"So," Fran said as she sat down and poured herself a glass of Bernard's swill. "What are we doing for Manny's birthday? He's very worried about it, you know."
"Manny has a birthday?" Bernard muttered. "I thought he was spawned from Hell itself. The beard's a dead giveaway. And anyhow, why should I do anything for his birthday? He didn't do anything for mine." He kept his eyes on the book in his hand so he didn't catch Fran's disgusted and disappointed glare.
"Ber-nard! He made you a cake! And dinner. And he bought you that lovely shirt you never wear."
"I wear that shirt!"
Bernard paused to think. He was sure he'd worn that shirt Manny had bought him. Or maybe he hadn't. He'd taken it out of the box, certainly. And then he'd put it on and then. No.
"It got left in that place. You know."
"That place?" This time Bernard did see the look on Fran's face: Complete disbelief. "Come on. Where would you leave it? You almost never leave the bloody shop."
Bernard had the presence of mind to look slightly abashed, though only slightly because he couldn't be bothered to muster up much abashedness when the subject at hand was Manny. "You know, that hell-hole we all ended up in after that hideous ordeal brought on by you and the Bearded Wonder."
"YES! Never speak of it again!"
"Look." Fran sipped her wine and sat back. "This doesn't bring us any closer to figuring out what to do for Manny's birthday. It's tomorrow and we haven't even gotten him a gift."
Bernard looked around, hoping that perhaps something might magically appear on one of the shelves. A rat appeared but he dismissed that as a gift idea. Manny already had two living in his closet and besides, it would be a pain to catch and put in a box. "I know." Bernard rummaged around in the desk and finally pulled out a battered box and placed it in front of himself. "There."
"What is it?" Fran set her wine down and leaned over to open it. Bernard slapped her hand and she backed off, pouting. "All I want to know is what's in it. You're not going to give him your dirty socks again, are you?"
"Those weren't dirty. I'd worn them out in the rain," Bernard muttered. He dug around in the desk again and came up with an old red typewriter ribbon. When he was done wrapping it around the box both the box and his hands were smudged with red ink.
"There. It's very festive, isn't it?"
Fran stared at the box. "It looks like you bled all over it."
Manny tried not to make a big deal about his birthday. After all, the first year he'd mentioned it he'd woken up to Fran and Bernard passed out in the shop after drinking themselves sick, supposedly in his honor. He'd gotten a lovely empty bottle as his present. Bernard had told him they'd finished off the booze so Manny himself wouldn't get a hangover on his birthday and wasn't that a thoughtful thing for them to have done and oh yes, the shop floor would need a mopping before opening.
So no, he didn't make a big deal but that didn't stop him from wanting someone else to. Fran, Bernard, it didn't really matter, so long as no one invited his parents round.
The night before his birthday Manny let himself in through the back door, so if Bernard and Fran were drinking in his honor again he wouldn't have to see it. The following morning he woke up to the unsettling knowledge that Bernard was not asleep in his room, snoring away like a hive of particularly ticked off hornets and just as dangerous if roused.
When he made his way downstairs Manny found the shop to be utterly deserted. Now that was slightly hopeful. After all, waking up to no one and nothing was a bit better than waking up to two drunken friends and a floor full of vomit. It would have been nicer to wake up to some cards and maybe a cake and a balloon or two wouldn't have gone amiss.
"Hello?" Manny said carefully as he looked around the kitchen. He checked under the table and under some of the garbage in the garden but no one was out there. If anyone was hiding further into the garden it was going to take a sherpa and some supplies to find them. Manny went back inside.
"Hellooooooo!" he called. No one answered. Perhaps this was his present. A morning uninterrupted and unburdened by Bernard's abuse and Fran's... being Fran. Not that he minded Fran. And Bernard had a certain lovable bastardness about him.
Manny sat down in Bernard's chair and spun around.
"I could get myself a cake," he said suddenly. "I could go out and buy a cake and eat it all myself."
And then the whole thing came crashing down as it usually did: With Benard's voice from the street outside.
"How was I supposed to know?" he demanded.
"Bernard! You can't ask the bakery to put that sort of language on a cake, and anyhow a rum cake has rum but all the alcohol's cooked out. You can't get drunk off a rum cake. I've tried."
The door flew open and in came Bernard and Fran with two cake boxes. One was open and covered in icing. The other was tied closed with twine and was held by Fran, which explained why it had gone unmolested.
"Sorry," Fran said, hurrying over and setting the intact box down in front of him. "We had to go back for a second one."
Bernard rolled his eyes and licked some icing from his fingers. "Did you know bakeries are open this early?" he asked Manny. "I had to stay awake all night for you!"
"Sorry," Manny said as he untied the twine and opened the box. Inside was a cake with the words "Happy Birthday Man" written on it.
"They ran out of room," Fran said. "But anyhow, it's a lovely cake. Isn't it, Bernard?"
Bernard shrugged and tossed the now empty box on the floor by the desk.
"I'll just go get some plates," Fran said.
Once Fran was in the kitchen and busy with the task of finding three unbroken and somewhat clean plates Bernard pulled out his present for Manny. "Here," Bernard said, tossing it in front of him. "Don't bother saying thank you. It's an empty gesture from someone like you."
Manny ignored Bernard's jab and untied the ribbon, frowning as the ink got all over his hands. Anyhow, that Bernard had gotten him anything was an amazing gift in itself. He opened the box and stared.
Bernard had curled up on the couch with a cigarette and a half-finished glass of wine from who knew how long ago. "Hmm?"
"Bernard, are these my socks?"
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