Cupcakes And Muffins: A Short Story
“Billy is my best friend in the whole wide world. Today is his birthday!”
Mrs. Carmichael smiles. “I know, sweetie.” She waves me into the classroom.
I’m so excited I nearly dance to my cubby. Birthdays mean parties, parties mean cupcakes, cupcakes mean frosting, and sometimes even sprinkles or those sugar candies on top. I hang up my coat and make sure to put my gloves in my pockets, so I don’t lose them. I take Billy’s card out of the big pocket of my backpack. The corner is bent so I kneel down and flatten it on my legs. He won’t mind if it’s not perfect.
My desk is the first one in the third row, right next to Billy’s. He’s not here yet, so I put the card on his desk to surprise him. “Happy birthday,” I wrote on the front. I drew the best cake I’ve ever drawn right next to it. On the inside, I wrote “You are my best friend,” and drew a picture of him and me holding hands on the playground. I even signed it in cursive!
While everyone makes their way in and stops at their cubbies, I wait for Billy, but he doesn’t show up. The bell rings at eight o’clock and the morning announcements come over the loudspeaker: “Tomorrow there will be a school-wide assembly, so don’t forget to wear your spirit colors. Today’s hot lunch is spaghetti with marinara sauce, an apple, a churro, and your choice of milk or chocolate milk. Band sign-ups are this afternoon, so don’t forget to bring your permission slips to the band room by three fifteen. Have a happy Grandview day.”
Billy’s seat is still empty. We all stand up to say the pledge. Instead of looking at the flag I watch the door with my hand over my heart. He’s still not here when we sit down. He has to come in today. It’s his birthday. And he has to bring in cupcakes. I can almost taste the chocolate frosting on my tongue.
“Ellie?” Mrs. Carmichael asks.
The whole class is looking at me.
“What?” I ask.
Some girls in the back giggle at me.
“You’re supposed to say ‘here’,” Mrs. Carmichael says, frustrated. She calls for Suzie.
“Here!” Suzie calls.
When attendance is done, Billy walks in and puts his stuff at his cubby. His mom follows, carrying a tray full of cupcakes. Yes! Billy sits down next to me and picks up the card.
“Hi, Ellie,” he says and smiles. “Thanks.”
“Happy birthday,” I say just loud enough for him to hear me.
Mrs. Carmichael puts the cupcakes on the back table where we do arts and crafts. That’s where she always keeps them. There are vanilla and chocolate frosted yellow cupcakes, with round, blue sprinkles on them. Billy’s favorite color is blue. It’s mine, too.
We have our morning quiz question, practice cursive writing, then have circle time. I can see the cupcakes from my spot. Everyone takes turns reading a paragraph from the book before passing it onto the next person. Billy and I make funny faces at each other across the circle when we think no one is looking.
It’s ten oh five. I keep swallowing because all I can think about are the cupcakes. If there are extras, I’ll take one to recess to share it with Jane. We can meet at the big rock and eat behind it so that no one will see. We’ll make sure we don’t have frosting on our faces, so we don’t get caught. We did that the last time there was a birthday in her class. No one even knew there was a cupcake missing.
I take my turn to read at ten twenty-five and only mess up a couple of words. When Mrs. Carmichael ends reading circle, I’m the first one back to my desk. It’s ten thirty exactly. I can already feel my teeth biting into the soft, spongy side of a cupcake. Billy sits down next to me.
“The cupcakes look really good,” I tell Billy.
“They are,” he says. “My mom let me eat one last night.”
“Did your mom make them?” I ask.
Good. Homemade cupcakes are always the best.
I stand in line behind Becca, waiting my turn to get my snack at the back table. Everyone moves so slowly. I want to scream. What if there aren’t enough cupcakes, and they’re gone by the time I get there? Mrs. Carmichael pours something that looks like cereal into paper cups and gives them to us one by one. She hands me mine. In the cup is trail mix with peanuts, raisins, and M&M’s.
“But what about the cupcakes?” I ask. They’re still on the table, untouched.
“We’ll have those after recess. All classrooms are waiting until after lunch and recess for birthday parties now.” She pours more trail mix until everyone has a cup.
I eat at my desk, alone. I pick out all of the colorful M&M’s. There are only four of them: one yellow and three blues. I eat them one at a time, sucking the candy coating off. The chocolate softens and dissolves on my tongue. I bring my cup to the trash and throw out the peanuts and raisins. I don’t like how they get stuck in my teeth.
When I have lunch, I eat my pasta fast. The red sauce hurts my throat, so I save the chocolate milk for last. I eat both mine and Becca’s churros. They’re sticky and hard. They don’t taste as good as cupcakes.
It’s warm and sunny outside, but I can’t wait for recess to be done. I sit on top of the rock to watch my lion cubs play, even though I don’t feel like playing.
“Rawr,” Jane says. “Mom, I want to learn how to hunt.”
“Rawr. Your sister will show you.” I lick my paw and rub my cheek. My gloves taste like laundry detergent and fuzz. The wind feels cool and dries my check until it no longer feels wet, just crusty.
“We’re not going to hunt,” Becca says.
Jane yells at her for not roaring and asks her why.
“Rawr. Because I’m on a diet.” Becca pats her tummy. “That’s why I didn’t eat my churro. I’m not even going to eat Billy’s cupcakes.”
“Why?” Billy asks. He crouches next to the rock. He always plays the lion dad.
“Because I’m fat, so I’m going on a diet.”
“What do you do with a diet?” I ask.
Becca tells us that her mom is on one, and what to do. “It’s so you stay skinny,” she says.
I touch my own tummy. I want to ask her if I should go on a diet. If I’m fat, too.
Jane cuts me off. “Can Ellie give me your cupcake, then?”
After recess I work on my addition worksheet, counting my fingers as I go along. When the class finishes every problem we get to have the birthday party. I’m the fourth one done, so I sit at my desk and work on my math homework for the night so that I will have more time to watch TV before bedtime. Next to my name, I draw a picture of a cupcake, with frosting and a cherry on top. I can’t wait any longer.
Suzie is the last one done. She brings her sheet up to Mrs. Carmichael’s desk and gets to be first in line, because she didn’t rush through her problems to get dessert. I get in line behind Billy, who I let cut because it’s his birthday. When Mrs. Carmichael hands me a cupcake, I get chocolate frosting on my fingers. She gives me a napkin, and I go sit down at my desk to enjoy every single bite.
Becca is sitting at her desk writing in her notebook, her cupcake sits in the corner, untouched. She doesn’t even look at it. I lick the chocolate frosting off of my fingers. It is thicker in some spots than others. I push it to the corner of my desk and get out my math homework again. I’ll give my cupcake to Jane when we get on the bus.
Billy sits down. He’s already taken a bite out of his cupcake. He has chocolate frosting on his nose and his chin.
“Aren’t you going to eat yours?” he asks with cupcake in his mouth.
“I’m going to wait.” I don’t look up from my homework. If I do, I know I’ll eat the cupcake.
Billy doesn’t talk to me for the rest of the day. Before we leave the classroom to go to the buses, I give him my cupcake.
“I want you to have it,” I say, hoping he’s not mad at me. “Since today is your day.”
We walk down the hall together towards the busses. He takes the cupcake without saying anything and eats it. He smiles at me before getting on his bus. He has chocolate frosting on his lips and his teeth. I think about kissing him and tasting the chocolate frosting. Gross.
Mom is making steak tips for dinner, with broccoli and mashed potatoes. The kitchen smells like garlic when I come downstairs after homework to eat. “You almost ready, muffin?” she asks, taking the bowl of broccoli out of the microwave. It smells like socks.
I cut my steak tips into big pieces. I keep chewing and chewing, thinking about the cupcake I could have eaten earlier. The cupcakes I should have eaten earlier. In order to finish the steak pieces, which are getting cold, I wipe my mouth with the napkin and spit the wet piece of meat out. I can feel the warmth when I squeeze the napkin in my hand, hiding it from Mommy and Daddy.
When Daddy finishes his third plate, he rinses it off in the sink and goes to the living room to watch TV. Not long after, Mom is done, too. I wait until they are talking, and I get up and put my plate and knife and fork into the sink. I throw away the napkin full of meat into the trash and cover it with a handful of napkins. I join Mommy and Daddy in the living room and wait for Daddy to suggest dessert—it never takes long.
“How about some ice cream?” Daddy asks.
I shake my head. “I don’t want any,” I lie. I can’t have any if I don’t want to get fat.
“And why not?” Mommy asks. “Do you feel okay?”
“Because I’m on a diet.”
She laughs at me.
My face gets warm, and I think I’m going to cry.
“Do you even know what a diet is?” she asks.
“Yes,” I say. “I learned today. And I’m on one now.”
“Muffin,” she says. She’s not laughing anymore. “What is a diet, then?”
“Don’t call me muffin,” I say. “And a diet is when you don’t eat so you don’t get fat.”