In order to celebrate release day, the other authors and I are offering sneak peeks at our stories in this domestic discipline anthology. My story, “Tomorrow”, serves as a mini-sequel to The Way Home and a prequel to Lighting the Way, which will be available on June 6th.
June 6th also happens to be Kat’s birthday, and we will celebrate her special day in style! To get ready for her big day, “Tomorrow” tells about Kat’s first birthday celebration. Ever. She has refused to have a party for as long as Natalie has known her, but this time Natalie talks her into doing something special. Little does Kat know that Natalie makes big plans!
What are those big plans? I’ll give you a hint. “Sarsi World” is in Florida, is popular with children and families, and involves both shows and amusement rides.
“When I was eight,” Natalie begins, and I settle into a more comfortable position. Is it the feel of Natalie’s hands in my hair that calms me, or is it Natalie’s voice? I thought I was comforting her. Leave it to Natalie to turn things around yet again. Despite, or perhaps because of, the change in subject, her voice deepens and slows to sound more like the resonant Natalie voice of old. “I wanted to become a ballerina. You saw my recital pictures, didn’t you?”
I nod wistfully. The perfect pictures of Natalie dressed in a sparkly, fluffy pink tutu looking as scrumptious as cotton candy, her hands forming a circle over her head. No 4-H for Natalie. It was ballet classes, piano recitals, and Girl Scouts.
“So Mom gave me a ballet birthday party. The invitations were pink, we had pink streamers everywhere, and she had my party a week late so we could all go to the Nutcracker at the local theater. My best friend Alice gave me a Ballet Barbie doll, and it was my favorite for years.”
By this time I have slipped lower and lower until my head is resting on Natalie’s lap. To her this might be a childhood memory, but to me it is a fairy tale. I half-expect a godmother to appear and grant her three wishes.
“I had lots of neat parties, but that was my favorite one. What was your favorite birthday party?”
I blink hard. I pull away, stand up, and walk back into the kitchen.
* * *
I look up uncertainly.
“Tell me why it upset you to think about your birthday parties. Is it missing your mom?”
None of your damn business, I want to say, but then I realize that I do not. Not really.
“No. My mom…”
“There were so many of us kids, and the boys were so much older and didn’t care about that stuff, and the farm never did well enough for us to have much money, and we lived so far away from everyone else, and in June everyone was going away for vacation anyway…”
She strokes my hair. Damn it, I might as well be Pavlov’s dog. “So you never had a birthday party?”
She carefully keeps any trace of pity out of her voice, and I nod.
“It’s okay,” I start to say, but Natalie interrupts.
“Is that why you never let me throw a birthday party for you?”
“Well, other than not having any friends…”
I jump and rub before I realize what she has done, and I stare at her, speechless. Yet she does not look regretful, or surprised, or even ruffled. She looks more like a bossy, infuriating, control freak.
Like Natalie. I gulp, surprised at how relieved that I am to have her back.
“Care to change your answer?”
I hop up and down in tiny jumps, more from the shock than pain. I thought we were in the special no-combat zone where my bottom was safe. Is it a good thing that she has given me a spank, or is it bad? I am furious, but at the same time I am secretly pleased. I do matter to her, after all.
“Answer the question, please.”
“Maybe. Kinda.” So the rules have changed again? Are there rules?
She waits until I meet her gaze. “What if I say you’re going to have a birthday party this year whether you like it or not?”
I make a face. “I’m too old…”
“Ouch! Natalie, stop it!” Once was enough! More than enough! Again, a curious mixture of pleasure and indignation ripples through my stomach.
Natalie gives a sigh and speaks with immense patience. “Fine. May I please do something special for your birthday this year?”
I shrug in confusion. “But why do you care?”
“Memories,” Natalie says, and I gape at her. “Creating memories.”
I shake my head again, and she speaks as patiently as if I am a rather dim-witted child. “It’s your birthday soon. Dr. Mitchell wanted us to do something fun, now, and happy that would let us create new memories. Remember? Let’s use your birthday. Please, Katty? I want to do this for you. For us.”
I adjust the collar on my bathrobe and sweep off the towel that has come untucked, and I give her my best smile.
“Okay,” I say. “So, like a cake or something?”
* * *
The moment that the plane jerks with the wheels unfolding from underneath its belly, I awake with a start.
“Natty!” I cry softly, hunkering over the oval window. “Palm trees! Ocean! Sun!”
“Hmm?” Natalie opens one eye, moans, and closes it again.
“We’re here!” I bounce in my seat before remembering with a wince that it is not a good idea. “Look!”
Lazily, she stretches. “Not thirsty,” she murmurs before tucking her head in the crook between her headrest and my chair. I give up on waking her and instead watch, fascinated, as the greens and blues and yellows become more and more distinct. It is only my second time on an airplane and my first time in the Sunshine State, and I want to remember every moment. Open-mouthed, I peer at the houses that lay in doll-like smallness. Tiny blue rectangles, ovals, circles, and kidney beans dot the spaces next to nearly every house. Does everyone own a pool in Florida?
“Natty!” I hiss before remembering that she has gone back to sleep. “We should get a pool!”
Natalie, if she were awake, would remind me that I am the one who refuses to spend money. I slip my hand into her limp one and cuddle next to her.
“Wake up!” I whisper. “We’re here!”
Her eyes snap open, and as comprehension fills her eyes she smiles.
“Sorry you threatened not to come?”
I huff in indignation, but she strokes my cheek. “It’s a joke, Katya.”
I make a face, and she taps the tip of my nose. “I can’t wait to see you in a Sarsi hat.” She smiles, her eyes sparkling.
“I’m not going to wear a Sarsi hat…”
“Pink with sparkles and a little filmy veil, just like Princess Sarsi. And we have to get your picture taken with her, and get you a Sarsi balloon, ooh and the character breakfast on the paddleboat…”
“If I wear one, so will you,” I grumble.
“Nuh-uh,” Natalie grins. “You’re the birthday girl.”
She proceeds to tell everyone that it is my birthday, even the bus driver from the resort who picks us up, and I am offered a “Happy Birthday” sticker then and there. Natalie attaches it to my polo shirt, and I wrinkle my nose at her.
“You don’t have to make such a big deal about it,” I say, but she shakes her head.
“We have more than thirty birthdays to catch up on at once,” she answers.
And despite the hot flush in my cheeks every time someone nods and smiles at my childish sticker, I take her hand.
Then I have a thought so unsettling that I stop in my tracks. Natalie nudges me to continue sliding into my seat. I wish I could roll the window down. If I am not the one driving or at least in the front seat, I tend to get a little carsick.
It is not the carsickness that makes my stomach flip-flop, though.
What if she thinks that having more than thirty birthdays to catch up on means also catching up on the birthday spankings?