“Maman,” Jack whispers, tugging hard on the hem of his Alicia’s skirt. She is standing in the kitchen, a spatula in one hand a tub of Betty Crocker chocolate icing in another. “Les gens sont ici.”
“Oui, mon petit étoile,” his mother says, finishing the cake with one last streak of icing across the side. She steps back and takes a look, sighing when she sees how lopsided it is from this angle. She reaches down and lifts Jack up, setting her on her hip. He’s definitely boarding on too old for this; Jack’s turning 6 today, and has never been, well… a slender boy, to say the least.
But Alicia loves her son, so whenever he tugs on her skirt and calls her name, she picks him up and lets him rest his head on her chest. She remembers how her mother used to do it for her, and just how comforting it had been. She can’t imagine the day she stops allowing this for Jack.
“Où est papa?” Jack asks, his breath warm on her neck.
“He will be back soon,” Alicia says, slipping back into English. “Do you want to go say hi to your friends?”
Jack furrows his brow and looks down at where his hand is fisted in the fabric of Alicia’s shirt. He nods his head, slowly, like he’s not quite sure.
“Hey, mon petit étoile. You listen to me,” she says, leaning back so she can look into her son’s eyes– bright blue, a mirror image of her own. “Papa and I love you very much. And so do all your friends, and your family, and everyone here. It’s your big day, Jack. Now go on. I will be out in a minute.”
Jack, placated by Alicia’s promise to follow him out, nods once before climbing down and running through the kitchen doors to the living room.
The party goes over well. Bob gets home a few minutes later with a brand new pair of hockey skates in tow– they one present Jack had asked for. His friends from school are all nice, and Jack spends plenty of time with them, but Alicia can’t help but notice how, even now, Jack seems a bit like the odd one out.
The kids’ parents come to pick them up, and by 7 it’s just Jack, Alicia and Bob, sitting together in the living room, the windows left open to let in the cool august night breeze. Jack sits between them, two action figures Alicia doesn’t recognize clutched in his hands. Jack is talking quietly to himself and acting out the roles. He’s is a warm and comforting weight against her side, and when Alicia catches her husband’s eye over their son’s head, the smile she gets in return is blinding. The warmth spreads through her, blooming in her chest and reaching all the way to her fingers and toes.
It’s when they’re putting Jack to bed a few hours later, Alicia with a storybook in hand and Bob pulling back the covers, that Jack gasps, jumping out of bed. He runs to the window and throws back the curtains.
“Maman! Papa! Regardez!” Jack shouts, pointing out the window. Both Alicia and Bob move next to their son, and only when following the direction of Jack’s hand does Alicia see the shooting star, gliding across the sky.
“Mon petite étoile,” Alicia whispers into Jack’s hair, kissing him there. “Did you know that if you make a wish when you see one of those, it will come true?”
Jack gaped at Alicia, his eyes wide. “Really?”
“Really,” Bob chimed in, his voice bright with laughter and affection. “Go on, then. Make your wish.”
Jack nodded at his parents and turned towards the window, closing his eyes and scrunching up his nose, and whispered his wish under his breath.
Climbing back into bed, Alicia asked, “What did you wish for?”
Jack giggled, “If I tell you it won’t come true, Maman!”
“Alright,” Alicia smiled, smoothing back her son’s hair. She leaned down and kissed his forehead once, then the tip of his nose. “Goodnight, birthday boy.”
On Jack’s 12th birthday he is alone in his room, the clock slowly ticking away till’ morning. He hasn’t been able to sleep once yet, dreading the day of classmates and family and hockey-family and… everything.