“You’re almost nineteen years old and you’ve never had a birthday party?” Jackie screeched so loudly multiple heads turned in our direction.
I shushed her with my hands. “Lord, you don’t have to act like that’s the weirdest thing on the planet. I’m sure there are plenty of people who’ve never had one before.” I turned to Gareth. “Right?’
He reached across and laid his hand on my knee. “I’m sure there are.”
Jackie looked between us with a patronizing expression. “Well, I don’t know of anyone.”
I crossed my arms and stared her down. “Well, you do now.”
She just shrugged me off and went back to studying. Ever since the night she’d found be brokenhearted and sobbing my head off in the bathroom after Gareth and I broke up we've become friends. We were still on rocky ground at times, and I’ve had to catch myself from snapping at her sometimes, but she was actually a really nice person. Unbelievably, I enjoyed her sarcastic sense of humor. She also had the most confidence of anyone I’d ever met. I was a little envious of it. There were times I wished I was more like her.
"How are your parents doing?" I asked Gareth.
We all got together a final time before they’d a few months ago, and while things between the four of us had been a little awkward and tense at first, our lunch together was much more pleasant than the first time. Both his parents had made an effort to get to know more about me. Mrs. Brown even asked me to show her some of my pencil drawings.
"They're good. Dad's practice is suddenly booming. Said he got fifteen new patients just over the last week. Mom has been busy finalizing Valentine’s Day charity function for some big business. Either way, they're both swamped with work. They said to tell you hello as well."
"You two know we're supposed to be studying, right?" Jackie asked.
Gareth and I smiled sheepishly, but I still stuck my tongue out at her. "Yeah, yeah. You're getting practically all A’s anyway."
She rubbed her knuckles over her chest and then blew on them. "It's because I study."
I rolled my eyes, but went quietly back to reading my notes from my stats class. Math was my least favorite subject, and the one I had to study the hardest for. It seemed like it took forever for it to click sometimes and that was usually only after I’d met with my professor during his office hours and he'd explained it three or four completely different ways. And since I really wasn't excited about this class, it was easy for my mind to drift elsewhere. Like the fact that Jackie had been so appalled by the knowledge that I'd never had a birthday party. Even Gareth had seemed shocked. He'd just masked his a lot better than she had.
Two hours later, I still hadn't managed to get much studying done. Jackie, however, was packing up her things. "Thanks for the study session lovebirds, but I'm heading out. I have a party to get ready for. You two kids don't do anything I wouldn't do," she tossed over her shoulder before leaving Gareth and me alone in our small corner of the student hall.
"I like Jackie and all, but can I tell you that I'm really glad she's gone."
I swiveled my head in Gareth's direction. "Why?"
"Because I've been wanting to do this."
He palmed my neck and pulled me toward him so he could plant a kiss on my mouth. He flicked his tongue across my lips, teasing me. I opened to him and he swept inside before nipping my bottom lip and pulling away. "There, now I feel better."
My cheeks heated, and I darted a glance around the student hall to see if anyone saw us. No one was paying any attention. "I feel better too, now that you mention it."
Gareth released me and I sat back against the couch we shared. He smiled and turned back to his books. I bit my lip in a nervous gesture.
"Can I ask you a question?" my voice was hesitant.
Gareth glanced back up. His expression swiftly turned to one of concern. "Hey, are you okay?"
"Yeah," I tried to reassure him, but I was feeling self-conscious all of a sudden. "I just wanted to ask...is it weird that I've never had a birthday party? It seems like such a stupid thing to even wonder about, but the way Jackie acted, I'm feeling like maybe something is, not necessarily wrong with me, but that I had this poor, neglectful childhood. I mean, I had a pretty shitty childhood comparatively speaking, but this just seems like, you know, a pile of whipped cream on top of the shit." I sagged. "And now that makes me feel like some selfish asshole, because I'm complaining about something I never had."
Gareth scooted over, closing the distance between us and threaded our fingers. "Stop that. I don't think it's as uncommon as Jackie would have you believe. I know Ryder didn't have any birthday parties after he moved to my home town when he was ten. For some families it just isn't a thing. There are also some religions that don't celebrate birthdays either." He squeezed my hand gently. "So, to answer your question, no, I don't think it's weird. And I also don't think it makes you sound selfish to wish you'd had one."
He sat up straight, and his eyes got wide and sparkled like something just occurred to him. “Oh, I know. I’m going to throw you a birthday party."
I blinked and shook my head in confusion. “Wh—what?" I sputtered.
Gareth grinned like a fool and started bouncing around animatedly. "Yes. I am going to throw you the absolute best birthday party. Because I don't ever want you to ever feel like you've missed out on something."
"Gareth, no, that’s ridiculous. It's all so dumb anyway. You don't have to do that. I'm too old for a birthday party anyway. Besides it’s still another couple weeks away.”
“For one, you’re never too old. And two, then it doesn’t give me much time to plan. Oh, yeah, this is going to be great.” He smacked another kiss on me and jumped up, packing up his books away in a rush.
"What are you doing?" I asked in confusion.
He bounced on his feet with excitement. “I’m heading home. I need to start planning your party. I'll call you later night, though"
With one last kiss, and before I could stop him, he took off, leaving me sitting there in shock.
What just happened here?