By Your Side Part 6: “Happy Birthday, Alexander”

Every week I’ll install parts of this California short story I wrote three years ago for a fiction class. It’s since been rediscovered and reread and revised and unrevised for what I ultimately wanted to accomplish in this small story of a summer in between college and the growth of a youth in love. Here is part 6 for this story, and I hope you enjoy!

*If you would like to read the next part of the short story, stay tuned, or simply click above the BY YOUR SIDE page for the full story. P.K.


            The way that he looked on the date—Alexander seemed tired. Noah mused that a man’s 26 birthdays in a row in the same place trying to excite he who found little excitement in his small life was getting redundant to him. June and her parents never thought so.
            The window-walled narrow dining hall reflected the teal paper lanterns dangling from the low popcorn ceiling, keeping the brightness to the room as the sun was going down. The long ply-wood table and chairs were dressed and wrapped in long white and yellow crepe paper, and only in the last minutes before the cake was set on the table did June, and with Jay, start tossing about beautiful glitter everywhere, at everyone. The guests seemed to be outshining the birthday candles.
            Alexander looked nice, neatly combed chestnut hair and an ash gray Abercrombie polo with the collar popped. The cake, chocolate, was brought forward, and his expression changed to more pleased. The song sung, the candles blown, the cake sliced—everything was as if it should have been, except it wasn’t. The Wyaths made the moments more memorable and remarkable by the over-the-top execution. With the Starlight Palms, it was so small a space for the effect to really shine.
            “Get the player out!” June pushed Jay’s iPhone back into his hand, favoring the record player being rolled in by Mr. Wyath and her Uncle Loc. From the cabinet underneath it she pulled some records out and the ones she didn’t feel for she flung freely to Noah for catching. He looked through the rejected vinyl, down at Smoky Robinson and The Byrds. June paused on Dusty Springfield but she too was tossed to Noah. The records probably weren’t hers, only delectable relics just as old as the Starlight Palms where they’d been abandoned.
            The party was now livened up by a surprising tune from Echo and the Bunnymen. Now that had been June’s. It wasn’t long after they’d been close together dancing with interlaced fingers that she dragged Noah to the side of the building. It was cold out, as the spray of the ocean brushed past them, and the twilight lingered only enough for her to look up to his shadowed face.
            She came close to his face to kiss it, but pulled away a few inches just before their lips touched to playfully hum to the song that was quite special to him, “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want.” The Smiths. He couldn’t stand it, older stuff. But that’s the song she played on his speakers that gorgeous day in April when the weather finally turned to blue skies over Berkeley. Warm winds gently blew while the two of them had sat lazily across the lawn right below the tall Campanile Tower, listening closely to the tune.
            The sound of gravel crackling startled them—Alexander turned the corner and jumped back, dropping the pork bun he’d been munching down. “Fucking Christ!” he shouted, flicking sauce from the spilled bun off of his stubby legs. “May I remind you Mom and Dad rent out twenty perfectly good private rooms—”
            “Don’t get dramatic there, birthday boy,” June piped, more excited than embarrassed. “I’d hope to get you out here anyways.”
            “Alone?” He was doubtful.
            “Mmmhm.” She let go of Noah’s hand and knelt down to her brother. From behind her she pulled from out of her blue sash two unlit, long sparklers.
            “Oh,” her brother said.
            “For you and me!” June explained, “Or both, if you really want them. Noah’s gonna take a picture for me.”
            Jay found them. He ran out and handing Noah’s phone to him, said, “Someone from Sawyer Builds or whatever wanting you.”
            Sawyer! Noah got away and went back inside to where family members of the Wyaths had snuck the old records into play and moved obscurely about with each other. In a dim corner where a red lantern had blown out, he finally took the call.
            “Mr. Baker?”
            “Yes! Hello there.”
            “Oh, good. This is Stan Farley calling back about your application from April.”
            “Yes, of course.”
            “Well, we’ve just reviewed your portfolio and application only this morning, and it looks like we have open an amazing opportunity here for you at Sawyer Builds and Graphics. We called earlier, and since the office is just about closing I’d thought about taking the liberty to try you once more.”
            “Oh yes! No one likes to wait on good news.”
            “No indeed! I am glad to have reached you now, even if so late. Will you be able to be in Denver for a proper orientation with my colleagues next week?”
            Noah became stiff. “I applied for a position at the San Jose branch.”
            “Unfortunately our San Jose locations are well off and overloaded, in fact. Denver’s fresh and new, not even settled five years here. I’m calling from Denver, and Denver’s in need of young blood fresh from college, fresh from California with all those bright sunshine ideas of yours you surely must have.”
            “I actually do.”
            “Then would next week be any problem?”
            He said it wouldn’t. Next week, next week on his mind even as he snapped the red button on June’s Instamatic and when Jay stuck his bony fingers too close to the sparks of Alexander’s sparkler. It was still on his mind when June suggested they all go sit on the hoods of their cars—on top of her orange old Beetle the glass was creaking and she was nestled in his arms. “Sure hope he’s satisfied with this year,” she was telling him, looking out to the ocean in the distance.
            “I think so,” Noah replied mindlessly.
            “We threw glitter. We never did that before,” she went on, releasing one arm from his embrace to start playing with her long hair, “and we made the cake chocolate. He likes cheesecake.”
            “Thought chocolate was his thing.”
            “Nuh uh, I only suggested chocolate last minute to Mom right before she was buying the cake in town. So we baked chocolate, just to make this year stand out for him.”
            He looked over to Alexander, leaning his full little body against the top of Jay’s windshield. Jay had brought out some of his weed and the both of them were taking a hit on a single joint. Even stoned, Alexander could not loosen up in the face. “Don’t think he’d like that.”
            “Of course not. He makes it known that he doesn’t like much.”
            “Can’t blame him.”
            “It’s not his dwarfism, if that’s what you’re goin’ at. It’s cause he’s here—we’re always arguing about it. You know how well I like it here, but with Alex there’s just something about the Starlight that really gets on his nerves.”
            “Just that it’s grounding him, or something. Didn’t mean that as a joke, either!”
            All of a sudden Alexander let out a short laugh, low-pitched but full of heart. 26 birthdays in a row in the same place and trying to excite one’s self when there really was nothing there. There was bitterness in Alexander, Noah could see why.
            Denver. Next week. Next week was still on his mind as he gathered a shivering June back into his arms, atop a windshield and looking out to the dark waters dimly-lit by stars just coming out.

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