“Ten years old. The Big Ten. Tenarooski. The Big One Zero. Double Digits!” George’s dad went on.
There was a time when George enjoyed his dad’s antics, but more and more they had started to annoy him. He gave a pretend little laugh in hopes that his dad would stop.
“Ten-diddle-end!” But as usual his dad had to throw in one last zinger. George forced himself not to roll his eyes.
George was an only child, so he had no reference for what it was like to turn ten, but he knew he wanted it to be awesome.
“Georgie,” his mom called.
“It’s George!” he hollered back. If he could get his mom to stop calling him “Georgie” it would be one step closer to an awesome birthday.
“I’m going to ride my bike to school today,” George didn’t even ask. “By myself.” It would be his first time riding alone.
“Okay,” his dad said after he and his mom exchanged a surprised look.
It was February and cold, but George didn’t care. The wind blowing through his hair as he drifted down the hill felt amazing. He was alone on his bike, the most freedom he had ever experienced in his young life. He wanted more of that feeling.
At school, George raised his hand in class five times and got called on three times. Two of those time his answers were correct. Later his teacher Ms. Wilmington complimented him for putting forth more effort in class. It felt really good to hear that.
For first recess no one wanted to be the goalie so George stepped up and something inside him seemed to click. He had no problem deflected every ball that came at him, and his team ended up winning the match 2-0.
Then at lunch they happened to have his favorite meal, the little round cheese pizzas with peaches and chocolate pudding. It almost felt as if they had prepared it just for him.
Lunch recess turned out to be the most fun of all. George’s best friend found a black ant hill and together they stacked sticks on top of it to create an ant fort. The ants swarmed over the sticks, clearly agitated by there presence. Then George found a red ant, the large kind that bite. He scooped it up with a piece of paper and dropped it into the middle of the fort. The black ants turned their ire onto the red ant who was quickly overwhelmed.
Before the end of the day the class sang Happy Birthday to George, and they ate cupcakes provided by his mother. They were white cake with chocolate frosting, George’s favorite.
To top everything off, it was Friday so the teacher gave them no homework. As George left for the day, he did a little dance. He could not remember having a better day at school.
Until Ralph Mendel met him in front of the school. Ralph was the resident fifth grade bully.
“Nice bike,” Ralph mumbled before pushing George to the ground. “Here’s your birthday present.” And Ralph punched George 10 times in various parts of his body.
“Now gimme yer bike,” Ralph grinned as he stood over George.
“HEY!” someone yelled, and Ralph took off like a shot. A crossing guard was helping George off the ground, and it was over as soon as it had begun.
At home George cried in his mother’s arms as his father called the principal.
“I just wanted the perfect birthday…” George whimpered.
“Don’t let it get to you honey,” his mother said softly. “We still have the weekend to make it the best birthday ever.”
And his parents went out of their way to do just that, taking George to an arcade, a soda fountain, and a double feature.
But the thing George would always remember most about his tenth birthday was being punched 10 times by Ralph Mendel.