Prompt: Incorporate the recent honey moon that occurred on Friday, June 13th into your story. When Sarah gave me this prompt, my thoughts immediately jumped to mythology – surely the ancients must have had some elaborate (if not necessarily scientifically accurate) story explaining this kind of phenomenon? That reminded me of the story I posed here last fall, Oh the Fates. Today’s post is a second installment of that story (with a few changes, most notably Nia is now Gia), so you may want to read that one first. This is also the story I’ll be continuing to expand this month as I participate in Camp NaNoWriMo.
“I’m going out!” I call out into the chaotic house, taking the stairs two at a time. “I have my phone but I won’t be able to answer for a while!”
Aunt Moira’s head pops out from around the corner. “Where are you going?”
“A lecture at my college. Have you seen my car keys?” I riffle through my bag with no luck. I can hear them jingling, but my fingers can’t find them. Until, wait a second, yes! “Never mind, I’m good. What?”
My aunt’s arms are crossed over her sauce-spattered apron. “School on a Friday night? In the summer?” She shakes her head. “You haven’t even eaten. Let me make you a plate first.”
I give her a kiss on the cheek. “Thanks, but really I’ve got to run.” Her reply is mumbled Greek, asking the gods to watch over me. Athena has always been a favorite of Aunt Moira’s when it comes to me, but it’s only recently that Aphrodite has been getting requests on my behalf as well.
Knowledge is power. Which is to say, knowledge almost always makes things more complicated. Like when a year ago, I learned that according to my ancestors, the Greek Fates, I am destined to marry my soul mate, Apollo Marino, within a year of graduating college.
Most of the pages in the notebook containing my Plan are still blank, filling in as life goes by, but it seemed like the ones my parents filled with my father’s meticulous handwriting left very little wiggle-room. You will be married within a year of finishing college, to your soul mate, the love of your life. You will have an amazing and long life together, full of love but not without its trials. He will be born Apollo Marino, an Italian boy, descendant of the Roman gods, and you will meet him by the time you turn 20 years old.
At first it seemed kind of wonderful – the Fates had provided my parents not only with a time frame, but both a first and last name. And while they are no longer with us, my great big Greek family is, and they’re a better information network than the Internet or CIA when it comes to finding people. There were a few grumbles at first. How could I possibly be destined for a life with a non-Greek?! Sure it was done all the time, but it was less common in the Fates line because our heritage isn’t exactly easy to explain, especially to those unfamiliar with good old Greek mythology.
But at the end of the day, my family loves me, they loved my parents, and as weird as it may be, we trust the Fates. For as long as anyone can remember, they have yet to predict something in a person’s Plan that did not eventually come true.
That is until now.
Because tomorrow is my 20th birthday and I haven’t met Apollo Marino.
But it’s okay. I still trust the Fates despite the looks of pity I’ve been getting as June 14th draws closer and closer. We throw around words like fate and destiny so casually and with so much assurance that the whole idea of free will gets pushed off to the side.
I mull it over as I drive to campus and walk to the classics building where this evening’s lecture is happening. Glancing at my watch, I probably could have scarfed something down quickly – my stomach grumbles in complaint – but since I have some time to spare, I decide to take the long way, swinging by the union to pick up a snack that will hold me over. My cell rings just as I’m finishing the last of my smoothie and am about to head inside with five minutes to spare. “Hey Callie.”
“Mom told me you’re at school tonight. She wanted me to make sure you’re really okay and not just saying that.”
Of course Aunt Moira wouldn’t just call on the gods. “I’m sure.”
“I’m your best friend. You know you can tell me right?”
I perch against the railing at the top of the stairs and look out over the quad. It’s like someone has amplified the colors in the few weeks since the spring semester let out. The grass is definitely greener, though maybe that has more to do with the fact that there are less people playing Frisbee on it day after day. “We’ve talked about this before. I trust the Fates, but I also believe in free will.”
“Ugh.” Callie is less than confident in my theory and has been very open about that fact. Given the contents of her Plan (which she has never shared with me and I’ve never pushed her to), she claims that it doesn’t make sense. Free will is the whole reason our gift from the Fates has changed over the millennia– it’s why we only get a singular snapshot. The gift takes free will into account, or so we always thought. But in recent months, I’ve wondered if the gift has finally gone, diluted after all these years so it’s no longer carried in my blood.
I do believe that 20 years ago when my parents got their glimpse of my future, I really was meant to be with Apollo. But a lot can change in two decades. Maybe he’s chosen things in his life and I’ve chosen things in mine that mean our paths are no longer meant to cross.
“I still don’t see why free will means you are spending a perfectly good Friday night at school. You know you’re totally welcome to come and watch stupid scary movies with me and Sock.”
“You don’t think it’s strange that people call your boyfriend that?”
“I think with a name like Socrates and a lifetime of told that he knows nothing, I’ll call him whatever he wants me to call him. I also think that you are wasting a perfectly great summer night not to mention Friday the 13th by doing whatever the heck it is you’re doing. If you’re not going to be on the town looking for Apollo on your last night, then you should be with people who care about you.”
If it were possible to hug someone over the phone, I would right now. “I appreciate it, Cal. But I really think this is about choices, and I choose not to stay in and mope because things didn’t turn out the way we thought. So what if I’m single? I’ve still got a life to live and I’m going to make the best of it.” It’s the worst cliché, of course, and the words actually draw the eye of a guy walking past me into the building. He glances at me sideways, straightening his rectangular glasses and raising his eyebrows in a way that clearly says Seriously? I raise mine back in reply. Oh shut up. He shakes his head a little, pushing a brown curl from his forehead out of the way of his glasses and makes his way inside.
“You’re not bull shitting me?”
“No.” It’s mostly true. Fake it till you make it, right?
“We love you, Gia!” Sock calls and I laugh. Of course Callie would have me on speaker phone. No doubt she’ll make her aptly named philosophy major boyfriend dissect every word of this conversation as soon as we hang up.
The bell tower rings. Time to get going. “Love you guys, too. I’ll shoot you a text when this is over if I’m feeling up to coming out.”
I can practically hear my cousin, my surrogate sister, smile. “You better!”
As I predicted (take that, Fates!), the lecture hall is mostly empty, though I’ll admit there are more people here than I was expecting. I wave and give general greetings to a few of my professors and TAs in the auditorium before planting myself in the third row, near the aisle. Tonight’s topic is illuminated on the opening slide of a Power Point presentation: The Moon: From Selene to Shakespeare to Science.
Dr. Harper is already at the podium next to the table of panelists, tapping his pen furiously in the palm of his hand. “Alrighty, well let’s go ahead and get started! Thank you all so much for coming out this evening. I would also like to extend my thanks to my colleagues in the classics department as well as those joining us from the astronomy and English departments.” There’s polite applause before he continues.
“This evening, we are examining an object in the sky that has captured the attention of humans around the world as long as there has been human life. Dr. Jenna Lawrence will be starting the evening off with a variety of mythologies and deities associated with the moon.” The ethereal blonde woman nods with a small smile while there’s another pause for clapping. Her blush starts in her cheeks and spreads down her neck. “Next, guest lecturer Dr. Rob Camargo will shed light on the moon’s role in the literary world.” More clapping elicits a big grin and small wave from the dark man who looks completely at home in front of an audience. “Finally, PhD candidate Alex Fata will be sharing the science behind what mankind assumed was magic for so long.
I raise my hands to applaud again, but when I see who it is, they fall in my lap. It’s him. The guy from before. The not unattractive guy with olive skin, chocolate eyes and hair, and is totally rocking the professor-chic look. His plaid dress shirt and striped tie are smart, but I notice the top button is undone and his sleeves are rolled up.
Oh God, his forearms are sexy. I give myself a mental shake. Did I really just think that? Come on, universe. A little less Aphrodite, a little more Athena thank you very much.
He looks at me and I immediately drop my gaze, but my gut tells me that I wasn’t quite fast enough. If that’s true, then I don’t want to know it. I reach into my oversized purse and fish out a composition notebook and pen. I don’t really need to take notes, but I like to be armed just in case. I’m not familiar with the other two speakers, but I adored Dr. Lawrence’s class last semester and Dr. Harper always asks the best questions when moderating panels like this one.
When I do raise my eyes again, I keep them firmly on the screen. For the next hour, I nearly forget about the Fates, the looming deadline on their promise, and the pity party that is probably awaiting me with Callie and Sock. I soak up stories and legends, some new, some not. I say nearly forget because it’s impossible to escape my heritage completely. Not that I’m hiding from it. I actually smile at the slide of Selene, goddess of the moon, driving her chariot across the heavens. Then of course there’s the mention of her Roman counterpart, Luna (though Diana and Juno also get that distinction too. Even back then, Italians made things complicated).
My pen flies across my notebook’s pages, scattered thoughts finding a home. Incomplete sentences and doodles and titles of books and names of authors are scrawled in hasty penmanship I’ll no doubt have trouble deciphering later, but my soul feels lighter. Learning has a way of making me feel grounded, connected to the past and to others.
That is, until the final half hour of the presentation when it’s the pretty boy’s turn to talk. Whereas the other two thirds of the evening have been magical, this is as dry as moon dust. Alex’s voice is flat and bored as he describes the moon in clinical terms.
Natural satellite. Rotational velocity. Geochemically distinct layers. Long story short, the moon is a giant rock in the sky. Yes it does affect ocean tides, but that’s not magic. That’s gravity.
I stop writing. Though he doesn’t smile, I get the distinct impression that this guy is laughing at the humanities people present. That we’re silly for studying stories that people told thousands of years ago.
I don’t think I’m the only one with that feeling, either. Dr. Harper fumbles for words as Alex’s presentation comes to a close. “Ah, well, thank you, Mr. Fata, for that very concise and straight-forward contribution. I’ll open the floor up to questions now. Ah yes, Mr. Lattimer?”
There’s no doubt that my peers are asking great questions and receiving phenomenal answers. I hear the occasional bout of laughter, but it’s as if my hearing is suddenly muffled. I try to focus, but my attention keeps drifting back to astro-grump. He’s not even pretending to be engaged in the event anymore. Instead his head is down, one hand mussing through his hair while the other scribbles furiously.
Athena must seize control of my body, because before I can second-guess what I’m doing, my hand is in the air. Dr. Harper is as surprised as I am but clearly his is of the delighted variety where as mine is more like panic. It’s a small department at a small college, so we all know each other and I’m not known for being particularly talkative outside discussion sections. “Yes! Miss Katsaros!”
I stand up, and Dr. Lawrence sits up a little straighter, ready to field my surely inevitable question. “Mr. Fata.”
“Huh?” His head snaps up, a bewildered look on his face as if he’s surprised that there are other people in the room, let alone he’s still on a stage at the front of it. “I mean, yes?”
I wring my hands together, palms slicking with sweat. “I, uh, hi. Mr. Fata, I was just wondering, while your talk was very, very thorough in regards to the scientific facts about the moon, I was wondering if there was anything you might be able to add in terms of astronomy. In a wider scope, I mean.”
His face gives away nothing as he slowly caps his pen, closes his notebook, and clears his throat. The only evidence of his amusement at my question is a twinkle that I don’t believe was in his eye before. “Astronomy.”
“You’re from the astronomy department, aren’t you?”
“Yes, and I was told that this evening’s discussion was to be focused on the moon.”
“Of course,” I fumble. A smile pulls ever so slightly at the edge of his perfect lips that I would love to make imperfect with a swift punch. Does he like how uncomfortable he’s making me?
No way is he winning this round.
I release my hands and wipe them on my jeans. “You gave us a great deal of information on the moon, however, and forgive me for the blunt delivery, your third of the conversation in no way connected to the other two.”
“I – ”
But I refuse to let him talk, not just yet. “We’ve now heard about the ties between various ancient religions and a wide range of literature influenced by the moon as well as other celestial bodies. But you didn’t tell us why.”
“Surely the ancients didn’t just look up at the sky and decide that some stars close to each other looked like the outline of a hunter just because they were bored.”
Dr. Harper looks impressed. Alex looks like he’d like to crawl under the table. His mouth hangs open, but no words come out. He looks to Dr. Harper for help but only gets a shrug. “I do hate to put you on the spot, Mr. Fata, but Miss Katsaros has brought up a point I’m also curious about. Perhaps I was too…specific… in titling this event. Perhaps I should have said the heavens rather than only the moon. In the time we have remaining, would you be willing to enlighten us as to the roll of constellations?”
“Of course,” Alex says. He stands up again, smoothing his tie and double-checking to make sure the back of his shirt is still neatly tucked into his khakis. “Can we bring up the slide you showed earlier featuring the sky of the Northern Hemisphere?” The room’s lights are slightly dimmed so we can see the projected image, but that’s not the only thing that lights up. Alex is animated now, utilizing a laser pointer he must have fabricated out of thin air to show a few constellations and explaining what time of year they appear. “Simply put,” he wraps up, “the astrological sign associated with your birthday isn’t just because some crook at a magazine thought of another way to get your money. It corresponds to the constellation in the sky, which, like Drs. Harper, Lawrence, and Camargo alluded to, tie to many ancient religions, and those stories still inspire today’s modern cultures. My apologies to all of you for…neglecting that point before.”
Dr. Harper’s hearty handshake and clap on the back prove that all is forgiven. “Wonderful points you made there. Thank you! And that wraps up our evening, so thanks again to our panelists, to the college, and to all of you for attending. And be sure to pay some extra special attention to the sky this evening. With your newly acquired knowledge, perhaps it will look like a whole new world.”
After another half an hour of shaking hands and mingling with my peers and teachers in the small crowd, my distraction comes to an end. I exit the building into the thick summer air. Not that I’m wearing anything particularly heavy – cropped skinny jeans and a light sweater over a sleeveless blouse – but I might as well have jumped into the deep end of a pool. It’s a good thing I didn’t bother straightening my hair today. In its curly state, it sits right above my shoulders, just enough to make my head hot. The fragrance of flowers is multiplied by the twilight giving way to a pure night sky. It may be Friday the 13th, but there’s nothing remotely scary about this setting.
I sit on the bottom step of the Georgian style building and fish out my phone. Only one voicemail from Uncle Nico’s number and three texts from Callie. Apparently they’ve already tired of their plans for a movie marathon. The family’s poet in residence isn’t capable of sitting through terribly written B-list movies – now there’s a shocker. Too bad she didn’t come with me tonight. I bet she and Sock would have both really liked it. Especially the part where I actually opened my mouth and said something.
Not just said something, but said something unexpected and dare I say it, a little ballsy?
My thumbs hover my phone, ready to text her as much when a voice scares the crap out of me. “I’m not in the business of being mad at girls, but I’m almost mad at you right now.”
The phone jumps from my fingers and clatters on the sidewalk. I reach for it, but he’s quicker. An olive hand attached to a seriously sexy forearm. I reflexively draw my hand back, the gesture drawing out a delicious tenor laugh. “Here,” he says, holding out the phone like it’s a peace offering even though it’s already mine.
I’m still too embarrassed to look past his elbow, but I take the phone and cradle it in my lap. “Thanks.”
His khaki leg is only a few inches from my denim one as he sits next to me. “You’re welcome.” He drums his thumbs on the top of his legs, the patter filling the silence. “I think this is the point in the conversation when you apologize to me.”
My laugh comes out too sharp. “Oh really? And what am I apologizing for, exactly?”
“You showed me up in front of all those people!”
I roll my eyes and am finally able to look at him. “You sounded like you were getting a root canal until I brought up constellations. If I hadn’t said anything and provided you with the chance to redeem yourself, what kind of report do you think Dr. Harper would be sending back to your faculty advisor right now?”
Alex nods, taking his tie off and stuffing it into his messenger bag. “So I should be thanking you?”
“Clearly.” I like this lighter side to astro-boy. I like the sound of his voice. My phone buzzes to life in my lap with another text from Callie, but I don’t even have an urge to answer. “Or there’s always another option.”
“If you tell me more about the constellations, how they work with the horizons and hemispheres and all that, I’ll tell you the stories behind them.”
Doubt brings creases at the corners of his eyes. “What makes you think I don’t know them? How do you think I got into astronomy in the first place?”
“Well, sure, you know the cut and dry versions. I just thought you’d be interested in stories with a bit more flare to them. It’s sort of my area of expertise.”
“Because you’re an undergrad in classics?”
“And I’m Greek. We’re notoriously good story tellers.”
Alex stands up, and his hesitation convinces me that I must have read this thing wrong. He fidgets with the strap of his bag against his chest.
His kind of skinny but nicely defined, forms a pleasant v, chest.
“And what’s in it for you? It’s a Friday in the summer and you’re young. You could be out having fun, probably with whoever keeps texting you.” He looks pointedly at my phone, buzzing again.
I stuff it in my bag and stand up. “My pitch for my honors thesis is due at the end of the summer. You’d be helping me test-drive a topic.” It’s not a total lie, but it’s also not the truth. The truth is the flutter in my stomach, undoubtedly red cheeks, and the voice in the back of my head whispering Apollo who? What prophecy?
I mean, obviously telling him the whole truth isn’t an option, but I want to be as honest as circumstances will allow.
“Also I could use the distraction.”
Alex presses lips together. He starts walking down the quad, inviting me with a nod. I easily catch up, falling in step with him. “So you’re using me?”
Talk about twisting my words around. “That’s not what I meant.”
“How about we use each other?” There’s that twinkle in his eye again, definitely more roguish than before. My face must expose how flustered it makes me because Alex’s smile goes wide. “Oh get your mind out of the gutter, I meant academically.” The word mostly hangs unsaid in the air. “I propose a deal. I’ll help you learn about constellations and how they would have been mapped by your precious classic civilizations if you write an email to my advisor saying what a fantastic job I did tonight.”
He stops walking and offers me his hand. “Deal?”
I accept his proposal and handshake. “Deal.”
Only he doesn’t let go. “One more condition. We don’t have those conversations tonight.”
“We’re not going to talk about the constellations at night time?” He shakes his head. “Fine. No talking about stars. But you owe me one more answer about the moon.”
“Okay. What’s your question?”
I point with my free hand over his shoulder. “Why the hell is it orange?”
We walk along as the sky grows darker and the only other thing I learn about astronomy for the entire night is the strange phenomenon known as the “honey moon.” “The fact that it looks amber isn’t really the most interesting part,” Alex insists. “That’s just the result of its low location, so the light reflecting off the surface and back down to us is cutting through thick layers of the atmosphere. It’s today’s date that has everyone paying attention. A full moon on Friday the 13th usually happens about every 14 years. We haven’t had one since 2000, but we’re not going to have one again now until 2049.”
I take a picture on my phone, chronicling what apparently is natural history in the making. “So are you superstitious too?” I start the sentence teasing, but there’s an underlying curiosity. I mean, my whole family believes in something the rest of the world cast aside thousands of years ago.
He considers the question. “Well, it’s not like I was afraid of getting out of bed this morning just because of the date. That being said, I’m not seeking out mirrors to break, ladders to walk under, or black cats to cross my path.”
“But you’re otherwise after mirrors, ladders, and cats?”
“No way. I’m a dog person, always have been.”
The honey moon rises in the sky and the night gives way to pure, unadulterated random conversation. We walk all over campus, magically transformed and almost unrecognizable in the absence of daytime chaos. There’s a natural ebb and flow to the way Alex speaks with effortless transitions from the silly to the serious. We talk about school a little bit, but stick to our earlier agreement to table our academic discussion for another time. We touch on family stuff too, which leads to the wild world of pranks Callie and I have pulled with our other numerous cousins over the years and his protectiveness of his little sister. “I may have been accused of grilling her prom date pretty hard last month,” he says, shrugging and rubbing the back of his neck, a look of pure innocence in his eyes. “Even Dad told me to go easy on the kid.”
“Well I’m sure she’ll thank you for it someday.”
“Not for a few decades, probably, but yeah, someday. At least I know that’s how Callie feels about her dad and older brothers and all of our uncles…”
“What about you and your dad?”
I flinch. Here’s hoping that it’s dark enough where it goes unnoticed, but under the light of the full moon… “Did I say something wrong?”
Dang it. “No,” I say looking down and my feet cemented to the sidewalk below them. “It’s just… my parents died when I was 11.”
“Shit.” It’s not the first time tonight he’s sworn, but I can already tell Alex isn’t usually one to do so casually. It’s the total opposite of Callie who says words only have power if we let them, so fuck it. “Gia, I’m sorry.”
“Why? Did you do it?” I raise my big brown eyes to his and poke him square in the middle of his chest. We both omit a small “oh” – his I’m assuming due to the unexpected pressure, mine because wow, there’s a little bit of muscle under there I wasn’t expecting. Now he’s not the only one with flushed cheeks.
I’ll deny it. I’ll blame it on moonlight.
A series of sounds that don’t come anywhere close to words in any language I’ve ever encountered bumble out of his mouth and I break. “I’m sorry,” I laugh, reaching down and giving his hand a squeeze. “But, oh God, I couldn’t help it just once. The look on your face…” But it’s still there, the slightly bewildered ‘oh man what is up with this girl” look. I swallow any remaining giggles. “Really. I am sorry. It’s my default. It’s actually what my mom used to tell me all the time. Never apologize if you haven’t done something wrong. Offer condolences or sympathy, but apologies from the wrong person don’t help anybody.”
Alex’s face softens behind the thick plastic frames he adjusts for the thousandth time with his free hand. His maneuvers his other hand so his fingers are entwined with mine, giving a gentle squeeze.
“What I was trying to say was that I get it. I can empathize. My dad died.”
Now I feel like a total ass. “Oh wow.” Sorry is on the tip of my tongue, but of course it doesn’t come out. “So you really can get it. But wait, hold the phone. You just said your dad gave you a hard time…”
Alex drops his head, but his eyes stay on mine. He’d said prom was last month.
He must have died recently, like in the past few weeks. “Oh my God.”
I instinctively pull for my hand back so I can cover my horrified face in shame, but Alex doesn’t let go. Nope. The tides have turned and he’s laughing at me. “I’m sorry,” he grins. “I had to… forgive me?”
“You jerk!” We both know I don’t actually mean it. “Will you please clarify, Mr. Fata,” I say, doing my best but still a pretty terrible Dr. Harper impression.
“Only if you promise never to talk like that again.” I nod. “My dad did die when I was a baby, so I guess I should have said stepdad when I was talking before. But he’s Dad to me. He’s the only father I’ve ever known.”
It’s embarrassing that sometimes I forget I’m not the only person with a tragic backstory. I mean, how could I forget? I’m Greek. I’m a scholar of the classics, which are much more about tragedy than comedy. And it’s not like I don’t see people struggling. I’ve seen plenty of my friends’ worlds crumble and I watch the news. But I haven’t met someone my own age who has lost a parent in a very long time. Not since I stopped going to support group a few years ago.
Unlike me, it doesn’t seem like Alex has let his loss define him or his life. It’s refreshing.
There’s probably an appropriate response for this kind of thing, some perfect combination of words that is both appropriate for the solemnity of his confession and adequately expresses how much I can appreciate what a big thing it can be to share. Too bad I have no idea what those words are, but apparently they’re not necessary because Alex speaks first.
“You know, I don’t do this. Ever.”
He spreads his arms out, palms up, fingers splayed wide as if catching something falling from the sky. “This. Wandering around aimlessly. Spending all night talking to a great girl I didn’t even know a few hours ago.” He drops his hands to his sides and his eyes to the ground. “Wanting to ask said girl if she’d be up for a drink?”
My internal thermostat shoots up. “Oh. That,” I say when what I want to say is yes. Which is rare for me.
Okay, so it’s not like I’ve never been on a date before. I went to a few high school dances with guys, but they were usually ‘just friends’ situations. There was a really nice boy I dated during my senior year. Our relationship was brief, never intended to last past graduation, but I couldn’t have wished for a sweeter first kiss, fumbling nerves and all. And there were two guys who lived in my dorm last year who asked me out. One was under the guise of needing a study partner – he wanted something more, I wanted to understand Latin 101.
But ever since reading my Plan, I sort of stopped seeing the point. There is something to be said for gaining experience, for living in the moment, but there was always a voice in the back of my head that held me back. Cheater, it said. If I knew that I had Apollo coming, what was so important that I couldn’t wait? More kissing? Sure I craved it – I’m a prude, not dead – but with my soul mate on his way, it would be cruel to lead a guy on if I went into it already knowing it wouldn’t last.
The century old bell tower sings out across campus, steady and definitive. Twelve strikes, twelve times letting listeners know that another day has ended and a new one is upon us.
And for me, another year.
Reality hits me, a firm smack to my heart. You will meet him by the time you turn 20 years old. I’d been talking about free will to Callie for months now, how in the two decades since those words were written, choices could have altered our paths.
But a small part of my heart cracks, a part I’d become an expert at ignoring, so much so that I’d forgotten it was even there.
The part where I wanted the Fates to prove me wrong.
Alex is looking at me anxiously. I check the large faced watch on my wrist. 12:02 A.M. In the little square that indicates the date, it has already neatly rolled over from June 13 to June 14.
“I can’t,” I say. His face falls. “I mean, I want to. But…” But I was supposed to meet my future husband by now. But my ancient ancestors have let me down. But my heart is breaking and I want my parents so badly that I can hardly breathe.
“But it’s getting kind of late. Also, I’m not old enough to drink.” Again, it’s true but not the whole truth. Neither of those things stopped me in the past but tonight, this morning, today’s date, is undeniably different.
“Oh.” His eyes wash over my face, looking for further explanation. There must be something in my expression, evidence that I’m holding something back. If he only knew. “How old are you?”
“20 as of about two minutes ago.”
His face perks up. “It’s your birthday? Happy birthday.”
“Thanks.” For the first time all night, awkward silence settles upon us in the already thick humidity. “Well, um, I should probably be calling it a night, though. I have a big family thing tomorrow.”
“A birthday party, perhaps?”
I grin. “Perhaps.”
“Then we should probably get you home. You haven’t turned into a pumpkin yet but maybe it’s going to be a delayed reaction.”
“You would know. You’re the scientist.”
“And you’re the one who studies fairy tales.”
“Hey now, mythology and fairy tales are shelved in the non-fiction section.”
The walk to my car isn’t far. “Thanks,” I say. I unlock the door and toss my purse onto the passenger seat. “I really did have a great time tonight.”
“Me too,” Alex agrees. “I’m just relieved I got another chance to make a better impression.” Doubt flits across his face. He swallows hard. “So, uh, one more thing I never do is ask a girl for her number the day I meet her.”
“Is that so?”
He nods. “But if it’s already tomorrow, then that’s okay, right?”
“Sounds completely reasonable to me,” I say, happily taking the phone in his hands and punching in my number. I call myself, hanging up when I hear the buzzing from my purse before handing it back. “Now I have your number too.”
“Great. So clearly if you’re driving home, I guess that means you must not be on campus this summer? Though if you came here on a Friday night I’m also guessing you must not live too far away. Or maybe you do and you really just wanted to hear the presentation – ”
His rambling is adorable, but I put him out of his misery. “Alex?”
“I’m sure this is another thing you never do, but would you be up for hanging out sometime?”
I lean on the doorframe and nod. “I wouldn’t have given you my number if I didn’t. And I only live a half hour away. Forty-five minutes if there’s traffic.”
Tension rolls off his tight shoulders as he lets out a long breath, a relieved smile gracing his lips. “I’d like that. I mean, I want to be upfront with you, I’m doing a lot of research and TA-ing this summer so I am busy, but I’d like that.”
He leans in, hesitates, then leans in again and kisses me gently on the cheek. The tips of his long eyelashes flutter against my skin and when he pulls away, my face is still warm where his lips had been.
Of course I’m warm all over now. “Happy birthday.”
And it is a happy birthday, indeed.
Breaking the bad news to my family that the Fates fell through will do doubt put a damper on things.
I’ll focus on savoring this good feeling while I can. Because the honeymoon and honey moon will both be over far too soon.
Sarah’s Prompt: Everybody’s got World Cup fever! Or do they? Your next story must include the World Cup in a prominent way (it can’t just be on a TV in the background) 🙂