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Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you.
The words sound toneless, although I’ve been hearing them all day, pulsing in my brain. HapPY birthDAY . . .
“Shut up, shut up, shut up,” I chant underneath my breath. Doesn’t help.
I check my cell phone. Reflex reaction. I can’t help it. Even at this hour, when the house is dead silent except for the ticking of the clock and the steady drip, drip of the sink, when my birthday is almost over, I’m checking my phone, hoping, like some kind of sick, pathetic fool, that the name I’ve been waiting for will flash on screen.
Well, what am I supposed to do? It’s my birthday, for heaven’s sake. Shouldn’t I even expect for him to call?
We’re best friends, aren’t we? At least, that’s what we claimed to be. Born the exact same minute, yet on different days (Jack is a week older), our mothers had been best friends all the way back in high school. There was always a definite level of closeness between us.
That had changed once we hit sophomore year. It wasn’t just that we weren’t ratty freshman anymore, it was what exactly happened to Jack the summer before tenth grade. He’d shot up seven inches, began to work out, and grew out his hair. He was no longer Jack. Well, he was, but he wasn’t my Jack, the Jack I’d known my whole life. The one who used to push me on the swings, the one who’d helped me pass math class in sixth grade, the one who I used to sneak out with at the stroke of twelve for a midnight snack at the Mickey D’s around the corner.
But once we entered school that first day, all eyes were on Jack McLaughlin. By lunch, he was already king of a table with blondes crowded all around him. That was the beginning of my end.
So we didn’t hang like we did way back when. But I’m eighteen today. He’ll call, right?
I glance at my reflection in the mirror above my dresser. A pale face with furious gray eyes stares back at me. I arch an eyebrow. Yeah, he’ll call alright.
Happy birthday, happy birthday.
A sudden commotion makes me start. I strain to place the noise (noises, actually), my eyes closed tight and scrunched up.
They’re definitely not coming from inside my house. My parents are, I know for sure, sleeping (I can hear my dad’s snores), and I don’t have an siblings to be making the racket.
So. It’s coming from outside. Oh, well. Good night.
I flop on my bed, and try to fall asleep, but I just can’t. Something about all the hubbub is triggering a hidden sixth sense. It’s making me antsy. I have to go check it out. I just have to.
I walk over to my windows, and pull the curtain back. There’s a white limo parked across the street, in front of Jack’s house.
Jack’s house? Why Jack’s house? I strain my eyes in the eerie darkness.
My intent is to stay hidden while I spy. I’m not willingly blowing my cover flicking on the light switch. Even if it might help me see.
Watching like a hawk, I see kids-teens- pouring out of the limo. I count six in total. Three boys, three girls. Even in this blackness, I can tell that these aren’t just any ordinary girls, or freaks like me. They’re the primly polished girls, the Miss Popularities. Two of them are even blondes, and I bet their eyes are blue, blue like the sparkling sapphire liquid you see when you’re vacationing in the Caribbean. And their dates are the hot jocks, the ones every girl fawns over. One of them looks slightly familiar, though. I squint until my eyes are nearly slits. I regret it almost immediately. Because it’s Jack.
Prom. He blew me off, his best friend, off for prom. And it’s my eighteenth birthday.
And guess who his date is? It’s Kelly Smithson, the queen of our high school, my mortal enemy.
Oh, great. Now he’s rubbing it in my face, isn’t he? Curses are flying through my head at the same speed as, I don’t know, light.
They’re all laughing and talking. It’s obvious that they had a fabulous time. Kelly’s looking up at Jack in a worshipful (read: pathetic) manner, and he’s totally eating it up. No doubt they’re going to walk into school after the weekend ends holding hands and looking at each other with goo-goo eyes. The suspicion’s confirmed after he leans down and kisses her on the lips.
I laugh once without any humor in the sound. Barbie and Ken. What a perfect match.
Well, what did I expect? She’s the gorgeous social butterfly. I’m the redheaded goth nerd.
Jack walks into his house, waving to the group as they get into the limo and drive away. The limo’s a white bullet as it streaks up the street. It’s found a destination, too. Me.
My phone suddenly vibrates madly. I tear my eyes away from the window, and pick it up. It announces the arrival of a new text message. From Jack.
“Prom was awesome,” it reads. “Kell is a doll. How can you hate her? That’s something we’ll discuss tomorrow. Later today, actually.”
OK, who is sending me this text? It can’t possibly be Jack McLaughlin, because he was there when everything happened. Why do I hate her? Why do I hate her? He can’t have forgotten everything. The way she’s humiliated me, totally cut off any hope of mine of having friends and being social is downright unbearable.
Nice, Jack. Real classy. Glad you had a good time. Hope blonde isn’t catching. Otherwise prepare yourself for loss of a couple billion brain cells. Exactly what I should- what I’m dying- to say.
I don’t say it, though. I check the time on my cell phone. He’s right; it’s after twelve. Should I still be mad at him? That’s something I need to decide for myself. And I do. With the fire and betrayal flowing freely through my veins, the answer’s obvious.
This is Jack’s present to me. I hate it, I truly do. But I know I’m going to look back and love it.
Goodbye Jack. It’s your fault, really. Things could have been different. We could’ve still have been the best of friends, maybe even more. But you never gave me a chance once that summer hit. I don’t belong in your fantasy. So why am I sticking around? I’m leaving.