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Unhappy Birthday

by Kelly Peppe 6 months ago in Short Story
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Cheers to another year.

illustration by author

Wren didn’t expect this kind of evening, nor did she dress for it. When her mother had called this morning and asked to meet for dinner, she left out the fact that they would have company. A young man, roughly Wren's age. A coworker of her father’s with “Excellent promise and talent!” The more direct translation being: Hopefully wealthy one day. Even his name, Bradly, was pretentious. Her parents often worry that she won't be able to sustain herself as a full-time artist.

Wren isn’t much of a habitual dater. It’s not that she isn’t appealing to the opposite gender, or same gender; Wren is very open minded. It’s just that she isn’t seeking a life partner just yet. She feels as though her life is just starting to take motion. But she’s open to the right type of man catching her attention. So far, Wren’s luck had been limited.

Wren prefers to sample her selection before settling; just like a perfect bottle of wine. She has sampled many but none have really hit every mark, except one. Served to her in Florence during a semester abroad, she never had a glass quite like it. She was too young and dumb at the time to truly appreciate it, but every glass since has yet to measured up. She knew nothing of the origin of the wine, only that it was a Merlot.

It has become somewhat of a tradition to order a glass of Merlot to accompany her meals with a nice dinner. It’s not that she loves Merlot all that much, but that she has become fixated on tasting that rich smooth taste just one more time. But the red wine she swishes in her glass now is quite dry, much like the young suiter she's been coupled with tonight. He has plenty to speak about with Wren’s father, Robert. Business and politics keep them busy nearly the entire meal. The women at this table are meant to look pretty and laugh when needed. Wren’s mother Michelle is quite good at this, but Wren not so much.

“Lauren? Are you listening to me?” Wren’s father says. It’s been so long since anyone has called her Lauren, she almost doesn’t even realize she is being spoken to.

“Yes, I’m listening.” Wren responds. Robert points down to her shirt. For a moment she's scared maybe she’s had an unfortunate wardrobe multifunction, Michelle would keel over and die. But alas, it's only a few droplets of red wine tarnishing her once white blouse. She’s actually quite thankful for them, she had already gone to the bathroom twice to escape the evening briefly. Wren pretends to be embarrassed and excuses herself from the table. She wished she had thought of it earlier, but she’s just thankful for the happy accident. She could only take one more remark about economics before her eyes rolled to the back of her head.

Wren passes the kitchen on the way to the bathroom and wonders if the staff would let her slip out the back or if that was only something the happens in movies. Or perhaps, she could squeeze out the restroom window. The waitress seemed a whole lot more interested in Bradly than Wren was anyway. In the waitress's defense, the pair do look quite related. Blue eyes and brown hair is a relatively rare combo. He even had frighteningly similar mannerisms to her father. Then again, they say you mirror those you are trying to impress. Clearly, he wasn’t trying to impress Wren.

Wren shared few words with Bradly throughout the dinner. He asked her what it was she did for a living, and once it became evident that they had little in common, the conversation pretty much ended there.

Wren enters the restroom wondering how long she could be in there before her mother came in to check on her. It was so like her mother to try and set her up like this. But she just hadn’t expected it today on her birthday. Yes, her birthday. A birthday that has yet to be acknowledged. Wren checked the date on her phone twice since she’s gotten here, just to make sure she hadn’t gone crazy and confused her own birthday for tomorrow or something. But no, today is her birthday and in celebration of her special day she's been set up with a Bradly. She feels like sometime her parent don’t know her at all.

She looks into the mirror at her reflection. Her white blouse is ruined and so is her birthday. She at least expected an unenthusiastic “Happy Birthday” from her father and an envelope filled with some money like most years. But Wren’s been disappointing her parents lately. When she’d decided to go to school for art her parents figured she’d be painting aesthetically pleasing landscapes and fruit bowls, not the sensual and erotic pieces they have come to find out she’s been showing in gallery's. Wren’s mother has stopped telling her country club friends about her exhibitions. Michelle and Robert have stopped showing face as well. Wren doesn’t mind.

After a few minutes of dabbing at her shirt with cold water and paper towels she’s left with a larger pink stain. The bathroom door open and a man walks in, for a moment he stares confused. But then he rereads the door that says men’s, reassuring himself. Wren embarrassed, apologizes. This day just keeps getting worse. The man reassures her that it is fine and he does it all the time. They both laugh it off.

“Do you need help with that?” he asks. “I can grab you some club soda.” Wren examines him. He’s in all black, an apron tied at his waist. A waiter or a busser. Because Wren isn’t ready to go back to her seat yet, she excepts. The man disappears through the doors and reappears a few minutes later with a glass of soda water and a dish rag. He meets her by her side.

“May I?” He asks, dipping the rag into the glass. Wren nods. He dabs at the large spot just above her right breast, she can’t help but think her mother would be appalled, so she smiles. “Are you here for a business meeting?” He asks, looking up. Wren laughs.

“No.” She responds. “Why do you ask?” She wonders.

“I heard a little bit of the conversation.” He responds. Wren raises an eyebrow slightly. “I brought you your wine.” He laughs. Wren smiles, sheepishly. She hadn’t even noticed. That says a lot about her, she thinks. She can’t even recall saying thank you.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m just kind of having a weird night.” He smiles.

“So, is that your family then?” He wonders.

“Those are my parent and some guy they’re trying to set me up with.” Wren can’t help but chuckle. “I think he might be more attracted to my father, though.” He looks up at Wren, inspecting her.

“I seriously doubt that.” He says, confidently. “He doesn’t really look like your kind of guy anyway.” He states, still dabbing away at her shirt, something she almost forgot was happening.

“And what kind of guy would that be?” She asks, amused.

“I don’t know, I feel like you’re the kind of girl who would be more into a rock star or an artist. A suit doesn’t really seem like your thing.” He pauses. “I mean just based on what you look like and how you dress, it’s freer spirited. I feel like a suit would bore you. Plus, you have paint under your nails, so your probably an artist, right?” He finishes. Wren looks down at her hand resting on the sink.

“Why did you agree to the set up? I doubt you have any trouble finding your own dates.” He adds. Wren becomes flush at the flattery. Something she usually is quite coy about. Maybe it’s was the proximity, he is standing rather close.

“My mom called earlier today and invited me to dinner. I figured it was for my birthday, but honestly, I think they forgot. I didn't know it was a set up until I got here.” She states, embarrassed again.

“Jeez, it’s your birthday? You're having a worse day then me, and I worked a double.” He shakes his head and adds, “Happy birthday.” He drops his hands form her shirt. There’s still a stain, but its faint. Better than she could have done.

“Thank you.” She says, for both the stain and the happy birthday. “I should probably get back. They might leave without me.” He nods and smiles, then he watches her leave.

Wren finds her way back and it's as if she never left. Bradly and Robert are still discussing whatever it is they were discussing. Her mother sits sipping her dirty martini acting as if she were engrossed in whatever conversation is occurring.

Michelle turns toward Wren and asks, “You were gone so long, I went looking for you. You weren’t in the bathroom.”

“Yeah sorry, after the bathroom I stepped outside to take a work call.” This was easier then explaining to her how she ended up in the men's room with a waiter.

“Alright, well, we are just finishing our cocktails then we are going to head out. Your father has an early day tomorrow.” Wren nods, pleased. The sooner she can go home to her own apartment and not have to listen to Bradly go on and on about interest and stocks any more the better. She couldn’t wait to never see him again.

From behind her she hears staff singing happy birthday, she can’t help but feel a little bit jealous of whoever else’s birthday it was tonight. She felt like she was being mocked. But the singing grew louder and closer and she realized they were approaching her table. And for a moment she was happy, because her parents hadn’t really forgot. But then she looks up at them smiling. She realizes that they hadn’t remembered, because they both look as confused as Bradly.

“Oh no,” Michelle says to a waiter holding a small pastry with a lit candle, the man from the bathroom, Wren realizes. “We don’t have a birthday tonight, you’re at the wrong table.” Michelle had already finished her cocktail and gathered her things. She was ready to leave.

“Mom, today is my birthday.” Wren states, peeved. She really couldn’t believe her parents. Michelle looks at her, first confused then mortified. They’d gathered the attention of most of the restaurant at this point. Wren was mortified, too. But for other reasons. The whole restaurant probably thought she’s ordered her own birthday desert. Wren is visibly embarrassed.

The waiter, her savior once again adds, “She told me last week her birthday was coming up.” Michelle looks up at the waiter as if seeing him for the first time. He places the pastry in front of Wren, she quickly blows out the candle.

“You and Lauren know each other?” She asks.

“We went to school together, Mom.” Wren adds quickly. Wren shoots the waiter a grateful look.

“Oh, how nice to meet you. What was your name?” She asks, looking him up and down. He was an attractive young man, just too bad he’s a waiter, she thinks to herself.

“Adam.” he states offering a hand to shake. “It’s nice to meet you. Lauren has mentioned you.” Michelle takes it for a quick shake.

“Did you study art as well?” Bradly adds distastefully, as if the word art itself tasted bad coming out.

“Yeah, actually. I studied illustration.” Wren looks up at him. She wonders if that part was just for the story, or if he actually did study illustration. Adam looks down and smiles as if to answer her. He is an artist. She thinks back on what he said in the bathroom about her probably being more into artists or rock stars. Maybe it was wishful thinking.

“I was actually wondering if you wanted to catch a movie tonight for your birthday. I get off in a few minutes.” He states, boldly. Bradly glances at Wren, as if he couldn’t believe someone would be so bold to move in on someone he was so clearly set up with.

“Lauren and I were actually going to do something after we left.” Wren looks from Bradly to Adam and actually lets out an audible laugh. Wren’s father looks displeased.

“I didn’t realize I’d agreed to plans with you, Brad. Where was it you wanted to take me?” Bradly frowns, upset that she hadn’t taken his statement as a way to dismiss Adam once and for all.

“I figured we could grab some drinks and talk.” He says, simply. “About your art.” He adds. He hadn’t shown any interest in speaking about her or her art all evening.

“I think I’ve drank enough tonight.” She says to Bradly. She then turns to Adam and states, “A movie would be nice, though.” Adam smiles. Michelle and Robert are embarrassed, but no more than usual. They regret even trying to set up the pair at all.

“Alright, your mother and I are going to head home now.” Robert states, standing from the table. “I have an early morning. Bradly, I will see you on Tuesday.” Michelle gathers her things once again and stands with Robert. She politely says good bye to Bradly and nods goodbye to Wren and Adam. Bradly then leaves without the pleasantries of goodbye to the pair remaining.

“I think your boyfriend is upset.” Adam says with a laugh. “You want to get out of here now?” He asks Wren.

Wren nods, but asks, “Don’t you have to finish your shift?”

“My shifts been over for twenty minutes.” Adam states.

Short Story

About the author

Kelly Peppe

Writer and illustrator from New York.

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