With the flair of an Andalusia bullfighter, Reggie Hawkins covered the only clock in the room with a dish towel and a single flick of her wrists. The last few seconds just before midnight had become the scariest part of a birthday for her. But unlike many adults, Reggie’s fear had nothing to do with growing older.
She hated those moments because for each of the past ten years – the ten since her mother, Daryl, had died – the fear that she would always be alone returned like a Jackdaw crow clawing at the edges of her ample, old soul.
This particular year was worse than usual because Reggie would turn sixteen – sweet sixteen, and although she would never admit it, she wanted her sixteenth birthday to be special. She knew that the next day her dad, Yogi, would give her a present and the two of them would have a small party together, but it was during those anxious moments the night before when she really needed someone.
Midnight quickly approached and Yogi, the only other person in their house, was sound asleep upstairs. Whenever she felt depressed, she sought comfort on the living room couch. The old davenport reminded her of the many nights she had spent there, curled up in a ball, with her head in Daryl’s lap. She slid her hand under the cushion and felt her mother’s silk scarf in its final resting place. It no longer smelled of Chanel No. 5 but Reggie was able to resurrect the scent through sheer will power.
Her 1000 square foot, Castle Point, New Jersey bungalow was stuffy from the summer heat, so she opened the front door, hoping for a cool breeze. She switched on the light in the half-bath, illuminating the hallway. Her usually animated freckles were motionless as she moped back to the sofa.
She pushed her face deep into a pillow so no one could see she was crying. Before she had a chance to clear her eyes, however, she heard a scraping sound coming from the vicinity of the front door, followed by footsteps. She turned her body in the direction of the sounds and brushed her rumpled, ash-blonde hair away from her eyes. The outline of a young man’s body quickly moved from the door to the living room, and launched itself into the air. Reggie frantically twisted onto her back, but was unable to move away before the young man’s torso collided with her own and his legs pinned her arms down. She wanted to scream before a bag was placed over her head, but she was frozen.
Oval-shaped objects floated out of a plastic garbage bag. Expecting to get hit, she clamped her emerald green eyes shut, and was surprised to feel only a light tickle across her nose. Opening her eyes, she found herself surrounded by pink and white balloons. The pressure on her arms lifted and she scattered the pastel fog with wild slaps until all she saw were two large, brown eyes.
She recognized him and her hysteria subsided. Richie! Never had she imagined he would do something like this. Her first impulse was to smack him on the side of the head, but she didn’t move – suspended somewhere between bewilderment and bewitchment.
Richie reached a sturdy arm into a brown paper bag and pulled out a bottle of champagne. He presented it to her, label first. It read: “The World’s Finest Pink Champagne.”
“Happy Birthday!” he cheered. “It’s officially one second after midnight!” Leaning forward, he gave her a peck on the cheek. His brown hair brushed against her forehead; his hands gripped her shoulders nervously. In her most secure place, decorated in pink and white balloons with birthday champagne waiting to be uncorked, Reggie fancied Richie the greatest guy in the world.
Her initial impulse kicked in and she whacked him on the side of his head. Then, wrapping her arms around his neck, she whispered “Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen” over his shoulder and hugged him gratefully.