Welcome to Sugartown

Sugartown - 1


Carmen Jenner

For Ari and Ava

May you find a love of your own as big as this someday.

For Book Bloggers Everywhere

Thank you!

Chapter One


There’s a mind-numbing restlessness that comes with living in small towns. The gossip, the people, and the unending monotony that makes you want to poke your eyes out with a fork. I’ve lived my whole life in Sugartown, so I should probably expect nothing to ever change, and each new day to be just as dull as the last. And yet, every day I wish for the unexpected. I wish for big cities, for open-mindedness, for the ability to jump on my bike and ride the hell out of town and never look back.

Every day I dream of leaving Sugartown. And every day I open this crummy pie shop, I make pies and serve customers, and stay several hours after closing to make pies for the following day. I’m nineteen. The world should be full of endless possibilities, right? Wrong. Oh, so very wrong because I’ve just finished high school and my family happen to own this joint. So instead of making the world my oyster and all that, I’m stuck wearing this retro waitress uniform for the rest of my days—my mum and dad had some kind of rockabilly diner fetish, it’s sad really, don’t ask.

Sugartown sits smack bang on the highway in the middle of nowhere. It’s a quaint little town and a pleasant enough place to stop on your journey from there to anywhere but here, but no one ever stays. And why would they? It’s surrounded on both sides by nothing but cane fields and the ancient sugar mill, that spreads its sweet acrid stench in a smoggy cloud over the whole town, making everything smell like burnt toffee. There’s nothing to do, nowhere to go, and the nearest town is 25 kilometres away.

I sigh and lean over the counter, staring out the window. Across the road, my dad has shut the doors to his other business, a garage specialising in custom Harley-Davidson fittings: Big Bob’s Bikes and Auto. He leans against his bike and smokes a cigarette as he waits.

My mum’s dream was to open a diner and make pies all day. My dad’s? To run a garage and customise Harleys. That way he could combine his early midlife crisis with his love of mechanics. They were both lucky enough to have had their dreams realized, and both unlucky enough to have them shattered when she found out she had cancer. Amid the chemo and the hospital visits, mum taught me how to make the pies from her recipes. Now I bake pies in the kitchen she taught me how to bake in, dad runs his garage across the street and in a way it’s like my mum’s dream is still alive and kicking. Though I doubt she expected the dragon stepmother to be a part of that dream.

“Ana, are you even listening to me?” My friend and long-term tormentor Holly screeches in my ear. Holly works every shift with me. She’s all kinds of crazy gorgeous with wild red curls, green eyes and more ‘personality’ than a whole ward of mental patients.

“It’s kinda hard not to listen to you, Hols.” I say, and then laugh as I add, “On account of you never shutting the fuck up.

“Shut up, biatch, I know you haven’t been listening to a word I’ve said. Lucky for you, I’ve got no problems repeating myself.”

“Yippee.” I deadpan.

She waves that away like I’m the one with all the crazy and begins wiping down the counter with a dirty rag, smearing grease all over the Formica. I love her, but I think Holly may have been dropped on her head when she was a baby. “Anyway, as I was saying, are you going to Nicole’s party next week?”

A scruffy looking kid with strawberry blonde curls and bright blue eyes comes strutting through the shop, saving me from a tiresome conversation in which I continue to argue all the reasons why going to that party would be disastrous for someone like me and where Holly manages to twist the entire conversation back around to the fact that not going would be social suicide. The little brat acts like he owns the place, pokes his tongue out at me and jumps up on the counter that Holly just finished wiping down.

I ruffle his hair and he smiles up at me. “What’s up, Sammy?”

“Nothing. Whereth mum?”

“The dragon’s out the back, primping her dragon lady curls for my dad.”

I was an only child, until I wasn’t any more. Until former Belle’s Pies employee Kerry sunk her talons into my dad after Mum died. Eventually they got married and she fell pregnant. Kerry sat around on her big-fat-pregnant bum while I worked double shifts on the weekends in the shop.

I was thirteen.

I can’t fathom what Dad sees in her. It must be the sex, because I can’t find a single redeeming quality. The only good thing to come out of that woman was Sammy. He’s six now, every second word comes out with a lisp and, despite his unfortunate parentage, he just may be my favourite person in the entire world. It appears I’m his favourite, too, a fact that irritates the dragon beyond belief, that I may or may not play in my favour just to piss her off.

“But thee thaid thee was going to take me for ice cream tith afternoon.”

“It’s Friday night. Sorry, kiddo, but you’re stuck with me.”

“Ith OK. I liketh being thuck wif you, Ana Cabana.” He beams, and it’s so hard not to pick him up and squeeze him until his adorable little guts squish out.

“Aw, thanks, brat. I liketh being thuck wif you, too.” I mock and ruffle his hair once more for good measure. “Now, go do your homework and I’ll bring you a milkshake once the dragon lady is gone.”

“Thweet.” He jumps off the counter, poking his tongue out at Holly who pokes out her own in return and then proceeds to make monkey faces at him. I swear, sometimes it’s like Holly and Sam are the same age. She makes out like she can’t stand him when the opposite is true—she adores him just as much as I do.

Sammy bounds over to a booth in the back, pulls out his supplies and gets to work, his tongue poking out in concentration.

A few minutes later the dragon stalks through the back door and into the kitchen, huffing when she sees Sammy through the giant serving window. She struts over to him, leaving a cloud of cheap perfume in her wake.

“Sammy baby, you didn’t come and say hi to mummy.” Dragon ruffles his hair the way I do, but he pulls away when she touches him and glares at her.

“My nameth noth Thammy, ith’s Tham. And I’m not a baby.” He says indignantly and goes back to his studies.

Dragon shoots me a look. “Daddy and I have a party to go to tonight, so don’t wait up.”

God, it’s so gross when she calls him Daddy. The mental images those words conjure when they come from her mouth are enough to make me vomit for days on end. The sad thing is he’s almost old enough to be her dad. And now for the second time in as many minutes I’m thinking of my dad having sex, which is wrong on so many, many levels.

Without even a kiss goodbye for Sammy, Dragon sashays through the shop in her short skirt and too-tight singlet top with the cut outs and her high heeled boots.

“Do you ever want to crash one of their parties?” Holly pipes up, as we watch Kerry cross the street. She kisses my dad full on the lips and then straddles the seat behind him. He revs the throttle and they ride away into the sunset.

“And watch a bunch of drunk, greying old bikers boast about how big their engines are while their trampy women drape themselves across their laps? Not my idea of fun, Holly.”

“Yeah, bunch of hussies. Though I wouldn’t mind draping myself across Red Hot Rob’s lap again.”

“Whath a huthy?” Sam’s little lisp pipes up from beside me.

“Yo’ momma.” Holly shoots back with a cheeky grin.

“Seriously Holly? You don’t think he’s going to repeat that?”

She shrugs. “It’s true.”

“Hussy is a bad word,” I tell him sternly, giving Holly a pointed look. “If I ever catch you saying it there’ll be no more Banana Chocolate Cream Ana Cabana Surprise Pies, okay?”

They’re Sam’s favourite. It’s a concoction I made up one night when Dad and the dragon were at one of their booze fests, and Holly and I had raided their stash. Sam had been sound asleep, until we began marauding the kitchen with a serious case of the munchies. I’d pulled it together enough to bake a pie with the only edible things left in the house: chocolate, bananas, beer and mini-marshmallows. The beer was downed before it had a chance to meet chocolate and banana—probably for the best—and after passing out before we had a chance to taste the creation, we woke to Sam covered head to toe in chocolate. He’d devoured the whole thing. The name stuck, and oddly so did the recipe—minus the beer, of course—and now it’s one of our best sellers.

Sammy’s eyes go wide as saucers and he vigorously nods his head. “Okay.”

“And I thought I asked you to do your homework?”

“You thaid you wath gonna get me a milkthake when the dragon left, and the dragonth been gone for a hundred yearth, already.”

“If I get you a milkshake will you please go and do some schoolwork?” He nods enthusiastically and scurries back to his booth.

The sound of a bike tearing up the street draws the attention of all three of us. Growing up around a motorbike enthusiast I’ve come to learn the sounds that the engines make. Dirt bikes sound all high and whiny, like something got caught in the garbage disposal unit. Well-oiled machines, like the Harley-Davidsons my dad rides and customises, have almost a growling purr to them. It’s musical and primal all at once. It sends chills up your spine and sets your teeth and nerve endings to vibrate.