I know that as soon as I open my eyes the next morning. I know that as soon as I look at my phone and see the date. I quickly click off my phone and cover my head with my blanket. I know right away that I won’t be going to school today. And knowing what day it is, Leo won’t mind.
I sleep an hour more before Leo finally comes to check on me. He’s taken the day off as well. He knocks on my door and doesn’t wait for me to answer. I feel the bed dip as he takes a seat on my mattress. I still don’t bring my head out from under my covers.
“I’m going out to pick up the cake.” Leo says in a weak voice.
I give a groan in response.
“Are you planning to stay in bed all day?” He asks.
“Yeah, that’s the plan.” I answer.
“That’s not what she would want, Greer. We should celebrate.” He tells me.
I groan and finally peer out from under my covers. Leo looks like he hasn’t slept in ages, which he probably hasn’t. He gives me a small smile.
“I don’t feel like celebrating, no offense.” I say, staring up at the ceiling.
“I know it’s hard, Greer, but this not what your mother would’ve wanted for you. She would’ve wanted you to live your life.”
“I don’t feel like I have a life without them.” I cry.
He squeezes my arm reassuringly, “Believe me, I know, but you have to move on.”
"Move on?” I scoff. “They were my parents. I can’t just move on from them.”
“Would your parents want you moping around like this?”
I know he’s right, but I don’t want to admit it. My parents would want me living my life like they were still alive. They wouldn’t want me sad all the time. I should take Leo’s advice and move on. I’ll always remember them, but I was still alive.
He sighs, “Anyway, I just came in here to tell you about the cake. I’m picking it up soon. We can celebrate tonight.” He gets to his feet and then walks across my room. “Come out whenever.”
I stare after him as he exits my room. Once he’s gone, I get out of my bed and cross my room. Sitting on the chair in the corner is a teddy bear. It’s one of the only things I could take from my old life. The teddy bear’s name was Barnaby. I’ve had it since I could remember. My parents gave it to me when I was just a baby.
I bring Barnaby close to my chest and squeeze him tight, “Happy birthday, mom.”
Fat tears well down my cheeks. I lay in my bed, curled into a ball with Barnaby close to my heart, and sob for what seems like hours.
A few hours later, I wake up to my phone ringing. My eyes and throat are dry from crying. I reach up and rub my face. When I look down at my phone it’s a text from Adam. I open the text and read his words, “Where are you?”
I reply with one word, “Sick.”
Adam replies with a frowny face and I shut my phone off. I just want to be left alone today. I pull out my laptop and fire up one of mom’s favorite movies. That brings more tears to my eyes.
It’s late afternoon when I finally stop crying. I’ve went through several of mom’s favorite movies while holding Barnaby close. I even sat staring up at the ceiling remembering all my favorite memories of my parents.
Leo came home an hour or two earlier, poking his head into my room to ask me if I needed anything. I quickly shooed him away. He wanted me to have dinner with him, he was making mom’s favorite: baked chicken and mash potatoes. He even bought her favorite birthday cake: red velvet. I wanted nothing more than to visit her grave site, but I didn’t even know where my parents had been buried.
I finally put on a brave face and leave my room. Leo is sitting in the living room, hunched over something. When I step closer, I notice that he’s holding an old photo album. Tears streak his cheeks as he stares down at an old photo of him and my mom as teenagers. People used to tell me that I was a splitting image of my mother when she was my age.
I take a seat on the couch next to him and rest my head on his shoulder. “You looked so happy.” A sad smile crosses my face as I look down at the picture.
“This was taken during one of our summer vacations. You couldn’t tell, but your mother was really mad at my at the time.” He laughs, his fingers running over my mother’s face. “She was always mad at me.”
“I can tell.” I laugh. I point down at her picture. “The crease in her forehead. That’s how I always knew when she was mad at me for something.”
Leo laughs, “You’re right. That was her tell.”
“Am I like her?” I ask my uncle.
He looks away from the photo album to stare at me. “In so many ways that it’s scary.”
Tears well once again in my eyes.
“The way you eat your pancakes. The way you smile. You have her eyes and her smile. When you’re angry, you scrunch up your nose like she used to.” He explains. “You are so much like her, Greer.”
“Sometimes I’m afraid I’m going to forget her. Just the little things, you know. Like how she took her coffee or what her favorite blanket was. Or what book she would read when it was raining outside.”
Leo sets the album down and wraps his arms around me, “You don’t have to ever be afraid of forgetting her, Greer. She’s always in your heart.”
We’re sitting at the table, laughing about a story Leo told about my mom. We finished up our dinner and now he’s cutting the cake. “Happy Birthday” is written across the top in icing. He cuts a generous size piece and places it on a plate. He hands me the first piece.
I’m about to take a bite when the doorbell rings. Leo looks up from his cake and then stands. “I’ll be right back.”
I watch him retreat down the hall and disappear into the front room. I can hear his muffled voice, but I don’t know who he’s talking to. A moment later I hear him walking back towards me, but he’s not alone. When he comes around the corner, Kaleb Nixon is in toe.
“Kaleb, what are you doing here?” I ask him, getting to my feet to meet him halfway.
He looks down at me nervously, “I brought your homework from the classes you missed.”
“You did?” I ask with a small smile. “Thank you.”
“Adam told me you weren’t feeling good, so I thought I’d stop by.” He holds up a thermos next. “Irene made me bring you a cup of her famous soup. She makes it for me when I’m sick.” I take it from him gratefully. “I’m sorry if I interrupted. I’ll just get going.”
“Hold up,” Leo stops him. “Why don’t you stay? We were just cutting into the cake.”
“Oh, no, I don’t want to impose.” Kaleb says to my uncle.
“You’re not, I insist.” Leo points to a seat at the table. “Come on, there’s more than enough.”
Kaleb exchanges glances with me, I give him a nod, and then he sits down. He eyes the cake and the words on top of it. “Oh, whose birthday, is it?”
Leo looks to me to see if I want to answer. I clear my throat, “My mothers.”
Kaleb looks at my sadly, “I’m sorry.”
I give him a small smile, “It’s okay.”
Leo cuts Kaleb a piece and hands it over. We dig in to our cake and Leo instantly jumps into his endless questions.
“So, Kaleb, how do you like Arden Prep?” Leo studies him with a face I like to call his “cop face”. It’s the face he uses when he’s detecting if someone is lying or not.
“It’s good, I like it well enough.” Kaleb says, taking a mouthful of cake.
“Have you gone there long?”
Kaleb nods, “I’ve lived here since I was ten.”
“Oh, yeah?” Leo pauses for a moment. “Why’d you move here?”
“Leo! That’s enough!” I warned, knowing we were crossing into dangerous territory for Kaleb.
Kaleb looked to me, but gave an easy smile, “It’s fine, Greer.” He turns back to my uncle. “I moved in with my guardian, Irene. She was a friend of my mother’s.”
So, Irene did know Kaleb’s mom.
“That’s nice.” Leo nods. I expect him to ask what happened to his parents, but he doesn’t. Leo is more understanding when it comes to the parent subject.
“Yeah, Irene’s great.” Kaleb smiles.
We finish our cake and sit in silence for a moment. Leo stands up a moment later. “I’ll clean this up. You can go play a board game or something.” Leo muses, taking our empty plates. “Keep the door open.”
Kaleb looks over to me and then back to my uncle who leaves the room. He stands to his feet a moment later. “I should really go.”
“You can’t stay?” I ask timidly.
“You want me to?” He looks down at me with a curious look.
I shrug, my heart beats erratically in my chest, “I mean, if you want to.”
He scratches the back of his neck nervously, “Yeah, sure. I can stay for a bit. Sofia has a friend over so my place is pretty chaotic right now.”
I laugh and stand to my feet, “Okay, cool.”
I lead him down the hall and into my room. I’m instantly aware of how small my room is as soon as he steps inside. He stands awkwardly in my doorway, staring in at my room. The last time I’d seen my room, it was after the break in and my room had been totally destroyed.
I take a seat on my bed and watch him for a moment. Everything feels differently around Kaleb now. It had only been yesterday that I decided I might like Kaleb a whole lot more than I’d originally said. Adam had said it would be a good idea to talk to Kaleb about how I felt, but I was dreading it.
What if Kaleb didn’t feel the same way?