Gravity - By Abigail Boyd

Chapter 1

Fifteen candles set the top of the cake on fire. Another year disappeared.

"Make a wish, Ariel." I sucked in all the breath my lungs could hold and blew the candles out. I wished for my year back.

My family was holding a small birthday party for me at the house I'd lived in my entire life. Just my parents, Claire and Hugh, and my Aunt Corinne. Corinne and Claire are twins, although vastly different in many ways. Claire is all business at work and at home, where she sees herself as the person missing in the pictures of a glossy design magazine. She is the invisible hand that fluffs embroidered pillowcases and sets the perfect table.

I'm her plain, too-ordinary daughter, who sometimes smudges makeup beneath my hazel eyes and doesn't realize it for hours. Once I walked around school all day with gum on the seat of my pants. No one told me until I got home.

I looked around at the hesitant faces that gathered in my honor. Atop each head was an ugly brown and yellow polka dot party hat, clearance from the birthday section. The strap on mine pinched my chin and I slid my finger beneath it. That was the extent of the decorating.

I woke up that morning feeling strange, as if a veil hung over the world. The happy jitters I normally had on my birthday were nonexistent. It could have been any other day on the calendar. But the nagging feeling that the world had changed, shifted ever so slightly, plagued me through the hours. Maybe the way I looked at it had changed. I put it down to being older, and tried not to think about it. I seemed to be the only one who noticed.

"Remember, I need to be getting home soon," Aunt Corinne said, shifting from foot to foot. The fifth reminder she had given us already. Life had to revolve around her time schedule. In that way, both she and my mother were the same.

Claire glared at her, the whites of her eyes reddened from fatigue, but Corinne was oblivious. Claire stepped in to cut the store-bought cake, making delicate little slivers with her engraved cake server. Always the hostess, even when nobody important stood by to grade her skill.

"There are four people here, honey. Who are you saving cake for?" Hugh asked gently.

Claire's smile was a red line. She scooped two small pieces on each of the china plates she only brought out for special occasions and handed them out.

Ever since I could remember, I called my parents by their first names, at their insistence. I think they thought it kept them young. Especially with Claire, "mom" was verboten, and would earn me a scolding.

We picked at our cake around the dining room table, none of sitting. I bit down on the white plastic fork with my teeth. Why the formality of a birthday party seemed necessary to Claire was beyond me. But I would do anything to make her happier for a day.

"Present time!" Corinne said after a minute, clapping her hands so the thin bangles on her wrists jingled. She seemed intent on running the show now. We shifted over as a unit to the brightly-wrapped objects on the kitchen counter. Although I held my hands poised to start unwrapping, inside I wished for the whole ordeal to be over. I wasn't in the celebrating mood. I drifted somewhere behind myself, like watching my life being acted out by someone else.

"Start with mine." Claire handed me a charming gift-wrapped box. I undid the shimmery lilac paper. The box contained an old-fashioned necklace on a silver chain, from which hung a rectangular, emerald-colored glass pendant. At least, I assumed it was glass. I held the pendant up to catch the light on the ceiling fan. A bit formal for school and not something I would wear often, but lovely nonetheless.

"That necklace belonged to Grandma Eleanor," Claire informed me. "I've been keeping it in my jewelry box until I felt the time was right."

"Thanks," I said, laying it carefully back on the strip of cotton inside the box. It meant a lot to have a token from my Grandma's life, not just something she'd given me; I had barely seen her in the final year before her death. "It's really beautiful. I'll keep it safe."

"I know how much you miss Grandma," Claire said. She pushed a stray strand of hair out of my eyes.

"We all miss Mom," Corinne interjected, as if