Happy Birthday, Love

True love, circa 2009
True love, circa 2009

I can still remember the day I met you. Well, okay—I know that’s debatable. You remember meeting years earlier when I still worked at FYE, and while I vaguely remember that day, I don’t remember meeting. Which you will never let me live down. I do, however, remember meeting one summer night at Toys R Us.

We’d both been working there for a couple of months. It was a slow night and we were both scheduled to close. You were still working in Boys and I was in R-Zone. My friend Kristen and I were talking about her breakup with her girlfriend when you came sauntering up to us. You were such a flirt, those blue eyes sparkling with mischief and laughter as you smoothly asked us what we were up to that night.

Since I sort of had plans with a friend, I just shrugged and turned my attention back to Kristen. But she was a year older than me and that much smarter.

“He’s cute,” she said, “and he can buy us alcohol.”

True. I was 17 and had just graduated high school. A whole summer of celebration lay before me. But I’d also just gotten out of a series of bad relationships, and I needed another disaster like I needed another hole in my head. Plus, I was supposed to be hanging out with my friend Steve, even though I hadn’t heard anything definite from him.

“I don’t know,” I told you. So much warmth radiated from you, even back then. I wanted to hang out with you.

You said something like “Well, let me know before we close” and strode back to your department.

Throughout the rest of our shift, Kristen and I debated. We finally decided that we’d go for it. What was the worst that could happen? We’d have a couple beers and relax. There was no commitment.

At the last minute, though, Kristen backed out. She was still really upset about her girlfriend and not exactly in the mood to hang out. I couldn’t blame her, though I was kind of bummed because I’ll be honest: I had a huge crush on her and wanted to wipe away all memories of her ex from her mind. Which I realize was totally contradictory to my overall attitude about dating at the time, but I was a teenager, dude. Even though I’d endured some serious trauma in recent relationships, my hormones were still driving most of my decisions.

Which is exactly why I decided to hang out with you anyway.

We hopped into the backseat of your brother’s car and took off for a friend’s garage. I’d had my share of partying in garages throughout the past couple months—my friend Steve’s friends regularly hung out in their own version of “The Garage”—but this was different. Once outside of work, I couldn’t ignore the magnetic pull I felt toward you. It might sound cheesy, and I know you’ll probably laugh it off, but I knew almost instantly that I was in trouble.

Given time, I was totally going to fall in love with you.

And I didn’t want to.

We drank beers and shots of vodka while sitting on milk crates and just getting to know each other. Your brother and friends were really cool, and you made me laugh. Your sense of humor was completely off the wall at times—but I got you. Half the time, you said things that I’d always been thinking but could never really put into words.

Since I wouldn’t be 18 until the end of summer, I still had a lame-ass curfew. (THANKS MOM.) But instead of making me feel bad about it or begging me to push it a little later, you helped me keep an eye on the time and then drove me home. When we pulled up in front of my house, I thought for sure you were going to kiss me. I was floating on booze and a little curious. What would it be like to date you? Would we have a normal relationship or would it all be a total disaster? Mostly, though, I wanted to know what it’d be like to kiss you.

“So,” you said, letting the engine idle. “Who do you like at work?”

The question caught me off guard. I was expecting a mostly awkward goodnight, maybe a kiss. I hadn’t been expecting that at all. A nervous giggle escaped my lips and I tried to dodge the question. For one, I couldn’t just blurt out that I liked you. I was supposed to be playing hard to get or something. But I was also a little tipsy and wasn’t exactly sure what would come out of my mouth.

There were a lot of hot guys and girls at TRU. I knew I had options, and my plan was to kind of play the field a bit. I wasn’t really sure that I wanted to date someone I also worked with, but I wasn’t opposed to having some fun.

So I smiled coyly and said, “I don’t know. A few people.” Then I kissed you on a stubbly cheek and slipped out of the car.

That was the first and last time I’ve been able to control myself around you.

I tell you that I love you all the time, but I still think it’s important to tell you why. Especially on your birthday—a day to celebrate everything you are. I’m always proud to be your wife, because no matter how hard things get, you’re nothing short of amazing.

From your sense of humor to your smile, you are intoxicating. You radiate life, love, and laughter—and I’m not exaggerating. Whenever I’m around you, I instantly relax. Your enthusiasm for everything is contagious; you’ve taught me how to embrace life and live it to the fullest. Your stubbornness is simultaneously your best and worst quality, haha. Because of it you’re both loyal to the people you love and tenacious in pursuing your dreams… and also a fantastic procrastinator when it comes to things like seeing a doctor or trimming your beard.

Love, I cannot tell you enough how grateful I am that you’re on this planet. Your existence has been the best gift I’ve ever received. Your sister tells me all the time that you and I “were written in the stars,” and I have no choice but to believe her. Everything in my life before that first night led me to you, and once I found you, I couldn’t let go even if I wanted to.

If I could, I’d give you the world. I think about that house we talk about sometimes—the one with the barn out back that we’ve converted into your studio. I imagine sitting on our porch drinking coffee, watching our kids play in the yard while I daydream about my current work in progress. You glance out the window at me, a paintbrush resting between your fingers, your hand pausing in midair. Our eyes meet and we both smile at the same time, equally content with the life we’ve built.

That feeling is the gift I want to give you over and over. Even now, when the bills are piling up and our fridge is running low, this is how I feel most of the time. I know things are hard and we both often feel frustrated, but I wouldn’t trade our life together for anything.

I love you forever.

Happy birthday, bearded man.

Published by

Elizabeth Barone

Elizabeth Barone is an American novelist who writes contemporary romance and suspense starring strong belles who chose a different path. Her debut novel Sade on the Wall was a quarterfinalist in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. She is the author of the South of Forever series and several other books.

When not writing, Elizabeth is very busy getting her latest fix of Yankee Candle, spicy Doritos chips, or whatever TV show she’s currently binging.

Elizabeth lives in northwestern Connecticut with her husband, a feisty little cat, and too many books.

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