We have reservations for my 50th birthday.
“I don’t really feel like going out for dinner,” I say.
“You’re just upset,” Willie says.
I frown, stare out the car window. It’s less than a dozen blocks to the restaurant, but it’s winter, and I’m wearing a dress.
We pull up. “Maybe some people will come by for drinks,” I say hopefully. “Do you believe I’ve not gotten one single text today? Not one?”
Willie stares straight ahead.
“And where’s Mary? Why hasn’t she called back? Where’s Boggs? Where’s Amy?”
A Dirty Bird (a vodka and olive juice martini) takes the edge off my anxiety, and by the time we’re through with dinner I’m only checking the front door every 10 minutes. No one has come.
“Let’s go home,” I say.
“Is that your phone buzzing?”
I check my phone. There’s a message. It’s Boggs. “Can u come get me at the Spring? My car won’t start! I’ll buy u a bday bloody b4 we go back to the Peacock. Pretty please? Oh & happy bday!”
I write back: “normally I would say too bad so sad what the hell are you doing at the spring without me but I’m feeling drunk and generous. Be there in 10.”
She writes back: “Thank u so much!!!”
I tell Willie about Boggs’ dead car. “Isn’t that weird? I mean, she knows it’s my birthday, plus she knows everyone at the Spring, including the bartenders. Why doesn’t she have them jump her car?”
Willie ignores everything I’ve just said. “We’ll have to stop at home first.”
“I have to use the bathroom,” he says.
I use that time to change into jeans. No point in jumping someone’s car in a dress. “You don’t have to come along,” I yell. “I can handle this.”
“No way,” he hollers. “I want another drink.”
And in 20 minutes, we are in the parking lot of the Spring.
I turn around in my seat. “Where’s her car?”
“We’ll just park,” Willie says. “We’ll figure it out.”
We go in through the back door, by the pool tables.
And I see Reba. What? Reba lives in Eagle Bend, four hours north.
I hear my name, followed by “hide!”, and four heads bob, then stand.
I know every face in the bar.
Mary comes rushing forward. “Surprise! Are you surprised?!” There’s Reba, and Rainy, and Amy and Boggs and Paula – from Wisconsin! And Peg and Steve and Dave and Bart and Ginny and Kathy and Kurt…
I burst into tears, hugging and kissing my way into the room.
“Paula! I thought no one remembered! Oh, Paula what are you doing here?”
Paula squeezes me. “Mary started working on this two months ago. Did you notice your parents are here?”
Two months? My parents? I turn around. My mother is smiling. My father is filming. “Hey, Pearl!” he shouts. “Over here! You’ve been found not guilty on all charges! Tell us how you feel!”
I bury my head into my mother’s neck. “I thought you forgot! I thought everyone forgot!”
My mother laughs.
My phone, in my back pocket, buzzes. “SURPRISE! Happy birthday! Love T”.
Everywhere I go there are outstretched arms, tears, and laughter.
I finally work my way back to Mary. I hug her. “Two months? You worked on this for two months?”
She smiles, tears in her eyes. “Didn’t you notice that we’ve not talked as much lately?”
“Of course I did!” I start to cry again. “I thought you didn’t need me anymore!”
Mary’s lips quiver, her bright blue eyes shine behind tears. “I was setting all this up, and you know how bad a liar I am! I couldn’t take the chance of you finding out!”
She hugs me, hard. “Enjoy yourself tonight.” She lets me go, and I start to walk away.
It’s Mary again, and I turn around.
“It was very hard, not talking to you.”
“I love you,” I say.
She smiles. “Aww, go on,” she says.
32 minutes ago