He adjusted his bow-tie for the third time in the vanity mirror. His charcoal eyes were weary as he pulled it apart and started it again. The little red bow always looked a little eschew. When he finished it for the fourth time, he ran his hand through the tuft of hair on the top of his head, pulling it up to give it volume and then flattening it back down again.
“What’s wrong, Hector?” Teresa asked, popping into the mirror behind him. Her tan skin shone in the fluorescent light, as did the muffins in her hand. “I made these fresh for you and Callie. I thought you were looking forward to them.”
“I’m a little tired of the muffins, Teresa.”
Teresa’s hand flung to where her heart would be. “You wound me, Hector! I made chocolate chip ones because they’re your favorite.”
“We had chocolate chip last week.” Hector looked up in the mirror and met Teresa’s brown eyes, perfectly flecked with white. Her pink lips were raised in the corners, but she still looked sad.
Hector picked up a muffin and popped it into his stitched-up mouth whole. He rubbed his belly and smiled at his friend, but Teresa didn’t look any happier. “It’s okay, Hector. You don’t have to pretend with me.”
“I’m worried, Teresa.”
Teresa walked around and took a seat on the vanity, her legs sticking out straight. She tossed her silky hair behind her shoulder as she blocked Hector’s view of himself in the mirror. He turned and looked up at his friend.
“You’re getting worry lines,” she teased.
Hector lifted a hand to his fluffy face and chuckled as the pads of his paw felt the soft fur. “I probably am under all this. But I can’t help it. I’m concerned about Callie. She’s getting too old for tea parties. When Rachel had us, when did she stop having tea parties?”
Teresa shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe when she turned 7?” Teresa looked at her feet, arched into heels despite wearing none. “I hated that year. She stopped baking with me. She barely played with me at all.” Her eyes snapped back up to Hector’s. “Why?”
Hector gave her a solemn smile and placed his hand on Teresa’s, softly rubbing the large paw over the dainty fingers. “I know. But it was time.”
A tiny sob rose up in Teresa’s throat and she believed she felt tears prickle in her eyes. “I don’t know why you think that, but kids are allowed to stay kids for as long as they want.”
Hector squeezed her hand. “But Rachel is a mommy now. She’s got a job and a husband and Callie. She had to grow up for all that to happen.”
Teresa sighed. “But Callie is only 9. She’s not ready to be a mommy or have a job or date or any of that. Hector, let her be a kid!”
Hector pulled his paw away and looked around the room. Callie’s pink walls had turned white over the summer. Teresa called them boring. Hector called them progress. Teresa’s friends had lost their Corvette, but they still had their dream home, while Hector’s best friend, a sweet little elephant named Carl, had been donated to the new baby. Although Hector missed his friend very much, he imagined he was happier being constantly wrapped in the infant’s arms.
Callie’s bedspread was a psychedelic tie-dye, replacing the rose pattern that used to be there. The young girl wasn’t growing up very girly, and Hector had couldn’t help but notice that softball bats and tennis rackets were often splattered across the floor. Though he’d never say it out loud, he often thought that Teresa wouldn’t be around for much longer.
Hector looked back toward his friend and smiled, forcing it to look happier, though he worried Teresa could still see through it. “Okay, Teresa. You’re right. Let her be a kid.”
“Really, Hector?” Hector could sense the pain in her voice. She knew the score. Things weren’t going to be looking good for her soon. Maybe she’d end up going to the new baby. Or maybe she’d go to a donation center. And the little girl next door who came over for playdates, she’d always loved playing with Teresa. Even if Callie was outgrowing her, maybe the other kid would like a doll for a few more years.
Hector knew that when he went, there was a good chance he’d be reunited with Carl in the baby’s room. After all, Hector had been in the family a long time. And though Rachel had to sew his ear back on after Callie tore it off as a toddler, he was in good condition for his age. Rachel had gotten Teresa when she was just a little girl, so her family history was a great deal shorter.
Downstairs, the front door opened, Callie returning from a day of school.
“Showtime,” Hector whispered. “Are we ready for the tea party?” He glanced at the pink kettle in the center of the yellow plastic table, with floral cups arranged around it. Teresa nodded, picking the muffin tray back up. Hector replaced the one he took.
Callie burst through the door, a grin on her face. Hector smiled back. She tossed her backpack to the ground, the books inside hitting the hardwood with a thud. She picked up Hector and squeezed him tight. Holding him out at arm’s length, she began to tell him about her day.
“Where are my manners?” she said, interrupting herself. “It’s Friday! It’s Tea Party Day!”
She plopped Hector down in a light blue plastic seat, before turning her attention to Teresa. “Oh, Teresa!” she gushed. “You made my favorite muffins! Thank you!”
She took the tray from the doll and carefully placed the muffins on a plate, pretending that they were hot. She collected Teresa and some new guests to fill out the rest of the chairs. Chelsea, forever 6 years old, was always eager for a tea party, especially if someone mentioned chocolate. And Kitty, Callie’s floppy dog and first-ever best friend, was just happy to sit and listen to Callie talk, just as he always had done.
Callie took her seat at the head of the table, all eyes on her as her friends waited to hear more about her week at school. Last week, there was a new girl at school, and Callie had already decided that her streak of purple hair made her the coolest girl in the world. The toys waited with bated breath to hear if she’d managed to make friends with the idol-worthy 9-year-old.
But Callie didn’t say anything. Instead, she looked around at her friends. She stood up slowly and poured tea, her favorite, chamomile, into the cups. She raised her own teacup and clinked it against theirs. Before she took her seat again, she picked Hector up and gave him one more squeeze.
And suddenly, Hector knew exactly what the tea parties meant to Teresa. None of them could ever know when the last tea party would come. But one day it would. It could be that day, it could be the next week, it could be a year or more. And Callie wouldn’t even know. She’d simply decide that she’d rather spend a Friday going over to a friend’s house. Or maybe her softball practices would move to Friday afternoons.
But Teresa and Hector would know. Chelsea would know it meant no more chocolate muffins. Kitty would know it meant no more school-day stories. The dollhouse would fall silent. Just as it went with Rachel, so it would go with Callie. Hector fell into Callie’s embrace, feeling the love of the little girl who very quickly was becoming less and less little.