A voice startled me as I stirred from my sleep. Blinking my eyes, I focused on Sonia, dressed in a strappy red dress with white swirl patterns. She clicked her tongue and murmured something in Mexsimi, probably along the lines of “pathetic.” I eased over onto my side, tucking my arm beneath my pillow as I yawned. I was pathetic. I had been in bed for days, barely eating, mostly sleeping. I probably smelled like something died in here.
“Are you going to sleep all day, chica loca?”
“Whooo’s a craazzy chick?” I yawned, stretching my arms and nearly hitting the bed frame.
“You, senorita,” Sonia smirked. “Come on. You’re going to miss all the fun.”
“What fun?” I itched my nose, swinging my legs over the side of the bed. I blinked a few times, trying to gain my bearings. “You look nice…” I complimented tiredly. “What’s going on?”
Sonia grinned, her golden eyes glowing with impish pleasure as she led me onto my balcony. A strange and wondrous sight greeted me, strings and strings and strings of pastel balloons.
“Feliz cumpleaños,” she exclaimed, clapping her hands like a delighted child.
I blinked rapidly, still trying to join the waking world and adjust to the soft fading light over the red Mexisimican desert. The sunlight cast shadows and gold onto the brick balcony. A string of balloons floated past our heads, breaking loose from their tether. I giggled nervously, stepping back as I watched the rubber ovals bounce and meet the evening sky. The life of a balloon may be brief but it was helium-filled happiness. The sheer number of them overwhelmed me with an odd sense of peace and freedom.
“What do you think?” Sonia asked.
I didn’t know what to say. I was speechless. Something as simple as balloons brought tears to the corners of my eyes.
“Today’s my birthday,” I whispered.
“What?” Sonia asked as if she hadn’t heard me. “Sí, feliz cumpleaños a ti!”
“This is beautiful,” I remarked. “Um…” I turned and faced Sonia. “Thank you… I mean… gracias.”
“Don’t thank me,” she shook her head. “Thank Rosalie and your father and Señor Shore. They helped set up a party for you out on the patio.”
I looked over the edges of the balloons, seeing the colorful paper lanterns decorating the pergola. I could hear music and laughter. I could almost sense happiness… if it had a physical form. I hadn’t felt like this for days… possibly weeks. I laughed, releasing tension pressed inside my mind and gripping my heart, as a handful of balloons caught in the wooden lattice above our heads, laced with pretty pink flowers. I twirled the string around my forefinger in amusement.
“You sound back to normal,” a voice called to me from below.
I gasped, bringing my hands up to my mouth, releasing the balloons. Brendon stood on the courtyard below, looking up at me. Our eyes met briefly, and I could feel a heavy flush upon my cheeks. Here I was standing in my pajamas on my balcony and I hadn’t bathed or combed my hair in days and my face was completely devoid of makeup.
“Er… hi… what are you doing here?” I asked nervously.
“Waiting for you to let down your hair,” he teased.
“Um… what?” I frowned, and then shook my head quickly and laughed nervously. “Oh yeah… Rapunzel.”
“Unless you’d prefer Simspearean sonnets,” he chuckled.
“Uh…” I resisted the urge to duck behind the wall. “I don’t think Simeo spouted sonnets to Juliet.”
“No, I was thinking something more along the lines of Simero de Bergerac.”
“Oh,” I replied, feeling flustered. I noticed Sonia grinning and motioning to me as she backed through the door.
“Dinner’s at seven,” she mouthed.
I whipped my head back to Brendon below. “Are you the prince or Simeo or Christian or Simero?”
Brendon pondered my question for a moment. “Who would you like me to be?”
I was certain my face flushed the color of the red sand hills. “I…uh…I need to get ready.”
“Yes, we’ll see you down here in an hour.”