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It was a week from Charlie's birthday. By the knowing smiles Vera was dropping, Charlie began to look forward to her birthday with mounting anticipation. She hadn't told anyone of her birthday wish, in the event her grandma wasn't able to fulfill it.

These days awoke Charlie's daydreams of old concerning Wallace Shipley. When she was younger, Charlie would pretend that the famous pianist had knocked on her door, dazzled her with his talent and good looks, while at the same time falling passionately in love with her. And of course, he would have the good sense not to marry anyone else, but her. Charlie knew she had outgrown these childish flights of fancy, but a part of her still wondered and foolishly hoped as teenagers sometimes do.

This year, the twenty-third landed on a Monday, so Vera planned on an evening party. To Charlie's relief, Vera had quite given up on a slumber party, instead, planning a birthday meal followed by cake and presents. The fold out table, which hadn't been used since Thanksgiving, was opened in the living room, its extra leaves carefully put into place. A pastel centerpiece made from inflated mylar balloons, all saying "Sweet Sixteen" and "Happy Birthday," adorned the center of the table. Vera's good china came out of storage, along with the lead crystal. "Sweet Sixteen" napkins, desert plates, and place cards, were all purchased by Vera to make the occasion as special as possible. Since Vera was unable to find anyone selling "Sweet Sixteen" party hats, she opted for hats that simply said "Happy Birthday" on them.

"At least," thought Charlie to herself, "no one is going to ask me how old I am."

Vera mailed the "Sweet Sixteen" birthday invitations she had bought. The guest list was a cross section of Twin Yucca. It consisted of Adam Clark, Chad Garner, (Mike was away on a short vacation with Sandra), Shirley Garner, (Thomas was at another convention), Maggie Downen, Officer Jeff Erickson and his daughter Debbie, Sara and Scottie from school, and Mrs. Jacobs from across the street. Charlie didn't want to invite the last guest, but Vera had insisted. Jerome was invited, but he was able to find an excuse to stay away from the celebration. All together, twelve people, counting Charlie, were to attend the party.

Even her aunt had remembered her. Charlie received a Birthday card from Aunt Angela in North Carolina, with an enclosed check of a hundred dollars.

That morning, Charlie went to school but could hardly pay attention to her classes, for all the excitement of the birthday wish.

When she arrived at Adam's home to work, he gave her the day off and said he was looking forward to the party. Little did Charlie and Adam know, that after that night, nothing would ever be the same again.

At six o'clock in the evening, the guests began to arrive. Charlie greeted them, while Vera accepted the presents, placing the festive packages on the kitchen table to open before desert.

"My, you are growing up fast, Charlie," said Shirley handing her a gift wrapped present. "This is from Thomas and myself. I'm sorry he couldn't be here."

"Happy Birthday, Charlie," said Adam, handing her a small long box with a red bow on it.

"Thank you for coming," replied Charlie, handing the presents off to Vera.

"Here's my present," said Chad, adding it to Vera's load.

One by one, everyone arrived, each with a present for Charlie.

The birthday meal was served and everyone was seated at the table in the living room. The group joined hands while Chuck prayed.

"Dear Lord," prayed Chuck, "thank you for Charlotte. She's been a blessing to all who know her, and a great help to me, especially. Please bless her this day, and arrange her future according to Thy great and tender mercies. Thank You for this meal and for the good friends that have gathered here today. In Jesus' name, Amen."

After the meal was over, Vera dimmed the lights, and carried a beautiful pink frosted cake, bearing sixteen lit candles. Everyone sang the traditional birthday song, and Vera placed the cake on the table in front of Charlie.

"Make a wish!" prompted Maggie. Charlie closed her eyes, made a wish, and blew out every single candle. Everyone politely cheered and the lights came back on. Shirley waved the candle smoke away from her face, for she was sitting downwind.

"Time to open presents," announced Vera, "then we'll have desert!"

Charlie was trying to contain her excitement over one present, in particular.

The first gift was placed in front of Charlie. It was from her father. She read the attached card, and smiling, opened the package carefully, by cutting the tape, instead of ripping through it as was her custom when she was little. Inside, she found a camping backpack.
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