The pain burned in his left knee and made its way towards his shin as Travis cursed himself for not remembering to close his bottom drawer. Chris popped his head into his office to remind him of the cupcakes in the break room for Yasmin’s 30th birthday. In his haste to join the others, he forgot he pulled a file from the drawer and turned to stand, banging his knee. He laughed to himself as he stood and the normal pain in his back, other knee and neck reminded him that he was a long way from 30.
He watched from outside of the door as Yasmin smiled for photos and talked with co-workers from three departments aside from their own. There was no doubt Phyliss was responsible for decorating the break room. There were balloons, streamers, a banner that read “Happy 30th Birthday”, as well as cupcakes, all of them pink and green, naturally, the colors that filled Yasmin’s life.
“Happy Birthday, Travis.”
It was barely a whisper, but he heard it and knew exactly who it was, Robert. The two of them began their careers at Teledata within days of one another back in 2002 and during the orientation discovered that Travis and Monica, Robert’s then-girlfriend now wife, shared a birthday. Today.
Robert always kept his birthday a secret around the office because he didn’t want any attention drawn to him. As he got older, he felt the years marked the disappointment and after nearly twenty years with Teledata, there was plenty of disappointment.
Robert was now his boss. At one point he was his report, not direct, but a few organizational shifts and now he answered to someone he helped train. The value was now in the hands of the tinkerers. The engineers, the technicians, the doers. The thinkers, like Travis, managed the finances and the contracts, but there was a revolving door of CFOs, and the vice president of finance position was currently vacant. Everyone knew that job should’ve been Travis’s without a search, but he had never said aloud that he was interested in the position. Robert and others around the company thought him to be too complacent, not enough of a go-getter to ascend beyond the fifth-floor office he occupied for the last eleven years.
He thanked Robert with a handshake and turned his focus back inside the room. He listened to the idle chatter, even smiled for a photo, but noticed a worried look on Yasmin’s face. She looked as if she suddenly remembered she left her front door unlocked. He watched her eyes searching the room until they finally found his.
He saw her shoulders soften and her face work itself into a smile. She didn’t say anything, just extended a cupcake in his direction. Five or six people between them, but she ensured he got his cupcake. The first cupcake. He smiled wider than he’d allowed himself to publicly in years. There was a small punch in his side, Robert again, he knew this part of his usual ribbing.
The joke around their office, really the entire company, was that Travis had it badly for Yasmin and there may have been some reciprocated feelings. Her searching for him at that moment would make people believe she was interested in him as well. He felt it inappropriate on many levels: they worked together, she had a boyfriend, he was divorced and of course, the age difference.
While they celebrated her milestone of 30, he was doubling up on the four in front of his age, but his body made him feel twice that. His back told him that been needed to sit down and take the load off his knee. He reached for the closest chair but saw Vanessa walking towards her desk, so he made his way back to his desk. Away from the party. Away from his co-workers. Away from Robert and a future he should’ve had. Away from Yasmin and her beautiful smile, those mysterious eyes, and her infectious laugh.
Before he could sit down, he was startled by that annoying thing Yasmin did with her nails on his door that replaced knocking. He looked up and she was smiling at him. He probably stared a little too long, because her smile turned into a question. He was wondering what could make her leave her party to come to see him. Before he had a chance to ask, her left hand materialized from behind her back holding an expertly wrapped box.
“I know you’re taking a half-day, so I wanted to catch you and give you this,” she held out the box to him, but didn’t walk further into his office, “Happy Birthday!”
The look on his face said he had no clue she was aware they shared a birthday.
He didn’t realize he said it aloud until she shook her head. She told him he let it slip in a meeting a week or so ago. He couldn’t recall saying it, however, there she was with a gift and an inviting smile. He walked toward her and she took two steps into the office. She handed him the gift, instructed him to open it away from the office, then kissed him on the cheek.
He was thinking of her soft lips on his cheek and missed what she said to him. She was blushing when he registered that she was talking to him. He thanked her and asked her to repeat what she said. He was now the one blushing.
“A few of my friends are hanging out at Lavender tonight. Down on 4th. You know it?”
“Yes, I’ve wanted to check it out.”
“Great, we’ll be there around 9ish.”
She turned and walked out, leaving a trail of her perfume and mystery.
Travis looked at the clock and thought twice about telling Yasmin he’d meet her at Lavender. Going would be against all the rules he lived by. He didn’t celebrate birthdays, never left the house after 8, didn’t go to clubs and for God’s sake, it was a Tuesday night.
He spent his afternoon the way he’d done most of his birthdays, lunch with his parents, and then a nap. Well, all his birthdays since Nicole left him eight years ago. Their marriage had become too mundane, her words not his, and there was very little effort to inject any life into it on his behalf. She suggested therapy, first as a couple, then for him individually but he refused both. He was stuck in a rut, her words not his, not living up to the promises he made her and himself when they were younger. He was in a dead-end job, sure making great money, but watching people hired after him leapfrog him in many ways.
They didn’t go out, weren’t intimate, essentially, they were roommates, her words not his. Eight years later, he couldn’t pinpoint a final straw, but arrived at work to an email from her telling him she was done, that she couldn’t pour into a bottomless well, his words not hers, any longer. She asked if he could stay in a hotel for the weekend, while she packed the things she intended to take.
He never responded to her email, never called or texted, he simply didn’t go home until Monday. It was nearly two years until anyone at work knew he was divorced. He mentioned it to Robert after going to HR to finally remove her from his health insurance. He offered no explanation, only that she left, and the conversation was never brought up again.
It was 8:32 and he lay on his couch, content to remain there until he fell asleep. However, he thought about Yasmin’s smile, her perfume, and that kiss on the cheek and felt something unfamiliar to him, possibilities.
It was five minutes to ten when Travis decided to exit his car. He intentionally didn’t want to be the first to arrive, then two outfit changes pushed his arrival a bit further than he planned. He was crossing into the “fashionably late” for his entrance, which would draw more attention to him than he ever wanted.
Lavender was a minute walk from a Thai restaurant Travis frequented, but he never noticed the small doorway that led to this explosion of color, style, and smell. It was the kind of space in which he imagined Yasmin. It felt trendy, yet exclusive, there was no way more than 70 people could fit into this club.
The bar nearly ran the length of the right side of the room. Exaggerated love seats were strewn about the space, with no rhyme or reason, filled with women splitting their attention between one another, their phones, drinks, the music, and the many men leaning over fighting to be heard.
The loveseats gave way to couches towards the far left. It was in that cluster where he found Yasmin. She was standing, laughing, swaying her hips to the music. In his mind, she was moving in slow motion, but his feet were moving much faster than he anticipated and he nearly ran into a plant. A replica of lavender. Of course.
He admired the plant a second too long and when his attention returned to Yasmin, she was gone. He looked towards the bar when he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned to see a hand extended towards him. That hand led to a smile and into a hug.
“I’m so glad you came.”
He didn’t have a chance to respond, Yasmin started leading him towards her friends and introduced him as “Travis, my work husband”, which was a surprise to him. He waved, shook the hands of the women closest to him, and realized she was pulling him onto the couch next to her. She announced it was also his birthday and the group erupted with birthday wishes and raised shot glasses. He took two shots and then told the server to bring two more bottles of tequila along with champagne.
Perhaps it was the shots, but Travis felt like he was in his element. The conversation with Yasmin and her friends came easily, the music kept him bouncing in his seat and for once, he wasn’t overwhelmed with where he was (or wasn’t) in life.
He was living for the moment.
Jerika, or whatever name he heard over the music, was complaining about her boyfriend when he heard the unmistakable drums of “Poison”. It was his turn to grab Yasmin’s hand and for the next few minutes, he was transported back to 1990, when he was a teenager known to get busy on the dance floor. By the time the third song ended, the pain in his back reminded him he was 44 and he needed to find his seat.
Her friends, the room full of people, all disappeared, and the music was only white noise as they talked, laughed, drank, and even flirted a little for the next hour. Travis checked his watch and realized it was just after midnight. He was trying to remember the last time he was out so late when he felt Yasmin’s hand leave his knee and she stood up.
He heard the words but couldn’t make them out. He focused on her mouth and realized what she was saying, “I can’t believe you came; I didn’t think you were going to make it.” He stood to tell her that she already said that when he saw her wrapped in the arms of a newcomer. The man finally dislodged her, and she immediately turned to Travis with the biggest smile he’d ever seen.
“Travis, I want you to meet Jerrod, my boyfriend”.