Happy Birthday

February 20, 2014
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Sweet peach-colored cream coats the sidewalk. A three-tiered lump of vanilla crumbles in bruised mounds. I spent a week on that stupid birthday cake. I baked it for my cousin Alice's seventh birthday. Today. Well, now she's not getting that massive pink, lace-trimmed brick she begged for. I wasted hours on that sugar-flowered nonsense. I feel sorry for her, but hey. It could be worse. I didn't even have a seventh birthday party. Plus, most of my childhood birthdays featured an amateur magician who left me covered in deflated balloon animals and dove poop. And I can't even count the amount of times the other kids pushed and plunged like vultures at my birthday piñata's candy. In the aftermath, only banana flavored Laffy Taffys survived for me. Gross. She’ll live without her dream cake.

I guess I should stop with the selfish melodrama. I know I’ve had some good birthdays. I went to Paris for my sixteenth. That was fun. Except for that one super rude anti-American waiter…stop. Stay positive. Pretty dresses, foreign people, art museums. That was a wonderful birthday. I have a hard time recognizing that the bad parts of events don’t negate the good parts. I guess they’re just easier to remember. Hopefully Alice will be more of an optimist than I can be. She is very sweet – a little spoiled – but sweet. Ugh, I forgot about the cake. I should probably clean this up.

I’m pulling into the Safeway parking lot. Drive faster you imbecile – Alice’s party starts in two hours.

“Hi, Miss, what types of cake do you have?”
“Hello! I’m sorry, busy week. Lots of April birthdays. Um, we’ve only got carrot left. Is that okay?”
No, actually, it could not be less okay. What seven year olds like carrot cake? They’ll lick off the icing then complain that the rest tastes like I blended the batter with gravel.
“Yeah, sure. How much is it?”
“Thirty-five. Cash?”
“Uh, yeah. Yes. Hold on.”
As I’m loading this loaf of sugary vegetable-mush into my car, I can’t stop wondering what Alice will say. What if she cries? Aunt Maureen will be so upset. They’ll never trust me with another task again. Alice’s family is going to sit down at dinner tonight and whine about how they should’ve hired a professional. They’ll spend hours lamenting the catastrophic ruin of a perfect birthday, and their second grader’s worst nightmare coming to fruition. I can predict an “I told you so” from Uncle Dan as he spits across the table. I knew he never really liked me. I wish Alice could have seen my original cake. It fit all her requirements: white edible lace, frosting flowers, and most importantly – it had to be pink. I’m so close to rolling this carrot cake in Pepto Bismol.

I’m driving through Aunt Maureen’s neighborhood. Mini-vans are all lined up along the street’s edge. The family mailbox is gagged by the strings of three rosy balloons. I’m so flustered right now. I feel like I’m preparing to meet my executioner, and she’s an elementary school girl. Ding-dong. Your failure of a cousin has arrived. Alice answers the door.
“Mommy! Mom! Melissa’s here,” screams a frizzy blonde head, swallowed up by a monstrous birthday tiara.
“I’m right here, honey, go and play with your friends. Hey Mel, what’ve you got?”
I glance down, ashamed of the box in my arms.
“Look… I made the cake, a good one, I mean, and it ha—”
“Mel…Mel, it’s okay. The cake is the least of my worries. Almost nothing is going according to plan. The chocolate fountain is broken, I bought Alice the wrong game for her Nintendo DS, the Owings’ kid is pulling hair, and Brian Andrew won’t stop chanting “Limbo!” but I don’t even own a stick. It’s…it’s kind of a disaster. Hop aboard the disaster-train. See for yourself. Alice still seems to be having fun.”
“I – um…”
“Is that carrot cake? I love carrot cake! Come in.”

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