Nelly came with the cake just as she had promised. “I hope you like vanilla. I couldn’t find chocolate.” 

“It’s fine, don’t worry. In fact, I like vanilla more than chocolate,” he said. 


“Yeah,” the cousins smiled at each other. 

“Happy birthday, cuz,” she opened her arms, he hugged her.

She had also come with Ashanti just as he requested. She hugged him too.

It was only when she cleared her throat did he realize he was hugging her too tight and had held on to her waist for more than five seconds. It was too much. He let go off her, “Sorry,” he smirked and looked down.

Even in her presence, her being his love interest, he somehow struggled to place his mind in the present. His hand moved on its own to feed him the vanilla cake which he could’ve sworn he had never tasted in the tongue and throat, just something chewed and swallowed without awareness. He didn’t even notice when he was done with the cake, saucer was empty. The prostitute was in his mind. The air possessed the sweetness of the cake and other normal scents of his flat yet he – perhaps by the trick of his brain – could still smell the strawberry perfume floating around that woman’s room. 

“So, nice, isn’t it?” Nelly disturbed his thoughts. 

“What?” He looked at her. 

“I mean the cake. Really nice. Would you like another piece?” 

“Yes, yes please,” he gave her his saucer she looked at him with a face of many questions. 

“What?” he said. 

“Nothing,” she shook her head in a smile and got up and went to the kitchen, leaving him with Ashanti. 

“What’s up with you, nowadays?” She asked. 

“What do you mean?” He turned to her. 

“You been acting weird, lately. Even now. Especially at KFC. It’s like, I don’t know, it’s like you are here but at the same time you not, like your mind is miles away.”

Edward sighed. “You are right,” he said. “I’m…there’s just a lot on my mind that’s all. Nothing big, really,” he said. 

“If you wanna talk then you know I’m here, right?” She stared at him deep. 

Oh, God those eyes. Those lips. He watched her as she talked: “…you need to relieve your mind off the stress sometimes and just talk…” He wondered how would it have been like if it was her he slept with instead of that prostitute. He wondered if she was still a virgin. If not who was that lucky guy? 


“Mhh?” He blinked again and again. “Yes I… I heard you. I’ll talk from now on. Thank you for offering your support.” 

“I’m here for you,” she touched his hand, “that’s what friends are for,” she said. 

Friend. That word punched his heart. He looked at her with shaking eyes. I guess that’s all you’ll ever see me as. A friend. If only you could feel what I feel for you. The sight of her beautiful face amplified this pain so he looked away to the side as she picked up the remote to change the channel. He held back his tears. 

Nelly returned with a refill of pieces of cakes in saucers. “What are the glasses for?” Edward asked. 

“Are you kidding me? It’s your birthday. You know this whole thing wouldn’t be compete without a bottle of–

“Champopo!” the two girls said at the same time and burst out laughing. A feminine slang term for champagne. Ashanti pulled out a pink bottle of Brutal Fruit out of a paper bag hidden behind her. 

“Why am I not getting a glass?” Asked Edward. 

“Because this is for girls only. Why you wanna cry?” They both said, mocked his face with more laughter. “It was made for us,” the pride in their voices. 

“Don’t worry, don’t worry. We got you something. Like I said it’s your birthday. You really think a cake is the only thing we’ve got for you? ” said Ashanti. 

“Like you really think that?’ Nelly added.

Ashanti pulled out a disc behind her. “Nelly told me how much you love video games so–” 

She was cut short by Edward’s hand as he snatched the disc from her. “Battle Grounds 4!? Holy shit!” He turned the disc around his hands under close eyes. “Where did you…?” 

His eyes went to Nelly and Ashanti, back and forth. “Where did you find this? You know how much I’ve looked for this. I couldn’t find it anywhere.” He was like a seven-year-old rural boy who had just been given a bicycle as a present. 

“You have to thank Ashanti. She ordered the game as an import a few months back. We only glad it arrived on time, three weeks before your birthday,” Nelly said. 

He was paused with his mouth open in a smile, eyes at the game. “How did you know I like Battle Grounds?” He asked Ashanti.

“It didn’t take much guessing to figure out what type of games you enjoyed playing,” she replied with a wink, then she looked at the side where his video game discs and DVDs were stacked. A bunch of video game discs among them – sticking out because they were 

the only ones in volumes and sequels – being The Battle Grounds, Battle Grounds 2, and Battle Grounds 3. 

“Ah, I see. Your visits here were not to only check up on me, naughty little devil.” Edward laughed. “Wow, thank you. Thank you so, so much. To the both of you. You two are the best,” he said. 

“We know, duh!” Nelly said and they all laughed. They ate all the cake and talked some more; about university work Edward told them that’s why there’s a lot in his mind, the too much work at varsity is stressing him; when they asked him, what did he do during the day to celebrate his birthday he told them: “Nothing really special. I just went out with a couple of mates for some drinks, that’s all.”

“I did the same thing last year. Birthdays get a little overrated every time you get older,” 

Ashanti said. He couldn’t help but stare at her mouth every time she spoke, her red lips seemed to move in slow motion it was just so hard not to kiss her.

What’s even worse is that she was seated close to him now, he could smell her odor. He had to fight himself in control. They talked some more and watched the movie.

When he asked to be poured the champagne, “just to have a little taste, please,” the girls 

pointed at the tap at the kitchen and giggled at him. “But it’s my birthday, though.” 

“So, what?” They pointed at the tap again.

Tell us: do you think Ashanti likes Edward as much as he likes her? Or is all friendship love?