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     "Your hair!" Coral exclaimed, taking her daughter by the arms and giving them an excited shake. "You cut it!"
     Mary-Sue smiled. "I did! What do you think?" She angled her head, showing off her newly shortened tresses.
     "It looks wonderful, honey!" Coral reached up and tenderly brushed a lock of hair back off her forehead. "And would you look at this: it curls now, too! "
     Mary-Sue bobbed her head eagerly, setting her ringlets to bouncing. "I know! I still have a hard time getting it to curl - my head's loaded down with hairspray - but at least it stays much better than it did when it was longer." A small smile played at the corners of her mouth as a memory from long ago suddenly came to mind. "But anything's better than Junior Prom, right mom?"




     Coral's face tightened, struck by nostalgia. "Oh, Mary-Sue." She wrapped her arms around her daughter as far as they would go and held her tight. Suddenly, the image of her little girl - seventeen years old and standing before her with frizzy hair and tears streaming down her face - came to mind. So much time had passed since then. "Oh, my baby girl. Happy birthday."
     Mary-Sue stood, frozen in her mother's grip. "Mooooom," she moaned, trying to wiggle her arms free.





     With a final squeeze, Coral took a deep breath and released Mary-Sue. "Sorry, honey, but an old woman is entitled to her sentimentality every now and then."
     Mary-Sue turned left and set off up the stairs, rolling her eyes as she said "You're not old, mom."
     Smiling to herself, Coral turned her attention to Daniel. He nodded by way of salutation. "You're looking well, Coral."
     She gave him a quick once-over. "And you, Daniel," she said, pausing to stare quizzically at his chin. "You're growing a beard?"





     He struck a pose, rubbing the stubbly growth that had sprouted along the lower half of his face over the last couple of days. "What do you think? Makes me look sort of dashing, no?"
     Coral laughed. "It looks nice, Daniel."
     "It's too rough!" Mary-Sue interjected from upstairs. "I keep saying he should get rid of it!"
     Daniel gave a quick shake of his head, whispering "She'll come around to it."
     "Yeah...we'll see about that. My daughter can be quite persuasive," she said with a wink.





     "Happy birthday, my little flower!"
     Mary-Sue wrapped her arms around her father's wiry frame. "Thanks, dad." Out of the corner of her eye she could see that the table had been laid out with colorfully wrapped presents and a slightly-lopsided cake. She inhaled deeply, noting the sugar and vanilla scents that emanated from her father's clothes. A wide smile spread across her face.
     For as long as she could remember, he'd always baked her birthday cakes. He wasn't the best chef - they usually came out lumpy or uneven - but she'd never seen anybody who could match his talents with frosting. "Cake looks delicious - as usual, dad."




     "Sure does, Herb!" Daniel said, sniffing the air dramatically as he came into the living room.




     He skirted around the coffee table, careful not to bump it, and took a seat on the couch. "Working on a project, Coral?" he asked, motioning to  the photographs that had been laid out among piles of scrapbook paper, photo corners, and albums.
     "Actually," Herb said enthusiastically. "We're working on it together." With an excited little jump, he left Mary-Sue's side and set off down the hall. "I found something that I want to show you..." 




     "Come here," Coral said, motioning to Mary-Sue that she should join Daniel on the couch. "I'll show you what we've started doing."





     "We pulled all of our old photos out of the closet in the office and finally sat down to organizing them." She pulled one of the larger photo albums onto her lap, keeping it open to a page that held a photograph Mary-Sue hadn't seen before. "Herb and I've made it about halfway through our wedding photos, but we can't find the box that had all the stuff from the reception, so we started working on this instead."




     Coral ran her hands lovingly over the photograph that had an entire page to itself. "I'd completely forgotten about this. I found it tucked away in a folder of tax documents from that year."
     Mary-Sue and Daniel angled their heads so they could see. The picture, showing a much younger Herb and Coral with Mary-Sue sitting on their laps, had been elegantly labelled "Adoption Day, Jan. 2, 1964."
     "Do you remember this day at all, honey?" Coral asked cautiously.
     Mary-Sue sat back against the couch cushion, shaking her head. It had been years since she'd thought about her adoption. It was a topic she usually preferred to forget, but seeing that picture brought back a small memory; more than anything, it was just an overall impression of a time long since passed. "A little bit," she began haltingly, trying her best to bring something more solid to mind. No luck. She shook her head again. "No, not much. I just remember feeling confused. Confused and scared."




     Coral sat perched on the edge of the couch, fiddling with her skirt. She twisted and pulled the thick fabric with her fingers, warping the weave. Next to her, Herb sat with his head resting in his hand, bouncing his leg in nervousness.
     They'd been up since well before dawn, unable to sleep. Today was it.
     The day they'd finally get to take their daughter home.
     A solitary clock sounded the seconds as they passed; the only sound in the small office. There'd been a secretary sitting at the desk when they first came in, but she'd disappeared into the back room long ago, promising to retrieve their little girl.





     "Mr. and Mrs. Oldie?" The door swung open to reveal the secretary, finally returned.
     They shot out of their seats. "Yes?" Coral asked eagerly.
     Herb looked pointedly at the clock on the wall. "It's been over an hour. Where is she?"




     "I apologize for the delay," the secretary drawled. "We've gathered all her things; she's just finishing up her lunch now."
     "How much longer?" Herb demanded.
     "Only a few minutes more, Mr. Oldie, I assure you
. I just wanted to be the first to congratulate you." She gave Coral a quick peck on the cheek and shook hands with Herb before disappearing again through the door.




     Once they were alone, Coral wrapped her arms around Herb and tucked her head onto his shoulder. "This is it!" she whispered. He snaked his fingers through her hair, trembling slightly. He could feel her heart thumping in his chest. His echoed her's.
     This day had been coming for over a year. After dozens of delays, broken promises, and misinterpretations on the part of the adoption agency, they were finally here to meet their daughter. For the first time, too. They'd exchanged photographs and letters over the months, but trying to coordinate her arrival from overseas, the agency said, had prevented her from actually meeting her adoptive parents before going home with them.





     When the door creaked open, Herb and Coral whipped their heads around and froze.
     Coral gripped Herbs hand and they stood stone still, watching as a little girl in a pink dress toddled through the doorway.
     "Mr. and Mrs. Oldie, Mari is very eager to meet you."




     "Congratulations again," she said, hoisting the little girl into the air and passing her off.
     For the first time, Coral felt the weight of a child -
her child - in her arms. She cuddled her close, relishing in the feel of her soft, squirmy body against her chest. "Hello, sweet one," she murmured into her hair. "I'm your momma."
     Herb reached out, tenderly embracing her. "Hello my little flower." As he spoke, his voice cracked and Coral could see the tears that were forming in the corner of his eyes. She bounced the baby closer to her body, feeling tears prick her own eyes as well.
     "Ahem," the secretary cleared her throat, intruding on their private moment.





     Herb cleared his throat, swallowing his tears, and took a few steps back. "Yes?"
     "There's just a few more papers you need to sign before you can be on you way."
     "Of course, of course."





     Ten fingers; she assumed ten toes; two beautiful brown eyes; gorgeous black hair. Coral held her close, afraid to let her go. She leaned in close. "Hello," she said slowly, enunciating each syllable carefully.
     "Hi," she responded softly.
     Coral's eyes welled up again. When she'd come to the country, at barely two years of age, she hadn't spoken a word of Simlish. Coral had fretted over the language barrier, but apparently her worries had been for naught; clearly she'd picked
something up during her long stay in the Simerican orphanage.




     Coral moved to the couch, setting her daughter out before her. She initiated a word game, attempting to understand the extent of her knowledge of Simlish and found herself rather impressed.
     Behind her, Herb spread the last of the paperwork out on the end table. The secretary hovered over his shoulder, pointing out what still needed to be completed. "There's just that last page for you to sign, Mr. Oldie. We were waiting to hear what you had decided about her name, so we left it blank. I'm assuming you two came to a decision?"




     "We've given it quite a lot of thought," Herb said, scribbling in his and his wife's birth dates and social security numbers. He hesitated for a second when he came to a box labelled "Name Change."
     On one of the lines, someone had carefully transcribed
Mari Tso. Her birth name. The line next to it was blank. He put his pen to paper and carefully spelled out Mary-Sue Blossom Oldie.




     He signed the bottom of the document and passed it off to the secretary. "Her life in Takemizu Village is through. Though we wish the situation had turned out differently for her sake, Mary-Sue is our daughter now: an Oldie."
     She held out her hand. Herb took it. "Excellent choice, if you don't mind my saying so. She's a remarkably happy child, considering what she's been through. I
 expect you three will be quite happy together." She bent her head to sort quickly though the papers, making sure it was all in order. "That was the last thing we needed, so congratulations. You are now parents."
     "Just one more thing?" Herb asked, reaching behind him to pull his camera out of the pocket of his coat that was hanging on the wall. "Will you take our first family photo?"





     Smiling, the secretary deposited the paperwork on her desk and eagerly took the camera. Herb and Coral scrambled together on the couch, drawing Mary-Sue into their laps.
     "Say cheese!" she said, focusing the lens.
     Mary-Sue giggled. "
Hai chiizu!"
     The camera flashed, commemorating their first moment together as a family.





     "I found it!" Herb announced joyfully, coming back into the living room. He carried a colorful shoebox in his hands.
     Coral quietly closed the album and slipped it off her lap. All conversation about Mary-Sue's adoption was quickly forgotten.




     Herb waltzed around the furniture and plopped it down on the couch between Mary-Sue and Daniel. "Look what your mother and I found!"
     Mary-Sue instantly recognized her handwriting scrawled across the lid. Keep Out. She opened the box and, seeing the jumble of her adolescent paraphernalia, snickered loudly. "Oh my god."
     "You carried that thing around with you everywhere you went when you were in, what, ninth grade?" Coral asked, shaking her head good-naturedly.
     "Eighth," Mary-Sue corrected. She stuck her hands in the box, rummaging through a couple years' worth of memorabilia.




     "Look at this," Daniel said, digging out a picture from underneath a jumble of movie ticket stubs and hand-written notes. He held it up for Mary-Sue to see, reading aloud what was written on the back. "Spring Social, 1974. Do you remember that night?"
     "Oh, please!" she laughed. "Don't remind me!"




     "What time do you have?"
     Mary-Sue glanced at her watch. "Nine thirty-four."
     Daniel shifted nervously. "Um, when did you say your mom was going to get here again?"
     "She'll be here soon."
     "It's just that my dad wanted me home by nine-thirty...and..."





     "I said she'll be here soon!" Mary-Sue snapped, cutting off Daniel's protests. Her voice echoed down the empty street, bouncing off the walls of the high school.
     After a rather unpleasant evening spent in Daniel's company - rolling her eyes while he goofed off with his dumb soccer friends - Mary-Sue was ready to go home. The only problem was that her mom, who had said she'd be there at nine-fifteen, was yet to show. So, here she was, forced to spend more time with the blockhead of a blind date Bella had dug up for her from science class.




     "Geez, Mary-Sue. Chill!"
     Mary-Sue rolled her eyes -
again - and rubbed her arms to try to keep away the chill. Hurry up, Mom.
     Somewhere out in the fields crickets chirped and a few cars rumbled in the distance. They stood together awkwardly as the seconds stretched into minutes. Finally, Daniel offered a halfhearted, "I had a...nice time," just to fill the silence.
     "Mmhmm," she answered sarcastically.




     Daniel leaned in. For a second, Mary-Sue just stared at him in confusion. Her eyes grew wide when she noticed that his lips were puckered.
     He closed his eyes and stuck his neck out, waiting. She cut her eyes to the stairs, searching for her best friend, wondering if she saw what was going on. But Bella and Mortimer were too busy making out to notice how much of a spaz Daniel was being.
     She curled her lip in disgust and held her hand out, blocking his path. "Think again!"





     "Oh, come on, Mary-Sue! You had a nice time, right? Just one little kiss?" He persisted, pushing his face closer. 
     
Gripping his shoulder, she shoved him backwards. "Dream on, Daniel." 




     "Not now, not ever!"
     Daniel sputtered, searching for words. "What? Why not?"
     "I don't want to! And furthermore, I did not have a nice time. All you did was hang out with your gross friends!"
     "I was just saying hi to them!"
     "I was your date, Daniel!"
     "So? I -"
     "I don't care!" Mary-Sue raised her voice again, cutting him off. "I don't want to talk to you any more. Go sit over there." She pointed to the stairs. "You're lucky I'm not making you walk home."





     Sighing, Daniel did as he was told.
     Mary-Sue leaned against the lamppost, wishing desperately that her mom would hurry up.
     She was just thankful that, after tonight, she would never have to see him or his stupid jock friends again.




     "I swear, that was the worst date I've ever been on."
     "Hey, you came around eventually...after I apologized!"
     "Yeah, and Bella still won't let me hear the end of it!"




     "Oh, please," Herb said, abandoning the couch the second Mary-Sue hopped onto Daniel's lap. "Let's eat the cake before you make me sick!"
     Coral rolled her eyes and stood, following her husband. "Come on, you two."
     But though she scoffed audibly she smiled a knowing smile to herself, happy that it had worked out between them after all.
     She'd spent enough nights comforting her tearful daughter to know that she really was crazy about that man.

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