Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Today is my roommate Madison's birthday, so, in keeping with tradition, the rest of us roommates surprised her at midnight last night with cake. Well, with brownies. And it was a miracle that she was actually surprised.

It all started when Madison had a final last night from 7:30-9:30 p.m.

I have her car and am supposed to pick her up when she is done. Halfway through said final, however, I remember that I haven't gotten her the cake yet. But before I can go out and get one, Madison calls and said she is finished. Damn. No time left to buy cake.

My roommates and I decide we'll just bake her some homemade brownies, which I thought was a brilliant idea. Until I get halfway to campus and realize that Madison's killer sense of smell is never going to let us get away with that. But it's our only option.

When Madison and I get back home, she miraculously decides to take a shower. As soon as the door is closed, Brittany and I sprint to kitchen and stir up some brownie mix. It goes in the oven pronto, but there is still over thirty minutes of bake time left when I hear the shower water fizzle out.

And at this point, even I, with my terrible nose, can smell the delicious goodness of baking chocolate batter. It pervades the house.

Madison stays in the bathroom a while, meticulously blow drying her hair. Maybe the heat will mask the smell? Maybe we'll get away with it?

At this point, Valerie comes home from dinner with a friend, bringing a tub of vanilla ice cream, which is quickly shoved behind a bag of frozen stir fry.

We all go back to our studying, on edge now.

I am sitting at the dining room table with Brittany, typing up an evaluation, when Madison's head pops around the corner.

"Do you guys smell something?" she asks. "It smells like chocolate chip cookies or something."

I keep my eyes glued to the computer screen. If I look up, I'll smile and give everything away.

Brittany, always quick on her feet, says, "I'm burning the Christmas Cupcake candle right now."

I weakly chime in. "Yeah, it's really strong. I like this one."

(Background Note: Brittany has these cool candles for each of the Twelve Days of Christmas, and we've been burning one a day for the last week.)

Madison seems content, because she goes back to her hair drying. Brittany and I exchange looks of relief.

I quickly get up and checked the brownies. Five minutes left and still not done. They are going to need to bake longer. I turn off the timer so Madison wont hear it beep.

Then Madison decides that she is done with fixing her hair, and she comes out to the living room with her laptop and things. She starts chatting with everyone, and I am suddenly worried that those poor brownies will just burn away in the oven, since none of us have enough time to get them out of there without Madison seeing it.

I go into my room to grab something, and Madison asks if I can get her Freedom in Rome book while I'm at it. I can see it clearly on the shelf, but I pretend not to.

"I can't find it anywhere, Madison."

I hope she'll come help me find it, but apparently she doesn't care that much, because she doesn't get off the couch.


At this point, those brownies are crisping away. I just know it.

Brittany gets up and hurries into Tess's room. After some quick, whispered conversation, Tess comes out and asks Madison for a book recommendation for the Christmas break. Madison is our avid reader in the family. Naturally, she's excited about the chance to share her book collection with other people, but right now she chooses to do so without getting up from the couch. No movement.

Tess finally realizes that moving Madison is a lost cause, and she sits on the other end of the couch with Valerie, continuing the conversation. Madison's back is now to the kitchen, and Brittany silently moves over to the oven and pulls out the brownies. Now what?

At this point, I'm gesturing to Brittany with one hand while trying to remain outside the peripherals of Madison. And any time I catch Valerie or Tess's eye, I want to laugh.

Brittany finally decides to cover the brownies with a cloth, and after more gesturing, she hides the pan under the counter, next to the colander and crock pot. Brilliant.

Now we just have to wait for midnight. Forty-five minutes to go.

We all go back to studying, with the general rule that no one is allowed to talk for the next twenty minutes. Then, at 11:35 p.m., we're all putting away the studying and doing the P90X Ab Ripper video. At least, that's the plan.

Of course, half-way through the quiet time, Madison's nose threatens to betray us again.

"I swear I smell something baking," she says. "It smells like chocolate chip cookies in here."

Brittany just shakes her head. "It's just that candle."

Valerie chimes in. "Yeah. It must be the candle."

We'd make terrible poker players.

I pretend to be fascinated with something on my computer, and pipe up. "Have you guys noticed how much weight Kelly Clarkson has put on recently?"

This starts a long conversation about eating disorders and the stresses of fame. We are very good at having intense philosophical discussions when there are more practical pressing things to do.

Once things quiet down, the worst is over. Until 11:58 p.m.

Then it's 11:59 p.m. Everyone except Madison is sharing glances. Brittany gets up and creeps toward the cabinet where our brownie goodness is waiting.

The pressure is too much. Valerie lets out a little laugh. Then I start giggling. I try to play it off as a cough, which is completely fake, but Madison doesn't notice.

Three out of four clocks now read 12:00 a.m. Good enough. I get up and join Brittany in the kitchen, and Tess and Valerie get up, walking across the room to stand with us. Madison still doesn't look up.

The Surprise Party gods seem to have given us their full blessing.

And then, on the count of three, we start singing "Happy Birthday" (except I start laughing so hard that I can't sing, then can't breathe, then can't stop my eyes from watering).

But we eek out a "Happy Birthday" to Madison's joyful surprise, and then we all trip over each other to tell her all about all the things we were doing behind her back. All the things she didn't notice are replayed with glee, as we cut up the brownie and pull out the vanilla ice cream.

All in all, an excellent birthday surprise. I love my friends.

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