I shoveled the last morsel of mashed potato into my open mouth. I knew the date by heart, and had been anticipating it for months. I didn't know why I always set my expectations so high, especially when it came to my birthday, because they just left me disappointed. I didn't tell anyone I felt this way, I knew my mother tried hard to keep my sisters and I healthy and happy, and I knew that, realistically, none of the things I imagined would ever happen. I did, however, cheer up a little bit when my father announced:
"Why don't we go out for ice cream to celebrate Melissa's birthday?"
My little sister lept up to hug my dad, and the five of us piled into the black minivan. I knew that my mother and father thought the outing was very special, (we didn't go out for ice cream every day, you know) but my mind was imagining the sorts of parties my friends got. I shook the thoughts from my head, knowing they would only succeed in making me miserable, and tried to appear as if I was enjoying my ice cream.
After ice cream (birthday cake for me, cookie dough for everyone else), we drove back home. There were balloons and streamers all across the yard and a banner reading Happy Birthday! was draped across the front door.
I looked around in awe, and went to hug my mom. I raced to the front door and leaned on it, expecting it to be locked, and was surprised when the door slid open.
"SURPRISE!" a million voices shouted, and I looked around at the huge gathering of friends and family, happy tears welling up in my eyes. Madison came up and gave me a great big hug, which I eagerly returned.
"Did you do all this?" I asked her.
"With a lot of help from your parents," she answered modestly. "Come here," she continued, leading me into my backyard, where a tall boy with blue eyes was standing awkwardly, a single red rose in his hands.
"This is Noah," she explained in a whisper, motioning to the boy. "My cousin and I wanted to thank you for what you did for us and return the favour." I opened my mouth to protest but before I had the chance, she spoke again. "Come on, it's your birthday. Just give him a chance... please?" And with that, she left.
"Hello," the boy said, noticing me at last. "You must be Melissa. Happy birthday." He handed me the flower. "My name is Noah," he said, almost as an afterthought.
We walked to the garden and sat down side by side on the garden swing my mom had bought last spring.
"So how do you know Madison?"I asked, wanting to learn more about the cute, shy boy my friend had set me up with.
"We're in the same class. Madison tells me the two of you are very close. How did you meet?"
"In fourth grade, I was the new kid at our small school. Everyone was friendly, but they all had each other already, you know? Most of them had been there since kindergarten." I paused and cleared my throat, and he waited patiently for me to continue.
"When Madison came along a few weeks later, we hit it off right away. It's like, being new at school was what brought us together, what made us realize that we really enjoyed one another's company. And the rest is history, I guess," I finished.
I sat there for hours, making small talk and laughing at his jokes, until it was well into the night. We sat in silence watching the stars, our hands intertwined, and I would have been content to sit there the rest of the night.
"Melissa! There you are!" my sister shouted, breaking the spell. I glared at her and she shot me an apologetic look.
"Mom wants you to say goodbye to your guests," she explained. I looked at my watch, hardly believing I had been gone that long, then realizing I had lost track of time. I muttered a quick apology and followed my sister.
"So, who was that?" my sister asked curiously.
"Oh... just someone Madison knows," I said, not ready to explain fully. We reached the house a short time after, and I took some time to visit with my guests, feeling a little guilty for being AWOL at my own party for so long. But just a little.
After about a half hour, I managed to escape. I went to the backyard and asked a few people where he went. They pointed at the swing, and I thanked them before heading off in that direction.
"Sorry about that," I called as I approached the swing.
"Hey, it is your party. I understand." He smiled. "But I probably should be going now."
My face fell. "Hey," he said, lifting my chin. "I had a great time, and I'd really like to see you again." I blushed, my smile returning at his words.
He gently kissed my cheek before pulling away.
"I will see you again, Melissa," he called from across the yard before stepping into his carpool.
I stood there on the lawn, my mind reviewing the events of the evening, a contented look on my face. I made a mental note to thank Madison. Him- tonight- had been exactly what I needed.
And with that, I made my way back to my party.