All of this is to say that I have to be patient, I guess. And I can be patient. I can wait this out. Four and a half weeks done. Forty-seven and a half to go. Then maybe I will get my moment in the rain. Maybe then my husband will come running back to me, loving me the way he did when we were nineteen years old.
The night of my birthday, Rachel rings my doorbell promptly at six thirty.
“Well,” she says, stepping into the house. “Uncle Fletcher is staying on Mom’s couch. Grandma Lois apparently refused to crash at Mom’s and instead decided she’s staying at the Standard.”
“The Standard? The one in West Hollywood?” I ask. Rachel nods. The Standard is a very hip hotel on the Sunset Strip. It has clear plastic pods hanging from the ceiling instead of chairs. The pool is packed year-round with twenty-year-olds in expensive bathing suits and more expensive sunglasses. Behind the check-in desk is a large glass case built into the wall where they pay young models to lie there by themselves and have people stare at them. You heard me.
“What on earth is Grandma doing at the Standard?” I ask Rachel.
She can’t stop laughing. “Are you going to be ready to go soon?”
“Yeah,” I say, heading off to look for my shoes. I call to her from the bedroom. “But seriously, how did she end up there?”
“Apparently, a friend of Grandma’s just told her about Priceline,” Rachel says.
“Uh-huh,” I call to her as I look under my bed for the other sandal I’m missing.
“And she went to the Web site and clicked on an area of the map that looked like it was halfway between us and Mom’s.” Rachel lives close to me in Miracle Mile, and my mother, once we all moved out of the house and she could downsize, found a place in the hills. Grandma could have easily stayed with any of us. We’re always within a twenty-five-minute car ride if you take back roads. And we always take back roads. I’d go so far as to say that finding the most esoteric way to get from one place to another is our family’s biggest competition. As in “Oh, you took Laurel Canyon the whole way? It’s faster to cut through Mount Olympus.”
“OK,” I say. I found the sandal! I walk out to the living room.
“And then she said what she was willing to spend.”
“And she agreed to stay at whatever hotel would be that cheap.”
“OK, but the Standard is kind of expensive.”
“Well, she must have been willing to pay a lot. Because that’s where they put her.”
“She was expecting, like, a Hilton or something, right?”
“That is my guess.”
I start laughing hard. My grandmother is a fairly hip lady. She knows what’s what. But she has the most delightfully curmudgeonly attitude toward things she calls “farcical.” The last time I saw her, I told her about how Ryan and I order pizza using an app on our phones, and she said to me, “Sweetheart, that’s farcical. Pick up the darn phone.”
“She’s not gonna like the lady in the glass wall.”
“No, she is not,” Rachel says, laughing.
“OK, I’m ready. Let’s get this over with.” I open the front door for Rachel, and then I wave to Thumper as I go.
“Happy Birthday, by the way,” Rachel says to me as we head to her car.
“Did you get my birthday voice mail?” she asks me.
“Yep,” I say. “Voice mail, text, e-mail, and Facebook post.”
“I’m nothing if not thorough.”
“Thank you,” I say to her as we get into the car.
It felt good to be bombarded with her happy thoughts all day. I had e-mails from friends. Mila took me out for Thai food. Mom called. Charlie called. It was a good day. But my brain was focused almost exclusively on how Ryan did not call. It shouldn’t have been a surprise. It shouldn’t still be a surprise. He told me he wasn’t going to call. But it’s all I can think about. Each time my phone beeps or I get a new e-mail, I hope. Maybe he won’t be able to resist. Maybe he’ll have to call. Maybe he’ll want to hear my voice.
It doesn’t feel like a birthday without him. He was supposed to wake me up by saying, “Happy Birthday, Birthday Girl!” like he does every year. He was supposed to take me out to breakfast. He was supposed to send flowers to work. He was supposed to come to my office and take me out to lunch. He used to put so much effort into my birthday. Specifically because he knew I hated birthdays. I don’t like the pressure to have fun. I don’t like to get older. And so he would distract me all day with special presents and thoughtful ideas. One year, he sent me to work with eight birthday cards so I could read one for every hour I was there.
Ryan should be making me dinner tonight. He is supposed to make me Ryan’s Magic Shrimp Pasta, which is, from what I can tell, just shrimp scampi. But it always tastes great. And we only ever have it on my birthday. And he always makes it so that I will look forward to my birthday. Because I get to eat Ryan’s Magic Shrimp Pasta.
He was able to take me out of my own head. He was able to make me happier, to change me into a happier person. And where is he now?
It occurs to me, however, briefly, that maybe he’s there. Maybe he’s at the party. Maybe everyone knows but me. Maybe he’s waiting for me.
Rachel turns on the radio, in effect blaring my own thoughts out of my head. I’m thankful. When we get off the main road, Rachel turns the music down.
“This isn’t going to be that bad,” she says, when she pulls into my mother’s neighborhood.
“No, I know,” I say. “It will be sort of like watching bad improv comedy. It’s unbearable but entirely nonthreatening.”
“Right, and if it’s any consolation, everyone is here because they love you.”
Rachel pulls up in front of my mother’s house. She turns the wheels in and yanks the emergency brake. The streets are steep and full of potholes. You have to watch where you park and where you step. I look out my window at my mom’s place. My mother couldn’t throw a surprise party to save her life. I can already see the shape of Uncle Fletcher’s bald head through the living-room curtains.
“All right,” I say. “Here goes!”
Rachel and I walk to my mom’s front door and ring the doorbell. I guess that’s the code. Everyone quiets inside. I don’t know how many people are in her house, but it’s enough to make a big difference when they quiet down.
I hear my mom come to the door. She opens it and smiles at me. I don’t know why I was getting so sentimental in the car. Ryan hasn’t made me Ryan’s Magic Shrimp Pasta the past two birthdays. We got into a fight about whether the shrimp was fully cooked, and he hasn’t made it since.
Rachel and my mother look at me expectantly, and then it happens, louder and more aggressive than I could have ever imagined.
I was expecting it, and yet it shocks me. There are so many people. It’s overwhelming. There are so many eyes on me, so many people staring. And none of them, not one of them, is Ryan.
I start to cry. And somehow, maybe because I know I can’t cry, because it will just ruin everything if I cry, I stick my head up, and I smile, and the tears recede. And I say, “Oh, my God! I can’t believe this! I feel like the luckiest girl in the whole world!”
• • •
When the fanfare dies down, it gets easier to process. People stop looking at me. They turn toward each other and talk. I go over to the kitchen to get myself a drink. I am expecting perhaps wine and beer, but right in front of me, on the kitchen counter, is a punch bowl.
Charlie comes up behind me. “I spiked it,” he says. I turn around to look at him. He looks much the same as when I saw him a few months ago. He’s filled out since he was a teenager, grown out instead of up. He appears to have become lax about shaving, and his greasy hair implies he may have become lax about shampooing, too, but his ice-blue eyes shine brightly. It feels so nice to see my brother’s face in front of mine. I hug him.
“I’m so glad to see you,” I say. “If this weird party had to happen, I’m glad it at least brought you home.”