After sneaking into Dani’s room, Alma and I crept up to her bed and started to sing Happy Birthday to You for her. We woke her every year like this since we had adopted her ― though she didn’t initially understand the lyrics ― and might continue into her adulthood.
Dani’s eyes blinked open shortly into the song, and the smile she gave us as she stretched, a thing of pure joy and obvious affection, warmed my heart each time. If she ever asked us to stop, we would, but this incredible sight still greeted us this year.
By my planet’s calendar, Dani would be born five years from today. Her biological parents weren’t even acquainted yet, and they had over a decade before they would die during the attack on their new world. Traveling through time and space certainly made birthdays interesting. In galaxies which lacked a galactic calendar, those who tracked age typically went by planet of origin. Dani was young enough not to complain about the switch when we adopted her.
“Thank you!” she exclaimed, standing up and hugging us both.
I dropped the spell I used to hide her present and said, “You are quite welcome. Here’s a little something from your mom and me.”
She lifted my arm and spun under it to the ornate box. Gasping after lifting the lid, she pulled out the sparkling, grey dress.
“I modified the design slightly from the original to better fit our planet’s views on modesty. I hope you don’t mind.” explained Alma apologetically.
“I love it! Thank you both!” exclaimed Dani as she hugged us each again. Then she turned back to the box and mumbled “But where’s the clue?”
Not seeing anything obvious, she carefully set her dress on the bed before lifting the box to examine its bottom. Dani had grown accustomed to our games over the years and knew she was missing something.
“Your grandparents will be arriving in twenty-seven minutes.” stated Mila after Dani plopped on the floor to thoroughly examine the box.
Dani nodded and tried singing, causing her dress to shift colors in spots. Alma smirked momentarily, smoothing out her features when Dani looked up.
“I’m missing something…” complained Dani with a frown. She caught sight of her dress and stood, mumbling “You modified the dress. Was that a clue?”
Dani started singing again and watched the shifting colors. “Mila, what are the English names for these precise colors?” she asked, pointing at one of the modified sections where the pattern repeated.
Mila replied and pointed out that the first letter of each color spelled out ‘labyrinth’.
“Mila, for shame. You gave away a hint.” teased Alma, knowing we hadn’t taught that word to Dani yet.
“Oh. Should I not tell her about convoluted paths meant to confuse those who dare enter such a place?” inquired Mila as she displayed the maze in my yard on the mirror by Dani.
“Obviously not.” stated Alma with a small smile. “Dani will get bored if you make this too easy.”
“Thanks, Mila!” exclaimed Dani as she darted toward the door.
Alma smoothly blocked her path and said, “Clothes first. Your grandparents will be here soon, and I’ve told you that your nightwear is not suitable for public viewing.”
Dani sighed dramatically and said, “Yes, mom.” Then she kissed her cheek and ran to her dresser as Alma and I departed.
Tomorrow Dani would meet up with her friends from school at the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce before spending a day with them to celebrate, but she was all ours today.
Alma and I had barely entered the front hall when Mila curtsied and informed us that Dani had ran out the back. Alma rolled her eyes and sighed, but she smiled when I laughed.
“Good morning!” exclaimed the twins in unison as they walked out of the ballroom.
“Ai was wondering if you had a specific time for giving Dani gifts.” stated Mai.
“There’s nothing written on the schedule, and Mila claimed not to know.” explained Ai.
“I actually told you that I couldn’t be certain when you’d be giving your gifts.” argued Mila.
Mai stuck out her tongue at Mila. Then she said, “We thought we should ask what you wished.”
“I wished for her to be as happy as possible.” teased Alma.
The twins glanced at one another hesitantly.
“She’ll be happy whenever you decide to present your gift.” I assured them. “We did mean what we said when we told everyone that they didn’t have to get Dani anything. Though part of our family, she’s not tied to the Slayer family.”
“I assure you that I don’t mind. We just wanted to celebrate our daughter’s birthday.” insisted Alma.
“As you say, Lady… er… Alma.” replied Ai.
Looking to Alma, I said, “I fear they’re getting even more formal now that you asked them to be informal.”
“I tried so hard to guide them well, and look what I’ve done to them.” replied Alma, pretending to be disheartened.
Ai and Mai looked even more confused, especially after we started laughing.
“Sorry. My joy of teasing you seems to have become contagious.” I explained still grinning.
“Mila, please inform our husband that we’re being mistreated by his friend.” ordered Ai.
“I’m your friend too.” I assured them.
“Yes, but we’re certain you’re to blame for her behavior.” insisted Mai as she pointed at Alma.
Alma’s face instantly became a mask as she inquired “Are you claiming that I am being manipulated by my husband?”
“Well… uh…” started Mai.
“N-no. Of course not.” asserted Ai.
Alma laughed and said, “Good. I’d hate to think we failed to fool you. James manipulates in the best of ways.”
The twins stared blankly at her as Jarod came jogging up from behind me. I ducked and leaned to the left, letting his punch pass over my shoulder as I grabbed his arm.
“I forfeit.” stated Jarod with a grin. “Sorry, my lovelies. I tried to avenge you.”
Ai and Mai hmphed as they turned their heads to look away from him.
“Mila said your folks are almost here, so I thought I should get up here.” explained Jarod as he stepped around to embrace Ai and Mai.
“Thank you. I doubt they’ll want to try chasing Dani down in the labyrinth, so we’ll be entertaining them for a bit.” I told him.
“What’s she doing?” he asked.
“Finding her birthday presents. We didn’t want to make things too easy on her.” replied Alma.
“She flipped over the hedges to go directly at the center, so she’s missed several clues.” stated Mila.
“She’ll figure it out soon enough.” I replied, confident in my daughter’s abilities.
We trained her well.