So, I’ve been slacking on this challenge a bit. Between GUTGAA and the Harper Voyager submission window, I have been focusing every spare bit of energy on my manuscript. I feel as if I could recite it by heart at this point.

Year 8: John’s eighth birthday could have passed without him noticing. Only his mom with her ever-present triple layer chocolate caked marked the occasion as anything other than a regular day. She had baked it during the night and the whole house smelled of sugar and frosting. His name was written in thin blue lines across the middle of the cake. He ached to dip his finger into the soft side, maybe even angle the cake so that no one would see it.

“John, get out here,” his dad yelled from the garage. His dad was in a good mood when he was in the garage. The car had been more of a gift for him than for John, but it gave them an excuse to spend time together without talking.

The car had been scrubbed clean of its paint and now rested on cinder blocks. John made his way outside, a regretful glance at the cake on the counter. “What are you doing?”

“What’s this called?” His father was perpetually testing him on the different engine parts.

“Uh, the camshaft.”

“And this?”

“Timing belt.” His jeans had oily smudges across the front from many days spent out here. He smeared another layer into them.

His dad smiled and rubbed him affectionately on the head. Something about being able to call off various engine parts made him proud. “Go get me that allen wrench over there will you?”

John turned to fumble in the messy tool box.

“So, I guess, umm…happy birthday.”

John’s mouth fell open. His father looked away, almost embarrassed. He handed him the wrench and leaned against the car. “Thanks.”

It was the first time his dad remembered his birthday.