I thought about it a lot after they promised me the year off. I didn’t think they would actually let me go when they asked what I wanted for my birthday. “Anything you want, Lara,” Mr. Barrie had said. He was eating drinking coffee when he had me brought up from my room. The white foam caught slightly on his mustache, and I tried not to laugh as he looked at me very seriously. Covering my smile with my fingers, I mumbled, “It’s okay, sir. You provide everything.” Last year, I asked for a trip to Disneyland, and after my doctor check-ups, they agreed that a week trip would not put my heart at risk. As long as I kept my diet and took my vitamins.
“Don’t be shy. It’s your last birthday.”
My last birthday. I had never thought of my seventeenth birthday as my last. The Barrie family never held their power over my head. Most of the time I forgot that next day brought me closer to dying. I should be wishing for the sun never to set and never to rise, but the Barries did a good job of making me forget. Even though my price tag was tattooed on me, Mr. Barrie gave me a gold bracelet for my eleventh birthday. It was thick covered most of the tattoo, which, over time, had faded into a gentle stain. I fingered the bracelet, it had grown rusty looking from years of wear and tear.
Mr. Barrie cleared his throat, and rumbled, “I’ll give you a day to think about it.”
I bowed my head as Halo, my bodyguard, came to take me back to my room. He kept close to me as we walked down the stairs, pacing me carefully to make sure that I didn’t run out of breath. “Slow down.” Halo gripped my elbow and pulled me back.
Halo nodded towards his feet and I paced myself to his steps. Right foot, left, and right foot, left until we hit the bottom and turned the corner to find my room. After years of being with Halo, I trusted him to lead me through the dark. We walked through the kitchen, the cold tiles pressed against my feet like they were coming up to reach me.
I lived in the back of the house, but I had nothing complain about. My view was of the backyard that the Barrie family never visited. They had a beautiful rose garden that was only for show. When the roses were in bloom, the gardener would pick the best and then the house keeper, Sandra, would prepare bouquets to decorate the house until everything smelled of roses.
As we reached my room, something shattered from the kitchen. Out of habit, Halo appeared swiftly in front of me, his hand hoisted over his gun. “Stay here,” he said, walking towards the noise. He flipped the light switch on. I squinted from the sudden brightness, but it was obvious who it was. Henry, kneeling on the ground in his suit, was sheepishly picking up pieces of the broken vase that used to sit on the window sill. There was a white corsage on his front pocket, limp from dying. I remembered, tonight was prom night.
Prom night. I had seen those on the Disney channel and several movies. The lonely girl always had a beautiful dress, the popular girl was so so pretty, and even the ugly girls looked gorgeous covered in makeup. I wanted to go to prom, I thought. I wonder if Henry’s date was pretty – she probably was.
“Leave it,” Halo said, breaking me away from my dreams. He moved to the sink. The cabinet underneath had seven identical vases, and this was Henry’s third replacement. “Sandra will get it tomorrow.”
Henry grinned. His tired eyes turned upwards as the veins on his neck strained as if smiling was already too much work for him. “Thanks, Halo.” He was so pale, it always surprised me how white he was. And it was not in a nice un-burnt way either. He had the look of someone coated in flour, his lips, lacking any reddish color, practically blended in with his skin. “Hi Lara. Happy Birthday.”
He started towards the living room when he stopped with an “Ah.” Henry turned around, digging into his pocket and walking with a limp that would have horrified his father. When his hand came out, in it was a bracelet made of rubber. It jiggled in the air for a bit. “This is for you,” he said. I took it carefully, looking at the blue band that read: MILK CARTONS. “Got this at a table at prom. The profits go to bringing missing children home.”
It was small but sincere. “Thanks,” I chirped, much happier than the first time around. Henry looked completely disheveled, his suit wrinkled from squeezing through the window and dirty from the bushes and plants he had to walk through. Henry watched as I slipped the bracelet. It pushed my golden one back, and I turned my wrist around several times. With both bracelets together, you could barely see my tattoo. My smile could only convey how grateful I was until Halo muttered, “It’s Lara’s bed time, Henry.”
Henry looked at the microwave. “Right. Mine too. Goodnight guys.”He gave a wave and started upstairs when I suddenly asked, “Henry, will you show me pictures of prom?”
“Yeah, during our session tomorrow?”
Only tomorrow never came for us. Henry got his first of the many predicted heart attacks. In the middle of my lessons, Halo rushed in and took me to the hospital. Henry had fainted during his presentation, causing the students to scream and go into a panic as his teacher called an ambulance.
It sounds stupid, but as Halo rushed me to the hospital, all I could think about was how much I wished I had gone to prom. To school. The last fifteen years of my life were spent knowing enough names to fit on one hand. As Halo sped through the lights, I closed my eyes and imagined myself in a pale green dress, dancing with someone who could be my Prince Charming. And I got even more upset when I didn’t have a face for him. I wanted to be able to dream about something. And as cliché as it sounds, I wanted something more. My life was already unconventional enough. A cliché was what I needed. A cliché like prom night and a first kiss.
Henry was still unconscious when Mr. and Mrs. Barrie came from work. I was in the bed next to him, waiting for the doctor to give the okay for surgery when he came in and said that everything was okay. Henry’s heart would be good for another year. Another year. Those two words echoed in my head as I looked at the familiar coloring of Henry’s skin. He was almost grey with death. The palms of my hands had more color than him.
My eyes fell to my tattoo. They had removed my bracelets in case I needed an IV drip. June 14, 2011. Today was June 15th… I wouldn’t live to see the Olympics, the election or even the new Hunger Games movie. And even if I was lucky enough to live until then, there would be nobody to share my excitement with. Nobody to argue about how Michael Phelps was a cock, nobody to show off my first vote to… nobody to go to the movies with. I already had nobody to go to the movies with. And as I watched the fear etched in the Barries’ face, I breathed in the courage to ask Mr. Barrie for my birthday present.
It sounds stupid, but it was a big deal for me. “Sir, did you really mean I could have anything?”
I promised him to be good. To keep the rules and be more obedient than I ever could be, and then I asked him if I could attend public school. Just for a year - and then Henry James Barrie would have a happy heart.