Providence, Rhode Island, 2008. (no names have been changed in the retelling of this birthday)

It started with stirrup pants. I was at a local bar/restaurant hangout, Spats, and Evan walked in, completing the gaggle of Brown students who were a part of my newly finished summer apprenticeship.


“Evan, look, I bought stirrup pants,” I say, wiggling a leg, even prouder of them with a birthday gin and tonic in me.


He rolls his eyes.


“Just when I thought you couldn’t get any more emo,” he teases.  His constant joke.  He’s the emo one, if we’re going to be throwing outdated high school terms at each other. Theater, neuroscience, drugs. His trifecta.


We share what could be called gossip, if we were both girls.  We’re in our own world.  He excuses himself to buy a pack of cigarettes.  I ask if he wants company, he shrugs a “sure,” so I follow.


We’re two friends with attraction between us. To what level, I don’t know, but it’s there. I used to fantasize about him during class at the beginning of the summer, wish he would sit next to me when he was the last person to arrive in the mornings. He did, once. He whispered so close to my ear it sent shivers down my spine.


But Evan had had an on-again, off-again girlfriend and had never shown any real interest, so, we were friends. Are friends.


“Let’s sit here.” He points to a table, the only table, on the edge of a sea of Brown students back for the first weekend at school.  It’s a table on the corner of the two busiest streets around the university. It’s a table on a raised platform belonging to a restaurant we’re not eating at. We sit down.


“So like I was saying, it’s lonely here. I mean, things are going alright, and I have a few friends I do things with on the weekends, but I don’t feel like I have any close friends, and that gets–“


His lips are on mine. I saw the intention in his look a split second before I heard the legs of his chair scrape the concrete, before I watched him stand, before I felt his hands on my face and his lips on my lips.  He kissed me like we were alone. Like we had been waiting all night to be alone and had finally found a few secret moments. I’d never been kissed like that in public. I’d never been kissed like that. He pulled away, his too-big brown eyes meeting mine casually, as if I’d been expecting that. As if he did that every day. He might have. I wondered if people were staring, but didn’t want to break his gaze to check.


“What was that for?” I choked out as I lit a cigarette, feigning coolness as he grabbed my hand, pulled it to his lips.


“It’s your birthday,” he murmured with a shrug. “You’re lonely.” He caught my gaze and held it. I raised my eyebrows.


“You’re pretty.” He said insistently, as if he could hear me starting to assume I was just pity kissed. I may have been.


Our conversation continued as it had before, but I couldn’t tell you what we talked about.  My mind was tangled.  After about ten minutes, ever Evan, he made his escape.


“I hate to do this, but I have to run. We’ll keep in touch.”  He sealed off his statement with another hard kiss, then scooted past people as he jumped the platform railing and jogged across the street.


*    *    *


An hour later I’m walking down Hope Street, and everything is chaos.  My friend Colleen is drunk and insistent upon texting Joe, a friend from our summer fellowship program. I had ignored the unrequited nature of our relationship, because good friends are hard to come by, and he was a good friend. Both of our phones had died, and she’d never gotten to respond to a text he’d sent her earlier, a text about me.  I’d read it quickly over her shoulder before her phone screen blackened. Nothing special; just curiosity about what I’m doing for my birthday, since I’m not answering my phone. He’s back in Philadelphia, after finishing our fellowship.


But now she won’t let it go, and Will, my coworker, and his drunken, obnoxious townie friends won’t shut up.


“We have to call Joe,” Colleen insists as she grabs my shoulders, resting her weight on me as I stumble a little on the uneven sidewalk. My black kitten heel temporarily gets jammed in a crack. I free it with a tug.


“I have to talk to Joe!” she yells in the middle of the empty street.  She’s annoying me.


“Will,” I call ahead, “Will you let Colleen use your phone to call Joe?  She won’t stop talking about it.”  I hope that will shut her up.


Will calls Joe and starts chatting amicably with him while Colleen titters in the wings, and I continue walking.  Will’s friends are still yelling, and when I listen to them, it sounds vaguely derogatory, though I’m trying to tune out all the noise and just walk. I think we’re walking to a house party for TAs and grad students, neither of which am I.


A car pulls up alongside the sidewalk I’m on, a rusty white car with the remnants of a high school sport team’s paw prints on the back.  A car I’ve ridden in many times.


“It’s Joe!” yells Colleen, and she’s hysterical as she runs to the car and tackles Joe in a bear hug, the kind that forces his 120-pound frame to pick her up.


He smiles his biggest smile, and walks over to hug me.


“Happy birthday,” he whispers in my ear.