Birthday parties in the Andersson family were always great affairs. Momma loved to go all out. There were teas and cakes and all kinds of polite foods. There was usually some sort of little band playing, although my mother was a fan of the string quartet. Decorations were ribbons and flowers and perfectly pressed table clothes. Women wore dresses and men wore ties, and Marta and I did manage to convince our mother to loosen the dress code enough so that we didn’t have to wear those silly lacy gloves anymore since we both found them extremely impractical. We did both still wear pearls though—because, well, we were the birthday girls.
Since I was dating Bradley, and his parents had been good neighbors, The Wilson Family was invited over, as long as they followed the dress code. Almost everyone else was from the church. Because of that, we never really thought too much about presents. Most of the time it was small trinkets that mom kept in one of the china cupboards, or a couple bucks here and there to “Put away for a rainy day” which Marta and I had a sneaking suspicion was Momma’s friend code for “to use to pay for your elegant wedding.” Bradley got Marta a beautiful necklace with a rose charm, and me a set of handcrafted glass pens that were so beautiful I almost forgot myself and kissed him on the mouth in front of Momma’s friends.
I waited instead until Momma was properly distracted and slipped upstairs to give him a proper kiss and then fix my lipstick before anyone could realize what happened.
“So, today’s the day, huh?” Bradley asked, watching me make faces at the mirror as I tried to perfectly replicate Marta’s handiwork.
“Yeah.” I put down the makeup, figuring that if Momma asked I’d blame it on overzealous-ly eating a sandwich. She’d want to make me sit through another four-hour manners review, but I figured that by the time the day was up, if that was the worst of my worries I’d be doing well. “After we finish family presents when you all have gone home, we’re going to tell them.” I turned around and leaned against the counter trying to give Bradley a hopeful smile.
It must not have worked because he pulled his arms around my waist and frowned at me. “Hey. Are you really worried about this? Do you want me to come up with an excuse to try to stick around? I’m sure we can find some manner loophole that will make it so that your parents have to invite me to stay later if we put our heads together.”
At that I did smile, putting my hands up gently around his neck. “No. I’m actually not worried. I’m strangely calm. Whatever my parents do, I know that we’re going to be okay. I’m just—sad that we’re losing this. You know, tonight everything changes. Our family will never be the same again, and I—“ I shrugged and looked up at Bradley again, tears starting to form in my eyes. “I’m just going to miss us being the way we are. And I love my sister, I really do, but I just really wish that everything didn’t have to change. Especially when I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Bradley was smart enough to know there was nothing to say to that—so he just leaned his forehead against mine and shut his eyes. For a moment, I wondered if he was praying for me. He wasn’t the most devout of Catholics in his day-to-day life, but he went with his mom every Sunday because he didn’t completely disagree, and his mom wasn’t as crazy about it as my parents were.
We stood like that for a long time—too long, I began to realize, but I had to wait until I could be sure that I wasn’t going to burst into tears at any given second before we could head back out there.
When I finally opened my eyes and stepped away, I saw that Bradley’s eyes were a little red-rimmed as well. “Avery. I’m here for you, no matter what you need, okay? I love you. We’re not changing, understand?”
“Thanks, Bradley. I love you too.” I wiped a tear away from his cheek and then checked my eyes in the mirror before giving him my best Hostess smile in the mirror. “Ready to face them all again? One last day of semi-normalcy.”
Bradley kissed me on the top of the head, and we headed back into the party.