Jenny brushed her hair until it was smooth, then held it in place with a bow her mother had made to match her new dress. She twirled in front of the mirror on her closet door, eager to go to school. Today was her ninth birthday. That meant that Mrs. Jordan would put her name on the board and her class would sing “Happy Birthday” to her. And, on birthdays, Mrs. Jordan always let the class play an extra fifteen minutes after lunch. When they were through playing games, Jenny would pass out the chocolate chip cookies her mother was sending to school with her.
Then, after school, her friends Carrie and Susie were coming home with her for dinner. They were going to have pizza and cake and ice cream.
Her mother opened the bedroom door and held her arms out for a hug. “Happy Birthday, Jenny.”
“Mom, it’s going to be a fun day.” Jenny hugged her mother hard.
“I know, honey.” Mom straightened the bow in Jenny’s hair and turned to leave the room. “Everyone else is eating breakfast. Hurry, or you’ll be late.”
Jenny grabbed her backpack and her jacket and carried them into the kitchen.
“Happy Birthday, Jenny,” shouted her sisters, Heather and Janie, and her brother, Joshua. Her father got up from the table and pulled out a chair for her just like he did for Mom when they went to a nice restaurant.
When Jenny went to her classroom, she carefully set the box of cookies and her backpack on her desk and turned around to look at the chalkboard. Written there was:
Mary and Jenny Happy Birthday, girls!
The smile left Jenny’s face. She had not known that it was Mary’s birthday, too. Mary had been in the class only a couple of weeks. No one had tried to make friends with her. In fact, most of them whispered about her clothes, which always had torn places and were never very clean. Her hair looked as though it were never combed. Because she never tried to talk to anyone during recess and usually played by herself, everyone else felt that she was unfriendly and wanted to be left alone.
Jenny had felt uncomfortable about it, though, especially after last week’s family home evening lesson about trying to see good in others. Still, she felt as if her special day had been spoiled.
Mary was the next student to enter the classroom. Her hair was a little neater than usual. She sat at her desk and didn’t even look at the board.
Jenny could see that she didn’t have anything to share with the class for her birthday, so she asked, “Mary, didn’t anyone tell you to bring something to share with the class? We always bring something on our birthdays.”
Mary looked up. “I couldn’t. My mother is too sick to cook.”
Jenny looked at the blue box that held her cookies. She felt ashamed. What if her mother was sick? She wouldn’t have had cookies or a new dress. She went over to Mary’s desk. “My mom made cookies for me to share with the class after lunch. Would you like to help me pass them out when it’s time?”
Mary looked up at Jenny. “Are you sure?”
“Of course. It will be fun.”
“I’d like that. My mother has been sick for a long time.” Mary’s voice dropped to a whisper. “I probably won’t even get a birthday cake unless my dad buys one for me.”
Jenny couldn’t imagine a birthday party without a birthday cake. She suddenly had an idea. “Mary, you watch the cookies. I have to find Mrs. Jordan.”
Hurrying out of the classroom, Jenny saw her teacher at the end of the hall and ran to tell her about her idea. Mrs. Jordan gave her a note to go to the office to call her mother.
After explaining about it being Mary’s birthday, too, and about Mary’s sick mother, Jenny asked, “May I bring Mary home and let her share my birthday?”
“I’ll go see Mary’s mother and find out if Mary can come to dinner. When I pick you and Susie and Carrie up after school, I’ll let you know what her mother said. Now both of you have a nice day. And, honey—” Mom paused. “I love you.”
That evening four girls stuffed themselves with pizza, played games, and fixed each other’s hair. They giggled and told stories. Jenny had been afraid that Carrie and Susie would be mad at her for inviting Mary to her party, but after Mary had told them a story about her former school, Carrie leaned over toward Jenny. “She’s fun. I like her.”
“Me, too,” Jenny said, and she meant it.
“Girls, it’s time for cake and ice cream.
The girls followed Mom into the dining room.
“Oh, look!” said Carrie. “They’re beautiful!”
On the table were two cakes ablaze with candles. Mary’s eyes opened wide. “I’ve never had a cake with icing flowers.”
Jenny looked at Mary. She no longer looked like the unhappy girl who had been an outsider in their class for the past two weeks. Jenny hugged her mother and whispered in her ear, “Thank you for making both our birthdays special.”
The girls ate pieces of both cakes with big scoops of ice cream. Then Carrie and Susie begged Jenny to open the gifts they had brought her. Mom slipped her a gift to give to Mary.
The party ended with more laughter and singing. Jenny’s mother left the room and came back with Mary’s sweater and a cake box. “Mary, I promised your mother that I would have you home by seven o’clock. We don’t want her to worry.” She handed the box to Mary. “You can share the rest of the cake with your family.”
Mary set the box on the table and hugged Mom. “Thank you. It was the best birthday I’ve ever had!” She turned to Jenny and hugged her, too. “Jenny, thank you for sharing your birthday with me.” She paused a moment, then said in a soft voice, “You’re nice.”
Jenny thought that that was her best birthday present of all.