Chapter 10: Birthday

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“Happy Birthday, Callista!” Tilly shouted, welcoming me into my room. 

She was the first person to tell me that all day.  I had woken up excited, wondering what fun my eighth birthday would bring.  But it had only brought disappointment.  My mom still hadn’t looked at me, and Jim had been gone all day.

Maybe that had been my present, a day without Jim.

None of the household staff had mentioned it either.  Didn’t I look older?  It was hard to explain but I felt older.

Each time someone had called me into a room I had thought maybe it was time for my surprise.  As the day wore on, I had thought at least one person would have bought me something or given me a card.  But there had been nothing—until now.

“I said, Happy Birthday!”  Tilly repeated, jumping off my bed to give me a hug.  The warmth went straight to my heart.  When she pulled away I didn’t want to let her go.

“Thanks, Tilly,” I said, trying to sound happy.  It didn’t work.  She looked at me for a moment then ran back to the bed.  I trudged over and plopped beside her.  When she asked what was wrong I would have to admit that everyone else had forgotten my birthday. 

“I’ll be back,” she said instead, bouncing into her own room without another word.

I fought back stupid tears as I waited for her to return.  What had I done to be treated like I didn’t even exist?  I had tried to be good and listen.  Sometimes I still got into trouble but I was a kid; kids were supposed to mess up.  Maybe if I was better this year then my next birthday would be twice as good.  Of course, it wouldn’t be too hard to top this one.

When Tilly finally came back she had something with her.

“Where did you get that?  You didn’t steal it, did you?”  I stared at the chocolate cake in front of me.  The icing was messy and didn’t reach all the way to the plate, and the pink writing was not straight, but it was beautiful.  Tilly had not forgotten about me.

“No!  I made it,” she announced proudly, puffing out her chest.

“All by yourself?”  There was no way I could bake a cake by myself.  I wouldn’t even know where to start.  Sweets were banned from my house and that included birthday cakes.  Metap-olisms didn’t have birthdays so I couldn’t eat cake for mine.  One time my dad had bought me a cupcake.  It even had a yellow candle in it.  He had asked me not to tell my mom; it had been our secret.

“No, my mom helped.”

“You told her?”  How could she share our most important secret with a grown-up? 

“Of course.  I would not have been allowed to do it by myself.  Cook hates it when I am in the kitchen.”  She gave me a mischievous grin. Apparently, the cook chased Tilly with a broom if my friend even looked into the kitchen.

“What did she say?”      

“Who?  Cook?”

“No, your mom.”

“She just asked me who Callista was.”

I gulped to keep my voice from shaking.  What if she wasn’t allowed to be my friend anymore?  “And what did you tell her?”

“I told her you were my best friend in the universe, and that it was your birthday!”

“That’s it?”  Even though Tilly’s mom had listened and understood I knew I could never tell my mom.  She wouldn’t care anyway and she definitely would not have helped me bake a cake for Tilly.  So our relationship would continue to be a secret, at least on my end.

“Yup!  That’s pretty much everything.  She didn’t even ask that many questions.  Um, Callista?”


“Do you mind if we talk about this later?  I’ve been looking at this cake all day long and I don’t think I could wait another second to eat it!”

We each enjoyed two large slices and giggled at the resulting stomach aches.  Before today, Tilly had not believed sweets could make a person sick.  She had chocolate smeared on her apron and on her nose.  How she got it there was beyond me.  Her mom wouldn’t be happy when she saw the mess. 

“What are you laughing at?” Tilly asked.

“You have cake everywhere!”

“Speak for yourself!”

Sure enough, my pink Nike t-shirt—my favorite—had a sticky handprint at the bottom.  How was I going to explain that to Rosa?

“I have a present for you,” Tilly said, groaning when she attempted to sit up.

“You didn’t have to do that.” The cake had been more than enough.  Besides, no one else had bothered to get me anything.

“Here.”  She unhooked her necklace and handed it to me.

“I can’t take this.  Your mom gave it to you.”  The dainty heart locket sat in my open hand; I was afraid I would crush the charm if I clutched it too tightly.  The metal was still warm from Tilly’s skin.

“And I’m giving it to you.  Happy Birthday.”  She took it from my hand and fastened it around my neck before I could protest any more.  The light pressure on my chest from the tiny heart made my own heart smile.  I gave my best friend a hug and tried not to cry.  Didn’t my tears know I was happy, not sad?

“Tilly, this is too special.”              

“No, it’s not special enough.  But I thought hard about when you gave me Benny.  It was nice to have him around to remind me of you.  Maybe this necklace will do the same for you.”  She blushed after her speech.

“Thanks.  But you know I will never forget you, even without the necklace.”

“Do you promise?”

“I swear!”  I never took a promise as seriously as that one. 

Tilly gave me a shy smile and changed the subject.  “Do you want to play with our dolls now?” she suggested, jumping through the glass onto her own bed.  I pulled Marta from under my pillow and brushed her curly hair out of her eyes.  I could never tell Tilly, but I had renamed Marta.  I called the doll Matilda when I played by myself, that way my best friend would be around even when she had more important things to do.

There was a knock on my door, and I whispered to Tilly, “Shhh.  Someone’s here.” 

She smiled knowingly then hid behind her bed.

Maybe my mom had remembered it was my birthday and wanted to tell me so.  Maybe she was bringing me a present.  All that really mattered was that she was here, even if she had forgotten to buy me something.

But the woman at the door wasn’t my mom.

“Happy Birthday, Callista!”

“Rosa!  You remembered!”  I gave my housekeeper a hug.  It should have been a disappointment that my mom hadn’t remembered, but Rosa was almost as good.  Plus, my day was getting better and better.  My mom still had a few hours to surprise me.  All my hope was restored.

“Of course I remembered.”  Her voice shook for some reason.  “What is all over you, child?”

“Um…”  There was only one explanation for the chocolaty smears on my clothes.  Tilly had told her mom, maybe I would tell Rosa.  “Chocolate.”

I waited for the questions but they never came. 

Rosa smiled and took my hand.  “Let’s get this chocolate cleaned off you before your mother sees.”

I giggled.  This was turning into a great birthday! 

Just before she left, Rosa handed me a tiny package wrapped in newspaper.  “I almost forgot!  I picked this up for you earlier this week.  It’s not much, but I believe you will like it.”

Didn’t she know I would love it even if it ended up being only a ball of newspaper?  I unwrapped the present to find two My Little Pony dolls.  One was pink and the other purple—Tilly’s favorite color.  I gave Rosa another hug.  This present was perfect.

“Thank you so much, Rosa.  I love them.”            

“Happy Birthday, little one.”

And just like that, two people had remembered me.


“Who was that?”  Tilly asked.  It was odd to see her face so serious.

“Oh, that’s Rosa, my housekeeper.”


“What’s wrong?”

“Oh, nothing.  What did she get you?”  My friend bounced through the mirror and landed on my bed.

“I think you mean, what did she get us?” I said cryptically.  Tilly gave me a confused look; she always tilted her head when she was trying to figure out a puzzle.  When I handed her the purple pony, her eyes got bigger.

“Callista, I can’t take…”

I covered her mouth with my hand, hoping she didn’t lick me like she had last time.  “Yes, you can.  What am I supposed to do with two of them?  You were meant to have one.”

She grinned and we played for hours with our new ponies.  I kept an ear toward the hallway, waiting patiently for my mom to come.  When a quiet knock sounded, I bolted toward the door.  Just before I opened it, I turned to make sure Tilly had hidden.

Who were you talking to?”  Jim asked angrily, pushing past me into the room.

“Myself,” I responded quickly, amazed he had been the one to remember of my birthday.  There was no other reason for him to be here.  Jim had never come to my room before unless I had been in trouble.  I had been extra good today to avoid being yelled at on such an important day.

He smirked.  “You are an odd little girl.  Stupid kids talk to themselves.  Are you stupid?”

I chose not answer and took a step back.  He was slurring his words; Jim was mean when he slurred.  His back was to the mirror, and I could see Tilly in the background.  Her arms were crossed and she was tapping her foot angrily.  I shook my head slightly, warning her to go away.  It was hard not to smile at her.  She was just a little girl and not as scary as she thought she was.  Tilly grinned, unaware of the danger we would both be in if she was caught.

“Yes, you are stupid.  Stupid and weird.”

He was probably hoping I would say something, but I only glared at him as his eyes roamed around my room.  If I was bigger I could make him leave.  I wished Jim would leave forever.  As if he heard my wish, my stepfather smiled meanly and started for the door.  He paused with his hand on the knob and whipped around, nearly knocking me over.

“Where did you get that?”

“Get what?”  I tucked the necklace into my t-shirt, hoping he didn’t notice the movement.  My eyes followed his and, to my horror, I saw where he was focused.  In my excitement to answer the door I had left Marta on my bed.  She smiled innocently, but for the first time since Tilly had given her to me, I didn’t feel like smiling back.

“That doll,” he seethed.

“She’s not mine.”

“You’re right about that.  Those are collector’s items.  They’re worth more than you are!  I told you not to play with them.”  He was shouting now.  It never ended well for me when Jim shouted.  “How did you get into the attic?”

“I didn’t go into the attic.”

“Then where did you get this?”

For lack of a better excuse, the truth slipped out.  “My friend gave it to me.”

“You have no friends.  You’re a liar!” he screamed and lunged for me.  I tried to leap out of the way but my legs got mixed up and I fell.  He squeezed my arm and yanked me to my feet.  Jim shook me until my teeth rattled.  He must have gotten bored because he let me go with a shove, grabbed Marta, and headed for the door.

“Give her back!  She’s not mine!” I shouted.

He turned to smile at me.  “You’re right about that.  You just wait for your punishment.”

Tilly would not be my friend if I let him take her favorite doll.  Jim would lock her up, and I would never see Marta again.  “Give her back!”  I yelled at the top of my lungs, hoping someone would hear me and come to the rescue.

“What did you just say to me?” he said in a low, menacing tone.

“It’s Tilly’s doll, Marta—she’s her favorite.  I… I… I need to give it back to her.”

“Liar!  When I get through with you…” he jumped toward me and smacked my cheek.  I tried not to flinch, but I couldn’t help it.  He hit me once more, knocking me on the floor. 

I stood up unsteadily but could not see anything through my watery eyes.  The last thing I wanted to do was let Jim see me cry.  I swiped my tears away and glared back at him.  He raised his hand to me a third time.  I braced myself for the blow; I was ready.  It couldn’t hurt as much as it would when Tilly hated me for losing her doll.

“Stop it!”  The command from my rescuer was shrill, making me jump.

Jim froze with his hand pulled back.  He whipped around and searched for the source of the voice.  “Who said that?” he whispered. 

There was no answer.

“Who do you have in here?  If I find some kid hidden away I will kill you.”

“Hit her again, and I will get my father.  Then you will be sorry.”  Tilly was smaller than me, but she was stronger and she sounded mad. 

At that moment Jim saw my friend standing on her bed.  His mouth fell open and he looked back at me with wide eyes.  I smiled at the terror on his face.

“You’re the devil,” he shouted.

I giggled.  I was not the devil; I was just a little girl.  And so was Tilly.  Who would have thought my best friend would have this effect on my stepfather?  If only he would have met her sooner.  Maybe now he would leave me alone.

“You have possessed this room with some sort of magic,” he accused.

“That’s silly.”  Everyone knew magic was not real, right?  And my stepfather had thought I was stupid.

I expected him to leave, but he walked over to the mirror instead.  With a stiff motion his fist punched the shiny surface.  The force of the blow crushed the fragile glass into a million pieces.  One minute my best friend was there and then she was gone. 

Jim was hurting Tilly.  She was screaming and there was blood everywhere.  My favorite blanket turned red then black with blood.  I raced over and started hitting him, trying to keep him from hurting my friend.  Rosa rushed in and pulled me off my stepfather.  She kept on hushing me and saying that everything would be alright.  That’s when I realized Tilly was not screaming—I was. 


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