“Happy birthday to you.”

“Happy birthday to you.”

“Happy birthday, Marcelina.”

She only half listened to the singing. The singing was only important because it would be followed by the sekacz. Her mother only made it on her birthday because she said it was too much trouble. Marcelina was fine with getting it once a year, but she wished it weren’t when she had to share with so many.

Not that she’d invited a lot of people. Jory was here, of course, and a few kids she could stand. No Charlotte. Not that Charlotte would have accepted the invitation. Well, she might have since Jory was here.

As the birthday girl she was given the first piece of sekacz. Marcelina did not wait for the others before she ate hers. As the birthday girl, she could do what she wanted. No matter what Siemowit had said earlier.

He was a lost cause. Whatever they’d put in the water (all the urban legends said it was true) he’d drank twice what he needed. Siemowit lived and breathed the government these days and always told her she should be more thankful.

Thankful for Herbert’s death. Thankful that her own was only a few years away. Thankful for nothing. She’s growled and only the knowledge her parents would cancel her party kept her first from connecting with his face. He’d known it and retreated to some meeting or other.

An excellent birthday gift, she thought.


Marcelina looked up and saw Jory across from her in the grass. The rest of her guests had been left on their own the whole, short party. They’d seemed to accept her abandonment of them.

Jory held out his sekacz. He grinned as her eyes widened. She looked down at the cake and shook her head.

“Aww. Come on. Happy birthday and all.”

“I should say no.”

“But you won’t.”

In response, she took the plate. Jory laughed and scooted closer so their knees touched. It worked to shield her from her mother’s scolding for eating her guest’s cake. In thanks, she broke off a piece and held it out to him. He grinned again before he leaned even closer and plucked the cake from her fingers.

“What would Charlotte say?” she teased. “She’s always telling everyone you’re her boyfriend.” At twelve, her mother had informed her, she was too young to use that word. Which was fine by Marcelina. Jory was her best friend. She wouldn’t be a girl like Charlotte.

“Charlotte’s a pain,” Jory moaned. “She’s always bugging me. I mean, she’s ok, I guess, but she’s always bugging me.”

“You said that.”

“Always. Bugging. Meeeeeeee.”

“Quit it!”

Marcelina flung the last bite of cake right at Jory, but he ducked.

“You wasted cake!”

“I did not!”

“You did! So I am not giving you a birthday present.”

“Fine. I didn’t want one.”


“Marcelina! Come here! It is time to say goodbye.”


Jory leapt to his feet and held out his hands. Marcelina let him help her up. He pulled his hands away and ran off, but he left a scrap of paper behind. Marcelina shoved it into her pocket.

There was no chance to look at it until she was getting ready for bed.

Happy birthday, Marcelina. You’re the best. Charlotte is stupid. I will always like you first.

She had a year to try to top his present, but she had no idea how she would manage.