A Gift of the Heart
As Jaycee made her way to her first class of the day, she discovered Sage and Aiko having one of their usual arguments down the hall. Aiko had a CD in her hand and was brandishing it like a weapon at Sage.
“I thought I told you to stop listening to this Rina girl,” exclaimed Aiko. “I told you I was your idol. So why would you need this girl?”
“So what if I like her music?” asked Sage, snatching back his CD. “Besides, who said you could go through my bag? You had no right.”
“Now I’m the bad guy? Don’t you know that girls have the right to go through their boyfriend’s things?”
“Who came up with that rule?”
“I did,” said Aiko. “Got a problem with that?”
Jaycee stopped next to the quarrelling couple, but they were oblivious to her. When she cleared her throat, Jaycee’s friends ended their bickering.
“Oh, Jaycee,” said Aiko. “We were just talking.”
“She gets the highest grades in the whole school,” said Sage. “I don’t think you can trick her so easily.”
“What’s up?” asked Aiko. “Something on your mind?”
“It’s nothing, really,” said a clearly nervous Jaycee. “I was just wondering if you two would like to go to a movie this weekend. Then maybe we could get something to eat.”
“Dinner and a movie?” asked Aiko. “What’s the special occasion?”
Jaycee flinched after hearing Aiko’s question. “There’s no special occasion. It’s just three friends going out.”
Aiko placed her hand on Jaycee’s shoulder. “You disappoint me,” she said, shaking her head. “Thinking that you could trick your very best friend in the world.”
“What do you mean?” asked Jaycee.
“I know your birthday is this weekend.”
“How did you know?” asked Jaycee.
“She went through your bag,” said Sage. “How else would she know anything about us if she didn’t go sticking her nose where it didn’t belong?”
“Shut up!” exclaimed Aiko.
“I would have told you,” said Jaycee, “but I didn’t want you to make a big deal out of it. It’s just my birthday. It’s nothing special.”
“Nothing special? Birthdays are the most important days in a person’s life. They should always be celebrated, not just treated like any other day.”
“Please don’t make a fuss over me.”
Aiko rolled her eyes and let out a sigh. “Fine,” she said. “But at least let me take you to a nice restaurant. We can go to that new one downtown.”
“That sounds nice,” said Jaycee.
“Then it’s settled. We’re gonna have lots of fun.”
“I have to drop something off before I go to class,” said Jaycee, “but I’ll see you two later, okay.” And with that, Jaycee departed.
“I can already tell that you’re planning something,” said Sage.
Aiko, who had been waving goodbye to Jaycee, immediately got in Sage’s face. “And what if I am?” she asked. “You’d better not tell Jaycee.”
“I won’t. But you’re making a big mistake.”
“You won’t be saying that when you’re having the time of your life. I can guarantee you nothing will go wrong. After all, it’s just a birthday party.”
Vice Principal Takagi was seated at her desk in her darkened office looking over Jaycee’s file. “Well, isn’t this just precious,” she said. “It seems our dear little Jaycee has a birthday coming up. Well, she had better enjoy it . . . because it’s going to be her last.”
During the course of the day, Aiko stopped various students she came across and handed them invitations to Jaycee’s birthday party. Showing their fondness for the birthday girl, every student agreed to partake in the festivities.
“Don’t tell Jaycee about this, okay,” Aiko told the boy to whom she was about to hand an invitation. “There’s no telling what she’d do if she found out.”
“Found out about what?” asked Jaycee, who happened to be standing behind Aiko.
A chill ran down Aiko’s spine. She immediately forced the invitation into the boy’s hand. “There,” she exclaimed, “take your love letter back. You know I already have a boyfriend. What’s wrong with you, professing your love like that?”
“What?” gasped the boy.
“I’m going to be fair and not tell Sage about this. And if you’re lucky, neither will Jaycee. So leave before I change my mind.”
The boy departed with invitation in hand.
“Was that another of those admirers you’re always talking about?” asked Jaycee.
“What can I say? Boys can’t get enough of me.”
“We should get going,” said Jaycee. “We don’t want to be late to class. We’ll get in trouble if it happens again.”
“You go ahead. I have something I need to take care of first.”
“Okay, but be quick.”
After Jaycee departed, Aiko pulled another invitation from her bag. But before she could find someone to give it to, someone reached over her shoulder and took it. Aiko spun around and was horrified to find the vice principal reading the invitation.
“How nice,” said Vice Principal Takagi. “I’m sure Miss Annadale is going to have a lovely time. And at such an expensive restaurant. Even I would feel guilty eating there. So, what kind of present should I bring?”
Aiko was as careful as could be when taking the invitation back from the vice principal. “Sorry, this party’s only for students,” she said. “You wouldn’t like it. There’s going to be lots of noise and bright colors.”
“I see,” said Vice Principal Takagi. “Well, I can’t really blame you for feeling that way. Even I know what it’s like to be under constant supervision. Besides, we probably have much different ideas of what fun is.”
“Yeah, well, see you later.” And with that, Aiko abruptly took her leave.
“I may not be invited to your stupid little party,” whispered the vice principal, “but rest assured, I will be making my presence known.” Vice Principal Takagi then began her trek down the hall, opposite Aiko’s direction. “After all, it would be rude of me not to at least send you a present, wouldn’t it, my dear little Jaycee?”
The rest of the day went without any further awkward incidents. Aiko handed out nearly all of her invitations to her classmates, but she made sure to hang on to one so that she might present it to one particular student.
At dusk, the sun began to set behind the mountains in the distance and the once blue sky mellowed to a brilliant shade of orange.
As usual, James was the last student to leave for the day. But unlike other days, Aiko was waiting for him outside the front door.
“How did I know I would find you here?” asked James, not bothering to make eye contact with the girl who had so patiently waited for him.
“This won’t take long,” said Aiko, presenting an invitation.
“I have no interest in going to your party.”
“It’s not my party,” said Aiko. “It’s Jaycee’s party. And I know it would make her really happy if you showed up. It’s not that much to ask for. You don’t even have to bring a present if you don’t want to.”
“I’ll pass. I have better ways to waste my time.”
Aiko stood in front of James, preventing him from leaving. “All I’m asking is that you take this invitation and think about it,” she said. “If you don’t show up, then Jaycee’s going to feel really bad. Do you really want to hurt her again?”
“Does Jaycee even know that I’m being invited to her party?”
“Well, she doesn’t even know about the party.”
“Then she won’t feel bad when I don’t show up,” said James.
“You’re taking this invitation,” demanded Aiko. Both participants in the struggle were well aware that even with her fighting prowess, Aiko would stand no chance against James if the two engaged in a physical confrontation.
“If it gets to you to stop bothering me,” said James, taking the invitation from Aiko. “Now I remember why I don’t want to be friends with any of you.”
Despite what had just been said, Aiko’s demeanor lightened. “I’ll be looking forward to seeing you there,” she said.
Wasting no more of his time on Aiko, James departed.
“I was only kidding before,” said Aiko. “I do expect you to bring a present. So you’d better not disappoint me.”
After getting a few blocks from the school grounds, James opened the invitation. He gave it a quick look over before crumbling it up and throwing it on the ground.
The weekend came and Jaycee, Sage and Aiko went out as planned. They had finished watching their movie and were now making their way to the restaurant Aiko had specially picked for the special evening.
“Wasn’t that the most romantic movie you’ve ever seen?” asked Aiko. “I knew he would ask her to marry him. There’s nothing better than a happy ending.”
“That ending was so predictable,” said Sage. “Can’t these idiot writers figure out new ways to end their movies?”
“Nobody cares what you thought about the movie. It’s Jaycee’s birthday, so she got to pick what we watched.”
“You pressured her into choosing that movie.”
Aiko sighed. “I don’t know why I even bother talking to you,” she said. “All you ever do is start arguments with me.”
Jaycee smiled as she enjoyed listening to her friends argue.
“Hey, what’s that?” asked Aiko, who had just noticed that Jaycee was holding something. “Is that an umbrella?” Jaycee lifted it up to show Aiko. “But the weather lady said it was going to be clear all day. What’s the matter, don’t you trust her?”
“It’s not that,” said Jaycee. “I just like to be prepared. You know, just in case.”
“Always the cautious one,” Sage told Aiko. “You could learn from her.”
“No thanks,” said Aiko. “I like not knowing what’s gonna happen next.”
The restaurant was only a short distance ahead, and from where the three were they could see that the lights were off.
“They’re not closed, are they?” asked Jaycee.
“Of course not,” said Aiko. “As soon as they see us, they’ll turn on the lights.”
“How would you know that?”
“Um, because I called ahead and told them we were coming. They promised to save the best table just for us.”
“There’s going to be a surprise party waiting for me, isn’t there? I told you not to do this. Why couldn’t you listen to me?”
“There’s no party. Why are you so suspicious?”
The three entered the building shortly thereafter and made their way to the second floor. The instant they entered the restaurant, the lights turned on and a plethora of party favors began popping. “Happy birthday, Jaycee!” shouted the large gathering of schoolmates. The party-goers then began singing her a birthday song.
Aiko took hold of Jaycee’s hands and began jumping up and down. “I tricked you, Jaycee!” she exclaimed. “You never saw this coming!”
Sage rolled his eyes at the notion that Jaycee had failed to see this coming.
The party went just as well as could be expected. Young people were eating, laughing and enjoying themselves immensely. Sage, who felt very much out of place, stood alone against the wall and watched everything from a safe distance. Jaycee, who was the only one who felt more uncomfortable than Sage, took a place against the wall next to him.
“Sorry about not telling you about this,” said Sage. “But you know how angry Aiko gets when things don’t go her way.”
“To be honest with you,” said Jaycee, “I knew this was going to happen from the start, so I’m not upset. It’s how Aiko shows she cares.”
Even from their location across the room, Jaycee and Sage could clearly hear Aiko’s boisterous laughter.
“It feels like this party is for her,” said Sage.
“It’s alright. As long as you two are here, that’s all that matters. I just didn’t want to be alone today. But even though.”
“You would have liked for James to be here.”
Jaycee nodded. “Yeah.”
“Well, the night is still young,” said Sage, who dared not tell Jaycee the truth that he hoped James would choose not to attend the party.
“I know, but I’m not getting my hopes up.”
Aiko had excused herself from her guests and made her way to Jaycee and Sage. “What are two doing over here away from everyone?” she asked.
“We were having too much fun and needed to take a break,” said Sage.
“You two are so much alike,” said Aiko. “I always have to force you two to have fun. Why can’t you be more like me?”
The doors opened and in entered two men carrying cakes. One of them was carrying two cakes covered in white frosting, while the other was carrying a larger chocolate cake. Everyone in the room stopped what they were doing and began applauding when the men placed the cakes on the table next to the table holding all of Jaycee’s presents.
“You two wait here,” said Aiko. “I’ll be back.”
Aiko made her way to the cakes and stood over the chocolate one. Her eyes almost seemed to sparkle as she gazed at the sweet treat. “I can’t wait to sink my teeth into that,” she said, mouth visibly watering.
It was shortly after the cakes had been delivered when another treat arrived. The doors flew open and in entered a clown. His arrival was made known by a boisterous laugh.
“What is this?” asked Sage.
“A clown?” asked Jaycee. “How old does she think I am?”
Aiko immediately confronted the painted-up newcomer. “What are you doing here?” she demanded to know. “I didn’t order any clown.”
The clown paid Aiko no attention and made his way by her.
“Hey, did you hear me?” asked Aiko, following the clown. “I didn’t order you, so I’m not paying for you. So go back to where you came from and tell whoever it was that sent you that this had better not show up on my bill. Got it?”
The clown made his way to the table filled with presents. He then picked one up and began shaking it, listening for what was inside.
Aiko snatched the present away. “You’re not allowed to touch these. These are Jaycee’s presents, so keep your hands off.”
The clown again paid Aiko no attention and picked up another present.
“No,” exclaimed Aiko, once again snatching the present away. “This one’s from me. It’s a very expensive dress,” she whispered. “Do you know how hard it is to find a nice dress that hides how big her boobs are? Not that I’m jealous or anything.”
Clearly not interested in what Aiko had to say, the clown made his way to the table with the cakes. He reached for one of them, but as he did, Aiko grabbed him by the wrist. “That’s enough,” she said. “It’s time for you to leave.”
The clown met eyes with Aiko, then let out another boisterous laugh.
“What’s so funny?”
All the balloons in the room began popping, releasing vapors that put everyone into a deep sleep. The only ones left awake were Jaycee, Sage and Aiko.
“You’re . . .” gasped Aiko, still holding the clown by the wrist. Before Aiko could say another word, the clown’s hand came off, prompting the frightened girl to throw it aside and jump back and out of harm’s way.
The clown laughed again as he slid his real hand through his sleeve.
“He was sent by Alenia,” exclaimed Sage.
“Yeah, I kind of figured that part out for myself,” exclaimed Aiko.
Vice Principal Takagi was seated at her desk in her darkened office. “Happy birthday, Jaycee,” she said, grinning from ear to ear. When she spun her chair to face the window, the grin vanished. “You little bitch.”
“Quick,” exclaimed Aiko. “Jaycee, Sage, summon your weapons!”
The clown flung two colorful streamers at his foes. One wrapped around Sage, the other around Jaycee, preventing either from calling upon their weapons. The two then crashed to the floor, giving the clown reason to begin laughing again.
“Alright, freak,” said Aiko. “Time to send you back to hell.”
In response to Aiko’s threat, the clown let out another laugh.
“Laugh at this,” shouted Aiko. She then threw a punch but the clown had whipped out a velvet bag and placed it in the path of Aiko’s fist. Aiko’s arm plunged deep into it. “What is this?” she asked. When Aiko pulled her arm out, a frog was resting in the palm of her hand. Aiko screamed and immediately tossed it away.
Not nearly out of dirty tricks, the clown then placed a red rubber nose on Aiko’s face. She ripped it off, but after she did, the nose began beeping. Aiko placed it next to her ear and listened to it. “Why is it beeping?”
“It’s a bomb!” shouted Sage. “Throw it away!”
“A bomb,” shrieked Aiko, who haphazardly threw the nose away. The explosive device fell onto the table with Jaycee’s presents. “Oh no! What have I done!” Though the explosion was less than catastrophic, it was strong enough to destroy all of Jaycee’s gifts.
The clown let out another boisterous laugh.
“They’re all ruined,” said Aiko. She then turned to Jaycee. “I’m sorry. Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?”
“Look out!” shouted Jaycee.
Aiko turned around and was hit with incredible force by the clown’s stomach, which had expanded to an enormous size. The impact sent her crashing to the floor.
After deflating his stomach, the clown made his way to Aiko.
“You have to get up,” exclaimed Sage.
“Aiko, he’s getting closer,” said Jaycee.
Aiko looked up at the clown, who was looming over her. “Tell me something, clown,” she said. “Do you know why Alenia usually sends female demons to fight us?”
The clown had no reply to Aiko’s question. Though, even if he did have an answer, the clown hadn’t been given the ability to speak.
“It’s because you can’t do this to them,” exclaimed Aiko, who wasted no time in kicking the clown between the legs. The clown immediately lurched over and grabbed hold of the area that had just been assaulted.
The restaurant manager began banging his fists against the door. “Hey, what’s going on in there?” he demanded to know. He then began pulling on the handle but the door refused to open. “What’s all that noise you’re making? What did you break?”
Aiko sprung to her feet. “Why are you bothering us?” she shouted. “Can’t you come back when the party’s over?”
Aiko immediately threw a flurry of jabs, but the clown had recovered quickly and was able to dodge all of them. “Damn you!” shouted Aiko. “Stand still! How do you expect me to hit you if you keep moving?”
The clown was able to catch Aiko by the wrist. He then began spinning her, laughing heartily as he did so. This caused Aiko to became violently nauseous. “If you don’t stop, I’m gonna puke all over you,” she exclaimed. The clown honored Aiko’s request and stopped spinning her.
Aiko fell onto the edge of the table with the cakes, flipping it over and sending the cakes into the air. The white cakes fell quickly and splattered on the floor. Aiko came to her senses just in time to watch as the chocolate cake neared its demise. She lunged for it but was too late. The cake hit the floor, then Aiko’s face hit the cake.
The clown let out his most boisterous laugh yet.
Aiko, who was now shaking with rage, pulled her face out of the cake. She got back to her feet and angrily wiped her face clean. Telling by her irate expression, Aiko was through taking part in the clown’s demented party game.
“You bastard!” shouted Aiko, who then charged. The clown did nothing but wait. When Aiko reached striking distance, the clown lunged at her and attempted to trap her in his arms. Aiko, however, leaped into air and connected with a thundering kick to her opponent’s face, sending the clown staggering back.
With her opponent off balance, Aiko unleashed a flurry of jabs to his face. The clown was sent crashing into the wall, where he slid down to the floor. Unable to get up after the assault, the clown disappeared within a puff of black smoke.
“That’s what happens to anyone who messes with what’s important to me!”
“We’re lucky to have someone like her on our side,” said Sage. “She fought as hard as she could because her friends were in danger.”
“That’s what you get for ruining my cake!” shouted Aiko.
Sage could only shake his head.
“There are worse causes she could be fighting for,” said Jaycee.
The door burst open and in entered the restaurant manager. “What did you punks do to my restaurant?” he shouted.
“Hello,” said Jaycee when the manager met eyes with her. “You’re probably wondering why we’re tied up like this, aren’t you?”
“I never should have rented to a bunch of teenagers.”
The party-goers were woken up a short time later and sent on their way.
“What happened?” a departing girl asked a departing boy.
“I have no idea,” replied the boy. “But you know what they say. Any party you can’t remember must have been a good one.”
The girl had to step carefully as not to step on any exploded presents or ruined cake. “Then this must have been the best party I’ve ever been to.”
As the guests left, Aiko argued with the manager.
“Because of all the noise you kids made, all the customers downstairs left,” he exclaimed. “And look at what you’ve done to my restaurant.” The manager then showed the bill to Aiko. “You’re going to pay the bill, clean this place up and never come back!”
Aiko snatched the bill away from the manager. “I wouldn’t come back to this restaurant if you paid me!” she exclaimed. “The service was a joke!”
The manager then exited, mumbling angrily to himself as he did.
“We should start cleaning up now,” said Sage.
Aiko looked to the far end of the restaurant and found Jaycee staring out the window. “It isn’t fair,” she said. “This day was supposed to be special, but look at what happened. Jaycee deserved better than this.”
Having had her fill of the empty night sky, Jaycee turned away from the window. Much to her surprise, she found a small box lying on the floor. She picked it up and read the attached card. “If you desire something strongly enough, then one day it will be yours.” Jaycee then opened the present. Inside the box was a flower of a deep shade of purple.
Tears immediately began to fill Jaycee’s eyes as she gazed at the most heartfelt gift she had received in quite some time.
Outside, a gentle rain began to fall. It wasn’t long thereafter when the city was at the mercy of a torrential downpour.
“It always rains on my birthday,” whispered Jaycee.
Now standing in front of the restaurant was James, who was oblivious to the fact that he was rapidly becoming drenched from head to toe. He stared at Jaycee for a lengthy moment, then turned his back and disappeared into the night.