“Happy birthday to you…”
Kiersten and I sing the customary tune to Evelyn. Our trio celebrates in our traditional fashion. The three of us gather in my modest ranch-style home, the remnants of the birthday girl’s favorite meal litters the table, and lit candles stick out of a cheesecake sampler.
Evelyn acts more embarrassed than usual and covers her face with a groan. “Mom!”
Kiersten and I harmonize the last few notes like two foxes screaming in the night and kiss the birthday girl on each cheek.
“Blow out the candles, baby.”
She rolls her eyes, but the smile on her face can’t conceal her happiness. As she’s done every year since she turned four, Evelyn closes her eyes to make a wish and blows out her fourteen candles.
Each year, I wonder what she wishes, and each year, she looks at me with a slight smile and refuses to share.
For some kids, the wish-making falls into the category of the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus, and they blow out the candles to appease their parents when all they want to do is dig into the sweet yummy goodness in front of them.
Not my Evelyn. She doesn’t believe in the made-up characters anymore, but she still believes in the power of wishes and prayers.
“Let’s eat cake!” Her eyes flutter open.
My smile slips at the flash of those eyes. That smile with the small tilt at the ends. Memories flood through gates I locked over a decade ago. Law’s sudden return messes with my head once again.
“You okay?” Kiersten leans in while Evelyn snatches the plates and scoops out her slice of triple chocolate cheesecake.
“Hmm? Oh. I’m fine.” I force a chuckle. “Memories, you know? I just can’t believe how old she’s getting.”
She cocks her head in silence. Her perceptiveness can be useful, but I pray she doesn’t question my odd behavior.
After dishing our plates, we retreat to the sofa and Evelyn clicks on the TV. “What should we watch?”
I dig into my slice of turtle cheesecake. My answer comes around a mouthful of caramel and chocolate goodness dancing on my tongue. “You pick, birthday girl.”
Evelyn sets down her plate and searches through a streaming service. By doing so, I glimpse Kiersten on the other side of her studying me.
What? I furrow my brow.
What’s up with you? She mouths back, jabbing her fork in my direction. I cut my eyes to Evelyn to find her still flipping through movies.
Nothing. As I shovel another forkful of cake into my mouth, I
turn back to the TV and smile. Evelyn’s at that tricky age between kid and adult. Her tastes have changed drastically over the past couple months, and she tries so hard to fit in with her mom and aunt. She browses movies a little (a lot) above her comprehension and maturity.
I open my mouth to comment, but something hard pelted at my temple cuts me off. My back straightens, and I snap my gaze back to Kiersten. I skim the couch cushion with my hand, all while glaring, and come up with the weapon. A chocolate chip.
Are you kidding me?
We are talking later.
No, we are not, I mouth back.
Kiersten looks ready to respond, but a knock on the door swivels all our heads that way.
“Who could that be?” Evelyn asks, and my heart falls at the inflection of hope. She knows her only family sits in that room with her. In fourteen years, not one surprise visitor graced us, and door-to-door sales are rare in Arrow Creek. It hurts that my baby can’t expect anyone else to shower her in affection on her special day.
“Find a show, baby. I’ll get it.”
I shoot one last glare at Kiersten, but her attention focuses out the window to the front yard.
I reach the door and my heart leaps into my throat. I’ve lived a long time waiting, hoping, and being disappointed that nobody came looking for me. Pretending I was fine and that I’d put that life behind me. This is just another reminder of all those stupid daydreams that never came true. But as I clasp the door handle, I stupidly can’t help myself from hoping one last time.