Kara dipped her spatula into the frosting bowl and set to work on the last cupcake, pausing briefly to brush a strand of curly black hair from her eyes. A dozen swirls and scrapes later she sighed and placed the woebegone cake on the tray with twenty-three other failed attempts. At least it would be dark in the room.
She hoisted the tray and carried it into the living room, sliding it onto the last open patch of plastic tablecloth next to three heaping bowls of chips, a plate of barbeque wings and four huge boxes of pizza. Jake liked pizza. Maybe he would even like her cupcakes…as long as he didn’t look too closely at what he was eating.
Maybe, if he even came.
She knew he had gotten the invitation. She put one in every locker to be sure. Now Jake Flinders would have to know that she existed. She imagined him ringing her doorbell. She’d leave an exciting conversation to answer the door while everyone was still laughing at her great jokes. “Jake, you came alone?” she’d ask smoothly.
“I’m not alone now,” he’d reply with that confident smile.
Her mother came downstairs and stopped short next to the buffet table. “My goodness, Kara, how many people are you expecting?”
“Um, oh I don’t know,” Kara stuttered, “but what’s a party without lots of food?”
Or without Jake Flinders.
“Mm hm. Well, our movie won’t get out until after midnight. I trust that won’t be a problem?”
“Hm? Oh, no, no problem mom. Thanks.”
“Alright,” she said, taking Kara’s face in her hands and kissing her. “Happy Birthday, sweetheart.”
As soon as her mom and dad were out the door, Kara dimmed the lights and clicked the remote to get some music going.
A half an hour passed but no guests arrived. With no preparations left to occupy her, Kara perched on the couch and fixed on the front door, ready to spring at the first sound of a footstep. But the door stood silently at its post.
Nine o’clock…ten o’clock…eleven o’clock.
He could still come.
The last song on her mix CD faded out and left Kara with the ticking clock. Her eyes fell to the stained carpet beneath her feet.
Suddenly the doorbell sliced through the air. Kara leaped to her feet and skidded to the door. She touched the knob and exhaled. This was it.
She swung open the door. “Hi, thanks for…”
But Kara stopped short. She stood face to face with a lifesize blowup doll in a curly black wig. On its chest was a nametag scrawled with, “Hi My Name is LOSERella. Can I come to your ball?” Behind the doll, Kara’s lawn was a sea of fluttering white toilet paper.
Standing under the flood light in her front yard, Jake Flinders stooped to turn on the sprinklers and ran, laughing, to a van full of hysterical kids. The van tore down the street leaving Kara with the hissing sprinklers. A breeze carried a shower of droplets onto the porch where Kara stood.
Through the tangled strands of dull plastic hair, the dummy’s beady eyes stared out at her. She stared back as if at her own reflection. This is all she was to them.
Her heart seemed to beat in a hollow cage. She stared down the street, choking on the emptiness swelling in her chest.
“Oh God, why?” she whimpered. The empty expanse above swallowed her words. “I’m all alone. Aren’t you supposed to care? Are you even there at all?”
A cool breeze moved through the soggy yard, yet suddenly a golden warmth filled Kara and surrounded her.
“You have never been alone.” The voice was as compassionate as it was powerful.
She saw the last months since her family’s move replay in her memory: when her dad had said that they were moving, when she said goodbye to her best friends, when she stepped onto the new campus full of anxiety. She had never felt more alone in those moments, and yet He was there. She saw Him somehow now, as if a blindfold had been removed. Her heart swelled with the truth. There could never be a fearful moment again with Him beside her. Though there was still hurt, there was a greater strength. She stood, full of confidence and laughing at the absurdity of it.
She stooped to begin cleaning up the yard. All she could say was, “Thank You.”
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