by AJ Mittendorf from Prince George, BC
It was the night of my 14th birthday. I’d already had as much of a party as I had been expecting; there was school the next day, and, even though it was only mildly late, I was tired. The only thing left was to take a shower and go to bed. Modesty wasn’t an issue at this hour; no one was around but my parents, who were watching TV, and my kid sister, who was already asleep, so I went upstairs to my room to undress. I wrapped a towel around my waist and held the two corners firmly on one side. I walked back down stairs, through the TV room to the stairs that lead to the basement, where our home’s only usable shower was.
While I was there, visitors came by to wish me a happy birthday. It was Mrs. May and her 14-year-old daughter, Marilyn Day. Mrs. Day was Mom’s best friend and my music teacher. She was, and still is, a darling woman. Marily Day was going to be my wife one day, though she hadn’t realized that yet. But for her birthday, just two months earlier, I had given her one of those elegant, don’t-play-with-it-it’s-not-a-toy, porcelain dolls. It was dressed in a white satiny dress with a bonnet. “A wedding dress,” I decided. It wasn’t, but that didn’t matter. The doll had dark, shoulder-length hair, just like Marilyn Day. The doll had deep brown eyes, just like Marilyn Day. The doll had a soft, demure expression, just like Marilyn Day. The doll was Marilyn Day, dressed for our wedding. It was as much of a hint as I could muster. She didn’t get it, apparently. The gift pleased Mrs. Day because it had prompted her daughter to clean her room so that the doll could be properly displayed, but for Marilyn Day, it was just another reason to bake something to give away in reciprocation. Her mom brought her over on the night of my birthday to surprise me with a large box of home-made chocolate-chip cookies.
They sat down in the TV room with my parents to chat. Mom and Dad had apparently forgotten about me because they didn’t let me know that I had visitors. Not only that, but they looked just as surprised as Marilyn Day and her mother did when I opened the door at the top of the stairs and stood in their presence wearing nothing but a wet towel held about me with one hand.
The room was suddenly silenced. I noticed, with horror, Marilyn Day sitting in a chair facing me. In her lap was a brown, cardboard box; on her face was the same stupefied expression the rest of us wore.
We all wanted to slink out of that room, none, perhaps, more than I, but our collective discomfort fastened us in place. I suppose Marilyn Day just didn’t know what else to do to rid the room of this dumfounded, choking sensation; at least her heart was in the right place when she stood and, with forced cheer, declared, “Hey, A. J.! I made you some cookies for your birthday. Here y’ go!” as she chucked the box at me.
I caught it—with both hands.