Kit lay on her back in the treehouse, looking up through the hole in the ceiling at the sky. The night was surprisingly chilly for May, but the cool air felt good compared to the sticky heat of earlier in the day.
She had cut the hole in the roof just so she could come out in the summer (And in the winter too, though she never told anyone) And look up at the stars, alone with her thoughts. She had been coming up here more and more often the past few weeks.
It was the night before her fourteenth birthday, and sickening feeling was growing in her stomach. It wasn't that she was disappointed her birthday would be small, it always was, but the fact that no one had bothered to acknowledge her very existence these past few week, now that hurt.
Whenever she was in the house, her parents and the renters greeted her, but they didn't talk to her after that. No one had asked her what she wanted for her birthday, no one had asked if she had any plans...
Tears pricked Kit's eyes as the thoughts swirled around.
She hadn't heard from Ruthie in a week. The next thing she knew, she had heard her best friend was leaving for a grand vacation to be gone almost all of may. Without telling her! She had found out from the house cleaner when she dropped off one of Ruthie's books after school.
Stirling hadn't talked to her either. She saw him at dinner, but he sat on the far side of the table now instead of next to her.
"Kit! Dinner time!" Her mother called from the house. Kit scrubbed her face, shrugging off the thin blanket she had covered up with and folding it up. She also picked up the book she had been reading, then set off towards the house.
Once inside, Kit felt her sour mood increase. The renters were bustling around, laughing and joking with each other, her parents stopping to sneak a kiss as they finished the cooking. Everyone seemed happy but her.
Kit took her usual place at the table, trying to keep up the facade of not being completely miserable. The meal began, and talk ensued with everyone but her. Kit felt her stomach begin to clench, and could only poke at her food.
For an almost unbearable forty-five minutes, Kit tried not to cry or throw up.
"Well, I have an announcement everyone" Kit's father said, standing up. Kit's heart leaped. Surely he would say something about tomorrow, anything...
"As you all know, we have been saving up some money for a very long time..." In spite of herself, Kit hoped part of it was for one nice gift for her.
"...And now we have saved up enough to pay off the rest of our house, as well as a new coop for the chickens"
Everyone clapped and cheered, except for Kit.
"Kit! You should be happy for your family!" The bossy Mrs. Caliper said. Kit's eyes flicked up to see that everyone was staring at her. The urge to throw up suddenly overtook her, and Kit bolted from the room, barely making it to the bathroom before she began to heave.
She hadn't eaten much that day, so there was very little to hurl, but the dry retching continued endlessly.
Her parents could afford a coop for the chickens, but they couldn't afford to say one small thing about her fourteenth birthday... Not even a request for everyone to be at dinner tomorrow evening.
Kit leaned back, flushing the toilet and trying her hardest not to cry. Times were tough, but they couldn't be that tough, could they?
"Kit?" Her mother asked, knocking on the door.
"I'm fine, lunch didn't agree with me" Kit replied, hating that she had to lie to her own mother. She didn't want to say the real reason she had fled the table.
"Come out when you can" Her mother said after a moment. Kit resolved that she would spend all night in the bathroom, just as long as she didn't have to go back to that table.
And so she did, waiting until everyone's footsteps tramped to their respective rooms. Checking her watch, Kit discovered that it was past ten. Perfect. she could slip out to the tree house without anyone noticing.
Quiet as a mouse, Kit tiptoed to the front door. She knew exactly which floorboards to avoid, which aided her quest for silence. A moment later, she was halfway across the lawn, wishing she had remembered to grab her jacket on her way out.
The night was frigid, the stars were bright. Kit clambered up the ladder to the treehouse and collapsed on the floor. Before she knew it, big salty tears were rolling down her cheeks.
She had helped her family all year, given every single penny she earned to her parents willingly... A fraction of the money she had earned that year she could have kept, and used for more typewriter ink, or a new pair of shoes, or even some clothing! But no, she knew that it had to go for the house payments.
It just wasn't fair.
"Kit?" a familiar voice called, and Stirling's head poked up through the entrance to the treehouse.
"Go away" Kit said, turning her face away from the door. Much to her annoyance, Stirling ignored her, climbing up to sit next at her side. The next thing Kit knew, a blanket was being put over her.
"Thought you might be cold" Stirling said quietly. Kit remained silent.
"I also thought you might want one of your birthday presents early" Stirling tried again. When Kit still didn't answer, he sighed heavily.
"Look, Kit..." He began, but Kit rolled to her back and sat up, cutting him off.
"No, you look Stirling! You haven't talked to me in three weeks! I thought I was your friend, but you just go and ignore me along with everyone else!"
"You are my friend" Stirling tried to defend himself. "But..."
"But nothing! Go away!" Kit yelled, bursting into fresh tears. She heard Stirling shift back, obviously hurt.
"Kit..." His voice proved her words had cut him, yet Kit didn't feel guilty. She had cried herself to sleep every night for nearly a month to deal with the loneliness of not having any friends.
"Just go away..." Kit sobbed, burying her face in her hands.
Instead of leaving, Stirling surprised her by crawling closer and slipping his arm around her shoulders.
"I'm sorry Kit... I didn't realize how hurt you were" He said quietly. Stirling pulled the blanket from the floor and slipped it around Kit again, hesitating for a moment before wrapping his arms around her.
Kit let Stirling pull her into his chest, the tears beginning to dry up.
"Do you want your birthday present now?" Stirling asked after a while.
"What birthday?" Kit replied dryly.
"Yours, silly. Did you think i'd forgotten?" Stirling chuckled.
"Yes" Kit said in all seriousness.
"Oh... well, sorry" Stirling replied. "How about I make it up to you?" Kit nodded, and Stirling pushed her up gently so he could retrieve a small package he had carried up with him. Kit could tell it was a book.
The book was wrapped in the funnies, so Kit opened it carefully so she could save them. Out dropped a thick red book.
Kit studied it, then turned it over so she could see the spine.
"The Romance Collection?" She asked Stirling incredulously. Stirling blushed and scratched the back of his head.
"That... er, brings me to the other half of the gift" He said sheepishly.
"Oh?" Kit asked, looking up at him. "What's-"
She was cut off by Stirling planting his lips squarely on hers.
After a couple second, he pulled away, running his hand nervously through his sandy hair.
"Wow" Kit breathed. Her very first kiss. Stirling relaxed a little before standing up and giving her a little half smile.
"Come on" He said, holding out a hand. "It's late" Kit allowed him to pull her to her feet, then hugged him tightly. He hugged her back, and she swore he kissed the top of her head. When had he gotten tall enough to do that?
They broke away, and Kit climbed down the ladder first, Stirling jumping down right after. As they walked back to the house, Stirling slipped his hands in hers.
"Kit?" He said when they got to the familiar porch.
"Yes, Stirling?" She replied, turning to face him. Stirling took her other hand.
"Um, i've been wondering for a while... Will you be my girl?" He asked nervously. Kit threw her arms around him again.
"Of course!" She replied. Stirling picked her up and swung her around in a small circle, making Kit laugh.
"Happy Birthday" He said before kissing her once more.