Mitch threw a birthday party for himself, but one of the guests upsets Stella.
Looking back, she could probably trace the disintegration of her family to the breakdown of birthday traditions. When she was fourteen, her mother seemed preoccupied about something and placed a candy bar by her breakfast setting instead of gifts, something her health conscious mother would have never done. Because Stella was a big fan of sweet stuff, she gobbled the candy down with her cereal without comment certain her mother would retrieve the bar. When she was fifteen, her mother forgot about her birthday until two days before the actual event and urged Stella to pick out her gift, saying she’d pay for it. Her father didn’t even make it home from a business trip that year in time for a lame birthday party with a handful of recycled candles on a frozen cake her mother hadn’t thawed.
On her sixteenth birthday, her parents were deep into their fight mode. Her father was seldom home and argued with her mother behind closed doors when he did return. A two and half inch wooden barrier didn’t stop the words or the anguish from slipping under the door and wrapping itself around Stella. Neither one realized they’d both forgotten Stella’s birthday. Thank goodness for Leah, who picked her up after a whispered call for help and ferried her back to her house. To her shock, Leah’s family had decorated the house with a birthday banner and balloons. A cake with the correct number of candles graced the kitchen table. The memory brought tears to her eyes.
Mitch chuckled in a half-hearted way that caused her to shut down her inner pity me show. It was far from a real laugh. That type of thing, you do when you’ve done something stupid, and there’s no one to comment on how stupid it is, so you end up ridiculing yourself.
“Yeah, I threw a party.”
Well, that didn’t sound like the shy male she knew. “Really, who did you invite?” Part of her was miffed she wasn’t invited, but she’d never admit it.
“Oh, the usual.” He held onto the last word refusing to let it go. Holding up a fist, he began to count putting up his index finger. “There was me.”
Well, she expected that.
His middle finger joined his second one. “Myself.”
Oh, she knew where this was going, she wondered if she should stop him, but she didn’t. He certainly had the right to feel sorry for himself.
His ring finger popped up. “The ghost of my father telling me how disappointed he was in me.”
For a second, she wondered if his father’s ghost did materialize. Stella believed in ghosts in theory but had never seen one.
His pinkie came up slowly. “Then there was my roommate’s friend, I invited over for the night without his knowledge, of course.”
Roommate’s friend and why would he invite this friend over without his roommate knowing. She knew Jake, the roommate, had a girlfriend because Mitch had mentioned the awkwardness of going back to his room and trying to pretend that they weren’t doing it about six feet from his head. Dorm rooms were tiny unless you paid the extra two thousand to score a room in the newer dorms. Scholarship students never merited this.
She couldn’t quite remember the name of Jake’s girlfriend. It was a cutesy name that girls gave themselves like Candy, Treasure, or Precious. Did Treasure, or whatever her name was, cheer him up? Knowing Jake, Mitch was a definite step up, but still the thought made her uncomfortable. She wanted to ask, but she didn’t. Instead, she folded her hands in her lap wishing there was something she could do.
Jumping to her feet, she announced, “I’ll go check on that pizza.” Suiting her actions to her words, she rushed to the door before he could say anything else.