Every year for my birthday since I was twelve, I’ve done something cool with my friends. Before I was twelve, of course I still did something, but it was all just a typical birthday party where my moms would bake a cake, we’d decorate for whatever theme I wanted that year, and then my friends would come over. If it was warm enough, we’d play in the pool, but it almost never was, so we just played around in the backyard before coming in to have cake and open presents. When I was 11-turning-12, I decided birthday parties were too childish and just begged my moms to bring me and my friends to the new water park in Elodu Province instead. I haven’t had a ‘birthday party’ since then. For my thirteenth birthday, I really wanted makeup (I thought I was so grown up then) and I remember that Emily was not having it at first, since she isn’t much of a makeup person, not now and not then. She thought it was so dumb that I just wanted to go to the mall and get my makeup done. I reminder her that it was my birthday and she didn’t have to get her makeup done if she didn’t want to – but she decided to do it ‘for me’ even though I know she secretly kinda liked it. It was the first birthday that I didn’t spend with Jaden practically since I was born. Besides the fact that I knew he wouldn’t be too interested in getting his makeup done, (I’d asked him and he’d said definitely not) it was around the time that boys and girls stopped really hanging out together. While I didn’t mind having a boy as my best friend, there were just girl things that I wanted to talk to Emi and Aya about instead, and he had his guy friends to hang with. We stayed really good friends, but we also had our separate friend groups. For my fourteenth birthday, Emily, Amaya, and I went to the relatively new mall in Newcrest and just walked around – alone. We all felt so grown up walking around the mall without our parents. We had lunch there and everything. It was awesome to fourteen-year-old me to go somewhere big without an adult around for so long (four hours.) It was actually then that we got so into going to the spa. Our parents each gave us thirty bucks to spend there and we picked this cool looking modern spa to go to – it wasn’t the Ellipse, but some other one called Pearlescent, that for all I know, is still there. We got our nails done while talking about our summer plans because by April, you’re really, really done with school. For my fifteenth birthday, I went to an actual real play at Del Sol Valley with my friends. It was so cool just to see a whole story play out on a stage. I’m pretty sure it was a new original story, too. I loved it and talked about for weeks – I think everyone got tired of hearing about it. And, of course, I had a huge sweet sixteen bash for my sixteenth birthday, inviting everyone I knew. It was crazy and awesome. My dress was gorgeous; the turquoise and gold colors complemented each other perfectly, and it fit just so.
It still fits – even if it is a little bit tighter since my boobs have grown since then. People went crazy, going in the pool – and some even in the splashing waves of the beach – even though it had only been 50-so degrees out. We all did enough dancing that it barely felt cold, though, and Amaya & Emily stayed the night, long after everyone else had left. My moms let us stay in the little house Aunt Lexie used to live in so we could have some privacy that night. Back then, my only ‘real’ problem was keeping my siblings out of my room – and now there’s relationship shit and the whole socialism/capitalism thing going on, and I wish life was as simple as it had been just a year ago – or even better, many years ago. When I was a little girl, six or seven, things were so, so simple. Growing up can be great and cool because you can do so much, but what you never realize is that doing and knowing so much just fucks up your life. Anyway, this year, for my seventeenth birthday, I want to go out to San Myshuno for the night with Aya and Emi, and just have some fun there. There’s plenty to do in the city and going out there for the night will be really chill and fun.
“So, you know, for my birthday this year, I was thinking of going to San Myshuno was Emi and Aya for the night,” I said casually, taking a bite of the pasta Mom had made. My moms alternate between cooking throughout the week, but they’re both pretty good cooks, so it never really matters to me.
Mum and Mom shared a glance and I felt my heartbeat speed up. It’s not like we were on like the best terms possible, but I haven’t been trash to them in a few months and I’ve actually been getting my grades up.
They did that thing where they talk with their eyes before Mum finally started speaking. “I don’t see why not. Do you, Adelaide?”
Mom smiled, wrapping her hand around Mum. “I don’t, either. Your grades have been doing much better this quarter, as well.”
I looked to the two of them, hoping they’d say yes. “So…”
“It’s not that big of an ask compared to your sweet sixteen and you’ve earned it, Vali,” Mum replied with a grin.
I couldn’t help but smile – it was going to be so fun!
“So, when you said stay the night, did you mean actually staying the night there, or coming back very late?”
My eyebrows shot up and I looked at the two of them, amazed they had brought up the possibility of staying at San Myshuno for a night, alone. They had never let me even stay home alone after that time they caught me out after their trip to San Myshuno. “Wait, can I?”
“Well… you’re turning seventeen years old, Vali – you’ll almost be a legal adult. I’d like to think you’ve matured – and I’m sure your friends will make sure you don’t do anything too crazy.”
“Um, wow, thanks,” I whispered, staring at the two of them trying to figure out if this was a joke, or what. They almost never let me have so much freedom, never mind let me stay in the city with my friends without any adult around for a night.
Mom smiled, but I could sense an underlying feeling of sadness from her. Maybe it was just my imagination, though. “You’ll just have to get up early enough to get back for school, so as long as that’s okay…”
“Oh, it’s fine,” I grinned, eating my last bit of pasta before giving them each a smile and rushing off to text Emi and Aya to meet me at Willow Creek’s park, in between both Oasis and Brindleton. They were going to be so excited to hear that my moms had agreed and that we could stay the night in some cool San Myshuno hotel. I noticed Aya pulling up the second her (parents’) car drove into view. She practically jumped out of the car, rushing over to me.
“Vali, what is it?” She looked hesitant to be too excited, sitting down on the bench next to me gently – but it still let out a creak.
“It’s good news,” I assured her.
“Okay, good,” she exhaled, running her hand on top of her braid.
“So, your parents let you use their fancy-ass car, huh?”
She snorted, looking over to the car. “All they have are fancy cars.”
I laughed, but it was true. I went to Amaya’s place once, when we were around ten years old, and they had a bunch of fancy stuff.
“Boo!” I couldn’t see the person who’d creeped up behind me, but I’d recognize that voice anywhere.
“Emi!” I gasped, turning around, “I didn’t even notice you come in!”
She snickered, sitting down next to Aya. “I know, and I just had to take the opportunity. Besides, I don’t have a fancy, shiny car like Aya does.”
Amaya stuck her tongue out at her. “Yeah, yeah,” she laughed, turning to me, “so, what’s the news?”
I grinned, pausing for dramatic effect. “Okay – my moms said we can go to San Myshuno for my birthday!”
“Yes!” Emily enthused, throwing her arms out so far that they almost whacked Aya.
Amaya grabbed Emi’s arm that had almost hit her, pushing it back towards Emily. “Ahh, there’s so much to do there! We could check out Waterside Warble, or go back to Million Lights.”
“That’s not even the best part,” I went on, and they both looked at me expectantly. “They also said we can stay the night!”
“Alone?” Aya asked, her eyes widening.
I smirked, nodding. “Yep. They said they trust you guys to keep me from doing anything crazy.”
Emily laughed. “Well, they’re not entirely wrong, but they are a bit stricter on what’s ‘crazy’ than us.”
It seemed like it took forever for Monday to roll around – even though it was only two days later. Everything was set. We were going to walk around the city for a little while before going to Waterside Warble and after that, we’d go to the hotel my mom booked for us in the Spice District of San Myshuno. The only rule my moms really had for us besides the general ‘don’t do anything stupid’ was to not drink any alcoholic drinks, and trust me, I’m not that dumb.
“I can’t believe we’re going to San Myshuno and staying the night,” Amaya squealed as we finally pulled up to Planet Honey Pop. The place looked very ‘old city’ style – you could tell it had been there for probably centuries, but the inside was very modernized with bright, colorful lights strung everywhere. It was very inviting, in a way, not so fancy and over the top that you needed to be wearing diamond necklaces to be there.
“Dude, this place is crazy,” Emi laughed.
Aya nodded, looking around. The inside was packed with groups of young adults.”Yeah, it’s way busier than I expected.”
“Do we get in line for one of those karaoke rooms, or what?” Emily asked.
“Uh, we can ask,” I replied, walking over to the nearest group of people and getting their attention. “Do we get in line?”
The blonde woman shrugged. “Nah, don’t think so. A lot of people are just hanging out and don’t want a room.”
“Ok, thanks,” I told her, turning back to Emi and Aya, who were now sitting on a somehow previously unoccupied sofa. “She said we don’t get in line, so just find a open room.”
“That’s chill,” Emi said, getting up.
We found a room way more easily than I expected with all the people around. That woman was right – almost nobody was actually in the karaoke rooms. I guess it was more used as a hang out place instead of an actual karaoke bar, which just makes it nicer for us. Like what, do all those San Myshuno people not give a shit about privacy? We sang a few songs before getting the hilariousness of it started getting boring and we ended up just talking in the room.
“Who would’ve guessed last year that one year later we’d all be single?” Amaya said, more as a rhetorical question than an actual question, “Emi, have you talked to Nolan since… you know.”
Emily shot her a look. “No… and I kinda feel like a capital-A asshole because of it. Like, he even said he wanted to still be friends and everything. He was such a gentleman about it, but I still just can’t stand to see him right now.”
“It’s kinda been a while, tho…” Aya trailed off.
“Two weeks is not a while,” Emi retorted, leaning back.
I shrugged, looking at the two of them. “I feel you, Emi. I can’t stand to look at Kyle, either, even if it’s a little different, cause he’s not gay.”
Amaya laughed. “You sure about that? He did back out of having sex with you.”
“Uh, I’m 99% sure. We did a bunch of other stuff, just not… that.”
“Hey,” Aya said, breaking the silence with a grin, “I have some good news.”
“What?” I asked, leaning over farther to see her clearer.
“My parents finally sent in my scheduling for next year at Coastal last night,” Amaya burst out happily, “which must mean they expect me to be staying there for at least part of the year.”
“Yes!” Emi and I both screamed, looking at each other as we realized we’d both replied in sync. The sudden movement made my phone fall out of my pocket and as I went to pick it up, I saw a missed call from my mom.
Emi raised her eyebrows, looking at the screen. “You gonna call her back?”
I shrugged. “I can do it later. She’s probably just calling to say happy birthday or something.”
“Your family didn’t already tell you happy birthday?” Aya asked.
“Oh, they did,” I laughed, “at breakfast. My moms made these funny pancakes and put a candle on it.”
“Aw, that’s sweet,” Emi smiled.
Aya pushed her hair back, nodding. “Yeah, it’s kinda kiddie, but it’s actually really sweet. My parents never really do all that much – well, especially my mom.”
“Your parents don’t do anything for your birthday?!” I gasped, staring at her.
She shrugged. “Well… they usually do something. But, I dunno, it’s really only my dad that cares, I feel. He’s really into their business, yes, but he always at least tried to make some time for me. When I was little, he was the one who’d play frisbee with me in his free time. For my last birthday, my mom gave me a §200 gift card, but my dad got me this design app that I had just talked about a few times, and I thought nobody heard me. It cost less, but it mattered more. My mom literally thinks money can buy happiness. My dad – he knows it’s not everything. They’re not super parent-y, but I swear if I had been raised solely by my mom, I would’ve been a bot. When my dad goes on trips for the company, I literally have to be a grown adult. My mom’s there, but it’s like I’m alone. The house is silent.”
“I would rather be in your silent house than in mine,” Emi muttered, looking away. Amaya and I exchanged a glance, knowing we’d go back to that later.
“You know that ‘princess stuck in her castle’ thing?” Aya asked.
“Yeah,” I replied, and Emily nodded.
“Well,” Aya went on, “that’s what I feel like sometimes. I live in this huge house with a bunch of stuff, but it feels empty. Especially empty when my dad is gone. Vali, your house is big too, but it’s filled with life.”
I nodded. She wasn’t wrong. There was always something going on in my home. Always.
“So, yeah,” Aya sighed, “I honestly can’t wait to move out.”
“I can’t move out for real, like ever,” I said. I remember the first time I heard about this whole legacy thing. I thought it was pretty dumb and plus, it forces you to have a kid! Like, the fuck? Right now, I don’t even want kids in the future. But nooo, I have to.
“Oh, right,” Amaya replied, “but why would you want to?”
I shrugged. “I dunno, to have some space from my family?”
They both nodded. “Understandable,” Emi sighed.
“Yeah, Emi, what’s going on?” Amaya asked her, “you said you’d rather be in my place than yours which means something has to be up.”
“My brother moved out a few weeks ago, but if anything, things have gotten worse,” Emi groaned, “I don’t know why and it really bothers me!”
“Hey, things’ll probably get better,” Amaya assured her, “and you can always come to my place, it’ll be nice to have you there.”
Emily smiled, nodding. “I might have to take you up on that.”
“We should probably get to the hotel, right?” I asked. Amaya looked at her watch, nodding.
“Yeah, let’s go.”
“This hotel has room service and everything,” I grinned as we walked out of Planet Honey Pop and were met with a cool night breeze.
“Ooh, we have to get a cake for you,” Amaya giggled, “and get them to put seventeen candles on it!”
“Yes!” Emily laughed.
Her laughter was cut short by a loud ringing sound and we all looked at each other before checking our phones.
“Oh, it’s my mom again,” I told them, “I should probably answer this time.”
“Yea, you should,” Aya replied.
“Hey, mom,” I started, answering the call.
“Vali, you’ve gotta come back home right now,” she said urgently, and I raised my eyebrows.
“Wait, what? Why?”
“Honey, I’ll explain later, but you need to get home now, it’s an emergency.”
“Wait, mom – ”
“Vali, get back to the car and come home, please!”
“Okay, okay. I’m coming.”
“Call me back when you get in the car.”
I started to speak again, but the sound of the call ending stopped the words in my mouth.
“Wait, what just happened?” Emi asked with her eyes wide. Amaya looked just as confused and I let out my breath.
“I don’t know.”