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The Piemaker often wondered how he could be so fortunate and so unfortunate at once.

Ned stares at the birthday pie, with its candles tilting perilously in the crispy, cheese-laden crust that Chuck made herself. The wax is dripping off the red candles, through the vents in the crust and onto the cherry filling underneath it, which will spill out like gems in...gem...syrup...when he cuts it open. He insisted on making the filling himself, since Chuck is completely unready for fruit syrups although she does a passable strudel topping. It's okay; she makes better scrambled eggs than he does, because he's always been nervous that he's going to touch the eggs and they'll start clucking.

"Make a wish," Chuck says, her face pale over the red candles dripping onto the gem-red cherry filling. Emerson is bored with the whole thing but Chuck blackmailed or coerced or bribed him into attending, so he's sitting across from Ned, next to Chuck. Olive is sitting next to him, and Digby has his head on the table, chin pressed to the plastic, drooling slightly.

All his friends are here. He isn't really sure what to wish for.

After all, if he had not been granted the power to bring the dead to life, he would never have been able to recover his childhood sweetheart, who was currently deceased in all known records but actually enjoying a quiet and active life as the Piemaker's accomplice and sweetheart. If, however, he had never been able to revive his mother, his sweetheart's father would never have been killed. Perhaps he would have been able to grow up next door to her, thus preventing her from being strangled while on a cruise several years into adulthood. Or perhaps not. He would never know.

Chuck still remembers her father's death, but not in any real sort of way. She remembers that his trousers were wet from the hose that sprayed everywhere, and that there were bright lights when the ambulance came. Other than that, it's really just an event from which she can mark her residence with her aunts, and her indoctrination into the secretive, complicated world of international cheese.

On this day the Piemaker was currently twenty-nine years and four hours old, and it was his birthday. There were even presents, piled in a corner of the table, wrapped in brightly coloured paper.

Emerson pretends to be bored, because that's his thing, but he's kind of excited really. He invented a whole new stitch in order to make the scarf he's giving Ned for his birthday. It has pies all over it, and it won him Pattern Of The Week on the knitting website he belongs to, "Knots for Knerves".

"This is some party," Emerson says.

"Shh," Chuck retorts.

"Couldn't we have given him a cake?"

"I like pies," Ned says loyally, because as Emerson knows all too well Ned would die before he crushed Chuck's spirit, despite the fact that in Emerson's opinion Chuck's spirit should be crushed on a regular basis for its own good.

"He likes pies," Chuck says smugly.

"He bakes pies, that doesn't mean he likes them," Emerson retorts.

"Hey, trying to make a wish here," Ned announces, and they all fall silent.

And the Piemaker composed himself to make a wish.

Chuck watches Ned close his eyes tightly and realises that he really is going to make a wish, and he really is going to hope it comes true. Good for him! After all, his life is weird already, maybe it will.

She hopes in a way that he's wishing for a scarf with pies knitted into it, which is what Emerson made him, or a book about savoury cheese pies, which is what she got him, or a book about massage, which is what Olive got him, sort of tactlessly in Chuck's opinion. Because those wishes will definitely come true.

Digby didn't get him anything, but Chuck hopes, really hopes, that Ned wishes that he could touch Digby again and his wish will come true. She won't even imagine that he might wish he could touch her again.

The Piemaker made his wish, and blew out the candles.

And then there was pie.

Which if you can't get your wish, is not a bad substitute.