Birthday Morning

Before dawn, Carrie slipped out of bed. She dressed quickly, tucking the red ribbon into her jean pocket. Outside, the stars flecked silver over the cherry tree. She pulled herself up, curled around the branch, and crawled into the tree’s lap. Shimmying up and up, all alone while wet leaves dripped water on her face and neck. For a second she wished she were still under warm covers.

But Carrie remembered last night on the porch when her twin brother Cameron bragged. “See where Jupiter hits that branch? That’s how far I climbed today.” He was always first—to ride a bike, swim. Even first in the alphabet. “I marked it, too,” he said. Right then, Carrie made up her mind to climb the tree. Tomorrow, on their tenth birthday, she would be Number One. She’d show him. She’d bring back cherries from the top branch and dump them on his head.

Daylight came. Carrie spied Cameron’s marker. She pushed on. Her arms burned. Bark scraped her cheek. But she climbed past his string. Stopping to catch her breath, she sat on crisscrossed branches. Cherries glinted. She nibbled a few, down to their tart, red-black center. She let the juice swish in her mouth. Higher up, a glossy limb aimed at the sky. She felt for her red ribbon. I’ll put it where Cam can’t miss it. Today, I’m Queen of the Cherry Tree.

A small wind blew the leaves apart and there, in secret, was a tiny, empty nest. All at once an idea, quiet as a bird’s feather, came to her. “Today’s my birthday, and I can do anything I want.” She tied the ribbon into a bow and tucked it into the nest. A hiding place, way above Cam’s marker. Only the chickadees know.

Carrie climbed down, down, until tree roots bulged under her feet. Her sleepy-eyed brother sat on the porch steps.

“How far did you get?” he asked.
“Pretty far—for me.”
“Not like the King, though.”
“Nope.”
“All by yourself.”
“Yep.”
“Happy Birthday, Carrie.”
“You, too, Cam.”

The tree leaves winked at her. Only the chickadees know.

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