THIS MEMORY LANE IS CLOSED
“I need you to work your magic!” London rushes me the second I walk into the Spark House office and thrusts baby Ella at me. “I have a call in five minutes, and I can’t take it with Ella losing her mind.”
Ella’s mouth is open in a wide O, and her face is beet red. She lets out a hearty wail and flails her arms and legs like a tiny human pinwheel.
Without a word, I drop my purse on the floor and hold out my arms, accepting my screaming niece. “What’s going on Ella-bella? Why so sad, little cutie patootie?”
She stops for half a second and cranes to look over her shoulder at London, then realizes she’s not in her mother’s arms anymore and starts up again.
London cringes. “I’m sorry. I’ll try to make it quick.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ve got it handled. I’m happy to listen to Ella’s woes while you take the call.” I kiss her chubby, warm cheek and give her a raspberry. She startles, then giggles, then starts to frown until I do it again.
London shakes her head. “How do you do it? Every single time you get her to stop.”
“I distract her. And I’m calm, and you’re … a little high-strung and stressing about this call.”
She opens her mouth as if she’s about to argue, then clamps it shut again. “Maybe I need to take up recreational weed smoking or something.”
“I’m going to go ahead and say that if you do, please don’t make any videos. Remember the turtle-rant incident compliments of Avery?”
She makes a face. “Right. Good point. I’ll keep that in mind.”
Years ago, Avery’s friends accidentally fed her half a dozen pot brownies, and she ended up ranting about the lack of plastic straws and how turtles were smelly and not the only important species on the face of the earth. The rant ended up on social media and did not go over well, especially since we’d been trying to secure a sponsorship. We’ve moved past that, and more than recovered from that accidental blow to our business, which means we bring it up on occasion, mostly to annoy Avery.
“CBD oil is a good alternative,” I suggest and then shoo her off. “Go make your call. Ella and I will be out back setting up for the birthday party.”
“What if it goes long? The call, I mean?”
“This is a party for kids. I’m holding an adorable baby. Everyone loves babies, especially when they’re as cute as you, right?” I tickle Ella’s tummy and she giggles again. “Now go, you’ve wasted three out of your five minutes to prep standing here fretting with me and Ella.”
London rushes back to her desk and drops down in her chair. I take Ella outside, into the yard where the party will be held. I pass the potting shed, which is actually more like a small garage, on the way to the party area. I keep forgetting to suggest we figure out a use for it since it just sits there these days.
My sisters and I have been running Spark House for the past six years. It started as a boutique hotel that functioned mostly as a bed-and-breakfast and a venue for small weddings or celebrations. But over time, and with our older sister Avery’s creative brain, we’ve turned it into an event hotel. We host everything from weddings and bachelor parties, to charity events and hobbyhorse competitions. Yes. That’s a real thing, and probably one of my favorite events ever that we host on a yearly basis.
The hotel has been in our family for years, but we officially took it over when our grandmother decided to retire. Avery is the backbone of Spark House and manages the event-planning side; her husband, Declan, deals with finances; and London manages the decorative and creative parts of the events. I run the social media. Or I used to, until Spark House was taken under the wing of London’s almost-billionaire husband. Now we have a team of people who manage our social media outreach and I just supplement it.
Since the additions to our team means I have more time to spare, I took on hosting birthday parties, specifically ones for children, which I really love. Today’s party is an elaborate setup with a princess theme. The birthday girl is a big fan of all things princess, and this party is right up my ball-gown-loving alley. Today I’m dressed like a magical fairy, complete with sparkly, poofy tutu and star wand. I’m not the only one who will be dressed up, though. There are all kinds of fun costumes for the kids, along with a special princess outfit for the birthday girl.
I set up a crafts station where the kids can make edible cookie wands. They’re shaped like stars and baked with a stick, so they’re perfect for icing and sprinkle decorations and making magic.
I keep Ella distracted with things that sparkle as I double-check everything one final time before the guests begin to arrive. I’m making sure all the costumes are labeled with the guests’ names—we asked the partygoers who their favorite princess was, and their size, so we could have all the costumes ready ahead of time.
When I read the name PEYTON on a fairy costume, my heart clenches, taking me back in time to when I nannied for a little girl with the same name. She’d have to be close to the same age as the birthday girl by now. I shove those memories down, because the feelings that come with them are never easy. Mortification and guilt are forever associated with that time in my life. Mortification about the lines I crossed. Guilt that those actions are what sent Peyton and her father to Boulder to be closer to his in-laws. Or at least that’s how it seemed.
“This place looks like a princess convention.” Avery appears in the doorway to the dress-up tent. Like everything else, it’s been decorated with balloons, streamers, and all things glittery and sparkly.
“It pretty much is,” I agree.
Ella coos, and when Avery tickles her under her chin, she giggles, toots, and ducks her head.
“How are you doing?” Avery asks, her smile questioning and slightly chagrined.
I lift a shoulder and let it fall, working to keep my smile in place and my tone light. “At least my birthday parties are going out with a bang.”
“I’m really sorry we can’t keep hosting them.”
“It’s okay. I get it. They aren’t a moneymaker, and we need to keep Spark House available for bigger events.”
“I know how much you love them.” Avery tried to go to bat for me, and so did London when Declan told us the birthday parties were costing us money instead of making it. A two-hour birthday party on a Saturday afternoon isn’t as financially lucrative as a wedding where every room in Spark House is booked for two nights.
When I first suggested the birthday parties a couple of years ago, it was a way for me to feel like I was making a more significant contribution. But Declan is right. It isn’t financially responsible. They have to be cut. So I’m making the last one as awesome as possible.
Copyright © 2022 by Helena Hunting