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Rated: ASR · Short Story · Mystery · #2258107
A cake arrives for Sophies 7th Birthday but Jane had not ordered this and Jack was dead...
Jane's daughter Sophie loved the cake. Jack had promised she would get her rainbow cake the year before. With all the turmoil of the last months, Jane had forgotten that. She had bought a chocolate fudge cake. However, that was not what her daughter had wanted. The rainbow cake had arrived by delivery from the local baker. There was no note just the memory of a promise and women's intuition to inform her as to its meaning.

         "Mummy, I want to blow out the candles again," said Sophie. Her cute blonde curls and pouty lips making it an impossible request to refuse.

         Jane relit the seven candles on top of the cake. But before her daughter could blow she whispered into her ear.

         "Daddy promised you this cake, you remember?"

         "Yes Mummy but Daddy is in heaven now, thank you for the cake," Sophie said, and then in front of her delighted friends, she blew out the candles. The girls started singing again.

         "Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you..."

         As they sang, Jane's head filled with memories and her heart with pain as she remembered the birthday just a year before when Jack had been here laughing and singing along with the girls. Jack had been in the CIA. He had been headhunted by them after 911. It was a surprise to them both as Jack was a profoundly religious man and a scholar of some merit with a focus on the theology of comparative religion. His deep Christian convictions and traditional approach to biblical authenticity had marginalized him in the secular academic world but apparently qualified him for the murky and mysterious world of the CIA. Obviously, Jack could not explain his job to Jane but living near the Langley Headquarters and going to work there every day had made his vocation very clear as had the increased paychecks he had received since he started the job which had allowed them to buy this house and given Jane the security she needed to think about children. But his countercultural convictions had seemed so at odds with the hardheaded scientific approach of most of the CIA types she met at parties and even in church. He was a misfit amongst such people, she thought. Jack had clarified his role in an off-the-cuff private remark he had made once to her in the third person. She remembered his words like he had spoken them just yesterday.

         The CIA were caught with their pants down on 911 because they did not understand or appreciate the religious mindset. Even now they hardly listen to those who understand the way religious people think and that is why we will lose in Afghanistan.

         Just in the last month, the last American troops had ignominiously left Kabul in a dramatic last-ditch airlift of friends and personnel from the country. Jack's predictions had all come true. He had disappeared three months ago and a month later Jane had received a message delivered by two black-suited men at her front door. Jack was dead they had said. He had been killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan.

         They had the funeral, the family had flown in from all over the USA which had been a Herculean undertaking with all the Pandemic restrictions. It had been such a tearful occasion, with everyone dressed in black FFP2 masks. No one had really understood how Jack, who had mainly worked at a desk, had gotten himself involved in covert operations over there. His brother, who had fought in the Marines, with tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who had had a low opinion of Jack's job and focus, was now as warm as a man could be to his brother's memory. It was as though he had suddenly realized that he had never understood the value of his brother's service and felt a little guilty about the many put-downs he had sent his way relating to living in an ivory tower. Jack had left this world, Jane, and his family a hero.

         Yet then there was this cake. This cake was a message that only Jane could understand. She had gone to the bakery which was on the way back from Sophie's school and asked them about who had ordered the cake. They had told her of a parcel they had received with the correct amount of cash and very specific instructions. This had all been received a week before the birthday. She asked if they still had the parcel but of course it had been thrown into the trash long ago. No audit trail, as Jack would have said. There was no hard evidence to demonstrate that it was he that had sent it. Nonetheless, she knew where this had come from. This cake meant that Jack was still alive.

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