“Audie.” my older brother knocked on my bedroom door. I was laying in my bed, with an arm covering my eyes. I was trying to get into deep thought, but here my family hates when I start my loner mode. My brother knocked on my door again, this time with an effort to open the locked door. “Audie, I know you’re awake.” he said, then he paused. I like how he always gives me time to consider my answer. Just like this moment, he tried to give me space, a breathing time to think my grumpy response. What’s gotten into him? He’s a man, but he understands more about other people’s feeling than me, even though I’m the daughter in the family.
I got up, shook my thick, messy hair, and replied him with a loud “hrrm?”. Sounds like a bear in a bad mood, in my opinion. “Audie?” he spoke with a gentler voice this time. “There’s only me here. What’s wrong?” he asked. I didn’t directly respond him. But I shook my head, trying to fend off my clouded mind. Then I fixed up my tank top, and unlocked the door, opened it just wide enough to let me peek at him. “I’m okay.” I said through the gap. I didn’t look at his eyes, I know he was looking at me with a really brotherly eyes. I’m not a kid anymore, I don’t need that sympathy. “What do you want?” I pushed an urgency, since he seemed to know that I’m not okay. Then he held up a chocolate milk. I looked sternly onto the milk, then into his eyes at last.
I wanted to make him understand that I didn’t know what he meant by that. He said, “this is what I have whenever I get a bad mood”. I snorted. He succeeded to bring a smirk on my face. I just wondered who’s the little kid here. “Come in.” I opened the door, but he shook his head and replied, “no, come out. We’re going to celebrate your birthday, right? Don’t lock yourself in. And just take this.” he shoved the chocolate milk on my hand. I sighed and took my bolero I hanged behind the door, and there, my birthday party outfit, along with jeans that my mom called ‘poor man’s jeans’ because it has a shredded pattern on the knee. I took my phone and went downstairs.
“Here’s the birthday girl!” my brother exclaimed when we reached the dining room. My dad was there, sitting on the dining table, scrolling through something on his phone, but immediately gave me a smile when I got into the room. I gave him a tired smirk, and shook my head to my silly brother. Mom was there too, checking her belongings on her purse. “So Stardime Cafe?” she asked dad, since they know it’s my hangout place. “Nope.” dad responded with his deep voice and stretched his legs, “she’s been there too often. Tonight, we’ll leave for the Carnival.” he turned at me. My brother looked at me too, except with a surprised eyes. I wasn’t sure how I must respond. That was a weird place dad suggested for a 17 years old girl. Well – not exactly weird for any other girl, but it’s a weird place for the 17 years old me. What can I do there anyway? But, “sure.” I said. Going to the Carnival with family… Can we even have fun? But speaking of fun… “Where’s Aven?” I asked. Aven is my little brother, eight years younger than me. “He’s inside his room.” my brother said, “Mom bought him a cowboy hat and he’s been posing with it in front of the mirror since he got it”. “I’m gonna get him.” Mom got up and left.
I noticed that my older brother, Dillon, made an awkward move. He glanced at my dad, as if he was trying to ask him something through telepathy. My dad shrugged, and Dillon said, “I’m gonna get Aven too.” he left the room, giving me a pat on my shoulder. I took a seat in front of dad. “Something wrong?” he asked, to which I shook my head. He let his words float around the air, like he didn’t believe my gesture as an answer. “Yes.” I said. He rested his gaze on me without saying anything, and I replied with a toughened eyes. “I don’t feel special.”
I made it short, and I look straightly at him. As I wanted him to answer, my dad’s answers are usually unpredictable, yet promising. And I wanted him to say something that could make me feel that I’m special, something that could convince me that that birthday party was worthy. But he only looked at me in silence. No words coming out from him, and finally I looked away to a blank TV. I felt half-mad and half-sad. Then he answered, “if you talk about the world, no, you’re not special”. I suddenly got alert and cautious, as if I knew that the words he’s about to spill out would be painful. “There are many people like yourself in these billions of people. No one is the only one. Not even me.” he turned off his phone screen and put it in his pocket. “But there are some things that you have, and only you. For example, -” he got cut by my little brother’s cry. Aven appeared on the hallway and ran straight to dad, tearful. He wasn’t wearing his cowboy hat. “Mom spanked me!” he squealed on my father’s lap. Dad stood him up and knelt, looked straight at him, “Mom won’t hit you for no reason. Tell me why did she spank you?” Aven. Mom and Dillon appeared, Dillon was waving a cowboy hat in his hand, “it’s okay, Aven. I’m gonna buy you a cotton candy later. Here’s your hat.” he was about to give him his hat, but mom snatched it quickly. “No hat tonight. I see that you’ve satisfied yourself looking at your reflection a full hour.” she put the hat on top of the fridge, where Aven couldn’t reach. Aven sobbed, but mom was like a tiger when she’s angry, so Aven didn’t dare to talk back. “I’m gonna open the garage. Come on, Charlie.” she said while leaving the room. Dad got up, shook Aven’s hair and whispered, “you’ll get an extra ticket”. Aven wiped his tears as dad went after mom. “Here.” I gave Aven the chocolate milk, “for you.” I kissed his forehead and took his hand. “Thanks, Sis…”
When we got to the Carnival on 7 P.M., Aven seemed to forget about his hat completely. He got very fascinated to see tiny lights under the open night sky. “Brother, look! That’s a giant wheel!” he pulled Dillon’s hand. “We’ll ride it later, don’t worry”. “Really? Really? Mom, did you hear that?” I love Aven, he’s my cute brother and all, but it was supposed to be my birthday. Since Aven was born, everything is always oriented around him. Even tonight, it’s my birthday, but since it would get messy when he starts to get bored, we went to the Carnival instead. It sucks. “You three go on ahead,” dad spoke to mom, gave her the car key, “I’ll get chips with Audie. Dillon, take care of your brother. We’ll meet you there after you got off”.
And there, there was only me and dad. We walked into the cafeteria section, and we bought chips, fries, and cola. But then dad took a seat and gestured me to sit down. I took a seat in front of him again, laid my back. I knew he wanted to fix my mood, but I don’t see a reason why he must said that no one is special. On my birthday.
“What if I die?” before he could speak of anything, I started the conversation. If things are going to be awkward, let it be him who’d be the awkward one. He threw me a glimpse of his eyes, but he took some chips. He delayed his answer, and I could swear he was thinking for the best answer. I didn’t want to give him time to think, so I continued, “how big would the impact be if I die on my birthday? You even chose this place to celebrate my birthday, indicating that you care less about whether this ‘party’ is enjoyable for me.” he didn’t look at me when I spit all that, but he listened. “You work all day, all time, all week. We’ve got a nice home, a nice car, and a nice glamour, like how Mom likes it, but you don’t even know how to celebrate your daughter’s birthday properly.”
I tried to be as calm as possible, but I couldn’t control the tension in my words. I paused, trying to lower my emotion to its cooler state, but dad showed no sign of answering any sooner, and it got me mad. “Do you listen? You didn’t even have the time to listen to Dillon’s piano play a week ago.
I don’t know how he coped with that. You get to work in the morning, and go directly to the bed when you got home. You act like you’re under someone’s supervision while you’re actually the boss of the company. Aren’t you supposed to have more time for your family? To make each of us feel special?” At that point, my tone started to get sarcastic, so I decided that that’s enough. He was so lucky that the cafeteria was empty. Even the attendee went into the restroom since we bought our snacks and she hadn’t come back.
Dad wasn’t a smoker, but if he was, he might be lighting one up right now. I could see an emptiness within his eyes. It’s like the eyes of a smoker when they’re stressed – you can try to observe one, like I don’t know, they think solution can be gained within the weed smoke? But dad’s beyond them all, he tried smoking but he stopped before he got addicted to it. But then, I kind of pitied him.
I wasn’t sure why. I got sorry for scolding him like that, in a Carnival’s cafeteria. He shook his head. “Audie… you’re important to me…” his voice was trembling. “And to Mom. And to Dillon and Aven.” he nodded. “Our love are the reason why you’re special. Like how I’m special because I have you as my daughter.” He stared right into my eyes. I got the feeling that he would pay everything he’s got to avert his eyes off mine, but he struggled to not break the eye contact. “I’ve… I’ve got something special for you…” he waved randomly, then the light suddenly went out. There was only candles – that I thought just the today’s unusual decoration.
A piano tune came from behind me, an intro into the song “Happy Birthday to You”. I turned my back, I thought Dad invited my class friends to get me a surprise – that would be so embarrassing – but when I turned, it was Dillon. My older brother was wearing a tuxedo – Mom must have put it inside the car – so that’s why dad gave mom the car key. Then Aven and the cafeteria attendee brought a birthday cake to our table, complete with the candles. They sang the birthday song for me, my little brother and the strangers, full of smiles.
Mom was behind Dillon, acting confident like everything was perfect as how she had planned. I turned to Dad. He was tearful, but he smiled. Suddenly, I felt my blood rushing, warmed the insides of my chest. It felt like a waterfall was trying to gush out of me, and I started crying too. I was happy and a little bit mad. Mad at myself. I put my hands on my face and sit back, I let the birthday song filled my ears, I was unable to react. Then I felt a tiny hand rubbed my hair. I could hear Aven’s voice, standing beside my seat. “Sis, I’ve decided to share this chocolate milk with you. Happy Birthday!” he gave me a kiss on my cheek. I hugged him, hiding my face on his little tummy. It was getting late, we were driving home when suddenly it rained heavily.
Dad drove carefully, Dillon was in the front seat and Aven is asleep on Mom’s lap beside me. I could smile. My heart got enlightened, and the heavy rain couldn’t ruin it. “I told you a chocolate milk can fix your mood.” Dillon said from the front seat. Dad smiled. Suddenly, something hit our windshield until it cracked. Dad braked. I, Mom, and Aven fell forward. “What was that??” Dillon shouted, looked at the windshield. There was a stain of red on the crack. “Charlie – you hit -” “No, I didn’t see anyone! Impossible…” Dad unbuckled his seat belt and went out.
I and Dillon followed suit, the rain on my bolero rolled down smoothly, starting to freeze my body. Dad was looking around, when he stopped at something small rolling on the ground. “What the…” Dillon approached, it seemed like it’s a big bottle, filled with heavy rocks, and it’s full of red water. However, on the corner of my eyes, I saw something charging at my Dad. In reflex, I pushed Dad away.
I felt a cold steel stabbing on my chest. It felt like forever. In a short time, I saw three strangers charging at us from the roadside, one of them in front of me, with his stinky breath. I felt the rain got unnaturally cold. I heard Dillon shouting behind me. Before I could understand what’s happening, the blade on my chest got pulled, and my blood burst out of it. It took a long time for my body to hit the ground, and when it did, I saw Aven got out from the car, crying, his hands reaching out to me.
I could hear nothing. And I could do nothing. I let the raindrops fell on my face, and I could only see the thunder trailed around the clouds. When I was a child, thunder roars scared me. Dillon would hug me tight when I started shuddering, and Mom would bring me a blanket and a warm water. I’m not sure why I got reminded of it right now. Right… now? Oh no… Dad… The mugger… But then I saw another car light, and I could hear the mugger retreated. Dillon appeared beside me, lifting my head and hugged me, his hand covered my wound. “Audie…!” Mom called on me. She appeared too, holding Aven who cried beside her. I gasped for air.
My head was spinning. When I breathe, it looked like I went blind every time I inhale. I had trouble breathing. I saw another stranger too. It seemed they were a passerby who helped Dad to shove off the muggers. Dillon picked my body up, and all I can hear was Dad’s instructions and Dillon’s rustle when I got put inside the car again. It should have been warmer, but my body was still cold. I couldn’t feel my fingers. The touch of my skins felt like it had been unattached from my body. I couldn’t open my eyes – wait… my eyes are open… but I can only see silhouettes… it’s too dark to see. Someone grabbed my hand. A tiny hand.
I smiled. “Aven… Aven, listen to-” I couldn’t continue my sentence, I vomit what tasted like blood. I think it’s indeed blood. Someone replied me and cried on my forehead. I think it’s Mom, with a long hair like that. I spilled blood all over my mouth and neck. My teeth felt like iron. I didn’t have much breath… I didn’t have much time… my birthday… my family… There are so many things that I haven’t said to each of them. I affirm my grasp onto Aven’s hand, but I couldn’t even feel my hand anymore. At that moment, I couldn’t feel my body. I couldn’t feel my injury…?
“Mo-om…” I let out a gasp.
“Big thanks…”