I bolt upright in my bed, energy coursing through my body like I was on fire. At first, I’m a little confused. I don’t expect to see a mobile plane and blimp hanging from the dark night sky-blue ceiling. Neither do I expect to see my brothers bed across from mine, sheets half hanging off, his foot sticking out missing a sock as he snores into his pillow. I don’t know why I don’t expect these things either, because they are things that are completely expectable. They’ve always been there, haven’t they?
I suddenly remember why I’m excited; It’s mom’s birthday.
I jump out of bed as the sun starts to rise. I don’t know why I’ve never needed an alarm clock. No matter how hard I try to sleep in, I just can’t. I’m always up with the sun. I guess that’s why my brother expects me to wake him up on days like these, and christmas. I move to the window and throw open the curtains, then I go to his bed and grab the sheets.
“Come on, Shawn, wake up!”
He only groans.
“It’s five thirty-five. We have to get up now,” I insist.
“It’s too early. Do it yourself,” He grumbles.
I roll my eyes, “Fine, I will. And I’ll get all the credit from mom.”
Shawn spazzes and quickly scrambles from the bed. “See you in the kitchen.” I run after him.
Today, my mom turns thirty-five. In a week we leave for Iceland to collect data on the volcano there. But, nevermind that. On mom’s birthday it’s always a competition to see who will get to the kitchen first. Me and Shawn, or Nicole. Usually, Nicole beats us, only because she stays up all night to bake some elaborate dish for mom and then sleeps during the day. However, this year Shawn and I have an advantage. Nicole was up all night talking to a boy she likes and fell asleep. As I creep past her open door, I pause. I hear her snore and I cover my mouth with my hand to stop the laughter. She’s dead asleep. Score!
We race into the kitchen and lock the door behind us. “You got the recipe?” I ask Shawn.
He nods, holding up the Ipad. “Right here. I can’t reach the flour. Can you?” He asks, pointing to the cabinets over the sink.
I’m nine, but I still haven’t hit my growth spurt yet, so I grab a bench from the counter and drag it closer. I retrieve the ingredients for the cake while Shawn gets the strawberries and things from the fridge.
Reading the recipe isn’t too hard, but sometimes I find the order a little confusing. Like, why wait to put the milk in? Can’t you just mix it all together at once? Shawn and I grab a single large bowl and do just that, compiling the ingredients and stirring them till they all look like one bowl of pale goop. Then we pour it into the baking pan and turn on the oven.
“How long with it take?” I ask Shawn.
“Uhh, it says here 10 minutes to preheat, 45 to cook and then 30 to cool. That’s kinda long. Want mom wake up soon?”
“Yeah, I’ll turn up the heat to make it faster.” I twist the oven knob to 450 degrees, then watch as the elements inside glow red hot. I find the glow entrancing, and decide to crouch there and watch it. The glow gets brighter and brighter. Then the oven starts to smoke.
The fire alarm starts ringing.
“Shh! Shut it off! Now mom will wake up for sure!” Shawn complains, waving a mitt at the alarm.
I turn it off and pull open the oven. The cake looks a little funny, black on the top and still kinda giggly. I pull it out, with mitts and put it on the counter.
“Don’t worry, we can hide the black with the icing and strawberries. Mom won’t even know.”
“Okay,” Shawn says, fingers already in the icing tub.
“Hey, stop! We need that for the cake. You can eat it after we’re done,” I grab for the tub.
“Aww, no fair,” He whines.
“It’s for mom. Give it!” He finally gives it to me and I use the knife and start spreading it on the black part to cover it up.
“It says to let it cool and take it out of the pan,” Shawn reminds me.
“You shoulda told me that earlier,” I complain.
“I did. Not my fault you didn’t listen.”
I put the icing down, far back on the counter so Shawn can’t reach it and dump the cake in the fridge. “There. Let’s cut the strawberries.”
Using the fruit knives, we butcher the berries, chopping up the green parts and tossing them in the trash. Soon we have about thirty-five berries ready to put on the cake. I pull out the cake and return to spreading the icing. Once it’s all white, we cover it in strawberries.
“Tada!” I grin. “Mom’s gonna love it.”
“Yup. It’s the best cake ever and Nicole isn’t even up yet,” Shawn points out.
“Surprising,” I roll my eyes sarcastically.
We unlock the kitchen door and freeze. Dad and Nicole are on the other side, arms crossed. Nicole points to her eyes and pulls at her lid, sticking out her tongue.
“Boys… please tell me you didn’t’ burn the kitchen down?” Dad asks, warning in his tone.
“Nope, Heath almost burnt the cak-” I elbow him hard, gripping the plate with the cake on it. “I mean, nope.”
Dad sighs, “You’re mom’s waiting, in her room,” He gestures with his thumb.
We grin, racing off past Nicole. I stick my tongue out and she groans as we pass.
Shawn pushes mom’s door open and I go inside. We start singing in a very off tune key.
“Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you! Happy birthday dear Mama/Mother… Happy Birthday to youuuuuu!” We sing horribly.
Mom’s face lights up, smiling at up from the bed, sheets around her waist. Her short, dark-brown hair still messy from sleeping. She claps her hands together excitedly, then pats the bed.
“Oh, boys! Did you make that yourself?” She asks as Shawn dives onto the master bed. I’m still holding the cake. Dad’s already set up the bed table for us.
“Yup! We made it ourselves!” Shawn grins, pointing to the cake. “It’s your favourite.”
She gasps, “My favourite? Strawberr-”
“-Berry vanilla cake!” Shawn and I finish together, then laugh.
“I can’t wait to try it!” She smiles.
“Oh, I forgot the forks!” Shawn stops, scrambling off the bed.
“Oh my god, Shawn!” I groan.
“Now, now. It’s okay. I can eat with my fingers,” Mom chuckles.
“No! It’s a special cake! You have to eat it with a fork!” I insist.
“But,” She touches her chin, “The best cakes are eaten with your fingers,” She smiles reaching for my hand. “That way you can slowly lick them and enjoy it longer,” She brings my fingers to her mouth and chomps down on them.
I quickly try to pull away, grimacing. “Eww, no!!” I say, but I laugh, ‘cause it’s mom. “Fine! Eat the cake, not me!”
“Haha, alright,” She laughs, putting her fingers into the cake. She pulls off a piece, the inside a little cold and soft, then brings it to her mouth. Shawn and I watch and wait. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for. The first time we got the kitchen, we made cookies. Easy enough. They were hard and black though. That was nearly three years ago though.
Her face is still, and I start to wonder if it tastes bad when- “Mmm, thish ish delishissh!” She says, mouth full of cake. Shawn reaches across mom’s legs and we high five.
“Better than Nicole’s?” He asks excitedly.
Mom thinks about it, “Well, I don’t know. That was a whole year ago.” She sighs.
“It’s totally better!” Shawn shouts.
Mom shrugs. “Thank you, Heath, Shawn. I love your cake. I don’t know if I can eat the whole thing myself. Why don’t we share it?” She suggests. We smile, just as Dad and Nicole come in with plates and forks.
“Is there enough for everyone?” He asks.
“Oh course!” Mom smiles.
I wipe my eyes, feeling a warm wetness in them. I’m so glad mom likes her cake. I don’t know why my lip is trembling, or why my chest is aching. I blink, only starting to feel worse.
When I open my eyes, I find myself looking up at the plain white ceiling overhead. I blink a few times, sniffling. Have I been crying?
I touch my cheeks to find a wetness on them. I prop myself up, the white duvet slipping to my waist as I sit up. Selene’s hand rests on my chest and she’s looking at me with big round eyes.
“Heath,” She says softly, her own eyes looking a little red.
“Was that a-” I stop as she nods, shuffling closer.
“So… you saw that? All of it?” I ask, dipping my chin.
“I did. It was a lovely birthday, Heath. The best birthday a mother could ever hope for.”
I feel a fresh wave of tears spring to my eyes. “The cake was burnt, and tasted really bad. She lied,” I confess.
“But you made it, Heath. That makes it special,” She coos softly, resting her head on my shoulder. “Trust me, I’m a mother. I would know.”
I close my eyes, trying to fight back the sadness in my heart.
“I didn’t know it would be the last time,” I croak.
“No one could have known,” She assures softly.
“I… I wish she was still here,” I confess.
“I know,” She hums, looking up as me and cupping my cheek. Her bright blue eyes gaze up at me, making the sadness a little less heavy. “Heath, darling?” She asks.
I sniff, blinking away the stinging feeling behind my eyes. “Yeah?”
“Why don’t we make your mom a cake. It’s her birthday today, isn’t it?” She confirms.
I nod. “But, how will she know?” I ask.
“It’s the sentiment. Besides,” She tries to hide the hint of a smile on her face, “I wouldn’t mind trying your strawberry vanilla cake.”
I can hardly say no when she puts it that way. Even though I know how bad I am at cooking, and it’s likely to taste awful… maybe it wouldn’t be a bad thing to try.
“Okay… If that’s what you want,” I mumble, bringing my hand to hers, still on my cheek.
“I do,” She smiles.
I feel my lips twitch, hinting at a smile themselves as I lean down to kiss her. “I love you, Selene,” I whisper.
“I love you too, Heath,” She hums back before our lips meet.
‘I think my mom would have liked you,’ I add mentally.
I feel her grin against my lips. ‘I think I would have liked her too.’
I sigh, relieved. I’m thankful for Selene. Maybe, this year, mom’s birthday won’t be so bad afterall.
By Kayla West