She sat down again and I leaned over and whispered to her, “You look beautiful,” and she blushed and smiled and pushed me away with her shoulder.
“Zay, you got me something?”
After what she’d just opened, I had hoped she wouldn’t remember. “Not…really. It’s bad.”
She laughed. “I’m sure it’s terrible. Gimme.”
“As long as you’re sure,” I mumbled, but handed it over.
Carefully she untied the twine and removed the old t–shirt dad had rolled the bag in. She grabbed the strap and held it up. It was purple with yellow trim, her name sewn into the side in letters that looked like I had given the needle to a gopher.
I jumped, and she flung her hand to her mouth and said, “Sorry,” but when she put her hand back down, she was beaming. She examined the bag from every angle: the barely legible name on the side; the knots where I couldn’t undo the twists in the string; the bulky seam where the strap was sewn on; the random bulges from my utter inability to hold a proper tension. She wouldn’t stop grinning.
“It’s perfect,” she said, and finally looked at me. She was almost crying. “The whole thing. It’s just. It’s perfect. Thank you.”
I let myself smile. She hung it across her shoulders.
“Okay, well, cake time now,” Mom said, and we all turned toward the dessert.
My father, who, for some reason, had been left to his own devices at the far end of the table, had a finger in his mouth. A few crumbs, the remnants of a missing piece, were scattered on his empty plate.
“Tavish Scot!” my mother screamed, punching him in the arm.
“Hey, hey, now,” he said, licking the rest of his fingers clean. “I’m not the one who left me down here with a cake.”
“You are a grown man,” my mother chided.
“Cake!” he insisted.
“All you had to do was not eat it! For five minutes!”
“Woman, I don’t think you heard me,” he said, cutting himself another slice. “I said cake!”
She rolled her eyes and twisted her mouth to hide a laugh and hit him in the arm again.
“Ava,” he said, “you hit me in the arm one more time and I’mma have to eat your piece of cake. In front of you. While you watch.”
He had just finished putting his second piece of cake on a plate when she grabbed it from him. “Tav, I would love to see you try.”
Eventually, everyone was given a piece (my father, three) and sang Happy Birthday too loudly to Hope before the rest of us ate.
After cake, we danced.