The Birthday

No one else brought balloons.  Pink was Lara Jane’s favorite color so I brought dozens of heart-shaped ones.  I placed a few around the bar in her living room, a few more in the kitchen.  Then, I put her presents, a bouquet of roses, a pink hat and a long beaded necklace, next to her bed.  We both had keys to each others apartment.  I could get in and complete the decorations just before she got off work.  She said, “I want lots of glitter.  Lots of pink.”

The party’s alarm clock-a fast fading sun, leaving a watery red sky brought in Lara Jane and Iris, Lara Jane’s roommate.

Iris cried, “Peter’s fucking that blond girl in our room. Our room.”  Iris and Peter lived in the room right next to Lara Jane’s room and Peter was a player.  Iris didn’t know until she saw the blonde girl lying underneath Peter on their red velvet duvet cover that Iris picked out earlier in the week.  I practically lived there on the weekends.  I knew the house gossip.

I started drinking champagne and wished Lara Jane, “Happy Birthday”.  Her lips, bright pink, planted a wet kiss on my cheek.  Always fleeting, never in one place, Lara Jane pranced to the bar and turned a vodka bottle upside down into a mug swirling in an occasional splash of orange juice and tonic.  There were random people floating in and out of rooms in the apartment.  A tall white guy wearing a black afro wig kept hitting on me.  He went right up to my face and sang, “Witchy Woman.”

He said, “Can I just tell you, you are one sexy firecracker.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“Witchy Woman, Witchy Woman.”

“Come on,” I said.

He put his hand underneath my armpit.

“Tickle, tickle,” he said.

He had a hook nose, big teeth and laughed like a little girl.

“Stop it,” I said.

He wouldn’t stop, so I pulled his wig off.

“Playing hard to get,” he reached down to pick up his wig. “I’m up for a game of tag. You’re it,” he tapped my stomach, too high.

“I’m not into you,” I said.

There was a ladder outside the kitchen door that went up to the roof.  I could escape the singing wig wearer.  I eyed it, and said I had to pee so bad it hurt.

I actually did have to pee a little.  Rogers, Lara Jane’s boyfriend, saw me heading toward the bathroom.

“Hey, hey,” he said.

I looked away and tried to ignore him.

“Hey Sara,” he bumped into me.

He followed me into the bathroom and put my hand below his thick gold belt.

“I want you Sara,” he said.

My best friend’s boyfriend was hitting on me.  Again.  But I liked the smell of his cologne.  It was cedar and pine, lilly’s and fennel.  The perfect masculine, feminine mix.  Like him: colored rings and bracelets on big strong hands, a deep voice coming through a pouty red mouth.

“I want you Sara,” he said again.

I looked up at the ceiling for a moment and let his hands run down my arms.  His fingers moved like curious tarantulas.

I didn’t know what to do.  Part of me wanted to let him slide his tongue into my mouth, feel it touch my teeth.  Let him grab my shoulders, push me against the wall, whatever.

I stared at the mix of different browns swirling around his pupils.  He was too dark; almost like a shadow.  We were both silent for a few seconds.  Lara Jane’s first painting she completed last year hung high on the bathroom door.  A portrait of Rogers’ naked body, every part defined in black ink and pencil.  He was well-endowed.

Lara Jane was dating a sexy idiot, and I was buzzed.  She was a good friend sometimes.  Like when we met, she introduced me to Iris and Peter, other people from her restaurant job at The Lox.  She had gone on night walks with me in the city, found hidden streets, secret doors, ivy and hydrangeas.

I pushed Rogers away, “I need another drink.”

I went into Lara Jane’s bedroom and laid down on her bed.  No one was in there.  There were many naked portraits.  A cowboy at a bar, just sitting there with a hat and beer and red flannel, but no jeans.  There was also an overweight woman wearing silver rings on every finger.  She had curly brown hair everywhere.  My buzz was turning to drunk.  Next to the bed, red candle wax dripped off the window sill.  It smelled like Christmas.  I would fall asleep if I stayed here, so I jolted up and went to the roof.

Up on the roof, two guys were debating over a new roommate.

“She’s sexy,” said the short one with long red hair.

“She’s cute,” said the even shorter one with no hair.

“Sexy.”

“Cute.”

“Fuck you man.”

People were smoking cloves and drinking Mickey’s in brown paper bags underneath a starless city sky, crescent moon.  It smelled like cat piss up here.  I looked over at Rogers who was now in a heated debate with one of two guys who couldn’t decide whether their new roommate was sexy or cute.

“Sexy is fucking sexy man,” Rogers said.

“But who would you rather fuck on a daily basis?” asked the little red head.

“I’d rather fuck them both at the same time on a daily basis,” Rogers said.

“Man, I’m asking one or the other.”

“Fuck man, I don’t know.  What the fuck?” Rogers said.

Then the little guy with long red hair pushed Rogers lightly.

“See man, not an easy choice, right?”

“Don’t fucking push me man.”

I left the roof to go back downstairs and grab another drink, find someone else to stare at, maybe take my shoes off.  Lara Jane stopped me at the base of the stairs.

“Sara! Where were you?  I need to puke.”

Wearing a skirt so short that it showed the tiny curve line of her ass, anorexic, frizzy-haired Lara Jane had started drinking glasses of vodka and orange juice after dinner and had killed about seven by ten o’ clock.  Her eyes were bloodshot.  Earlier in the evening before her pink lipstick was smeared across her face I thought she looked sort of striking.  Her features were so petite, puckered little lips and her neck, the most slender I’d ever seen, too delicate, a vampire’s dream.  Also on her neck was a fake gold necklace Rogers had given her earlier in the day with her name spelled out in italic cursive.  Lara Jane.  This, I envied.  I thought how special it would be to have my name out like that for the whole world to see.  Sara.  I would be the hostess.  Sara.  I could have the hot boyfriend.  When someone asked my name, I could just point at my neck and smile.

Lara Jane grabbed my hand and led me to the bathroom I’d been in earlier with Rogers.

She said, “Hold my hair back.”

I said, “Got it.”

“Here it comes,” she said.

Lara Jane quickly turned her head so that she missed the toilet entirely, puking all over the floor.

She mumbled, “Oh God. I think I’m going to die.”

“No, you’ll be okay.  I’m here.  I’ll stay.”

I opened the bathroom door and saw Iris who was still pacing the hallway, crying hysterically about Peter fucking the blond in their room on their red velvet duvet cover.

“Can you please go get Rogers?  Lara Jane’s really sick, ” I said.

“Peter’s fucking someone in our room! Doesn’t anyone care? Oh my God, why?  And then she screamed, “Why?!”

Iris stomped off.

Lara Jane looked up at me, “There’s puke in my hair, Sara.”

There were chunks of brown and yellow everywhere.  Intense drum and bass music was blaring in every corner of the house.

“Rogers!” I screamed.  “Somebody get Rogers, please.”

“I’m sick Sara,” Lara Jane said.

“I know. It’s okay.  I’m here.”

“Where’s Rogers?” she mumbled into the toilet.

“He’s coming.”

Rogers walked in, “Oh shit! What the fuck happened?”

“Your girlfriend is really sick and I’ve been helping her.  I yelled for you.  Where were you?”

“Let’s put this girl to bed.”

I took some toilet paper and wiped off my new shoes.

I held Lara Jane’s face up, away from the toilet, and asked, “You want to go to bed babe?”

“Yeah.  I drank too much.  I drank too much.”

“I know.  It’s okay.  Let’s clean you up and then you can go to sleep.”

She threw her head back and then jolted her head forward, only to throw up this time on the bathroom wall.  I yelled at Rogers, “Can you seriously help me, please?”

He stood in the corner of the bathroom with his arms crossed, running his hand through his hair, “I deal with this shit every weekend.”

“I know.  You’re lucky I’m here,” I said.

He didn’t deal with this shit every weekend.  I did.

Rogers picked up Lara Jane and walked into her bedroom.  Like tossing a dead fish into a cooler, he let her long, limp body fall from his arms onto the bed.

“My work here is done, Rogers said.  And then he left the room.

I sat next to Lara Jane on the bed and people kept coming in the room and the drum and bass continued making the house beat like a large pulsing heart.  The tall white guy wearing the black afro wig woke her up for a couple of minutes.  He held a beer bong high above her so that little drips hit her forehead.

“More alcohol! Yeah! It’s my birthday!”

“Go back to sleep babe. You’re fine,” I said.

“More alcohol!”

Iris came into the room cursing about Peter.

“Sleeping with a dumb blond whore in our room.  No one fucking cares!”

A lovely French brunette Lara Jane worked with at The Lox restaurant came in and placed a little pink box on her bedside table.

“Tell her I came by.”

“Check,” I said.

“Merci.”

Lara Jane was a sloppy drunk.  Rogers was right.  Taking care of this girl got old quick.  Rogers and I had something in common.  Neither of us could have a real conversation with Lara Jane, and we both wanted to enjoy the party.  The last party I’d been to with Lara Jane was when she kissed her friend Nick on acid in the front seat of a SUV.  I was in the backseat, alone, laughing awkwardly.  I wondered then, where Rogers was and if he freely cheated on her as well.

The night went on; someone turned the music down, people headed out.  I put a wet washcloth over her head, brought in two extra blankets, and a vomit towel and bucket.

Rogers came back in the room, “Let’s split a cab,” he said.

“You want to just leave her here?” I asked.

“She’s fine. Come on.”

He reached out for my hand, grabbed it, and pulled me across the house.  He said, “I’ve got the cab.  I just got paid.  Thank God it’s a motherfucking Friday.”

I tripped down the stairs and decided enough with the black stilettos.  I took them off.

“Nice toe polish,” Rogers said.

“Just got them done,” I said.

He noticed these things.  I liked him and he was with me now.  I was wearing the italic cursive necklace.  It was my name flashing on my pretty neck in the bright lights of a cab he would pay for, and it was for me.  Sara.  I sat on his lap and he held me with his muscular arms and big hands and long fingers and it was sexy.

“Fifth Street, please,” he said to the driver.

Whether it was the champagne or sheer thrill of being the center of attention for once, I didn’t question it.  His apartment came before mine, but we were skipping his drop off.

We went to my place and in a whirlwind rush he pushed me up against the wall and held my arms behind my back.  He kissed my head and licked my mouth and smashed his mouth up to mine whispering, “I want you.  I want you.”

“I don’t really love her,” he said.  “I’ve tried.”

“I know.”

He threw me onto my bed and undid the button of my jeans and zipper with his teeth.

“You good?” he asked.

My head was spinning with excitement and fear and Lara Jane and the champagne.

“You’re a goddess,” he said.

And then, rather suddenly, he got up off the bed.  And I did too.

He winked and pinched my ass.

“Thank you,” he said.

“For what?” I said.

He winked again, but not suavely, this time with both eyes as though there was something stuck in one or both of them.

Looking out the window, there were a few visible stars.  Also a dead pigeon, missing a leg lying on its back, belly up.

Rogers put his hand on the doorknob as I stood pathetically with unzipped jeans starting to fall down my legs.

“See you around,” he said.

That night I found something in my bed that must have slipped out of Rogers pocket.  The necklace he’d given her.  Lara Jane.  I put it around my neck and curled up to my vertical pillow, a substitute man, a fluffy mass of artificial intimacy.

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