Before attending this birthday party, I completed all bathroom procedures necessary for public appearances and put on the cool but classy button down shirt I reserve for occasions where it’s of paramount importance I appear like a legitimate person. Next, I guzzled a mug of instant coffee to ensure a personality. I dropped by the convenience store by my house to buy wine, for wine is, after all, the most reliable contingency gift and lacks the impersonality of a gift card and also can be purchased for three dollars without anyone suspecting my cheapness.
But the convenience store didn’t have alcohol. I couldn’t imagine why a convenience store wouldn’t stock alcoholic beverages. Why should it be, after never buying alcohol ever, the one time I absolutely require it, I cannot have it? (Human destiny.) I hoped there might be a convenience store near her apartment, and I wouldn’t have to show up to Obscenely Attractive Girl’s birthday without appropriate tribute. When I got off the bus though, no convenience store in sight. I thought, ‘I’m not going to be perceived in the way I had hoped, and now I have to alter my expectations, and this is so much bullshit.’
I knocked on the door. OAG answered a few moments later, looking especially Obscenely Attractive, and by her flushed face, it seemed I need not have worried about an alcohol shortage.
“Hey, what’s going on!”
“Happy birthday!” I said.
We hugged briefly. It was not a sexy hug. I was trembling violently but not from uncontrollable passion so much as from guzzling a giant mug of instant coffee.
Scanning the room, I quickly realized there was no one else at this party. And since I was a couple hours late — as is my custom — I could assume no one else was coming. I squinted at OAG, gestured around the empty room, squinted at her again. “Where is everyone?” I asked.
“What do you mean?”
“The other people, the, um… am I early? What’s going on? I’m confused.”
“Did you think this was a party?”
“I mean, I had thoughts. When you invited me over for your birthday, I think my brain filled in the word ‘party’ automatically.”
“Are you disappointed?”
“I don’t know. No? I need to adjust for a second.”
I held out the empty knapsack I had brought solely for fashion purposes and tipped it sideways to exhibit its emptiness. “There should be a bottle of wine for you in here, but the convenience store by my house must be run by fascist puritan types or something so they don’t sell alcohol. So I have no birthday tribute for you. So I’m sorry.”
“Oh, don’t worry about it! I’m not seven; I don’t need gifts!”
With the knapsack tipped over, I suddenly became conscious of the unopened box of emergency condoms sitting at the bottom, how from her point of view, it must’ve looked like I wanted her to see I had condoms. I quickly closed the bag, feeling terribly lascivious, and tried to determine from her facial expression whether she’d seen them. She blinked at me and looked down at her shoes.
Since there was no more alcohol, no party people, and no cake, we brainstormed possible birthday activities for 15 minutes. She suggested we see a comedy show. I told her most shows ended by 11, and even if we found one at midnight, the theater was over an hour away. She suggested a movie, and I told her there were no show times this late. At this point, she sighed and asked me if there were any movies on Netflix I wanted to watch. I said, “That Elmo documentary looks interesting.”
Sitting on the bed, because there was no extra seat at her desk, we positioned the laptop between our knees. I wondered whether sex was expected to happen now, whether we would begin making out, and I recounted the signals in my mind for guidance: she knew I was romantically interested, she invited me over to her apartment when there were no other people, she suggested we watch Netflix on her bed, she placed her butt suspiciously close to my butt on the bed — to me, all of this would suggest receptivity to making out, but still, I couldn’t be sure. I kicked my shoes off, which I thought would imply I expected to stay here on this bed long-term and studied her reaction. Nothing. I leaned forward and rested my head gently on her shoulder. Blank expression, no discernible reaction.
By now, I clearly had an erection in my pants. I kept making funny comments about the Elmo documentary as if I didn’t have an erection, as if she couldn’t see I had an erection, both of us pretending we lived in a relaxed environment sans erections of any kind, and hey, maybe my pants had bunched up or I had an overstuffed wallet/several pens/glue stick/phone in my pocket, but no; she knew and I knew, and she knew I knew, and she knew I knew she knew I knew I had an erection. And this propelled my anxiety into a shrieking car alarm, fire truck siren, crying baby cacophony.
At this point, the doorbell rang, and four of OAG’s other friends arrived. It turned out she had indeed invited multiple people, but very few, and they’d all arrived extremely late. They brought with them: a birthday card, a cake shaped like a frog, and, of course, a bottle of wine. Seeing each gift unveiled, I thought, ‘Do not betray your escalating horror. Smile naturally. Calmly get your shoes back on. Pray the erection has subsided.’
One of the friends asked OAG what we’d been up to.
“Watching an Elmo documentary,” she said, frowning.
“Oh,” said the friend. “Why?”
I said, “It’s actually really good. It was in Entertainment Weekly’s top ten, and it won a bunch of awards.”
“Cool,” he said.
“Elmo’s puppeteer is so incredibly talented. I had no idea.”
“Yeah,” said OAG.
After we finished the frog cake, the four friends gave brief farewells and left us alone again. I felt I should reveal my intentions before it was too late, should state them explicitly before the awkwardness crushed all hope for the future, but before I could open my mouth, OAG declared that she was sleepy. I asked her if that meant I should leave.
“Shouldn’t we finish the Elmo documentary at least?” I said.
She looked at me. “No.”