Raven could feel the cold, wet breath of something breathing inches from her neck. A twinge of fear knotted in her belly. She wanted to scream but willed herself to do as her father asked and remain still and quiet. “ As the moon glows, the fire will rise below. The world will never know, the faces that we show,” Raven silently remembered the words of her mother's lullaby, as she closed her eyes. Suddenly she heard a scream and the sound of beasts tearing at something. She jerked awake, covered in a pool of sweat. “ Ugggggggh, “ Raven groaned aloud. “Not another nightmare," she tried to shake off the lingering fear that clung to her after waking. The busy sounds of the morning let her know that everyone’s day had already started. She quickly flipped out of bed, her hair a messy mass of curls around her head. The cold floor made her quickly regret ditching her socks in the middle of the night. “ Who sleeps with socks on anyways,” she grumbled to herself. Raven's footsteps echoed in the quiet hallway as she hurried to the shared bathroom, her thoughts a whirlwind of haste and determination to catch up with the day's demands.
The echoes of the scream and the sounds of beasts tearing at something haunted Raven's thoughts, leaving her wide awake and drenched in sweat, her heart pounding in her chest. Loud beeps from her phone startled her as she started to daydream while brushing her teeth. Pretty sure that was not her first alarm, she hurried to find her uniform before she missed the last bus to work. “Marvin is going to be pissed, “ she said, finally glancing at the tie before finally rushing out the door to catch the next bus.
“Hey! Watch it! , “ a customer yelled as Raven rushed through the doors of Betty’s Diner, already busy with the late morning rush. She quickly apologized and rushed to the kitchen to grab her apron and clock in. As she tied the last string of her apron, she felt a familiar feeling of dread.
“Well, well, well, look who’s finally here. Ms. Alistar, yet another tardy?“ asked the pretty unamused voice of her boss, Marvin. To be expected, he was not happy. He began impatiently tapping a pen on the counter. The annoying sound caused Raven to roll her eyes before plastering on a fake smile and turning to face him.
“Oh, I was meaning to tell you that I was planning on closing tonight to make up for my tardies. I worked it out with Wilma. I’m going to give her a much-deserved break tonight.” she said smoothly, hoping her confidence would mask her lie.
The pen tapping stopped, which was a great sign. She knew he was buying it from the look on his face. Unfortunately, for her, she was going to have to live up to her words. Marvin raised his eyebrows and smiled, “ Well that’s very nice of you. I understand that you live quite a distance from the diner so this could make up for your tardies. However, “ His expression changed back to his normal, tight-lipped look, “ don’t make it a habit.” Without another word, Marvin went into his office and loudly closed the door. Despite the extra work she just made for herself, Raven was filled with relief. “ I'm just glad to still have my job,” she grumbled to herself, she plastered on her fake smile and headed to the busy floor to start work and fill Wilma in on her shift switch.
Unfortunately, she arrived in the middle of the rush. Before she could even think she was going table to table filling orders and taking requests. Before long she lost herself in the rhythm of work, careful not to make mistakes because she was sure the only reason she hadn't been fired was because she was such a hard worker. “Thanks for coming, “ she smiled to herself as she collected a few tips from her tables and cleared and cleaned them as quickly as she could.
“Hello! Welcome to Betty’s! “ she greeted without looking as the jingling sounds of the door rang as customers entered. Loud laughter and loud voices began to take over the other sounds in the diner.
“Rayyyyyyyyyy!” a familiar shrill voice yelled. Filled with excitement, Raven turned sharply almost dropping the dishes she was carrying. It was her roommate Janice and a couple of her friends. She was holding several bags and boxes.
“ Shopping? I see,” Raven asked smiling genuinely. “ Let me get you guys a table so my boss isn’t a jerk.” Seating her friends at the nearest booth, she quickly prepared to take their drink orders.
“Girl, what are you doing, “ Janice said giggling. “Do you even remember what I’m doing here?” All of their friends were smiling ad looking at her so mischievously, Raven started to feel nervous.
“Umm, I was hoping you brought me something to eat other than diner food,” she said with a laugh. “ I thought you were out getting breakfast this morning!” Janice and her friends all looked at each other and laugh. Confusion and excitement were growing in her but having her friends all laugh at her was a little uncomfortable. Noticing that they were making her uncomfortable, Janice got them all to settle down.
“Ray!! I really can't believe you forgot your birthday!” Suddenly Janice, their friends, and the entire Betty staff began to sing “The Happy Birthday Song”. Covering her face with both hands, Raven began to blush viciously. She looked around and even, MARVIN was singing.
“Okay! Okay guys back to work, “ Marvin said with a laugh but always serious about productivity, going back into his office after seeing everyone return to their duties. Waiting on the sound of Marvin's office door closing, Raven finished cleaning up her tables with a smile.
“You guyyyyys! You know how I am about surprises! “ Raven said to her friends, unable to hide how happy she really was.
“It was just a teeeeeeeeny tiny one, “ Janice laughed. “Sooo.. about this party, Ms. Finally 18.” Raven had only been to one party in her whole life and had never thought much about having one of her own. The whole idea was kind of exciting.
“ Me? Have a party? Really? “ Raven scoffed but the excitement was ever present in her expression.
“Yep! It’s happening TONIGHT! I honestly just wanted to see how you felt about it because I’ve been planning this for weeks!”
“JANICE!” Raven was shocked. She had never had anyone celebrate her before. Raven only had nightmares of her real family and had always been from foster home to home. Overwhelmed with emotion, she could feel tears building up. Sensing her friend's feelings, Janice stood and hugged Raven.
“ I want to make this a birthday to remember! You deserve it, love.” Janice said with a reassuring smile. Their friends cheered on in excitement, making her even more excited.
“You’re right this is going to be great!” She exclaimed.
However, the excitement Raven felt was somewhat softened. She remembers her little shift switch from earlier. She was closing the diner tonight. “ You guyyyyys, “ she groaned. “ I forgot I agreed to close tonight.”
“What! On your birthday? Why would you do that?!” Janice said with a frown.
“ I forgot it was my birthday –remember?” Raven said sarcastically. She leaned on the table, grumpy that she took on a double sift on her birthday. She huffed angrily because closing meant getting home at 11:30 at the earliest. “When would I even have time to get dressed?” She thought.
Seeing the sadness on her friend's face, Janice was determined to figure out something. Filled with determination, “ The party will go on!” She said loudly, causing a few other guests to look their way.
“ Girl keep it down before Marvin comes out here.” Raven giggled at her friend who was now standing up with so much determination it was comical.
“I'm serious. We'll party no matter what time you get off; we'll make it work. I have to make some arrangements but we can do it!” Janice took the last sip of her drink and dug frantically into her purse. She threw some money on the table and grabbed the hand of her friend seated next to her. “Come on you guys! We have some work to do to keep this party going all night.” They hurried quickly from the restaurant causing a slight commotion.
Raven stood there blinking and a bit flustered. She began to mechanically clear the table of her friends and began to think about the excitement of having her first-ever birthday party. Growing up in foster homes, she had never met anyone who cared about anything other than the financial gain they would receive from taking care of her. She had many memories of kicking other kids’ asses, especially the boys who always wanted to touch her without her permission. She remembers her happiest birthday was when she turned 15 got a job and filed for emancipation. Raven met Janice when she was 16, who was an 18-year-old shopaholic who wanted a little freedom from her parents. To gain some real-life experience as a young adult, Jancie looked for a roommate for her cozy apartment. After interviewing several applicants, Janice fell in love with Raven's laid-back demeanor and immediately felt the urge to be a big sister to her. She knew that no matter what, her “sis” would make tonight a night to remember matter how late into the night they would have to travel.
As Raven continued to clear tables, she noticed a glimmer of light on one of the back booths. Her eyes widened as they locked onto a small, exquisite envelope laying there. The envelope seemed to glow, its surface adorned with intricate patterns that danced in the diner lights.
Curiosity piqued, Raven reached for it, her fingers brushing the delicate designs. With gentle care, she opened it, and it appeared to be blank, but before her eyes, words began to come alive, glowing with a radiant, sapphire-blue in elegant script, the words formed on the page: 'Happy Birthday, little Fitheach.” Then patterns appeared around the words, weaving a tapestry of mystery and surprise, each stroke of ink enchanting. And then, in a fleeting moment, the radiant display converged into a single, sparkle and with a soft shimmer, the sparkle dissipated, leaving Raven standing in a moment of awe and wonder. The note had vanished, leaving nothing but a lingering sense of magic in the air. Raven blinked, hardly believing what she had just witnessed.