“That got me to thinking, what birthday present do you get for the girl who has everything?” Christopher Miller’s Texan drawl echoed across the lush backyard of 2480 Hillpeak Drive. “Finding the ultimate gizmo for a toy addict like Mara is dang near impossible,” he explained to a large crowd of Los Angeles bigwigs.
His daughter, Mara Miller, bounced from toe to toe. If she had to listen to one more minute of this speech, she was going to explode. She needed her present now. After all it had been a whole year since her last birthday! The adult guests chuckled at her obvious frustration, but what did they know about the passion and dedication needed to be a true toy collector. They were just the people who bought fancy houses from her father.
With an indulgent smile, Mr. Miller patted Mara’s shoulder. “Patience, darlin’. I simply wanted to thank my guests for joining this special day. You’re my only family, Mara. I’d buy anything to make you smile.” He gestured to Jen Cobbs, who was standing meekly at the back of the crowd, and carrying an enormous box wrapped in sparkling gold paper.
At last! Mara grabbed the box from Jen and tore away the wrapping paper. “It isn’t? You didn’t? You did. The ultimate toy. A DupliKate!” she squealed in delight. The doll was an exact quarter-size copy of Mara, from her straight-blonde hair to blemish-free skin. That night, Mara had worn a designer party dress–one with a pink skirt that puffed out like a cotton candy cloud. And the DupliKate was wearing the same, identical dress. Mara twisted around like a sugar-spun whirlwind, with the box raised high in the air. The doll was perfect.
Mr. Miller gave a quick wink to Jen before turning to his guests. “For the non-experts, every DupliKate doll is a replica of its owner. Real tough to get one. My bank balance is a few digits lighter, that’s for sure, but it’s worth it. Let’s raise a toast to my darlin’ Mara.”
Together, the guests struck up a noisy chorus of Happy Birthday, but Mara barely noticed their singing. She only had eyes for the DupliKate. Her father leaned close to her ear and whispered, “Jen helped pick out that doll. Don’t you think you should thank her?”
Mara scowled like she’d sucked on a mouthful of Sour Patch candy. The DupliKate may have been exactly what she had wished for, but that didn’t mean her daddy’s girlfriend should get any credit. Bad enough having Jen as her tutor all day without having to be nice to her too!
“Neat doll,” Mara finally mumbled in Jen’s vague direction.
Jen bashfully adjusted her thick-framed glasses. She produced a sharp pair of scissors from the pocket of her dress. “Want me to get the DupliKate out of its box?” she asked.
“Don’t you dare!” Mara snapped back. Surprised, Jen turned to Christopher for an explanation.
With a shrug, he explained, “Oh, my Mara never opens her toy boxes.”
Jen’s dainty-nose wrinkled in confusion. “But surely you must open your toys sometimes. How else do you play with them?”
“Toy’s are worthless if you open them.” Mara stated as if this should be obvious to anyone. Anyone with a brain that is. She fixed Jen with a withering stare. What did her father even see in this woman?
The tension between them was broken by the blast of a trumpet. A six-piece band had set up on the lawn and had kicked off with some disco hits from before Mara was born.
“Come for a dance with your ‘ole daddy?” Mr. Miller suggested, but Mara refused. This night was embarrassing enough without her father trying to teach her to waltz! But rather than argue with his daughter, Mr. Miller instead reached out an arm to Jen and escorted her away from Mara. As he crossed the lawn, he glanced back at his daughter and gave her the slightest sad shake of his head.
With all the adults now occupied by the band, this left Mara alone to admire the DupliKate. Already, she had begun planning how best to display the doll in her bedroom. A pair of extra-bright spotlights would be needed to show-off its full awesomeness.
From a nearby buffet table, a loud cough interrupted her focus. Under the tablecloth, a Dodgers baseball cap poked out and a boy with a face as round as a bowling ball waved his chunky hand at Mara.
“Landon Hernández!” Mara hissed. “I don’t remember inviting you to my birthday party. Especially not to eat all my cake!” Landon was the son of the house security guard, Gabriela, and always seemed to show up without being asked. He used a stubby finger to invite her to join him under the table.
“Those people your friends?” he asked, brushing a crumb from the corner of his mouth.
“Not my friends. That’s cringe. They’re Daddy’s clients.”
“But this is your birthday party, right? You do have friends of your own, don’t you, Mara? I mean, apart from me?”
Mara bristled. “You and me are totally not friends, Landon. Did Gabriela let you past the gates? She may be your mom, but she’s meant to be keeping out nobodies like you.”
Landon ignored her insult. “I have my own means of entry. Anyway, Mom’s busy checking people’s names are on the list.”
“Trust me, your name will never be on that list,” Mara insisted.
“Oh, salty,” Landon replied. His eyes flicked over to the DupliKate. “Let’s check it then. If your doll’s good enough, I might have space to feature it on What’s In The Box?”
Mara arched an eyebrow. “Get out. That dumb toy-reveal show of yours has only got two followers, and I’m one of them.”
“Two more followers than you’ve got. Now, let me see what all the fuss is about with your toy.” Landon reached across to examine the DupliKate.
“Hey, I don’t want your sticky fingers ruining the packaging.”
Landon raised his blotchy hands as if he were performing a mime. “Chill. I washed them already. Now, let’s see if your doll has a legit maker’s mark.”
Mara was instantly insulted. “My DupliKate is not a fake!”
“That will be easy to check. You’re not afraid, are you?”
Determined not to show weakness, Mara handed over the DupliKate. Landon pulled out a magnifying eye loupe and gently tipped up the box to examine the doll’s feet. The pink, high-top sneakers were a perfect copy of the design Mara wore. He tilted the left heel up to the light and let a hologram twinkle from red to green. “And here it is… the maker’s mark.”
“Told you,” Mara said, proudly. “Must be worth a fortune.”
Landon sucked at his doughy cheeks. “I’m afraid there’s no real value here. Why would anyone want a miniature version of you, Mara Miller? They’d have to be loco. It’s no ultimate toy.”
“But my DupliKate is literally perfect.”
Landon remained unmoved by Mara’s protest. “Not even close. The ultimate toy would be truly unique. Something you could play with forever and never get bored.” His eyes sparkled at this thought.
Mara shook her head. Her DupliKate sure seemed like the ultimate toy. Landon must be jealous, that was all. With more convincing, he’d come around. She began to bombard him with a hundred reasons why her toy was truly the greatest, and fully worthy of getting a slot on his little streaming show. But then she noticed his forehead scrunch-up, with rolls emerging like a grill full of hot-dogs.
As he further inspected the doll, he muttered, “How did I miss that?”
“What’s wrong?” Mara asked.
“Surely, a wannabe toy collector like you must have seen the issue.” Landon replied, gesturing towards the DupliKate’s face. “I’m afraid your faulty doll has no chance of getting onto What’s In The Box?”
Mara’s eyes followed where Landon’s stubby fingers was pointing. A lump rose in her throat. “No!” she cried in disbelief.
The birthday party was in full swing as she stormed across the manicured lawn towards her father. He was under a palm tree, quietly dancing with Jen Cobbs. As they both turned to greet Mara, she threw her hands up to cover her face.
“What colour are my eyes?” she demanded.
Mr. Miller glanced at Jen, confused. “Your eyes?” he asked. “Is this a new game, darlin’? Why don’t you run off and enjoy the party? I’m paying for it, after all.”
Mara repeated the question, her eyes hidden behind her fingers. “Tell me! What colour?”
Her father appeared visibly uneasy. A few of the guests nearby had stopped dancing. “Your eyes? Now, I’m all flummoxed. Help me out, Jen. What colour are Mara’s eyes?”
“I want you to tell me, Daddy, not her.”
The band had stopped playing and the nearby guests had fallen silent.
“I… Well, I think… I can picture your eyes, of course. But I…”
Mara raised the DupliKate above her head so her father could get a close look at it. His shoulders visibly relaxed.
“Got it. Your eyes match that doll, right? Great game, darlin’. So, they’re brown, Mara. Like the doll, your eyes are brown.”
As Mara dropped her hand, fresh tears began to soak her cheeks. Her father crumpled as he saw his daughter’s face. Her eyes were most definitely blue.