Happy Birthday Darya King
The crisp sea air brings the salty swells to a peak as they crash into the shore just a half a mile from a small house on stilts. The bright teal door, which could be seen by the furthest point of the shore, held a paper sign that showed its age around the edges.
“Happy Birthday Darya King” It read it big, mismatched letters, which look as if a kindergartner drew them.
Behind the teal door a scream echoes through the small hall to the right, shaking the banister to the only room on the second level.
“One more scream and I will call them, don’t think I’m playing Darya Lynn!” Another set of lungs answers the echo, but it did little to sate the needs of the teenager stomping around upstairs.
“You hid my notebook again; this is your fault!” Darya screams back making her mother close her eyes for a second, making sure her calming breath was deeper and longer than normal.
After composing herself, she turned back to the stove and stirred the boiling pot of corn, potatoes, crawfish, and shrimp. Shaking a few more spices into the pot, she clicked the burner off and heaved the pot off the stove and into the sink to drain the water so it could sit until they were ready to spill it over the news papered kitchen table.
After listening to her daughter clomp around upstairs for the last twenty minutes, she was relieved to hear her take a break. When the vibrating sounds of her descending the stairs took its place, Miranda grabbed for the bottle of ibuprofen in the adjacent cabinet to the one where she had been pulling dishes down from.
“Did you find your notebook?” She asks casually when her daughter rounded the corner and found herself in the kitchen with her.
“It was under my bed, where it shouldn’t have been.” Her sharp tone forced another pill to be popped into Miranda’s mouth before she put the large container up.
“It may have fallen when I was vacuuming, that doesn’t make it my fault, and if you choose to have this attitude tonight, I will make them go home.”
“You wouldn’t let them come all the way out here just to make them turn around and leave. They live in the middle of the city, ten miles away from us. You wouldn’t want to be a bad hostess.” Adding extra attitude to the last word, Darya took her notebook to the couch, plopping down, and contributing to nothing for her birthday party.
Taking another deep breath, Miranda steadied herself against the small wall that divided the living room and the kitchen. “You’re right, sweetie,” she starts as she brings her newfound plan to the front of her mind, knowing it would annoy the crap out of her daughter. “When they show up here, I’ll take them out on the boat.” Earning a scoff from Darya on the couch, she thought of more ways to torture her.
“Before that, I’ll bring the pot of food with us, and the cake I worked all night on. We’ll turn the twinkle lights you worked so hard to put up in the boat’s cabin. I’ll sail us to the second buoy, making sure we’re far enough away from the shore to make too much noise. We’ll turn the music up loud enough to wake the whale deep below, and we will party. All. Night. Long.” She takes a seat in the ratty armchair across from the couch. Leaning forward, she made sure that her daughter’s attention was solely on her.
“And you won’t be invited. In fact, I will make sure all of that is done with you stuck in this house. Do you want to revisit your attitude again?” Leaning back in the chair, she watched her daughter wipe a quick tear away before breathing out hard, telling her she was thinking about what she said.
“I guess I could stand to be nicer.” She told her after a long silence between them, barely above a whisper.
Miranda let a few more minutes of silence go between them again. Her heart rate seemed to lower, she could feel her blood pressure evening out, and her headache floating away. “Do you want to share why you decided to be a raging hormonal teenager tonight?” Reaching for the coke on the coffee table she cracked open an hour ago, she takes a long swig of the flat soda.
She watches Darya do something they shared, aside from their long fingers, freckles across their noses, and an attitude that would put a trained Marine on edge. She began to nibble on the edges of her thumb as she was lost in thought. A nasty habit that Miranda broke the week before she gave birth, and then took back up during her terrible three’s stage.
“I’m nervous,” she finally spoke up.
“Senior year ending can make anyone nervous,” her mother bounced back quickly.
“It’s not about that,” she sighed. “Well, not just that. It’s about Marty, he’s going to a different college. We won’t see each other every day. He said we should write, but how long would that last?” She questioned and when her moss green eyes met with Miranda’s soft hazels, she saw the timid daughter she was used to having. Sure, she could be a firestorm that could take out a whole town, but moments like this remind Miranda of the soft side she has.
Stubborn, opinionated, headstrong, confident, and charismatic – that’s her Darya. But there’s a softness she only let her mother and Marty see. Something, that when she hides it, is covered with irrational anger and words she never means. There are days, much like tonight, that Miranda forgets to remind herself that there is a deeper issue.
“I can’t say that it won’t be different. You two haven’t spent more than a few days without each other since you guys were five.” She sighed before pushing herself off the armchair and joining Darya on the couch. “Part of growing up means dealing with hard things, remember?” She nudged her shoulder and slowly a smile tugged at the corners of Darya’s lips.
“Can I rescind the application for my adult card?” She pestered.
“Sorry, all applications are final,” her mother told her. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t use your daughter card when things get a little tough.” Slinging an arm around Darya’s shoulders, they sit in a comfortable silence, listening to the seconds tick by on the seashell clock to the right.
“The notebook isn’t just for letters, is it?” Breaking the silence around them, Miranda poked the tension in the room.
“What else would it be for?” Darya played dumb.
“I’m sorry I can’t tell you more about him, I didn’t know him well enough.” Parting ways, Miranda moved to the other side of the couch as she watched Darya’s face fall again.
“I just want to know him, it’s not fair.” She pouts while her fingers play with the edge of the beaten leather cover.
“He’s been gone eighteen years; I was barely along when I heard he died. There isn’t anything you or I could have done.” She reaches over to move a strand of sun-bleached hair out of her face. Noticing a tear falling down her cheek, she’s quick to catch it before it drops off her daughter face.
“Tell me again,” she begs.
With a sigh, Miranda falls further into the couch, letting Darya’s head slump onto her shoulder. “I was seventeen when I met this really cute guy. I had been reading my favorite book in the sand, soaking up the last rays of the summer when a shout brought my attention to the crashing waves.” Feeling Darya’s heart under her open palm, spread out over her chest, she reminisces on the moment she met her first summer love.
“He had been taken by a rip tide, suddenly, and without warning –”
“Had he been paying attention, he would have noticed it when coming to shore, maybe he wasn’t so smart, mom. Maybe you dodged a bullet.” Interrupting her, she laughed as Miranda patted her chest for being a smart-ass.
“As I was saying, he called for help. I had plenty experience as a lifeguard for the last few years, so I jumped into action. Once I found his body, I noticed he had gone limp, which made it harder to pull him in. I swam around the tide, the best I could, and found the shore. Another beach goer helped me drag him to the dry sand and together we assessed the situation, cleared his airway the best we could, put him on his side, and watched as he coughed up half the ocean.” When she laughed Darya’s head bounced on her chest.
“Then he woke up, saw the sun shining behind your head, framing you as his savior, and the two of you lived happily ever after.” Darya sang the lines she wished were true.
Unfortunately, the way her parents met was not as cut and dry.
“You know that’s not how it went.” Miranda reminded her.
“That’s how I wish it went,” Darya grumbled.
“Me too, sweetie, but it was messier than that.” She took a breath and steadied herself for the biggest lie she’s ever told her daughter. “We met a couple times after that, he was always surfing or waxing his new board. Your sun-bleached hair reminds me of him every day.” She ran her fingers through Darya’s long strands as she thought about the man that gave her the best gift and the worse pain of her life. “We ended up sleeping together our last night before we parted ways. When I found out I was pregnant, I tracked him down, but I was given the news that no one wants to hear.”
She listens to Darya’s heavier breaths as she holds her tighter. “His mom told you about the accident, right?” It wasn’t like she was asking a question; she’s heard this story enough times to tell it word for word herself.
“Yes, I didn’t tell her about you because it hurt too much. I sent letters, but nothing ever came of it. Years went by and you wanted to know more about him, but that’s all I know. His name is Dane Walter, he’s from Conch Cove, about forty miles out of town. He was here on vacation when we met. His mother passed away a few years back, the only family he had left. I saw the obituary in our local paper, apparently she was from our town.” The words she heard a million times still didn’t bring her peace.
The story Miranda has told her daughter a million times has never changed. She made sure she kept to her story. No details that are traceable. She made sure all the ties her father would have had were gone. She made sure any computer search would bring up less answers than she was able to give her.
Miranda King made sure her daughter was protected from the one thing that would destroy her life, and the one thing she wanted more than anything in the world: her father.
“I see him in you, you know.” She tells her as the seconds ticking by on the wall clock bring her attention to the pressing hour.
“What parts?” She asks, knowing the answer.
“Your deep green eyes, the color of wet moss, of the deepest sea kelp that sways in the ocean. Your dirty blonde hair that shines in the sun and lightens every summer. Your dimples when you smile, little things like that. He’s not gone, he’s right here, I hope that’s enough for you.” One last squeeze of Darya’s shoulder to Miranda’s chest before she shoved her up.
Pulling herself off the couch, she made sure that the subject of Darya’s father was dropped.
“Marty and the guys should be here soon, why don’t you get the glasses down from the cabinet.” Directing her around the small kitchen, Miranda tried to forget about Dane Walters – the best and worst thing that ever happened to her.
“Is the green one for Miguel or the blue one?”
“The red one is Miguel’s, the green one is Marty’s and the clear one is –”
The doorbell breaks their conversation.
Throwing the door open, she flings her arms over Miguel and his husband Jason’s large forms as they walk through the doorway.
“Jason, Miguel, it’s so good to see you!” Miranda’s voice carries over to the kitchen where Darya finds the last glass for the table. When a third body comes through the door, she drops the last cup on the table, letting it land on the thick base, and runs to the door.
Throwing herself over Marty’s small frame, she squeezes him as if they haven’t seen each other in a week.
“Why did you guys ring the bell? This is your house too!” She playfully hits Jason’s shoulder whose grin hasn’t fallen since they came in the house.
“Time got away from us, we have some big news!” Miguel breaks into the kitchen with the rest trailing behind them. “Our brains are a little scrambled from the excitement.” He goes on to explain, setting something in a brown bag on the table.
Darya pulls Marty through the kitchen and to the couch. He grabs a bag of chips from the table as they pass by.
“What’s the good news, guys?” Miranda grabs the forks and napkins from the counter and slaps them on the table. The spread of crawfish, corn, sausage, and potatoes is sprawled across the newspaper that decorates the kitchen table. They each take a seat while the kids catch up on the couch. They haven’t seen each other for nearly two days, it’s the most they’ve been a part since kindergarten.
“Miguel is running for mayor of our little town!” Jason’s excitement had far exceeded his husband’s as he shouts to the rooftop, filled with pride and joy.
“Oh my god! This is so exciting! What made you want to run?” Miranda squeaked her joy out as she ran to the fridge to grab the “adult juice” from the red pitch that Darya isn’t allowed to use.
“It was a long process, we needed to make sure our family was prepared to go through it, and before I put my name in the race, we wanted to see how you two dealt with the news. You are as much a part of our family as we are yours, this will effect you guys in some form.” Miguel’s bright hazel eyes caught Miranda’s, but her smile didn’t falter.
“I can’t think of a single issue we would have with it, Darya?” She shouts behind her to the couch where Darya and Marty are in their own conversation.
“I think it’s great Uncle Miguel, I know it’s something you talked about a few years ago, but it would be cool to see someone I know in that spot, instead of the bloated man that’s been there since we were kids.” Jason couldn’t hold his snicker back as Miranda scowled at her daughter for using such language.
“She’s right, but she shouldn’t say it like that,” Miranda mumbled when she turned her attention back to the table.
“I thought it was time for the town to have someone leading it that truly knows it.” Miguel shared as he poured a large drink of the brown liquid from the red pitcher.
“High time,” Jason comments before taking a swig of his “juice”.
As they chatted and talked about the race and the week to come, they cracked crawfish shells, threw pieces at the kids on the couch, and caught up on things they haven’t had the time for.
When hours passed, the kids started to fall asleep on the couch, and the adults had run out of their special drinks, Miranda remembered the cake in the fridge.
Pulling herself out of the chair, she grabbed the blue and green cake carefully from the fridge, and placed it on the coffee table in front of the kids. Jason grabbed the candles on the counter and Miguel brought his blue lighter from his denim pocket. As they prepared the cake, they watched their kids on the couch, shoulder to shoulder, sleeping on each other as they have since they were small.
“Who’s waking them up this time?” Miranda asked, slightly tipsy.
“I have an air horn in my bag, it’s in the trunk though.”
“I’ll do it, but let me get a few pictures,” Jason volunteered as he pulled his phone out of his khaki pants pocket.
Miranda finished off the last candle over the letter G, on the end of her name. Miguel lit a couple candles while they both took one and lit the rest, one by one. Jason snapped a few pictures just before walking to the other side of the coffee table, bending over the kids, breathing in deeply, and screaming bloody murder until they woke up with a jolt.
Laughing too hard, the adults in the room got a kick out of seeing their kids scramble off sides of the couch. When they realized it was Marty's dad waking them up, they calmed down, each wearing a scowl that scared no one.
“Glad to see you two are awake, we forgot to do the cake. Marty, will you do the honors?” Miranda asked, handing him the last lit candle.
Smiling slowly, Marty took the candle between his fingers and held it up for Darya. Together, they broke into a horribly sung version of happy birthday. When they finished, Darya blew out the first candle, then turned her breath on the other seventeen.
When the adults started cutting the cake and passing slices around, Marty leaned back on the couch with Darya, sleep still in their eyes. “Happy birthday Darya King,” he whispers in her ear, making a blush rise to her cheeks. With plate of cake in their hands, they drifted back to sleep, head-to-head, as their parents stood across the room from them, watching their kids grow up before their eyes.
“Do you think they’ll tell us?” Jason asked, spooning cake into his mouth without regard to the liquor stirring in his stomach.
“They will when they’re ready.”
“She’s devastated that they won’t be at the same school. This summer is going to be harder than we imagined.” Nodding along, the three of them prepared themselves for their kids last summer home.