Joelle Richardson stood straight; her hands placed firmly at her hips as she eyed herself in the full-length mirror that adorned her closet door. The reflection staring back was one she disliked. An unfulfilled, fearful girl. Angered thoughts danced around in her head as she silently picked herself apart, wondering what she should change next. The cliché thought that it was a change that had to start from within came to mind, a thought that sent another flurry of thoughts. Fix this, try that, what about this? It all seemed easier said than done. It all seemed worth it and pointless at the same time.

You don’t even have an identity of your own, she thought to herself. “Leonard and Karen’s daughter, Samuel’s kid sister. That lil’ gal. Who am I?”

A short round of taps against her bedroom door broke Joelle’s concentration, her focus trailing to the left as her father’s million-dollar smile made its appearance through the tiny opening he allowed himself. As always, he waited for her permission to enter before barging in. “What’s with the frown, Baby Girl? It’s your birthday and there’s a great big party happening in a few. Aren’t you excited?”

“Not really.”

“Oh, come on! Great music, your grandmother cooked your favorites, I spied a lot of presents. Some big ones too. Samuel went to pick up your best friend. You’re another year older, another year wiser…”

“On my way into another year of being the same old Plain Jane with no direction.” His own cheerful grin faded for a moment, sending a wave of regret through Joelle. “Sorry Daddy, I don’t mean to complain, it’s just-” She shrugged, looking in the mirror again as her father made his way towards her. “I did all this work to fix how I look on the outside, and I still don’t feel any different on the inside.

“Perhaps your appearance wasn’t what needed to be changed.”


Towering over his daughter, Leonard stood behind Joelle. Placing his hands on her shoulders, he urged her to stare at her reflection. “Your eyes have to be more loving when glaring at yourself, your words must be gentler when speaking to yourself. We’re often our own worst critics and it’s so easy to tear ourselves apart. You’re still growing, there’s still room for changes if you wish to make them, and you’ll find so many wonderful things to love about yourself as you go along. But if it helps any, I think you’re amazing just the way you are.”

“Yeah, because I listen to and do everything you and Mom expect me to. The perfect little puppet.”

Leonard shook his head, blurting out a statement Joelle thought she’d never hear. “Figure out what you want to do and do it. Our advice and suggestions are just that at this point in your life, and neither of us can be upset about the choices you make. You’re a young adult, create and live the life you want. As much as I feel I know what’s best for you, I know your happiness can only come when you’re doing what you feel is right for you. I’ll be behind whatever you choose, one hundred percent.”

“And what if I never figure out what I want?”

Leonard stepped back, shoving his hands into the pockets of his dress slacks. “May take you longer than you’d like, might be a little tougher than you imagine, but you’ll figure it out. You won’t be judged, and you’ll always have your mom and I to help you when you need us. Is that assurance you’re seeking, that you need to strike out on your own?”

“I don’t know, maybe.”

Leonard smirked, knowing within his heart that his daughter would be just fine. “Party starts in thirty minutes, would love to see that beautiful smile at some point.”

“Thanks Daddy. I’ll be downstairs after I finish getting ready.”

Leonard nodded, slowly making his exit. “And just a fair warning, Baby Girl. Your mom has one of her surprises in store for you.” One he was certain might backfire. “Might want to brace yourself for whatever it may be.”

Joelle took a deep breath, turning back to her reflection in the mirror once her father closed her bedroom door. “Happy Birthday, Girl. May this year be different, better.”

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