Thirty-One: Chocolate Cake

Mid-November
Alley

“So, what kind of cake do you want?”

Louise looked up from her homework, her eyes twinkling slightly as she questioned me. My birthday was only a few days away. Louise always made my cake -- a white cake with creamy white icing. Her asking what kind I wanted was somewhat of an inside joke between us. I liked tradition, the comfort of familiar things. Especially with my cake.

“Well....” I said slowly, grinning, pretending to think.

“Chocolate!” Taylor piped up, his eyes growing wide at the mention of cake. “With white icing!”

I kicked him under the table. Whose birthday was it, anyway?!

“Come on,” he wheedled. I sighed. Leave it to Taylor to completely obliterate familiarity.

“Um... chocolate with white icing,” I repeated for Louise. The look that fell across her face could only be described as classic.

“What?!”

“Yep.” I smiled brightly at her, offering no explanation. I didn’t have an explanation. Well, not one that she could grasp, anyway.

“Well..... OK then,” she said uncertainly. “I shouldn’t be surprised, as weird as you’ve been lately.” She chuckled.

I merely gave  her a small grin. “Weird? Me? Nah.”

“No, no, not you.” She gathered her papers up from the table and began stuffing them into her backpack. “Well, hon, I’ve got a study date here in a minute. Then I’m going to go to the grocery to get the cake stuff. I’ll be back later. Love ya.”

“Love you, too. Be careful.”

She jaunted out the door, leaving Taylor and I sitting on the stools at the bar. I glared at him.

“Damn you. I’ve had a white cake with white icing for the past 18 years!”

“Well, then, it sounds like you’re ready for a change,” he replied cheerfully.

“Whatever,” I scoffed. “Fine. For your birthday we’ll have a white cake with white icing.”

His smile faded momentarily, but he immediately picked it up and replied. “I doubt that. You can’t cook for shit, and I’d like to see you explain to Louise why you suddenly have the craving for white cake in the middle of March.”

He must have thought I didn’t catch that swift change of expression. I thought about asking him if he was alright, but decided to let it go. It more than likely had to do with his family. He’d be turning 20 without them. Well, I guessed that I could conceivably count as an honorary family member, Lord knows that I’d been around the boy enough to know him inside and out, but it obviously wasn’t going to be the same. I could only imagine how his family felt about another one of his birthdays passing while he slept.

“Well, you’re probably right,” I said thoughtfully.

“You know I’m right.”

I rolled my eyes. Arrogant much?

“Yeah, yeah...” I got out of the chair, stretching my arms high above my head, and walked over to the refrigerator. We were out of Ale8s. Damn. I hoped Louise would remember to get some when she went to get the cake stuff.

“So... what’re you getting from Louise for your birthday?”

I looked back at him from the refrigerator. “Nothin’.”

“Nothing?!”

“Nope. We don’t exchange birthday gifts. Well, she makes my cake, that’s it.”

“Why not?”

I shrugged. “Well, I don’t know. It just seems unnecessary. We live together, so anything that one of us needs or wants, we get it then... does that make sense? Plus, Christmas is so close, and we do exchange gifts for Christmas.”

He nodded, seeming to understand. “Oh, OK.”

I turned back to the fridge, settling on some tea. “You want anything to drink?”

“Yeah, gimme whatever you’re having.”

“Alrighty.”

I took out two glasses, filling them with the cold drink. I walked over to the counter of the bar, sliding his glass across the top towards him. He caught it just before it slid off the edge and into the floor, raising his eyebrows at me. I chuckled. “Good catch.”

I sat back into my high-back chair, looking over the papers that lay scattered all across the top. Studying sucked.  Nevertheless, I immersed myself back into my work.

“Al?” Taylor’s question broke my concentration. I glanced over at him, he was fidgeting with the hem of his shirt. A pondering look graced his fine features. I sighed, gathering up the papers and putting them back into a folder. He had that look on his face.

“Don’t call me that. It makes me sound like a middle-aged old drunk who hangs out at the pool room,” I said, referring to the “Al” nickname. He’d taken to calling me that lately, much to my chagrin. He thought it was funny. “What do you want to talk about?”

“How did you know I wanted to talk?” He was genuinely surprised. Didn’t he know that I could read him like a book?

“I know these things.” I swiveled the stool to face him. “What’s on your mind?”

“I want to show you something.”

Show me something?

“Uh, OK....” I allowed him to take hold of my arm and lead me out of the kitchen. We headed upstairs.

“Where are you taking me? This is my house, I don’t think there’s anything here I haven’t seen before, darlin’....”

“Here.” He walked us into the bathroom and gently pulled me next to him and we faced the mirror. “Look.”

I looked in the mirror. Um, OK.

“Yeah?”

“Do you see it?”

“See it?”  I hadn’t washed my hair in a while. Hmmm. Maybe that’s what he was trying to get me to notice.

“I was going to take a shower later, I swear....

He scrunched his nose at me. “No, dum dum....”

“Well what are you talking about?!?!?”

“Just tell me exactly what you see in the mirror! It’s not that hard!”

I turned to the mirror and stared at our reflections. “I see two blond teenagers. And one’s a natural blond, I might add.” I smirked at him.

He gave me a withering look. “I’ll ignore that.” He cleared his throat. “OK, that’s exactly my point.”

“What is?”

He smacked his forehead with the palm of his hand. “JESUS H. CHRIST!”

“Don’t ‘Jesus H. Christ’ me! You’re the one not making sense here!”

“There are TWO of us in the mirror, when there should only be ONE, and that ONE is YOU.”

I stopped, pondering this statement in silence. Well, I’ll be damned.

“Your reflection!!!!”

He clapped his hands loudly with bravado. “Tell her what she wins, Bob!!!!!!”

“Shut up.” I turned my body sideways to face him, and then looked in the mirror again. I reached up and felt of his hair.

“How odd,” I murmured, examining the silken strands. I wasn’t the only one who needed a shower today. “It’s like....”

“Like what?”

“Almost like, you’re becoming.... more.....” I paused, trying to find the right word. “Real?”

“Real?”

“Yeah... normal, real, everyday....”

“So.... am I waking up?” He grabbed my arm. “Is that why it’s happening?”

“Well, I hope that’s the reason why,” I said quietly. His eyes widened and I regretted saying it. True or not, I knew neither one of us wanted to consider that other possibility.

“Yeah... me too,” he said thinly.

We both stood there silently. I wrung my hands nervously, cursing my own stupidity. He avoided my gaze, choosing instead to examine our fabulous bathroom floor tiles.

“So... uh.... how about we....” I wracked my brain for something to say. Anything. “....get something to eat?”

“You just ate,” he pointed out, but a smile began to curl around his slim lips. True. “All you ever think about is food!”

“Well, yeah.” I couldn’t argue with that. “Well.... let’s play a game then.”

“A game?” He rolled his eyes. “How old are you going to be, again?”

“Come on! It’ll be fun.”

I grabbed his arm and dragged him back downstairs. I walked over to the closet, flinging the door open. It smelled of moth balls and dust. Whew. Hadn’t been in here for a while. Lowering my body onto my knees, I dug around in the mess until I came up with a well-worn box of Monopoly.

“Let the suffering begin,” I announced, tossing the box down on the floor in front of him. “Prepare to get plastered, my friend.”

“Whatever.” He eyed me evilly. “It’s a good thing you’re hungry, ‘cause you’ll be eating those words soon.”

I barked out a loud laugh. “That was lame, Taylor. So lame.”

He scowled at me. “Shut up and let’s play.”

Twenty minutes later, he grew tired of playing and demanded we quit. Coincidentally enough, this occurred after he rolled a “6” on the dice and ended up on my Boardwalk that was littered with hotels.

“OK, this is boring. Let’s do something else,” he announced upon rolling the dice. He quickly scooped up all the game pieces and tossed them back into the box before I could stop him.

“What are you doing?!?! You owe me $2,540!” I exclaimed, laughing. “Sore loser. I told you that you’d get plastered.”

He looked miffed. “No, I’m just tired of playing, that’s all.”

“If you say so...” I folded up the board and placed it back in the box. I wasn’t too upset. The game had served its purpose -- getting Taylor’s mind off of his current, and ever-changing, condition.

“I wonder when Lou is getting home,” I thought aloud. “I might have to fix supper if she gets home late.”

“Oh, God, no,” Taylor moaned dramatically. I promptly kicked him in the shin. “Ouch! What was that for?” He rubbed his shin and pouted at me. “What was she doing, again?”

“Going to a study thing... which actually I don’t think was supposed to last very long. Then going to the grocery.” I grimaced at the last word. Grocery. Bag boys. Jay. UGH.

“You alright?”

“Yeah.... I just hope Jay doesn’t harass her or anything while she’s in there, if he’s working tonight.”

“You still hung up on him?!” Taylor demanded, his eyebrows dipping down towards his nose.

“NO,” I emphasized. “No, no, NO. I hope I never have to see him again. I hope he dies and rots in hell. I hope he--”

“OK, OK, I get it,” he interrupted me. “But he obviously still has some kind of effect on you.”

“It’s not really that.... it’s just.... God, I would love to get even with him... sweet revenge, you know? I feel like he really got the best of me.” I picked absentmindedly at the carpet. “I mean, he used me. He’s going to pass biology because of what he did. It just kills me.”

“Maybe he’ll do badly on the next test and won’t pass.”

“He would have to outrageously fail the final not to pass. Thanks to the two A’s he copped off of me... I mean, it would take an absolute complete failure. And he’s not that dumb. He could probably at least pull off a D.”

“Mmm,” Taylor murmured, nibbling delicately on the tip of his finger.

“I just wish I could make him feel as shitty as he made me feel.”

“Maybe you can,” he said. I looked up from the carpet.

“Why, do you have something in mind?”

His mouth slowly curled into a grin, and he beckoned me closer. “Y’know, I’ve been thinking.... and I think I’ve got a pretty good plan.”