Once we were all sitting down at the table for dinner, I caught myself doing exactly what I promised I wouldn’t; looking down at my reflection in the plate. Anything was better than staring across at Elle and Sevin’s intertwined fingers.
Once the kielbasa links and potatoes were served, Daddy said grace, and we all dug in. It was a quieter dinner than usual. At one point, my mother suddenly asked Emily to come follow her into the kitchen. I happened to look at Sevin, and his eyes were practically bugging out of his head. Elle’s face was red as a beet. Was I missing something? That was when I looked over at Imogene.
Oh my God.
I covered my mouth.
She was holding her fat kielbasa link upright in her palm and instead of eating it, seemed to be jerking it up and down, simulating a hand job. When she saw that I noticed, she did nothing but smile that toothless grin like everything was normal.
Sevin and I made eye contact. I could see he was about to lose it. Maintaining my composure might have been possible were it not for his expression. I buried my face in my hands and started to cry quiet tears of laughter, nearly peeing in my pants. I knew it was wrong to laugh at this, but I just couldn’t help it.
My father was stoic and refused to speak. Elle just sat there in shock. Sevin slapped his cloth napkin down and left the room. I knew he was going to the bathroom to laugh in private. The whole situation was sick, yet after one of the toughest weeks of my life, I was grateful for the comic relief.
Happy fucking birthday to me.
It was my twenty-first. That alone should have made it one of the happiest days of my life, but birthdays were never happy at all for me. This year was no exception. Even though I felt like drowning my sorrows in my first legal bottle of booze, I reminded myself of my vow to be a better person.
There was a knock on the door in a cheerful melodic rhythm. Elle and Emily were standing there with huge smiles on their faces.
“Happy birthday!” they said in unison.
“Thank you, sweetie pies.”
This year, my birthday happened to fall on a Saturday, so Elle and I were supposed to be going into town for the day to celebrate. Emily was going to accompany us as our chaperone.
I hated that a part of me wished it were Evangeline.
But it was better that it wasn’t. I couldn’t think straight whenever that girl was merely in the same room, let alone joining us for an entire day. Today was one day I couldn’t handle battling my attraction to her. Even though I’d told her that we needed to get used to being around each other, it seemed I was the one with the problem lately.
Determined to lose myself in Elle’s company, I suggested she show me around Dodge City. We visited the Boot Hill Museum, the Dodge City Zoo, and she took me to a couple of possible venues for the wedding reception. Elle managed to successfully help me forget about my problems for a while.
After a late lunch of burgers and milkshakes, we stopped at an arcade that Emily wanted to go to. It was the least we could do for her after she followed us around all day.
“Go on, Emily. Here’s some money for the machine. We’ll be right here.” Elle seemed eager to have a moment alone with me, even though we weren’t technically supposed to be alone at all.
Emily got sucked into a game at the far end of the crowded room. We were surrounded by flashing lights and arcade noises when Elle said, “I’ve been waiting to give you your birthday present.”
She took my hand and startled me when she leaned in. Her lips were moving toward me. It was the last thing I expected. Elle brushed her lips gently over mine. When I moved my mouth over hers, I think she started to get scared I was going to slip her some tongue or do something else. She pulled away, stopping the kiss. It had been soft and felt innocent, even though I was sure it was a really big deal for her.
“Elle…you didn’t have to do that. I could have waited.”
“I know I’m not supposed to. But I wanted to. I have been dying to. I wish it could be more.”
“It felt…really nice.”
As she continued to smile up at me, I felt compelled to ask her a question.
“What do you want, Elle?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean…out of life? What do you really want?”
“I want to be your wife.”
“But aside from that, is there something you want to do but maybe feel like you can’t? What are your dreams?”
“I don’t know. Being a wife and—God willing—a mother…it’s enough for me. Not every woman has to want more. Those things are really what I truly want.”
“You’re such a good person. Sometimes, I think you’re too good for me.”
“That’s not true. You’re everything to me.”
Letting go of her hand, I ran my hand through my hair, trying to form my thoughts into words. “Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate that so much, and no one has ever said that to me or even really felt that way about me. I guess, I just don’t understand why you love me. Like, what have I done to earn that, and how do you know there isn’t someone better for you out there than me—the guy your father chose for you?”
“First of all, my father didn’t choose you. He introduced us, but I chose you. Life is short, Sevin. We’re not even guaranteed tomorrow. Some people spend so much of their entire lives looking for that ‘something more’…that they miss the gifts that God places right in front of them.”