AN: I hope this isn't how things really are, but it's how I see stuff right now (minus the slight exaggeration I use here to prove a point). It's my little sister's birthday today.

It's evening, and the sky's becoming dark or at least dull without the sun; we're walking up to my Dad's house, my sister and me and the last few of her friends. It's the time of the day where things are settling down. The presents have been opened and the games have been played down at Mom's, and if it were a normal day this would be the point where Naomi'd read a book and I'd go write on the computer.

But when we get there, it's not like that at all. There are these balloons, green and yellow and purple, and inside the house there are streamers on the ceiling and music on the radio like it's supposed to be a big party; but there is no party because it's getting dark and all the guests except the sleepover friends have gone home. Dad's standing there with this smile on his face, all alone; there's no Mom, 'cause she's at the other house, so it's just him alone who says hello and "happy birthday." You can tell he thinks it's supposed to be something special, a whole celebration all over again; we've done that, though. We had the party, we opened the presents, we ate the cake. You can't do that again. He doesn't know that, so he's standing there with this happy, nervous smile on his face 'cause he's waiting to see what we think.

My sister and her friends immediately start playing with the balloons, starting a game of "how long can you keep it in the air." They're little, so they don't know how funny it is. It's all wrong, though, and Dad doesn't notice; he thinks he's done everything, and he has, but this isn't how it's supposed to work. You don't have parties when the guests are gone and the party's been had already. You can say "happy birthday," but you don't set up streamers and balloons and music, not when it's getting dark. You have parties in the daytime, not at night.

They move onto opening the guest favors, which I watch for a minute before going to get my computer.

I see it, then.

Presents. Wrapped in all sorts of paper, piled in the corner of the room because they haven't been noticed; lots and lots of presents. More than Mom got, even, and she's remarried with a bigger house and has more money. He can't buy that many presents. He's trying so hard to make things work when they can't, to make her happy and give her a good birthday, but it's not working at all. Everything is lonely. Lonely and dark and broke, and I feel sorry for him. I really do; I just imagine him standing there, with that hopeful smile on his face, setting up a big party atmosphere in the evening by himself in the little house for the people who've already left.

There's a balloon by my computer, bright green with a pink ribbon; it's sitting there, without anyone to play with it, like it was a happy balloon earlier that day that, in the excitement of the celebration, was knocked to the side during a game and forgotten. But there wasn't any balloon game, and there weren't people to play it; just my sister and her three friends who are left, and four people don't make a party. That's not how it works.

Dad doesn't know that, though. I can't make myself look at him; I just set down my computer bag, set my things up, and hide myself in front of the screen.