, I knew I wanted to be teacher – specifically an English teacher. I loved reading and writing in high school and I saw how hard my teachers worked to make the activities exciting and fun. So I decided to go straight to college at Cal State Fresno, right down the street from our house. It made sense. It’s just the three of us, my mom and my brother and me. We don’t have the money for a fancy school, or for room and board anyway. A bunch of my friends were joining me at State, including my best friend Allison.

Despite waking up early to make cupcakes, I feel energized as I walk into my Shakespeare class at 9AM and see a room of familiar faces.

A short blonde hurtles my way up the aisle of the lecture hall. I set my cupcakes down in preparation. Sure enough, she throws herself into my arms for a hug.

“Ahhh. Can you believe it? We’re in college and we’re here, and it’s the first day of school! I’m so terrified. I’m so excited.” All of this is yelled directly into my ear as Allison squeezes the breath out of me.

When she detaches herself and I catch my breath, I say, “I know it’s amazing. I was up at 5 AM making cupcakes I was so excited.” I open the cupcake carrier and offer her one.

She squeals and chooses the one with the most frosting. “Oooh lemony,” Allison says around a mouthful. “What are the little green pieces?”

“Oh, yeah they’re supposed to be lemon and mint, but I was a little heavy handed with the lemon so you might not be able to taste the mint,” I tell her.

“Whatever, they’re delicious.”

“Hey everyone, I brought cupcakes.” I wave everyone over and they flock like pigeons to a child with bread.

“Ms. Taylor, maybe we could wait until after class to encourage the sugar rush.” Our professor is at the podium in front of the room and I know my cheeks go red.

“Of course Mr. Otsagi.”

I put a lid on the cupcake carrier and slide into a row next to Allison. As I’m taking out my notebook someone settles on my other side. A clean shampoo smell envelopes me and my heart picks up a beat.

“Morning Nat,” comes a soft deep voice near my ear. I turn to face Devin McNeal and smile. “Morning Dev,” I say. His grin stretches from ear to ear, while still damp hair hangs across his forehead. Devin was in the summer workshop for class. We were paired up to do a deep-dive into a passage in Midsummer Night’s Dream. He’s apparently on the cross country team here, which would explain the damp hair if he had a workout this morning. Devin is also an english major. Also, he’s gorgeous. I want to run my hands through his hair.

“Okay class. We have an in-class writing assignment to kick off the semester. As you know, this class is all about Shakespeare, who is a master of both tragedy and comedy. He also wrote sonnets whose themes centered on love, mortality, and beauty. Regardless of what he wrote, he wrote with intention in his characters and settings. We are going to try and capture some of that intention today. Your assignment is to write a love letter.”

Image Credit: Ready Made via

A chorus of groans rises around the room.

“Now now now. Give it a chance. I want you to write a love letter. It can be to anyone – to your significant other, to a pet, to a parent, a sibling, or a best friend. It doesn’t matter, but you must address your letter to a specific entity. I want you to focus on your intention, describing your feelings in a concise but expressive manner. Questions?”

A guy in the back row asks, “Do we have to give it to the person or share it in any way?”

“Ah, good question. I will be the only one reading this assignment.” Mr. Otsagi looks around the room waiting for other questions. “Okay, you have the rest of class to start your letters. And Ms. Taylor, now would be a good time for those cupcakes. Thank you for bringing them.”

I beam and open the cupcake carrier again. Devin takes one, along with a few others before we settle in to write.

Devin leans into my shoulder and whispers, “Who are you going to write to?”

“I don’t know, maybe my mom?” I say because I really have no idea.

“Not a significant other?” He waggles his eyebrows at me. I can tell he’s fishing for information so I give him a grin. “No, no boyfriend to write to. What about you? Who are you writing to? A significant other?” Two can play this game.

His grin meets mine. “Hmm. No, no girlfriend to write to. Maybe I’ll write to my mom too.”

I shove his shoulder, “Stop distracting me and write your stupid letter, Dev.”

“As you wish, Nat.”

Did he actually just Princess Bride me? I’m swooning.

“Hey, can I have another one of those cupcakes? I’m super stressed about the rest of my day and I think that cupcake really helped.” Allison is reaching into the cupcake carrier before I can answer.

“Help yourself,” I tell her sarcastically.

“Thanks, you should really make sure to save this recipe. They’re awesome-sauce.”

Awesome-sauce? Allison is being more weird than usual, but I guess that makes sense if she’s really stressed about the day.

I try to ignore the scratching of pens and pencils around me and I end up writing a love letter to my brother because I can’t forget about our interaction in the kitchen this morning. He could certainly use some love, so I get lost in telling my brother how worried I am about him.

Mr. Otsagi’s voice cuts through my thoughts. “Okay folks, your time is just about up. Finish this for next time. Also, I want everyone to work with their pairs from the summer workshop to start analyzing the first Act in Romeo and Juliet. We’ll discuss next Friday. If you weren’t with us this summer, come on up to the front and I’ll give you a pair. Any questions?”

I raise my hand, “Mr. Otsagi, do we need to turn anything in from our analysis, or just be prepared to discuss?”

“Oh yes, please prepare one page of key points and thoughts. That’s all. See you next class.”

Once we’re outside, Devin gently grabs my sleeve and pulls me out of the sweep of people leaving the lecture hall. “Hey, I’m doing stuff with the team most nights this week, so is there any chance you want to get together tonight to do the analysis?”

“Sure, but my brother needs the car to get to his job this afternoon. Could you come over to my place? It’s only about 10 minutes from here.”

“Yeah, no problem. Just text me your address.”

“Five o’clock work?”

“Sounds great.”

We both just stand there for a minute watching each other. “Alright, well, I’ll see you tonight.” I have to pull my eyes away from him and toward my next class across the quad.

I’m cleaning the kitchen later that afternoon when the doorbell rings.

“Hey, you found it!”

“Yeah, it was touch and go there around Madison avenue, but I made it.” Devin matches my grin.

“Come on. We can study in the living room.” I usher him into the living room, ignoring my urge to head straight for a tour of my bedroom. Whew, I’ve got it bad. I take a couple deep breaths to calm myself.

We settle down and start working through Romeo and Juliet, taking turns reading aloud and pointing out key phrases. We work well together, and after an hour we have more than a page of notes.

I hear the garage door, which means Jake is home from his job. He’s a server at a local Italian restaurant. He seems to like it, or at least he don’t complain much about it.

“Hey Nat, I brought home some dinner,” he calls from the kitchen. The exchange of car keys was a silent affair earlier. I was still mad a him for wanting me to lie to our mother, so we didn’t get a chance to coordinate dinner in person. He obviously hadn’t read my text, or more likely, just ignored me.

“Jake, I texted you that I was making enchiladas tonight,” I yell across the house. “Sorry, that’s my brother. Just ignore him. Please,” I say to Devin and start to get up to run interference.

I don’t get a chance though, because Jake saunters into the living room in his black work pants and blue polo.

“What’s happening here?” He asks while gesturing between me and Devin.

“We’re working on a class assignment.” I tell him and roll my eyes.

“Aren’t you going to introduce us? Come on Nat, manners.” His tone is teasing. Jake comes further into the living room to shake Devin’s hand and then settles into one of the chairs across from us.

“Ugh, Jake this is Devin. Devin this is my brother Jake. Are you happy now?”

“Yes. Thank you.” I glower at him and silently plead with him to leave us alone. Of course he doesn’t get the hint.

“Hey Nat, do you have any of those cupcakes leftover from this morning? I had a hard day at work and I’d really love one to help me relax.” A slow smile works its way across Jake’s face and it’s full of mischief.

I cock my head and narrow my eyes. I’m getting a really bad feeling. “What do you mean you want one to help you relax?”

Jake keeps smiling at me, but Devin breaks out in laughter. “Oh man. I was so confused after I ate mine this morning. I didn’t think you were that kind of girl.”

Now I’m glaring at Devin. “What kind of girl is that?”

Devin’s laughter dies and he’s looking between Jake and I in confusion.

“I think what Devin means is that you’re not the type of girl to make edibles for the first day of school. Let alone give them to people without telling them.” Jake is still grinning.

“OH MY GOD. YOU PUT POT IN MY CUPCAKES THIS MORNING!” I screech at my brother. “YOU ARE SO DEAD.” That’s when I launch myself from the couch toward Jake, but he’s always been faster than me. He vaults over the armrest and races to his room with me hot on his heels. His bedroom door slams in my face and I can hear the lock engaging. Devin is laughing again from the living room and I’m livid. I could have gotten arrested handing out pot cupcakes on a university campus. And to think, I’d written a love letter to my brother this morning. Fuck that.

Devin looks up when I come back in the room.

“Now it makes sense that Allison wanted two of them. She loves edibles,” I say in defeat. I sink into the couch next to him and he puts an arm around my shoulders. He’s warm and the touch dissolves some of my anger.

“Nat, I can guarantee that no one was upset about eating your cupcakes. They were delicious.” He looks genuine. “Speaking for myself, I was just surprised.”

I can’t help but smile. “I’m just glad that Mr. Otsagi didn’t have one. That could have been bad.”

Devin takes his arm back and looks at his watch. It’s a fancy Garmin that he uses for training. “Sorry Nat, but I’ve gotta head out. Why don’t we finish this up on Wednesday over lunch?”

I roll my eyes at him. “I thought you said you were free tonight. This isn’t just a ploy to make sure you see me again outside of class this week is it?”

Devin leans towards me, “And what if it is?”

“Get out of here.” I give him a light push. “I’ll see you on Wednesday in the quad for lunch.” As he packs up his things I head to the kitchen to grab Devin some cookies I’d made last week. I bake when I’m bored, and when I’m nervous, and when I’m excited. I like to bake, but that means I always have sweets around. I try to give as many away as I can so I don’t eat them all myself. I meet him at the front door with a bag of chocolate chip cookies.

“I promise these aren’t drugged.”

“Nat, no one was upset. Don’t beat yourself up over it.”

“Yeah yeah Mr. Know-it-all. I’ll try not to.”

“See you later,” Devin says as he leans in to give me a quick hug.

Once he’s down the walkway I head back to the living room to clean up my papers. I notice a folded up sheet on the floor. Devin must have dropped it and not noticed. I open it up to see if it’s important enough to text him that he forgot it, but all ideas of being a good samaritan fly out of my mind when I see my name at the top left of the page.

I read quickly. Somewhere in the middle I realize this must be Devin’s love letter assignment from class. He wrote me a love letter. I wonder if he left it on purpose. It’s unfinished, so probably not. All thoughts of my stupid brother take a back seat while I imagine Devin and his words.

I get a text later that night.

DEVIN: Did I accidentally leave any papers at your house this afternoon?

NATALIE: Dunno, I’ll check.

DEVIN: Thanks.

I was worried Devin wasn’t going to show up to class, but a couple of minutes after Mr. Otsagi starts lecturing, Devin slides into the seat next to me.

Neither of us says anything, but I hand him the love letter without looking over. He doesn’t unfold the page, just slips it under his notebook. Mr. Otsagi talks for forty minutes about the setting for Romeo and Juliet and then reminds us about our Act I assignment.

When class is over and everyone filters out of the room, Devin and I stay seated.

“Did you read it?” I can feel Devin’s gaze on me.

“Did you want me to read it?”

His quiet makes me uncomfortable and I look up at him. He takes a deep breath. “Well, I was kind of hoping that at some point I’d get up the nerve to say all that to your face, not have you read it while I wasn’t there to take responsibility.”

“Did you mean it all?”

Devin seems confused by the question. “The assignment was to write with intention and try to express our feelings. So, yeah Nat. I did mean it all.” He takes a deep breath. “I think you’re amazing, and every time we hang out I get drawn in further with your humor and kindness and your imagination.”

I study his eyes. They’re searching mine.

“Well that’s good then, because I feel the same way.” Before I can lose my nerve, I lean over the armrest and meet his lips with my own. It takes him only a second to return the kiss, but when he does I’m lost to it.

“Uh hmmm.” Someone clears their throat and Devin and I both look up. “Love letter assignment?” Mr. Otsagi asks. I know I’m blushing, but I also nod. “Works every year, ” he says. Devin and I watch as he saunters up the aisle and out of the room before we burst out laughing.

“Jake, dinner,” my mom calls from the kitchen. It’s the first night in two weeks when we’ve all been home at the same time and I finally get to make enchiladas for everyone. I like cooking too.

Jake shuffles into the kitchen. I think he’s still wearing his pyjamas.

We all dig in without a lot of fanfare. Mom asks questions about my first week of school and asks Jake about the restaurant. Pleasantries aside, she gets to business.

“So Jake, how are you and your sister getting along?” It’s a question she likes to ask every once in a while. It’s a fishing question. She’s not around much, so she sometimes tries to trick us into telling her things we otherwise wouldn’t.


“Are you sure?” She throws the pitch up on the last word and draws it out like she knows something.

Jake looks between me and our mom, then he throws down his fork. “Nat, I can’t believe you told her,” he sneers at me.

I keep my eyes on my enchiladas, but I kick him under the table. “Jake, just shut your mouth, I didn’t tell her anything,” I whisper at him.

“Shut his mouth? Are you hiding something from me Natalie? Jacob?” My mother looks between us. “Tell me. Now.”

My enchiladas really are beautiful with that little sprig of cilantro on top, and that’s where I keep my eyes.

Jake starts talking, which surprises me. Usually we both just stay silent until my mom gives up and punishes us both. “Fine, I was an asshole to Nat on her first day of school. I came home really late because I was out with the guys and I fucked up a batch of cupcakes she was making.”

“And how did you do that specifically?”

“Well, I put some pot into her cupcake batter when she wasn’t looking. To be fair, I hear they tasted great.” I snort into my cheesy plate.

My mother sighs. They’ve gotten into huge fights about pot before. It all ended in an uneasy truce once Jake turned 21 and it was legal for him to buy it. “Jake, you can’t keep doing this. I know you were out late again with your friends and you think that turning Nat’s cupcakes into edibles was just a prank, but she could have gotten into big trouble giving them to people on a college campus. You need to figure out what you want to do and go do it. Stop flailing around.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. Sorry Nat. Can we not have this conversation right now?” Jake says more evenly than I expected.

“Sure, but you give me a specific time you do want to talk, and we’ll work through it together, okay.” I know my mom is upset, but she reaches across the table to rub Jake’s shoulder. She cares more than she’s angry.

“Fine, I’m going to my room. Thanks for the enchiladas Nat.” He doesn’t sound upset. He just sounds defeated.

Later that night, I have a delivery to make. I don’t know if it will change anything, but Jake needs to know how much I love him. I want him to know that, even when he puts pot in my cupcakes, I’ll always be in his corner. I walk across the hall and slip a copy of my love letter under his door.

When I wake up in the morning there’s a note on my own floor.

All it says is: “I love you too Nat. Can we talk?”

One Comment leave one →
  1. Yael Kisel permalink
    February 21, 2023 4:14 am

    I liked so many things about this story, but absolute favorite part might be “works every year.” Ha!

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