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 hint.

"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 otherwise.

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 door.

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 left.

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 comfortable.

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 had not.

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 like her?

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 stew.

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 relaxing.

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.