At the Risk of Forgetting(9)

By: A.M. Wilson

“Happy birthday to you...” Kiersten and I sang to Evelyn. Our trio celebrated in our traditional fashion, the three of us in my modest ranch-style home, the favorite meal of the birthday girl having been devoured, and a few candles stuck into a cheesecake sampler.

This year, Evelyn acted more embarrassed than usual and covered her face while groaning, “Mom!”

Kiersten and I harmonized the last few notes, then kissed the birthday girl on each cheek.

“Blow out the candles, baby.”

She rolled her eyes, but the smile on her face couldn’t hide her happiness. As she’d done every year since she turned four, Evelyn closed her eyes to make a wish and blew out her fourteen candles.

Each year I’ve wondered what she wished for, and each year she’d look at me with a slight smile and refuse to share. Some kids pretend. 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 might not believe in those made-up characters anymore, but she still believed in the power of wishes and prayers.

She opened her eyes and exclaimed, “Let’s eat cake!”

But my own smile slipped at what I saw.

Those eyes. That smile. Memories came flooding through the gates I’d locked and closed over a decade ago. Law’s sudden return was messing with my head.

“You okay?” Kiersten leant in and asked quietly while Evelyn grabbed the plates and scooped out her slice of triple chocolate cheesecake.

“Hmm? Oh. I’m fine,” I chuckled. “Memories, you know? I just can’t believe how old she’s getting.”

She cocked her head but didn’t say a thing. Her perceptiveness could be useful, but right now, I was praying she didn’t question my odd behavior.

After dishing our plates, we moved to the sofa and Evelyn clicked on the TV. “What should we watch?”

I dug into my own slice of turtle cheesecake. “You pick, birthday girl.”

Evelyn leaned forward to set down her plate and search. By doing so, I could clearly see Kiersten on the other side of her studying me.

What? I mouthed, furrowing my brow.

What’s up with you? She mouthed back, jabbing her fork in my direction. I cut my eyes to Evelyn to find her still flipping through movies.

Nothing. As I shoveled another forkful of cake into my mouth, I turned back to the TV. I smiled. Evelyn was at that tricky age between kid and adult. Her tastes had changed drastically over the past couple months, and she was trying so hard to fit in with her mom and aunt. She was currently browsing movies a little bit (a lot) above her comprehension and maturity.

I opened my mouth to respond, but was cut off when something hard pelted the side of my temple. My back straightened, and I snapped my gaze back to Kiersten. I skimmed the couch cushion with my hand, all while glaring, and came up with the weapon. A chocolate chip.

Are you kidding me?

We are talking later.

No, we are not, I mouthed back.

Kiersten looked about ready to respond, but a knock on the door had all our heads swiveling that way.

“Who could that be?” Evelyn asked, and my heart fell. She knew her only family was sitting in that room with her. In fourteen years, we hadn’t had any visitors and door-to-door sales were rare around here. It hurt, as a parent, that my baby couldn’t expect anyone else to shower her in affection on her special day.

“Find a show, baby. I’ll get it.”

I shot one last glare at Kiersten, but her attention was focused out the window to the front yard.

I reached the door and my heart leapt into my throat. I’d 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 was just another reminder of all those stupid daydreams that never came true. But as I clasped the door handle, I stupidly couldn’t help myself from hoping.

And being disappointed.

There was nobody there, and the air rushed from my lungs. Beside the door was a bouquet of helium balloons tied to a weight wrapped in metallic purple paper. Next to the weight was a rectangle box wrapped to match—a gift. On top laid a card.

I checked behind me to make sure the girls hadn’t followed me to the door then bent down to retrieve the card. Unaddressed and unsealed. I scanned the street before me, but there was nobody there. No one walking down the sidewalk, no cars parked along the side of the road.

The hairs still stood up on my neck. Only one person could have brought this, and that raised the question of how did he know where I lived?

This was becoming too much.