Party cakes

The party had been planned for weeks. They’d already spent the money that hadn’t gone on the deposit and stamp duty on furniture and new carpets, so Leo asked guests to bring themselves, wine, and some food. “Crowdsourced catering,” he’d said to Kim. “It’s the next big thing.”

They took the afternoon off work and spent it vacuuming, cleaning, and replacing lightbulbs. They’d gone to a housewarming in Balham a month ago where the kitchen lights had given out and the hosts had had to borrow a stepladder from the house next door – which was embarrassing enough with a kitchen full of guests standing around in the dark, but it turned out the neighbours hadn’t been invited, which they had taken badly to. The resulting scene had kept them in gossip for weeks, and the last Kim had heard the hosts were thinking of moving again just to get away from it all.

The first guests arrived at half seven on the dot and trilled the doorbell. “Lucy! Niall!” They air-kissed in the narrow hallway and went through to the kitchen, Leo and Kim offering pre-prepared apologies for its unfinished state that were waved away by their guests.

“Is it too early?” said Lucy, coquettishly waggling a bottle of shiraz.

“Never!” Kim crowed. She hunted in the unfamiliar drawers for a corkscrew. “We’ve not got any wine glasses so it’s tumblers or mugs, is that alright?”

“And we brought this,” said Niall to Leo, handing him a large purple cardboard box.

Leo set it on the counter and flipped open the lid. “Oh wow,” he breathed. “Hey Kim!”

Niall and Lucy watched proudly, their arms around each other’s waists as their hosts cooed over the cake. “Lucy made it,” Niall explained quietly, so as not to disturb them.

“It’s amazing,” murmured Kim, then she turned with a glint in her eye. “Let’s have some!” They served it on paper plates. The sponge was light and airy, and the jam and cream filling spread deliciously in their mouths. Sugar crunched between their teeth.

The doorbell rang. “I’ll get it,” said Kim, sucking the last of the cream from her fingers. Leo topped up the wine and Kim returned trailing a nervous-looking man behind her.

“George! Great to see you,” said Leo. He offered the new arrival a sticky hand to shake.

George took it briefly. “Wasn’t sure what to bring so I thought maybe some cakes?” He placed the box on the table. It was plain white except for the stamp of the bakery it came from, which was a bear wearing a chef’s hat and an apron.

“A fellow cake fiend,” said Niall, approvingly. George said nothing and sipped at his wine. He was one of Leo’s colleagues, and nice enough, but he could be hard work.

Kim left them to talk and went through to the living room to sort out some music. They hadn’t yet got round to setting up the stereo, and the internet was still temperamental. Wine and cake was all very well, but you couldn’t have a party without music. She heard the front door go several times as she fiddled with wires and the router, and the excited chatter of new guests admiring the place drifted from the hall.

She’d just got it sorted and allowed herself a congratulatory glug of cabernet sauvignon when Leo’s head appeared round the door. “We have a slight problem,” he grimaced. He led Kim through to the kitchen. Almost every available surface was covered in cakes: cupcakes with ridged swirls of icing, coffee cake studded with walnut pieces, even a gateaux that squatted indulgently like a toad on its cardboard pad. They’d had to stand the wine bottles on the floor to make room.

“Has… has everyone brought cake?” Her voice sounded faint with disbelief. She poured a fresh mug of wine and drank it as she surveyed the scene. A blonde woman in a backless dress was whispering to her partner, who as he listened put an entire fairy cake in his mouth.

“And wine,” someone said, and yes, there were wine bottles everywhere too, like tiny trees hugging the mountain ranges of the near-empty cupboards. Well. Kim had never been one to back down; she grabbed an unopened bottle and a hunk of lemon drizzle and got to work.

There was a cheer as others followed her lead, accepting the challenge, joining the team. Even George was nibbling on his second thin slice of coffee and walnut. The air was dense with scent: delicate floral bouquets mingled with dank, tightly-packed Jamaica cake. Every time they seemed to be making progress the door would inevitably ring, heralding yet more additions to the stacked boxes and ranks of bottles.

“What’s going on?” Kim hissed to Leo in a crazed whisper as they passed each other in the kitchen in search of another round. He shushed her and told her not to worry: there was no way anyone would forget this party anytime soon.

By the time the final guests arrived bearing a Battenberg and 75cl of merlot most of the guests had been reduced to groaning. People were sprawled on sofas, chairs, and even the floor like fattened sloths. Their breathing was shallow through cake-thickened mouths, and discarded corks and screw-tops littered the carpets. Kim hauled herself to the front door, leaning on the radiator for support. “More cake! It’s a cake-pocalypse!” she declared. Her mouth was gluey and her words slow as she laughed madly. Stray granules glittered around her wine-stained lips. There were crumbs everywhere. It would take them six months to properly vacuum, but that could wait. There was still a party to be had, wine to be drunk, and cakes to be indelicately eaten. It was still a party.

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