An Excerpt From
A Tangle of Knots
Chapter 1: Cady
Miss Mallory’s Home for Lost Girls in Poughkeepsie, New York, was technically an orphanage, but there were hardly ever any orphans there. In fact, most days, if you peeked inside the window, you would see only one orphan, all by herself but hardly lonely, standing on her tiptoes at the kitchen counter, baking a cake.
Cadence, that was her name.
She was standing there now, Cady, deciding what to add to her bowl of batter. If you squinted through the window, you could just make her out from the chin up (Cady was barely a wisp of a thing). You’d see the shiny, crow-black hair that hung smooth as paper from the top of her head to the bottoms of her earlobes. And you’d see the petite—pixieish, Miss Mallory called them—features of her face. Tiny nose, tiny mouth, tiny ears. Cady’s eyes, however, those were large in comparison to the rest of her. Large and dark and round, and set just so on a face the color of a leaf that has clung too long to its tree.
Flour, sugar, butter, eggs. Cady studied the bowl in front of her. She closed her eyes, digging into the furthest reaches of her brain to figure out what would be the perfect addition to her cake. At last her thick black lashes fluttered open. She had it.
Cinnamon. She would make a cinnamon cake.
No one knew exactly when Cady’s Talent for baking had first emerged—just as no one knew exactly where she had come from. But one thing was certain: Cady was a Talented baker. She could bake anything, really. Pies. Muffins. Bread. Casseroles. Even the perfect pizza if she put her mind to it. But what Cady loved above all else was baking cakes. All she needed to do was to close her eyes, and she could imagine the absolutely perfect cake for any person, anywhere. A pinch more salt, a touch less cream. It was one hundred percent certain that the person she was baking for would never have tasted anything quite so heavenly in all his life. In fact, what the orphanage lacked in orphans it made up for in cake-baking trophies. Five first-place trophies from the Sunshine Bakers of America Annual Cake Bakeoff lined the front hall, one for every year that Cady had entered from the age of five, when her oven mitts swallowed her up to?the elbows. No matter who entered the competition—professional bakers, famous chefs with exclusive restaurants—none of their Talents were able to match Cady’s, not for five years running. Cady’s cakes were never the most beautiful, or the most stunning. Last year not one but two bakers had crafted fifty-layer-high masterpieces of sugary wonder, studded with frosted stars and flowers and figurines. One even included a working chocolate fountain. Cady’s single-layer pistachio sheet cake had looked pitiful in comparison. But nonetheless, it had been the judge’s favorite, because Cady had baked it specifically for him.
This year’s bakeoff would be held in just one short week in New York City, a two-hour drive away. Miss Mallory had already cleared space in the hallway for a sixth trophy.
The kitchen door squeaked open and in waltzed Miss Mallory, a polka-dot tablecloth folded in her arms. (Miss Mallory’s perfect cake, as far as Cady was concerned, was just as scrumptious as she was—a nutty peach cake with cream cheese frosting.)
“What did you come up with?” Miss Mallory asked, crossing the room to peer into the cake bowl.
Cady found the cinnamon in the cabinet above her and popped off the lid. “Cinnamon,” she replied, shaking the spice into the bowl. Cady had no need for measurements. “A cinnamon cake, three layers high.”
Miss Mallory took a deep breath of pleasure. “And the frosting?”
Cady did not even need a moment to think. She knew the answer, sensed it the way other people could sense which way to walk home after a stroll in the woods. “Chocolate buttercream with a hint of spice,” she replied.
“Perfect,” Miss Mallory said. “Amy will love it.” She snuck a finger out from under her tablecloth to poke a tiny glob from the bowl. “I hope this fog finally gives up,” she said, sighing as the taste of the batter hit her tongue.
Cady had been so intent on her baking that she hadn’t even noticed the haze. She peered out the window. Out on the lawn, the thick mist obscured all but the legs of the picnic table, and puddles speckled the steps to the porch.
It had been foggy the morning Cady was brought to Miss Mallory’s, too. Cady had been much too young to remember it, but she’d heard the story so many times that the details were as real and comfortable as a pair of well-worn shoes. The damp smell of the dew outside. The mystery novel Miss Mallory had been reading when she heard the knock at the door. And most especially, Miss Mallory’s surprise at the arrival.
“I’d never seen a baby so small,” Miss Mallory always told her. “And with such a remarkable head of hair. There was a braid woven into it.” Here Miss Mallory would trace the plaits across Cady’s scalp, making Cady’s skin tingle delightfully. “It was the most intricate braid I’ve ever seen, twisted in and about and around itself like a crown. Whoever gave you that braid was Talented indeed.”
Miss Mallory snuck one more fingerful of batter from the bowl. “Perhaps we should move the party inside today,” she suggested.
“But Adoption Day parties are always outside,” Cady protested, slapping Miss Mallory’s hand away playfully. There wasn’t much consistency in the life of an orphan—new housemates coming and going like waves on a shore—but Adoption Day parties were always the same. Adoption Day parties took place outside, with presents and card games (it was difficult to play other sorts of games with so few people about) and a cake baked by Cady for the lucky little girl whose Adoption Day it was.
People sometimes suspected, when they learned how few orphans lived at Miss Mallory’s Home for Lost Girls, that it must be a sorry excuse for an orphanage. But the truth was quite the opposite. The truth was that most of the orphans at Miss Mallory’s found their perfect families astonishingly quickly. Miss Mallory had a Talent for matching orphans to families—she felt a tug, deep in her chest, she said, when she sensed that two people truly belonged together, and she just knew. Most of the little girls who came through the orphanage doors were matched within days of arriving, sometimes hours. Miss Mallory had famously matched one girl only seven minutes after she stepped off her train. They would send photos, those lucky little girls who had found their perfect families, and Miss Mallory would frame them and hang them in the front hallway, just above Cady’s row of trophies. Smiling kids, beaming parents.
Cady had studied them carefully.
Cady was the only orphan at Miss Mallory’s who had ever stayed for an extended period of time. Oh, Miss Mallory had tried to match her. Over the years Cady had been sent to live?with no fewer than six families—loving, happy, wonderful families—but unlike with the other orphans, it had never quite worked out. Cady had always done her best to be the perfect daughter. She yes, ma’amed and no, sired and ate all her vegetables and went to bed on time. But no fewer than six times, Miss Mallory had come to return Cady to the orphanage long before her one-week trial period was over. “I made a mistake,” Miss Mallory always told her. “That wasn’t your perfect family.”
But Cady knew that Miss Mallory didn’t make mistakes. Somehow, for some reason that Cady couldn’t explain, the fault lay with her. And Cady vowed that if she ever got another chance, with another family, she would do whatever it took to make it work. One day she would have an Adoption Day party of her own. One day she would bake the perfect cake for herself.
“Maybe,” Cady said slowly, glancing outside at the beautifully foggy morning, “maybe today’s the day I’ll meet my family.” The very idea warmed her through just as much as the heat from the oven. She tugged an oven mitt onto each hand and opened the oven door, then set the cake pans on the center rack. “Maybe,” she said again, “my real and true family will step right out of the fog.”