WHEN SHE GETS TO THE SEATS IN THE CAFETERIA, with a six-inch sub on her tray, right as she sits down, the lights go out.
Now everyone stands up, and looks around.
A light arrives, like the flash of a musket from the cafeteria entrance. It’s a sparkler. The fizzing light also reveals a circle of familiar faces, with their own brand of smiles, tightening round her table, singing lyrics to a tune that we all have burned into our brains. Those who listen listen for one line particularly—the only one that changes each new time, and gives the important information.
Happy birthday, dear Neri. Happy birthday to you.
The cake appears on the table, Neri’s cleavage directly lit up by the sparkler—the only visible light in the whole cafeteria—but she doesn’t seem to notice, or care.
After being egged-on by the cake bearers, Neri leans forward, her purple-lipstick appearing in the sphere of light, lips forming a circle, and in one single breath kills the candlelight, revealing that all-important Birthday Fate ultimatum: no boyfriends for one year.
The conspiracy ends, and whoever worked the inside job on the lights turns them back on before anyone gets in trouble.
The cafeteria (mostly) applauds. The remaining ten percent don’t want to encourage this flash-mob mentality—the possibility that hijinks like this might interrupt their day again sometime in the future—though maybe they’re just a little jealous knowing their friends probably wouldn’t do a birthday surprise like this for them.
On the sliced birthday cake, quickly divided between the most prominent conspirators, sits a melting number twenty-six, and above it the smile of the person who hadn’t smiled all week but is reminded, all in under a minute, why she is here—because of a handful of slightly mischievous people whom she happens to call friends.