Arianna sneered instead.
The flash from the camera blinded her. She looked down at the white sheet cake on the table, now obscured by dark splotches. One big red candle in the center of the cake sparkled, looking more appropriate for the Fourth of July than a birthday for a woman in her 40s.
Beneath the paper birthday hat, Arianna marveled at her brother’s tackiness as she adjusted the elastic string that was slowly cutting into her chin. It seemed to worsen every four years.
Around the lit candle were the words “Happy 10th Bissextus” in red icing.
“You’ve finally hit the double digits, Ari!” Bruce screamed. “That’s worth a smile or two.”
He lowered the camera. His smile fell with it.
“Come on, Ari,” Bruce said, more quietly, “if mom and dad were here, you know they’d celebrate this day.”
Arianna calmed herself. As a Leap Day baby she only had to endure this moment every four years, so why not reward her brother’s hard, if not misguided, work and blow out the garish candle? Besides, if he talked too long about their parents he would end up in the fetal position in the corner, sobbing like last time.
Nodding silently she closed her eyes and made a wish, bending as close to the candle as she dared.
With her lungs full of air she silently wished things could’ve been different. She wished that mom and dad were still alive and that she didn’t have to take care of her older brother. That she could be compassionate enough to actually care more about her last living relative than she did about her career. That one head-on collision during a rainstorm would’ve never happened… or maybe that she would’ve been awake, instead of being the only one left unscathed.
She forced the air from her lungs, along with silent wishes that could never be granted.
The candle flickered before returning to full strength.
“It’s a trick candle, Ari,” Bruce cackled. “A trick one that doesn’t go out.”
Arianna gave a tight-lipped smile before plucking the candle out and dropping it in her cup of punch. Watching the slight trail of smoke from the extinguished candle brought a real smile to her face.
“Let’s have cake and take some pictures to commemorate the day,” she said, slicing two thick corner pieces for them to eat.
She handed Bruce his chunk and a fork.
“Thank you for doing this, Bruce,” she said, picking up the camera. “Now let’s take a family photo.”