In honor of the birthday of my character Noli Braddock, (which was October 25), I’d like to share this short story with you. I originally wrote it for the YA Scavenger Hunt. Enjoy.
Happy Birthday Noli
An Aether Chronicles Story
© Suzanne Lazear 2013
This story takes place between INNOCENT DARKNESS and CHARMED VENGEANCE.
Steven Darrow woke before the sun. Today was Noli’s birthday—and he wanted it to be perfect. He dressed, grabbed her present, shoved the letter from Noli’s brother in his pocket, and went downstairs. Just as he’d asked, the milkman had delivered a few special things so he could make Noli breakfast.
Gabbing the basket, he darted out the back door, across his backyard, and through the loose board in the fence which separated their backyards. The fall air was chilly and he hadn’t brought a coat.
As always, the backdoor to her house was unlocked.
Quickly and quietly, he lit the stove and put the kettle on for tea. The kitchen was very dark and the Braddock’s didn’t use their gaslights, given the expense. Noli and her mother didn’t have much money since Mr. Braddock had disappeared, though they tried.
They were also very proud.
He looked around the sparse, but fairly tidy kitchen. One of Noli’s books and a wrench sat on the table, along with Mrs. Braddock’s sewing basket.
He took everything out of the baskets. This morning he was going to make all of Noli’s favorites–poached eggs and asparagus, fried potatoes, bacon, and tea. Later, he’d take her to the Otherworld and they’d have cake and presents with James and Charlotte.
Hopefully his brother had things handled on his part. It felt so strange that James wasn’t here in Los Angeles. Steven understood why he’d chosen to stay in the Otherworld with Charlotte, but that didn’t mean he missed him any less.
It also meant more of their father’s disapproval was focused on Steven. Between everything that had happened in the Otherworld and the fact he and Noli were courting, there was a lot of disapproval. Noli might not be mortal anymore, but his father still didn’t think she was fit for a prince.
Today, none of it mattered.
He frowned at the ingredients. How exactly did one poach an egg…or cook bacon? Steven didn’t know how to make anything more than tea and toast. Someone had always done the cooking for him.
It couldn’t be that hard. Poaching eggs involved water, right?
Trying to be quiet, he filled a pan with water, cracked two eggs, and let it boil. Then, he put some bacon on to fry. Yes, this would be easy.
The kettle whistled and he made tea and set the table, clearing off the wrench and other such things. What he’d really like to do was bring her breakfast in bed—but her mother might object.
Steven stood back and admired his handiwork. Her present sat at her seat. He should have brought roses for the table, since those were Noli’s favorite. Perhaps he could cut some from her backyard? A few were still blooming.
Yes, he’d do that. He ducked outside and cut a few roses. The smell of something burning caught his attention as he returned inside. The bacon!
Steven ran to the stove, flowers dropping to the floor. The eggs were boiling over—they also looked…well…not pretty. The bacon was also burning. He reached out and grabbed the handle of the pan. Pain seared his hand and the pan dropped to the ground, grease and bacon flying everywhere.
Flying figs. He turned the burners off and ran his hand under cold water in the sink.
The bacon was ruined, so were the eggs. He hadn’t even gotten to the potatoes or the asparagus. There were a couple more eggs—and some more bacon.
But what if he ruined that as well?
There were footsteps on the back stairs. “Mama, is everything all right?”
Noli. Steven froze.
She came down, in only her nightdress. When she saw him, she froze, her steel eyes going wide. “V. What are you doing?”
Embarrassment consumed him. “I was trying to make you breakfast, but all I haven’t ruined so far is the tea.”
Who would have thought cooking could be so difficult?
“Oh.” Her gaze flickered from the tea on the table to the roses and bacon on the floor.
His stomach knotted. The sun was barely up and already he’d ruined her birthday.
“Would you like some help?” Her smile lit up her face.
Steven drooped. “It’s your birthday; it wouldn’t be fair to ask you to cook.”
Noli laughed, making the entire room come alive. “I’d say it was fair—you brought the food, I cook it. I’ll dress, you clean up.”
Without another word, she ran back up the stairs, taking them two at a time.
This wasn’t precisely what he’d hoped for, but he put the roses in a vase and set them on the table, then cleaned up the floor. Already the pain in his hand was lessening. Maybe everything would be all right after all.
Noli came back down, dressed for school in a blue skirt and a white blouse with a blue ascot. She dumped her schoolbooks on the table he’d just cleared, and tied an apron around her waist. Her chestnut hair was in a braid.
“Now, what are we making? I don’t suppose there’s more bacon?” she asked, hope on her face. Noli loved bacon.
“A little. I’m sorry I ruined it. I think I ruined the eggs, too.”
“There’s still more.” Noli kissed him. “I think it’s sweet that you even tried to cook.”
His heart sped with that kiss. “I just wanted to give you a nice birthday.”
“It’s already nice. You’re here. Here, let me show you how to poach an egg, just in case you ever need to know. But first, you should wear an apron.”
Steven let Noli tie a pink apron on him and watched as she showed him how to fry bacon and potatoes, cook asparagus, and poach an egg.
“What a feast. I really appreciate it.” She leaned in and gave him a lingering kiss.
The backdoor flew open and they jumped apart.
“Oh my, what do we have here?” Mrs. Braddock stood there, already in a blue work dress.
Unlike his father, Mrs. Braddock approved of them courting, but he still couldn’t help but feel a bit guilty being caught kissing in the kitchen.
His eyes fell to the market basket on her arm. Mrs. Braddock must have had the same idea he had. Hopefully he hadn’t ruined everything.
“I taught V how to make breakfast,” Noli told her, chest puffing up slightly with pride.
Mrs. Braddock’s eyes lingered on his pink apron and she put a hand to her lips, blue eyes shining. “I see. How lovely of you to bring Noli’s favorites.”
“I didn’t ruin anything, did I, Mrs. Braddock?” he stammered. “There’s enough for everyone.”
There he went, messing things up again. Often he felt like he couldn’t do anything right.
“Of course not.” She smiled, putting him at ease. “Unless you think you won’t have enough room for these delicious pastries.” Mrs. Braddock held up the basket. “They’re still warm.”
“Oh, Mama.” Noli gave her mother a hug. “Let’s eat everything!”
His stomach rumbled in agreement.
The three of them sat down to breakfast and sang to her.
He handed her his gift, which he’d wrapped himself.
“Hmmm, let me guess, it’s a book?” She tore open the paper.
“Yes, but which one?” he teased. They both loved to read—and talk about books.
Her mouth formed an “o” of surprise. “Nicomachean Ethics – you silly old bodger, if anything I should buy you a copy.”
The copy he’d lent her had been ruined.
“I…I wanted you to have it.” It was one of his favorites. Perhaps he should have bought her another Dickens novel instead. There must be one she didn’t have yet.
“I love it.” She leaned in as if to kiss him, remembered her mother was there, and pulled back. But her eyes still glimmered and he relaxed a little.
It seemed that Noli liked the present—and breakfast. Good.
“Noli, let me get your present.” Mrs. Braddock went upstairs.
“I’m guessing it’s a dress.” Noli shoved a piece of bacon in her mouth.
“It probably will be,” he replied. Her mother was a very skilled dressmaker. “Oh, I have a birthday letter for you from Jeff.” Steven fished the letter out of his pocket. Her brother was an air pirate and she hadn’t seen him in ages, but they wrote back and forth.
Noli tore open the letter and bills floated out. “That’s quite the present.” Her eyes lit up. “I need a part for the steam-powered sewing machine—and there’s a book I’d like to buy.” She tucked the money in the pocket of her skirt and read the letter.
There were footsteps on the stairs and she tucked the letter away.
“Happy Birthday, Noli.” Mrs. Braddock presented Noli with a blue dress.
“It’s wonderful, Mama.” Noli gave her a hug and the three of them finished breakfast.
Afterward, Mrs. Braddock left for her dress shop.
Noli gave him and expectant look as they cleaned up the kitchen. “We’re not actually going to school today, are we?”
Steven laughed. “Not today. James and Charlotte are expecting us. Charlotte’s baking a cake. But you might want to hide your school books, so it looks like you went.”
“A day with you, Charlotte, and James instead of school? And cake, too? I can’t wait.” She grinned. Noli liked cake almost as much as she liked bacon. “This is the best birthday I’ve had in a long time.”
“I’m sorry I burned breakfast,” he apologized as he dried the dishes. “I wanted everything to be perfect.”
“There was still enough bacon for everyone,” she laughed.
His fingers grazed her jaw. Steven kissed her, long and sweet, glad they were alone.
They’d been friends for so long, and now they were more. Every day he thanked the Bight Lady for it, for her. Sure, not everything was perfect, but maybe they didn’t always have to be. One thing they had was time. Something he’d also learned not to take for granted.
“Happy Birthday, Noli.” He tangled his hand in her hair.
She gazed into his eyes. “Birthdays don’t need be perfect, as long as I have those I love. Now, let’s go eat some cake.”
Suzanne Lazear is the author of the Aether Chronicles series. INNOCENT DARKNESS and CHARMED VENGEANCE are out now, FRAGILE DESTINY releases in 2014. Find out more about the series at www.aetherchronicles.com