I repeat it on a loop in my head, reminding myself so that I don’t throw the whole thing out just because this sucks.
“Goldie, don’t make a mess,” Mom says, popping her head into the kitchen with a finger pointing at the bowl in front of me.
“Of course not,” I say, my voice devoid of all emotion because if I allow any to seep through, I will scream.
And then I will be grounded. Again.
She narrows her eyes at me, trying to find something to nail me on because she knows me, and she must know it’s in here.
But as long as I keep it inside me, I’m fine. She can’t do shit.
Finally, she leaves me alone in the kitchen again.
Even if she loses her mind and decides to help, I’m not sure Mom will be able to make sense out of this recipe anyway.
I stare at the cramped chicken scratch on the card in front of me pretending to be handwriting.
“Where did she get this?” I mumble to the empty room.
“Probably from the same cursed place she’s going right now,” Jackson says from behind me.
I spin around and grin.
He’s standing in the doorway to the dining room, a coffee in each hand and a box wrapped in mermaid printed paper with a giant pink bow on it tucked under one arm.
Oh, thank you, J.
My thought must show in my face because his smile softens, and he nods his head a fraction.
Everyone should have a friend like him.
“Did you wrap that yourself?” I ask, gesturing to the present under his arm.
He smiles and hands me a coffee before putting the box on the counter, pushing the cake plate to the side to make room for it.
“Are you really going to make this cake yourself? From scratch?” He asks, leaning over to peer at the recipe.
“Is there really another option?” I take a drink of my coffee and close my eyes, reminding myself again, not today.
“You know,” he says, a smugness in his voice that makes me pop my eyes back open, “It would be easier if this was readable.”
“Thanks, hadn’t thought of that.” I roll my eyes. Not exactly groundbreaking, Jackson.
“Well, good thing my mom did.” He pulls a piece of paper out of his back pocket and puts it on the counter in front of me.
On it, is a detailed, easy-to-follow recipe with a note from Mom-Andrea on the bottom that says, “Goldie, call if you need any help.”
“Mom-Andrea is a saint, and I want you to know I will be jealous that you got her as a mom for the rest of eternity,” I say, picking up the piece of paper and double checking I have all the ingredients I need.
“G,” he says, leaning against the counter, and tipping his cup my way in a mock salute, “You got her as a mom by proxy, and I’m pretty sure she likes you better anyway.”
He laughs as I bump his shoulder.
We both know what parts of that statement only partially true, and which parts are a flat out lie just to make me feel better.
But I love them—both he and his mom—for pretending it’s true.
“Okay,” I clap my hands together, “are we going to do this?”
“Yep. Lead the way and I will be your assistant.” He waves a hand and we start the process.
It doesn’t take long to actually make the cake and have it looking pretty and perfect on the cake stand.
Clean up takes longer than making it does.
Once J sets the last spoon back in the drawer, washed and dried and ready to be used for the party, the time is too close.
“Four o’clock,” I say, pulling the plug on the sink and drying my hands. The sound of the water draining makes a loud burble in the background. “We need to go before they get back.”
“Are you sure?” he asks, tossing the drying towel into the washing machine and closing the door of the laundry room on his way back into the kitchen.
I nod and take one last look at the perfect German chocolate cake we made, that I’m not allowed to partake in. Next to it is the mermaid present from J, and a small box from me, wrapped in lined paper with a poem written on it.
And on top of the cake itself, ten candles that they will light when they stand around it and sing for my little sister’s birthday.
“My mom has plans and some of the parents that are coming are important to those plans,” I say, not looking at J. Not wanting to see the look on his face as he realizes why this is happening.
Some of those parents might not approve of me. So, Mom is sending me away for Courtney’s birthday.
I wonder what they will think, as they eat their slice of cake, that the daughter who needs to be hidden is the one that made it for them.