Happy Birthday to Me
by Kathleen Hayes
I walked quickly with my emotions tightly reigned in until I had safely shut my office door behind myself. Then I let out a string of curse words I rarely say since I work with kids. I shook myself. I didn’t know what was with me today. Usually I didn’t let snotty ignorant teenage comments get to me.
Granted, it was never fun to be called a ‘tranny bitch’ but I was usually better at letting it roll off my back. I could tell the new kid, Antonio, was going to be problem from minute he made an extremely loud rude noise when I introduced myself by saying, “Hello, my name is Sandra Meeker but I was born Jonathan Meeker.”
I liked to get that out of the way as soon as possible so the kids didn’t feel like things were being hidden from them. I was in charge of counseling at Lifeline Center – a community center for LGBTQ kids who had been thrown out or were having a tough time at home. It’s the kind of place I wish had existed 20 years ago when my parents threw me out at 17 because my Dad found me wearing my Mom’s clothes.
A light knock at the door startled me out of my fuming. I turned as the door began to open. Cristina’s red head slowly peeked around the edge of my cracked door. She was moving with exaggerated slowness and a ridiculous look on her face as she mimed checking to make sure the room was safe.
I motioned her in impatiently, “Get in here, Cris. I’m not going to bite.”
She laughed a bit as she stepped inside my office and shut the door. “I couldn’t be sure with the way you stormed out after that last Group Support Session.”
“Shit. I’ve heard worse a thousand different times. I don’t know why I let it get to me today.”
She reached around me and grabbed my phone off my desk. She shook it and gave me a pointed look as she said, “It couldn’t have anything to do with this, could it?”
I sighed. “Probably.”
I clicked open my texts and looked down my most recent text.
Have you seen the light yet? Have you washed off the filth of your choices and come clean? I regret giving birth to you for all the suffering you have caused this family.
I threw down the phone and bit out, “Happy Birthday to me.”
Cris gave me an apprising once over. “What you need is alcohol.”
“No. What I need is ice cream. You up for it?”
“Sounds good. I’ll meet you at your place in an hour.”
I watched as Cris left and wished, for about the thousandth time since I met her 3 years ago, that I had the courage to ask her out.
She’d worked as a chaplain at St. David’s Hospital for about ten years. We met when one of her patients – a homeless 17 year old suffering from exposure – had needed somewhere to stay. The social worker hadn’t been able to find a youth shelter to take a gay teen so Cris had gone digging. Since then, she started volunteering twice a week. It was really helpful to some of the kids to talk to a person of faith who didn’t condemn them to hell.
I shook myself and gathered my stuff to meet Cris at home. I stopped by the corner store to pick up three of my favorite pints, knowing Cris would do the same.
As I waited for Cris to knock on my door, I let myself savor the excitement and attraction I usually tried to push down. It had been a long day and I wanted to focus on someone nice. My cheeks flushed a bit in embarrassment at having a crush at my age. I had long ago given up on finding love and forced myself to settle for a fulfilling job and good friends. But the longing never really went away.
My heart jumped into my throat and, despite my horrible day, a smile spread across my face when I heard Cris’ knock at my door.
My smile turned into a grin to match Cris’ when I opened the door and saw her standing outside. She stood a little shorter than I was. Her dark hair was pulled up in a ponytail and her dark skin was smooth, almost glowing. Her brown eyes sparkled as she started singing “Happy Birthday” at the top of her lungs. She also held up her hands. One held a brightly colored gift bag and the other a grocery store sack.
Before she was able to get through the first verse, I slapped my hand over her mouth and dragged her inside. “Shhh. You’ll disturb the neighbors,” I said over both our laughter. It was just what I needed after the text from my mother and the name calling during group.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” she replied as she took the ice cream into the kitchen and put it in the freezer. “I have made the executive decision that presents come before ice cream tonight, or at least some do. She sketched a curtsey in the middle of my kitchen and held the gift bag out to me.
“For you, milady.”
I took the bag and began to open it but she stopped me before I even got the first piece of tissue paper off the top. “That is just the first part of the present. The second part is that I will use it with you.”
For a wild second my thoughts turned completely dirty but I reined them in because I knew Cris well enough that the chance of there being a sex toy in that bag was about a million to one.
“Okay,” I said drawing it out as I took the colored paper out of the top of the bag. The gift felt big and boxy but not all that heavy. As soon as I had cleared out enough paper to see what was in the bag I burst out laughing.
Cris crossed the room and took it out of the bag before I got a chance, excitement clear on her face. “I know how much you love trivia.”
“And I know how much you hate my trivia.” I grabbed the Trivial Pursuit board game out of her hands gloating gleefully, “And you already promised to play with me.”
I glanced away from the game and back up at Cris. I was shocked to meet an unwavering stare. Our eyes locked and there was nothing I could do to break the intense stare. I didn’t want to break it. My heart beat ratcheted up about four speeds and I felt hope furl out its wings in my chest.
Without breaking eye contact, I reached out to take her hand between our bodies, dropping the bag it still held on the way. It made a slight thunk noise as it hit the ground and still neither of us looked away. Her fingers curled tentatively around my own. At that sign of acquiescence, I found I couldn’t stop myself.
I leaned forward and pressed my lips to hers. A mere chaste brushing and leaned back again. I had made that first move and it was up to her to accept or reject. She made a slight sound at the back of her throat and rushed forward. Her hands were in my hair, her body pressed against mine, her tongue opening my mouth before I had a chance to take a breath.
I dropped the game I was still holding in my other hand on the counter and wrapped my arms around Cris, bringing us as close together as I could. Joy and heat battled for supremacy as we made out like teenagers in my kitchen. My heart took wing and I opened myself to Cris like I had never opened myself to anyone.
Eventually, we broke apart. We stood there forehead to forehead smiling and breathing hard for a few moments before I huffed out a small laugh, “Happy Birthday to me.”
Cris smiled back, “Does that get me out of playing the game?”
I gave her a mischievous look. “Nope. But I will make it more interesting. How about every time you get a question correct you get a kiss?”
She glared at me for a beat before she gave an exaggerated sigh and said, “Fine.”
We gathered the pints of ice cream from the freezer and set the game up in the living room. As Cris brought spoons in from the kitchen, I marveled that this beautiful, intelligent, wonderful woman had allowed me to kiss her and seemed interested in a relationship with me.
For the first time, I thought to myself, that maybe my mother was wrong. Maybe I actually deserved this because I was a beautiful, intelligent, wonderful woman as well.
After Cris sat down we didn’t spend much time playing the game as she had promised but that’s all right because I actually celebrated my birthday for the first time in 20 years.