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Cupcakes and Christmas
Author: R.J. Scott

 

Cupcakes and Christmas

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

Save the planet! It’s the only one with cupcakes!

 

 

Justin


“Hey, Mallys! It’s stunning here.” I grinned at the camera, panning the phone to take in the entirety of the space, along with distant views of Sulphur Mountain. Up to now, each season of the World’s Best Baking Show had been filmed in California, but for this Christmas special, they explained they wanted authenticity. This meant filming had been moved to a beautiful convention center on the grounds of the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel in snowy Alberta. It was certainly a step up from a dressed sound stage and I was going to be sharing a ton of photos and videos. In fact, I’d sat down with my social media team and carefully planned most of them. There was always room for impromptu shots but for now I was sticking to the carefully considered script.

“It’s a bit different than the studio back in Cali.” I crossed my eyes to the camera, a trademark of mine whenever I was being self-deprecating, and then I panned back to the mansion. I took my audience with me, and my screen was already filled with hearts and messages. “I was so nervous when I started the show, but I’m such a different person since I took part in season one. I’m not the nineteen-year-old kid who wanted to take the baking world by storm. I was lucky to win, and my life has changed.” I smiled and then dropped the smile a little. “I think I’m still as nervous this time as I was then.” I paused dramatically and looked wistfully in the distance at the snow-covered vista. “I hope I do okay,” I added for good measure. “Until next time, Mallys!” I gave them all a thumbs up, cut the feed, and pocketed my cell.

“And that’s a wrap,” Erin Lister shouted from her hiding place behind the tree and scurried toward me. “Two hundred likes so far and climbing. You hit all the main points.” Erin was part of the team I’d hired to look after my brand, although the contract was due for renewal and I was already getting itchy feet to move on. As usual, she looked harried and tense, but that was her job. All I had to do, in her words, was look pretty and say my lines. I’m not sure when my genuine organic rise in social media became something else, which meant other people calling the shots, but my bank account was healthy, so I wasn’t going to argue. Money was my main objective in life. When I had enough, I could do what I really wanted to do, which was not having to worry about money.

“Great.” I could see she had something to add though and waited to find out what I’d done wrong.

“Apart from the fact you didn’t mention the KlecksoCream.”

“There’s a reason for that,” I muttered. “It’s shit.”

KlecksoCream may be perfectly white and smooth, kind of like the whipped cream sprayed out of a can which also tastes good, but this cream tastes like shit.

She heard me and tutted. “It’s also adding twenty-thousand to your already heavy bank account, Juss.”

“Justin,” I reminded her. My name was already short, why did people think they had to shorten it even more.

“So let’s do a segment where you say you’ve forgotten and that you have something to add.”

I hate those. I can’t believe my followers don’t see right through the add-on advertising. I declare it on all my posts, but my fan base grows every day, and sometimes things slip through. Still, I try to respect the people who follow me and see them as more than numbers, even if everything had blurred together since the old days when I knew the names of a lot of the people who contacted me.

“It’s not the right time.”

“Juss-tin, please, we need a KlecksoCream mention to hit your feeds by seven p.m.—”

“So it’s in the public’s conscience when the ad during prime time airs,” I sing-songed as she glared at me. “I know all that.” I sighed inwardly. “Remind me why I agreed to promote a cream brand that tastes like ass?”

She tilted her head and stared at me as if I’d just asked her what two plus two was. There was an unspoken duh in her that she was holding back. It didn’t matter why I signed a contract with a company that made fake cream which tasted like ass, it just mattered that I had. As usual, I’d signed it on a day when I felt my life was spiraling and when my constant companion, impostor syndrome, kicked in.

What if the money ran out? What would I do? How much money is enough?

Still, she had a point. I had commitments, and I would see them through. “Okay, jeez, I’m doing it.”

She nodded, and I waited for her to move, but evidently, she needed to witness this small humiliation so she could cross it off her list. I pulled out my cell then turned a full three-sixty in the snow to search for inspiration. At least a couple of inches of new snow fell overnight. When the beautiful, virgin white snowfall that was smoothed over a large bush with some of the greenery exposed caught my eye, I headed down the steps, passed Erin, and crossed the large lawn. I stood next to the bush with the fresh snow, making sure it was in my shot, ruffled my hair a little so it was casually tousled then connected again.

“Hello, Mallys, look what I just found. This snow is white and smooth and looks exactly like the KlecksoCream I used in last week’s episode of Baking with Mallory. Kinda cool, right? Links in my bio! Later, guys!” I ended the connection and got a thumbs up from Erin. Kleckso got their mention, and I didn’t even have to add that it tasted like shit because I stayed true to myself. KlecksoCream was smooth, and it was white. Neither of those things were lies.

Forget that it tasted a little cheesy, or that it was a long way past natural colored and right onto glow in the dark.

Ka-Ching, twenty thousand in my happy-with-life pot and not one single lie told. All I had to do was ignore the guilt that some poor baker out there would buy that shit on my say-so. The guilt wasn’t new. It grew worse each day I was pretending to be something I wasn’t. In the last year, as I’d grown closer to the magic number of five million in my account, the guilt had turned to a self-hate, and it was consuming me. I have a few more commitments after the charity competition, then I was finished with all of this. I just hadn’t fired my advisor team yet or even given a hint I was done.

Anyway, what would I do instead?

Anything is better than peddling shit fake cream to innocent bystanders.

Erin consulted her list. “Okay, next up we need you to film yourself going inside. Remember your lighting, but we’re not live for that one so we can fix it if you mess up. I’m going back to the hotel. Don’t forget, I’m only staying two nights, then I need to head out. So I want video for the collection as back up, and we’d also like you to mention what you’re wearing. Hilfiger struck a deal with some big football star, so Klein wants you to one up them.”

Names like Hilfiger and Klein used to mean nothing more to me other than brands I aspired to own. Now both of them wanted me for endorsements, and they paid me good money to mention their casual wear. I took a few still photos of the venue, which was a pretty atrium to a plainer building, a pouting selfie for her to post, and hashtag Klein whenever needed, and then finally I headed up the steps and opened the door.

“Film it!” Erin called up from the bottom of the steps.

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