Ribbons of bright early morning air filtered through the window into Kieren's room, twisting around him and trying to pull him out of sleep and into the day. He really, really wished they wouldn't. Kieren had never been a morning person and just wanted to bury himself further into the duvet. The only problem was, he had a sister.
A loud, persistent knock knock knock came from the door.
"Oh little brother!" she sung through the cracks. "It is a very special day today for one of us and it sure as shit ain't me so get out here now please thank youuu"
Resigning himself to the fact that he was not getting back to sleep now, Kieren pushed off the covers and stood up, blurry eyed and still in that tired morning daze.
Wrapped in an old and fraying dressing gown, he padded downstairs and into the lounge. He had barely entered when a loud chorus of voices shouted "SURPRISE!", and his parents, Jem, Amy, Philip and Simon all jumped out, adorned with huge grins, cardboard party hats and pulling on the strings of party poppers, filling the air with colour. They were hardly synchronised - Amy, obviously too exited for her own good had started about two seconds before anyone else and was giggling so much she could hardly speak. She had pulled Philip up with her but he looked rather out of place and flashed Kieren a 'sorry about this' glance. The other walkers were all pretty well timed to each other and Simon, although he obviously wanted to be part of this was a bit nervous. He still wasn't used to the idea of belonging and having a family that would celebrate birthdays.
"What are you all doing here?" Kieren asked bemusedly.
"We, my sleepy eyed friend, are here because it is somebody's birthday. Now. Would you like cake or presents first?" Amy replied as she skipped over, grabbed him by the shoulders and pushed him onto the sofa.
Before long - stuffed with birthday cake and now also wearing a party hat (his had been wrapped with silver foil and, according to Amy, was his 'birthday crown') - Kieren was presented with a pile of four gifts all wrapped carefully and a stack of cards. He picked up the box on the top. Written in glitter on the paper were the words 'TO MY BDFF'
"It's from me too" Philip added. "We got it for you together".
Inside was a bright red ukulele and someone had written all over it with a black sharpie. The whole thing was covered in quotes about happiness and love and life: "for every dark night there is a brighter day", "You're smile looks adorable you should wear it more often and "Life is short, smile while you still have teeth" ran along one edge. After strumming some out of tune chords, making everyone laugh, he turned to Amy.
"Thanks guys this.. this is great! But... why did you choose it exactly?"
"I heard once that it's impossible to feel sad while you are playing one of those things and so I figured it couldn't hurt."
"Yeah... Thanks. I love it!" Kieren smiled, leaning over the coffee table to hug his friend.
Next was his dad's gift. As the wrapping paper fell away it was revealed to be a blu-ray box set of all 10 seasons of 'FRIENDS'. The show had been a family favourite and never failed to get laughs out of everyone. They tried it out, watching Kieren's favourite episode (the one where Ross whitens his teeth) before returning to the presents. Sue had brought him an expensive art set - a few small canvases, new paints and brushes and a sketchpad. When he got to Jem's, he found that it was a CD. She had made him a mixtape not unlike the one he once made her - full of heavy metal. "Figured it was about time I returned the favour" she grinned. Kieren couldn't help but notice - Simon hadn't got him anything. He wasn't cross exactly, he just wondered why. Maybe he just couldn't find the right thing, no one else was mentioning it. He moved on to the cards, laughing at the words and sentiments written inside them. Finally he picked the last one up. His name was written in Simon's familiar scrawl. Was it just him or did everyone seem suddenly more attentive? An anticipative hush seemed to suddenly fill the room and everyone was looking intently at the thing in his hand. He opened the envelope carefully, and drew the card out. As he opened it, something fell out onto his lap. They were... tickets? for what? Kieren picked them up and read them, disbelief and excitement filling him with ever word.
"Paris?" he finally managed to say. "Paris? We're going to PARIS?"
"Yup. I figured you deserved it" Simon said as everyone else's faces broke into blinding smiles.
"You all knew?". Nodding. "But... How.. How can we go? We still haven't got our passports back"
"Let's just say you are going to have to teach me how to use that cover up mousse properly. We may not be travelling completely legally"
"And you're ok with that?" he asked his parents. They looked at each other before his mum spoke.
"Not entirely. But Simon's right. You deserve it. You deserve a break from this place and Paris was always your dream so yes. It's fine. You can go".
He caught Simon's smiling eyes. They were actually going. This was, without a doubt, the best birthday ever.