By Patty Wilber
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CALLIE’S STAR by Patty Wilber
CHAPTER FOURTEEN-CALLIE’S PARTY
The sweet, warm smell of strawberry waffles wafted into Callie’s room and seeped into her sleep. She dreamt she heard her mother’s cheerful voice calling her to breakfast.
Every birthday since she could remember Callie had awakened to this delicious smell. Callie followed the sweetness down a very long hallway, with lots of doors. The hallway wasn’t straight and Callie wondered if she would ever reach the kitchen.
Suddenly, she was there.
The bright blue candle, surrounded by the red of the strawberries, was burning brightly from the center of the stacked waffles and a cloud of whipped cream graced the edges. Her mother stood at the end of the table, near a flat package wrapped in gold paper and tied with a deep green ribbon. Callie sat down at the table, but before she could eat, her mother moved her plate and made her open the package. Callie carefully untied the ribbon and put it on her head. Her mother laughed. Callie untaped the gold paper and before her lay a beautiful wooden picture frame, but inside, instead of a painting or photograph, there was a wide sheet of clean white paper.
Callie stared at it for a minute and then her mother said, “I hope you like it. I have to go now.” She walked to the doorway and she began to fade at the edges like a watercolor painting. She paused on the threshold and said, “I love you, Callie,” and then she simply vanished.
Callie tried to take a bite of her waffles, but her dream rolled out of reach.
She opened her eyes slowly and looked around. She saw the mare and foal on the wall and she knew she was home, but the door was in the wrong place, and why was there a second picture on the dresser? Remnants of sleep hung over her in strips and she couldn’t make sense of the room. Finally, her eyes found her boots, and like a shattering of a mirror, she realized she was in New Mexico.
She buried her head under her pillow and two huge tears squeezed out onto the sheets. Her mother’s “I love you” felt solid and warm in her heart, but how she wished she could feel her mother’s arms around her and taste her mother’s waffles.
Reluctantly, she shrugged off the blankets and got dressed.
There at her place was a plate of strawberry waffles with a blue candle stuck right in the middle of the stack. Callie felt her mouth drop open. She looked from Aunt Martha to Uncle Bob to Jeff to make sure she wasn’t still dreaming. She closed her mouth and then opened it again to stutter “How did you…?” but Uncle Bob interrupted her.
“Hope you like waffles, girl!” he said. “It’s the family birthday tradition, blue candle and all! Sit down! Blow it out!’
Callie pulled out the chair and sat for a minute with her eyes closed. She breathed in the sweetness of strawberries drifting up from the steaming waffles. When she opened her eyes, the kitchen had become blurred. “My mom always made this for me,” she whispered.
“Happy Birthday, Callie,” Aunt Martha said. Her voice was soft on Callie’s ears and in her heart. Aunt Martha leaned down and hugged her.
“We need a round of ‘Happy Birthday’ before breakfast gets cold!” said Uncle Bob. The three of them sang one round for Callie, and Uncle Bob produced the corner of a green wrapped package from underneath the table.
“Not yet!” said Aunt Martha. “After we’ve eaten!”
“Oh, right!” said Uncle Bob, winking at Callie. “Eat up!”
A tear still clung to her eyelash, but Callie smiled. She could feel a warm flush spreading over her cheeks. She felt like she belonged. That was the best present of all.
She savored every bit of breakfast, wiping the last pink bit of strawberry from her plate with her finger. Then Uncle Bob brought out the box again. He set it on the table beside her.
“We usually wait ’til evening to open gifts, Callie, but we thought you could…” He stopped. “I’m going to give it away before you open it! Go ahead!”
Callie touched the smooth paper and then looked around the table. “Well, don’t just sit there! Open it!”
Callie blinked, and carefully untied the white satiny ribbon and put it in her hair, just like in the dream. It hung off a little crazily and everyone laughed. Then she tore the pale green paper to reveal a cardboard box with a slipcover lid. Callie tried to slide it off, but the front moved faster than the back, and it stuck. She had to push it back down and start again, more slowly this time. There!
The lid was off, and in the filmy tissue paper lay a brand new pair of cowboy boots! They were dark brown with light blue uppers, stitched in white and dark blue.
“Oh!” breathed Callie. “They’re beautiful!”
Gently, as if it were made of glass, Callie picked one up and examined every side. Then she pushed her chair back and pulled off her old boots. A small puff of dust escaped through the seams, and she set the old pair aside. She slid her feet into the cool, soft leather of the new pair, and pulled her jeans down. Then she clip-clopped across the kitchen floor. She sat down for a minute, and then got up to trot once more around the room before becoming suddenly serious, and plopping into her chair. Her voice was low as she said, “I don’t know how to thank you all… Not just for the boots,” she paused and swallowed, “But, for everything!”
Aunt Martha reached over to squeeze Callie’s hand, and she said, “You are a gift from God.” Her voice was tight, and it sounded like there was something in her throat. She gave Callie’s hand another squeeze.
“That’s right,” said Uncle Bob, when Callie looked at him, rubbing her eyes. Jeff kicked her under the table at if to say, “What’d you think, ninny?”
“Thanks,” she said again, smiling through her tears. She was home.
The rest of the day passed quickly, in the saddle and at the pond with Jose and Luis. After the swim, they came to the house for chocolate cake and homemade vanilla ice cream. They all ate so much, that only one sliver of cake remained. Finally, they pushed their plates away. Luis wiped his chocolatey lips on a paper napkin, leaving a brown smudge. Then with a mysterious smile, and a glance at Callie, he disappeared into the living room. He returned with a package and set it next to Callie.
“Thank-you,” she said, touching it with one finger. She took it in both hands and began to peel the tape from the ends of the box.
“Wait!” said Jeff, leaping out of his chair and pounding upstairs to his room. He returned out of breath, and set another gift by her side.
“Oh boy!” said Callie, taking it and setting it on her lap as she opened the first. “This is great!” she said, pulling a coal black porcelain horse from the box. It stood on its hind legs, front hooves high in the air, looking very wild and free. “It’s the Outlaw!” said Callie.
“Yep,” said Luis. “That’s why we got it.”
Callie tilted her head to one side. The small statue stood majestically on the table, regardless of the cake plates covered in brown crumbs and tiny ponds of melted ice cream, surrounding it.
“It’s him,” agreed Jeff, “but open my present now!”
Callie picked up the package from her lap. It was wrapped in the same shiny green paper as the boots, but this present wasn’t boxed. She gave it an experimental squeeze. “It’s soft, but stiff,” she said, frowning. Callie tore one corner and peered inside. All she could see was a white “R” against a bright red background. She tore off the rest of the paper, and it fell to the ground with a soft whoosh.
“It’s a hat!” she said, holding up the red baseball cap. Embroidered in white across the front was her name, and below that it said “Rocking W Ranch”.
“Just what I needed!” said Callie, putting it on at an angle and tilting her head like a fashion model. Then she laughed and flushed, suddenly feeling embarrassed
“Let’s see,” said Aunt Martha.
Callie straightened the hat and turned in her chair.
“Nice!” said Aunt Martha, making a thumbs up sign. “Even better than the white ribbon!” Callie flushed again, and Aunt Martha said, “It’ll be perfect for the round- up.”