A Birthday to Remember

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Commercial Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


When Sam receives a mysterious gift for his birthday his life changes forever.

Submitted: September 25, 2017

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Submitted: September 25, 2017

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Sam opened his eyes and blinked, trying to adjust to the light streaming in from his window. He must have forgotten to shut his blinds last night. Looking around his room, he took it all in, his dad had snuck into his room and covered the floor with balloons of every imaginable color while he was asleep. There were so many it seemed like his floor had turned into a ball pit full of balloons. He sighed, unimpressed with the effort, and laid-back staring at the ceiling. The sun was out and shining into his room, transforming the balloons into magnificent fiery orbs, the birds were singing outside his window, and a dog barked in the distance. He could not have asked for a better day for his birthday, but none of this mattered to Sam. He was sad and nothing about today was going to change that.

Three months ago, Sam's mother had been killed in a training exercise while flying a jet in the US Air Force. She was a fighter pilot and had been Sam's hero. All his life he had only wanted to do one thing: fly airplanes like his mom. She used to spend hours showing him the different planes that she flew and telling him stories about flying, describing how free she felt soaring through the air. Sam drank it all in, never able to get enough. But his whole life had changed with a knock on the door. He and his dad had been watching TV while doing the dishes. Sam would wash and his dad would dry, it was their ritual after every meal. His dad had gone to answer the door, and after a few moments Sam heard a crash. Rushing over to the door, Sam saw his dad standing there, shards of ceramic surrounding his feet from the plate he had been carrying, and two uniformed airmen standing in the door way. It was the worst day of his life. Ever since, he had taken to locking himself in his room, not doing anything, just lying on his bed and crying. His dad had tried to get him to come out and talk but Sam couldn't handle the grief yet. Three months had passed and they were starting to adjust, but today was particularly difficult. His mom had always loved birthdays; the balloons were her thing. Last year he had told her that he was too old for balloons, but she had simply said, "You're never too old for balloons silly." Sure enough, when he woke up on his eleventh birthday, balloons were covering the floor just as they did today. He knew his dad was just trying to make him feel better, but he couldn't help but feel a little resentful. Balloons were mom's idea and no one should do them except for her.

"Sam," he heard his dad shout, "breakfast is almost ready!"

He rolled over, hoping to pretend that he was still asleep. This may have worked had it not been for the mouthwatering aroma of bacon and French Toast that came wafting into his room. His dad had pulled out all the stops in trying to make the day special and was cooking his "favorite" breakfast. It wasn't really his favorite, that being omelets, but his dad didn't know how to make much else for breakfast. His stomach rumbling, he tried to hold out. It was pointless, hunger was going to win this battle. He rolled out of bed and headed downstairs to the kitchen.

"Happy Birthday bud!" his dad said as soon as he sat down, and proceeded to launch into an off-tune, but exuberant rendition of Happy Birthday.

"Thanks dad," Sam responded, "and thanks for the balloons. It must have taken you awhile, there were so many." While he may not have wanted it, he had been taught to show appreciation where deserved.

"Oh, it wasn't too bad, I used to help your mother with them so I had some practice." He gave a sideways glance at Sam hoping that the mention of his mother wouldn't affect him, but Sam was unfazed. "What do you want to do today? Are you still up for the airshow? We can ask some of your friends to come if you'd like."

"No that's okay. We can just go together."

"Alright. We can leave around eleven. Sound like a plan?"

Sam grunted in response, his mouth full of French toast. They had been going to the air show at Edwards Air Force Base every year and this year it happened to fall on his birthday. His mother used to go with them and she would give them the behind the scenes tour, getting to meet the pilots and even sit in the cockpit of a fighter jet. Thinking about it brought pangs to his stomach at the thought of being there without her, but he knew he needed to go. While it would be painful to be there, it was even more important to him be in the place that she had loved so much on his birthday.

After breakfast, Sam went back up to his room to read before leaving for the airshow. He had started reading more since his mother’s passing, it was an escape from his life, a way to drown his sorrows in the adventures of a different world. Most of the books he read were about planes and flying. He loved reading about what it felt like to fly and often imagined himself running out of the house and flying away from his life.

His dad came and got him when it was time to leave and they drove the 10 miles to the base in relative silence, his dad not knowing what to say and Sam having no desire to speak about anything at all. The air show was a wonderful distraction for Sam. They spent hours watching the planes fly, performing incredible feats of aerial acrobatics, explored the exhibits, and even took a turn in a flight simulator. For a brief period, Sam almost forgot his troubles, however as the sun set and they began to leave, his spirits began to fall.

“Did you have fun?” His dad asked.

“Yeah, it was fine,” Sam answered.

“Your mom would have loved it,” his dad replied, wistfully staring at a passing biplane. “It was weird being here without her, but I don’t think I’ve felt closer to her since she’s been gone.” He never referred to his wife as having died, only as if she was on vacation or on a deployment. Sam was not sure if it was for his own benefit, or his dad just didn’t want to think about that either. “You hungry for dinner? Why don’t we go to Jimmy’s?”

“That sounds good.” Sam responded, his voice cracking a little. Jimmy’s was his favorite restaurant, but they only usually went on special occasions so it was always a treat. It also meant his dad didn’t have to try and cook, which was not one of his strong suits.

“We’ll open presents when we get home,” his dad said.  Seeing the brief flash of excitement flash across Sam’s eyes, he asked “You thought you weren’t getting any presents huh? I’ve still got some surprises up my sleeve,” giving Sam a sly wink. Things had been a little tight financially over the past few months. Sam’s dad had quit his job when Sam was born to stay home and take care of him, so his mother could pursue her goal of being a pilot. He hadn’t yet been able to find a job after she died. Not many people wanted a marketing professional who’s been out of the work force for twelve years, but he wasn’t going to let that affect his son’s birthday.

They ate dinner at Jimmy’s and talked about the air show. For dessert, his dad had sneaked off to tell the waiter it was Sam’s birthday, and the entire wait staff came out of the back singing happy birthday with a little cake and candle. Sam turned bright red, not used to the attention, but smiled and laughed all the same. On the way home, Sam stared out the window thinking about how great the day had turned out. He missed his mom terribly but his dad had made such an effort today that he could almost forget she was gone.

“Go ahead into the family room, I’ll run and grab your gifts” his dad said when they got home. “The whole family sent you something this year, you’ve got quite the haul.” Sam was a little surprised. Aunt Molly, his dad’s sister, and her husband, Uncle Miles were his only extended family, his mom being an only child. They usually sent a card with some money in it, but they must have felt bad for him this year and splurged a little.

His dad came downstairs with three boxes all different sizes. There was a box a little bigger than a shoe box from Uncle Miles, a smaller box from Aunt Molly, and then a rectangular shaped box that looked a lot like a DVD from his dad.

“Oh shoot, I forgot one.” His dad remarked, running back up the stairs to retrieve the last gift. He returned with a mason jar full of a bubbling, golden liquid.

“Who’s that one from?” Sam asked.

“I’m not sure, there was no tag saying who sent it, but it was on top of the boxes that came from your Aunt and Uncle. I think it might be soda, although I’ve never seen one that color before.”

“Oh, okay.” Sam replied, already focusing on opening the presents with a less mysterious background. Opening the smallest one he revealed a new video game for the PlayStation 4, but Sam didn’t have a PS4. He knew immediately then what the largest box must be, reaching for it he ripped off the wrapping paper revealing a brand-new PS4. He looked at his dad, mouth wide in shock. “How did they know I wanted one?” He had told his dad but had never mentioned it to his Aunt or Uncle.

“They just must be extra smart” his dad said, trying to keep a straight face. Sam judged by his dad’s expression that he had relayed his wish list to them, for which he was very grateful. Inside the other gift was an extra controller. “Now you can invite some friends over to play.” Sam hugged his dad, thanking him for the gifts, before turning to the fourth and final gift, the mason jar.

He opened the top and gave it a sniff. It smelled exactly like the Coke that he just had at Jimmy’s, and it even bubbled the same way. Maybe it would taste the same way too. Sam tilted the jar a little and tasted it. It was Coke, but it wasn’t. It tasted like Coke but there were hints of other flavors that were in no Coke he had ever tried. There was vanilla, cherry, some cinnamon, and even a hint of raspberry. It was delicious. Tilting back his head he drank the rest of the jar in an instant. His dad, who had been busy putting away the trash, came back over and saw him with the empty jar.

“You drank it?!” His dad shouted.

“Yeah, it was good. It tasted like Coke, it must have been soda like you said”

“You don’t know what could have been in there! I should take you to the hospital!”

“Dad, I’m fine” Sam said, but inside he was not so sure. His chest had started to feel a little funny, and there was a warmth passing through his whole body, but it went away almost as soon as he felt it.

“Okay, but if you start feeling funny tell me right away.” Checking his watch, his dad said “It’s getting late, you should head to bed. I hope you had a great birthday bud.”

Sam hadn’t realized how late it had gotten, and suddenly felt extremely tired. “I did dad, thanks for everything.” Sam hugged him, and headed up the stairs to bed.

That night, Sam had an incredible dream. He was flying, no plane or jetpack was helping him, just himself. He flew over mountains, over oceans, and high above the trees. He felt liberated, without a care in the world, as if all his worries were being blown away by the whip of the wind on his face. He woke feeling rested, relaxed, and was surprised when he felt an unfamiliar feeling wash over him. It was happiness, something he hadn’t felt in so long he had forgotten what it felt like. With an extra skip in his step, he waltzed downstairs.

“Morning dad” he said.

“Well good morning to you. What’s got you in such a good mood?” His dad asked, for it was apparent just by the way he looked that something had changed.

“Oh nothing. I had a good dream last night though” replied Sam.

“That’s great! What was it about?”

“I was flying! It was so much fun!” explained Sam before immediately going to set up his new PS4, leaving his dad to finish reading the paper. The rest of the day passed just like any other day except the somber feeling that had blanketed the house for the past few months seemed to start to lift. After dinner, Sam and his dad were washing the dishes together like the usually do, when one of the dishes slipped from his dad’s hands and crashed onto the floor. Sam was so startled that he leaped into the air, turning around as he did to see what had happened.

“Sorry, the plate slipped”, his dad said, laughing at his own clumsiness. “I should be more careful or we won’t have any lef–” he froze mid-sentence. His mouth dropped open and he stared dumbfounded at Sam.

Confused, Sam asked “what’s wrong dad?” To answer the question his dad pointed at Sam’s feet. Looking down, Sam saw his feet weren’t on the floor as he had thought, but instead were hovering about an inch in the air. Almost as soon as Sam noticed, he dropped to the ground. He looked at his dad, who had burst out laughing.

“That was really good Sam! You’ll have to teach me how to do that sometime.”

“But dad! That wasn’t me!” he protested.

“Alright, alright you are a real wizard, now how about you use those magical powers to help me finish these dishes.” responded his dad.

They finished the dishes, with no further unexpected occurrences. Sam decided he would head to bed early, still a little bothered his dad hadn’t believed him. After he got in bed, he lay there staring at the ceiling thinking about what had happened. He knew what he had seen, and his dad had witnessed it as well, even if he didn’t believe what he saw. Maybe he could do it again. Closing his eyes, he concentrated with all his might and imagined himself rising above the bed and floating in the air. After focusing hard for a few minutes, he gave up. Sighing he rolled over onto his shoulder and fell two feet back onto his bed. He had been floating! Not wanting to show his dad until he knew he could do it again, he got up, opened his door, and headed downstairs. His dad must have gone to bed early as well, because all the lights were off so he quietly opened the back door and stepped outside.

Sam looked around his yard. It looked safe enough, surely the grass wouldn’t be too unforgiving if he fell. There was only one way to find out. Keeping his eyes open this time, he focused and imagined himself flying to the top of the big Oak tree in his yard. Slowly at first, and then picking up speed, he rose into the air. A bird reeled in surprise as he floated by, screeching in protest at the advance of its unexpected visitor. Higher and higher he rose, until his heels grazed the very top of the tree. He wasn’t scared or frantic, it felt right, like something he was meant to do. From this height, he could see his whole neighborhood, every house and every road seemed like a toy. Mr. and Mrs. Ziegler were walking their dog Rusty three streets over, and his friend Bobby was shooting a basketball in his driveway. A peal of laughter burst forth and Sam did a little twirl overjoyed with happiness. “Whoa!” He had lost focus for a moment and plummeted ten feet before being able to catch himself. Heart beating quickly after this brief scare, he grabbed a nearby branch for support. For his own safety, he decided to descend to only a few feet off the ground. He wanted to see what he could do, but he knew it would be better to start small, so he leaned slightly forward, reflexively extending his arms to the side, and soared across the lawn, making sure to stay near the ground as best as possible. He flew effortlessly, not needing to flap any wings or catch any air, just as elegant as the planes he had watched at the airshow. After making three circles of the lawn, he smoothly landed in the middle of his backyard.

He could fly! How was this possible? He thought back to yesterday and the strange little jar of golden liquid. He hadn’t thought about it since last night, but could that have been what caused this? There was that weird feeling he had for a little while after he drank it, but it went away pretty quickly. What sort of drink could give someone the ability to fly? If he hadn’t experienced it himself he would never have believed it, but it seemed like the only explanation. There was no way that Uncle Miles could have whipped up something like this in his house, so it must have been sent by someone else. But who?

Pondering this mystery, he looked up into the sky. The stars were out tonight, sparkling like thousands of tiny diamonds in a midnight blue sea. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a blaze of light as a star went shooting across the sky leaving a trail of gleaming flame in its wake. A tear trickled down his cheek as he watched it fly out of sight, but his face lit up with a smile. He knew what that star really was. “Thanks mom,” he whispered, knowing know that his mom would be watching over him forevermore. He took a moment to compose himself and ran inside to tell his dad all about his new-found abilities.


© Copyright 2019 David Seybold. All rights reserved.

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