"Oh God. Paul. You're never gonna believe what we forgot."
Paul sighed and smiled grimly from his place at the kitchen counter, pausing his whisk. "Do I want to know?"
Amy lowered her forehead to the table. "A gift, Paul. We forgot to buy anything for Bobby's birthday."
"Oh no," Paul laughed, picking up the whisk again, "my gift is this cake. Bobby's never had anything in his life that didn't come from a Betty Crocker box. His whole world is about to change. That's my gift to him. You, sweetheart, are on your own."
Amy picked her head up, eyes wide as dinner plates. "Paul. You can't be serious. I am the worst at picking out gifts."
"I've gotten him overpriced sweaters the last two years."
"If you send me out shopping again I'm going to come back with painfully-expensive-sweater number three."
"Paul," Amy scurried to him, "it's his 33rd birthday. Please. It needs to be special."
Paul just smirked. "Listen, I'm not the compulsive sweater-purchaser here. I'm sure you can find him something great if you try." He spooned cake batter into the pan, watching the orange carrot-cake batter fall into graceful ribbons.
"No, Paul, please, I am begging you - seriously, I will do anything you want, please just go," Amy worked the spatula out of Paul's hand and took over the spot at the cake-mixing station before he could argue, "go and buy him something and I will stay here and finish this cake."
Paul quirked an eyebrow.
"No, trust me, I can do this!"
His other eyebrow followed.
Amy pattered, frantic now. "Before you ask, yes I remember the house fire of 2012 and yes I learned my lesson and yes the smoke detectors have fresh batteries and I know how to bake a cake! Please! Please go get him something good, anything, just please go before he gets here because he's late already and he'll be here any--"
Of course the doorbell rang. Amy froze. Paul sighed, kissed his fiancée's forehead.
"I'll go. But I don't know how you're going to finish that cake while--"
"I'll figure it out just go go go! Thank you," she kissed his cheek, "I love you so much, please go, I'll see you soon go out the back door oh god he's ringing the bell again oh god please just go!"
Amy threw the pan into the oven and pressed the timer buttons with shaking fingers, while Paul snuck out the back door. Amy scampered to the front to answer the insistent ringing.
"Amy," Bobby smiled, that smile, warm and charismatic as ever. "I'm so glad to see you." He enfolded her into a hug. Amy caught her breath.
"Happy birthday, Bobby," she pulled him close, suddenly extra appreciative of the way a touch from her best friend could pull her out of mania and into calm waters. "So you're 33," she laughed, grabbing his hand and guiding him inside the apartment, "you're so old now!"
"Oh, please, if I'm old, you're a spinster." He put on a voice Amy recognized, a terrible, sweet-old-lady imitation of Amy's very Catholic grandmother. "30 years old and still no husband, Amelia? Are you planning to join the convent?"
She cackled at their old, familiar gimmick. "Not yet, Grandma - besides, convents are only for lesbians."
Bobby faux-gasped. "Amelia, I cannot believe you, bringing that kind of language into our home! You'd better say your rosary twice tonight before you go to bed!" He patted her knee firmly.
"Oh, sure thing, Grandma - I'll do that right after I'm done committing countless sins with my Jewish fiancé and my other boyfriend," she waggled her eyebrows.
Bobby slipped back into his own deep voice, winking at Amy. "Oh really? Just what kind of sins have you been planning to commit tonight, Amelia?"
"None of your business," she stuck out her tongue. Surreptitiously, she glanced at the clock on the wall - there was less than an hour before they needed to leave for the concert, and in that time she needed to finish baking the cake, letting it cool, frosting it, and giving Bobby his present - as long as Paul got back in time...
"It feels like my business," Bobby pushed on, starting to trace a finger lightly over Amy's palm as he leaned in, "as I'm the third part of this nest of sin. I'd like to know what exactly you had in mind for you, and me, and your fiancé this evening," he said in a low voice. Amy shivered.
Bobby's fingers moved to her thighs, drawing delicate patterns on her tights. He was close now, and he spoke slowly, softly. "It's my birthday, Amy. What do you think I deserve?"
Amy swallowed, already flustered. "You deserve anything you wish for, Bobby." Her voice was strained. "Anything you ask."
This was the response he had been searching for, evidently - his eyes darkened with mischief, and he tipped Amy's head up with one hand. "Good girl," he said, running one thumb over her bottom lip. "That's exactly right, princess."
Amy whimpered, grabbing at Bobby's arm and glancing at the clock again. This seemed to jog his memory. "Where is our handsome boy, anyway?"
She grimaced sheepishly. "Out...buying a present.... that I forgot to get for you?"
Now it was Bobby's turn to laugh. "You don't have to get me anything, you know that."
She scoffed. "Bobby. You've been my best friend for 10 years. I'm not NOT going to get you--"
"Another wool sweater?" he grinned. "Did you even notice I'm wearing the one from last year?"
Amy rolled her eyes. "I noticed! It brings out your eyes. Like chocolate."
"Wrong. My eyes aren't even brown. They're blue."
She slapped his arm.
"Fine, they change color with my mood."
"Hey, careful with all the hitting. You'll give Paul a run for his money," he winked. One more slap.
Amy clucked her tongue disapprovingly. "Your mind is certainly in the gutter today, isn't it? What's gotten into you?"
He began dancing to a beat of his own making. Truly cringeworthy caucasian beatboxing ensued. "Cause it's my biiiiiirthday, and you're my giiiiirlfriend, and you looooove me, and you're gonna fuuuuu-- hey!" She'd muffled his mouth.
"You are so embarrassing."
"What was that?"
"Says the one who's currently burning the cake her fiancé made for me."
Amy leapt from the couch and flew to the kitchen, barely remembering to throw on oven mitts before flinging open the smoke-obscured oven door. "No, no, no!"
She plopped the cake - now more brown than orange, and crisped at the edges - onto the counter and haphazardly covered it with wax paper, waving her hands around the smoke, willing it with all her might not to set off the fire alarms - our father who art in heaven hallowed be thy name she resorted back to old habits - but the alarm started anyway, crescendoing into a wail.
Then the sprinklers came on.
They'd moved all the electronics and books last time, just out of reach of the sprinkler. For once Amy wasn't panicked, just defeated. Her eyes swam with tears. Bobby came to the kitchen, still laughing, and gently coaxed Amy out of the apartment and into the hallway. Several grouchy neighbors were beginning to appear on their own doorsteps, grumbling and finger-wagging. Amy didn't hear any of them, because Bobby had pressed her into another hug.
"Amy, it's okay."
"It really is."
"It's the opposite of okay."
"Amy, listen. This is fun. It's festive. Certainly a more fun 33rd birthday than most."
She snuffled a laugh into his shirt. "Please don't tell your godchildren about this one."
"I think I'm legally obligated to tell them this story every year, actually."
Just then, Paul appeared at the end of the hallway, tall and heroic as ever, carrying a big silver box wrapped in an obscenely well-tied bow. As he walked down the hall, he apologized to the neighbors "for whatever is happening right now" and quickened his pace as he neared his two loves.
"So how, uh....how did the cake go?"
Amy made an inhuman noise and gesticulated wildly.
Bobby pulled Paul in to hug Amy, too, and then the three of them were standing in the hallway, holding each other, plus two smoky oven mitts, and one newly-purchased third expensive sweater wrapped in a beautiful box.
And then something happened. Inexplicable peace settled over all three of them - a sudden, overwhelming sense that everything was right, only because the three of them were there together. Amy stopped hyperventilating. Paul wrapped Amy and Bobby in closer, chuckling quietly. Even if he'd had a real cake and candles to blow out, Bobby knew he couldn't possibly have wished for a better 33rd birthday than the one he was having, here, with his best friends in the world. Silently, looking up to the sprinklers in the hallway ceiling, his mind uttered a wish: that every birthday from then on would be exactly like this.