I’m sorry for my absence last week. I was dealing with the loss of a dear family member and couldn’t get to the post. My apologies if you were looking for me and I wasn’t here. But I’m here now!
April 3 has historically been a weird day for me. My mom’s birthday was yesterday and mine is tomorrow. When I was a kid, this seemed like the longest day of the year. Now that I’m an adult, it’s one of the shortest. My husband and kids ask me how old I am all day, because the next day the number will have increased by one, and I’ll never get to have that smaller number again. I know it’s silly, but it’s tradition.
While I don’t hate my birthday (let’s be honest; having one sure beats the alternative), I’m not crazy about being the center of attention (weird for a writer and marketer, right?), and I hate that life’s pace is accelerating rather than slowing down. This time of year, I reflect on my kids and how old they’ve grown. On my marriage and how long Corey and I have (happily) been together. On my family… those I’ve lost and those I’m still blessed to have.
So, in honor of all the birthdays I’ll be celebrating this month (and the list of family is long, let alone adding in friends), this month’s First Friday Fiction Feature is birthday-themed. (You can find my other free short stories here, and if you sign up for my newsletter, you’ll receive a deleted chapter [available only when you sign up and nowhere else] from Type and Cross.)
Without further ado, this month’s #FFFF.
What April Showers Bring
Italian families… big, boisterous, loud. Mine is the very definition. For example, most people have cake and ice cream for their birthdays with close family, maybe a few friends. Chat for an hour or two and then everyone goes their separate ways.
Not my family.
My family gathers four generations deep for a full multi-course spread. Antipasto platters and dips. Breads and pizzas. Soups and salads. Fruit and veggies. Pasta, potato, and rice dishes. Sausages, meatballs, and roasts. Cookies and pastries. And multiple several-layer birthday cakes. Nothing is store bought. No activity is rushed through. A birthday is an all day affair. Birthdays in my family rival most people’s wedding receptions. (But let’s not bring up weddings right now.)
Our family has grown so large that we’ve stopped celebrating individual birthdays. Once a month we gather on a weekend at someone’s house or a public park (sometimes even a local rec hall) to celebrate any birthdays occurring that month. Which sounds economical and practical, but in reality, it’s crazy. Some months there are only a few birthdays, so it’s not so bad. But April? We have ten birthdays and my cousin Maria—that’s Uncle Dom’s daughter, not Aunt Arlene’s daughter-in-law—is ready to give birth any day now. So we have a lot to celebrate in April. And when you figure each of the ten people gets his or her favorite meal?
Let’s just say we could feed a third world country on the amount of food made for that particular bash.
Every family celebration is the same. Babies and toddlers with food on their faces and sticky little hands are passed between aunts and uncles. They’re either wailing about something or laughing so hard they might throw up. (One of them always does. Often on me.) Kids play games in the yard, dodge the relatives who pinch cheeks, and tell any adult who will listen about silly things they’ve seen on television or heard from their friends. At least three of these little cherubs will invariably tell a story that embarrasses their parents. The teenagers and the twenty-somethings spend all their time teasing each other, keeping the uncles entertained. And all the older women run around getting food on the table and swatting any hands reaching for an early sample of the meal.
It takes these hundred-plus people more than an hour to get through the food line, find a seat by someone who won’t torment them in one way or another, and scarf down their meal. The aunts coyly question people at the table about whose bread was better, whose pasta was dry.
It’s around the end of the secret ‘Who’s The Best Cook’ competition that someone realizes no one has harassed me about getting married. And then it begins.
“Are you seeing anyone special?”
“Or anyone at all?”
“You aren’t getting any younger, you know.”
“Don’t you want babies?”
“Don’t you want a husband?”
“Are you even interested in men? Or are you maybe…?”
This can go on for hours. By the time I’ve answered all the questions at least three times, my brothers and cousins have abandoned teasing each other to focus all their attention on me.
That’s when I decide to clear the table—correction, tables—of food so we can move on to dessert. I know by the time I’ve packed all the food away and done all the dishes, the birthday honorees should be through the cake cutting and at least partially through gift opening. Usually my sister helps so the task isn’t overwhelming. At least there’s that. Then I’ll try to sneak home before anyone notices I haven’t opened my gifts yet. Sometimes I make it. Usually I don’t.
I had dreaded this particular year. I wouldn’t be a twenty-something anymore. I was leaving my youth—and if you listen to anyone in my family, my desirability—behind for my thirties. Yep, I was turning thirty. Trenta. The big three-oh.
I couldn’t do it. There was no way I could sit through a whole day of “My goodness! Thirty and not married? When I was your age, I had already fallen in love, gotten married, and had…” Insert number of children there.
I’d rather run naked through the throng of my relatives than go through that. And that included listening to the inevitable teasing that would go with my fast-and-furious birthday-suit dash. The humiliation would never end. But then, neither does the analysis of my life. It would be a welcome change.
I called my mother.
“Look, I know you’re planning something big for my birthday this year.”
“What? Me? I forgot your birthday was even coming up.” The mock innocence in her voice could be heard by my hearing-impaired grandfather. Who refused to wear his hearing aid, so essentially… my deaf grandfather.
“Is there something special Dad and I can buy you?”
“Buy me, no. But there is something special I want.”
“I want to go to the cabin instead of the party this year.” My parents owned a lovely two-bedroom cabin at the river. We never had parties there because the house was too small, but I’d have plenty of room to celebrate in any way I wanted. Which meant me, the television, and several bottles of wine.
“Not that, honey. Everyone would miss you. How about a three month trial membership to Catholic Date?”
Lord have mercy. Pleeeease tell me she didn’t get me a membership to a dating site.
“Mom. You want to get me something special, not something that will make me homicidal.”
“No. I don’t want a profile on a dating site. I just want to be left alone.”
“But you’re turning thirty.”
“Exactly. Thirty. I’m an adult. Long past, actually. I should be able to make my own decisions. Which includes not joining a dating site and not going to the family birthday bash.”
“But what will I tell everyone?”
“That I want my privacy.”
“Honey.” The disappointment in her tone was as evident as her earlier fake innocence. “That’ll hurt their feelings.”
“Then say I’m traveling for work.”
“You want me to lie?”
Seriously. It’s not like she’d be under oath and testifying in a murder trial.
“I’ll bring work to the river with me. Then it won’t be a lie.”
She was silent so long, I thought maybe we’d been disconnected. Finally, I heard that long-suffering sigh. The one that said I was taking years off her life and putting grey in her hair. “Fine. I’ll have the key ready for you.”
I didn’t bother telling her I’d made a copy of the key when I was in high school. She didn’t need any more bad news. I’d just suffer through one more lecture when I picked up her key, and then I’d be on my way.
When birthday-weekend-Friday rolled around, I took the day off and headed to camp. After a quick lunch, I took the canoe out for the first row of spring. The area was deserted. I couldn’t see any of our neighbors from our property, but even rowing up and down the river, no one seemed to be around. I was well and truly alone at the river. Which was fine by me.
It was unseasonably warm for April. The whole weekend was going to be around eighty degrees and sunny. I grabbed a blanket from the deck box, a cooler of beer, my Kindle, and my iPhone and got comfortable in the grass. Might as well celebrate thirty with a suntan.
I played some smooth jazz on Pandora and set my Kindle aside, content to just lie in the sun and listen to music. It was hot. Hotter than I expected. I looked around. There truly was no one in sight, and I was far enough from the river that if someone happened to float or row by, they couldn’t really see me well, anyway.
I bit my lip, looked around, and grinned. I might be thirty, but I was still adventurous. I stripped down and lay in the sun. It was my birthday weekend. Time to be in my birthday suit.
No way would I go home with tan lines.
You’d think the novelty of being naked outside would have worn off after… I don’t know, ten minutes? But it didn’t. I stayed out there all day. Not a soul came past. I felt free, wonderful.
And not at all bad about turning thirty.
In hindsight, the beer might have had something to do with all that. But at the time? I was having a blast.
I went inside around seven and, too lazy to cook dinner, munched my way through a bag of chips. Still naked. I watched classic movies until midnight—still naked—and then I toasted my birthday with a glass of wine. And another. And another.
So I killed the bottle. Well, two bottles. Naked. Who cares?
I don’t remember going to bed, but when I woke up—about half past eleven—I had the volume on my phone cranked up and classic rock blared from the speaker. Generally the speaker isn’t that loud, but with a hangover, it was ridiculous. The boom, boom, boom of the bass echoed through my head and made my teeth hurt. The electric guitar riffs sliced through my skull to that tiny part of my brain that controlled my gag reflex.
So I turned the volume down, changed the station to a zen channel, and headed for the bathroom. After a thorough vomiting, I popped two aspirin in my mouth, drank copious amounts of water, and took a shower.
I felt a lot better after half an hour under a spray of hot water. God bless my parents for spending extra on an instantaneous water heater. I could have spent the rest of the day in there and never run the water to cold.
I got out and dried off, my headache down to a dull roar. Switching the music back to classic rock, I decided a little hair of the dog would cure me of my hangover. I also decided there was no reason to get dressed. Birthday weekend, birthday suit. All weekend long. I was just going to lie naked in the sun again, alone, so what did it matter?
I put my earbuds in, grabbed a towel, and headed downstairs. Snagging a bottle of expensive cabernet out of my dad’s stash—it was my birthday, after all—I stepped out onto the deck and headed down the stairs.
More than a hundred voices yelling ‘surprise’ when you aren’t expecting it is shocking. More than a hundred voices yelling ‘surprise’ followed immediately by laughing and cat calls and shocked exclamations defies description.
I screamed, dropped the bottle, and covered myself as best I could while scrambling back toward the door. A full-bodied red had splattered all over me, and my fully-naked-body dashed for cover. Of course I stepped on some of the glass, embedding it in the flesh of my feet. I hobble-hopped to the door, but it had locked behind me. I stooped down, trying to cover myself, and pretended to try to pull the glass from my foot. In reality, I just hunkered there, praying the earth would split open and swallow me whole.
I had to wait until my dad went around to the front door, unlocked it and let himself in, and came out the back door to rescue me. Thankfully, he brought a blanket for me to cover myself with.
“Come on in, pumpkin.” I have to give him credit. He neither laughed nor lectured. He was surprisingly straight-faced. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”
My mother wasn’t as merciful. She followed us in, yell-whispering like only an Italian mother can. “What were you thinking? Have you lost your mind? Who’s here? What are you doing?” She glanced at my phone. “Please tell me you aren’t sex-texting!”
I still couldn’t look at either of them, but I found my voice. “Okay, one, it’s called ‘sexting.’ Two, ew, no. And three, what were you thinking? This weekend was supposed to be your gift to me.”
“That’s why we’re here. Why we’re all here. To give you a party. And presents.”
Dad cleaned up my feet and left, still having said nothing. I think I saw his shoulders shaking as he walked away. I definitely heard a snort before the door closed behind him. Traitor.
Mom, on the other hand, hadn’t stopped talking. So much for what I wanted.
“Honestly, Gina. How… why… I can’t even begin to—”
“Mom. Stop. I have a hangover. And I just exposed myself to one hundred family members.”
“Tony is family. Uncle Tony, Big Tony, Little Tony, and Tony Junior. They’re all family.” We have a lot of Tonys in our family. Most Italians probably do. I never found it odd until I listed them all.
“No. Tony DeNunzio.”
That nausea thing was rolling back around again.
“From the Catholic Date site. You two are a perfect match. And I’ve known his mother for years. I thought it was such great luck that we found his profile on that site, and you then went and—”
“Stop.” Thank God she did. “You filled out a profile on that dating site. For me. After I asked you not to. And now you think you found my perfect man?”
Tony DeNunzio. He was my perfect man. I’d had a crush on him from third grade on. But I don’t think he could pick me out of a lineup of male convicts. To think he saw me naked before he even knew I existed was more than I could bear.
“I don’t know why I didn’t think of him sooner.” She still prattled on, oblivious to my humiliation. “He’s—”
“I don’t care what he is or isn’t, Mom. Did you say he’s here?”
“Yes. That was another part of the surprise. And then you went and…”
I walked away at that point. Or, I guess I limped away. By my calculations, I had about three minutes left to get dressed and sneak to my car before my cousins converged on my room and dragged me out—dressed or not.
I slipped into jeans and a t-shirt. Why had I drunk so much the night before? Why had I insisted on running around in my birthday suit? Why had I trusted my mother? Why had I stayed in the shower for so long?
Why am I such an idiot?
I stepped out onto the front porch and looked around. There were cars everywhere. I was hopelessly blocked in. Damn loud music and long shower. I never heard any of it.
My humiliation was being exploited in the back yard. Even from the driveway I could hear the quips and the laughter. I glanced around. Tony DeNunzio stood off to the side, chatting with my grandmother.
Damn, he was even better looking than in high school.
I supposed I deserved this. I did wish for it, in a way. I said I’d rather run naked through my family than suffer through another birthday party. This way, I got to do both. Delightful. Happy thirtieth to me.
Tony looked up and smiled, kind of cocked his head, beckoning me to come to him. If I could just laugh with everyone, maybe it would blow over sooner rather than later and I could try flirting with Mr. Right.
Or I could accept that my family loved to torment me and this would go on for years.
Eh. Either way, Tony DeNunzio was at my birthday. He’d seen more of me than I ever thought he would, and he hadn’t run away screaming. It could be worse.
April showers didn’t bring me May flowers. My April shower brought me a hangover, a bad decision, and a new opportunity.
One out of three isn’t bad.
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