Three cakes sat before us, ablaze with candles as my parents began their off-key renditions of the time-honored song.
“Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday dear Vyolet, Maya and Yve! Happy birthday to you!”
I stifled a snort of amusement as my mom clapped her hands together and waited for us to blow out the flames on our respective cakes.
She went through the same painstaking trouble every year, making us each our own sweet as if we were still thirteen and fighting for our independence.
We would not have cared if we shared one big cake now, after all, there would be no mistaking one triplet for another, not anymore.
But tradition was tradition and mom was nothing if not a conservative traditionalist.
As usual, Vy was the first to jump in, huffing and puffing to take out the rows of candles as if her wish just couldn’t wait a second longer.
At least she maintained the childlike innocence which seemed to have melted off Yve and I like baby fat.
There were so many candles, I had no idea how mom had managed to do it without sinking the perfectly formed pancake.
I always assumed that Betty Crocker was a descendant down the line somewhere.
“Come on, girls!” my dad, Oscar urged. “The wax is dripping everywhere!”
I glanced at Yvette who instinctively gazed at me and we exchanged a private smile.
In unison, we bowed our heads and made a wish.
It seemed unfair that I was granted a wish.
After all, I had everything I could ever want, and I knew it.
The problem was, I had too much.
Far too much.
“What did you wish for?” Vyolet teased, knowing full well that we would never tell. But it was tradition.
Every year Vyolet would ask and every year Yve and I would give her the same response.
“Not telling or it won’t come true!” Yvette and I chorused simultaneously, and everyone laughed.
God, we’re like an episode of Full House, I thought, resisting the desire to roll my emerald eyes heavenward.
Of course, nothing is ever how it appears on the surface.
Behind the scenes, we all had our secrets.
As if reading the dark thought which had inadvertently crept in, my cell phone chimed on the table.
“No!” my mother, Amelia cried, shaking her head vehemently. “No cells today! You promised.”
My sisters nodded in agreement, but I didn’t have to look and see who was texting; I already knew who it was.
He hadn’t stopped since I had arrived two hours earlier.
“No cells,” I agreed, pushing the device aside. It was facedown for a reason.
“Your boyfriends can take a day off,” Amelia continued sourly, and I shot her a warning look.
I didn’t need a lecture on the way I lived my life, not that day.
“I just said I wasn’t answering it,” I replied evenly. “Are we going to cut these with a knife or should I just dig in with my hands?”
“We are not animals, Maya,” Yvette said sternly but I could hear she was mimicking my mom’s tone and I couldn’t resist laughing despite the knot which had formed in my stomach.
I could feel her watching me with her perceptive blue eyes, but I carefully avoided her stare, maintaining the smile on my face.
I didn’t want to ruin our birthday celebration. It was one of the few times we could ensure that everyone was together with Yvette’s demanding work schedule.
“I’ll get knives,” mom said, rising from her patio chair and I stepped away from the table.
“I’ll help you,” I volunteered, following her back into the house.
As I closed the sliding door behind me, mom opened her mouth immediately.
“Maya, I’m worried about you,” she said without preamble and I felt myself tense.
“Mom,” I groaned. “Come on. Can’t you give it a rest for one day?”
Her mouth became a fine line of annoyance.
“I am your mother and I have ever right –”
“To give your unsolicited advice?” I interjected, sighing. “Mom, it’s my birthday. You already ruined my wish by starting with me.”
It was a lie of course. I had wished for something quite different, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to let mom know that her meddling was not welcome.
“Maya, you’re such a beautiful girl with so many talents. I don’t know why you live like a – a – a –”
“How are the knives coming in here?” my dad boomed, stepping inside the kitchen and eyeing us.
He had come to my rescue, knowing that mom had me cornered.
“Got ‘em!” I announced with too much enthusiasm, holding the utensils up in my hand.
I tried to escape but my mother was undeterred by my father’s arrival.
“Maya, you’re not a teenager anymore,” she continued as if dad wasn’t casting her a warning look. “You need to start thinking about your future. You won’t be a young woman forever.”
I felt my jaw lock in place.
She thinks I’m sowing my wild oats or something, I thought bitterly. She just doesn’t understand I refuse to conform to the expectations of society.
It was difficult to explain to my mom that it didn’t matter how old I got, I would always be the same woman I had always been.
Or so I had thought until recently.
But again, that was not something I felt open to discussing with my mother.
Especially when I didn’t know where things were going.
And I didn’t know what was lurking around the corner.
“Oscar, will you please try and talk some sense into your hippie daughter?”
I laughed at the assessment.
One day I was simply going to don a Gypsy skirt and come to dinner topless, unlit joint in hand, sputtering Beatles lyrics.
But my mom was not even slightly amused as she glared at my father for help.
“Amelia, Maya is a grown woman –” he started to say, and my mom scoffed.
“Then isn’t it about time she started acting like one?”
A spark of anger coursed through me, but I willed myself to breathe deeply as per my yoga training.
The anger is hers, not yours. You cannot be touched by her negativity. You are a strong, confident woman who does not succumb to the dark emotions of other people. You’re –
“You’re not even listening!” mom cried, throwing her hands up in frustration. “Are you high?”
Again, my mind fluttered to the mental picture of me in hippie gear and a smirk crossed over my mouth.
Our eyes met, an identical shade of jade and not for the first time I wondered how we could look so much alike and have nothing in common.
“I heard you, mom,” I replied evenly. “I hear you every single time you bring this up. Every single time I see you. You can’t even give it a rest on my birthday. The next time you complain that I don’t come for Sunday dinner, maybe you should ask yourself why.”
I spun to join my sisters outside, desperately trying to keep any ire from filling my body, but it was slowly seeping inside despite my best efforts.
I was going to need to do a spiritual cleansing when I got home.
Home. That is something else I need to think about. Great, thanks a lot mom. I had almost forgotten about all the ugliness before I got here.
My mind wandered darker still as my dad’s voice met my ears.
“Maya…” dad called, and I could hear the dejectedness in his voice.
“Maya!” my mother’s tone was sharp and even though I tried not to, I turned to eye her.
“I gave birth to you. I will never stop worrying about you. I have more life experience than you and I am telling you right now – if you continue this path, something bad is going to happen. Mark my words.”
I froze, my body turning to stone as our gazes locked.
Mother’s intuition or foreshadowing? I couldn’t help but wonder.
Slowly, I broke the stare and shuffled out of the house.
I didn’t want to be the one to admit to her that she was right, that something bad already had happened.
As if on cue, my cell began to ring again.