Star Of The Week Brenda stood at the Iparty balloon counter deciding what colors Sam would like best. She watched as Eric, she could read from his name tag, revived the limp red balloon, while humming "Celebration", the song that had just played on the stores oldies station. The sound of screaming kids buzzed in Brenda's ear, but she was the only customer at eight in the morning. The screaming rang in her ears, this time accompanied by an image of Cameron, Sam's friend, at Sam's 7th birthday party. Cameron was running, in Brenda's mind, just as he had, right into the plastic covered table Brenda had dug out of the garage to hold the cake. Cameron laughed as he bumped the table sending crumbled cake across the room, while the bulk plopped onto the ground, squishing the photoed face of Sam's s 2nd grade school picture on the wooden floor. Sam hadn't even cried like a normal 7 year old her age but actually laughed. Then Brenda remembered her husband, Bob, retaining his class clown title, picked up a chunk of cake, like a snowball, and flung it hitting Brenda in the face. After all the stress of party planning, the details Brenda had made sure were perfect, there was nothing she could do, but laugh at the irony. Brenda snapped out of her day dream, back in Iparty. Today it was Sam's 10th birthday. "Ma'am, excuse me ma'am. They're bringing the balloons out to the car for you." "Thanks. I could have never carried all those myself." "Be careful driving home. Those balloons can be distracting. Especially the amount you bought," Eric warned. Brenda slung her fake Gucci purse over her shoulder and left the smell of plastic and fake pine (they always put out the christmas decorations early, it wasn't even Thanksgiving yet) to cross the street to her car full of balloons. Brenda slid into the drivers seat careful not to pop the
balloon blocking the steering wheel. As she drove down Scuttle Avenue, balloons bobbing from front to the back, back to the front, she wondered how this party would turn out. It was a long, straight ride to the location Brenda had chosen for the party. It was not one she planned, but she began to see that she couldn't plan everything. Starring out the windshield, pavement stretched for miles in front of her. The yellow division lines blurred together, since there was little in the way of scenery. Brenda's eyes were open, but the glossy stare indicted another flashback. It was Sam's 8th birthday at the Marriott pool. Sam had wanted a pool party ever since she was promoted to the advanced swimming group, that summer at camp. Brenda and her mother had prepared food, bought chips, coca cola, and a marble cake with chocolate frosting. Sam and her friends were having cannon ball contests, while Brenda and Bob put the candles (the ones that won't blow out, Sam's favorite) into the cake. No one was watching the kids. A commotion of splashing followed with Sam yelling, "Mom, Mom, Heidi isn't coming back up." Brenda spun around and saw the ripples where Heidi had been slashing for breath. Bob dove in, grabbed Heidi like a rag doll, and handed her to Brenda. "Isn't there supposed to be a lifeguard on duty?" Bob yelled. "Yes, he is in the bathroom," the grandma answered running into the men's bathroom. After giving her mouth to mouth, the lifeguard said Heidi was going to be okay. Brenda had called Heidi's parents as soon as it happened, knowing she would want to know if it had been Sam. Watching Heidi wrap her arms around her parents, barely reaching their backs, Brenda thought about all the things that could hurt Sam and how she could never save her from it all. Brenda blinked, relieving her eyes of their glossy state. Now the road had her full attention. She remembered at Sam's last birthday party, when she turned 9, all she wanted was a
doll house like the one her friend Rebecca had. How could she explain to a 9 year old that Rebecca's parents were both doctors, that they never paid their bills late, and that they could afford such an elaborate doll house. Instead, Brenda had bought Sam a different doll house, which Sam proceeded to slam on the ground. "I wanted that doll house. This doll house doesn't even look like a house The paints already chipping." Sam yelled pointing at the chipped paint around the tiny glass windows. "It doesn't look like a doll house because it's in pieces on the floor!" Brenda yelled and stomped away. She had never seen Sam react like this, and she did not know how to handle herself. It was a sign that Sam was getting older. Sam knew exactly what she wanted. It was not good enough just that her mom liked it anymore. A blue balloon stuck to the frizz of Brenda's hair bringing her back to reality. Brenda pulled up to the party, past the ambulance only sign. Bob stood with his hands in the pockets of his Lee Dungarees leaning against the wall next to the automatic doors. Brenda pulled up in front to unload her cargo. "Is she awake?" Brenda asked Bob. "Not yet. She slept through the night so she should be up soon." "Great. That gives us some time to set up the room," Brenda said, pointing at the car stuffed with balloons, like a clown car. "Did you get the cake?" "Of course. I put it in the freezer. It was starting to melt." Brenda and Bob each grabbed handfuls of balloons and walked through the automatic doors, blasted by a field of air conditioning. "Bob, Brenda" a nurse yelled from the desk. "Hi Cindy. We are here to set up for Sam's party."
"Right this way. Sam was doing well yesterday. We walked longer today than usual." "That's great to hear." After 6 trips of white knuckle gripping,back and forth from the car to the recreational room, all balloons were accounted for except a few taken by the wind. Sam was awake now, and took the elevator down to the recreational room. Her hospital gown dragged on the floor as she opened the door into the balloon play land. The plastic consumed every inch of Sam's body. The dark room flooded with blues, purples, reds, and greens. She twirled the strings of the balloon through her bony fingers. "How did you get all of these balloons?" Sam sang. "Do you like it?" Brenda asked. ""I love it. It's perfect. Just what I wanted." Ever since Sam had seen the movie, Patch Adams since she had gotten sick, she had dreamed of a room full of balloons. It was fun, and she was 10. Surrounded by the party symbol, made everyone forget about being sick. The door to the rec room opened freeing 2 balloons and letting in her friends. Brenda left to prepare the cake. With each candle forming a perfect circle in the vanilla frosting, she wished for eternity. Bob and Brenda lifted the cake, smoke stung their eyes. There were no more birthday’s for Brenda to look back on; only future and that was hopeful. “Happy birthday to you,” Brenda sang, carrying the cake into the rec room. Sam’s friends joined in, “Happy birthday dear Saaamm. Happy birthday to you.” They had cleared most of the balloons now with the help of the nurses to make room for the guests. Sam had changed into her party dress, a bright pink one, her mom had bought last week.
Some balloons they left tied to wooden chairs that were pushed into plastic tables covered with happy birthday tablecloths. Brenda had made tiny flower arrangements for the centers of the table. Next to the utensils, lay chocolate bunny lollipops, Sam’s favorite animal. Sam had cried when Freckles wasn’t allowed in the hospital with her. The candles on the birthday cake shrunk as the wax melted. Sam blew them out, a whistle escaped from her lips. “I hope she wished for a life time,” Brenda thought. That had been Brenda’s single wish, every since Sam was diagnosed with Leukemia. Suddenly, Sam’s sickness had made Brenda superstitious. She wished on every star, ever 11:11, every eyelash. Superstition had left Brenda at age 24, but when you have nothing to lose, sometimes a sense of magic lifts the spirits. Bob cut the first slice and handed it to the birthday girl on a balloon covered paper plate. Sam spotted Aunt Theresa, her mother’s sister strutting toward her. “Happy birthday Sammy. Wow you’re ten. That’s all your fingers,” Theresa said, holding up ten digits. “Yeah. Good job auntie Theresa,” Sam mocked. Theresa kissed Sam, leaving a maroon lipstick smear on her cheek. As soon as Theresa was out of sight, Sam wiped it off in disgust. Sam looked around at her guests. The boy she liked, Andrew was sitting in the corner flicking rubber bands at the other boys. Sam sauntered over to him, eager for a birthday kiss. “Hey Andrew. Do you like the cake? Ice cream cake is my favorite,” Sam said, pulling at her gown. “It’s alright. I like chocolate cake better, but thanks,” Andrew responded and turned back to flick Greg on the arm with a rubber band.
“Yeah. I mean I don’t love ice cream cake. Chocolate is my favorite too,” Sam stuttered to a distracted Andrew. Sam felt a tug on her gown and turned to face her friend Crystal. “Fun party. Your dad is really into that piñata,” Crystal laughed. “Yeah. Let’s go play. It looks like he needs some help,” Sam replied, tired of trying for Andrew’s attention. Sam and Crystal headed over to the piñata. Sam grabbed the bat and stared the donkey down. She swung the bat, then propelled it into the stomach of the donkey, the candy holder. Sam smirked as the candy poured out onto the floor, her friends scurried to grab as much as they could, using their shirts as bags. Brenda thought of how strong Sam looked swinging that bat, how could she be sick? The party ended around 7 when the doctor said Sam had been playing long enough. She helped her mom hand out the goody bags full of Nerds and Hershey Kisses. “Their parents are going to have fun with those kids tonight. All the sugar I gave them, lucky if they ever go to sleep,” Brenda laughed. “It was a great party honey,” Bob said, and wrapped his arm around Brenda’s shoulders Bob and Brenda took Sam upstairs to her room. They sat with her watching episodes of Full House until she fell asleep. “Time to go honey,” Bob whispered. Brenda stared at her sleeping Sam. This was always the hardest part because Brenda never knew if Sam would wake up the next day. Each night Brenda had stayed longer and longer, nervous it would be the last time she would be able to watch Sam breathe. They each kissed her tonight, one on the right cheek and one of the left. The ride home was silent as always. It was hard to talk when death was constantly running through their minds.