My mom and I spent the entire day setting up the dining room with balloons and party hats. I'm a big science kid so I asked for a science theme for my tenth birthday. I even got a pin-the-planet-on-the-solar-system poster game. It's so cool! You get to wear a space helmet instead of just a mask. And the table cloth of robots, mechanical sketches, and space shuttles is perfect. Dad really knows where to get these kinds of things. He's an engineer too. I want to be just like him. I want to solve problems.
This morning, my Mom and I went to the bakery to get a giant twenty-four-inch cake with the picture of the solar system drawn out in colorful icings circles. Dad found a miniature globe online and placed it on top of the center of the cake, in the middle of the cake universe. Though it's technically wrong, it still looks pretty cool.
I invited everyone in my fifth grade class, including Mrs. Jennings. She said she might not be able to attend because of school guidelines, but that she would try. I hope she comes. She's a really cool teacher.
I really, really hope Laralyn comes. She's likes robots and science, like me. We did the science fair in March and won. She got first place for her display of magnetic fields and it's affect on natural resources. I got second for the semi-robotic arm Dad helped me build. Mrs. Jennings said I couldn't be first because I had help from my dad. I was fine coming in second to Laralyn. She's really smart.
It's four o-clock. I run to the window in front of the curtains to watch for my classmates.
"I wonder if there's traffic on the boulevard." My mom pulls the curtain back to let the sunlight in.
Dad stands behind her. "I don't think so. I just came back with the soda bottles from A&P. I didn't see too much traffic."
"Walter, why don't you come help me with the goodie bags before your friends arrive." Mom gives Dad a big eyeball look, but I don't quite make it out. Grownups seem to have their own eye-language. They can communicate without words.
I run back to the table and prep the plastic bags with chocolate treats and candy. The bags have a picture of an unrolled blue print with a triangle ruler and pencil at its side. "Three chocolates, three hard candies, stickers, pencils, whistles, and a tiny pinball game, right Mom?"
"Right Walt. Make twenty bags."
After a few minutes, Mom leaves the table and Dad comes to help me out. "How many do you have?"
"Only five. I keep forgetting the order. Whistles, pinball, pencils, then..." I hear Mom talking in the kitchen. She seems a little angry. "Who's Mom calling?"
Dad takes my sixth bag. "No one. Let me help you there. So, a whistle, pinball..."
Dad and I finish all twenty bags and we line them up on the table in two neat rows. I made an extra packed bag for Laralyn and put a little ribbon on the handle so I don't mix them up when I give them out.
I look at the clock. It's five already?
I run to the window and look to the left and right. The street is empty.
"There must be a traffic jam somewhere, Walt." Dad says. He looks back at Mom. She's on the phone again, and she's whispering.
"I'm pretty sure I wrote the date and time right on the invitations."
"I'm sure you did, Walt. Why don't you open our gift while we wait?"
I run to the big colorful box on the gift table. It's heavy, but I manage to pick it up by myself. I shake it up and down, then side to side. When I rip it open I scream.
"The Astromaster Reflector Telescope! Dad, I can't believe you got it for me!"
"Happy Birthday son."
When I rip open the box my dad steps in to slow me down. "Be careful, Walt. Help me set it up. Take out the instructions." He looks over to Mom in the kitchen. She's on the phone again.
"I can't wait to show all my friends!"
Dad nods and unfolds the instructions. Before we start, I run to the window to take another look, in case someone is at the door. Maybe the doorbell broke.
No one is there.
"Walt, I need your help putting this telescope together."
I look to the left... I look to the right...
"Maybe I wrote the wrong house number."
Dad appears at my side. "Why don't we set up that telescope, huh?"
I love my new telescope, but... I'm not as excited as before. I help dad put it together. Though it's a little chilly, we set it up outside in the backyard. We look at the craters on the evening moon and try to follow a plane crossing the sky. We even look into our neighbors windows, but Dad said not to do that when he's not around.
It's fun. Dad makes it fun, but...I know what's happening.
After seeing the rings of Saturn through the telescope, I sit down on the lawn chair. "No one's coming to my birthday party."
"It's only six o'clock, Walt. Maybe -"
"You don't have to lie to me Dad." I look up at the sky towards the sunset.
Dad pats me on my shoulder. "I'm sorry Walt. It doesn't look like anyone is coming."
I look back at the house and see Mom at the window staring out at us. She's wiping her face.
"Why don't we go inside and have some cake. It's pistachio ice cream and vanilla. You're favorite."
"Okay," I say, just to please Dad. I really don't want ice-cream cake right now. Right now, I just want to go to sleep. I want my birthday to end. I can't imagine what everyone's going to say in school on Monday.
When we walk in the kitchen, Mom hugs me. Mom and Dad whisper over my head, but I ignore them. I know they're talking about how no one came to my birthday party, and probably how they spent so much money for nothing.
I sit at the kitchen table, poking my pistachio ice cream cake with a plastic spoon, wondering what I did wrong.
* * * * *
Mom and Dad finish cleaning up the decorations around eight o'clock. They let me watch War of the Worlds, a movie they said was too gory for me when I was little but now that I'm ten I can watch it.
"Walt, why don't we go see Men In Black 3? The reviews are good."
"It's okay, Dad. I really don't feel like going out. I think I'll go to sleep early."
Just as I'm about to step onto the second floor, the doorbell rings. I sit down at the edge of the top step, out of sight, to see who it is. Mom and Dad open the door.
"We're so sorry to come so late, but Laralyn had a piano recital today. I hope the party isn't over." Laralyn's mom steps into our foyer and her and Mom talk in whispers. She nods a lot. Laralyn looks around the living room.
Dad peeks up the stares and spots me. "Walter. Come downstairs. You have a visitor."
Laralyn shouts as I walk down the stairs. "Happy Birthday Walter!" She has the best smile ever. Ear to ear.
She hands me a small, heavy box."I hope you like it. It's a microscope with slides of dead bugs. It's so cool! My uncle got it for me for Christmas. I know you're going to love it."
"Thanks! I love dead bugs!"
"How was the party?"
Dad grabs the box from my hands and gives me a side wink. "It was a small crowd, but we made the best of it. I thought we would take Walter to go see Men In Black 3 and then to Mighty Ice Cream World to end the day in a smash. You are welcome to join us."
"Oh, Mom, can we? Please. Please. Please."
Mom and Laralyn's mom exchange looks. There goes that eye ball language again. Laralyn's mom says yes and Dad grabs my jacket.
We all pile into my Dad's minivan, and Laralyn sits in the backseat with me. We pull out our 3DS-es and start playing Mario Kart head-to-head.
While her Princess player runs in second place far behind my Warrio player in the race, Laralyn says, "I'm glad we didn't come earlier. I don't like the kids in our class. They're a bunch of jerks. Except for you, of course. You're cool. I'm glad it's just us."
I let my Warrio drive off a cliff and die. She finishes first in the race.
"Ha! Beat you," she shouts. "Play again?"