“June, where is your science project?” asked Ms Shelley, gesturing to June’s bare desk.
“It hopped away,” said June.
“Off your desk?” Ms Shelley asked, and the classroom rang with giggles.
“No!” said June through gritted teeth. “The stupid project hopped away when I was trying to catch it down by the river! And I got splashed with disgusting river water, which was probably full of scum and germs and who knows what! I’ve taken five baths since then and I still feel grimy all over! I swear, I won’t feel clean again until I’ve taken a bath in Neosporin!”
“Tragic though that may be,” said Ms Shelley rather caustically, “it doesn’t change the fact that you don’t have a science project like everyone else, so you still get an F.”
June buried her face in her hands. She was having a really bad day. The worst of it was that this day was also her twelfth birthday. Her birthday was on June first, which was how she had gotten her name. She had always been proud that she shared her birthday with Marilyn Monroe.
The day’s awfulness began when June decided to stay up until midnight so that she could witness the precise moment when she officially turned twelve. Unfortunately, she chose the wrong moment to look away from the clock and missed it. Her day did not improve at breakfast. Carl threw up while eating his baby food, causing her parents to spend the whole time cleaning up the mess and fretting over Carl possibly being sick. Like a good mature twelve-year-old, June kept quiet and pretended she wasn’t angry that her birthday was becoming all about Carl, just like every other day was. She understood rationally that it wasn’t Carl’s fault if he was sick, but it was just so unfair that the birthday girl wasn’t the centre of attention in her own home.
June seemed to be angry a lot recently. Everyone said it was hormones, but she was pretty sure it was because everyone was so unfair to her nowadays. It had basically started when her parents had decided to have another kid and just when June was becoming smart, mature, and dignified. She thought those grown-up qualities ought to be earning her respect and recognition, but instead, they only seemed to earn her increased responsibility. Her parents cooed over unsmart, immature, undignified Carl even as he behaved in ways which would never be tolerated from her. She was expected to know better, but she got no credit for knowing better. Instead, her parents only praised Carl while claiming she was the one who was “difficult,” “a handful,” and so forth!
Another thing which made her very angry was the fact that she still didn’t have a cell phone. It was worse now that she was officially one year away from being a teenager. Would she have a cell phone by then? What kind of twenty-first-century teenager didn’t have a cell phone? It was bad enough not having one as a twenty-first-century preteen. She felt shame and embarrassment whenever she thought about the fact that some of her peers had had cell phones since kindergarten. She tried to explain this to her parents, but she couldn’t seem to make them understand that they were practically forcing her to live as an Amish girl.
Following Ms Shelley’s science class, June’s school day only worsened. As usual, her teachers assigned tons of homework that was due tomorrow, ensuring that school would consume much of her birthday even after she got home. June was humiliated when that stupid jerk Evan started teasing her about her secret crush on Mr Pierce, their English teacher. How could Evan have known about that? It turned out that everything June told her “friend” Lori was subsequently shared with Grace, who then shared it with that annoying chatterbox Megan. By now, all of June’s most personal secrets would be known to the entire school! Even lunch was terrible. June had forgotten her lunch money, and on a day when the cafeteria was serving chocolate chip cookies. Since when exactly did her school cafeteria even serve things like chocolate chip cookies?
As she walked home from the bus stop, June wanted to kick a can. Why wasn’t there a can lying in her path? In cartoons, there was always a can to kick when it was needed.
What further unpleasantness would be waiting for her when she got home? Did her parents even remember that today was her birthday? They had given no such indication at breakfast. What did she want anyway? Did she want another one of those corny birthday parties that were thrown for her when she was little? She’d enjoyed them at the time, but now she was older and that sort of thing would only embarrass her. And considering the previous Christmas and Valentine’s Day, she couldn’t expect anything else from her parents.
No, it was probably for the best that they didn’t remember. She wasn’t angry as she walked up the front path to her house. As a newly-minted twelve-year-old, she was just too mature to care about such a thing. Besides, her parents had a new little kid who appreciated their corniness. When she opened the front door and saw the house looking deserted, her suspicions seemed to be confirmed. Presumably, her parents had taken Carl to the hospital or something.
Well, this suited her fine. She’d just throw herself into bed and wallow in her misery for a while before getting started on her mountains of homework. Taking a deep, mature, twelve-year-old-girl breath, she stepped inside.
Not only her parents, but also Grandpa, Grandma, and Uncle Larry jumped out, wearing party hats, blowing party horns, and throwing confetti in the air. They also brought out balloons, cake, and presents. Wearing a party hat of his own and dragging the cuddly toy cat that was now his favourite toy, Carl crawled out after the adults.
“Chrimiss!” he declared happily. June would later learn that he had been found not to be sick shortly after she left for school.
The corniness was so much that she thought she’d die of embarrassment! If any of her friends saw her right now, her life would be over! Yet even as she blushed worse than when Evan had teased her about her crush on Mr Pierce, June was also smiling. More than that, tears of joy were welling up in her eyes. When all was said and done, it seemed she was just happy to discover that she was still loved, even though Carl was smaller and cuter and she was maybe difficult sometimes. And she loved her parents back, even though they were maybe corny sometimes.
“June!” said Carl suddenly.
The tears in June’s eyes began to fall. It was the first time Carl had ever said her name! She loved him too, even though he was maybe annoying every single waking second of her life. Wiping her tears because big girls weren’t supposed to cry, she decided that even if she didn’t receive her long-awaited cell phone today, this really was a good birthday after all!
This story is an excerpt from Carl and June: Tales of Two: A collection of children’s stories from the Writers Mill.