Today’s story idea comes from Kristi West…the woman behind the inspiration for Scourge (the winner of last week). Here’s her idea…
Frank: 40ish year old father of 3
Setting: His kitchen
Conflict: With his wife out of town, Frank must make his 10 year old daughter’s princess birthday cake. He’s never baked anything in his life.
Frank read the back of the cake box.
It really can’t be that hard, he thought. Why am I so worried about this cake?
He dumped the powdered mix into a bowl. Cracked a couple of eggs. Fished shards of the shell from the powder. Added oil and mixed.
I’m 44 years old. Climbed the corporate ladder. Stayed married to the same woman for 21 years; even through the worst times. Raised 3 daughters. I can make this cake. I can. Come on, Frank. Do this.
All the whirring of the mixer caught the attention of his daughter. Mindie. She scurried into the kitchen.
“Daddy! What are you doing?” she asked. “Are you making my birthday cake?”
“I am,” he answered.
“With pink and purple frosting?”
“What? But I thought you wanted chocolate.”
“That was yesterday, Daddy.”
“Well, I don’t know how to make pink and purple frosting.”
“You just add food coloring to it.” She smiled up at him. “You can do it, Daddy. I know you can!”
I can’t say ‘no’ to that, he thought. She’s had such a rough year.
“I’ll do my best.”
“I know you will, Daddy. But can you do one tiny little thing for me?”
“What’s that, honey?”
“Can you make it into a princess cake?”
“Of course.” He looked at her. “Wait. What do you mean?”
“You know. Make it so that one of my dolls can fit in the middle.”
“Like just put your doll into the cake?”
“Well, that seems easy enough.”
“You wanna see a picture of it?”
“That might be a good idea.”
Mindie pulled a magazine picture out of her pocket, unfolded it and smoothed it on the counter. “Like this.”
Oh no. No way I can make that. With all the frosting and sprinkles and billowing skirts. I can’t do it.
“That’s pretty, Mindie.”
“So, can you do it?”
“I don’t know, Sweetie.”
“Mama could make it. You know. Before she got the way she is.”
“I know. But Mama’s in New Jersey.”
“Why can’t she come home? Just for tomorrow?”
“Honey, she’s sick…”
“But tomorrow’s my tenth birthday. That’s a really big deal.”
“You’re right. It is.” He picked up the picture. “Yeah. I can do this.”
“Thank you, Daddy.” She hugged him. But it was less of an excited hug. More of a needful hug.
How do I tell her that her Mama can’t come home because she’ll spend the whole time shoving needles into her veins?
Frank baked the cake. Just in flat cake pans.
I’ll figure out the sculpting as soon as this thing is cool.
He placed the pans on the counter.
What am thinking? I can’t make this cake.
He sat at the table. Stared out the window.
I have to ask Angie for help.
He found his cell phone and sent a text message.
“I need help,” he typed.
“I’m busy,” Angie typed back.
“I’ll give you $20.”
Angie walked slowly down the steps. Somehow she made her way through the hall and into the kitchen without taking her eyes off her phone.
“Angie, I have no idea what I’m doing,” Frank said.
“Why’d you text me? I was just upstairs.”
“Because I don’t want Mindie to know this isn’t working.”
“You gotta pay me. Promise?”
“Yes.” Frank dug a bill from his pocket. “Here.”
“Thanks,” she said, taking the money.
“So. What do I need to do? This cake has to look like a princess by Mindie’s party tomorrow.”
“You want me to tell you what to do?”
“I’m not calling Holly.” He reached for his money. “Seriously, that isn’t $20 advice.”
“Holly makes wedding cakes, Dad. Call her.”
“She hates me.”
“But she loves Mindie. She’d do it for Mindie.”
I can’t call my own daughter. How pathetic is that. When did I let myself become afraid of her?
“The last time I saw her she told me to never call her.”
Angie looked up at him.
When did Angie get so pretty? Wasn’t she just turning 10? I can’t believe that was seven years ago.
“Stop looking at me like that,” she said.
“Like you wish I was little again.” She looked down at her phone. “Holly’ll be here in half an hour.”
“Yeah, Dad. Really. And she’s bringing all her baking stuff.” She turned away. “You’re welcome.”
“You rock, Ang!”
“Yup. That’s apparent.”
She’s so unhappy. I wish I could take everything back. Why can’t I be the one to hold all the hurt? Why do these girls have to suffer?
Holly came exactly 30 minutes after the text. To the minute. She set up her cake baking tools. Mixed together the flour and sugar and eggs. Poured them into a special cake pan. Slid them into the oven.
All without speaking a single word.
Frank sent Angie a text message.
“She’s not talking.”
“Neither are you,” Angie typed back.
For being such a sullen person, Angie’s almost wise.
“Hey, Holly,” he said, watching his 20 year old daughter packing her blender. “Thanks so much.”
“I didn’t do it for you,” she said, not looking at him. “Mindie deserves to have at least one happy day this year.”
“I know. It’s been a bad year for all of us.”
“Where is Mindie, anyway?”
“You didn’t want to keep her up to see me?”
Ouch. Such a bitter tone.
“She had a long day at school. Her teacher told me she’s been having trouble with the other kids in the class.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Just, you know, the kids make fun of her.”
“For what?” She crossed her arms across her chest. “She’s a cute girl. She’s nice to everybody. What do they make fun of her for?”
“Because of your Mom.”
“Why? Because you had her shipped off?”
“That’s not fair, Holly.” Frank hopped up to sit on the counter. “You know that’s not how it happened.”
“Addiction is a disease, Dad. You can’t just send away someone who has a disease.”
“People with cancer don’t eat cat food. People with cancer don’t beat up their little girls. People with cancer don’t sell their bodies for a rock of cocaine.”
“But at least when she was here I could make sure she was okay,” Holly said, tears in her eyes. “At least then I could take care of her.”
“You shouldn’t have had to do that, Holly.”
The timer buzzed.
“That’s the cake.” Holly went to the oven and took out the pans. “This looks pretty good.”
“Do you have stuff to make frosting?” Frank slid off the counter. “Mindie wants pink and purple.”
“Yeah. I can do that. Do we have a doll to put in the middle?”
“Yes. I got her one for a present. We can use that.”
Frank went to his bedroom. The doll was at the top of his closet. He reached, feeling for the box.
I never had to hide stuff from Holly and Angie. Man, Mindie loves searching for the presents.
He couldn’t feel it.
I swear I put it up here.
He checked behind some of his wife’s old clothes. Bulky sweaters and old jeans. Far too big for her after she started using heroin. His arm knocked them off, onto the floor.
There’s the doll.
He grabbed the oblong box. Behind it was something else. He grabbed it, thinking it was a stash of drugs.
I’m so sick of finding this crap.
It was a small, square box. There was a letter on top. In an envelope. On it, in his wife’s handwriting, was written “Mindie”.
When he got back to the kitchen, Frank handed the doll to Holly. He didn’t say anything about the box.
“I can’t frost this tonight,” Holly said. “You mind if I sleep in my old room and finish this in the morning?”
“Yeah. That would be great.”
The next morning, Mindie wore a new dress that her grandparents sent for her birthday. Angie and Holly made french toast and bacon for breakfast. Holly finished the cake. It was perfectly lovely.
Frank sat on the edge of his bed. Holding the box with Mindie’s name on it.
I should give this to her. But what’s in it? What if it’s something hurtful? It must have been up there this whole time.
He shook the box. Something rattled inside.
Where would she get money for a present? I didn’t let her have anything. Too afraid she’d buy drugs.
“Daddy,” Mindie called from outside his door. “Daddy, come eat with us. Holly even warmed up the syrup. She made coffee for you, too.”
“I’ll be right out, honey.” He stood up. “Oh. Happy Birthday!”
“Thanks! Come one, Daddy.”
Frank slipped the box into his pocket. It was too big and fit awkwardly. He went to the kitchen.
“What’s in your pocket?” Angie asked.
“I found it in my closet.” He pulled it out. “It’s for Mindie. I think it’s from your Mom. But I’m kind of nervous about it.”
“For me?” Mindie asked. “Can I please have it?”
Frank looked at his older daughters. They nodded their heads. He handed the box to Mindie.
She opened the letter first. She read it out loud.
“Dear Mindie. Your Daddy is letting me go somewhere for a little while. I need to get help to get better. It’s going to take a really long time. Does that make you sad? Because it makes me sad. Mostly because I’m going to miss your 10th birthday. So, I wanted to give you a present anyway. I got this from my mom when I turned 10. It’s very special. So, you need to take really good care of it. Remember that I love you, even though sometimes I don’t act like it.”
Mindie opened the box. Inside was a charm bracelet. The chain was tarnished. A few of the charms were broken or missing. Frank’s heart sunk.
I shouldn’t have given her that. She’s going to be so disappointed.
“Daddy,” Mindie said, looking at the bracelet, holding it away from her face.
“Can I call Mama?”
“We can try.”
“I want to tell her thank you.”
“That’s very sweet of you.”
He handed Mindie his phone.
While his youngest daughter talked to her mother, he broke down just a little.
I don’t want this to be their lives.
He felt two sets of thin arms circle around him. Angie and Holly.
“Dad, we’re going to be better because of this someday,” Angie said.
The three of them held on to each other tightly. They listened to Mindie talk to their mom. His wife.
On the counter was the most beautiful pink and purple princess cake.
On the hem of the doll’s frosting dress was a blue, swirling word.