"Happy Birthday Matthew!"
"Happy Birthday Matt!"
"Blow out the candles!"
Everyone was staring at me smiling, and I was smiling back. It was my birthday. The first one Sarah and I were celebrating as a married couple. Joseph and Roxy were both laughing through the glow of flickering candles, and Sarah was looking so excited her eyes sparkled.
No matter how hard I blew on those damn candles they wouldn't go out. Joe's eyes danced around merrily as he snickered. I bet he had something to do with these candles. Sarah placed her hand over her mouth to keep from giggling.
"Come on! Blow them out!"
"Come on Matt! Make a wish!"
They were all pretty much laughing at me now. I played along, pretending to suck in this big deep breath. I knew Sarah wouldn't let them get away with what they were doing to me. The candles were shooting off these tiny gold sparks making the cake light up like the Fourth of July. They were almost melted to the nub when Sarah finally placed her hand on my shoulder and smiled at me happily.
"Did you make a wish?" She whispered in my ear.
I nodded and winked at her. I was pretty sure I would get my wish later, after everyone left.
We all sat around eating this delicious chocolate cake that Sarah and Cassie made together. They put these big strawberries on top with little white puffs of whipped cream, it was like a sundae in your mouth.
Joe entertained the crowd as usual, telling them stories of my youth, most of them made up, most of them.
"I spent all night searching for that damn thing so he could wear it on Halloween." Joe was waving his hands in the air, "Mom wanted to put him in tights and there was just no way I could let that happen."
"You should have seen him," Roxy chimed in, "Going to all the costume stores asking for a Batman costume. Then when we finally found it we had to ship it overnight. I think it cost Joe a little over eighty dollars when it was all said and done."
"But there was nothing too good for my brother, after all it was his idea about the boots. Remember the boots Roxy? So I mean I had to pay him back for that idea."
"The boots?" Roxy tilted her head frowning.
"Yeah the boots Roxy, remember you made me wear them later, with nothing else." He wriggled his eyebrows laughing.
By now the entire room was roaring, including me. Roxy just pretended to punch Joe and he threw his arms around her kissed her right there.
I was pretty tired by the time Sarah and I were alone again. I helped her clean up the stray cups and paper plates. I set the second garbage bag next to the first one as she was wiping down the table with a sponge. I just watched her for a moment, marveling at all that was mine.
She turned then as if she could read my mind, shooting me a brilliant smile and ushering me over to her.
"Did you have a fun birthday?" She giggled.
"It's not over yet, I hope." I nuzzled into her neck.
"Nope, there's one more present I have for you." She kissed the top of my forehead.
"Just one?" I pretended to sound disappointed, "I was hoping for two or even three."
She laughed, "Well I can do two or three but I'm pretty sure you are going to be completely immobile after the first one."
"It's gonna be that good huh?" I teased suddenly excited, "What is it? You have something or maybe nothing on under there?" I tried to peer down her dress, wrapping my arm around her waist and bringing her body next to mine. She yelped, laughing, tossing the sponge onto the table without a care in the world and wrapping her arms around my neck, pulling me down into kissing her. Letting me know that I was about to receive the best present yet.
"Any special requests?" She whispered in my ear.
"Got any Cowboy boots?" I whispered back, setting her off into another fit of giggles.
"I don't have Cowboy boots," She was still giggling, "But I do have these." She pulled away from me and walked around the far end of the table pulling out a tiny bag,
"Can't be boots in there." I grinned as visions of black lacy undergarments flashed through my head.
"Don't be so sure Matthew." She winked at me.
I just wrinkled my nose at her and stuck my hand inside the bag. It felt soft and velvety as I pulled it out.
At first my eyes couldn't believe what they were seeing, they both fit right onto the palm of my hand, and they were just so tiny.
Two tiny yellow baby booties rested there in my outstretched palm. I just looked up at Sarah as she watched me with beaming eyes.
"Sarah?" I asked, at lost for words.
"Happy Birthday Mr. Steele, we're pregnant."
That night certainly went down as the best birthday I ever had.
I couldn't get the song out of my mind. It just rolled around over and over in my head, haunting me. Even sitting in Dr. Whitewater's office, it just kept plucking away at my brain. I don't even know what I was saying to him.
"That's great news Mr. Steele. I was hoping to hear something like that from you today."
I just stared blankly at Dr. Whitewater. I was distracted today, not really listening to anything he had to say. Besides I already talked to Ben about all of this and I didn't have any interest in retelling it again.
"Hmmm? Uh thanks." I looked down at my watch and back up at him. I told him briefly about the talk I had with Sarah the other night. I left out most of the details. I thought he might be annoyed with me but he actually looked pleased. Really pleased.
"So are you expecting a call or something?" He gave me a broad smile.
"Wha? A call? No." I scratched my head at Dr. Whitewater's words. He was confusing me, his normal sullen temperament was gone and some cheerful old guy had replaced him.
"And what's that tune you are humming?" Dr. Whitewater cocked his head, pushing up his glasses. He almost reminded me of a grandpa. "It's nice, the melody." H nodded.
"What?" I asked again clearly not thinking straight. Was I humming? Well, there were these few chords that had staked their place into my brain and hadn't left. I been playing around with them for a few days now, nothing concrete yet.
"Why don't we call our session short today Mr. Steele. You seem a bit preoccupied. We can take this up again next week, no worries."
I looked up at him sharply feeling almost glad that I was being excused. I didn't feel that same need to tell him every little detail, go over every single word Sarah and I exchanged during our previous talk. I wasn't trying to figure out if there were any hidden meanings. That little nagging voice that always lingered in the back of my head was gone today, and oddly, I felt free.
"Steele, looking good today man." Ben was back at my front door. It was the third time this week and I actually looked forward to his visits. He always came over on Fridays, making the weekends a little less lonely.
"Thanks, how you've been? How's Cassie?" I moved the day's newspaper off the sofa and ushered him to sit down.
"We're all good." Ben sat down with ease. "Cassie and Sarah are going shopping today."
"More good clothes sales?" I grinned. Sarah and Cassie could never pass up a good sale at the Mall.
"Little different this one." Ben leaned forward and looked at me right in the eyes. "It's your son's birthday party tomorrow, I wanted you to know that."
"His birthday is not until the tenth." I glanced over at the calendar hanging by the light switch. There were still two weeks until his birthday.
"I know that. Sarah wanted to have it early because uh, she has to work on the ninth and wouldn't have enough time then." Ben looked a bit uneasy but quickly grabbed the can of pop I offered him and opened it, "Anyways, I thought you ought to know, so you can get over there and..." His voice lingered off.
"Get over there and what?" I asked.
"Get over there and get yourself invited." He chuckled gulping down his soda in one drink.
I just shook my head at him.
"What? Why not?" Now he looked disappointed.
"I can't make her invite me." I argued, "I just talked to her two days ago and she didn't even mention it."
"Well she can't seem all eager you know." Ben chuckled to himself like he had this gem of a secret that he wasn't telling me.
"She didn't act like she was hiding anything at all," I said pointedly, "She didn't bring Henry's second birthday, not even once."
"Give her time man," Ben suddenly responded seriously to my tone and sat up straighter. "Give Sarah a little time, she's still hurting," he handed me back the empty can, "She just needs to trust you again, that's all."
I shrugged, "She has all the time in the world. I'm not going anywhere."
"That's good to hear." Ben leaned back into the sofa still staring at me, "Because she might need it."
I hadn't had a chance to go to Sarah's yet. I was stilling across from my Dad at this little cafe over on the corner of Market and Bow Street. My Dad called me minutes after Ben left my place and invited me to lunch.
It felt good to be talking to people again and having places to go to. At the same time it felt weird. I couldn't remember a time where it was just me and my Dad sitting in a restaurant, talking.
For lack of anything better to say and because I was dying to know I just came right out and said it.
"Will you and Mom be going to Henry's birthday party tomorrow?"
My Dad looked up surprised but his face quickly turned into a smile, "Oh, you know about Henry's party, yes, your Mom and I will be there. Are you going to be there Matthew?"
I just shook my head, "I don't think so."
"No?" My Dad looked disappointed, "Why not?"
I glanced up into his face again struggling with telling him flat out how I felt or maybe I should just skim over the truth. I really wanted to confide in him, but how would I even begin? "I didn't get invited." I kept it simple.
"I'm sorry son, I am sure Sarah wants you there, she is just being extra cautious." He kept his voice neutral.
"I completely understand." Even though I really didn't understand, why wasn't love enough sometimes?
"Son, do you remember when you turned nine years old?" My Dad's eyes looked a little sad when he said that to me. I tried to think but I couldn't remember any significance of my ninth birthday.
"There was only one thing in the world you wanted. Just one thing, and your mother and I wouldn't buy it for you."
"What was it?" I kept trying to remember but I figured that since I didn't remember it must not have been all that important.
"You wanted a puppy."
That was all he had to say and the memories came rushing back to me. I begged for an entire year for a puppy. I remembered that now, there was a pet shop that Joe and I would walk in front of every day to school and a tiny brown and white puppy lived there behind the glass. He didn't have a name but I named him anyways, he was called Moses. Now don't ask me where I came up with that name, I don't know. All I know was that I loved that puppy more than anything and Moses was all I wanted for my birthday.
But the big day came and went and no Moses. I stomped around the house mad at the world and didn't talk to neither of my parents for two days.
"I wanted Moses." I said out loud looking back at my Dad, he just raised his eyebrows at me, "I named the dog Moses." I added.
"I see, Moses, well, you didn't get Moses."
"No I didn't, why not Dad? Why didn't I get a puppy for my birthday." I was suddenly eager to find out the answer after all these years, after all this time.
"You weren't ready son. You were only nine and couldn't take care of a dog all on your own. We almost gave in when your brother came to us and told us he would help you. That if we got you a puppy for your birthday he would make sure you took care of him properly. Your mother and I almost got him for you but we stopped ourselves. Do you want to know why?"
I just nodded.
"Because what would we be teaching you? What would we be teaching your brother? How would you learn the responsibility of caring for something if someone else was doing all the work? How would you be able to stand on your own two feet when your brother wasn't there to help you? We were not perfect parents Matthew, in fact, we take the blame for has happened to both of our sons."
Not sure I was making sense of everything I hearing, but inside I knew whatever my Dad was trying to tell me went far beyond getting me a puppy.
"Joseph was mad at us for not getting you a puppy." My Dad smiled at me again, "He wouldn't talk to us for two weeks."
"Two weeks?" My eyes shot up in surprise.
"Yes I know, two weeks. I think you didn't talk to us for a couple of days, but your brother, boy was he stubborn, he didn't speak, not one single word to us for two weeks."
We both let out a chuckle at Joe's bullheadedness.
"That brother of yours, once something got into his head that he wanted, he wouldn't rest until it got done, no matter what."
I guess I understood why I wasn't being invited to my own son's birthday party. I told myself that I wasn't going to barge my way in. I would give Sarah the time she needed however long that might be.
That didn't mean I couldn't give my son a gift, something simple, no puppies this year.
So with all that jumbled up in my head along with that crazy tune still playing, I made my way around the birthday isle at the store, looking for something that would make Henry stand out from the rest of the kids at his birthday party.
I found it easily. A tiny, cute, but not too cute, birthday party hat. It had a yellow sparkling number two on the front, and a big yellow feather sticking out on the top. I knew he would get a kick out of it.
With my prize in hand I made my way over to Sarah's house. I was feeling good, at peace with myself when I knocked on the door. I was not going to expect anything out of Sarah, certainly not an invitation.
"Matthew! Hi! Come in please." She pulled her door wide open to let me in. Henry was sitting in his high chair waving his spoon in the air, a few cheerios stuck to his cheek.
It was as if I stepped into heaven. Sarah was wearing this bright yellow apron over her jeans, her hair piled up on her head with a clip. She was holding a small baby cup in her hands as she made her way back to Henry.
Henry of course was pleased that his mother had returned to his side. He opened his mouth wide at the drink she was offering him.
"Henry's happy to see you." Sarah smiled at me some more and then at Henry.
"I'm glad you're both here." I began, "I have something Henry, for his party." I pulled out the hat and Henry immediately became entranced with all the colors and forgot about his cheerios.
Sarah eyed me with surprise, and maybe slight embarrassment, but then she let out this sweet laugh, "Oh! It's adorable! Thank you so much! Henry looks like he loves it too."
I guess deep down I was really hoping that she would use this moment to finally ask me if I wanted to come to the party, but instead she just started chatting about all the fun things her and Henry did that day to get ready for his party.
"We went to the party supply store and got some streamer and balloons. Henry got to pick out some fun noisemakers for his guests. We didn't get a hat for him though, so this is just perfect. Thank you Matthew."
I smiled at her, feeling pleased. Ben and my Dad were right. I needed to give her time, she needed to get used to me again, to trust me again. All that needed to happen before I would get invited to anything. There would be more parties, holidays, milestones, I wouldn't miss them all.
We talked for a while longer until Henry's eyes grew tired. He fought sleep, toddling around the living room, going back and forth between me and Sarah, jabbering away in his baby talk, making us both laugh.
When Sarah tried to settle him down he refused, letting our these deep heart wrenching cries and even extending his arms to me to be held. I think he was just playing the guilt card though.
Sarah shot me an apologetic look, "I'm sorry, he's usually not this bad at bedtime."
"Let me hold him please, it would be no trouble at all." I reached for my son and almost like magic he quieted down.
Sarah let out this soft giggle before turning away from us and picking up a few stray toys tossed around the living room.
Henry was fussy, poor guy, probably due to all the excitement of getting ready for his big day. I felt really lucky that I dropped in at just the right time. Dr. Whitewater would be proud of me. I took a chance without overthinking it and it actually worked out.
I pulled the covers up near Henrys head, tucking him in and brushing back his hair. He opened his eyes sleepily at me before offering me a small smile. Out of nowhere I could hear myself humming to him. It was the same melody I been humming in Dr. Whitewater's office. I been working on it for the last two weeks. I only had a few verses floating around in my head but somewhere deep inside me already knew how the entire song would end.
I sang softly, just barely letting my voice be heard, I didn't want to rouse Henry. I kept humming in tune, filling in the blanks where didn't have any words figured out for it yet.
When I was finally sure Henry was fast asleep I brushed his hair away one more time and silently crept out of his room.
The hallway was dark. I could see a tiny flicker of light, just a spark, over near the kitchen area. It was eerily silent and for a brief second I thought maybe Sarah had gone to bed. But no, there she was, her back towards me. Her head was looking down at something small in her hands, I couldn't tell what it was. She was immobile, and all I could see was her dark hair flowing down her back.
For some reason all I wanted to do at that instant was walk right up to her and wrap my arms around her. No talking, no wondering, just pull her to me and place my head on her back and feel her.
I think for a moment I was actually going to do that when she suddenly turned around. Her eyes met mine instantly, they were dark, almost black, and they looked at me with something that threw me for a loop. I swear I saw desire in her eyes, it was, I saw it. At least I think I saw it.
She placed whatever she was holding down on the counter, not caring that it fell over sideways. She started walking right toward me. She didn't say a word, she was still partially hidden in the darkness. I froze where I was standing. The hallway's darkness blanketing me, unsure of what to do.
Her walk grew bolder, more determined, I could see it all over her face.
My heart started pounding, whatever lined we crossed tonight we couldn't ever go back, in fact, whatever we'd been nurturing between us these last few weeks, it was growing pretty strong, it wasn't just a flicker any longer. It had caught a spark and it was now a real true flame.
My hands twitched wanting to reach out for her, and the way her soft brown hair was bouncing all around her just made my ache for her grow.
When she was just an arm's reach away and my brain was buzzing at me to take the last step and close that final distance between us, she paused.
Not because of me. At least I hoped not. But because the fucking doorbell rang, twice.
She shot me this quick look that reminded me of regret and then hurried for the door.
My heart never hardened so fast as it did that night. Clay blew through the door as if he owned the place, and I guess in his mind, he did.
"Sarah honey, I have everything ready for tomorrow. How's our little guy?" He was holding a big cardboard box full of decorations and streamers. I could see the blue and yellow colors all blending together in this great big glittery mess.
"Clay, it's late. Henry's already asleep." Sarah made no mention that I was there, which made my heart sink a little.
"I figured our little guy would be worn our from our busy day today. Shopping for your birthday party is hard work when you're turning two." Clay laughed placing the box down on the kitchen counter.
I stayed hidden in the hallway's dark shadows, struggling with myself. I automatically assumed Sarah and Cassie had done all the birthday party shopping, that's what Ben said right? From the look and sound of it, it was Clay who had been with her.
My heart kept pounding but this time out of anger and frustration. Should I jump out and make a scene? Pretend I wasn't there and see what Sarah would do? Or maybe act all cocky, walking out as if I belonged there, had always belonged there. But the more Clay talked the more I just wanted to listen, and the more I listened, the more my heart just wanted to run and hide.
"Thank you Clay, I know Henry will love these." Sarah's voice was higher than normal, no doubt she was nervous at having both of us in the house so close.
"There's nothing I wouldn't do for him Sarah, you know that, and you too." Clay didn't even look at Sarah, he didn't need to I guess, he felt right at home taking all the goodies out of the box and spreading them all over the counter. "I know we didn't pick this one out together but when I saw it I had to buy it."
I narrowed my eyes trying to focus oh what he was holding. I could only partially see it.
"Thank you. It's adorable." There was no doubt that Sarah's voice was shaking now. When I finally looked at what was in her hands I figured out why. She was holding a party hat. It had a bright blue number two on it, almost similar to the one I brought over. I blinked stupidly to myself, trying not to let defeat wash over me. I didn't know what was worse, that both Clay and I bought the same thing for my son, or the fact that Clay had been in the house for over ten minutes and Sarah still hadn't said a word to him about me.
"I'll be sure to let him see it when he wakes up. Thanks for stopping by." Now it sounded like Sarah was trying to usher Clay out the door, but it was too late for me really. I just wanted to get the fuck out of there.
"Can I peek at him? Just give him a little peck goodbye?" It was clear Clay didn't want to leave, how was Sarah going to get out of this one?
"Normally that wouldn't be a problem, you know that Clay, but tonight Henry had such a hard time settling down. He was so fussy and crying, he wouldn't calm down until Ma...ermm, he heard a song. I really don't think it's a good idea. Besides, you'll see him tomorrow."
Clay didn't say anything else after that. I guess he silently agreed and made his way out the door. I was seething in the hallway at this point, just wanted to grab my shit and head on out of there. Once I heard the click of the door I didn't wait for Sarah to come back into view, I just marched right out into the kitchen area and grabbed my jacket hanging on the coat tree near the foyer.
Sarah watched me silently for a second, not moving from her position near the door. It almost made me madder that she didn't even offer an explanation, but my brain told me she didn't have to. She still wasn't mine, she didn't have to tell me anything. I had hurt her for almost two years and never once offered her an explanation, why should she have to do that for me now?
"Thanks for letting me see Henry." I tried not to sound gruff but I knew you could hear it in my voice. "I better get going. I see you have a lot of decorating to do." I silently cursed myself for that last sarcastic comment.
She studied me silently for a second before saying, "You're leaving?"
The tone of her voice made me pause, it sounded almost sad, wishful.
"It's late." Was all I could think of in reply.
She looked down at the floor, shifting her feet before looking back at me. She nodded silently and then took a hasty deep breath. "Will you come back tomorrow? For Henry's party? It starts at noon."
I stared at her, wondering what the hell she was getting at. Didn't she realize what she just said? She wanted me to come to the party, the party that everyone, including Clay, would be at.
"But maybe you can get here a little bit early and help me decorate?" Her voice lowered almost to a whisper and her hands were clasped tightly together. She looked just like that college girl I remembered so long ago. It was making me dizzy, the highs and lows, I wanted to clasp my hands to my head and just shake away all the confusion.
But my heart wouldn't let me go.
"Sarah I..." I was really at loss for words here. I mean I was pretty sure I heard what she asked me, and there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to be here, but where would that put us?
"No, I'm sorry it's okay. Never mind. I shouldn't have asked you. It's too much, too soon. I'm sorry." She turned away from me and picked up on of the yellow streamers from Owen's fucking box and for some insane reason that set me off.
"Baby look at me." I could hear the cracking of my voice and it made her turn around in complete surprise, the yellow streamer falling freely from her open hand and back onto the counter.
"I'll be here tomorrow, early. For you and for Henry. I'll be here."