When I first began to stir, I knew something was wrong. There was no light in the room aside from a faint, glittering silver that poured in from yet another wrong incident—a window. I started, gasping wildly in fear. The scents in the room were unfamiliar, and far too rich to belong to the facility. The room was warm and not icy cold to my exposed skin.
Most importantly, when I fell from the bed, carpet met my hands and knees.
Suddenly, I could recall where I was and how I had gotten there as the previous day returned to me. I sighed and shuddered, pushing myself from the floor slowly. I glanced around the room on a cautious impulse, shaking my head.
“Silly old fool,” I muttered to myself, pausing. I looked around the room again. What did I do with myself, now that I was rested and felt prepared to face another few hours of a free life?
The envelope on the desk caught my attention. I had yet to open the package, so I snatched it up and sat on the bed before peeling back the sealed flap carefully. The mystery was suddenly intense to me when I pulled the contents out and spread them on the bed. I frowned then, realizing that I had yet to turn on the light.
I stood and did so, relishing that it was my own whim that lit the room and not the procedures of others that left me forever without power. I returned to the bed and the papers there, frowning when I saw a small black rectangle. Lifting it from the bed, I inspected it curiously.
My name had been printed in raised silver lettering on it, just above several sets of four numbers. A photo of myself sat in the upper right corner. The only other decoration were the words “No expiration,” which made my frown deepen. What was this? The card was thick and felt like plastic.
Confounded, I set it aside and forgot it when I saw the next papers in the stack. A birth certificate proclaiming unknown parentage—though stating Mr. William C. Lawrence and Mrs. Eleanor V. Lawrence as my adoptive human parents—and in bold lettering stating my species: Demon. Attached by a paper clip was a red social security card with my full name, my species again and a single digit: 1.
I laughed quietly to myself and shook my head, too amused to be disturbed by the clear distinguishing that I was not human. I felt giddy and triumphant, like those who had treated me poorly had lost what was a long and tolling battle. The thought that the war was still raging did not bother me, either. Knowing that I was a person lifted my spirits too far for me to care.
Sifting through the remaining papers, I found my thoughts straying too far to care about the finely printed wording. It was a Christmas morning and I was seven, unable to consolidate my scattered focus long enough to finish reading a sentence.
First to distract me was the sky that was paling outside. I had not realized how long I had been awake until I saw the broad and beautiful rainbow spreading its wings from the horizon. I smiled. The sun should be risen in less than an hour, the first dawn I would witness since my liberation.
After a moment, I collected the papers and replaced them on the desk before turning the light off. Again, I returned to the bed to happily and patiently watch the sunrise blossom warmly in greeting to the world and day to come.
It could not have been more than twenty minutes later that the sun first peeked over the horizon. Its golden light flitted across the sprawling land beneath the sky and touched my face. A quiet laugh escaped me, tears of the most precious joy filling my eyes. My palm pressed against the window as the sunlight began to slowly warm my face.
The gnawing hunger in my gut did nothing to spoil the morning. It only made me smile broadly and leave to tidy myself in the bathroom before I ventured downstairs.
The vivid red reflection in the mirror did not startle me. What did surprise me was the size of the room and how I did not need to keep my wings tight to my body. My tail even had space to curl around the air. I noticed these things while I washed my face and rinsed my mouth, then stared helplessly into the mirror and mulled over the predicament of clothing. I had only that single pair of shorts, and this was no issue to me from my upbringing. The scars were what made me shift nervously, but I had no shirt to cover at least most of them with.
I sighed, turning to leave when I started. Bailey was staring at me sleepily. She yawned widely and raised one eyebrow at me, as though this was an ordinary morning and I had lived there years.
She pointed behind me. “You done?”
“Ah, yes,” I mumbled awkwardly, shimmying past her easily. The door slammed behind her with a startlingly loud bang that made me jump again. I sighed quietly and shook my head, thinking it must just be me and my erratic nerves. I made my way through the study and the remaining hall. Downstairs, I could smell the richness of breakfast being prepared and wandered into the kitchen to see if I might be of assistance.
Oddly, it was Robert I found in the kitchen, spatula in hand. He turned when he heard the light scratching of my claws on the cool tile floor. He smiled and—like Bailey—created the illusion that this was a morning of no coincidence.
“Good morning, Cory. How would you like your eggs?” he asked naturally, turning back to the skillet to rearrange strips of bacon.
“I have no preference. Is there anything I might assist with?” I asked, gazing around the large kitchen for the first attentive time. Everything was rich wood, polished stone or unnervingly bright metal. It was a room from a science fiction novel, making me smile with the childlike wonder and curiosity I had when reading such pieces.
“Get out some fruit?” He motioned to a monstrous silver icebox. Controlled by the practices my mother had drilled into me—and the thought that it may be punishable to smudge anything so pristine—I washed my hands before touching the appliance.
I paused when I approached it and took a step back. “Ah, Robert?”
“Yeah?” He turned and smirked at my confusion. “The right one's the fridge, left one's the freezer.”
“Of course,” I muttered, opening the right door.
“Sorry, I just realized that this must be something out of a science fiction story for you,” said Robert, catching my previous thoughts. Then he added, “Grapes are in the top drawer with the strawberries. Could you pull those out and wash them?”
“Yes.” I did as instructed, running water into the sink. “Fruit with breakfast?”
He nodded. “Not all too uncommon. Why, what would you have?”
“When fortune would allow? Applesauce, from Katelyn's orchard.” I smiled, suddenly yearning for the ambrosial treat. Was the orchard still there? Had the recipe survived the years? I examined all that was being prepared. “No potatoes?”
A snicker from behind me made me glance over my shoulder. Bailey was yawning again as she retrieved a glass from a cupboard. “That word's funny when someone like you says it. Heh, potatoes.”
“Don't mind her. She's always this loose until she has breakfast,” commented Robert offhandedly.
She went to the icebox, placing the cup into an indentation in the door and pressing a button. Water began to pour into the cup. I frowned. Science fiction, indeed.
Bailey's eyes widened suddenly and she grinned at her father, chirping, “Hash browns! Cheesy hash browns!”
“Your hips are going to end up as big as your head if you keep up with the cheese obsession,” stated Vanessa, entering the kitchen to mimic her sister and get water.
“Girls, it's too early for this sort of thing,” sighed Robert. “Go ahead and make hash browns, Bailey.”
“Wheee!” squealed Bailey, the high sound of glee making me both smile and wince as I rinsed the strawberries.
“Mommy, Mommy, Lisa is after me!” I screeched with laughter, hurrying to one side of Mother to evade my little sister's grinning face.
She laughed cutely, round cheeks puffing with her grin. “Mommy! Cory tickled me, Mommy! Tickle him back for me!”
“No fair! No fair!” I giggled when Mother whirled on me to capture me in a hug and tickle me. I squirmed chaotically before eventually collapsing into a fit of gasped laughter. “Air! I need air!”
“And Lisa...” Mother turned to my sister. “Needs to be tickled, too!”
“Ah! No! Help me, Cory—Ha-ha!”
Bailey materialized on my left, setting two large bowls on the counter. “Here ya go, someplace to put the fruits. Ooh, grape. Snatched!” she giggled as she popped a grape into her mouth and grinned.
“Okay, okay, out of the kitchen, girls! Go clean rooms, shower, etcetera. You know what day it is!” he called after them as they left the room, tromping up the stairs loudly. Robert was laughing quietly to himself, shaking his head.
I frowned slightly. “What day is it? I seem to have lost track.”
“The ninth,” he replied absently. He found a large plate and moved the bacon from the pan to the plate. He placed a new set of bacon to cook, coming to the sink to rinse his hands.
“Of which month, again?” I asked, stepping aside to provide him room. July could not have come and gone already, could it? Was it the day I thought it was?
“August. The summer's going by quickly,” he commented, speaking my thoughts.
I nodded. “Yes, indeed.”
Through the remainder of the meal's preparation, I thought silently. There was nothing particularly significant about aging another year, not anymore. It felt right that I should not be contained any longer on my birthday, however. I considered the title of the day, and also found that it was apt. The birth of something new, as well as a celebration of surviving another year. A perfect gift and I could ask for nothing more.
Breakfast was a quiet and somewhat awkward affair. Vanessa refused to acknowledge my presence while Bailey spoke endlessly with a flawlessly chipper attitude. Robert had been right, as well. After a few minutes, she began to calm down and speak in a much more controlled manner. Anne was absent.
“She's shopping,” explained Robert when I asked if she was well. I glanced at the window and the post-dawn light that glowed outside.
Vanessa voiced my question unintentionally, “This early? She normally waits until noon.”
“She's picking some things up for Cory,” he replied, narrowing his eyes at her when she began to protest. She sighed sharply but said nothing.
I was blushing with embarrassment and guilt, feeling myself an impedance. “What for? I am not in any desperate need of anything, and I can acquire things myself so as to not burden your family further.”
“Oh, no, don't worry about it. Besides, you do need some things to go into stores to, well, get what you'd need. Shirt and shoes, for example.”
“Ah.” I glanced down at myself, blushing deeper. I abruptly felt incredibly awkward and somewhat ashamed of my scars. I wanted some way to cover them so that no one could see.
Bailey rolled her eyes. “What Dad's not saying is that we get compensated for whatever money we spend on you or whatever, so it's really nothing. Oh, and before it gets really weird, you're his only patient right now, so he's staying home to be available 'round the clock for ya! Feel special,” she added, voice commanding.
Robert was shaking his head slowly in disapproval. “Bailey...”
“What? Better just get it out there now rather than dance around the subject for weeks and dramatize the situation,” she defended herself, making me laugh. They all looked at me, startled.
I quieted myself and smiled apologetically, mumbling, “Wisdom worth holding onto.”
There was an odd silence that made me uncomfortable. I had spoken out of turn, and I cursed myself for it. I averted my eyes shamefully, so that they knew I was remorseful.
“Can I make a protest?” asked Vanessa, voice sounding particularly loud in the quiet. “About being fully dressed before coming downstairs.”
“Vanessa,” sighed Robert tiredly. “Not now. You know why today is an exception.”
I glanced up to see Vanessa glaring at her plate. I looked at my own empty one, mumbling again, “Please excuse me.”
No one protested when I stood to clean my dish, in an attempt to escape the bristling atmosphere. It followed me to the kitchen, however. After setting aside my clean plate to dry, I cleaned the skillet and spatula, as well as the baking pan for the hash browns. It was only once I was finished that anyone entered after me, but I was evasive and so crept upstairs shyly.
I retreated to the room I had been allowed to use, wanting to hide away from the alien people and the sharp hostility that at least Vanessa exuded. When the door closed behind me, I slid to the floor in relief.
How long had I lasted this time? An hour? Two? Glancing out the window, I wondered if today would be as overwhelming and twisting as yesterday. Time was dragging hideously. Would the day ever end? How much longer until I could sleep again? I groaned, closing my eyes against the world tiredly.
“Has it always been this difficult to be with people?” I wondered aloud. I was surprised to feel hot tears rolling down my face, even more so when I began to shake with sobs. I was clueless to the reason why I was crying, but I felt the need to release myself. I cradled my head in my hands, at the very least keeping myself quiet. I was uncertain that I would be able to answer if anyone asked me what was wrong.