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The Leafy Thing

I wake up to silence.

No usual sounds of Dad clattering around in the kitchen, or Lucas hammering on the piano, or Maggie screaming at Mom because she doesn’t want to take Pickles out for a walk.

I swipe at my eyes, roll over to check the neon-pink digital clock that sits on my bedside table. Blinking lights form the numbers—it’s 7:04 a.m. That’s a little weird. Usually everyone is awake by now, but I guess they’re all extra tired today. I mean, Mom did force us all to stay up watching classic musicals until 11:30 last night, which I guess is late for Lucas, but on a day like this he’d surely be awake by 6:00 at the latest, scampering around and snickering at Maggie whenever she hisses at him to pipe down. Our family gets pretty excited about birthdays.

I sink back against my pillow, letting my eyes close. In my mind, I can see the usual pink and blue streamers— my favorite colors—and Maggie, teetering on a chair, stringing them across the mantle; Dad in the kitchen, arranging lemon-glazed donuts on a platter in the shape of a star; Mom tying a flawless bow on each of my perfectly wrapped gifts behind a locked laundry-room door; Lucas attempting to set the table with bright-yellow paper plates while playing a raucous game of tug-of-war with Pickles . . .

The next thing I know, light is trickling through the blinds, and I can hear a crow in the backyard pine making a racket. I must have fallen asleep! My eyes jerk towards the clock—9:28! Have they eaten all the donuts without me, or what?

At least the sounds streaming in from downstairs are steady—water running in the sink, Pickles yapping, the strains of morning cartoons playing on the living room TV . . .

Wait a second. I’ve lived 13 years in this house and know for sure that these sounds come after breakfast, not before, and definitely NOT on a birthday. Especially MY birthday—I’m positive that Lucas knows how much I despise his favorite TV programs. He should be queueing up something I love since it’s my birthday . . .

Unless he’s forgotten it’s my birthday.

Gasping, I cast my blanket aside, shove my feet into a pair of slippers, and skitter out into the hallway. It couldn’t be possible! My family never forgets a birthday! Darting back inside for my phone, I check the calendar—it is July 5, the day I turn 13. I’ve circled the day with my favorite fat, pink Sharpie, doodled stars and hearts, and even written EMILY’S BIRTHDAY! in impeccable cursive. I’m not mistaken, so I guess my family is. I dash back into the hallway and march down the stairs.

The sounds are louder now—Mom is calling out to Maggie, asking what time she’s going to see a movie this afternoon. Lucas has switched channels and is now cheering on some baseball team or another. I grit my teeth. I can’t stand baseball.

Lucas looks up at me once I reach the living room. “Morning, Emily. Come watch last night’s Dodgers game with me!” He pats the space next to him on the couch.

I’m gazing around at the barren room—no pile of sparkling presents on the chair, no hot-pink streamers fluttering in the breeze flowing through the open window. No donut crumbs on the floor, I notice, feeling small and forlorn.

“No thanks, Lucas.” I shuffle into the kitchen. Mom’s at the table reading a thick paperback, and Maggie’s leaning against the counter by the sink, eyes glued to the screen of her phone.

“Oh, good! You’re awake!” Mom looks up at me, then sets down her book. “Emily, it’s 9:30! Are you feeling alright?” She touches a hand against my forehead.

“Yeah. Fine. What’s for breakfast?” I lower into a chair.

“Dad made bacon and French toast, but it’s all gone. Sorry, sweetie. Want to grab some Cheerios?”

The only Cheerios on the counter are Lucas’s disgusting Honey Nut ones, and besides that, there’s only cornflakes and some awful organic stuff of Mom’s.

“I’ll just get something later,” I groan. Of course my favorite cereal had to be forgotten too.

Maggie straightens up. “Mom, Lily’s dad is picking me up at 12 for lunch and a movie. We’re not going to the theater, just seeing A Star is Born at her house.”

“Can I come?” The question flies out of my mouth before I can stop it. Mom and Maggie’s heads swivel around to stare at me.

“Why would you want to?” Maggie waggles her eyebrows. “You hate Lady Gaga, and besides, you’re only 12.”

Only 12? Tears spring to my eyes, and suddenly I’m sobbing, my head against the table.

“Emily? What’s wrong?” Mom rushes over, her hand running over my back.

“I’m 13.

Mom cocks her head. “What?”

“I’m 13!” I cry, my voice breaking as I lift my head off the table.

Mom gives me a funny look. “No, sweetie, your birthday is . . . is . . .”

She trails off as I point at the whiteboard calendar. There, written in firm purple Dry-Erase marker under the FRIDAY tab, is Emily’s 13th Birthday.

Mom’s jaw drops open.

“Oh my god, Sweetie!” Mom springs out of her chair. “BILL! Get inside right now!”

Dad comes jogging in, trailed by a confused Lucas. “What’s going on?”

Mom points at the whiteboard. “Emily! You’re 13!” Dad wraps his arms around me.

I shove him away and swipe at my eyes. “You forgot about me.”

Lucas starts snickering. Pickles bounds in, barking.

Mom plants a kiss on my forehead. “Sweetheart . . . this must be terrible for you. I’m sure you hate us right now, and I totally get it. But listen to me. If we started your birthday over again, as if this morning had never happened, would you feel a tiny bit better?”

“Like a do-over? I guess.” I tilt my head to look at her.

“A do-over.” Mom points upstairs. “Emily, we’re starting again. So get ready for your birthday breakfast!”

I can’t help but smile. Dad whoops. Maggie frowns. “Does that mean I can’t go to Lily’s?”

“That’s exactly what this means.” Mom turns to me, softening her tone. “Emily, sweetheart, I am so, so sorry. All of us are. I don’t know how this happened, but trust me, it will never, ever happen again. And it’s okay if you’re mad, but please try to have some fun. It’s all we want for you today.” She kisses my forehead, then nudges me toward the staircase. “Now. Get upstairs, and don’t come down until I wake you up!”

Dad heads for the front door, sliding on his clogs. “Off to get the donuts!”

Giggling, I race upstairs and slide under the covers. The clock glows 10:04. Now, I can truly see—and hear—the usual birthday goings-on: Maggie on the chair, the streamers, Dad driving off to get the donuts, Mom and her gift-wrapping, and Lucas, playing with Pickles. I smile.

I can’t wait for the new start to my birthday morning.

Bo-Violet Vig
Bo-Violet Vig, 13
Los Angeles, CA

Oskar Cross
Oskar Cross, 10
Oakland, CA