September 8
9:30 a.m.

“I was wondering…” Kate asks, as we’re going over the calendar together.

“What are you up to now?” I so know she’s up to something.

“It’s Mark’s birthday. It will also be his first staff meeting after vacation and I’d like to do something special for him at staff meeting.”

“And…?”

“I’ll bake him a cake…a chocolate cake with chocolate cream frosting—the works.”

“Yummy. That sounds soooo good.”

“A sponge cake.” She’s adding more details, but her lips are suppressing a laugh that has been trying to escape.

As for me, I don’t really care what type of cake as long as it has chocolate in it.

“Chocolate cake?”

“Yes. First, you buy a sponge.”

“A sponge? What do you mean a sponge?”

“It’s like those large sponges you get at the home store…you know, the ones you use to wash your cars?”

“But what for?”

“To make the cake, of course. I’ll buy four sponges and attach them together with frosting. Two side-by-side, and two on the top of them. Kind of like a layer cake. Then, I’ll frost the entire cake, decorate it very nicely, and write ‘Happy Birthday’ on it.” Kate is giggling through the entire description.

“Whaaaat? This is awesome. I’m in.”

“Maybe we could add those trick birthday candles on them. He’ll try to blow them out. They won’t go off, and he’ll think that’s the joke.”

“Great idea. He’ll be expecting us to play some sort of trick on him!” Kate’s delighted at my enthusiasm. Hey, anything to break up the boredom at the office.

_____

September 9
7:15 a.m.

Gwen has never seen me this enthusiastic to get to work.

“What’s the rush?”

“Staff meeting. Don’t want to miss it.”

“Are you feeling okay?”

“Yes. We’re celebrating Mark’s birthday and I can’t be late.”

“You had me worried for a second. Have fun.”

And, of course, Tav is back.

______

8:40 a.m.

Kate’s bustling in the kitchen and she has created the most amazing “sponge” cake.

“Like it?”

“Kate, that is absolutely incredible. It looks like the real thing. No one will guess.”

“I got the bakery down the street to decorate it for me!”

“What are you both up to?” Pete wants to know.

“If you come to staff meeting, you’ll find out.”

“I don’t have time for staff meetings. It’ll put me hours behind my work…” And he has left, mumbling about what a waste of time meetings are. No one dares to force Pete for the meetings!

I agree, Pete. I wish I could do the same…most days, except today!

_________

9:40 a.m.

“Everyone able to make staff meeting today?” Mark wants to know. He’s back. Loving being back. And enthusiastic about a staff meeting. Someone needs a life.

“Yes! I think so.”

Tav is also back…that’s where I just lost my train of thought.

_______

9:50 a.m.

“Okay, I’ll tell him there’s someone who wants to see him in my office. Or something.” Kate’s trying to decide the best way to get Mark out of his office.

“I’ll get the cake and make sure everyone is ready.”

The plan is set in motion. I find baptism certificates that need his signature. I buzz Mark.

“Mark. Sorry to bother you, but I need your help.”

So I’m trying to keep from laughing, and it ends up sounding like a huge sob.

Mark rushes into my office.

“Natalie, is there a problem. Are you okay?”

“Oh yes. Thanks. I just needed you to sign these certificates. Will’s parents are stopping by in half-hour to pick them up.”

Mark’s probably biting his tongue and not asking why I hadn’t put them in his box like I usually do. I think he’s still feeling responsible for having landed us with the Walkers so is not saying anything…being extra caring.

“Ready for staff?” He’s finished signing all the certificates. I’m praying that Kate and all were ready.

“Yes. I think so.”

_______

10:00 a.m.

“Surprise!” Everyone yells…pretty loudly as we enter Mark’s office.

Mark goes white. I hope the shock isn’t going to kill him.

“Happy Birthday to you,” Kate is singing, holding a beautiful chocolate cake glowing with lit candles.

“Surprise!” Tav nodded at Mark. “You thought we’d forgotten your birthday.” Mental note: Faith is sitting right next to Tav.

We all join Kate in singing “Happy Birthday,” and Brad, a wannabe drummer, extends it into the Beatles’ birthday song. Tav hands Mark his birthday card with a Coffee Coffee gift card in it. Mark’s favorite stop before Sunday morning worship. He said it helped give him that power boost he needed!

We’re watching as Kate carefully places the stunning work of art on the table in front of Mark.

“Tav, Tav, isn’t that absolutely beautiful?”

“Tav, Tav?” Brad is in guffaws. “Faith, that is way lame.”

Faith shakes her head, and curls go bobbing everywhere. “Brad, you need Jesus’ help…” Tav’s jaw clenches a bit. Is he upset at Faith or Brad? Ladies and Gentleman, will Faith punch Brad or not? Stay tuned for another episode from “As the Church Turns…”

“Happy Birthday, Mark!” Kate’s trying to break the sudden tension in the room. Thanks, Faith. Why couldn’t you stay away from this staff meeting?

“You guys shouldn’t have!” Mark’s ready to blow the candles out. “That’s a beautiful cake. Where did you buy it?”

“Oh, I made it,” Kate is saying very humbly.

“You did? Wow! It must have taken several hours.”

“I made it from scratch,” Kate adds. She’s a natural actress and is really enjoying herself. “I wanted to do something very special for you.”

“One of Kate’s many talents. Don’t forget to make a wish when you blow out the candles.” I push the cake closer to him.

“Here goes.”

By the third try, he figured out that they were a trick.

“I should have guessed,” Mark is holding his stomach, laughing.

“It was Natalie’s idea,” Kate’s handing him a bowl of water to put the trick candles in.

“That’s what the bowl of water under the table was. I couldn’t figure out why it was there. I was afraid that someone…never mind what I was thinking.”

The bowl had looked strange under the table, but I was trying to hide it when I heard Mark’s voice in Kate’s office so had quickly put it under the coffee table. It would have looked really strange if he had walked in and seen me in his office holding a bowl of water.

“Can’t wait to dig into this,” Mark picks up the knife and goes to cut it. The cake folds inwards under the pressure of his trying to cut it.

He tries again.

Won’t cut.

Tries once more.

Nothing.

“Oh no!” Kate is giving her distressed-me impression, “I must have left it too long in the oven.”

Trying his best to make Kate feel better, Mark tries to saw into the cake. It wouldn’t give. No matter what he does, the cake won’t cut. Like a life of its own, it just springs back again.

“Maybe it needs a little more force,” Brad suggests.

“Here, let me help. I’m usually the designated cake-cutter and server in our women’s group. They say I have a natural gift of hospitality.” Faith kneels by the coffee table, throwing a coy glance at Tav.

There is a God. Faith is going to cut the cake. I’m trying not to enjoy this moment too much. My mom always likes to remind us, “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice…” And then adds, “Else it may show on our faces!”

The cake won’t cut. Faith starts to saw it. She’s now standing up and using all her force to cut it.

By this time, Kate’s laughing so hard that tears are streaming down her face. Everyone thinks she’s crying.

“Faith, you’re never going to be able to cut…” I can’t control my laughter any more. Faith’s determined to prove me wrong.

“Oh yes, I am…” She’s red with the effort, but won’t give up.

“Faith, that’s a sponge cake…” Kate’s gasping.

“You must have put too much baking soda in it…”

“No Faith, I made it out of cleaning sponges. It won’t cut. And even if it did, you really can’t eat it.”

Faith’s plain confused and flustered.

That’s when it dawns on everyone that this is a huge prank and they burst out laughing, too. Kate and I never expected Faith to take over the cake cutting ceremony. Faith’s completely red in the face. A glare in my direction. I sense that somehow I’m going to pay for her embarrassment.

“Nice one, Kate.” Tav’s enjoying the joke.

“I ought to fire the bunch of you!” Mark’s almost rolling on the floor. He suddenly scoops up a handful of icing off of the cake and, before she can get away, smears it on Kate’s face. Not wanting to be left out, Brad joins in, and pretty soon the whole staff (except Faith) is having a cake fight.

Tav’s trying to catch me, but I grab a huge scoop of cream, cover his face with it, and run out the door to find a place to hide from him.

Except that he doesn’t give up and he finds me hiding in my supplies’ closet. He’s approaching me with a dangerous glint in his eyes.

_______

11:45 a.m.

“So…” Kate’s leaning over my desk. “Tav looked very happy when you both came back to the meeting.”

“Really? Never noticed.”

“So…anything to tell Mama Kate.”

No. Absolutely not.

“Not really.”

“You both seemed pretty distracted to me.”

“Natalie, here’s the music for Sunday. And don’t forget to get me my Bible study notes…if you can keep your attention focused on your job…not your boss.” Faith slams some papers on my desk and stomps out of my office.

“Hmmm…methinks someone else has noticed your lack of attention at staff meeting. So…”

So Tav’s now in my office too and he’s smiling at me.

Kate winks.

Now I’m embarrassed and in danger of acting hostile to cover my awkwardness.

11:55 pm.

I can’t sleep.

And am thinking over the events of the day.

This has been one of our most fun staff days together. And that’s all I’m letting myself think about.

Except, there’s Tav…but do I wanna know?