It was my birthday, one of those monochrome days in mid-April when the wind rattled the archaic window frames in my archaic apartment. The tree limbs, still bare, clawed at an atmosphere pervaded with early spring bitterness. I turned 23—an uneventful age to turn. Likewise ensued an uneventful trip to Applebee’s with the girl I was dating, Deb, and four of my friends. I gorged on chicken parm – to die for! Conversation stagnated; Deb talked a lot about herself. I knew this; we hadn’t dated for long and I didn’t know her all that well, but I did know that she liked herself a lot. It was her favorite conversation topic. She never really stopped talking about it, how great she was at everything. Or, really, how much better she was than me. At everything. Writing. Cooking. Working. Speaking. Being smart. You name it.
My friends and I and the girl I was dating arrived home groggy and ready for a nap, victims of way too much processed food. Deb marched down the long hallway to my bedroom. Not discreet in the least, her Doc Martins resounded loudly against the hardwood floors. My friends canted their stares toward me as I removed my Sambas. A sideways, ‘What the Hell are you Doing with Her?’ sort of gaze. Truth be told, my friends and I liked to do the talking, and it was hard to do that with Deb. She always had too much to prove, though we weren’t the ones to prove it to. Regardless, she was back in my room and had to be dealt with.
I shrugged. “It’s my birthday,” I said.
They shook their heads.
I opened the door to my room. Deb was standing there, fully clothed, with a coy look on her face. I could tell she was trying to act sexual. This effort was straining her, as her brow was glossy and deeply furrowed. She brought my face toward hers for a misguided, abbreviated kiss. This, doubtlessly, was to be my birthday present. Here it was.
Moments later, we both collapsed, overripe from the dinner, onto my unmade bed. I felt like a bratwurst link about to burst in a microwave. The chicken parm turned over and over inside me. In Deb’s mind, I assumed, her job was done: she had kissed me and it had drawn me into the bed. Now I was to get to work. Happy Birthday, Rick, time to unwrap your present. Given the nature of our relationship – an uncomfortable, sideways-glancing sort of affair—we found ourselves cooling the already chilly air.
A draft rattled the window and made me rub my feet together for warmth.
“I’m cold,” Deb sighed.
An early spring squall threatened. Heavy like cold air, I rolled over, bulbous, in an attempt to heat her up. The window snapped rhythmically against the frame. Sleet crackled like gravel against the glass. She sighed again, enough of an escape to crash a blimp, and I rolled back over again. We lay like this, side by side, not really touching, for quite a while longer. Down the hall, in the living room, I heard my friends laughing and carrying on. It sounded like a lamp had been tipped over. Deb sighed. We became frigid and our respective temperatures approached absolute zero. No layers of clothing had been removed. She said something sarcastic about how amazing I was and sighed.
“You’re amazing, Rick.”
I turned my head and began kissing her neck, oddly cold. My hand found itself at the small of her back, as our lips, chapped from the wicked wind, met. The palm made semicircles on her back, wider and wider, with the intent of finding the curve of her ass. Eventually, this quest became known. Deb pulled away.
She scowled. “Uh-uh.”
I gazed back confused, said: “It’s my birthday.”
“Ever hear of foreplay?” She sighed.
“Isn’t that what we’re doing?”
“Too fast.” Sigh. “You don’t understand.” Sigh.
Sigh. “Plus your hands are cold.” Sigh.
“You get turned on so easy. You’ll let me do anything to you. It’s so easy.”
I just wanted to feel something. Anything. Anything other than cold. The damned windowpane hadn’t stopped banging against the frame. I said nothing.
Deb continued: “Here, watch this.”
She slid her hand underneath my jeans and the waistband of my boxers. She reached lower and lower and found her destination. Very quickly she removed her hand.
“See? Easy. You are so easy. Now you try.”
I attempted what I had before, and slid my hand along the small of her back and underneath the waist of her jeans. She jerked away.
“Nope. Not a chance mister.”
“I don’t understand.”
Sigh. “You wouldn’t.”
Just then, a sharp snap sounded below us and the right side of the bed dropped a good three inches.
“What was that?” I asked.
“That was the sound of me winning,” she said.
I rolled over, my back to her. She giggled and pulled me back to face her. She began kissing my neck, snaking her way over the angle of my jaw and eventually finding my sandpapery lips.
I turned away again. “What’s the point? It never goes anywhere.”
She turned away from me; we lay back-to-back. She didn’t say anything for a very long time and kept her face buried in the pillow. I asked her what was the matter.
“What you said, that’s what I’m afraid of.” Deb sounded distressed. “I don’t want this to not go anywhere. That’s what always happens to me.” She sighed. “What you said, that really hurt me.”
Then she clung to me like a mussel. What could I say?
“I’m sorry,” I said.
But I wasn’t. Not even close. This wasn’t going anywhere and I knew it. We were disconnected. I should have ended it right there, but it was birthday and you don’t do those sorts of things on your birthday. My friends yelled again. I could hear them rolling bocce balls down the hallway. I held her for a while longer then we got up and hung out awkwardly with my friends.
She left. My friends left.
Before I went to bed that night, I rolled my bed away from the wall. In the far right corner, one of the wheels had broken through the floor. One of the floorboards angled sharply downward, as if the whole negative weight of our relationship had channeled itself into that one point. Through the floor we went.
I thought, That was the sound of me winning. And sighed.