The Birthday Wish

“But I hate birthday parties!” Sally cried. “I never want to go to another birthday party again!”

Her mother put her hands on her hips and sighed deeply. Leaning over and stroking her hair, she replied in a firm voice. “But I already said you would come, you and Nicky. Besides, don’t you want to make friends?”

“I do want to make friends, but I never make friends at birthday parties.” Sally stomped her foot.

“That’s not true, what about Margo Doorman?”

“She’s not my friend, she’s mean to me. I went to her birthday and then she wouldn’t let me play with the toys. She bit me and called me names. I never want to see her again.”

“Okay, what about Carrie’s birthday party? You made friends with her.”

Sally was quiet for a moment.  She had made a friend, a really good friend. Carrie. But it hurt.

“She moved away. Two weeks later, we were going to have a playdate, and then she moves. I’m never going to see her again. That’s not a friend. Not anymore.”

Sally wanted to cry. She did want friends. It was so confusing; it was never easy.

Her mother wanted her to go to Beverly’s birthday party.  She didn’t dislike Beverly, but Beverly had been kind of controlling: when Sally had been swinging on the swing set between the yards, Beverly had come and ordered her off. It didn’t matter that Sally was older and should have been the boss. Then Beverly said she could stay if she pushed her on the swing. After that, she had to do other things, like give her the new stone she had found and help her with her hair. She didn’t want her for a friend.     Sally didn’t care if it was her birthday.

The next day, her mother ordered her to put on her party dress. There was no getting out of it. To make matters worse, she had to bring her little sister, Nicky, who was always making trouble. Nicky smiled wickedly at her as Sally grimaced and protested.

“I’m going to the party and they are going to be my friends and not yours!” Nicky announced.

“I don’t care,” said Sally. “You can have them!”

But things were different once they got there.

Beverly was nice.  She apologized about the swing set, and said she really did want to be friends.

She shared her new games and they played nicely together. She even congratulated Sally when she won and consoled her when she lost.  Sally realized that since Beverly was new to the neighborhood, she had been mean before because she was afraid.  They talked about things they could do together in the future, about how Beverly might get a cat and what to name it, where it would sleep, if it could come visit Sally’s house. Sally began to feel happy again.

Finally, she had a friend.

The party was coming to a close, the few other children having already left, and Sally’s mother on her way to pick up Sally and Nicky and walk them home. Beverly’s younger sister, Jane, who followed Beverly around and did everything that Beverly did, was beginning to whine and wipe her frosting-covered hands on Sally’s dress. Sally took her and wiped off her face, asking her if she felt better now.

“Maybe you want to lie down on the couch and take a nap,” Sally suggested.

“No!” Jane pushed past her toward her sister.

Beverly came up. “Sally is right, lie down and we can sing you a lullaby.”

At that, Jane yawned and lay down on the couch.  Sally and Beverly began to sing to her about a baby rocking in the branches of a tree top.

Beverly’s mother came out and watched. “You girls are so good with her! Listen, I have to run over to the neighbor’s house for a minute, can you take care of Jane while I’m gone? I’ll be right back.”

“Yes Mommy,” said Beverly.

“Yes, Mrs. Anderson,” said Sally.

“Remember Sally, you are the oldest, so please be responsible.” With that, Beverly’s mother ran out the door.

Beverly continued to sing.  Sally realized she didn’t know where Nicky had gone off to.

“Keep singing,” she said to Beverly, “I am going to go look for my sister.” Just as she said that, there was a crash from the other room. Sally ran inside.

In the middle of the room was Nicky surrounded by the rubble of splattered cake, and the parts and pieces to the pin the tail on the donkey game all over the floor. “Oh no!” she shouted.

At that, Beverly came running into the room, followed by Jane, who went straight for the cake debris. Nicky was already grabbing great handfuls and pushing them in her mouth.

“No, no, no, no, no!” cried Sally.  “Here, Beverly, you hold Jane, I’ll take care of Nicky and the mess.”

She pushed past the colorful cluster of balloons that had lost some air and now rolled and drifted close to the ground while she scooped up as much of the cake as she could, putting it back on the plate and on the table.

Then she saw the pins, a whole box of them that had been overturned from the donkey tail game.

It was hard to scoop them up: they pricked her, even when she used her fingers, so it took a while. Nicky became agitated.  “I’m bored; I’m going to go home.” She headed for the open door.

“Wait!” Sally rushed over and clicked the door closed. “We have to wait for Mom.”

Beverly was tickling Jane to keep her happy. At first Jane was giggling, but then she started crying.

“What do we do?” Beverly asked as Nicky ventured toward the other room.

Having somewhat cleaned up, Sally looked desperately around while she grabbed Nicky by the collar.

“Let’s jump over the balloons!” yelled Beverly.

At first, the girls started jumping over them, but they were tired. Nicky fell on one and it popped.

Everybody screamed, and then laughed. “That was fun!” said Beverly. “Let’s do it again!”

Beverly tried popping one by stamping on it with her foot, but it kept flying sideways. Then she got an idea. “Let’s pop it with the pins!”

Sally knew that pins were dangerous, and little kids shouldn’t have them. “Just you and me do it, Beverly, don’t let Nicky or Jane.” So they both carefully took pins and began to pop balloons. It made a great noise and they all screamed and cheered each time. Finally, the only balloons left were the special ones that Beverly’s mother had given them to take home: they were tied on a shiny string with their names on a tag. These balloons were different from the other balloons. They still floated and had pictures on them.

“We can’t pop these,” Sally announced “These are the balloons we’re supposed to keep.”

Nicky said a bad word and Jane began to whine again. Sally sighed.

“Okay, one balloon: mine.” Sally took her balloon, inhaled, and then pushed the pin in.

It popped louder than the ones before.

“I want to pop mine too!” cried Beverly, delighted. She did.

Nicky also insisted her balloon be popped. Everyone kept cheering.

Jane ran up with hers. “Me too! Me too! I want to pop mine too!”

Sally immediately knew this was not good.

Jane had been cheering, but she knew that she had also been frightened by the noise.  Also, Jane was too little to know that it was the end of the balloon. “No, Jane, we can’t pop your balloon!”

“Why?” Jane’s little face was both angry and frustrated, and threatened to explode into tears.

“Because once you pop it, it will be all gone. You don’t want that, do you?”

“Yes!” She started wailing. Both Sally and Beverly begged her to stop crying and to not pop her balloon. But Jane wanted her balloon popped, and she was insistent.

Exasperated, Sally gave in.  She went to pop it, but Jane got mad again and demanded that she should have the pin. “You can’t, you are too little!” Sally protested. Beverly agreed, but it was no good.

“Okay,” said Sally, “what if I hold your hand while you do it?” She was not going to let a little kid hold a pin by herself.

“That’s a good idea,” Beverly agreed.

Finally, they seated Jane on the couch. Sally held Jane on her lap while Beverly held Nicky’s hand to keep her out of trouble, though Nicky kept yanking to get away.

Rain started falling outside and the wind blew in through the screen door. Jane tried to push the pin in herself and dropped it on the couch. Frustrated, Sally grabbed it from between the couch pillows and clamped it firmly back into Jane’s hands between her fingers so she wouldn’t drop it this time. “Ready?” she asked.

“Ready,” Jane softly replied.

Sally inhaled.

The balloon was a good one, very tight and big, so it took extra pushing, but Sally held Jane’s hand firmly and pushed until—

The balloon exploded right in their faces with a big blast. Jane screamed and started crying.

The door flew open and Beverly’s mother came racing in, grabbing Jane from Sally’s lap. “I saw that!” she yelled at Sally. “Go home now! I’m not going to wait for your mother! You are a bad kid! Popping a little girl’s balloon? Shame on you!”

Jane was frightened and wouldn’t stop crying. Beverly kept saying it was not how it seemed as Sally stood with her mouth open. Nicky ran for the door which was now ajar. Sally tried to talk, but Mrs. Anderson kept yelling.

“You are never, ever coming over to this house again, you hear me? What a wicked thing to do! Stay away from my girls, stay out of our yard! Never set foot on our property again.”

Sally watched as her sister disappeared in the direction of their home and realized she had to run after her. As she ran, Mrs. Anderson stood at the door yelling things at her, things that she didn’t understand, things that hurt and confused.

At first, Sally’s mother was sure Mrs. Anderson was mixing her girls up. Nicky was the one who did naughty stuff, not Sally. Beverly and Jane tried to explain to their mother what happened, but it was no good.

After all, she had seen it with her own two eyes. Mrs. Anderson made sure everyone knew.

And Sally never had to go to another birthday party in the neighborhood again.