“Vandy and Marni’s little flat was floating in pink and yellow balloons. Lucius’ cake was a wonder in pink and yellow. The gift table was piled high. Cassie had quite the merry band of “aunts” and “uncles” present for her big day. Vandy, of course, and Scoop, Worley and Hobbit. Tru had moved in with the girls and was a like a third mom to Cassie. Reid, and Apollo and Ermelle and their kids – all made for a lively houseful. Kase even brought a present, a porcelain carousel pony that played Brahm’s lullaby.
Marni retreated to her room to paint.” [excerpted from Tessa.]
“Happy Birthday Dear Cassie, Happy Birthday to You!” The familiar chorus rang in the small apartment. Vandy held Cassie and helped her blow out the single yellow candle.
At the chorus of cheers and clapping of hands, Cassie waved her arms and squealed and shrieked. Vandy wedged her in the high chair, and Cassie banged her hands on the tray, squealing still. Ermelle deftly sliced the cake- it was a work of art – and placed a generous portion in front of the birthday girl.
In the room, behind the closed door, Marni tried to tune out the festivities and celebration of her child’s first birthday party.
Cassie poked a tentative finger into the yellow sugar daisies, then two fingers. She drew her hand to her mouth and tasted. “Nummm,” she cooed.” She grabbed at the hunk of cake, shoved a fistful face-ward, smearing pink frosting into her raven hair. Then, both hands got in on the business of consuming the cake.
Cassie had an audience, admiring fans, cheering her on, laughing as she demolished the sugar concoction. She giggled and squealed. And plopped her face straight in the remaining cake. Pink and yellow globbed her dimpled nose, her eyelashes, her cheeks.
Vandy stepped to the bedroom door, knocked, and peeped in.
“Marni, you gotta come see your kid!”
But Marni just shook her head, and drew her brush in a sweeping stroke across her canvas.
“Nah, I’m just going to stay here and finish this painting.”
It was the most disjointed painting Vandy had ever seen Marni produce.
Tru sat cross-legged on the floor, Indian style, holding Cassie in her lap. Vandy handed her a brightly wrapped package.
Cassie banged it like a drum.
Vandy slipped a finger beneath a flap of paper, popped the tape loose. Cassie grasped the loosened paper and pulled. The paper ripped. Cassie squealed with delight. She pulled some more, more paper ripped, she squealed louder.
The wounded paper revealed a Patch Pony®, and Tru let go of Cassie to show her how to pull the toy. His little head wobbled and bobbled and Cassie giggled with glee, bobbin her head to match the pony.
Vandy snagged the toddler and handed her another package, her own gift to the birthday girl. Cassie looked to Vandy, waiting for her lead to peel back the paper. As soon as Vandy slipped a slender paint-stained finger beneath the flap of paper, Cassie’s chubby ones grabbed at the paper and pulled it away. Under the pretty paper, behind a sheath of cellophane, a Thumbelina Doll smiled out. Cassie grasped at the doll, and cried, “Baby! Baby!”
Wrestling free of Vandy’s grasp, Cassie paraded her baby in front of each guest, announcing anew to each of them, “Baby!”
Cassie grew weary of the dolly, and spying more gift packages, lunged for the pile. One by one, Tru and Vandy assisted in opening the gifts, and one by one Cassie paraded them before her guests, who cooed and admired accordingly.
Kase presented his gift to her last, personally. He had not placed it in the pile with the others; he had not been decided he would join the party. But Cassie had him wrapped around her little finger, and he knew he couldn’t miss her big day.
Kase plopped on the floor, playing the carousel for Cassie over and over again. It was her favorite gift. Cassie climbed on his back and begged for pony rides, which he happily obliged.
The others were speechless. To see Kase so interactive, so downright playful was a side of him they had never seen, a side he had never let them see.
Kase plowed through the discarded birthday gift wrap, sending it sailing in the air. Cassie tumbled from his back and squealed with delight, her chubby legs toddling to catch every piece and ribbon and bow.
“Cassie!” Trudy called. “Come see Auntie Tru!” The teen-age girl was enamored of the toddler, and couldn’t wait to have babies of her own. But Cassie would have none of it. She grew sleepy; it had been a busy afternoon, and she fought sleep with greater bursts of fading energy.
Cassie escaped Tru’s attempt to hold her, racing, toddler-wise across the room, headlong for the Christmas tree. She barreled right into the lower branches, the silver wire limb poking her in the belly.
Cassie was not wounded, however, but tickled. Her shriek of delight turned to terror, though, as the little tree toppled over onto her head.
Kase rescued her, rocked her and cooed her. Cassie’s fat little thumb went straight to her mouth, and her plea for her new “Baby” was garbled. Kase sat in a kitchen chair, set the carousel lullaby to play, and rocked Cassie to sleep, a strand of tinsel twisted in her glossy black hair.
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