“Happy Birthday, Phillip. Happy Birthday. Wake up, honey. It’s your birthday,” Mrs. Aisling whispered louder and louder into Phillip’s ear while leaning over him. Phillip suddenly realized that he was in bed and just woke up. His eyes popped open and he sat up abruptly, almost knocking his mother in the nose with his head. He glanced around the room, half expecting the old man to be sitting there.
“Mom,” he said. “What time is it? Where is he?”
“Where is who, Phillip? Come on now, it is six-thirty and you’ve got to help me get ready for your party. You know we have a lot to do today. I’ve got to bake your cake and finish the laundry. We don’t want you wearing dirty clothes on your birthday now, do we? The yard also needs to be mowed and the trash taken out and the carpets swept. Hopefully your Aunt Delores will be here soon to help out.” Mrs. Aisling was a bit frazzled by what seemed to her as an overwhelming task to prepare for company. She was still wrapped in her bath robe and her hair was wet from the shower. In her mind it was difficult to make their meager, small-town home, which was in need of some repair, presentable to guests even if they were just family and children.
“Moomm!”,Phillip exclaimed. “Why did you wake me up?! I just fell asleep!”
“I told you, we’ve got a lot of work to do and you’ve been sleeping all … ”
“But Mom! I was just about to meet with—” But Phillip realized that he wasn’t exactly sure who he was about to meet. The figure sitting next to the fireplace seemed very intriguing, but he sadly hadn’t got a clear view of who it was.
“Meet with who, Phillip?” said his mother. But, without waiting for a response, she continued, “Come on, go shower; it will wake you up. I’m going to go wake up your brother.” And she turned out of his room and walked down the hall into his brother’s room. “Jeff, Jeff … Jeffery. Time to wake up,” he could hear her say.
Phillip lay in bed for a few more minutes, trying to fall back asleep, but all he could do was think about the dream he had just had. But, it didn’t feel like a dream at all. He could almost still feel the sun’s rays falling on his skin. The stillness of the hallway was still fresh in his mind and was unlike any dream he had ever experienced before because of how incredibly real it was. After a few minutes of lying there, he realized that it was useless to try to sleep anymore and inched out of bed.
His shower took longer than usual that morning. It didn’t help that his mother undoubtedly had a list of chores waiting for him, but he also couldn’t stop thinking about his strange dream. It wasn’t so much the content of the dream that was peculiar, because he had had stranger dreams before, but how vivid and real the whole experience had been. Never before had he felt so immersed in a dream. Not only did the visions that he had during the dream seem real, but also the feeling of the sun’s rays, the smell of the crisp air, and the sound of the old man’s voice. They all seemed so tangible. And what did the old man mean by starting training to be a lucid Dreamer? After mulling it over for nearly thirty minutes, Phillip noticed his skin was wrinkled like a prune, decided he was probably clean enough, and stepped out of the shower to towel off.
After quickly dressing into some old jeans and a T-shirt, Phillip scuttled down the stairs into the kitchen, where a plate of eggs, bacon, and toast was waiting for him. Jeff, his older brother by five years, was already sitting at the kitchen table, finishing the last few drops from his glass of orange juice.
“Mom’s in the basement doing the laundry. She’s made a list for us to do. Here’s your half.” Jeff tore a sheet of paper in two and slid it over to Phillip, who had sat down and started eating his now lukewarm breakfast.
“Great. I can’t wait,” Phillip replied sarcastically. His brother laughed with a smirk and pushed back from the table. He grabbed his chore list and walked out the door. Phillip slowly finished his breakfast, in no hurry to start his chores. At least today his mom had been kind enough to make the list short and sweet, maybe because it was his birthday. He was assigned the following: take out the garbage, dust the family room, sweep the sidewalk, weed the flowerbed in front of the house, and rake the leaves that were beginning to fall. Ugh, what a great birthday, he thought.
Phillip started by taking out the garbage, which was by far the easiest task, and then had just begun sweeping the sidewalk when he saw his Aunt Dee Dee’s car pulling into the driveway. He laid down the broom and strolled over to greet her. As she put the car into park, he approached her door and waited for her to step out. She often came by to help out Phillip’s mother ever since his mom and dad divorced. Dad now lived two states away and while he wasn’t a drunk or a criminal or anything like that, he still didn’t have much money to send to them. She made do with what they had and Phillip and Jeff didn’t really notice the financial difficulties.
“Aunt Dee Dee! Aunt Dee Dee!” Phillip called when she finally opened the car door and stepped out. Phillip had called her this since he first learned to speak and didn’t see any reason to stop now. She had a thin, frail frame and a gait as though she had been riding a horse for a century. Her bright red hair was as frizzy as always and had naturally big curls that stuck out on both sides of her face, giving her somewhat of a strangely horizontal-oval shaped head. Her thick, plastic framed glasses accented her squinted eyes and were much too large for her face. He couldn’t help but smile when noticing her lavender trousers that stopped a good three inches above her heeled tan shoes. Even with the heels, she still was much shorter than Phillip.
“Ooh, there’s my ornery birthday boy!” she said as she turned around back into the car to pull out a small wrapped present. She handed it to Phillip and he gave her a welcoming hug in return.
“Mom is in the basement, I think, doing the laundry,” said Phillip. “She seems to think we have lots to do.”
“Oh, does she now? Well, she shouldn’t worry because you know I’m here to help. Whatever I can do, I’m glad to make myself useful. You know, ever since my Jerry passed away I’ve been eager to get out and do whatever I can to help out the family and poor Emily, with you two young boys, well I just don’t know how she does it. She’s got her hands full, she does. I mean, raising two young boys all on her own, I mean you’re—”
“We’re both teenagers now,” Phillip interrupted. “We can take care of ourselves.”
“Oh, you’re right!” Aunt Dee Dee exclaimed. “Well imagine that. All grown up, already a teenager. Why, it seems like just last year I was wiping your bottom and changing your diaper. You were a squirter, I’ll tell you that. Always did have to stand off to the side a bit,” she said with a chuckle. “My, oh my, you youngins sure do grow up fast. Next thing you know you’ll be passing me on the highway in your car. Oh heavens, what a scary thought!”
“Oh yes, pretty soon I’ll—” Phillip started.
“Well, I’d better go see if your mother needs help. She’s for sure needing a hand and well, that is what I’m here for, isn’t it? She said she needs some help baking your cake. Say, what kind of cake do you want this year anyway? My favorite has always been yellow with white icing. I don’t suppose you’ve chosen that, have you?”
“No, Aunt Dee Dee, I asked for chocolate.”
“Oooh, yes! I almost forgot about you and your sweet tooth. Always wanting more chocolate,” she said with a giggle. “Well, chocolate is OK by me, too. I’ve never been one to turn down chocolate, especially dark chocolate. Well, for that matter, I don’t really turn down any cake. I could use some meat on my bones anyway. Never was one to gain any weight.”
“Yes, I know, Aunt Dee Dee,” Phillip tried to interject, but she hardly seemed to notice.
“I’ve always been just a hundred and ten pounds ever since I was, well, probably about your age now, Phillip. You’re what now, fifteen?”
“Thirt—“ Phillip began.
“My mother always tried to get me to eat more but I guess I just don’t have the stomach for it. Well, unless it is cake, that is,” she continued, unfazed. “Well, your mother hasn’t got anything to worry about because I love to help out in the kitchen and I must say so myself that I am an outstanding baker. Just this morning I was looking through my recipe book and I saw some of my old recipes for cakes that my company just raved about and so I just had to bring them along. I’m sure your mother will be delighted to have a helping hand in the kitchen.”
“Yes, Aunt Dee Dee,” Phillip apathetically agreed. He started to back away from her as she continued talking. She didn’t hesitate and walked forward as he walked backward towards his broom. “Well, back to sweeping for me, I guess,” Phillip stated as he picked up the broom and started to sweep the sidewalk again. It suddenly didn’t seem so bad after all.
“All right then, Mr. Ornery. You get those chores done and I’ll make you a delicious cake that you’ll just love. Where is your mother at, Phillip?” she asked.
“In the basement doing laundry,” he repeated while pointing in the direction of the front door. Aunt Dee Dee certainly was kooky in her own charming way.
“OK, well, I will go look for her then,” Aunt Dee Dee said as she wandered off toward the front porch stairs, still talking the entire way. Her voice continued for a while until finally fading out as she opened the front door and entered the house. However, seconds later, Phillip heard a screeching yell. “EMILY! Emily, where are you?!” Phillip just shook his head and continued his sweeping.
Chores around the Aisling house were commonplace and Phillip was used to executing the tasks efficiently. After finishing the sidewalk, which pushed all the leaves and dirt into the yard, he then began the hardest task, weeding the soggy flowerbed in front of the porch. After finishing the weeding, he began raking all the leaves and pulled weeds into small piles. He didn’t mind the task that much and it went rather quickly because his mind was preoccupied with the extraordinary dream from that night. Why had it seemed so real? Where was this place? He had never in his life been to any building that reminded him of this luxurious mansion, he was sure of that. Nor could he recall any movie or video game or anything that would have provided some sort of basis for this dream. How had his mind suddenly just concocted such a place if he had never experienced something similar? It all seemed very surreal to Phillip, very surreal indeed.
Finally, on to my last chore, dusting the family room, thought Phillip. He put away the broom and the rake and went inside.
“Phillip!” called his mother. “Here, take these clothes up to your room and put on something clean. Your friends should start getting here any moment now and you need to get ready.”
“But I haven’t dusted the family room yet.” Phillip nearly stopped halfway through the sentence because he wasn’t sure why he was admitting this.
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll have Aunt Delores do it. Just go on and get cleaned up.” Phillip didn’t argue and took the stack of freshly folded clothing up to his room. He picked out his favorite outfit, a pair of blue jeans and a green T-shirt, and changed into it. Just then, he heard another car pulling up in front of the house. He looked out his bedroom window and saw it was actually two cars, his Aunt Penny’s old, red VW bus and Cynthia’s dad’s black SUV, which was dropping her off at the end of the driveway. Phillip speedily ran out of the bedroom, down the stairs, and out the door to greet them both.
“Aunt Penny! Hi!” he welcomed her as she walked up the sidewalk. She stopped to set down several brown paper bags and then embraced Phillip with a warm hug. She had an aging but friendly face that was crowned with a bun of compact graying brown hair. Her spectacles were small and modest and she wore a long blue jean skirt with a casual white blouse.
“Oohh, happy birthday Mr. Teenager! You’re getting tall, now, aren’t you? And, my, aren’t you handsome? Those stunning eyes must be from your father.“
“Yup, already five-foot seven,” Phillip said, beaming.
“Why yes, you’re just as tall as me!” she said, astonished. “Where is your mother? I’ve got to bring her these groceries to make lunch.”
“She is in the kitchen with Aunt Dee Dee baking the cake. I’ll come in soon,” said Phillip as he strode towards Cynthia.
Cynthia’s dad had already pulled away and she was plodding through the grass towards the house. She wore a sea-green jumper with a knitted white sweater overtop. A straw sunhat shaded her round, plump, rosy cheeks that matched her round figure. Phillip noticed that she wasn’t the most graceful in a dress, as she seemed to be walking uncomfortably across the lawn. Upon noticing Phillip was watching and waiting for her, she seemed to give up trying to be ladylike and her face lit up with a giant smile. She began to run and her hat fell off behind her revealing two pigtails of straight, long, light-brown hair on each side of her head, which were held in place by two matching hot-pink hair bobbles. She slowed briefly, considering picking up her hat, but then resumed waddling towards Phillip, making him smile even wider. Upon reaching him, she pulled a giant present with white polka-dotted, teal blue wrapping paper and a white ribbon from behind her back.
“Happy biirrrthday!” she belted with a singsong-y voice. Cynthia had a powerful voice and she was one of the best singers that Phillip knew. Phillip took the present and nearly dropped it because it was heavier than it looked. He quickly recovered it by using both hands.
“Thanks Cynthia! Wow, what the heck is this? It’s so heavy!” Phillip said.
“It’s a surprise, of course,” she replied. “I picked it out yesterday at the mall. You said you liked it, but I hope no one else got it for you. I can’t wait for you to open it!” Her smile never seemed to quit as always and she spoke faster than anyone Phillip knew. He still couldn’t think of what she might think he wanted for his birthday. He knew for certain that he didn’t ask for anything in particular.
“Do you know when Jack is coming?” Phillip asked. “He should be here by now I think. Maybe I should text him.”
“Hmmm, well, on Friday he said he was coming, so I’m sure he’ll be here. Fashionably late, I guess. Oh, well who is this?” Cynthia turned around to pick up her hat and noticed a car coming to a stop along the street in front of Phillip’s house. It was his Aunt Laverne’s station wagon and much to Phillip’s dismay, his Aunt Meredith was sitting in the passenger seat. Four of his cousins were sitting in the back seats.
“Oh, that is my aunts and cousins,” Phillip said. The passengers of the car started piling out, first Laverne’s son Carl, who was Jeff’s age, followed by his twin sisters Paige and Pam, who were three years younger than Phillip. Carl ran inside the house after barely acknowledging Phillip and Cynthia standing there in the yard. The twins stood outside the car waiting for their mother, who was discussing some seemingly important topic with Aunt Meredith. Shortly, Aunt Laverne opened the driver seat door and Phillip could then hear their conversation.
“Well, I’m just saying that he’ll never grow up if you don’t stop babying him, Meredith,” Laverne asserted. Phillip now noticed his cousin Floyd was still sitting in the back seat with his seatbelt fastened, arms crossed, and obviously pouting.
“Well, cake isn’t good for him. I’ve brought him some granola bars for dessert instead. I just don’t want him to be awake all night with a bellyache,” Aunt Meredith responded as if she knew she was right. Floyd was her only child and she was intent upon “raising him right”, whatever that meant. She popped open the creaky passenger door and planted both feet on the ground. Her first attempt to maneuver out of the seat failed as she slumped back down with a plop. Her head popped up and she finally noticed Phillip standing there.
“Phillip! Don’t just stand there! Come on over here and help your Auntie up. I just don’t know what it is. I think it is that mattress on your guestroom bed Laverne, but I’ve got a crick in my back today.” Phillip lumbered over to her, thinking, Just today? He took her by the arm and when she appeared ready, he gave a strong tug. “Oooh, not so hard, Phillip!” she cried. “I don’t want my arm out of its socket, too.” She stood to her feet, the tallest of his aunts, an inch taller than Phillip. “Now, can you hand me my umbrella, dear?” she asked. “Oh, and there is an envelope for you there next to it, too. Happy birthday, dear.” She snatched the umbrella from Phillip and opened it wide to reveal a rather ugly flowered, dark blue umbrella, even though the day couldn’t have been sunnier. Aunt Meredith always used an umbrella to protect herself from the sun, even if the house was just a few steps away. Her hair was piled up high, forming a beehive held in place with loads of hairspray. She held the umbrella high over her head, probably overcompensating for the height of her hairdo because she wasn’t quite sure just how high it extended. She turned and limped slowly for the front door. “Oh, this grass is so long it’s going to start seeding soon,” she muttered to herself. “My, my, I better get inside and sit down before my allergies start acting up.”
Aunt Laverne was already halfway up to the house by this time, carrying a plastic container in one hand and a green, wrapped present in the other, with Paige and Pam clinging to her flowered dress. They wore a miniature version of it and looked identical except for Paige having a pink ribbon in her hair and Pam a purple one. The three of them disappeared inside the house and Aunt Meredith soon followed. Floyd still sat grumpily in the car, arms crossed.
“PHILLIP!” Mrs. Aisling called out the front door. “Come on, lunch is ready!”
“Oh, good. I’m starving,” remarked Cynthia and the two of them walked inside. Phillip looked back over his shoulder again to see if Jack would come down the street, but there was still no sign of him. He only lived two blocks away, so Phillip wasn’t sure why he hadn’t arrived yet. I’m sure he’ll be here soon, Phillip thought as he closed the door and joined Cynthia in line to make a lunch plate.