Crossing over into a new year of your life is weird. One day you’re one age, and the next day you’re a number higher. You don’t feel older – unless you’re forty onwards – and it just feels like a normal day except that you’re showered with smiles, gifts and complements.
“I hope you realize I’ll end up reversing into a tree the second I set foot in any car, mother.” I told her in jest. I’d just opened mum’s card, which contained £100 in cash and a business card for ‘Ann Fisher’s Driving School’.
“Well, I hope she’s insured.” Mum laughed back. She had confidence in me but she knew I’d do something stupid behind the wheel. I rolled my eyes and added the cash to my purse.
“Do you know when the McFarlows will be here?” I asked, quickly recounting the noted of money I’d received,
‘One-sixty, one-eighty, two hundred…’ I’d gotten lucky this year. People were so generous. You’d never have guessed there was a credit crunch on.
“They said they’d be here between six and half past. They’re stopping off at Jerry’s aunties in the Birmingham, if I remember rightly.” I nodded to myself, tuning out after I’d heard ‘six’; I wasn’t particularly interested in Jerry’s… auntie, was it? Something like that.
“Ben’s coming round at eleven and then he’s taking me somewhere for lunch.” I told mum, getting up off the sofa and peering at myself in the mirror above the mantel piece. I was actually having a good hair day, for once, and my face was clear of any blemishes or acne.
“You look fine, Case,” mum stated, bored of my vainness, “where’s he taking you? I hope nowhere too expensive; those Christmas presents he got us were far too much for a boy of his age.”
“His dad’s a bank manager and his mum’s an interior designer. He’s got the money and it’s his choice what he spends it on.”
“Trust me, I know who his father is – he’s my boss! And as for spending his money, he treats you like you’ve been together for two years, rather than two months.” She murmured to herself. She was just jealous that a seventeen-year-old had more money than she’d ever had. I skipped over to her and wrapped my arms around her waist from the back, balancing on my tiptoes and leaning my chin on her shoulder. She placed her hands on mine and smiled, defeated.
“You know you love him too, though.” I stated, giggling.
“Love’s a strong word, Casey. Don’t grow up too quickly. And as for me loving him, he’s much too young for me.” She joked.
“That’s a good thing, because he’s mine.”
“What about James? Have you told him that you have a son?” she’d caught me out there, and she knew she knew it. She knew that if I really liked him, I would have told him by now. I even had a feeling that she knew…
“I haven’t told him yet, but I will do… soon.” I confirmed. If I could, I would have crossed my fingers behind my back, but, unfortunately, they were in full view of mum’s watchful eyes. I would have to tell him soon though, even I knew that, and I planned to tell him today when the time felt right… whenever that would be. Only time could tell.
The cold January breeze hit me as Ben opened my car door. We were at the park. Why? It was below zero degrees Celsius, for crying out loud.
“What are we doing here?” I asked, pulling my coat collar tighter around my neck. The place was deserted – everyone was being smart and had stayed at home in the warmth.
“You’ll see,” was all he replied. He took hold of my gloved hand and led me along the path towards the old tennis club building beside the courts. They stored spare balls and rental rackets in there, what was so special about the tiny building that he was bringing me to it? The building was old and made of red bricks, crumbling along the surface of its period structure.
Once we were stood in front of the black painted wooden door, Ben reached down to turn the brass door handle and pushed it gently open. I inhaled quickly at the sight I saw.
The little room inside was no bigger than my bedroom, which was an average size for a girl of my age, but was set out in such a way that made the ancient building look both modern and classic.
The retro patterned, metal lawn table had a meal for two spread across it – starter, main and desert – with a cushion on each of the black tub chairs pushed underneath on opposite sides of the table. The Victorian log burner in the corner heated the room to a toasty temperature and the sweet scent of pink rose petals, in a glass dish on the rental counter, filled the room with its sugar sweet aroma. He’d definitely gone well out of the way to set this up so beautifully.
“Is that champagne?” I blurted, after fixating my attention onto a huge bottle in an ice bucket; how the ice hadn’t melted in this heart was a mystery to me.
“A normal person would fling their arms around me and kiss me, saying ‘oh my god’ over and over again.” He joked, pulling me into the room and shutting the door, leaving the cold behind us.
“Yes, well, I’m not normal, am I?”
“Nowhere near,” he smiled, leaning down and kissing me softly. I returned his kiss and wrapped my arms around his waist, resting my cheek against his chest, listening to the rhythmic beating of his over-sized heart, “is this you saying thank you?”
“Something like that, minus the overly repeated phrase of ‘oh my god’ in a high pitched shriek.” I let my arms drop to my side and shrugged my modern fifties style trench coat fall off my shoulders. I placed it delicately on the back on my chair and sat down, as Ben pushed it in for me; like a gentleman. He sat down opposite and cracked open the champagne.
“You do realize I still have a year before I’m technically allowed to drink that.” I teased, as he filled two champagne flutes; one for each of us.
“Ah, sod the law. Besides, that only applies to purchasing alcohol. I got this from mum’s wine rack.”
“I’ll replace it… eventually.” He laughed, and I joined. I loved his laugh. It was so warm and kind. Could this feeling last forever? The feeling of not having to worry or fear for the worst in everything? Whenever I was with Ben, everything bad in the world vanished. It was magic. I took hold of my glass elegantly between my fingers, holding it out in front on me in mirror to Ben’s, “to us.”
“To us.” I agreed, clinking our glasses and taking a sip of my wine.
“And Happy Birthday.”