And Many More

Nathan Stafford picked up a gift from the picnic table and opened the card. "The next one's from Josh," he said, starting to unwrap it. "Oh man, awesome! Age of Empires III! I can't wait to play this! Thanks Josh."

Nathan's older brother Josh smiled. "Happy Birthday," he said. Nathan noticed the way Josh sat backwards on the bench, leaning against the table, crossing his legs at the ankles, hands in his pockets.

The next gift was from Nathan's friend Emily. He tore off the sparkly red wrapping paper to reveal a brand new basketball. "Thanks Em, I needed a new basketball," he said, smiling at her across the table.

"Yeah, I noticed your old one was starting to fall apart," said Emily. As Nathan balled up the wrapping paper, he noticed a small heart drawn next to his name on the tag. He stole another glance at Emily and felt a warmth in his cheeks. He hoped his other friends didn't notice.

Mr. Stafford, Nathan's dad, stood up from the table. "And there's one more present behind the shed," he said. Everybody got up to watch as Nathan rounded the corner of the shed.

"A new bike!" he shouted, as he hopped on to ride it back to the picnic table. "Thanks mom and dad!" he said as he admired all the gears and the shiny green frame. "This is so cool!" Jack Norman declared it "totally sweet" and Greg Martin said it was "so tight."

"You're welcome Nathan," said his mom, "now come sit down so we can all have some cake." Nathan hugged his parents and sat down again as Josh lit the 12 candles on Nathan's chocolate cake. As his friends and family started singing the "Happy Birthday" song, Nathan wondered if he could ever have a happier moment.

"Make a wish!" said Nathan's dad, when the song ended.

Nathan closed his eyes and blew out the candles thinking, I wish my birthday could be everyday.

"Ok, who wants cake?" asked Mrs. Stafford, as she began cutting the cake into slices. Of course, everybody wanted cake.

"Josh, wanna play Age of Empires III with me after we eat our cake?" Nathan asked his brother through a mouthful of chocolate frosting.

"Sorry buddy, but I have to leave for work in 15 minutes. We can play tomorrow though. Why don't you play with your friends tonight, so you can get some practice? You're going to need it if you want to beat me," he said with a teasing laugh.

The next morning, Nathan woke up early and got dressed. He was excited to spend the day playing video games with his older brother and riding his bike. He had also made plans to play basketball with Emily that day. Nathan stuck his head through his brother's doorway. "Ready to lose at Age of Empires III today?"

"Age of Empires? Dude, I don't think we have time for video games, we're leaving in about an hour. Plus, you know you can never beat me at that game," said Josh.

"Leaving for where?"

Josh laughed, "Scram bro, I have to get my swimsuit on." He closed the door and Nathan went to the kitchen. His dad was making chocolate chip pancakes on the stove.

"Good morning Birthday-Boy," said Mr. Stafford, pouring some batter onto the griddle. The smell was heavenly.

"Dad, my birthday was yesterday," said Nathan.

"Yeah, it does seem like only yesterday, doesn't it?" said Mrs. Stafford, hugging Nathan. "Now here you are, a big 13-year-old young man. Excited for Splash-World today? Emily and Brandon should be here any minute now."

"What is Splash-World?" Nathan asked.

Mr. Stafford laughed, "You've been begging us to take you to that water park since the day it opened."

There was a knock at the back door. Nathan opened it to find Emily and Brandon with their swimsuits and towels. He stammered out a hello and moved aside to let them in. They looked different. Emily's hair was longer, way down past her shoulders. Brandon was taller, and he had braces on his teeth.

What's going on? It can't be my birthday again, Nathan wondered, sitting down to his breakfast. It must be some sort of prank.

Suddenly, the lights went out. Nathan panicked and started to stand up.

"Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you," everyone started singing. Nathan's dad carried a plate of chocolate chip pancakes with burning candles stuck in. He set the plate in front of Nathan. "Happy birthday dear Nathan! Happy birthday to you!"

Nathan sat back down in his chair. He counted the candles. Thirteen.

"Make a wish!" said Brandon.

The wish, Nathan remembered, from yesterday!

"Come on, blow them out already!" said Emily. She looked pretty. Nathan closed his eyes and blew out the candles.

I wish Emily would kiss me today.

"Ok eat up," said Nathan's mom, as everyone started loading plates with chocolate chip pancakes, "we need to get on the road soon."

At Splash-World, Nathan made sure to go on every ride and every slide. He was having a blast with his family and friends, but he wanted to be alone with Emily for a little bit. When he finally got the chance, he took Emily to the ice cream stand and bought her a double scoop. They sat down on a bench to eat and talk. Nathan was nervous. Emily looked so sweet and lovely in her baby blue swimsuit. The straps tied in a knot behind her neck, with little wet stings of hair escaping from her ponytail and clinging to her freckled shoulders.

"Emily," he finally brought himself to say, "would it be okay if I kissed you?"

Emily giggled and gave him a kiss on the lips. "Of course, silly. Since when do you need to ask?"

"So we've kissed before?" Nathan asked. Emily nodded, though she seemed confused. "How many times have we kissed?"

"Well I guess I didn't count them."

Nathan's mind was racing. How could I have missed my first kiss?

Later that week, Nathan turned 16. He woke up to discover that he had grown quite a few inches. He also noticed a prickly growth of facial hair that hadn't been there yesterday. He got dressed and went to his brother's room to say good-morning. He peeked his head in, but no one was there. The bed was bare, the dresser was empty, the stereo and posters were gone. Has Josh moved out already? Nathan wondered. He must be in college by now.

Nathan went to the kitchen and made himself some toast. His mom came in and wished him a happy birthday.

"So have you heard from Josh lately?" Nathan asked, "What's he been up to?"

"Weren't you texting with him just the other day?"

"Oh yeah, I forgot," said Nathan. By now he had learned to just go along with things and try not to rock the boat. He finished his toast and went back to his room. He picked up his phone off the dresser and flipped it open, remembering how excited he was yesterday when his mom and dad gave it to him for his fifteenth birthday. It had a few scratches on the screen now and it wasn't nearly as shiny, but it had way more phone numbers and contacts than it had yesterday. He looked in his text inbox. Nothing from Josh, but there were quite a few from someone named Julie. As he clicked through the inbox the phone beeped. He had received a new message from Julie. Nathan opened it.

happy birthday baby! can't wait to see you tonight!

Nathan closed the phone. But what about Emily?

A few days later, Nathan woke up to find himself in a college dorm. His roommate was still asleep so he quietly got up and looked around the room. He read the titles of his textbooks, trying to figure out what his major might be, or what school he was at. He left the room and found his way through the halls, down the stairs and out the door. He went over to the bike rack and found one without a lock. He stole it and started riding around campus, then around town, and then down an empty road. He had wanted to find out where on earth he might be, but it became difficult to see through the tears, and it was hard to focus when images of his family and friends flooded his mind.

He had tried to take back the wish. He had tried to reverse it a few days ago when he turned 17. He had blown out the candles thinking, I wish it wasn't my birthday anymore. I wish it wouldn't be my birthday everyday. None of it had worked.

As the sun began to set, Nathan got scared. He turned the bike around and started to go back the way he came, trying to remember the right way.

It was dark out when he finally found his dorm again. He went upstairs and found the door with a "Nathan Stafford 2012" tag stuck on. There was loud music playing inside. He opened the door and realized that there was a party going on. He tried to close the door and leave, but someone grabbed his arm and pulled him in.

"The birthday boy is finally here!" someone shouted. Someone else shoved a beer into Nathan's hand. Nathan set the beer on a desk and headed for the door again. "Oh no you don't," said a girl, pulling him back. "You're going to stay here and party all night long!"

Her words managed to echo in Nathan's mind, despite the pounding music and drunk freshmen. All night long. Maybe if I stay up all night, then it won't be my birthday anymore?

Poor Nathan tried his best to stay awake, but he had been a twelve year old boy only a week ago, and he really wasn't used to staying awake past 10pm. He passed out on a beer-covered couch before 11:30 and the next morning he turned 20.

A week later, Nathan woke up in his condo on his 27th birthday. He had developed a routine here for the past few days, ever since he left college. He'd take and shower, go downstairs and get his mail, then he'd sit at the kitchen table and read his birthday cards. Most were from people he didn't know, but sometimes he got cards from his parents and his brother. Sometimes they even called him and talked to him. Nathan missed them so much.

The phone rang as Nathan got out of the shower. He answered it, hoping it was his mom or dad. It wasn't even Josh.

"Hey Nate, it's Heather. Happy Birthday! How've you been?"

"Pretty good," Nathan said absentmindedly.

"Well I haven't seen you in forever. What have you been up to?"

Nathan wondered the same thing. "Same old, same old," he said, as he had been saying all week. "Sorry Heather, but I have to go. It was great to hear from you." He hung up the phone and sat down at the kitchen table. He looked around. Who is this person who lives my life the rest of the year? Does he get freaked out when his birthdays pass him by every year?

Nathan got up from the kitchen table and went to put on some clothes. The phone rang again, but he ignored it. Instead he put on his shoes and went downstairs. Instead of going to the mailbox, he went outside. The sky was cloudless and blue. He walked up the road until he came across a store. He went in and bought a basketball. He took it to the park, where kids were playing on the swings and the slide. Timidly, Nathan approached the empty basketball court, dribbled a few times and took a shot. Then he took another. And another. Shot after shot after shot. Till the sun went down. Shot after shot after shot. Till it came back up.