Danny woke up reluctantly when he heard his mother calling from the kitchen. It was Friday, a day sacred to students everywhere as the last hurdle to overcome before a weekend of freedom. Danny should have been excited, but instead he wanted to roll back under the covers and hide.
All week Danny had been dreading the arrival of this Friday in particular. He'd heard the apocalyptic news several days earlier that Friday would be Carla's birthday. These events are usually surrounded by joy, gifts, a party, and - in typical custom for an elementary classroom - cupcakes. That would be enough to make any eight-year-old thrilled, but not Danny; not if it was Carla's birthday.
His sleepy brain suddenly recalled a flash of images from Carla's birthday the year before. Sticky, slimy, pink goo. Fingers. Slobber. He shuddered at the thought.
Danny crawled out of bed, feeling as if he weighed a thousand pounds, and began the process of getting dressed. As he stepped into his pants he relived the entire horrible event. His first grade teacher, Mrs. Higgenbottom, had been so old and tired that she let students pass out their own birthday cupcakes to the class. Every student had handled this task responsibly (mostly due to the fact that their mom or dad had visited school that day to help out). But on Carla's birthday neither of her parents showed up and she had to do it herself.
Danny watched the procession with horror from the his end-of-the-alphabet seat at the back of the classroom. It started off all right, but Carla didn't seem to understand the concepts of germs or manners. She picked up one cupcake after another with no regard for the paper cupcake cups, grabbing most of them from the top before plopping them down on each student's desk. With each cupcake Carla's fingers became increasingly coated with sticky pink frosting. By the time she had reached Jessica Lampton her entire hands were plastered with pink. She had no napkin, and Mrs. Higgenbottom seemed oblivious, as she herself nibbled on a pink cupcake from the safety of her teacher desk.
Danny thought that certainly Carla would take a break to wash her hands, but to his dismay Carla did something unthinkable. She began to lick her fingers one by one. The sloppy slurping sound carried across the classroom like a doomsday clock. Each new cupcake given to each new student provided Carla with another opportunity to add to the slime now saturating all of her fingers.
Danny knew he was going to be sick. He could feel his heart beating faster as Carla approached Mark Thompson. Sweat beaded on his neck and dripped down his back as she slammed a cupcake on Amber Wheeler's desk.
Finally Carla had reached Danny's seat. He was too scared to look and thought he might throw up if he had to watch Carla lick pink frosting off her fingers one more time. Slowly he pried his gaze away from his desk and couldn't believe what he saw. Carla had run out of cupcakes! Danny Windle was the last student, and Carla was short by just one cupcake. His wish has been granted, but he could see that Carla felt terrible about running out. He smiled at her and told her it was all right. "Next year I'll make sure you get one!" Carla responded.
"Next year I'll make sure I'm sick on your birthday," Danny thought to himself. But next year was here, and Danny's parents never bought it when he pretended to be sick. As he brushed his teeth after breakfast he couldn't help but think that he must have terribly bad luck to be assigned to Carla's class two years in a row. He replayed the scene from last year in his mind during the whole bus ride to school, and all day he kept remembering the slurping sound of each nauseating lick of Carla's fingers.
After an eternity of dread, snack time finally arrived. Mr Oderman, who was even older than Mrs. Higgenbottom (which Danny didn't think was possibly), had the same policy that students must pass out their own birthday treats. Danny thought he was having a nightmare. Carla's cupcakes were the same bright pink as the ones from last year, a color that Danny now associated with feeling sick to his stomach. He followed her trail from Samantha Alpert to Justin Long, and he noticed that this time Carla wasn't picking every cupcake up by its top, like she had the year before. By the time she reached Edward Noonan she only had some frosting o n her hands, and Danny noted that she hadn't licked her fingers once yet. He began to unclench his muscles and relax just a little bit as Carla handed a pink cupcake to Mark Thompson (who had stayed in the same class with them this year).
Once the mind makes a connection between two ideas it can be hard to break that connection. In this case, Danny had solidly connected the thought of pink frosting with the taste of vomit in the back of his throat. For the entire year since Carla's previous birthday Danny had not eaten one single thing that was pink, no bubble gum, not popsicles, not ice donuts, not even his favorite dessert - strawberry mousse.
he weighed both sides of the current situation. On one hand, the mere mention of anything pink made his stomach start to churn. On the other hand, he loved cupcakes, and Carla had much improved in the area of licking her fingers. He decided that the positives outweighed the negatives, and besides, second grade was as good a time as any to start facing his fears.
With his mind made up, Danny waited in his usual end-of-the-alphabet seat in the back of the classroom. When Carla presented him with his pink cupcake he took it with a smile. Taking a tentative bite, he knew he had made the right decision to accept it. He'd been missing out on a lot of amazing foods for the past year.
As he swallowed he turned around to thank Carla for the treat, but she was busy at the classroom sink... licking pink frosting off of her fingers.