Copyright © Emmi Lawrence
All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without permission from the author.
Short Story (2100)
September eighteenth dawned like any other. Mostly clear. Slightly cloudy. Humidity on the low side for the end of summer.
I could hear the squeak of the school bus stopping outside the cul-de-sac of townhomes. Bright cheerful voices. Youthful ones. Laughing.
With a groan that tasted of bitterness, I shoved my pillow over my head and squeezed my eyes shut in the hopes that life and its pointlessness might fade away with a few more minutes of sleep.
Then the firehouse began a long low tone, signaling to my muggy brain that very soon it would be the irritating cry of sirens that would come screaming down the drag. So I reluctantly tumbled out of bed.
Not twenty minutes later I sat at my grooved kitchen table staring at my coffee and listening to those sirens and wondering why I’d bothered taking off. It wasn’t as if I had plans other than to sit on my couch, watch a Netflix marathon and eat delivery. Which now, as I stared morosely into my coffee, I realized that wasn’t a plan at all and certainly was an embarrassing way to spend my thirty-fifth birthday.
If I’d been back west where I’d grown up, maybe I’d still have friends who would have been delighted to help me destroy my liver and find someone to celebrate properly with. But…I’d left them across the country when I’d taken this job. Seven years in. Large salary. Fancy townhouse. Even fancier car.
And it all was so god-forsakenly lonely.
I pushed the coffee away and laid my head against the table in a fit of self-loathing and depression. I didn’t even know what I wanted anymore. My brain a confounded mess. My life, so successful on the outside, so lacking everywhere else.
Instead of doing something about it, I succumbed to the brain demons and turned on a show. After downing a Gatorade, snacking on a bag of chocolate, then taking a longish nap sans sirens, I found the number to my favorite pizza place—okay, I didn’t have to look very hard since I’d taped it on the microwave along with a list of all the nearby places that delivered.
“Can I get a large meat and cheese with pineapple please?” I intoned, the words coming more from muscle memory than any conscious decision on my part to say them.
“Any sauces, sides or drinks?”
“No. Thank you. But…” Here I paused and the woman on the other end waited patiently for me to finish. “It’s my birthday. Could you…write something, maybe?” The moment the words were out of my mouth, I cringed.
But she merely said, “Sure thing. Happy birthday! How old are you turning?”
“Thanks, uh, thirty-five.”
“Okay. I’ll let him know.”
“We have this number in our system as Matt Bretski. Is that correct?” When I mumbled an affirmative, she rattled off my address and completed the order with a far too chipper “Good-bye. Have an amazing birthday.”
By the time I opened my mouth to respond, she’d already hung up.
Twenty-three minutes later a knock came on the front door, followed by a ring as if the delivery person hadn’t seen the button until after. I expected some fresh out of high school kid. Maybe a nose ring or unwashed hair or the last visages of pimples. Or, hell, all three.
What I got made my naked toes curl, my dick perk up and embarrassment flood my brain, because I was standing in nothing but my sleep pants, gaping at a brightly smiling, handsome man who could easily star in my wet dreams as my own personal sex god.
The cash crumbled between my fingers as he proffered the pizza box.
“Birthday special, right?” he asked, gray eyes sparkling.
“Cheese, meat and pineapple?”
“Great. It’s eleven sixty-three.”
The cash remained locked between my frozen fingers and I knew I stared, but couldn’t help myself, my mind locked in an awful dance of wow-he’s-hot and wow-you’re-pathetic. “You…”
Mr. Sex God’s eyebrows rose. “You want to check it first?”
I nodded numbly and waited as he lifted the cardboard just enough for me to smell the tomato sauce and melted cheese and see the chunks of pineapple.
“Yes, you look—it looks good.” I shoved the money at him and grabbed the pizza. “Keep the change.” Then I escaped into my home, not quite slamming the door in my haste to run from the mortification of drooling over the man like the teenager I’d expected to show at my door. He couldn’t have missed my interest, not with my mind having disengaged and words spilling free practically announcing I’d have let him bend me over any surface in my house if he’d so desired.
Which he likely didn’t.
I sighed and carried the pizza into the kitchen, making a mental note not to order from there for a while. The birthday special ended up being nothing special at all. Pretty much how the rest of my day had been going so I couldn’t fault them. The pizza itself tasted divine. As always.
It wasn’t until I went back for seconds two episodes later that I saw the words scrawled under the lid. Sit down. Take a bite. Make a wish with all your might. Then at the bottom: Have a glorious 35th birthday!
I laughed, a little sadly, but still appreciative over the burgeoning poet’s attempt to cheer me up. So, in honor of the only person to take the time to write me a card, even if it was inside a pizza box, I sat back down on the couch, took a huge bite and dreamed about having a guy like that delivery man to alleviate the loneliness that descended over me.
Tap-tap-tap. Pause. Ring.
With a glance at the clock, I swallowed the last of my pizza and went to get the door. On the other side was the same man as before, but now he didn’t have the restaurant’s shirt on and carried a bottle of wine. Red.
“Thought you could use some company,” he said with a smile.
My mouth dropped open.
“My name’s Chase.”
“Matt,” I said, happy my voice didn’t sound as breathless as I felt, but that could have been the numbness spreading through my body. “Come on in.” The words came out smooth, suave, if a bit confused considering I had yet to shower, shave or even change. How I’d managed to not scare this man away by my gaping I didn’t know.
The show continued to play in the other room, drama rising and falling as the characters strived to find ways to terrorize one another. I wished I’d turned it off. Or at least paused it.
But Chase didn’t seem to mind because he only said, “Want to save it or open it now?”
“You pick,” I said, suddenly nervous, hands clammy as if I was on a first date.
“But it’s your birthday,” he countered.
“Right. Now is good.” Yes, alcohol in my blood, dissolving my ability to think straight even more. Smart. That didn’t stop me from showing Chase the kitchen and handing him the wine opener before I rinsed out two glasses that hadn’t been used in quite a long time.
After, we sat together on the couch watching my show, sipping wine with me trying not to be too obvious in my desire to sniff him because damn, he smelled good. When he shifted closer, tapped the remote to lower the volume and started talking, I couldn’t help but smell the pheromones on his breath and wonder if the scent wasn’t just all in my head.
“So I probably shouldn’t ask, but I’ve been known to ask questions I shouldn’t, so why are you spending your birthday alone?”
I shifted uncomfortably and tore my gaze from his crotch. “Because it’s been sort of a tradition where I work to take off on your birthday. This is the first year I’ve actually done it though.”
“I meant, why not go see your friends or do something?
“Like what?” I asked, ignoring the friends comment altogether.
“I don’t know. Something you’ve always wanted to do. A trip somewhere, maybe? Aren’t there things you want to do?”
“Sure. Lots of things.” Just not by myself.
I thought for a moment, but came up blank. Finally, I slouched against the cushions and admitted defeat. “I honestly have no idea.”
Chase remained quiet, but stared at me as a woman on the show went into a tirade. I wished I could tell what he was thinking, but I didn’t even have the courage to turn and look at him.
“Do you wish you’d gone to work?” he finally asked.
I shrugged. “Doesn’t matter.”
“So there’s no one there you want to see?”
Company wasn’t exactly all that it was cracked up to be it seemed, not with all these questions I didn’t want to dwell on. Maybe I shouldn’t have wished the loneliness away.
Ha! And there was my problem. Not ever being satisfied, no matter the circumstances. My mom had said something of the sort about me a few years before she died. I hadn’t wanted to believe her then, but now…
I cleared my throat, making the conscious decision to try and enjoy Chase’s company, uninvited questions and all. “You have family?”
“Nearby? Sure. My dad and younger sister. My aunt lives about a half hour away too.”
“Your mom?” I asked, already dreading the answer.
“Died a few years back.” He shrugged as if it didn’t matter. But I knew better.
I remained silent for a moment, then softly said, “Mine too.”
Chase didn’t respond verbally. Instead, he reached across the space between us and gripped my hand. After a brief hesitation I turned my own around and wove my fingers through his. What started as a friendly acknowledgement of shared pain turned into stories.
How his mom had used to call him every time she got a weather alert, even the small craft advisory ones—despite the fact that he didn’t own a boat and never had.
About how my mom used to hide plastic spiders in no bake cookies and put them in my lunches for school.
That one time he’d broken his leg jumping of their porch steps and his mom installed a handicap railing because she didn’t trust him. So he’d climbed onto the railing and jumped from there, almost giving her a heart attack.
Then all those times my mom had sat on my bed and stared at my posters with me. Especially that one…of that man…who’d been sexy and hot and mostly naked.
Chase laughed. “Yeah, I had a few of those too.”
I grabbed my wineglass and drained the rest of the wine. I’d suspected—no, I’d hoped, but hadn’t believed he’d held my hand out of anything but commiseration. Now though… My heart sped up. I wanted…
Chase glanced at me and changed the subject before I’d a chance to voice any of my haphazard thoughts. “How was your pizza?”
“It was pizza…why?”
“And you made a wish?”
Now I openly stared at him. “You wrote that?”
He shrugged and dropped his gaze sheepishly. “I’ve got some latent power. Not much, you see, but some of my ancestors on my father’s side were djinn. You’ll have to tell me if it worked.”
“If what worked?”
“The wish thing. The poem sucked, I know, but I’m no good at that part.”
“Did you not make a wish yet? If there’s still some left, you could try.”
“Cool.” Chase grinned, then his gaze dragged down my body before shooting back up as if realizing what he’d caught himself doing. “Did anything happen?”
Chase’s eyebrows lifted in shock. “Really? That’d be a first. What’d you wish for?”
I hesitated, not wanting to spoil things and most definitely not wanting Chase to leave. Maybe he wouldn’t, even if he discovered I’d essentially wished for him to return…but maybe he would. And I’d had enough of feeling as if my life was pointless. Enough of coming home to an empty house too big for me. Enough of lying awake thinking that if I just felt over the blankets long enough someone would appear in my bed and wrap his arms around me.
So I gathered my courage, shut out my bitterness and leaned close to Chase. Close enough I could see the frailest ring of pale purple in his gray eyes.
“My mom always told me wishes don’t come true if you tell anyone.”
Chase’s eyes widened. “That’s for blowing out candles, not djinn wishes.”
“Still,” I said quietly, “let’s not take the chance.” Then I leaned closer still and pressed my lips against his.
First of all, I’m not saying that putting your all into your work, job or whatever you might be passionate about it is wrong. Nor do I think anyone should begrudge someone who has sacrificed in order to become accomplished or successful in their field, however that success is measured. I do think that in order for your personal endeavors to be worthwhile and create happiness for yourself you need a purpose behind doing them, a purpose that goes above and beyond simple enjoyment.
I like to think Matt wishes to care for someone, to know he’s being a provider, to know that he’s putting a smile on someone else’s face and removing stress from that person’s life. That maybe he thought he would search for a partner after he found success, but that now that he’s found it, he doesn’t know how or where to look. I like to think he takes Chase out and falls in love and ends up asking him to move in.
I also like to think that Chase is a decent man who didn’t need a djinn wish to come back and try to cheer up a lonely man on his birthday. He might have been even thinking about providing birthday entertainment.
Also, I want to apologize for not publishing this yesterday when I should have. I’d made mental notes and phone notes and forgot anyway because I spent all week prepping for an event and all yesterday hosting said event and every time I saw the reminder I didn’t have time to put the post together, which isn’t a good excuse, I know. I’m sorry :(
In more fun news, I’m almost done with a new m/m mystery novel!