Read Semi-Sweet Online

Authors: Roisin Meaney


Hannah Robinson’s Carrot and Fig Cupcakes

5¼ tablespoons softened butter

5¼ tablespoons brown sugar
2 small eggs
9 tablespoons self-rising flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
5¼ tablespoons grated carrots
½ teaspoon mixed spices (ie. nutmeg, cinnamon, clove)
1¾ tablespoons figs, chopped into raisin-sized pieces
Line a bun tray with 12 paper cases. Preheat oven to 375F. Put butter, sugar, eggs, flour, and baking powder into a bowl and
beat until creamy. Stir in the grated carrots, spice, and figs and mix thoroughly. Divide evenly between the paper cases and
bake for about 15–20 minutes, until well risen. Cool on a wire tray.
For the frosting, sift ½ cup icing sugar into a bowl and add enough freshly squeezed orange, lemon, or lime juice to make
a soft paste. Spread onto the cooled cupcakes.
“SEMI-SWEET is a heartwarming tale of the yearning for love, the search for happiness, and the importance of friendship—​​all
served up with tea and cupcakes.”
 —Lisa Verge Higgins, author of
The Proper Care and Maintenance of Friendship

For the monsignor, who’ll know why


ang on,” he said. “Just…hold on a minute, would you?”

They were already late, Hannah struggling into the hastily bought black dress that was beginning to look horribly like a mistake.
Too stiff to flatter her curves, too long to feel sexy in, too short to hide her knees. Too young, damn it, for a thirty-two-year-old
to get away with.

Why had she listened to a shop assistant who was paid to tell people how great they looked, no matter what inappropriate thing
they put on? But Hannah had listened, because the shop was about to close and she had to buy something. And now she was 140
euro poorer, and she hated the dress.

And they were going to be late, and it was her party. And she’d cut the damn tags off.

“I hate this dress,” she said, doing up the three oversize buttons that for some reason had seemed charming in the shop. At
least Patrick would tell her she looked lovely, and she’d pretend he wasn’t lying. How could a dress that cost 140 euro not
be lovely? At least it had to be well cut, didn’t it, at that price? And the fabric must be halfway decent.

“Isn’t it awful?” she asked. “Don’t know what possessed me—I could easily have worn my blue.” She waited for him to say all
the right things.

But he didn’t.

“Hannah, there’s something I need to tell you.”

She began to rummage through the biscuit tin that held her jewelry. “Great—now I’ve gone and lost one of my good earrings.”
Cross with him for not reassuring her, but where was the point in starting a row when they were practically out the door?
The last thing she needed was for him to be in a sulk for the night.

“Patrick, come on,” she said, still poking through the tin. “The taxi will be here any minute. Where’s your clean shirt?”

He took the three steps that were needed to reach her, and put a hand on her bare forearm. “Hannah, will you please stop doing
that a minute,” he said evenly, “and listen to me? Will you, please?”

She stepped sideways, leaving his hand behind. At least she loved the deep red shoes with the shiny silver heels that Geraldine,
knowing her daughter’s taste so well, had set aside for her the minute they’d come into the shop.

“Patrick, we haven’t
—it’s nearly ten to.” She slid her feet into the soft leather, admiring how much thinner her ankles immediately became—how
did a high heel manage that? “
will you get changed?”

“I’m not going.” So softly that she nearly missed it.

“You’re what? What?” Turning too quickly, her hand catching the edge of the biscuit tin, knocking it off the dressing table,
sending it flying, tumbling onto the wooden floor with a clang, earrings and bangles and necklaces rolling and clattering
everywhere as she turned back to him, ignoring the mess.

“What do you mean, you’re not going?” She searched his face. “Patrick, what’s up? Are you sick?”

He shook his head, but she saw now that he did look a bit pale. He must be coming down with something, and she’d been in too
much of a hurry to notice it.

“I’ve met someone,” he said rapidly, his eyes skidding away from hers. “I’m really sorry, Han—honest to God, I never meant
it to happen, I swear.”

Hannah’s head felt as if it were emptying, everything inside it draining out as fast as it could. The sudden feeling of lightness
made her sway; she grabbed the edge of the dressing table and held on. “You’ve…what? You’ve

A year and three months they’d been together. He’d taken her to Paris; he’d said “I love you” in all kinds of weather. You
didn’t take someone to Paris and then meet someone else. It just wasn’t done. It was plain bad manners, if nothing else.

“I’m so sorry.”

His face was terribly pale, she realized now. A little lilac vein thudded gently in his temple. Two deep grooves ran the width
of his forehead. A faint gray circular stain the size of a two-euro piece sat on the shoulder of the white shirt he’d been
wearing all day. She wondered what could possibly have caused a stain like that, in that particular place.

“Han, say something.”

His voice brought her back. She noticed that breathing was becoming something of an issue. She moved toward the bed and slumped
onto it. She leaned forward, resting her head on her black nylon knees and inhaled deeply, feeling the air shuddering into

“Are you okay? Han?”

His voice sounded thick. Maybe he was crying. She hoped he was crying. Her knees smelled of lavender.

A horn sounded outside. She lifted her head carefully. “There’s the taxi,” she said. “Come on, you need to get ready.”

Her words sounded breathless, as well they might. Patrick was standing in the same position, not crying but looking as if
he might be thinking about it. Her head felt so light, with nothing left inside.

“I’m sorry,” he said again. “I can’t go. I can’t…pretend anymore.”

She clutched handfuls of the duvet. Her palms were damp. “Don’t be silly,” she said. “Of course you’re coming—it’s all arranged.”
She squeezed the cotton-covered feathers as she curled her toes inside the red shoes.

“Hannah,” Patrick said, “I feel terrible about this, honestly. It wasn’t planned. I never meant to hurt you.”

The horn sounded again, a short, polite bark. Hannah let go of the duvet and stood up. “Come on,” she said. “You still haven’t
changed your shirt.”

He shook his head. “Han, I’m leaving. I’m moving out tonight.”

“No you’re not,” she said. She picked her way across the floor, avoiding the spilled jewelry, and took her bag from the chair
by the wardrobe. “I’ll wait for you in the taxi,” she told him. “Don’t be too long.”

She lifted her coat from its hanger, pulled her blue scarf from the shelf. “You’ve got five minutes.” There was a tiny buzzing
in her ears. Something was lodged in her throat. She pushed her arms into her coat sleeves. “Don’t bother picking up that
stuff; I’ll do it when we get home.”

She walked downstairs, her hand clutching the banister. She opened the front door and closed it gently behind her. The evening
air was knife sharp. She pulled her coat around her as her silver heels clacked on the cement path that was already whitening
with frost. The taxi looked black in the streetlights, but it could have been any dark color.

She opened the back door and slid in, murmuring a greeting to the driver.

“Just yourself?” he asked. He wore a woolly hat. The car was warm and smelled of apples. The radio was on, some trumpet music
playing softly.

“Yes,” she said, not looking back at the house. It occurred to her suddenly that she hadn’t asked Patrick about the woman
he’d met. How had she not asked? What if it was someone she knew? What if everyone knew about this other person except Hannah?

“Where to?”

“Oh…the Cookery.”

She’d booked for eight people. She’d have to look at his empty seat all night; it would keep reminding her that he wasn’t
there. She dipped into her bag and fished out a crumpled tissue, and pressed it to her eyes. Her mascara wasn’t waterproof:
She had to catch the tears before they did damage.

Was he packing a bag right now? Were his suits laid out on the bed? Had he taken his orange toothbrush from the glass in the
bathroom? Or was he on the phone to his other woman, telling her he’d done it?

Hannah took it badly,
he might be saying.
She wouldn’t listen. She kept telling me to get ready for the restaurant. I felt rotten.

Saying he’d see her soon, saying he couldn’t wait.

Hannah was frightened at the thought of going home and finding all the empty spaces he was going to leave behind, all the
places he’d filled with his books and CDs and clothes and golf clubs when he’d moved in. His empty hangers rattling in the
wardrobe. Maybe he’d spread out her clothes so it wouldn’t look so bare when she slid open the wardrobe door. But she knew
he wouldn’t think of doing that.

And what about the things he’d forget? Because there was always something you forgot. Clothes in the laundry basket, books
out of sight on top shelves, socks at the back of a drawer. What of the letters that would still come addressed to him? What
of a voice on the phone asking for Patrick, someone he’d forgotten to tell?

And of course his smell would still be there, in the bed and on the towels, draped along the couch, seeped into the cushions,
waiting to ambush her around the house. What was she to do with his smell?

She hadn’t asked if he loved the other woman. She couldn’t bear the thought of that, of the love he’d had for Hannah being
gathered up and transferred to someone else. Maybe he’d never—But she stopped that thought before it could go any further.
Of course he had. You knew when somebody genuinely loved you.

Didn’t you?

She was glad the driver didn’t try to talk. He probably knew there was no point, seeing her in his rearview mirror all hunched
up. She was glad the radio was on, glad not to be sitting in a silent car with a stranger who might have felt obliged to say

They were getting near the restaurant. She found her little handbag mirror and dabbed with a corner of her tissue at the black
smudges that had formed after all under her eyes. The driver turned on the overhead light.

“Thanks,” she said. It didn’t help much, such a watery wash of yellow, but another driver wouldn’t have thought of it. She
brushed on lipstick and ran her fingers through hair she hadn’t had time to dry properly. Not that it would have made much
difference—all the blow-drying in the world wouldn’t take the kinks out, just as all the color rinses in existence didn’t
make the slightest difference to the boring midbrown color she’d been cursed with.

She tried smiling at herself in the little mirror. She’d have to smile for the next two hours at least. There’d probably be
champagne. They’d all be toasting her, wishing her well in her new business.

“Patrick is sick,” she said, smiling at the face that smiled back at her.


She looked up and met the driver’s eyes for an instant in his rearview mirror. Had she really said it out loud?

“Nothing…just talking to myself.”

They pulled up in front of the Cookery, and Hannah paid and got out. She moved toward the restaurant, practicing her smile.

“Hang on.”

She turned. The driver was holding her scarf out the window. “You forgot this.”

“Thanks.” She draped it around her shoulders as he drove off in his woolly hat. Then she walked into the restaurant, her heart
sinking as Adam spotted her from the corner table and stood up, as the others turned, smiling, toward her. As her mother began
to applaud.

Patrick dropped the last of his cases onto the pale green carpet. “That’s it.”

“You’re sweating.” Leah reached up on tiptoe and ran her little finger across his forehead. “Ugh. Big sweaty man in my nice
ladylike apartment.”

He grabbed her wrist. “Hey, I’ve just lugged practically everything I own up a flight of stairs. You should be glad I’m not
stretched out on your nice ladylike carpet with a coronary.”

Leah laughed. “God, imagine that—after waiting for months to get you to myself, you go and die on me.”

“Well, it’s not going to happen tonight.” Bringing her hand down and pressing it to his groin, holding it there until she
felt a reaction. “Does that seem dead to you?”

“Darling, you’re so romantic.” She wriggled out of his grasp and moved toward the bathroom. “Come on, I need to scrub you
clean before I can take advantage of you.”

Hannah’s face, when he’d told her, when she’d finally realized what he was telling her. Everything changing in it, the color
draining away, even while she was still telling him to get a move on.

Saying she’d wait for him in the taxi, as if some part of her refused to hear what he was telling her—Christ, he hadn’t expected
that. He’d been expecting tears or maybe a few things pelted at him—some kind of unpleasant scene, certainly—but not that.

Leah undid his shirt buttons as the bath filled, as the air became warm and moist and scented. She unbuckled his belt and
unzipped his trousers and eased off his shorts. She pulled out of his embrace, catching his hand as he tried to untie her
wrap—“Not yet, you animal”—and he stepped over the side of the bath and lowered himself slowly into the foaming water.

“What are you thinking?” She reached for a pink sponge.

“Nothing—I’m too tired.” Leaning his head back and closing his eyes, inhaling the musky scent of whatever she’d used to make
the bubbles.

The meal in the restaurant would be over by now; they’d have moved on to a bar, probably. He wondered what Hannah had told
them when they’d asked where he was. Of course they’d be all sympathy for her. They’d hate him for dumping her, despise him
for his timing, so close to the shop opening. He imagined her mother’s reaction, and his heart sank. He’d always liked Geraldine,
and he knew that the feeling had been mutual.

“Happy?” Leah soaped his chest, his shoulders, the length of his arms, squeezing foam and warm water onto his skin. “No regrets?”

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