River didn't want to do a lot for her sixteenth birthday. Most of her peers had a ‘Sweet Sixteenth' but she was waiting for the big ‘2 1': she'd decided that that was when she'd feel like an adult. She found it odd that you were considered an adult at 18: it was still one of the ‘-teen' years. And 21 had a nice ring to it for some reason. Perhaps it was because she subconsciously knew it used to be the coming of age.
Her 16th also wasn't going to be special because she was so happy with her life. She didn't need a massive party like a disco for her whole year, or a trip to a foreign country, or a gigantic shopping spree. It was so because she had friends; she had parents and an older brother who loved her and did things she liked like take her to the theatre; she had books at home to read, paper to write her poems down on - and someone to read them who would always praise her; and her house had beautiful gardens to relax, stroll (and reflect on the world) and play in. She was very lucky to be the daughter of a wealthy couple but she had the feeling that even if their circumstances had been different, she would still have those wonderful people around her. Indeed, no part of her rich upbringing would have caused her to be spoilt, condescending or a brat: her parents were kind generous people, the spare rooms in her house were available to children who needed them - children who perhaps had lost their way and needed to stay somewhere for the night, or children who suffered in their own home, whose parents had neglected them or thrown them out. Mr and Mrs Fleusie had passed that kindness on to their children: two sensitive, open-minded adolescents who were far more likely to be involved in charity work than knife crime.
So what River did for her birthday was have a picnic. She invited all the children who were staying in their house (who were like extended family), her brother Tom and her parents, and they sat outside in the August sun, eating sandwiches of cheese and ham, homemade pancakes (savoury and sweet), sausage rolls, barbecue style chicken and ribs, and bananas, grapes and cherries: her favourite foods. She chatted contentedly with her best friend, an orphan called Emily whom her parents had adopted when she had come to the house three years ago. At the other side of the blanket, Tom sat beside his boyfriend John, who had come to the house because his parents had disowned him for his sexuality. John was a permanent resident too: he worked nearby in town and paid rent out of his salary. They were talking too, laughing in a delightfully carefree way at jokes they made.
‘Everyone should live like this,' River thought to herself. ‘This level of happiness should be accessible to everybody in the world.'
And her family did strive for such a thing. Frequently donating money to charity and getting involved in charity events. So hopefully the end of suffering was in sight.
River smiled to herself as she picked up yet another sausage roll and ate it with deliberate ladylike delicacy, causing Emily to chuckle.
Tom glanced at his sister at a pause in his discussion of the latest comedy show he had gone to see with John at the theatre. She was smiling to herself, only partly here: the rest of her almost enviably witnessing the events of her alternate reality. He always wondered what sort of daydreams River had. She was quite innocent for her age - perhaps as a result of not talking with many people her age (she was quiet and solitary at school). She certainly hadn't been absent for any significant part of year 6 so she must know about relationships. But perhaps there was an impenetrable shield between her and the rest of the world: she was an individual and she lived in her own world. He knew she wanted a boyfriend: that much was clear from her poems speculating on love. But he was worried she wouldn't find the right sort of guy and even a little scared that she would lose her sweet purity -despite the fact he should probably welcome that sort of change, there being no place for such a personality trait in the world. She was a calm, strange unicorn who definitely deserved to be happy but who might find that difficult outside of the environment she was used to. Familiar brotherly protectiveness rose within him. Tomorrow was his birthday. Maybe he could wish for the perfect someone to find her. He kept reminding himself of this throughout the day, in the hope that he wouldn't forget tomorrow. Even when John's playful kisses brought him back to reality and made him forget everything else, he clung onto that because his sister meant so much to him.