I knew what today was. I’d ripped the whole month off my calendar to help forget it, but that did no good. It was Danny’s birthday.
Right about now we would have been sharing a bottle of her favorite white wine on the top deck of a boat, underneath the stars, listening to our song being played by a string quartet in the dining room. I’d planned the most romantic night I could, just thinking about her smile. I bought her a designer dress. I’d flown in her favorite chocolate from Europe. I even ordered her favorite flowers directly from Asia. I didn’t care that it all cost just over $82,000. I loved her.
I still did. She broke my heart, and I still loved her. I had spent endless hours and days crying over her, trying to feel any kind of better, but there was nothing that would’ve healed me like forgiving her and holding her close. However, I was too much of a coward and an asshole to actually go through with any of that. Needless to say, I still thought of her and every little thing she did to make me love her, every single day. It hurt knowing that she was so close, but that I couldn’t have her.
I quietly laughed to myself. It was just like when we were kids. I wanted her to be mine for so long, and I finally got her, but I lost her too soon. It was almost like nothing happened at all–like nothing changed–but it had. I had known what it felt like to have her in my arms, to smell her on my bed sheets in the morning, to hear her say she loved me, to touch her skin and make her do things she’d never dreamed of. She’d been the best thing that had ever happened to me, and it killed me to know that I will probably never get to experience those things again.
There was a soft knock on my office door and I looked up to see Lucia standing there. I waved for her to come in and I sat up in my chair.
“You’re working late,” she said walking in and sitting in a chair across from me. She reached over and pulled the cigarette from my mouth. She’d disapproved of my new bad habit, so I consented to actually smoking one a day and just chewing on the rest. She still didn’t like that idea, but it was better than the alternative.
“So are you,” I replied, my eyes never leaving my computer screen.
“Well, you see, that’s because my boss is so incompetent that if I didn’t stay, he’d lose track of time and sit up working until sunrise instead of leaving to get dinner and relying on a pack of lung cancer as his only food source,” she jokingly complained, tossing the cigarette in the trash.
“Sounds like you’ve got your hands full,” I teased back.
“You have no idea,” she smiled. I continued working while she silently sat there. I tapped away on my keyboard, making edits to an article one of my employees sent me, leaving the unasked question linger in the air.
“Really?” she finally asked. “You’re going to make me ask?”
“Ask what?” I sighed.
“How are you?” she huffed.
“Just peachy,” I said, not even bothering to try and pretend that I was when we both knew I wasn’t.
“Leo Harper,” she hissed.
“Lucia Montello,” I responded.
“You are not peachy,” she chastised. “You are so entirely full of bullshit right now, that you can’t see how fucked up you look, sitting here piling on work to avoid your real-life problems.”
“My work is a real-life problem,” I muttered. “And for that comment, you’re officially fired.”
“Fine, but you know I’m talking about you and Danielle.”
“There is no me and Danielle anymore, hence the aforementioned piling on of work.”
“Fuck, Leo. When was the last time you two talked?”
“I don’t know.” That was a lie. It’d been exactly 33 weeks, 4 days, 6 hours, and 17 minutes and counting since we last tried to talk it out. It’d ended in me calling her a selfish bitch and her storming out of my apartment. Since then, I’d resorted to hearing her shuffle around her apartment in the middle of the night because, hey, what else was I supposed to do at 3am on a work night? Sleep? Fuck that! Who needs sleep? Not me, that’s who!
“Bullshit,” Lucia seethed, probably reading my face. “I’ve seen the way you stare at your wall where her picture used to be. Hell, you’ve even started smoking to take up any extra time you have to think about her. You miss her. You still love her.”
I leaned back and rubbed my head. “Yes, I am still in love with her, so what?”
“So, do something about it,” she said nonchalantly.
“Like what?” I asked looking at her.
She shrugged. “Some romantic stuff. Girls love shit like that.”
I rolled my eyes. “What a big help you are.”
She confidently lifted her chin. “You’re the one who’s head over heels for someone. Not me. I’m the one who’s just looking for a hot guy with a sturdy bed and a deluxe package.” She winked and I let out a laugh.
Lucia was the best person to have around in my moments of crushing defeat that I never wanted Danny to see. She knew just the right words to say to make me laugh. Coming from anyone else besides Danny, they would have just pissed me off.
She leaned over my desk closing my computer and sitting a medium box on top of it. “Happy birthday, bossman,” she grinned.
I glanced at the clock over my door and noticed it was 12:03am. It was officially my birthday.
“Open it,” she pressed.
“Alright,” I sighed lifting the lid off. I stared at the gift and shook my head. “This is just…wrong.”
She smiled and pulled out the small employee handbook decorated in a dress with a face, arms, legs, and a blonde wig.
“Now you have your own personal walking handbook,” she laughed. “This one looked so cute, I even made one for myself, to look just like you, out of the sexual harassment guidelines.”
I covered my face with my hand. The first day Lucia started working, I asked her a question about one of the company’s policies and she responded, “Do I look like a fucking walking employee handbook to you?” followed by, “Because if we’re being honest, you look like a walking sexual harassment lawsuit waiting to happen.” It was the first thing she said to me and it cracked me up. No one had spoken to me that way before, so while the rest of the office was mortified, I was rolling on the floor laughing my ass off.
“Thank you so much,” I laughed. “I needed that.”
“I know. Now get out of here, get something to eat, and first thing in the morning, go get your girl back.”
I nodded and she kissed my cheek. “Goodnight, Leo.”
She began walking out my office when I called her. “Lucia–”
“Yes, I’ll see you on Monday.” She turned around and stuck out her tongue. “You can’t get rid of me that easily.”
“I don’t know what I’d do without you,” I smiled.
“You wouldn’t be running this company,” she said. “I would.”
I laughed at her comment. She was probably right. She was a determined woman, and if I wasn’t her boss, she would have taken over by now.
I heard her heels click on the metal floor of the elevator and the thud of the doors closing, and I stood. I needed to eat. I’d gotten away with missing lunch because Lucia was busy, but that decision was coming back to bite me in the ass–or the stomach.
I grabbed my coat and my gift, and headed out the door. I decided to go with Lucia’s crazy idea of trying to get Danny back. I would go see her in the morning, but first I needed to drown my thoughts with a beer or two.
Apparently, I was God’s favorite toy because there was a million and one chance that of all the bars in the city, I happened to walk into the one with my ex-girlfriend sitting on the lap of some stranger looking like a damn supermodel. Honestly, I shouldn’t have been too surprised to find her at the bar, considering it was across the street from our apartments, but I didn’t care.
I’d heard her laughing as soon as I opened the door and, if I didn’t know better, I wouldn’t have recognized her in a strapless, short, and sexy purple dress that hugged her curves perfectly. She’d obviously been there a while because her shoulders glistened with sweat, probably from dancing with her company.
I sat at the bar and tried to ignore her drunken squeals by downing shot after shot of whiskey. I’d given up on eating any real food, so I absentmindedly picked at my pack of cigarettes.
“What’s the matter, honey?” the bartender asked me with her sweet southern drawl.
“Nothing,” I answered.
“Now I’ve seen plenty of guys walk through that door that have sat right there and told me they were going through nothin’ but they all had the same look on their faces as you do, right now.”
I looked at her as she sat beer in front of me. “And what do I look like?” I asked lifting the bottle to my mouth.
“Like karma just took a big ol’ shit on your life.”
I chuckled and took a gulp of my drink. “That sounds about right.”
I heard Danny laugh again and the bartender pointed in her direction. “I’ve seen that more than my fair share of times too.”
I pretended to glance in the direction. “What’s that?”
She leaned over a quietly said, “That poor girl’s lost.”
“Seems like she’s exactly where she wants to be.” I felt a sharp pain in my chest when I said that. I hadn’t meant to sound so bitter, but from the look on the bartender’s face I clearly had.
“Sounds like there’s a story there.” She raised an eyebrow. “I’ll listen if you wanna talk.”
I shook my head. It didn’t feel right to talk to a stranger about Danny when she was in the room…even if she was drunk off her ass.
“Alright, honey,” she said patting my hand. “I’ll be here if you change your mind.” When she walked away, I pulled out my phone to call my lifeline.
“What the fuck do you want?!” Lucia yelled in a hushed tone.
“I-I’m sorry,” I replied in a bit of shock. “Is now not a good time?”
“Very much not!” she hissed. “Now, speak or hang up and call me after 3pm like a normal person!”
I quickly explained my situation. “I’m at a bar and Danny’s here drunk and all over some guy. What should I do?”
“Has she seen you?”
“No, she’s…preoccupied.” I cringed at my choice of words.
“How big is the guy?” I heard her fuss at whoever was with her to calm down.
“A-about my size. Why?” I asked concerned by her possible response.
“Knock his ass the fuck out and take back your woman!”
“I can’t do that!”
“You wanted my advice. That’s my advice.”
“You only get one, and I’m only being that nice because it’s your birthday, but I’m sick and tired of hearing your indecisive crap. You love this girl, and you claim you always have. She clearly loves you. She’s fucked up. You’ve fucked up. Y’all are both screwy in the head. You both apparently desperately need to fuck tonight. It might as well be with each other. Goodnight!”
I half-smiled and half feared for my life come Monday. I slipped my phone in my pocket and considered what Lucia said. If I let Danny go home with that guy, what chance did I really have at getting her back in the morning? I was really going through with this idea, my drunken brain said.
I finished my beer and left $500 dollars on the bar. The bartender noticed, and she quickly came over to me and said, “Hey now. This is way too much.”
I stood and nodded towards Danny. “That’s my ex, hopefully, soon to be fiancé. Trust me, with what I’m about to do you’d probably wish I’d given you more.”
She started to say something else, but stopped herself and sighed. “If only my ex ever had that look in his eyes.”
I stared at her unsure of what she meant.
“Love, honey,” she said. “Pure and wild. Go n’ get ‘er.”
I smiled, knowing I had her approval, even if I didn’t know her. I took a deep breath, then confidently walked over to where Danny was with her back to me.
“Hey,” I said. The guy with her looked up at me, but I didn’t think she noticed.
“Can I help you with something, man?” he asked.
It annoyed me that he answered instead of her, so I grabbed her wrist and pulled her to her feet. She stumbled, but got her balance before turning to glare at me.
“What the fuck–” She froze and panic washed over her face. “W-what are you doing here?”
“We’re leaving,” I snapped.
The guy stood, clearly pissed that I’d taken Danny from him. “That’s my girl, you–”
I didn’t give him a chance to finish. I punched him squarely in the jaw. He fell to the ground and glared at me. “You little punk.”
I stood over him and gave him the deadliest look I could. “She’s not your girl. She’s mine, so stay the fuck away from her.” At this point, the whole bar was staring at us, but I didn’t care. I grabbed Danny’s coat and purse off the floor with one hand, and her hand with the other, and headed for the door. On my way pass her, the bartender gave me a wide grin and I nodded to her.
Danny followed me out the door and across the street without hesitation, in silence.
We both stared at the numbers on the elevator as they climbed nearing our destination, not speaking. I could feel her swaying a bit, but she was leaning against the railing to steady herself.
The doors opened and I lead her to my apartment. I didn’t stop her as she reached in my pants pocket, pulled out my keys, and unlocked the door.
She walked in and I followed her. I tossed her stuff on the couch while she closed and locked the door, neither of us letting go of the other’s hand.
I could barely see her since I hadn’t left any lights on when I left for work, but I knew she was looking at me.
“I missed you,” I whispered.
“I missed you, too,” she whispered back.
“I…I still love you.”
She didn’t answer, but she didn’t have to. I felt the subtle pull on my hand and I moved to meet her.
She cupped my face and gently moved her thumb across my jaw. “I never stopped loving you,” she said.
I closed my eyes and inhaled her scent. It had been too long since it was this close. She did smell like smoke, cheap beer, and sweat, but her honey and lavender shampoo was what hit me the strongest. I ran my fingers through her hair which had grown to shoulder length. She groaned a bit as I gently pulled it.
“Leo,” she whimpered, “I’m–”
I kissed her to stop her from talking. She kissed me back with the same intense longing that I kissed her. Our tongues intertwined, seeming to miss each other’s company. Everything about this felt so natural. We belonged together and our bodies knew it.
I pulled back to breathe, sooner than usual. It’d only been a few months, but maybe smoking and already started messing with me. I looked at her and felt a look of concern being casted in my direction.
“I’ll be fine,” I said. “Just no more–”
“Smoking?” she guessed.
I smiled a little. “That too, but I was going to say apologies.”
“No more apologies,” she said.
“Yes,” I confirmed. “We’ve both apologized enough for a lifetime. Next time we fuck up we just own that shit and move on. Agreed?”
She nodded and gripped my shirt. I could feel what she wanted to say, so I picked her up and carried her to my room. She began tousling my hair and I kissed her shoulder. She kicked off her heels and my hands search for the zipper on the back of her dress. I sat her on her feet and she stood still as I peeled her dress off. I tossed it off to the side and caught a glimpse of something pink.
I stared at her and realized she was wearing the sexiest and smallest lingerie set I’d ever seen, secured only by 3 small ribbons.
“What the fuck are you wearing?” I asked.
She turned bright red and gave me a small smile. “H-happy birthday.”
Happy birthday was right.