Early 1997

"Dad, can I ask you something?" Michelle spoke up while she watched television beside Steve one Saturday evening.

"Sure, go ahead."

"What do you give Mom on her birthday?"

"Her birthday? Well, I give her...coupons."


"It's what she gets for choosing a guy like me."

"Okay..." Michelle replied, guessing that her father's self esteem wasn't so high at the moment and realizing it wouldn't be hard at all to outshine him in the gift department.

"So, any other questions?"

"Uh, yeah. How old is Mom?"

"She's turning forty next week, but it's better if you pretend not to know. She might get insecure again like last year."

"Thanks, Dad. I'll remember that."

"It's your turn now, Jared." Matthew said firmly, crossing his arms and rising to emphasize how tall he was, while a few other boys stood to the side in anticipation.

"What do you want me to do?"

"Prove that you're tough. See that loser over there? Make him eat sand, or else you don't get to hang out with us anymore."

"Um, okay..." Jared muttered in obedience before taking purposeful steps towards the fair haired boy digging in the sandpit.

The smaller child sensed his presence and looked up with bright blue eyes, though he clenched his teeth and picked up a handful of sand as instructed.

"What are you doing?"

"Making your next lunch, wretched weakling." He explained while the tone of his voice abruptly shifted mid-sentence to a much lower pitch.

"But I don't like sand and my friend is right behind you."

Jared spun around just in time to be shoved backwards into the sand. He landed on his behind and soon realized that the unexpected savior was high achiever Noah.

"Come on, Zach. Let's go somewhere else..."

The tiny boy then stood up and followed Noah out of the sandpit with a bounce in his step, while Jared painfully sat up to loud taunting.

A get-together at Candice's house proved to be the right opportunity for Michelle to act. She excused herself from the table and instead of using the toilet, went into the bathroom to begin searching for something that looked brand new.

The cupboard was neatly filled with an array of expensive perfumes and cosmetic products, so she fired a quick glance at the door before reaching for something at the back.

She pulled out an unopened bottle of some bright gold liquid and quickly hid it beneath her shirt so that it could be stashed into her bag later.

"Eat your heart out, Dad." She thought gleefully while rejoining the other girls and trying her best to come across as innocent.

Karen sat up and stretched her arms on the morning of her fortieth birthday, knowing that Steve was already up as a result of his job being in the city.

A small pile of coupons lay on the bedside table and she flipped through them with a sigh before finally noticing the other object close by.

She grabbed the unopened Yves Saint Laurent bottle in shock and her expression darkened upon reading the card that was attached.

Happy birthday, Mom.

Love Michelle.