Chastity woke up and groaned. Her birthday had to be her least favorite
day of the year. She was only seventeen- no, that day she turned eighteen,
but she hated the day that marked her becoming a year older. The problem
was, everybody always forgot. She didn't like reminding her friends; they
remembered Jenny's birthday in March and Marie's birthday in December
without any hints, why should she make a special point of telling everyone
when her birthday was?
She hit the snooze button on her alarm clock, then pulled her blankets over
her head in an attempt to get a few more minutes of sleep. It wasn't like
it would make a big difference anyway. For the past two weeks, she'd been
coming to school an hour early to work on her dance routine. Try-outs for
the dance team had been the day before, and they wouldn't be announced
until that day. She'd forgotten to change the time on her alarm clock, and
now she was paying for it in waking up far too early.
Unfortunately, Chastity never did get the chance to sleep in that morning.
Shortly after she'd curled up under her warm blankets, her mother
exuberantly burst into her bedroom and rolled up the blinds on Chastity's
windows. Harsh, bright sunlight flooded Chastity's room. It burned her
eyes even underneath all the blankets. She sighed dramatically and climbed
out of bed while her mother proclaimed, "Happy birthday, Chastity! You're
another year older."
"Yay me," Chastity mumbled through a yawn. She could have gotten angry at
her mom for waking her up, but she knew there was no point to it. Her
mother would insist that she'd done nothing wrong in ensuring that her
daughter woke up on time, and maybe she would even get angry that Chastity
wasn't more grateful. It was better to just act tired and hope she got the
"Get dressed and ready fast," her mom said, sounding so excited as to
almost be unnatural. "I made your favorite breakfast this morning:
blueberry pancakes! Hurry up and get dressed so that you can eat them
before it's time to leave for school."
"I don't have to be at school early today," Chastity said, but an odd
thought occurred to her right then. Something seemed very strange about
the way her mother was acting. While she was usually nice to Chastity and
her little sister on their birthdays, rarely was she this excited.
Besides, she never made breakfast. She usually left for work around the
time Chastity woke up, and didn't have time to make anything. In fact, she
should have been leaving or gone right then.
Just as Chastity opened her mouth to ask her mom about what was going on,
she realized how ridiculous all this musing was. Of course her mother
didn't leave for work this early in the morning- how could she make
breakfast and help her children find clothes and so forth if she was gone?
And what was so strange about Chastity getting a special birthday
breakfast? Her mother loved her children, and Chastity had a perfect life
and a perfect family. Nothing ever went wrong, and it was silly to think
It didn't take Chastity long to prepare for school. She didn't even feel
tired anymore, and was grateful that her mom had waked her up. She would
have hated to know that she'd slept through breakfast with the rest of the
family. Too bad Dad was away on that business trip. She would have liked
him to be home for her eighteenth birthday.
How exciting: her eighteenth birthday. Chastity loved birthdays, but this
one would be especially fun, because now she was officially an adult. Her
friends really knew how to celebrate, too. Maybe they would give her lots
of cool presents. Besides, that day everyone found out the results of the
dance team tryouts, and while Chastity was a little nervous to find out if
she'd made it, she was still anxious to know how things had gone.
At breakfast, Chastity's little sister, Faith, was a perfect angel. Again,
a strange thought occurred to Chastity. Faith was only about fourteen
years old, and she was at that age when she was especially irritable and
annoying. Besides, Chastity had always thought of Faith as a spoiled brat,
and in the mornings, while she was still tired, she could be a real pain.
No, that wasn't a good way to think of her little sister. Faith was a
sweet girl, and very polite. She always behaved, and would never do
anything to annoy Chastity on purpose. Other people might have not liked
their siblings as much as Chastity did, but she had the perfect little
sister and the perfect family. Nothing ever went wrong.
They finished eating breakfast, and Faith cleared away the dishes without
even being told to. She was such a good little girl: always thinking of
others. While Chastity relaxed and Faith began to put the dishes into the
dishwasher, her mother got a very thoughtful look on her face. "You know,
usually we make you wait until the evening to open your presents, but I
think we can break the rules today and let you open just one before school
starts. Besides, I want to make sure you have it for class."
Chastity might have been more excited if she'd been a little younger, but
presents were presents, and she always appreciated the chance to open them
a little bit earlier. She hurried into the living room, where presents
were kept every year, then stopped and gaped in awe.
The room was literally filled with presents. Hundreds of wrapped packages
were strewn about the room, covering the carpet, the furniture, and stacked
on top of each other high enough to hide large portions of the wall and
about half of the giant window. Something was wrong here. Chastity only
remembered seeing three or four small things a few days ago. Her parents
couldn't possibly afford all of this.
What was she thinking? She was certainly thinking some very strange
thoughts that day- she was probably reading too much or watching more
television than was helpful. Of course her parents could afford all of
this- they both had very good jobs and had made a small fortune from the
stock market. They always showered Chastity and Faith with gifts in this
way, and all these presents had been here, waiting to be opened for weeks.
Her mother selected a gift for Chastity to open. It was flat a square
shaped, and wrapped in shiny red wrapping paper with the words "Happy
birthday" printed in blue. Chastity opened her gift, and discovered that
her mother had given her a lap top computer. "I thought you could type up
homework and your notes on this during class," her mom said proudly.
"Thanks mom," Chastity said, but she was distracted by strange thoughts
that her parents would never give her a gift like this. Something very
strange was going on that day- she was thinking things she wouldn't
ordinarily think, and everything felt wrong, although she couldn't say with
any certainty what that was. She shrugged away that line of thought, and
instead took her new computer into the kitchen so that she wouldn't forget
it when she packed her book bag for school. Not that it would be a very
big deal if she did forget things. Her teachers would probably be very
understanding, and let her go home for it.
"You don't have to go out of your way to take me to school today. I'll
ride the bus," Faith said, following Chastity into the other room. The
middle school Faith attended wasn't all that far out of Chastity's way, but
offering to ride the bus was still a nice gesture on Faith's part.
Chastity knew how much Faith hated to ride the bus- it picked her up early
in the morning, didn't arrive at school until shortly before classes began,
and was generally loud, sticky, and crowded.
"Thanks, Faith," Chastity said, echoing her words from before. Then, she
went into her bedroom to gather together all her work and everything else
she would need for school. She made sure she had her new laptop computer
before calling, "I'm leaving now, Mom. I'll be sure to tell you who all
made the dance team when I get home. Buh bye!" She started toward the
Seemingly out of nowhere, Chastity's mom appeared, blocking the exit.
"Wait, you can't go yet," she said, then she reached for her purse on the
counter, and after searching through it for a moment, handed Chastity a
twenty-dollar bill. "I know you don't like the school lunches very much,"
she explained. "Why don't you buy yourself a sandwich or something at that
new restaurant that just opened down the road from the school."
"Sure," Chastity said, hiding that strange feeling that was coming over her
again. Once again, she ignored it, gave her mom a quick kiss goodbye, then
The drive to school was quick and easy, but not so quick that she was too
early to school. She didn't run into any traffic, and during the entire
drive, the radio played her favorite songs, and never once went to a
commercial break. She found a parking place right in front of the school
doors, and as she stepped out of the car and grabbed her book bag out of
the back seat, the sun shined especially bright, making the air warm and
When Chastity reached her locker, she was surprised to find that all her
friends were already at school, despite the fact that the first class
wouldn't begin for another half-hour. They had all gathered around
Chastity's locker, and she was surprised to find that they'd decorated it-
covering it with colored paper, streamers, and even a few balloons that had
been tied to her padlock. When Jenny saw Chastity approach, she offered to
carry her book bags, and Marie handed her an armful of presents.
Chastity opened each gift, and discovered expensive and thoughtful presents
from all her friends. Obviously, they'd all put a lot of thought, time,
and effort into making her birthday especially special. Of course,
Chastity shouldn't have been surprised. She had the best friends in the
world. In fact, she had perfect friends, a perfect school, and a perfect
life. Nothing ever went wrong.
Once she'd finished thanking everyone and had unloaded her gifts and books
into her locker, Chastity strode to the high school office. Already,
several girls had crowded around the front door in anticipation. Just as
Chastity arrived, the secretary stepped out of the office with that
important piece of paper that listed who had made the dance team and who
As soon as the secretary finished taping up the paper and had stepped out
of the way, a handful of girls screamed. Chastity sighed. No wonder so
many people thought girls in general were stupid and vapid. While those
few excitedly hurried away to brag to their friends, Chastity pushed
forward to peer at the list. She found her name near the top- under the
heading of leader.
In amazement, Chastity took a step back. She was the leader- the girl who
had done the best at her auditions, and would be given the coveted position
of front and center. During one interlude in the song, she would actually
dance by herself as a solo while the others backed her up with simpler
moves. Chastity would be the star of the show.
One of the girls standing beside Chastity noticed this about the same time
Chastity did. "Hey, good job," she said. "You really deserved that
position. You're definitely the best one here." Chastity blushed. While
some girls might have ordinarily been jealous of all Chastity's success,
nobody ever seemed upset by all that she had. After all, Chastity was
nice, polite, humble, and perfect. Who could ever meet Chastity and not
After Chastity had spread the good news to all her friends, she went to her
least favorite class- math. With a tired sigh, she opened her book to
listen to a boring lecture, when the teacher called her to the back of the
room. Nervously, she walked toward him, and he said, "Chastity, you do
very well on your last test. In fact, I think you don't need to learn any
more- you know everything you need to know. Would you like to stop coming
to class from now on?"
Chastity was certain that this was an unusual arrangement, but she didn't
argue. After all, any excuse that got her out of math class was a good
one, even if it was a little strange. After all, her entire life had
seemed a little bit off that day, what was one more little thing? "All
right," she said.
That day at lunch, she walked down to the restaurant her mother had
mentioned earlier, and checked to see what the specials were. She was
pleased to discover that they were serving her favorite meal- beef stew.
She ordered a bowl, and found that they made it just the way she liked it-
with large chunks of roast beef, potatoes, carrots, celery, and a few peas.
Chastity had never known anyone other than her mom to put peas in their
She walked back to school once she was finished, after giving the kind
waitress a nice tip. The rest of her classes that day were basically easy,
and when she went home, she had no homework. Her favorite television show
happened to be beginning right when she got home, and she spent the day
That night, shortly before she went to sleep, she thought over all that had
happened. Some part of her mind protested that nobody's life was that
perfect, and that something unnatural had happened. Before she could
consider this further, however, she fell asleep.