Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Birthday Party

"We're not going to feel sorry for ourselves," I told Boswell, my beautiful white cat with black spots. I slumped into a chair at the kitchenette table in my apartment, four hundred miles from home, feeling especially lonely since it was my twenty-fifth birthday, my first one away from my family.
Boswell sat on the floor at my feet, licking his right paw, then wiping his face, his tale swishing. It was Friday. I'd just finished my first week at work at a new job in a new city, driven home through a blinding snowstorm, and Boswell, as usual, was waiting to be fed.
"No, sir! We're not feeling sorry for ourselves," I told Boswell again as he leaped into my lap and settled down, purring. "I'm taking a shower, then jumping into jeans and a t-shirt. We're going to have supper and then a birthday party. Cake, candles, ice cream. Like always."
After I'd hopped out of the shower, dressed, and had eaten ate supper, my cell phone rang. Mom talked first, then passed the phone on to Dad. Both exclaimed, "Happy birthday, Callie!" and said how much they missed me already and wished I were home. My family was big on birthday parties—siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins—the whole tribe—always celebrating. Mom took the phone one last time: "I saw Dexter yesterday. I didn't get a chance to talk to him. I think he feels so sorry..."
"Mom, I don't want to go there."
"All right, sweetheart." Then she said she loved me, wished me happy birthday again, said, "Stay warm!" and hung up.
I wished she hadn't brought up Dex's name. My ex-fiancé, Dexter Johnson, ditched me six months ago when his high school sweetheart returned to town. To make matters worse, a week later I was laid of from my office manager's job because of downsizing.
I swore off men, sent out tons of job applications, and finally snared a position as the manager of an insurance office, though I now lived far away from everyone I loved, except Boswell.
The knock on my door was hesitant. Only several light taps. When I inched the door open, security chain in place, I recognized my neighbor from across the hall. He was a handsome young man, my age probably, whom I'd managed to ignore—handsome or not—when we passed in the hallway. I knew he was a carpenter. I'd seen him park his company truck in the lot.
"Um...I hate to bother you," he said. "I'm Andrew McBride. I thought maybe you could help me."
Unhooking the security chain, I opened my door an inch or two wider and offered what I hoped was an impersonal smile. "I'll try."
"I'd just a minute ago driven home through the snow, parked my truck, and..." He went on to explain he'd found a cardboard box in the lobby of our complex, a cold, shivering white kitten inside that someone had apparently dumped off. He added, "A note in the box said her name's Lucy. I know you have a cat—I saw you carrying in cat food."
"Oh my! Poor thing. Bring her over. Let's see how she's doing."
Andrew had wrapped the kitten in a towel and held her in his arms. While Boswell scurried into my bedroom to hide, my neighbor sat at the kitchen table, and we decided that the kitten needed milk and cat food.
She devoured everything, and then fell asleep on the couch.
"Are you going to keep her?" I asked. "I would, but she'd make Boswell very unhappy. He's quite territorial."
Andrew shrugged. "Umm...at least for the weekend. I'll see how it goes."
"I'll fix you up with a litter box and cat food."
He smiled for the first time, a perfectly awesome smile complete with dimples. I hadn't noticed or cared about a man's smile since—well, since Dex bid me farewell.
"You're very kind," he said, and I felt my blood rush.
Really, he was the kind one. How any men would worry about a kitten? Certainly not Dex. Looking curiously at the cake on the table, Andrew said, "I hope I'm not interrupting someone's birthday party."
I sat down across from him. My heart pounding a bit, I couldn't believe I was going to do this. I mean, I poured out my story to a stranger.
When I finished he smiled but spoke hesitantly. "Um...you don't have to celebrate alone on a cold, wintery night," he said. "I'm available, and I love cake and ice cream.
This time his dimpled smile captured my heart.
I thought a moment of Dex, then of my family back home, all of whom had attended my last birthday party. But that was then. This was now. A different life. A new life. My turn to smile. "I'll let you cut the cake," I said, "while I get the ice cream from the fridge."
                                               The End
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