Week 9: Monday

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“Happy birthday, Mandy!” Josiah grinned, hugging her close to him. Mandy allowed herself to pretend for just a second that his embrace was the embrace of a lover, but she only allowed the fantasy for a second. If she let it linger on too long, she would cry.

“Thanks,” she replied, putting on a brave smile. She could see the longing in his eyes, too and quickly looked away, biting her lip.

“Mandy! Get your butt in here and blow out these candles before this cake melts!” Marcie yelled to her sister from the dining room. Mandy chuckled and led Josiah into the dining room by his hand.

“I’m here,” she reassured her. “There will be no cake-melting on my watch,” she said with a wink. She found that it was easier to pretend she was happy when she was occupied; her birthday and graduation definitely counted as an event to occupy her mind. Her dad walked up and hugged her.

“Happy birthday, Pumpkin. I can’t believe it; yesterday, I held you in my arms as my little baby girl and today I’m watching that little baby grow into a young woman,” he said softly.

“Aw, Dad! Don’t make me cry,” Mandy sniffled. He chuckled and kissed her forehead. Marylee squeezed her daughter tight, followed by Marcie and then her little nephew.

“Aunt Mandy, don’t turn into a boring old grown-up who never wants to play, okay?” he pleaded. Mandy laughed and hugged him.

“I won’t, Christopher. I promise,” she smiled. She turned to face her cake and everyone whooped and cheered, clapping loudly. She took a deep breath to calm her nerves. This is it, she told herself. I officially take over the Charm household as heiress once I blow out these candles.

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She leaned over her candles and paused for a moment to make her wish. I wish for the success and happiness of this family and my ability to keep this family together and strong. With that, she blew all her candles out in one go and turned back around to face her family as a young adult.

“I have your hair again…” she told her mother flatly, shaking her head. Marylee laughed.

“You can go get a makeover, Sweetie. Consider it your birthday present, since we need most of our money to finish the house,” she said.

Mandy wasted no time in going out and getting herself a new haircut, clothes and makeup. For one thing, she had decided that her love for socializing with lots of people would be best suited to the Politics career and she had big dreams of becoming Leader of the Free World someday. If she wanted the politicians at City Hall to take her seriously, she’d need to look the part. For another, it would give her a chance to go outside. She didn’t quite know why, but suddenly, the fresh breeze caressing her face and that fresh-air smell felt great to her.

Mandy looked at herself in the mirror a few hours later, nodding with satisfaction. I like it. I look like I belong at City Hall, but I still look young and attractive, too. Just the balance I wanted. She arrived home and walked in the dining room. Josiah was eating lunch. He took one look at Mandy and choked on his food, coughing alarmingly hard. Once he finally managed to swallow the piece of waffle stuck in his throat, he gasped for air and spluttered.

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“Mandy! You… you… look… h-ho- uh… great! Really great! Like, WOW!” he sighed, his eyes taking her in from head to toe. Mandy blushed and looked away.

“Thanks,” she mumbled. Marylee walked in and squealed.

“You just get more and more beautiful by the day!” she shrieked, hugging her tightly. “Oh, my grandbabies from you are going to be so beautiful! I just know it!”

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“Hey! Grandma!” Christopher said, pouting. Marylee chuckled and hugged her grandson.

“All of my grandchildren will be beautiful, including you, Sweetie,” she said affectionately. That seemed to cheer Christopher up immensely. She turned to Mandy again. “I’m sorry for sending you out again, but we’re completely out of groceries. Could you go pick some up for me? I have to admit, my bones are more frail than they used to be. Performing’s really starting to wear me out,” she sighed, rubbing her aching back. Mandy nodded.

“Sure, Mom. Just take it easy. There’s plenty of people here to help you get around and do things,” she said, kissing her mother’s cheek. “I need to apply for a job at City Hall, anyway, and it’s on the way,” she added.

Mandy grabbed the shopping list off of the fridge and caught a cab to the supermarket. It was a quick trip. They always bought the same set of items. Mandy almost didn’t even need the list. She noticed a lot of men staring at her as she walked past and self-conciously pulled her sweater up a bit. She liked socializing and getting the attention of other people, but she didn’t like this kind of attention. I’m not dressing promiscuously. Why are they staring? she thought to herself. It simply didn’t occur to her that she was the rich, stunningly beautiful daughter of the world-famous Pop Icon, Marylee Charm.

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She then headed to City Hall. She smiled as she looked up at the great, looming building. She couldn’t wait to start supporting her family and fulfilling her heiress duties… well, except marrying and having children with a man who wasn’t Josiah. She bit her lip and shook her head. Don’t think about that! You can’t be with him! It’s been decided! That’s that! but her chest hurt unbearably thinking about it.

“May I help you?” a bright, cheerful red-head greeted her at the help desk. Mandy cleared her throat and stood tall.

“Hello. My name is Mandy Charm. I’m inquiring about possible job openings here at City Hall,” she said just as brightly. It pays to be friendly, she thought to herself. The woman smiled and nodded.

“We have a position that just became available yesterday, actually,” she replied. “We need a new Podium Polisher here. It’s not a high-ranking job, but there are plenty of opportunities for career advancement here at City Hall. Would you like to take the job?”

Mandy walked out of City Hall with a bright smile. It felt good to be taking those first steps towards adulthood and her personal life goal.

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She got home and decided to start a self-portrait of herself after she finished her sister’s portrait, now that she was eighteen and officially an adult. She worked on it late into the night until she heard the front door open after her family had gone to bed. Josiah was home from work. He walked into the hobby room and just stood there quietly for a moment.

“Hi,” he finally said quietly. Mandy put down her brush and turned around, walking towards him. She tentatively put her arms around him and rested her head against his chest. Josiah seemed like he would refuse the gesture for a moment, then gave in and placed his arms around her shoulders, resting his chin on the top of her head.

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“I thought you said you were going to propose to Marcie,” she whispered. Josiah sighed and stroked her hair.

“I am,” he muttered. “I just didn’t want to do it on your birthday. It felt cruel. I wanted you to just be happy today,” he explained. Mandy nodded and sighed, closing her eyes.

“This isn’t fair…” she whispered, a tear trickling slowly down her pale cheek, illuminated by the moonlight filtering through the window. He brushed it away with his thumb and gently lifted her chin up so he could gaze into her sparkling blue eyes.

“I know, but it’s the way it has to be. Sometimes things just can’t work out the way you want them to.” Josiah’s voice cracked on the last sentence and he blinked hard for a moment, clearing his throat. “Goodnight, Mandy,” he whispered. “Have sweet dreams.”

“They’ll be filled with you,” Mandy choked out. To her, it wasn’t a cheesy thing to say. It was heart-wrenchingly honest.

“Mine too,” Josiah whispered, his eyes glistening for a moment before he kissed her forehead and went upstairs to bed.

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