Dawn crept softly across her room, streaming through the thick green leaves to create blotches of shadows on the carpet and hardwood, the rays creeping ever closer to her bed. This was one of her favorite times of day. It used to be right about now that Dad would be turning on the coffee maker in the kitchen, pattering around as he sleepily fumbled for the pre-ground beans. The Mom would pop into the kitchen, tease him quietly for not knowing his way around her kingdom, and playfully push him back towards their room to get ready for work. Then she would measure out the coffee and put it into the machine, the beans sliding into the filter with a quiet shhh and then she'd press the button. The maker would bubble and steam and the smell would seep through the hallway and hit her immediately.
She would already be awake, watching them through the crack in her open door, but when her mother walked down the hallway to wake her up,she'd hide back under the covers and pretend to be asleep. Being woken up by Mom was always nice; she would sneak in quietly, look around the room with a smile when it was clean, and then get really close and kiss her on the forehead. "Wake up, Mako-chan!" she would say, "The day is ready for you!"
And then they would pick out her school clothes and get dressed together, and go back into the kitchen and make breakfast for Dad. She always got to stir and taste-test, but Mom had only recently let her near the pans on the hot stove. She got to walk the plate over to Dad, who would ruffle her hair and say "Good Morning, little girl! You're so pretty today!" And they'd eat breakfast together. Then she'd help Mom collect the dishes and Dad would get his shoes on and grab his briefcase. She would jump into her shoes and grab her bag and lunch and they would kiss Mom goodbye, then she and Dad would walk to school. His work was in another direction, but he always took the train so they could walk together and talk about sports and classes.
But that was before.
Her alarm went off after the sun had almost filled the entire room, and she shut it off with a sharp tap on the top, glancing at the date again as if by staring at it, it could change. It was 5 December, and she was fourteen today.
She pulled off the sheets and got out of bed, peeling off bedclothes and folding them nicely, putting them under her pillow just as her mother had done. She made her bed and looked around the room until she found their picture on her dresser, allowing herself one more minute of remembering them – their smiles, their warmth, and their happiness – before hardening the sensation of loss and locking it away. She went to the closet, pulled out her school uniform, and stepped first into the long skirt, then slid the long-sleeved shirt on over her head, taking a moment to push the sleeves up over her elbows despite the snowfall on the ground outside. She brushed out her hair, looking at herself in the mirror, and tied it quickly into a high ponytail with the green-bauble hair elastic her father had given her as a going-away present. She ruffled her bangs and offered a smile that, even to her, looked false. A grimace looked more at home, and it was that grimace she was known for now.
Picking up her book bag, she went into the main hall and exchanged the bag for a watering can and took a few minutes to water her plants and sweep the apartment again. She put her lunch by the door, then turned on the coffee maker, listening to its clicks and pops and breathing deeply its aroma as she stood, waiting for some water to boil for breakfast.
She arrived back at her apartment just after dark, having stayed after school for cleaning and a club meeting. When she got in she put her school bag away and started water for some tea, then changed clothes into something more comfortable. When she finished the water was ready, and she made some rose tea as she washed her lunch container and got out some pots and pans to make tomorrow's lunch, tonight's dinner, and a small cake for herself, wanting to try a new icing trick she had learned earlier in the week. She smiled as she cooked, loving the sounds and smells as she multitasked, busily going from pan to pan, tweaking seasonings as she saw fit, stirring sauces and flipping shrimp and little hotdogs to make sure they cooked evenly, even as she preheated the oven and mixed together a quick cake recipe.
As the cake baked and tomorrow's lunch cooled, she had dinner. Making mental notes on her food as she chewed, she concocted new ways to make the dish better, or in a different style, keeping herself busy with exciting new combinations. Once dinner was finished, she arranged her lunch in her bento box and put it in the refrigerator to cool and keep for tomorrow. She took the cake out to cool, then started washing all of the dishes; her hands never stopped moving, the smile never left her face.
Everything was put away, even the implements used to make the icing she piped onto the cake, making tiny roses on top. The more she made, the better they got, but by the end the entire top of the cake was covered in tiny red flowers and there was no room for a birthday message. She smiled and piped a message in sugar pink anyway, spelling out "Happy Birthday Makoto!" on top of the delicate flowers.
It was then that her smile finally faded. When everything was finished, and she cut into her birthday cake alone.