Short Story of the Day
Best Birthday Ever
It started out as an ordinary evening in the Ihle household. Sam got off of work at exactly 5:00PM, picked Martha up at her office at 5:30, then drove them home, where the kids were waiting. They'd been home since 3:30PM that afternoon after school. Only the three oldest siblings—Sam Jr., Caitlyn, and Kayla—had house keys. They had the whole house to themselves until their parents came home. Sam Jr. was upstairs in his room doing his homework, Caitlyn and Kayla were in the kitchen getting the table ready for dinner. Tonight was Korean Night and they were having traditional Korean food, which Martha missed so much. It was their little surprise for her. Amy was in her room, tutoring Karina, but Karina would much prefer to talk to her friends about boys. Louie was downstairs in the man cave playing video games, which he very well knew he wasn't supposed to do—not on a school night, anyway. As soon as Sam and Martha pulled into the driveway and honked, Sam Jr. closed his textbooks, ran downstairs, and into the man cave to warn his stubborn little brother and make him turn his Xbox off. Before he could reach the basement, however, all the lights went out. The girls screamed and Sam Jr. swore internally when he almost fell down the basement stairs. Louie screamed and swore out loud in frustration because he hadn't saved his game yet. And because he stubbed his toe against the coffee table.
When Martha and Sam heard the girls screaming, quickly rushed inside, fumbling for their keys and nearly dropping them in their haste to open the door. Sam's hand immediately flew to handle of his pistol, ready to fire at any intruder. Martha flipped the light switch on to no effect. The house remained dark.
"Power outage," Sam said, breathing a sigh of relief and putting his pistol back in his pocket.
"Mom? Dad?" Amy called out from the top of the stairs.
"It's us, sweetheart," Martha answered.
"Oh, thank God," Amy said. "We thought it was an intruder."
"No, baby girl," Sam assured her. "It's just us. We came in as soon as we heard you screaming."
"I think there's a citywide blackout, Dad," Sam Jr. said.
"Yes, something about shutting off the power during fire season," Sam recalled. "That must be it. A little warning would've been nice though."
Sam was right. It was fire season and the mayor of Los Angeles announced that there will be power outages in an attempt "to cool the system" and prevent even more fires. He didn't say when, only that it would happen.
"What are we gonna do with the food, Dad?" Kayla asked.
"We'll eat outside on the patio," Sam suggested. "Sam, Amy, help your sisters bring the food and set the table outside. Louie, Karina, go look for flashlights, candles, and lamps. Go!"
"On it!" Sam Jr. said.
"Roger, roger!" Louie said. "Come on, Karina. Let's go look for those candles."
"And matches too," Sam added. "To light the candles with."
"Got it, Dad," Karina said.
When everything had been gathered, the table set and ready for dinner, and the lamps and candles lit, they all went out to the backyard to eat under the light of the moon and the stars, their food and faces glowing in the light of the flickering candles scattered across the table. They joined hands and Sam said grace.
"Lord, we thank you for this bountiful food that you have blessed us with," Sam prayed. "We thank you for family around us, stars above us, and the rare opportunity to appreciate it. Amen."
"Amen," they all said in chorus.
Sam was right. It was a rare opportunity. Living in LA made it nearly impossible to see the stars every night. All they could see were the city lights. Tonight, however, thanks to blackout, the stars shown brightly down on them.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" Sam said, looking up at the stars. "This is a rare sight in LA. But of course, there's nothing or nobody more beautiful than the woman sitting next to me."
"Aaaawww…" the girls cooed in unison. Sam Jr. chuckled.
"Ew," Louie said, making a face. "Gross."
"Just you wait, young man," Martha said with a laugh. "Someday, you'll meet a girl who will change your mind. Then you won't say 'ew'."
"I doubt it," Louie said, rolling his eyes. Everyone at the table laughed.
"Anyway," Martha said. "The food looks wonderful! And it smells wonderful too! How did you guys know I was missing Korean food? Whose idea was this?"
"It was Caitlyn and Karina," Amy pointed out. "Mostly."
"Awww," Martha said. "Thank you, girls. This is lovely!"
"How'd you make the kimchi so perfectly?" Sam asked. "It's so good!"
"I researched how to make them and then instructed Caitlyn and Kayla," Amy answered.
"It was a surprise for mom so we had to ferment it out of sight," Caitlyn said.
"We didn't want you guys to see it until it was time to take it out," Kayla added.
"What did we do to deserve such great children?" Martha asked.
"We're really lucky, aren't we?" Sam said with a smile.
"That we are," Martha said.
They passed the time eating, talking, and laughing, swapping stories of the day's events. After dinner, Sam Jr. got up to go back inside.
"Where are you going?" Sam asked.
"We'll be right back," Sam Jr. said. "We have another surprise for Mom. Girls? Shall we?"
The girls all got up and followed Sam into the kitchen. When they came back out, they were carrying a chocolate cake with sparklers. Around the edges of the cake were seashell and seahorse-shaped chocolates. On the icing was written "생일 축하 해요". Happy birthday. Sam Jr., Caitlyn, Kayla, Amy, Louie, and Karina all sang Happy Birthday in English, then Karina sang it in Korean afterwards. Martha blushed and teared up. She closed her eyes, made a wish, and blew out the sparklers on her cake.
"Happy birthday, Mom!" all the kids said in chorus.
"Happy birthday, nae sarang," Sam said, kissing Martha's forehead.
"You guys are making me cry," Martha said with a shaky laugh, swiping at her wet eyes. "This is quite the throwback. Seashells and seahorses?"
"I told the kids the story of our 3rd grade Christmas party," Sam said. "Remember the gift you gave me?"
"The seashells and seahorses soap set," Martha recalled with a smile. "I was so nervous you wouldn't like it."
"Are you kidding me?" Sam said, kissing Martha. "I loved it!"
"Not to ruin this perfect moment, but…" Kayla interrupted. "Where are we all gonna sleep? It's going to be too hot to sleep tonight, what with the power outage and all."
"Yeah, and we can't leave the windows open," Amy said. "Anyone can just climb up the side of the house and cut the screen up or remove it and come in through the window."
"Tell you what," Sam said, an idea suddenly forming in his head. "Your mom and I will clear the table and do the dishes. The rest of you, take out the tents and sleeping bags from the garage and set up camp. We're having a campout in the backyard tonight."
The kids let out excited whoops and cheers, scrambling to retrieve the necessary gear from the garage, while Sam and Martha did the dishes for them. Sam Jr. delegated the tasks.
"Cait, Kayla, you two take the 4-person tent for the girls to sleep in," Sam Jr. instructed. "Amy, Karina, you guys take the tent Mom and Dad are going to sleep in. Louie and I will take out the other 2-person tent that we'll be sleeping in. We'll also take care of the sleeping bags and the tarps for the ground."
"Aye, aye, Captain!" Karina said.
And off they went, working to set up their campsite in the backyard for their impromptu camping trip. First, Sam Jr. rolled out the three tarps, laying them flat on the ground. This provided a cushion between the ground and the floor of the tent. Next, he taught his siblings how to set up the tent by connecting the poles then raising it. Finally, he taught them how to drive the tent pegs into the ground. When that was done, they set up their sleeping bags inside the tents, then they stepped back to admire their work.
"Now, who's ready for some s'mores?" Sam asked, as he and Marth emerged from the kitchen, carrying trays of ingredients. "How about banana boat s'mores?"
The kids let out another round of delighted cheers. Sam lit the firepit and gathered the children together for s'mores and a round of ghost stories.
"Alright," Sam said, taking his place in the circle. "This story happened in a sleepy little beach town in North Carolina called Sunset Point Harbor…"
As Sam droned on, Martha smiled to herself. Authentic, homemade Korean food, chocolate cake, and impromptu camping trip with her husband and children, s'mores, and ghost stories around the campfire? What more could she ask for? She had everything she could ever want right there in thar Los Angeles backyard.