"So, it’s settled then." Lucas Wolenczech said as he leaned back in his chair. "We make Miguel a cake for his birthday."
"Yep." Seaman Tony Piccolo agreed. "Only question is, what kind of cake?"
Dagwood looked confused. "I thought it was a birthday cake?"
"What ‘kind’ of birthday cake."
"Oh." Dagwood thought for a moment. "Ortiz likes chocolate."
"Perfect." Lucas said. He glanced around the mess hall to make sure no one was listening. Since the three of them were low on funds, and their friend’s birthday was two days away, they had decided to go the ‘homemade’ gift route. "Okay, tomorrow morning we make the cake."
Tony hesitated. "Do you know how to make a cake?"
"Of course I do." Lucas said and rolled his eyes. "You just add water and eggs to the mix."
Chief Miguel Ortiz walked along the hall in the direction of his quarters. He had just finished working a double shift at the sensor station, and he was tired. He put a hand on his temple and tried to massage away another headache that was starting. Miguel rounded a corner and nearly collided with Doctor Wendy Smith.
"Sorry." He said, then went to walk past her. He stopped when she moved into his way. "What?"
"You are almost a week overdue for your yearly physical." Wendy informed him.
"Am I?" Miguel asked innocently. "I had no idea."
Wendy stared at him. "Really? And I suppose the three messages I left for you about this mysteriously vanished?"
"Yeah…something like that."
"I have you scheduled for 0900 tomorrow." Wendy said. "Be there, or I’ll come looking for you."
"But, my shift starts then." Miguel was looking for a way out of the physical. He didn’t really like taking them.
"I have informed the Captain that you will be late."
"Wendy, my birthday is in two days…can’t this wait?"
"It is? I didn’t know." Wendy thought for a moment. Miguel sighed in relief. "Happy early birthday…see you at 0900 tomorrow."
Tony and Lucas stood in the crew recreation kitchen and stared at the shelf in dismay.
"Not one cake mix on the entire sub." Tony complained. "What are we gonna do?"
"Make one from scratch?" Lucas suggested.
"Fine." Tony sighed. "I’ll find a cookbook."
Miguel sat on the table in the med lab and watched as Wendy checked a few readings. She looked at him, then back at the readout.
"What?" Miguel asked.
"How often do you have headaches?"
Miguel sighed. "I’ve had quite a few lately. Maybe…uh…four a day."
"I want to run a few more tests." Wendy told him.
Miguel sighed. "And you wonder why I put off going to the doctor."
Wendy was silent as she ran tests on the computer. Miguel amused himself be tying and untying the strings of his hospital gown.
"How much coffee do you drink in a day?" Wendy asked.
"A lot." Miguel answered. "Why?"
"I want you to cut out caffeine for a week."
"You told me earlier that you have been having headaches." Wendy said.
Wendy sighed. "Those headaches are caffeine related. It’s not going to hurt you to give it up for a week…It’s only caffeine."
"Might as well ask me to give up breathing for a week." Miguel muttered. "It’s only air."
"And after the week, you can resume drinking it. But try to cut down." Wendy smiled. "Instead of your usual three pots of coffee a day, cut it down to two."
"Funny." Miguel sighed. "All caffeine products?"
Tony leafed through the cookbook and sighed. "How many chocolate cake recipes are there? There must be at least fifty in here."
"Hold it." Lucas said. "Go back one."
Tony turned the page back. "Chocolate Coffee cake?"
"It’s perfect." Lucas said. "Miguel loves chocolate, and coffee."
Tony read the page. "Looks simple enough. Hold on…there’s no coffee in this recipe."
"Must be a typo." Lucas said. "It’s a coffee cake, so it must have coffee in it."
"What’s a tsp?" Tony asked.
"Uhh…that’s a teaspoon."
"Tablespoon." Lucas answered.
Tony stood up. "Okay, let’s get to work." He rummaged through a drawer. "How much coffee do you think we should add?"
"Three teaspoons should be enough."
"Oh-oh." Tony looked up. "I can’t find anything that says ‘tsp’ on it…all I can find is this T-b-s-p." He held it up.
"Use that then." Lucas said. "I think three tablespoons makes one teaspoon."
Miguel grimaced as he took a sip of his drink. He glanced up as Ensign Lonnie Henderson sat at the table.
"All ready for your birthday?" she asked.
Miguel shrugged. "Yeah, I guess." He took another sip.
"What are you drinking?" Lonnie asked. "It smells like tea."
"Herbal tea to be exact." Miguel sighed.
"Why? I mean, you love coffee… why switch?"
"I’m under doctor’s orders to stay away from all caffeine products for a week." Miguel said.
Lonnie looked at him sympathetically. "Oh, that must hurt. But, why?"
"You know those headaches that I’ve been having?" He asked. Lonnie nodded. "Well, Wendy says that they are caused by caffeine."
"I’m sorry." Lonnie looked sad. "That’s not a very good present to get just before your birthday."
"It’s okay." Miguel said and took another sip of his tea. "This stuff is just…"
"Exactly." Miguel slumped back in his chair. "Hey, would you mind if I smelled your coffee?"
"It’s just that I would prefer it if you ran all changes by me before you implement them." Commander Jonathan Ford said.
Lieutenant James Brody laughed. "You’re just mad because my idea worked better than yours." He smiled at a female Lieutenant who passed by as they walked through the crew recreation area.
"It’s not that." Ford said. "It’s just that there are--" He trailed off, and sniffed the air. "What is that stench?" He looked at Brody.
"Hey! It’s not me!" Brody covered his nose. "Smells like it’s coming from the rec kitchen."
They walked quickly to the kitchen that was used for the crew when they wanted to partake in cooking for a hobby, and opened the door. Lucas and Tony looked up at them.
"What are you two doing?" Ford demanded.
"Baking a cake." Lucas answered.
"Out of what?" Brody asked as he looked at the cake cooling on the counter. "Old tires?"
"It’s for Mig’s birthday." Tony said.
"I thought Miguel was your friend?" Ford said.
"Then don’t give him that cake." Ford advised. "You might poison him."
"What kind of cake is it suppose to be?" Brody asked.
"It’s a coffee cake." Lucas answered. "But I think we used too much coffee grounds."
Ford and Brody looked at each other. "Do you want to tell them?" Brody asked.
"No, you go ahead."
Brody faced Tony and Lucas. "Uhh…how much coffee grounds did you use?"
"Nine tablespoons." Tony said.
"We couldn’t find the teaspoon, and Lucas said that three tablespoons was one teaspoon."
Brody laughed. "It’s the other way around. Three teaspoons makes one tablespoon."
"And coffee cake doesn’t have coffee in it."
"Then why do they call it coffee cake?" Lucas asked.
"Because you eat it while drinking coffee." Ford answered seriously.
"Besides," Brody continued, "if you wanted to put coffee in it, you have to dilute the grounds with water."
Ford looked at him. "How do you know?"
"I took cooking classes in high school."
Brody arched an eyebrow. "And what’s wrong with that?"
"Nothing. It just doesn’t sound like you."
"That’s a sexist attitude Jonathan."
"It is not." Ford said. He narrowed his eyes as a thought occurred to him. "How many females were in this class?"
Brody smiled fondly. "Twenty five."
"Uh-huh." Ford nodded. "And how many guys?"
"Five to one ratio. Now ‘that’ sounds like you."
Brody laughed. "Hey, Grandma Brody didn’t raise any fools."
"Learn lots in that class?"
"Plenty." Brody admitted. "And they even taught me how to cook food."
Everyone looked as the door opened again, and Dagwood walked in.
"Dagwood is finished with cleaning. Is the cake done?"
"Yes." Tony said. "Want a piece?"
Dagwood sniffed the air, then looked at the cake. "No thank you."
"It smells bad." Dagwood said honestly.
Brody started to laugh again. He leaned against one of the tables for support as tears rolled down his face.
Lucas sighed. "I think we need to make another cake."
Miguel tapped his fingers on his console as he watched the sensor readings. He was rather bored, and wished that he could have a cup of coffee…even a sip would do. He sighed in annoyance when he realized that he had not had a single headache all day. Come on…just one headache, so I can tell Wendy that she was wrong about the caffeine.
Miguel looked at Lonnie. "What?"
"You awake?" Lonnie asked. "You’ve got this spaced out look on your face."
"I’m fine." He turned back to his readouts and tried to concentrate.
"How’s it going?"
Miguel glanced at Lonnie again. "Surprisingly good. I don’t miss coffee at all."
"No." Miguel leaned back in his chair and sighed. "I figure if I say that enough, I’ll start to believe it."
"Hard is it?" Lonnie asked. "Any withdrawal headaches?"
"None yet." Miguel said, and realized that any headache he might have would just be written off by Wendy as a withdrawal symptom. "Good thing Wendy didn’t tell me to give up smoking too."
"Miguel…you don’t smoke." Lonnie pointed out.
"I know. But can you imagine what a mess I’d be if I did, and had to give both up?"
Lonnie laughed. "You Miguel Ortiz, are a nut."
Tony stuck a spoon in the batter and hesitantly put it in his mouth. He smiled. "That ain’t half bad."
"Really?" Lucas asked and grabbed a spoon. He tasted the batter. "Half bad? I’d say it’s darn good."
"Can we cook it now?" Dagwood asked.
"Sure thing buddy." Tony answered and poured the batter into the pan.
"What kind of icing are we going to put on it?" Dagwood inquired.
Lucas looked up from the cookbook. "Here’s a good one…double chocolate mocha frosting."
"Mmmm." Tony agreed.
"Miguel will like that." Dagwood said.
Brody put his dinner tray down as he sat at the mess hall table. He grabbed the sugar, added it to his coffee, then put it back. He brought the cup up to take a sip, and stopped in mid air.
"What?" he asked a staring Miguel.
"Why are you staring at me?" Brody asked. "Do I have something on my face?"
"Uh…no." Miguel said then went back to eating.
Lonnie put her try on the table and sat down. Miguel stared at her cup.
"It’s tea." Lonnie said. "I didn’t want to put you through the agony of smelling my coffee again."
"Smelling your what??" Brody asked. "Am I missing something here?"
"I have to stay away from caffeine for a week." Miguel said miserably. "Which means no coffee."
"So that’s what you were staring at." Brody laughed.
"It’s not funny Jim." Lonnie said. "You know how Miguel loves coffee."
"Sorry Migs…but, uh, ever heard of decaf?"
Miguel sat up straight. "Decaf?" Hope showed on his face. He pulled out his PAL and turned it on. "Wendy?"
"Go ahead." Wendy’s voice answered.
"It’s Ortiz. Is decaffeinated coffee okay for me to drink?" Pleasepleasepleaseplease.
"Yes, it is." Wendy said.
"Thank you!" Miguel clicked off his PAL and stood up. "Why didn’t I think of that?" He looked at Lonnie. "Why didn’t you think of that?" He walked quickly to the coffee urns, poured himself a large mug of decaf coffee, and walked back to the table.
"Ahhhhhhh." He sighed in contentment. "This stuff’s not bad. You’re off the hook for a birthday present Jim."
"Am I? Oh, dear…what ever shall I tell the dancing girls I smuggled onboard for your party?"
Miguel stared at him. You better be joking."
"We’ll never know now, will we?" Brody said, then laughed at the panicked expression that crossed Miguel’s face.
Tony placed the cake on a plate and grabbed the bowl of icing. He applied it generously to the cake, then stood back to admire is work.
"Looks good." Lucas said.
"It looks edible." Dagwood said. "Can I have a piece?"
"Not right now Dags." Lucas said. "This is for Miguel."
"I’ll put it in the box." Tony picked up the cake and turned quickly. The cake started to slip off the plate. Tony tried to steady it, but he was too late. The three of them watched in dismay as the cake fell to the floor.
"Aw, man!" Tony cried.
"I’ll get the broom." Dagwood said and walked away.
Lucas stared at the cake and sighed. "I’ll get the cookbook…again."
Miguel blinked his eyes and tried to concentrate on the screen in front of him. His head was pounding and he wondered if this was one of those ‘withdrawal headaches’ Lonnie had mentioned. It felt like his eyes were going to pop out of his head.
Commander Ford watched Miguel for a few moments before his stood and approached. "Are you feeling all right Chief?"
Miguel looked at him through half closed eyes. "I just have a headache sir."
"Take a break." Ford said. "Go get something from Wendy for it."
"Aye sir." Miguel stood slowly. He started down the steps to the main bridge, and almost tripped.
"Hold on Ortiz." Ford said. "I think you might need an escort." He walked over to Brody, whispered something, then returned to Miguel. "Lieutenant Brody will see that you get to the med lab in one piece."
Miguel was in no mood to argue. "Fine."
Brody walked away from the med lab after Wendy had given Miguel something for his headache, and confined him to one of the beds for an hour. Brody decided to check in with Tony, Lucas, and Dagwood to see how they were doing with the cake, and headed in the direction of the crew recreation area.
He inhaled as he approached the kitchen and smiled. It’s smells pretty good he decided as he opened the door and stuck his head in.
"How’s it going?" He asked loudly.
Tony, who was checking the cake in the oven, jumped in surprise. He let go of the oven door and it slammed shut.
Brody grimaced. "You shouldn’t slam the oven door…it’ll make the cake fall."
Tony and Lucas stared daggers at him.
"I think I’ll leave now." Brody said quickly and ducked out of the room.
Lucas walked to the stove and looked in the oven. He sighed at the sight of the now fallen cake.
"I know, I know…get the cookbook."
Miguel rolled over in his sleep, and snuggled into the pillow. He heard a slight noise, and opened his eyes. He sat up in surprise and looked around the medical lab.
"What the hell?" He looked at his watch, shocked to see that it was well past midnight. "Wendy?" he called out.
Wendy stuck her head out of her office. "Well, I see that you are finally awake." She walked towards him.
"What am I doing here?"
"What’s the last thing you remember?"
Miguel thought. "Coming in with a killer headache."
Wendy nodded. "I gave you something for it, then you fell asleep. It seemed a shame to wake you." She smiled at him. "How are you feeling now?"
"Better." Miguel answered as he stood up. "Can I go back to my own bed?"
"Of course. But, if you get anymore of those headaches, take one of these." Wendy handed him a small bottle. "They’re non-drowsy, so it won’t hurt your work performance."
"Thanks." Miguel said and looked at the bottle. He turned to leave.
He faced her. "Yeah?"
Miguel smiled. "Thanks."
Tony yawned as he carefully put the cake into the box and shut the lid. He sat in a chair gratefully. "We are finally done."
"Can I have a piece?" Dagwood asked.
"Not right now." Lucas said and covered a yawn. "Ask Miguel after we give him the cake tomorrow." He looked at his watch. "I mean today."
Tony looked at his own watch. "I can’t believe it took us seventeen hours just to make one cake."
"Four cakes." Dagwood corrected him.
"Don’t remind me."
Tony stood. "Lock that cake away somewhere safe. I’m goin’ ta bed."
Miguel was just starting on his second cup of decaf coffee when an envelope landed on the table in front of him. He looked up at the person who had dropped it, then stood quickly.
"At ease." Captain Nathan Bridger said before Miguel could salute. "How’s the birthday so far?"
"It’s good sir." Miguel answered.
"Get a good haul?" Bridger’s eyes twinkled mischievously.
"Uh…yes sir." Miguel replied.
"Good. Well, I’ll leave you to open that, and I’ll see you on the bridge in twenty minutes."
"Aye sir." Miguel watched as his captain walked away, then he sat back down and reached for the envelope. He opened it slowly, pulled out a piece of paper, and stared at it happily. Three days shore leave when we hit Australia! YES!!! Miguel put the paper back in the envelope and smiled. Thank you sir!
Brody sat at the table. "What has you so happy?"
"Three days shore leave." Miguel answered.
"Nice…how’d you work that one?"
"I live right." Miguel laughed.
"What’d you get for your birthday?" Brody asked as he took a sip of his coffee.
"Uh…three days leave, a very good book from Lonnie, two extra hours of ship to shore calling from Tim…and someone sent me a strip-o-gram e-mail."
"Really?" Brody asked. "I wonder who?" He smiled behind his coffee cup. It had taken him hours of viewing just to pick out the right birthday message for that e-mail.
"Yeah." Miguel stared at him. "I wonder."
Brody nodded towards the door. "Looks like another present heading your way."
"Happy birthday!!!!" Lucas, Tony and Dagwood said together when they reached the table. Tony put a box in front of Miguel.
"Hey, thanks." Miguel said as he opened it. He looked in the box.
"It’s a cake." Dagwood said. "We made it."
Miguel inhaled the delicious aroma of the chocolate, and then looked at them. "This is great."
"Have a piece." Tony said.
"Uh…I can’t." Miguel didn’t know quite how to tell them. "It looks good, and I’m sure it’s great, but I can’t."
"Why not?" Lucas asked.
"If ya knew what we went through in the yesterday to make that for you, then you’d eat it." Tony said.
Miguel sighed. "I appreciate the gift, really I do…but I’m under Wendy’s orders to stay away from caffeine products for a week."
"What does that have to do with anything?" Tony demanded.
"Chocolate has caffeine in it." Miguel said quietly.
Lucas stared at him in shock. His mind ran over the events of the previous day, and what they had gone through to make this birthday present. Tony started to laugh. He sat at the table, put his head on his arms and laughed until his body shook.
"Can I have a piece?" Dagwood asked.