I'm not an early riser, but that dawn found me seated at the coffee table at five a.m.

The cake came into visibility slowly, frosting around the middle, the 2 and 8 candles sinking slowly into the middle. And, of course, the letters, all thirteen of them. H-A-P-P-Y B-I-R-T-H-D-A-Y.

If Arthur hadn't left, on a cold morning just like that one, only three months earlier...

If he hadn't, I wouldn't be doing this alone. He's light the candles, and I'd blow them out, and I'd cut the cake and he'd offer me the first piece and we'd kiss, both our mouths lined with icing, and he'd whisper 'Happy birthday' and 'I love you' in my ear.

But Arthur had left on the stupid business trip. And the fucking loose chandelier fell on him. And the people in the hotel called me and went, "We're sorry your husband's dead we're willing to pay if you don't sue."

Money. Obviously that's all anybody else cared about. Like that money was going up to heaven to bring him back here or something.

In the whole world, the one person who would even care that I just completed twenty-eight fucking years of my life was gone.

I had no tokens of him either, except all the gifts he'd given me and his old shirts. The house we'd bought a year ago, after being married five months, which he'd loved so much? Sold by the agent who was taking care of my affairs while I was lying paralyzed in my room. The agent was actually nice, I suppose- he bought me this nice little apartment in a building his friend owned. It was probably him who convinced my boss to let me keep my job after three weeks of absence without notice.

What he couldn't do anything about was the fact that I didn't care anymore.

Something slid under the door, catching the corner of my eye as I sat in front of the cake. I rose, my joints cracking, and picked up the envelope. Inside was a fancy greeting card, and for a moment I wondered who on earth had remembered my birthday. Then I turned it over.

You are invited to the bi-annual Woodstock family reunion, Alicia Martin! Don't miss the fun. Be at Woodstock mansion by noon on Sunday, May 21st!

Can't wait to see you, Al. Love, AuntieLiv.

My name and the little note at the bottom were scrawled in green marker that smelled faintly good- Auntie Liv's trademark. She did this every two years. Well, that certainly made more sense that someone actually remembering my birthday.

Auntie Liv was my father's sister. She did this family reunion thing every two years. Usually I liked going, because I'd see her and Uncle Ed, and sweet young Ebony. But I wasn't really in the mood this year, to put it mildly.

However, Auntie would never hear of me spending reunion week in my apartment all alone, so it couldn't be helped. As usual, her timing was perfect. The boss had just given us two weeks off. Sunday was in two days. Some part of my brain made a mental note to do my laundry and start packing.

Then I happened to glance over at the waiting cake. I walked back and sat it front of it. H-A-P-P-Y B-I-R-T-H-D-A-Y, it blared.

N-O-B-O-D-Y C-A-R-E-S, I wanted to tell it. L-I-T-E-R-A-L-L-Y. Instead I picked up the lighter and lit first the 2, then the 8.

The candles went out on my first blow.

My knife sliced through the chocolate oh-so-smoothly. My hand picked up the piece I'd just cut. My mouth swallowed it and sent that tingly early-morning feeling to my brain.

I snapped out of my trance when a bird called sharply outside, wiped my hands on a tissue, and went to the bathroom to brush my teeth. I found the toothbrush and happened to glance in the mirror.

My eyes wide, lips

still lined