"Come on, Aliya! Blow out the candles! Just because you're seventeen now, doesn't mean you cannot have fun!" James' voice broke through my reverie, and I attempted a smile, for my guests' sakes. Puckering my lips, I held a thought in my head as I blew out the candles: please let this year be a normal one.
Everyone cheered when the last candle was out, and gathered around the picnic table for the slices my mother was handing out. I was grateful that she had worn clothes that were at least remotely common; as a fashion empress, she usually dressed in something so outrageous, it was stupid. But today, for my sake, she was dressed in a normal pantsuit.
My mother's friends all gathered around me to congratulate me on another year, but time seemed to speed up. I didn't particularly like crowds, and this was the most people that had shown up to my birthday parties in years. I mumbled half hearted thank yous to everyone who came to shake my hand, but sighed internally when the line was finished. I grabbed the last piece of cake and a can of soda, and walked away from the murmuring crowd, towards a table that seated my four best friends in the entire world. Many people think I'm crazy, but I don't like the company of girls, and my group reflected that; they were all boys. We had all been together since birth, because our parents were best friends. I guess the legacy continues.
"Wow, took you long enough. How many people did your mom invite?" Kyle asked as I sat down.
"Yeah, I thought this was supposed to be a small get together?" Zack chimed in, stuffing the last of his cake into his mouth.
I sighed as I sat down next to James and Tallon. "It was supposed to be small, but she decided a week ago that since it was an important birthday, there should be more people here. I don't even know half of the people over there. They're all my mom's work friends." I pushed the vanilla cake around my plate. I hated vanilla. I popped open the tab on my Dr. Pepper and took a long swig, letting the caffeine seep into my system. It made me feel a little bit better, but I just wanted to go home.
We sat in silence for a while; not the awkward silences that most people have, but the nice, companionable, friendly silences that feel good. I could hear the birds in the trees above us, singing away like nothing was wrong in the world. There was a group of kids playing soccer on the other side of the park, and I closed my eyes, listening to their shrieks of excitement.
"You know what I wish?" I said, my eyes still closed. "I wish that we could go back to the easy days when we were ten. Life was so much easier with a peanut butter sandwich and a juice box."
I heard the guys' chuckle, and smiled. Maybe today wasn't going to be as bad as I thought.
"Hey, Ali, how come you're not eating your cake, sweetie?" I heard my mother's high voice, and cringed. I slowly turned around in my seat. I caught a glimpse of Tallon's face as I was turning, and he looked like he was going to puke. I'm pretty sure my mother scared him a little bit.
"Uh, hey, mom. I'm not really in the mood for cake right now. I thought I'd save it until later?"
"But, honey, it is your birthday! You should eat as much cake as you want. I baked two of them, so you don't have to worry about eating all of it."
"Mom. I just don't feel like eating cake right now, okay?" I prayed that my mom would drop the topic. I didn't want to break it to her that she didn't bake the cake that I liked.
Her lower lip stuck out, and I could tell she wasn't going to let it go. "Please, sweetie? I made it especially for your special seventeenth birthday!"
I closed my eyes, building up my nerve. "Mom. It is not that I'm not in the mood for cake. You baked a vanilla cake, your favorite, instead of making a chocolate one like I asked."
I heard her take a breath, like she was thinking about what to say. Opening my eyes again, I glanced over at my friends faces. Zack and Kyle were eagerly talking about something that probably wasn't important, to avoid mine and my mother's conversation, Tallon still looked like he was going to throw up, and James was pointedly staring into space. Their reactions were the last straw on a particularly horrible birthday. I stood up, grabbed my mother's arm, and dragged her away from them.
"Mom. Come here. We're not going to discuss this in front of my friends. I have told you a million times. I DON'T like vanilla cake. I am not you! I hate dressing up, I hate makeup, and above all, I DON'T like hanging out with all of your girlfriends! So stop being so delusional, and let me live the life that I want to live, not the one you want to vicariously live through me!"
We were far enough away from anyone that no one heard me whisper shouting. My mother's expression was shocked, and her face was a little bit paler than normal.
"But, I thought, I thought you like vanilla cake. I always used to make it for you when you were my little baby girl."
"Well, mom, I hate to break it to you, I'm not your little girl anymore. Like you said, this is my 'special seventeenth birthday,' and whether you like it or not, I'm growing up. I like different things than I did as a little girl. I will be moving out once I graduate, going to college, living life! I'm not a little girl anymore. So stop acting like I am."
With that, I walked away, the guilt settling in my stomach. I usually didn't talk to my mom like a normal teenager does, but I was tired of her living her life through me. I glanced behind me, to apologize and see if she was okay, but she had already started to walk briskly towards her group of chattering friends. I looked back at my friends, who were staring expectantly after me, and walked back towards them.
"Dude, are you okay? You look a little sick." Zack's eyebrow was furrowed, and he looked so funny, I burst into laughter.
"I'm totally fine," I panted out between bouts. "I set my mom straight, and that was it. Can we talk about something else now?" I asked as I sat down next to James. The others nodded, and resumed their conversation about racecars or what not, but I could feel James's concerned eyes still on me. I turned to look at him, my blue eyes meeting his brown ones. "James, I'm fine. I have been needing to get that off of my chest for about five or so years. It was begging to be said, and today was just the day it came out. Okay?" He nodded, but I don't think he believed me. I turned away, focusing on the other's conversation instead.
"Oh, and remember when Drivolsky won the Prix of 3007? It was epic the way he used his hover lifters to take out the other crafts!" Kyle's voice rose with excitement; hover racing was his favorite sport. On the other hand, Zack hated it, and bashed on it whenever he could. Which was often, seeing how Kyle's mom had adopted Zack.
"Yeah, if epic means totally deranged and lame, then yeah, it was 'epic.' You should have seen when Pete Leroy took out seven players with one disc throw! It was like, bam bam, bam bam bam, bam, bam! Ah, yes, 3009 was a good year for Leroy." Zack gave a contented sigh, staring at the fluffy white clouds overhead. Tallon smacked Zack's head, knocking it off its perch on his hand.
"Until he totally strained his back trying to get just one person out in the big game of 3010! That was so stupid! If he had thrown the disc the other way, they would have won!"
"So?" Zack retorted, scooting closer to Tallon. "He still had the best record hits of anyone else in else in Glowscus in the history of the sport!"
"Yeah right!" James said, finally getting into the conversation. "Remember when (name) played for the same team right after Leroy got injured, and played three perfect games in a row? That's never happened before in the history of Glowscus!"
Zack laughed. "That last game was disputed by the referees for months before they declared it a perfect game."
I chuckled under my breath. Trust them to argue about sports they thought I had no clue about in front of me.
"Remember Joevinsky? He was reputed to have a total score of four thousand and eighty three by the time he retired! He was the greatest Glowscus player in history!" My comment stopped them in their tracks. All four of them turned and looked at me, an incredulous expression on their faces. I could tell I knocked them speechless by chiming in.
"You follow Glowscus? I thought you didn't like sports very much?" Kyle asked, his voice sounding astonished.
I laughed. "No, I just hate playing sports; I have no hand-eye-foot coordination at all. But I love watching them, to my mother's dismay."
The boys looked at each other, then burst out laughing. "And all this time, we were planning sports watching parties without you, when you could have come along?"
Nodding, I clutched at my sides, as I had started laughing hysterically as well. "I have been watching them all alone, sitting there on the couch with all my food, my mother glaring at me from the kitchen table where she paints her nails. We could have even done some of them at my house!"
I was kidding, of course, but the boys grew silent anyway. None of them had ever been to my house. I had never given them a reason why, always evading their questions every time they asked. It wasn't because I was poor; no, in fact, it was the opposite. My mother, the fashionista, owned the largest fashion empire in the entire city of New Haven. Millions of people bought the clothes she personally designed each season, and the money that flowed in more than paid for anything we wanted. But when I was little, I would always go to either Kyle and Zack's house, Tallon's house, or James' house, and I quickly realized that not everyone lived in such splendor. None of them knew about my house, or my mom's 'secret identity.' So, even when I was just joking, they always seemed to sober up. It was a mystery to them, and sometimes people fear mysterious things.
"Come on, guys, I was just joking around with you! Where do you usually have these parties? I want to starts coming to them."
Zack was the first one to snap out of his stupor. "Uhm, we usually go to Tallon's house; he has that extra room with the T.V. that we watch them on. There's a big Glowscus game going on right now, if you want to blow this joint."
I warily glanced towards my mother, but she was caught up with talking to her friends, and wasn't paying us any attention, so I nodded my head.
"Let's go," I said, grabbing my keys from my pocket. "Come on, we can take my car."
I had already explained away my fancy ride: apparently, I had a rich aunt who lived too far away to visit often (she gets very sick on planes), so she makes it up with extravagant gifts, such as my 2967 Chevy Impala, perfectly modeled after the ones built in 1967. It was cherry red, and was the smoothest car I had ever driven: it might look exactly like its predecessors, but it had state of the art equipment, complete with a built in, state of the art O-Pod system. We quietly got up from out picnic table, and tried to walk as silently as we could so as not to disturb anyone. When we got out of earshot, we bolted for my car, parked along the curb. It stood out; most people owned a dark blue or black car in New Haven, so the cherry red was like a beacon. Kyle, Zack and Tallon jumped into the back, and James hopped into the passenger side as I was slamming my door shut. I turned the car on, and drove away from the park as fast as I could. The back seat was filled with laughter, and I could tell from the corner of my eye that James was trying not to laugh as well. We drove as fast as we could without going over the speed limit and getting pulled over by the hover cops, who have a history of being violent to the people they pull over. I parked next to the curb in front of Tallon's house, and we piled out of the car, running towards the door.
"I call sitting on the bean bag chair!" Zack yelled from in front of me as he opened the door and slammed it behind him. Tallon reached the door next, and jiggled the handle.
"Dude! Unlock the door! I left my spare key in my locker!" He pounded his flat hand against the door, while still trying to open it.
James, Kyle and I reached the door, and I leaned over, putting my hand on my knees and panting. I wasn't out of shape, but running and laughing at the same time made me a little tired all the same. We heard some loud bangs from inside the house, and Tallon pounded on the door again.
"I'm serious! DUDE, open the door right now!" He paused, listening for any sign of Zack coming up the stairs. "If you don't open this door right now, I will find a way to get in there, and I will get rid of that bean bag chair once and for all! You know I will!"
Apparently Zack was totally unconcerned with his favorite seat being destroyed, and he seemed to trust the lock on the door enough to (awkward sentence). I had finally caught my breath, so I stood up straight and reached into my bag. I pulled something out of it, and tapped Kyle on the shoulder.
"Here, this should work."
He grabbed it, and looked at me. "You keep a lock picking set in your bag?"
"Yeah, but it is only for when I forget my key and I'm locked out of my house. I know your mom trained you in lock picking, so go ahead."
Kyle sighed, and stepped forward. "Tallon, move out of the way. This will just take a second." Once Tallon moved back, he knelt down in front of the lock, stuck in the pin and tension wrench, fiddled with if for a second, then stood up, twisted the knob, and swung open the door.
"There. Now, go beat up my stupid brother and his bean bag chair." Kyle chuckled, then handed the lock picking set back to me. "If I hear that a girl about your size and age is going around picking locks and stealing stuff, I will kill you. Then report you to my mom."
"Oh, I swear, it is just for when I lose my key. I have only used it once for my house. My mom was the one who bought it for me. She was tired of leaving work early to unlock the door."
Kyle's mom is one the highest ranking detectives in the entire city of New Haven. She practically runs the West New Haven Police Department; the police chief was corrupt, like most of the politicians in New Haven.
"Okay. Well, let's go watch the game!" We raced into Tallon's house, running down the stairs into the entertainment room; Tallon's mom worked at the largest computer company in the world, fixing technical issues and bugs, so they were a bit more well off than some of the population of New Haven, and their entertainment room reflected that: there was a Foo-Ball table, a hover puck table, a 30" flat screen built in T.V. and a Y-Box gaming system. Zack was already sprawled onto the purple bean bag chair, remote in hand and eyes glued to the game. Kyle, James and I all flopped onto the couch, while Tallon went to stand in front of Zack's view of the television.
"Hey, man, get out of the way! I was just kidding about locking you guys out; I was gonna come get the door, but obviously you found a way in! No worries, right?"
Tallon stayed silent, and you could hear the teleprompters on the television in the background: "Now, whose tuba is this?" Zack flipped his dark brown hair out of his eyes, looking up at Tallon. "Dude, cool off. It was just a joke."
Without a word, Tallon reached down, pulled the bean bag chair out from under Zack, and marched it right up the stairs. Kyle was laughing silently, clutching his stomach and gasping for air, and James was snickering into his hand.
"Dude!" Zack called after Tallon. "Hey, that's not cool!" He raced up the stairs after him. "Gimme that back! I'm serious!" I heard the back door slam, and the three of us that were left burst out laughing. We were laughing so hard, we couldn't breathe, and James ended up rolling around on the floor. Kyle was smacking his knee, and I was clutching the front of my jacket so tightly my knuckles were turning white.
"Annnd that's Fredrico Rosales taking the win by a slim shot! The crowd is going wild!"
James stopped laughing and looked at the T.V. "You've got to be kidding me! Fredrico Rosales won the Minor League championships for the Roques? That's ridiculous! Edwan Kollers has much more skill than Rosales! It was a lucky throw!"
Kyle nodded in agreement as Tallon and Zack walked down the stairs, arguing animatedly about the hover racing finals of 3011, Zack carrying the bean bag chair under his arm. They both flopped to the floor. There were two more games after the one Rosales won, and we nearly shouted ourselves hoarse. We decided to go out for some pizza, and drove to our favorite pizza diner in town Mario's Pizza Pies, or Mario's for short. Ordering three large pizzas, we sat down at our favorite booth next to the window and laughed, talked and ate until midnight.
After we finished the pizzas, we ordered the special Waffle Shakes. Mario (the owner) would stuff a waffle (any kind), three scoops of whatever ice cream you wanted, and some berries into a blender and puree it until it was done. They tasted divine, and we had loved them since the first time we came to the pizzeria when we were nine years old. We all ordered the same thing we did since back then; blueberry waffle surprise. I still haven't figured out what the surprise is. As soon as the last drop of Waffle Shake was slurped, we all piled back into my car, silently agreeing that it was too late to go back home. Instead, we drove back to Tallon's house, and went inside as silently as we could. Tiptoeing down the stairs back into the entertainment room, we grabbed a pile of blankets out of the side closet and spread them down on the ground. We all lay down in a circle sort of shape, each of us pillowing our head against another's stomach.
"Remember when we used to do this as kids?" Kyle asked, and as he spoke, my head bobbed up and down on his stomach.
"Yeah," Zack said, lifting his hands straight up into the air. He started drawing random pictures in the air, and Tallon, who was cushioning his head on Zack, stared at the drawing with rapt attention.
My fingers found their way into James' hair, and I started playing with the strands distractedly. "Of course," I said, my eyes focusing on the ceiling. "We used to fall asleep on each other all the time. Our mothers would get so angry and fed up, they'd just stop letting us see each other for a few days, until we got all mopey and 'kid depressed.' They'd give in, and we'd hide out in James' tree house for days, demanding that they bring us food, and only climbing down to go potty. Too bad that thing got destroyed in Hurricane Zelda, or I would have driven us there."
James laughed. "Ah, I loved that tree house. It was the one and only thing that my step dad ever built me. He said he spent too much time on it, though, and that he'd never do something of that magnitude again, even after I begged for a new tree house for months after that hurricane."
My eyes had started to drift closed, and I vaguely heard James and Kyle switch to a different topic, something about all the injuries they had received while playing Glowscus. Before I knew it, I had drifted asleep, oblivious to their quiet conversation.