Tim watched his parents drive off, wondering if they remembered it was his birthday tomorrow. He was turning nine.
Chewing his lip, Tim hoped they remembered to pay the bills this month as he turned to walk deeper into the quiet, empty house.
He kinda felt like a ghost wandering around. Nobody else was there. His footsteps were loud, but was it really considered loud when there was nobody to hear you? Everything looked like it was on display, or something, too.
And what was Tim in the big picture? Was he really anything more than an observer of his life?
Walking into his room, Tim didn’t think anyone would know a kid lived there. Everything was too organized. He didn’t have any posters up on the walls, no clothes forgotten on the floor, no unmade bed…
It didn’t look lived in.
Tim wondered if that was sad, turning away from his room to ghost down the hallways again.
He was in the kitchen when the lights stopped working.
Grabbing a bottle of water from the fridge, Tim found some granola bars to eat since everything else needed electricity to be edible, aside from the fruit in the bowl on the table.
People said he was lucky to have a summer birthday, but Tim disagreed; summer meant no school, and no school meant nothing to distract him from his loneliness.
He ate alone, in his room, earbuds popped in and playing some random podcast. The noise helped him feel like he wasn’t as alone as he was.
Tim brushed his teeth that night, staring at himself in the mirror, and wondered why his parents didn’t love him. Was he too thin? His hair too long? Eyes not the right blue? Tim tried to smile when he was done brushing his teeth. Was it because his smile was lopsided? Maybe it was just the phone’s lighting.
As he curled up for bed, Tim stared out the window and wondered if Batman remembered Robin’s birthday. Then he wondered what it was like.
“Hey there little man, how can I help you?”
Tim reached up on his tip-toes and handed the cashier guy the little chocolate bundt cake.
“I just wanna buy that,” he answered.
The cashier–James, the nametag read–nodded and asked, “What’s the occasion?”
“It’s my birthday.”
“Oh shit? Nice, little man!” James rang up the bundt cake and looked around. “Where’re your parents? They gotta be proud of you.”
Tim blushed a little, kicking at the ground once. “They’re… Not around.”
“Oh, man, I’m sorry kid.”
“S'okay.” Tim shrugged. “I’m nine now.”
James nodded, reaching over for a fist-bump. “That’s awesome, bud. You’re getting old, huh?”
Tim smiled, daping his fist against James’. “Yeah, I guess.” He paused, then remembered that he had to pay for the cake and dug around in his pocket for the ten dollars he’d brought.
James held up a hand, shaking his head.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said, passing the cake to Tim. “Happy Birthday.”
“Tim–that’s my name.” Hesitating, he asked, “Are you sure, mister?”
James snorted, pressing the cake to Tim’s hand.
“Two things, Timbo. One, I’m way too young for you to call me mister–I’m, like, eighteen–and two, if I weren’t sure, I would have asked you for the money.” James smiled. “Seriously, Tim. Happy Birthday.”
Tim felt a surge of gratitude toward the kind stranger and nodded, saying bye as he left. James waved before Tim couldn’t see him anymore.
Reaching to the laptop, Tim pressed play on the video he’d pulled up, sitting in the corner of his closet with the bundt cake in front of him in a plate and with a candle sticking out of it, and stared at the glowing candle in the dark room as he pulled his crossed legs up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, pressing his face to his knees.
The ‘Happy Birthday’ song started playing and Tim almost cried.
He sat there, alone in his closet, the little bundt cake with the single candle his only other companion, the laptop singing for him, and wished his parents were there.
Tim didn’t care if it meant that they’d be poor. He didn’t care if they had nothing.
He just wanted them to care about him.