BIRTHDAY WISHES

by Linda S Barth

Nearly all the torches in the dining hall had been extinguished, leaving the spacious chamber in near darkness. A cluster of children jostled each other in their quest to get as close as possible to the teenager seated in a place of honor at the end of a long oak table. Their parents tried unsuccessfully to corral the youngsters while everyone gathered around, watching in eager anticipation as William carefully carried in an enormous cake.

Giggling with excitement, the children moved aside to allow the cake to be placed in front of the young man whose special day was being celebrated. William pulled a book of matches from the pocket of his apron and lit the small, colorful candles that rose from a cloud-like concoction of fluffy white frosting. Tiny starbursts of light sparkled in the shadows as the adults made room on the benches for William, and the children again surged like a miniature tidal wave to surround the guest of honor.

At a commanding gesture from Father, the tunnel community began to sing the traditional song of celebration, their voices blending in a joyful tribute to their much-loved friend and son. As the music came to an exuberant close, applause and cheers echoed along with good-natured demands.

“Make a wish, Vincent! Make a wish!”

“And make it a good one!” Pascal teased his lifelong friend. “You’re only going to get one eighteenth birthday!”

“You know anybody who got more than one?” Winslow’s booming laugh filled the chamber as he and several others relit the candles in the wall sconces. “You planning on having a second turn?”

Pascal grinned. “I guess not. I’ll just have to wait until I turn twenty-one for my next special birthday.”

“But Pascal is right,” Rebecca said. “You have to make your most important wish when you have a special birthday!” She smiled at Vincent, recalling the wish she had made at her eighteenth birthday celebration a few months earlier. It hadn’t come true yet, but she was certain it would, and she hoped with all her heart that Vincent’s wish would be realized as well.

A small hand tugged at Vincent’s sleeve. “Are you going to wish for candy, Vincent?”

“Brooke! You’re not supposed to ask what someone’s wish is!” Olivia admonished the younger girl. “If he tells, it won’t come true.”

Brooke bit her lip and her eyes gleamed with a rush of tears. “I’m sorry!”

“It’s okay.” Vincent ruffled the little girl’s hair. “I suppose I might wish for candy. I’m not sure yet.”

Given that opening, several more suggestions were made for the best possible wishes. The words of advice jittered in Vincent’s ears, full of warmth and good intentions, but with a disquieting undertone only he could hear.

Mary smiled indulgently at her family. “Why don’t we all quiet down for a minute and give Vincent a chance to think?”

“Yeah, or he’ll be turning nineteen and he still won’t have made his wish!” Cullen’s comment drew laughter from the others, but they followed Mary’s suggestion.

Vincent closed his eyes. For several moments he sat in silence, his face a mask of intense concentration, while around the table, his friends watched him, wondering what his wish would be. Then, he smiled softly and opened his eyes. His expression was that of someone who had come to a happy and satisfying decision. Only those who knew him best saw the flickers of pain in his eyes.

Father summoned a cheerful smile. “Now blow out the candles, my boy, and make your wish!”

A final round of cheers faded away as William sliced the cake, passing filled plates down the length of the table for all to share. As always, there would be stories and songs, lighthearted conversation, maybe a game or two. Later, Vincent would open the gifts, mostly handcrafted and entirely heartfelt, piled on a nearby table.

He felt another small tug on his sleeve. Turning from the humorous story Olivia was telling about a recent foray Above, he found Brooke hovering at his elbow once again. She put a finger to her lips, urging his silence. He leaned closer so he might listen to her whispered words.

“What did you wish for, Vincent?” Her wide eyes gazed up at him. “Cross my heart, I promise not to tell.”

He smiled at the hopeful child. “I wished for something that makes everyone happy,” he whispered back.

“I knew it!” Her smile sparkled as she skipped away. She was sure that when Vincent’s wish came true, he would share all that candy with everyone, especially her.

Vincent smiled, content in the warmth of the special moments his family had lovingly created for him. But in his heart, his happiness was threaded with a knotted cord of sadness that he could never entirely escape. It wouldn’t have mattered if he had revealed his wish. He knew in his heart it would never come true.

After all, not everything is possible.

 

* * *

 

A few short miles yet worlds away, a teenage girl giggled as her friend debated a choice of birthday wishes. A date with that cute new boy in their geometry class, front row tickets for the Elton John concert, one of the Biba dresses they’d all tried on at Henri Bendel.

“Come on, Jen, you have to make up your mind!”

“Cathy’s right,” Nancy said, reaching across the table in the crowded café to tweak a strand of the birthday girl’s long curly hair. “At this rate, you’ll be seventeen before you make a decision!”

Jenny laughed and rolled her eyes. “Okay, okay…hmmm…I guess I’ll go with –”

“A date with Jimmy Faraday!” her friends chorused. Jenny grinned her acknowledgement of their correct guess, then pretended to be deep in thought, pondering her next move just in case wishing wouldn’t be enough. “Maybe I can get him to help me with my geometry homework, and we’ll see where things go from there.”

“Good idea, Jen.” Cathy grinned. “And with your math grades, that boy will never suspect you have ulterior motives!”

Jenny glared at her. “Very funny! Why don’t you share that one with all your much brainier friends at the next meeting of the National Honor Society!”

“Okay, you two.” Nancy shook her head. “Let’s keep it civil.”

Cathy immediately looked abashed. “I was only joking! You knew that — right, Jen?”

“Of course, I did. And besides, you were right!”

The three friends collapsed in a wave of laughter, trying and completely failing to hush each other under the disapproving gazes of a few people at nearby tables. Finally, Jenny took a deep breath and reached for a brightly wrapped package. “You know, I wonder if a birthday wish actually can come true, especially one you make on a special birthday.”

Nancy shrugged. “Sure, why not?” She pointed at the gift in Jenny’s hands. “Now, open your presents – that one’s from me!”

The rustling sound of paper and the chatter of voices faded away for a moment as Cathy considered Nancy’s words. She’d already decided on the wish she planned to make this summer on her own sixteenth birthday. And if it were granted, she would never have to wish for anything more. She smiled, somehow knowing in her heart that wishes and dreams truly can come true.

After all, anything is possible.

 

8 Comments

  1. Linda, what a wonderful story! I think we can all guess what young Vincent and Catherine might have wished on their 18th and 16th birthdays: To meet that someone special, to find their soulmates. And of course, Vincent’s wish would be threaded with pain, because so far, life has taught him that this wish is impossible. Only time will tell the full story.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely story!

    HUGS,

    Karen/Lindariel

    Reply
    • Karen, thank you so much for enjoying the story and for taking the time to let me know. As a fellow writer, you know how much that means!

      Reply
  2. Sweet! I love the parallel birthday storylines. So wistful and full of longing, but also hopeful. Very well written.

    They are hopeful romantics, those two.

    Thank you for writing this!

    Reply
    • And thank you for reading and enjoying it! That means the world to me.

      Reply
  3. Linda is a touching story. So beautiful is this celebration of Vincent with the tunnel family, sweet Brooke, always witty Cullen…optimistic Rebecca. The heartwarming moment of Vincent saying his wish in his mind with sadness in his eyes..and although he didn’t believe it would come true in his heart he was hopeful because he didn’t reveal his wish to Brooke…And exactly that close but still far away we have the joyous celebration of Jenny’s birthday…the happy teenagers: crazy Jenny, sensible Nancy and Catherine believing in the fulfillment of dreams of great love. I like this picture of their equal wishes coming true. Thank you for a great story, it’s such a pleasant surprise.

    Reply
    • Thank you so much for reading and enjoying this story, Paula! I often like playing with ideas of Catherine and Vincent before they met, in so many ways so close and yet so far away, just as you observed. NYC is a huge city but in some ways it’s a small town, and those two, destined as they were to someday come together, shared not only a not-so-distant physical proximity but certain life experiences and perspectives, too. I think it’s fun to explore those ideas in stories, and I’m glad I’m not the only one who has that opinion.

      Reply
  4. Make a wish Vincent. Yes please do. Cathy is right anything is possible thank you so much for this story

    Reply
    • PearlAnn, thank you so much for reading it and enjoying it. That makes everything all worthwhile.

      Reply

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WATER FUN

by AM

“Local temperature is 89 degrees with a heat index of 102. Stay inside if you can. Drink plenty of water and remember, don’t overdo it. It’s a scorcher out there today, folks”.

Catherine cursed the weatherman as she wiped the sweat off her forehead.  “Great. What a perfect time for the air to go out.”

The thought of going outside made her cringe. It was Sunday, so her office would be locked.

“I need to get out of this heat. I’ve got it!” Catherine giggled as she had a wonderful idea.

She went through recycling looking for something she could use.

“Nothing,” she said, frustrated.

She hurriedly changed into a comfortable t-shirt and jeans and hurried to the nearest store. She would’ve run if it hadn’t been so hot.

She sighed with relief when she stepped foot into the cool store.

She picked up some water guns.

No, too violent, and would be frowned upon, she thought as she put the guns down.

She went searching for safer things.

Balloons? No, leaves a mess to clean up.

Her eyes lit up when she saw them. “Spray bottles!!! Perfect!! Hmmm. There’s 50. That should be plenty.”

She grabbed up all the bottles and headed to pay.

It seemed like forever before she headed back to her apartment with her treasures. Instead of going directly to her apartment, she headed to the tunnels. It wasn’t long before she ran into Eric.

“What’s in the bags?” he asked

“It’s a surprise, and I need you to do me a favor. Could you gather all the kids and bring them here?”

“Okay.”

“Oh, and Eric?”

Eric turned to look at her.

“Bring as many buckets of water as you can.” She winked at him.

He returned in record time with all the tunnel kids, each carrying two buckets full of water. Catherine passed out the spray bottles and helped fill them up. Once all the bottles were filled, boundary lines were drawn, and safe places declared, they were ready.

“On your mark, get set, GO!” Catherine yelled.

The fight began in full force. Laughter, shrieks, and happy screams echoed through the tunnels as the children chased and sprayed each other. Catherine found herself in the crossfire several times, but laughed as hard as the children. When bottles emptied they were quickly refilled, and the fun continued. Soon adults came to find out where the happy noises were coming from. Some smiled, shook their heads and went back to their previous activity. Some helped by refilling empty buckets. Others just couldn’t help joining in the fun. Catherine noticed Vincent walking towards them.

“I need to borrow that,” she said to Kipper.

He smiled and handed her his full bottle. She placed the bottle behind her back, walked calmly up to Vincent, and sprayed him in the face.

His look of shock made Catherine laugh. Vincent calmly watched the children play for a few minutes before casually picking up a bucket that was a quarter full. He turned to Catherine.

“Vincent, you wouldn’t dare.”

“Perhaps, but then how would I return the favor?”

With that, he dumped the bucket over her head. The children erupted with laughter to see Catherine soaked.

A tapping on the pipes made them all stop. Dinner.

Groans quickly spread among the children. They reluctantly started handing the bottles to Catherine.

“Vincent, why don’t you keep them for the next time?”

The children’s eyes danced with glee. Vincent put the bottles in the buckets and handed them to the children to carry.

“Would you join us, Catherine?” Vincent asked.

“I would love to.”

Vincent took her hand and they followed the children to dinner.