Over an hour passed before I felt I was decent enough to step outside and join my friends for this impromptu birthday celebration. The hot shower felt good on my bed-sore body. I lathered my hair with the botanical shampoo Rosalie had left for me with jojoba, aloe vera, and ginseng. I applied mascara, eyeliner, eye shadow, and lip gloss for the first time in half a week. Even brushing out my hair felt like a luxury. I wasn’t sure what attire was required, but Sonia’s dress was some indication of expectations. I wrapped myself in a towel, running upstairs, and rummaged through my drawers. Settling on a long-sleeved, but thin blue silk blouse, the one Nonna had purchased for me after graduation, I decided to wear the floor-length ruffled pale green skirt laid out on the bed and wrapped my studded belts around my waist. And of course, my teal blue heels, I smiled to myself slipping into the shoes.
Within five minutes, I stood on the courtyard below, watching the festivities from a distance before joining. Brad had pulled Rosalie away from setting up what appeared to be a food table to dance with her, and little Juanita was jumping up and down and dancing on the toes of Noel to a Mexsimican samba. I stood a few steps from the porch stairs, drinking in the land of the living. I could smell spices and seafood. I could feel the slight early winter breeze blowing around my face and tiptoeing across my exposed ankles. I was amused they tied the decorations to plastic pink yard flamingos.
Ayesha would love this.
I smiled wistfully at the thought of Ayesha and her crazy dream about woo-hooing with a zebra-trainer on a lawn with the flamingos. That was only a few months ago. So much has happened, I twisted one of the strings around my finger absently. I wondered if my best friend would even call me today and wish me a happy birthday. Somehow the thought of her with my ex-boyfriend didn’t make me want to heave so much anymore, but the reality was still painful pinpricks in my heart. He wanted me. All of me. I just wasn’t ready to give. He just wanted to paint me nude and dump me, I thought bitterly. He couldn’t have me and so he had run away and somehow found my best friend of all the women on the planet to seal the deal with him. Oh she was probably only too eager, I almost wanted to be angry again. Anger I could cope with, but betrayal…
In my heart, I knew she couldn’t have known who he was, but the truth was still stinging as if I walked through a field of nettles and burrs. My eyes fluttered closed. No, I will not do this to myself. Not today. Not any day.
“Hey kiddo,” my father’s voice pulled me from my unpleasant reverie.
“Dad,” my face broke into a beaming smile. “You look great.”
“Are you kidding me?” he replied, leaning forward to hug me. “I’m a bum next to you. You look beautiful, my daughter. Happy birthday.”
I lingered in his arms, leaning into the deep woody aroma of my father’s cologne, running my fingers across the tightly weaved fibers of his brown suit coat, feeling the softness of his smooth cheek. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with emotions, tears welling in my eyes again. This is my dad, I reminded myself, feeling the years of bitterness and anger slip away for good. Howard’s betrayal had deeply hurt our family, ripping us apart, but now, I was able to be in his embrace again, reconciled and restored. There was a poignant beauty in that reality. These were the moments that I would look back on and cherish with my dad – the building blocks to life itself. I could forgive Ayesha. I forgave my dad.
“I’m so glad we get to do this,” I whispered.
“Me too,” he said, as if recognizing what I meant.
“Alright, are you ready to party, Kass?” he asked after I broke touch.