Authors: Tessa Escalera
I laughed and danced out of my hiding place, squirming under his arm to give him a bear hug. “Happy birthday, Dad!”
Dad chuckled and kissed the top of my head. “Thank you.” With me still clinging to his side, he turned to Mom and gave her a joking salute. “All hail the queen of surprise parties!”
Everyone laughed, and we moved into the kitchen for cake and ice cream.
I was standing against the counter with my plate, watching everyone clap Dad on the back and congratulate him at making it to the big 5-0. I still couldn't quite believe he was that old.
Mary sidled up to me with her cake and nudged me in the ribs. “How's it goin?”
“What, you meant since breakfast?”
She stuck her tongue out at me before shoving a bite of cake in her mouth. “Yeah. Hey, a lot can happen in half a day!”
“True.” I looked around to make sure no one else was listening before I leaned over to whisper in her ear. “I'm meeting Travis tomorrow.”
Mary gave an excited squeal, giggling and waving at the people that stopped talking to look at us. Thankfully, she managed to contain herself before whispering back: “And? Where's this perfect first date supposed to take place?”
“The little Chinese place downtown.”
“Ooh, the atmosphere at that place is amazing. Did he choose it, or did you?”
“Nice! And of course you're wearing the little gold...”
“Yes, the little gold dress,” I laughed. “Of course! What else?”
Mary snickered evilly. “You know he's gonna spend the whole evening imagining you without it...”
I elbowed her in the ribs, glancing around to make sure Mom hadn't heard. “Mary! If my mom hears you talking like that...”
Mary shoved a bite of cake in her mouth, unrepentant. Her brown eyes sparkled.
“Anyways, this is my first date, like, ever. No way anything funny is happening tomorrow.”
“With a boy like that? You sure you're really a girl?”
“Ha. Ha. Ha. Just eat your cake, would you?”
Mary smiled and leaned her head on my shoulder. “Love you.”
I chuckled and laid my head on hers. “Love ya too, crazy woman.”
After everyone was finished with their dessert, it was time to give dad my present. Most people had been told not to bring anything except themselves, but I wanted to give him something special. After all, a guy doesn't turn 50 every day.
I handed Dad the silver-wrapped package, and we all watched as he unwrapped it.
“What is this?” Dad asked as soon as it was free, turning the rectangular object in his hands.
I laughed and walked over to him. “Lemme see your phone.”
He pulled it out and I snapped the new cover over his (almost new) phone. “See? It's a cover. It protects the phone if you drop it. And it has mine and Mom's picture on the back so you never forget us.”
Dad pulled me in for a hug and laughed. “Because I'm so likely to forget the two best ladies in my life.”
“Well, Arthur, once you're over the hill it's all downhill from there with the memory!” That was Uncle Phil, shouting from the background, where he sat on the couch with a beer in his hand and his boots propped on the coffee table. He was sort of the black sheep of the family—tolerated, not left alone with young children (only because he came up with crazy practical jokes that usually ended with someone in the ER). He had brought his own six-pack of beer to the party, since he was the only one that drank. I knew mom was keeping a close eye on him and would kick him out the second he started acting overly drunk.
Dad chuckled along with everyone else. “Got a lot of experience with that, do ya, Phil?”
Phil just threw a wadded up piece of paper at Dad's head.
“Phil!” Mom gasped. “Get your feet off of my coffee table!”
I stood on my toes to give dad a kiss on the cheek. “Happy Birthday, Dad. I love you.”
“I love you too, Butterfly. Now, stop wasting your time with an old man and go have fun with your friends.”
After reassuring him that he was not, in fact, old, I wandered off to find Mary, who I found flirting with one of my cousins.
It was past midnight when the last guest was ushered out the door and I was finally able to drag myself to bed. I lay beneath my pink comforter, head cradled on half a dozen fluffy pillows, staring at the ceiling as I daydreamed about tomorrow's date.
When I was finally about to fall asleep about two hours later, I had a dream that I met with a man and ate with him at the Chinese restaurant, but there was a dark hood over his head and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't see his face.
Sleeping. Morning routine. Shopping. Lunch.
How could a day drag on so endlessly? I had never known the clock to seem so interminably slow. Even shopping wasn't as much fun as it normally was. This would have to be my last time buying anything except necessities before I got a job...all the money I had earned from various babysitting gigs was about to disappear. I found a couple of sparkly hair clips to complement my outfit for my date, stopped by to see Mary and grab coffee. As soon as I had scarfed down a tasteless lunch, I rushed upstairs to check my email.
There was a message from Travis that showed only an animated picture of a bouquet of roses and down below the picture it read: “Waiting anxiously for tonight. I will be the one with the flowers. Can't wait to see you in person, finally. Travis.”
My heart was singing in my chest as I danced around my room, sang in the shower, applied a very careful layer of makeup (complete with sparkling eyeshadow), curled my hair into a “sexy waves” style I'd found online, and finally, with about an hour to go until our date, I started putting on my outfit. The dress fit like a glove, the shoes took me from “ordinary” height to satisfactorily tall, and my newly-painted nails were the same shade as my purse.
At exactly 20 minutes until 6, I ran downstairs, past Mom and Dad who were watching a movie on the couch. I shouted “Going to hang out with a friend! Love you! Don't wait up!” If they tried to reply, it was lost in the sound of the door closing behind me a little louder than I meant. I had a short moment of panic when my car wouldn't start on the first try, but soon the engine caught and I was on my way.
The familiar roads of my hometown sped by as I drove. Green trees, even greener grass, the feathery branches of the weeping willow that stood over the pond in the neighbor's yard. I flipped the visor down to keep the setting sun out of my eyes as I drove. I had driven these streets a million times, and expected to drive them a million more. I knew every crack in the streets, every pothole and speed bump. I knew the stop sign with the rude graffiti message. I knew the traffic light that always had the red light halfway obscured by a bird nest.
All of these things were so familiar that I didn't even notice them anymore.
As I pulled up to the restaurant, the lights gleamed gold through the windows and the smell of upscale Chinese food wafted through the air. I searched the sidewalk for the first sight of my date.
There he was...standing on the sidewalk, crisp and clean in his gray suit, dark hair gelled back, holding the biggest bouquet of red roses that I had ever seen. He smiled as I got out of my car, his eyes lighting up as he strode toward me. He looked far too perfect to be eating at a little hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant.
He was everything I had imagined. Tall, chiseled, his suit that fit like it had been sewn onto his body. Dark, mysterious eyes. One of those faces that makes all your fears, all your worries, drop away.
I smiled, feeling suddenly shy, and let out the breath I'd been holding. “Travis?”
Travis bowed, giving me a cocky sort of grin. “Yes ma'am!” He handed me the roses with a flourish and offered me his arm. “Shall we go in?”
I laughed, a little too loudly, and threaded my hand through the crook of his arm. The flowers filled my nose with their heady scent, rich and sharp with the undercurrent of something sweet, almost like syrup. His cologne smelled very expensive, not like my vanilla-blackberry Target perfume.
I was so nervous that my palms were sweating, and I hoped desperately that Travis didn't notice. He escorted me to a booth in the corner, and bowed with a flourish as I sat down. I couldn't help laughing.
The server brought our drinks, and I sipped my ice water, trying (and failing) not to stare at the man across the table from me. His eyes were the sort that were perfect for either brooding or soulful stares. His hair was the kind that looked effortlessly messy, and probably hadn't taken him an hour to fix, like mine had. There was a little dimple in his cheek when he smiled. He looked up from his menu to see my gaze, and grinned. “What?”
I blushed and dropped my eyes to my own menu. “Oh, nothing. What do you usually order here?”
“Honestly, I've never been here before. A friend suggested it. I don't get out much.”
“Oh, because of your job?”
Travis smiled, and nodded. “they keep us busy over there, for sure.”
“I can't even imagine what it must be like, seeing all of those tiny little babies every day...”
This seemed to make Travis happy, and I gladly listened to him talk about his job as we waited for our food. I was amazed by his stories. It almost made me want to go into the medical field...me, who passed out at the sight of blood. His voice was smooth, almost hypnotic. He was even more charming in person than online. I couldn't believe my luck...that I, Ms. Nobody Special, was talking to such a man, let alone on a date with him. My life looked brighter than it ever had before.
“So, what do you think?” The question startled me out of my thoughts. I looked down at my half empty plate of noodles and egg rolls. I had barely even tasted it.
“Oh, it's great!” I exclaimed, a little too loudly, and took a long sip of my water to hide my embarrassment.
“You are so adorable when you blush,” Travis commented laughingly, which made me blush even more.
I mumbled something incoherent, and stuffed half an egg roll into my mouth.
“So what about you?” Travis asked. “How did your interview go?”
Oh, that. That job interview already seemed weeks ago and half a life away. “It went good, I think. I'm supposed to hear back from them in the next few days.”
“I'm sure you will get it. I can't imagine anyone that wouldn't be charmed by you.”
I shook my head. “Pretty sure you're the only one that thinks that. To almost everyone else, I'm nothing worth noticing.”
“I can hardly believe that.”
I nodded emphatically, my mouth still full of egg roll. “It's true. You know, I've never even had a boyfriend before? Seriously, nobody even notices me, except the dorks and the band geeks, and most of them had never even heard of acne cream. I'd barely even talked to a boy before I signed up for that site.”
Travis laughed. “Well, it is their great loss then.”
The evening continued, much in the same vein. I felt more beautiful, and
, than I had ever felt in my life. At one point Travis picked up my hand in both of his own and started tracing the lines in my palm with his fingers. I felt like my hand and arm were on fire, a tingling heat that raced up my skin straight to my heart.
“Well, it's getting pretty late,” Travis said, and I realized with a shock that it was nearly 9:00, and the restaurant was winding down. We were almost the only customers left. “I bet they're going to kick us out pretty soon if we don't leave of our own volition.”
I felt a pang at the thought of this night ever ending, but he was right. I should get back home before I got fussed at for not being there safe and sound when my parents went to bed.
Travis paid for our meal and stood from his seat, roses in one arm and the other held out to help me up from my seat. I wound my hand through the crook of his elbow, inhaling the expensive scent of his cologne.
Outside, it had started to rain. We both laughed as we ran to our cars and Travis held my door open as I slid inside. He motioned for me to roll down my window and I did so once I had fitted my key in the ignition.
“I hope I will be able to see you again soon!”
I swallowed past the sudden knot in my throat and smiled. “Yes, definitely!” I tried to start my car and get the heat going, but the ignition just clicked. Stomach clenching in annoyance, I tried again.
“Everything okay?” Travis was leaning down with his hands on the car windowsill, looking intently into my eyes.
“It's just this stupid car. I'll just have to call my dad to come get me, I guess.”
“Nonsense!” Travis grinned and opened his door. “The least I can do is offer you a ride home. After all, it means we get to spend a few more moments together.”
My heart was fluttering as I took his hand. His hair was plastered to his face by now and his pristine suit was speckled with raindrops. The roses glistened in the streetlight as if they were studded with jewels.
I followed Travis almost in a daze, as we ran through the rain to his car. It was exactly what I would have expected a man like him to have—sleek, black, expensive. A car the likes of which I had never been this close to before, let alone ridden. It looked like it was brand new off of the lot. Could a guy really keep his car this clean?
As Travis led me over to the passenger side and opened my door, I looked at him. There was a strange look on his face, but it dissolved into a sparkling grin as soon as he saw my gaze.
“Are you sure this is okay? It's just...it's such a nice car, I wouldn't want to ruin it with my wet dress...”
Travis laughed. “Of course this is okay. You will do nothing but add to its value as long as you sit inside.”
I laughed and shook my head in disbelief as I scooted into my seat and Travis shut my door before jogging around to the other side and sliding into the drivers' seat.
As the engine purred into life and Travis smoothly pulled into traffic, I never even noticed that he hadn't asked me where I lived.