Though surrounded by it every day, Alder does not believe in magic. He is not generally a superstitious person.
But on the morning of Cypress’s teen birthday, he woke early with a special feeling.
Cypress woke early, too, so that she could spend her last morning as a child dancing while the sun got ready to rise. onezero joined her, and they moved together in the early morning air.
“Aunt onez?” Cypress asked. “Do you think every girl dances on her birthday?”
“I don’t know,” replied onezero, “but I certainly hope so! Dancing in spirit, at the very least!”
Her mom called her as she was on her way in for breakfast.
“I just want to wish you a happy birthday,” her mom said. “You know we’re all so proud of you.”
When they gathered at breakfast, J.P. shared an idea that he’d been thinking about for a while.
“Let’s do something different for Cypress’s birthday party,” he said. “We always have parties here. Let’s have one someplace new and exciting. Like the museum. And not the one in town. Let’s go to Willow Creek.”
“That’s a great idea,” Sugar said. “It’ll give us all a chance to try something new! What do you say, Pepper Doodle?”
So J.P. spent the morning planning everything. He rented the museum, invited all their friends, asked onezero to cater and Sugar to tend bar, and the whole family took a trip to Willow Creek.
J.P. felt proud, handling all the responsibilities of making sure his little sister had the best party possible.
J.P. knows that party clothes are meant to be fun. The hat works, in part because it’s got attitude, but mostly because of the way that the green fin shows.
While Sugar headed in to tend bar, onezero went in search of the kitchen, Red and Tomas strolled in to view the paintings, and Nathanael and J.P. took up positions in the lobby to welcome guests, Alder stole a few moments alone with the birthday girl. Once the party got underway, he wasn’t sure if he’d have any time with his best friend and niece, and he had something he wanted to tell her before she blew out her candles.
“Now just because you’re gaining a new trait,” Alder said, “don’t let that change you. Even if you roll something that feels like it doesn’t fit, don’t worry about it. You are still you.”
“Let’s take a picture to help me remember,” Cypress said. “Then, when I’m big, whenever I start to forget, I’ll look at this photo, and it will remind me of the best I can be, because I’m with you!”
While Alder headed in, Cypress stayed outside alone for a moment, so that she could feel what it is to be her, so that she could remember this all through her days, no matter what trait she might roll.
In the tiny serving kitchen, while onezero chopped lettuce for a garden salad, she reflected that this was the last teen birthday of the legacy. It would all be over the moment the gen 10 baby was born. Oh, the family would go on, and their lives would continue. But the circumstances–the restrictions–would change. They always do!
They’d almost done it, this family. She thought back on the pact that she and Sugar made, so long ago, that they’d see it through to the end. It was hard, for staying through meant that they’d had to say goodbye to siblings and nieces and nephews. But it was rewarding, too. It felt good, to make a commitment and see it to completion.
Sugar, relishing the warm humid air of Willow Creek while she mixed drinks for the guests, had reflections of her own. She thought of her mom, Aspen Bough, and she thought how proud Aspen would be to see the strong and creative individuals that were part of the family tree. They had become a family of artists, musicians, and writers. And body builders and yogi! And chefs and gluttons. And astronomers, all. Aspen would have liked that.
We don’t really lose them, do we? Sugar thought. It’s just a smooth version of a different time. And that same time is there, too, that time when my mother was still here, when my father’s laughter rolled out of the writing room. I can slide over, and there I am a child again. That time is just as alive, right sideways, over there.
While Sugar followed the line of her thoughts, out back through space, another line formed at the bar. Sugar’s become famous for making the best salty llamas, and all the guests wanted one.
Somehow, Mesquite’s ghost traveled all the way to this distant town to play jazz for his descendant’s party.
While onezero whipped up the birthday cake, Cypress joined the Park Boys and one of J.P.’s stray friends in the kitchen.
“Do you think you might take your game outside?” onezero asked, while Pepper Doodle began to recruit her friends to play space pirates. The kitchen is barely big enough for the chef, let alone three rambunctious kids and a dude in a blue tux and green sneakers.
Outside, Mr. Green Sneakers proved to be a great dancer.
Wade and Jade joined them.
“It’s the Wade and Jade hour,” said Wade, in his squeaky little voice. “And do you know what tomorrow is, Pepper Doodle? It’s the birthday of Wade and Jade!”
“And Anderson,” said Jade.
Soon, it was time for the cake.
Cypress led the boys to the table where it stood, all lit up and waiting for her.
She took a moment, felt the magic, and she blew!
And she rolled a trait to honor the founder of our legacy, who more than anything, loved the outdoors.
And my own heart broke with joy! With tears of joy! How can the rolling of a single trait fill me with such joy that my eyes sting from the overflow? What makes this something that breaks my heart and fills it up again?
Can a game, can little digital lives, mean so much that I feel awe?
It’s beauty! It’s joy!
It’s knowing that Cedar, the legacy founder, whom I loved the way Simmers love their founders–it’s knowing that her spirit, her digital spirit that brought such joy is extending on, bookends-like, with our last heir.
What a gift, now, at the end, to have a loves-the-outdoors, goofball heir! Our first goofball, our first loves-the-outdoors, my two favorite traits, the two traits that, to me, express the essence of joy. Ah, life! Ah, game!
Inside, everyone gathered in the tiny kitchen, the way guests always do at every party.
“You know, I’ve been to every party this family has thrown. Isn’t that right, Red?” Clarence said.
After her solitary dance of joy, Pepper Doodle searched the museum to find her uncle.
“I’ve got my new trait!” she told him. “And it fits! I do love the outdoors! It’s who I am at my core!”
Alder, who was not so lucky as to get a trait that fit, wrapped her in a big hug.
“Let’s remember this,” he said. “The day you became more you!”
The party ended. The guests went home. Nathanael and J.P., exhausted from people and planning, went home, too.
The rest of the family stayed behind to clean up from the party. There were dishes to wash, and counters to scrub, and chairs to put back into storage.
But first, they took a break to enjoy time as a family–no guest, no friends, just them.
Sugar and onez sat outside while they ate the cake.
When they finished their snack and headed inside to clear up the dishes, Alder and Cypress took their place.
Alder looked up at the blossoms in the cherry tree and whispered his thanks.
Cypress laughed out loud–there was no joke! Just pure joy that spills over and makes every heart sing!
As the sun set, the family danced together, blending their laughter with music. In a legacy, sometimes everything can go wrong.
And also, sometimes, things can go so very, very right.