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  • Writer's pictureEva Nel Brettrager

Happy Birthday, Sweetheart

I’ve been waiting almost my entire life to unfold this piece of paper. I didn’t really know it existed until I turned thirteen, and my mom gave it to me. It’s folded into a neat little square, and written in bright black ink it says, do not open until your seventeenth birthday. When she gave it to me, she squeezed my hand and said, “Make sure you’re alone when you finally open it. It’s our little secret.”

Well the say has finally come. Today is my seventeenth birthday. I just woke up, and it sucks because mom is making me go to school and dad never argues with her, so GUESS who has to go?


I decided last night that I would open it at the end of the day so I could enjoy the whole day. With my luck it’ll say some dumb shit like, ta-da congrats on your early enlistment into the army! Bleh.

I made my way downstairs to breakfast and mom and dad were both there. Dad was sipping his coffee and reading the paper. As I sat down, mom brought me a cup of orange juice and a plate stacked with waffles, eggs, and bacon. My favorite.

“Thanks, mom.” I said. “It looks great!”

“You’re welcome, sweetie.” she said and she pecked the top of my head with a kiss. “So… do you feel any different today?” As she said it she gave me an odd, exploratory look.

I realized she was asking me without asking me, if I had read the note yet.

“Not yet, mom. I’m sure the day will be full of lots of surprises.” I said.

Mom started to speak, but dad cut her off. “Oh, heh. I bet it sure will.” he said. He had an… odd smile on his face. I couldn’t place it. On the surface it looked real, but there was something there, just underneath… it didn’t feel all the safe.

I finished up breakfast, got dressed and went through all the motions to get myself to school. Nothing eventful happened on the bus. The day as low and menial. A few friends wished me happy birthday and had a few cards for me which was cool. Two teachers had the class sing me the birthday song which of course was SO great. But the day moved enough and then I was back on the bus, headed home. I almost read the note. But I promised myself I’d wait until bed.

I got home and saw mom’s car in the driveway. Normally dad was home before her, but I didn’t see his car.

I walked in the front door, and she was standing right there.

“Hi, honey!” she practically screeched.

“Hi, mom.” I said, laughing awkwardly. “Is everything okay?”

She made a shushing motion, putting her fingers to her lips. But she said, “Yes, honey! Everything is fine! Let’s go get some ice cream?” and as she said it she started pulling me towards the door.

“But I want to knock out my homework real quick so I can game with the guys for the rest of the night.” I protested.

“Silly, sweetie! She said, again sounding so cheerful, but looking terrified. “It’s a big birthday for you!”

Confused, I let her lead me out of the house and to her car. As we got in I started to speak, but she hushed me. I sat, stunned. She no longer seemed cheery, and wasn’t even faking it to save face. She seemed terrified.

After we had driven for about ten minutes, and definitely not stopping for ice cream, I said with confidence, “Mom, you need to tell me what’s going on. Now.”

She slowed the car and pulled in to a busy shopping center. She parked. She turned in her seat to look at me, and her eyes bore into my face.

“Sweetheart, I need to know. Did you read the note?” she asked.

“No, not yet.” I said, as I pulled the note out of my pocket. “I was going to save it until bed so I had one last exciting activity before my birthday ended.”

She grasped my hands and yanked the note out. The note itself was so tattered that I honestly wasn’t sure I’d be able to open it. It’s bee in my pocket banging around for years, and I had spilled things on it a few times. Once I jumped into a pool with my pants and, and mom about had a heart attack.

She meticulously moved her fingers to open the ever overwhelming piece of paper. Finally it was fully open, and with extremely trembling hands, she gave it to me. “Please,” she whispered, “Read it right now.”

My hands were now shaking also as badly as hers were. I gently took the piece of paper into my hands, and turned it around. In black ink, so faded I almost couldn’t read it were the words…

Don’t trust your father.

I was confused. “Mom… what is this?”

She took a deep breath. “I know this is going to be hard for you to understand. I’ve told you your whole life to trust you father, and know that he loves you. But things are… different now. I can’t explain it all to you. But I need you to trust this as much as you trust that I love you.”

That was a tall task. If there’s one thing I’ve never questioned, it’s how much my parents love me. And I trusted them fully, with every single thing about my life. Now my mother was asking me to basically betray my father?

I looked at her for a long while. Finally, I said. “Mom. I love you, and trust you with my life. But, I also love dad and trust him just as much. I need to think about this.”

She took a deep breath, looked at me long and hard. I was sure she might cry. “Okay, honey. But please, try not to be alone with him.”

After that she put the car in drive. We went to the ice cream parlor like she said we would, and then we stopped at the post office. The drive home after that was completely silent. When we pulled into the driveway, dad’s car was there. Just before we got out, she whispered, “Don’t tell your father about the note. And don’t tell him anything we talked about.”

Now THAT I knew I could do. I was honestly concerned for her. Was she having a psychotic break that I just didn’t understand?

As soon as mom opened the door, dad was right there.

“Hey, buddy! How’s your birthday going?” dad asked, chipper and friendly.

I immediately felt relaxed. He didn’t seem different at all. “It’s been okay so far, thanks! Nothing too crazy at school, and mom treated me to ice cream.”

Turning to mom, dad said, “I was wondering where you two got off to. I checked your location and it said you were just sitting in the middle of the road for quite some time.”

Mom laughed it off. “My phone died for a few minutes so it must have just stuck where we’d been driving last.” She glanced at me and went back to dad.

He looked at her for just a second longer than he should and said, “Hm. Okay. Thought you were trying to run off on me.”

Now I was the one laughing. “Why would we do that?”

There was a weird tension in the air, but then our little congregation broke up and things seemed to go back to normal. Dad went up to his office to do whatever he does when he’s in there. Mom headed to the kitchen to sort the mail and prepare dinner. I went up to my room to start my homework.

It was at that point I realized that the note was no longer in my pocket. And come to think of it, I didn’t really remember folding it back up and putting it away. Shit. What did I do with it?

Just as I was about to get up, mom popped her head into my room. “Honey, you have everything right?” she asked, indicating to her pocket.

For some reason, I felt compelled to also stay quiet, so I shook my head. She grew panicked again and left the room. I shook it off as best I could and went back to my work.

A few hours went by. I had finished my homework and was gaming online with my friends. My headphones were on, so I didn’t notice that anyone had come in to my bedroom. I felt a firm hand clasp down on my shoulder. It was definitely dad.

“Come on. Let’s go out to dinner. Mom got some alone time with you today, so I should too.” he said. He didn’t sound very chipper, like he did this afternoon. Really he just sounded pretty flat and unemotional.

“Sure dad,” I said, “Let me save, and we can go.”

I started shutting down my game and changed my clothes into something more appropriate for a restaurant. I didn’t even know where we were going. My door suddenly opened and it was mom. “Dinner’s done, sweetie. Let’s all go have a nice birthday meal.” It was evident she was trying to keep her breath steady.

“Well dad said he was taking us out to dinner.” I said.

“He didn’t tell me that.” she said. She sounded angry. Closing the door a tad hard, I heard her loudly step down the hallway to dad’s office. Their voices were low and muffled, but stern. Then just as quickly, they were both at my door.

Dad spoke first. “Guess I didn’t realize your mother had been working on a nice home meal for you. So it looks like we’re staying here.” He had a grin on his face, but I didn’t really believe it. He was kind of acting strange.

Mom told me to change into something more comfortable. I did, and headed down to dinner. The dining table was nicely laid out, with one of my favorite dishes prepared. It smelled delicious, and I thanked mom profusely.

We all sat down to eat, and no one spoke. I hadn’t realized how hungry I was. I was practically inhaling my food. Mom had taken a few bites, but was mostly pushing bits of food around her plate. Dad hasn’t touched anything. I looked down to finish my last few bites. When I looked up, his plate was empty.

Suddenly, he put his hands on the table just a little too hard and said, “I guess it’s time for cake!” Turning to mom, he said, “Darling, why don’t you go get the cake from the kitchen. I know you worked hard on that all night.” Mom looked confused, but did as he said. Turning to me, he said, “Do us a favor and go get the paper plates from the garage.”

No harm in that request. I headed down the small hallway and entered the garage. It was attached to our house, so you didn’t need to go outside to get into it. The door closed behind me, which it normally doesn’t. I also couldn’t get the light switch to work, but there was enough light coming in from under the garage door that I was able to find what I was sent to get. When I tried to re-enter the house, the door was stuck. I jiggled the handle, pushed and pulled on it. Nothing was working. So I grabbed the spare key from a drawer in dad’s work bench.

When I opened the door, it was eerily quiet. There was a hush in the air, and I got goosebumps really quickly. As I entered the dining room, no one was there like I was expecting. I thought maybe they were trying to surprise me to sing happy birthday, but they just weren’t there. I started heading toward the kitchen but stopped short. I found the answer to how dad cleaned his plate so quickly. His entire dinner was on the floor underneath the table.

Now on edge, I hesitantly stepped towards the kitchen. The light over the island was there. Sure enough, there sat a cake. Mom sat on the floor, leaning against the island, facing me. She was pale as a ghost, and hardly breathing. I dropped the plates and rushed to her.

“Mom, what happened?” I said kneeling before her.

“The food.” she gasped. “It’s poisoned.”

“Did dad do this?” I asked.

“Yes.” she sighed.

“Why?” I yelled. “WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?”

Just as she was about to speak, I felt dad’s daunting stomps coming into the room. He was laughing. I stood up, and backed away. He approached us rapidly. He kicked his heel directly into mom’s face, and she collapsed to the floor. I surmised that she was dead and began to cry. He rushed towards me, and punched me in the face.

Everything went black.

When I came to, my face was on fire. I reached up to touch it and my hands were covered in blood. Dad’s back was to me. The ground began to tremble and black smoke was billowing from seemingly nowhere. Suddenly in the air in front of dad, light cracked, and a scroll unfurled in front of him. A fucking SCROLL was just suspended from mid air. It was dripping with what I think was blood, and something black.

He pulled a pen out of his pocket and began reviewing the document. It was large enough that I could even read it. It was a contract. My dad signed it, dated this day seventeen years ago. My mom had signed it too. Apparently mom was infertile and all she wanted was to have me. They made a deal with the devil, or… something. Seventeen years, and if dad could say in earnest that he didn’t love me, they’d take my life away and give him the seventeen years I had taken from him.

Oscar worthy performance. My dad was my best friend. And all of it was fake. He began to turn around. My face wasn’t bleeding from his punch. My face was bleeding because it was now on his face. He wore it like a mask, with pride.

He laughed. “Bye, bye - it was nice knowing you!” he said, waving. “Or not!” I became aware that as he was waving, he was growing further away. I was sinking into the floor. Into blackness.

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