Tim’s pretty sure his spaghetti is out to get him. Mrs. Mac said it was whole wheat pasta, but Tim has a feeling it’s probably actually made out of cardboard. It certainly tastes like it. The sauce isn’t right, either; it’s got squishy, green and brown pieces of something in it, not at all like the smooth sauce she usually pours over his spaghetti. When Tim had protested though, his dad had told him to quit playing with his food and eat his supper.
Tim likes it when his parents are home, but he wishes they didn’t feel the need to scold him quite so much. If his dad thinks this is playing with his food, he should see the masterpieces some of the kids at school make out of their mashed potatoes.
He does his best to separate the unknown specks from the rest of the sauce, but that still leaves the spaghetti to contend with, and he’s hoping against hope that leaving his dinner messy and spread out across his plate will be enough to convince his dad he’s actually been eating it.
“Timothy,” his dad says, and Tim’s head snaps up guiltily. His dad isn’t looking at him though. He’s pressing a napkin to his mouth and frowning down at his phone. Tim waits, knowing if he stays quiet his dad will continue soon enough.
“Your mother and I will be going away again this Thursday – something’s come up with one of our branches – ”
“But – Thursday,” Tim interrupts. “That’s – ”
His dad holds up a hand to cut him off. “I know it’s short notice,” he says. “But there’s an issue with some negotiations we’ve begun in Florida, and your mother and I have to be there. We’ll be gone until Monday, so I want you to be on your very best behavior for Mrs. Mac, all right?”
Tim might only be seven, but he puts three things together very quickly.
1. Thursday is his eighth birthday.
2. Disney World is in Florida.
3. Tim’s been talking about Disney World pretty much non-stop, ever since the Shaw twins, from school, got back from their spring break vacation.
If he puts those facts together, the truth is undeniable; Tim’s parents must be planning a trip to Disney World, a surprise for Tim’s birthday. He feels flushed and giddy with the knowledge, the fact that he figured it out all by himself.
“Tim?” his mom prompts, with raised eyebrows.
“I’ll be good,” Tim promises, though he’s hard-pressed to keep the beam off his face. He doesn’t want to let on that he’s figured it out – it would mean ruining their surprise. After a moment he doesn’t have to worry, because his dad nods and shifts his attention back to his own dinner.
“Jack, should I bring a swimsuit?” his mom asks. “Saturday’s supposed to be a perfect beach day.”
“I’m sure we’ll have time between meetings,” his dad says.
Tim makes a mental note to dig out his swim trunks.
Tim struggles to keep his mouth shut over the next two days. Whenever he gets too excited, too close to bursting out with the fact that he knows all about his birthday surprise, he goes to his room and works on packing his suitcase. Florida’s hot, he knows, so he throws in plenty of shorts and t-shirts, as well as the sunscreen Mrs. Mac gave him at the start of summer. They’ll have to take a plane to get to Florida, so Tim packs some coloring books, too, and a brand-new set of markers, to keep himself busy during the ride. He debates adding some of his nicer clothes to his suitcase – the kind of stuff he has to wear to fancy Gotham events. In the end, he decides that it’s better to be safe than sorry and neatly tucks them on top of the socks and underwear he’s packed. This will be the first time his parents have ever taken him on a trip, and he wants to be prepared for anything and everything.
Wednesday night, Tim gets ready for bed on his own, crawling under his covers sometime around seven thirty. He knows his parents are leaving early tomorrow, and he wants to be well-rested when they come in to surprise him.
Going to sleep is a lot harder than he thought it would be. He lies awake for what feels like hours, staring up at the ceiling and making a mental list of all the things he wants to do. He wants pictures with Mickey and Goofy, of course, and he wants to go on Space Mountain and sit in the very front row. The Shaw twins also said that the ride with the pirates was awesome, so Tim adds that to the list, as well.
Tim isn’t sure when he drifts off, because his dreams are much the same as his waking thoughts were –mental lists of all the things he wants to see most.
Tim wakes with a start to the sound of a door closing. He blinks blearily around his dim room, face scrunched up in a frown as he tries his best to orient himself. It all comes back in a rush – Thursday, his birthday, Disney World – and he throws himself out of bed, goes straight to the window.
Down below, he can see his mom sliding into the passenger seat of his dad’s new sports car, while his dad is busy loading suitcases into the trunk. Tim’s stomach twists because this doesn’t feel right. They look like they’re getting ready to leave, not come wake him up to tell him about their surprise.
Tim races back to his bed, grabs his suitcase from underneath it, then flies downstairs, his suitcase bumping along behind him.
Mrs. Mac is in the kitchen, putting away some breakfast dishes, and she drops a spoon into the sink with a loud clatter as Tim goes tearing past. “Timothy!” she exclaims. “What on earth – ”
Tim ignores, just leaps for the front door and throws it open just in time to see his dad turn the corner at the end of the street. A second later, the car is gone.
Tim drops his suitcase to the driveway, his fingers suddenly feeling nerveless and numb. It – it has to be a joke. A prank. If he just waits a minute or two, his dad will come back around the corner, and his mom will say, “Oh, Timmy – you didn’t think we’d forget about your birthday, did you? Get in the car, Disney World here we come!”
So Tim waits.
And after a few, long minutes, Mrs. Mac comes out and asks, “Now what was that all about, Tim? Are you upset they didn’t say goodbye? I think they just wanted to let you sleep – it’s so early…”
She trails off once Tim turns around. He ducks his head, embarrassed, because his cheeks feel wet, and he knows that means he’s crying.
“I – I didn’t think it was a real business trip,” he says in a barely audible tone. “I thought – I – ” He scrubs at his face, then bends down to retrieve his suitcase.
“Tim?” Mrs. Mac says again, but Tim just shakes his head.
“I’m going back to sleep,” he murmurs. “You’re right. It’s early.”
She lets him go, and Tim drags his suitcase all the way up to his bedroom. Once he gets there, he dumps it all out, right in the middle of the floor, and then shoves the mess underneath his bed, not caring if it crumples up his suit jacket. He doesn’t want to look at any of it right now.
Then Tim crawls back into bed and draws the covers up all the way to his chin. He closes his eyes and doesn’t think about all the things he wanted to do in Disney World.
When he wakes up a few hours later, Mrs. Mac has a nice birthday breakfast prepared for him, and sitting beside it is a professionally-wrapped package, complete with an over-sized, gaudy bow and a printed gift tag that reads, To: Tim, From: Mom & Dad.
Tim unwraps it to find a book on dinosaurs that he’s already read, because two years ago he loved dinosaurs and checked out everything he could on them from the local library. Now, he’s more into space, but that’s a pretty recent thing, and his parents haven’t been home often enough to really know about any new interest, he guesses.
“Isn’t that a lovely book?” Mrs. Mac asks cheerfully. She’s working on baking him a cake – in one of her smaller cake pans, because there are only the two of them there to eat it. “It’s got such nice pictures!”
“Yeah,” Tim agrees quietly, flipping through it. “It’s nice.”
“Your parents said they’d call later, to wish you a Happy Birthday.”
Tim doesn’t believe her for a second, but he nods along anyway and takes another bite of his omelet.
“Are you okay, Tim?” she presses one last time. “You seemed so upset this morning.”
Tim squares his shoulders and takes a deep breath.
“I’m fine, Mrs. Mac,” he says. “Just fine.”