Happy Birthday, @ObservantLynn! A little story for one of Vee & Alex’s biggest supporters.
God, I feel old.
Everyone always says that forty is the new thirty, but I’ll be forty-two, and it’s like a dog’s age, every year is more like seven. What I’d give to be in my thirties again, but right now. I don’t want to turn back the clock. The turn of the century wasn’t anything worth living again. I struggled with a day job and my writing, never quite having enough time, never quite making enough money. My severance from the paper was enough to pay off what little remained of my mortgage. I’ll never move from here now.
I have no plans for tonight, aside from more work. An article needs finishing. Maybe I’ll have a glass of wine. Vee’s off at five, so we might go to the deli. That girl eats more smoked meat sandwiches than anyone I’ve ever known. No wonder Kyle likes her so much. She probably keeps that deli in the black.
I hear her Doc Martens clomping in the hallway. Time to put this notebook away, paste on a happy smile for her. She’s said that my age doesn’t matter, but it’s early still in our relationship. I keep thinking about ‘what ifs’. I worry that she’ll get tired of me, find someone her own age.
I don’t know what to say now. I really don’t. I’m so rarely caught at a loss for words. I’m still choked up, thinking about it.
Vee came in, looking miserable, wet from the rain, her pink and purple hair drooping down her back. She stripped off her jacket and hung it from the door knob, then bent to undo her laces, finally peeling herself out of her knee-high boots. Her skirt was almost knee-length, quite conservative, and she still wore her black uniform top from the bookstore.
I rose from my chair by the fire—my apartment is a bit drafty in wet weather—and came over to kiss her hello.
“God, if only you could have been there today. Ian was driving me nuts.”
Her boss is anal retentive—a good characteristic for a manager, I suppose, but it tends to make things difficult for Vee.
“What did he do?”
Vee leaned into me. “Told me my boots and my hair were scaring the customers. Jerk.”
“We should dye your hair blue again, just to spite him.”
Vee laughed. “If only. I’d put it in a mohawk, except that I don’t want to cut my hair.”
Vee in a mohawk. What a sight that would be.
“He’d pitch a fit.”
“And then some,” Vee agreed. “Do you want to do anything for dinner?” She bats her lashes at me, dramatically, pouting, though the look is ruined when she can’t hold a straight face.
“Let me guess…the deli?” She’s predictable, and though we just ate there the other afternoon, her craving knows no bounds.
“Well…” I pretended to consider it, frowning, looking pensive. Vee feathered kisses up the side of my neck, her arm around my waist, her free hand stroking my side, teasing the curve of my breast through my shirt.
“You won’t regret it,” she said between kisses.
“You’re going to make it worth my while?”
Her hand cupped my breast, her thumb brushing over my nipple through the fabric. I shuddered against her.
“What do you think?” she asked. Her stomach rumbled and I couldn’t help but chuckle.
“It sounds like we should get you fed, and soon,” I replied. “Let me dry your hair first though. You’ll catch a cold.”
“Yes dear,” Vee deadpanned. I rolled my eyes and tugged her towards the bathroom. When we got there, she shook her head, spraying water everywhere. I shrieked, and she cackled as she grabbed a towel.
I wiped the drops from my face, and surveyed my shirt. I’d have to change. As I left the bathroom, I gave Vee a gentle pinch on her slender buttock. “Behave, you.”
“Yes dear,” she said again, sticking her tongue out.
I hurried into the bedroom, pulling my shirt over my head and tossing it in the laundry hamper. Then I stood at the open closet door, pondering my choices.
The blue top with the gilt ribbon around the seams? No, too old-lady-ish. Ditto the white collared shirt with darts and silver buttons. I flicked through the choices, not liking any of them. When did I get so staid?
Vee slid up behind me, the rough fabric of her uniform pressing against my bare back. “The burgundy one, Alex,” she said. I pulled it from its hanger. It would do. We were only going to the deli, after all.
“I need to change too. I hate this shirt.” Vee stripped off her uniform and then opened the bureau where she stored several changes of clothes. She took out a snug-fitting Ramones t-shirt. “No need to look like a slob,” she’d said when she bought it after debating between it and another shirt that wasn’t quite as fitted.
I reached out and traced over the stars that played down her ribs in a shower of black-blue ink. I loved her skin, so pale, probably a tattoo artist’s dream canvas. So young.
Birthdays. I’d like to ignore them altogether. So far this year, I had, except in my mind. And I hadn’t mentioned it to Vee.
“Ready?” Vee asked. She smoothed down her hair. I straightened my shirt, tucked it into my black trousers.
“Ready as I’ll ever be.” When I looked up, I caught a hint of a mischievous smile, but Vee quickly hid it.
“Kyle’s working tonight,” Vee said. Her favourite waiter, our favourite gossip. Every restaurant should have a waiter like Kyle.
“Good. Then I won’t have to think of what to order.” It was getting to the point where we could walk in and he’d bring us our drinks without asking, and only make a show of wanting to know our food order. We were so predictable, Vee and I.
We held hands, walking to the deli, and my dark mood lifted somewhat. Vee’s my shining star; I wouldn’t be the same without her.
“I heard a joke today,” she said as we walked.
“What’s brown and sticky?”
I snorted. “Oh please.”
Vee snickered. “But it’s so silly.”
“Before the end of the night, you need to think of a better one than that.”
“I will.” She smiled to herself, and I was about to ask her what she was thinking, but we reached the deli. She pulled open the door. “After you.”
It was the same as always. Same wooden tables with their worn varnish, their patina of age and use. Same smell of the smoked meat, of the pickles, of the coffee always brewing. A low racket from the chatter and the kitchen. It seemed fuller than usual for an early hour.
“Just give me a minute,” Kyle said, “while I set up your usual table.” He winked at Vee, and disappeared into the back.
“You didn’t say we were expected,” I said.
Vee shrugged. “Ran into Kyle at lunch, and I mentioned we might be coming in, if I could convince you.”
“You’re lucky I like you so much.”
“Damn right I am.” She hooked her arm over my shoulder, pausing just before she kissed me. “The luckiest girl ever.” Then her lips were on mine, gentle but insistent, and I parted my lips.
A shower of applause greeted us, and we broke apart. Vee grinned, and turned me towards the kitchen. Kyle pushed through the door, and he held a cake, decorated with candles that dripped their coloured wax onto the white buttercream icing, lighting his face in a warm glow.
“Happy birthday to you…” The entire restaurant joined in on the song, singing it with gusto, and I realized that I knew everyone there. Some of my colleagues from the paper, a few friends of Vee’s, our neighbors…
I blinked back tears. Oh Vee. I looked over at her, and she was grinning from ear to ear, bouncing on her feet, and I’d never been so glad for anyone in my whole life. Taking that chance with her all those weeks ago, letting her read my notebook…it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.
Kyle held the cake in front of me, a wide grin on his friendly face. Vee nudged me.
“Make a wish, Alex,” she said.
I took a deep breath. I knew what I’d wish for, but my wish had already come true. I blew out the candles.
A single candle flickered and held.
“Ooooooh!” someone called, and others joined in on the cat-calls.
“Lucky, lucky girl,” Kyle said. He lifted the cake an inch.
Vee blew out the candle. “What did you wish for, Alex?”
I turned to her. “You.”
“You have me.”
Maybe forty-two wasn’t so bad.