Chapter 2

Is Today Special?

(Evangelineís POV)

I glare at Johnís turned back steadily as I stroke the simple gold chain around my neck and think to myself, ĎHow can such a thoughtful man be so scatterbrained?í

John gave me the chain for Christmas and since then, I can only remember taking it off a few times. There is a small gold key attached to it and every time I glance down and see it, I smile. According to John, it represented the fact that I hold the key to his heart.

In keeping with the "tradition", I also received a key to his new apartment and a key to his car, even though I wonít really ever need to use his car. Around the same time, I gave John a key to my apartment too. We spend the same amount of time at each others apartments and John has a considerable amount of his stuff at my place and I have some stuff at his place. But since hardly a night goes by that weíre not together, we have been considering moving in together.

But right about now all I really want to do is kill him. I actually want to kill him and bring him to life and then kill him again. Because in all his thoughtfulness, that darling man, whom I love so much, has forgotten my birthday.

He asked me to meet him for a late lunch at the Palace and of course, I obliged. Iíd been waiting for twenty minutes before he showed up with a kiss on the cheek and an apology towards his lateness. Of course he neglected to tell me why he was so late. He forgot to tell me something else too....oh yeah. Happy birthday.

And Iíve really been trying hard not to say anything to him. And now Iím beginning to feel somewhat depressed because Nora cancelled our plans for a birthday brunch and my Nana missed her annual birthday greeting via phone cables. So I was looking forward to lunch because I figured that if anyone could make me feel better it would be John. No such luck.

As John turns around, I make an effort to smile back, but I can tell that Iím failing miserably. Before he can ask me whatís wrong, his cell phone rings. He looks at me apologetically and turns half way in his seat to answer it. He says "Okay" a couple of times and then he hangs up and turns back to me.

"Evangeline, Iím sorry, Iím gonna have to cut our lunch short. I have to get some files to Nora immediately."

I stare at him dully. At this point, I could care less. "Okay."

"I need you to come with me."

"John, I donít think that there are that many files that you canít lift them yourself."

"I left the files at your place," he says, giving me a contrite smile.

Tough. "Use your key. Thatís what you have it for, "I snap grumpily.

He looks taken-aback and for a few seconds, I actually feel sorta bad. But just for a few seconds.

"I left my key at your place too."

I roll my eyes as I stand and gather my purse and coat. "You seem to be forgetting a lot of things lately," I grumble.

John peers at me closely. "Did you say something?"

"Nothing at all."

He leads me out to where the car is parked and opens the door on the passenger side for me. He waits until I get in to close the door and then he crosses over to the other side of the car. Itís things like this that make me melt inside, but today, Iím fighting it. If I didnít I would find myself giving up my grudge way too soon.

John tries to start a conversation with me a few times, but each time, I just grunt and nod. Finally, I close my eyes and pretend to sleep to get him to leave me alone. And so he wonít see the sudden tears that are pooling in my eyes and threatening to spill over. I refuse to cry over something as stupid as someone forgetting my birthday. But then again, John isnít someone, heís the one.

When we get to my place, I unlock the door and storm towards the bedroom, with John in close pursuit.

"Evangeline, is something wrong?"

I turn and stare at him for a few seconds.

"No John, thereís nothing wrong."

He gives me a long look and takes my hand before I can storm off again.

"Yes there is something wrong, I can tell."

I let out a short, humourless laugh. "You can tell. You can tell Iím upset. Tell me something John. How long have I been upset?"

"Wait. Are you mad because we had to cut lunch short?"

Okay, now, Iím more than just a little pissed. I think I can safely say that Iím livid. Bad enough that heís forgotten my birthday, but now, to imply that Iím being trifling... thatís just way too much for me to take in one day. So I decide to let him have it.

"John, what day is today?"

As dark as it is in hereĖ I forgot to turn on the lights when I got inĖ John glances down at his watch. I doubt that he can see the display, but nonetheless, he manages to give me the right date.

"Itís January 19th."

"Itís January 19th. Interesting. Thatís very interesting."

"Is today special or something?"

I answer in a very low and controlled voice, or at least I try to. "Yes, John, today is special. Today is my birthday and you forgot. You of all people! Every one else seems to have forgotten about me and I thought that you at least would be different. I was looking forward to doing something special with you on my birthday and as it turns out, you forgot my birthdayĖ "

I stop sharply when I realize that his shoulders are shaking and I donít think itís because heís crying.

"Youíre laughing?! Is this funny to you?"

John turns to look behind him and address the darkness. "You guys want to come out before she decides to kill me?"

My anger turns to confusion, which gives way for shock as the lights flicker on and my friends and family all shout, "Surprise!"

I turn to John, whoís smirking at me, and ask, "You knew about this?"

My mom walks over to us and hugs me saying, "Did he know about this? Heís the one that planned it."

"You helped me. Iím not going down by myself." John says to my mom jokingly, giving her a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

"Mom, when did you get in?"

"Last night. John picked us up at the train station and dropped us off at the Palace."

That would explain why John had a sudden urge for ice cream last night, went out to get some and came back empty handed.

"Us? Who else is with you?"

"Nana, Poppy, Allie, Jessie, Kali and Dominique."

"Stop lying. Domiís here?!"

"Please Vangie, you know I would not miss a chance to gloat about you getting old." I turn towards the voice and immediately grab my best friend since eighth grade into a huge hug. We jump and down screaming like we used to, back when we were roaming high school hallways together. John and my mom look on with satisfied grins and I can hear John whispering to her, "You think sheís happy?"

"Sheís ecstatic."

"Well then maybe I wonít have to worry about her wanting to kill me."

I laugh as my mom shakes her head and whispers back to him, "Donít count on it. Maybe you should sleep with your eyes open."

I drift off, greeting everyone and thanking them for the surprise. Michael, Marcie and Shannon start walking towards me with identical grins on their faces, and I know that Iím in for a lot of teasing.

Shannon is the first to start in on me. "Soo, who would have thought that Ms. Evangeline Williamson threw temper tantrums?"

"I did not throw a temper tantrum. How would you feel if someone forgot your birthday?"

"I donít know about you, but Iíd like it if people stopped remembering my birthday."

Marcie laughs and hugs me. "Donít listen to her, sheís just prematurely scared of getting old. Happy birthday Evangeline."

Michael follows suit and kisses me on the cheek. "Happy birthday Evangeline. I hope we didnít ruin it too much by pretending to forget."

Just as Iím about to respond to Michael, John comes up behind me and wraps his arm possessively around my waist. Shannon notices and rolls her eyes.

"Chill out John. Michael isnít trying to steal your girlfriend. He has his own. Remember Marcie?"

I smile and turn to him, poking him in the ribs playfully. "I never took you for the jealous type," I whisper to him.

"Youíre such a treasure, I have to take extra precautions."

I grin. "I heard you talking to my mother. Sweet-talking me isnít going to keep me from getting you back."

Taking a page from my book, he says, "And I was using my best stuff too."

During our short exchange, Shannon, Marcie and Michael have drifted off and are talking to Eve and my mother, who have recently been introduced by John and havenít separated since. I look around, trying to spot Dominique and find her by the stereo, going through my extensive collection of music.

Music is such a large part of my life, and my CD collection plainly shows it. I have the jazz, blues, gospel, motown, soul, and funk that were an integral part of my weekend rituals as a little girl. Every time I listen to "See You When I Get There" by Lou Rawls, Iím reminded of waking up Saturday mornings to laughter and sunshine, knowing that when I went downstairs, I could find my mother and father dancing together and my motherís feather light biscuits. As a matter of fact, for years after the divorce, I couldnít listen to one Lou Rawls song without bursting into tears. But now, itís a song that brings back the many good memories of my childhood, which are the ones I should dwell on instead of the few bad ones that I know.

Then thereís the hip-hop, R&B, reggae, alternative and rock that I began listening to in high school. Domi and Allie call it my rebellion phase, where I went out of my way to do things that werenít normal for me, just to get back at my parents. All the bad habits left eventually, but the music stayed. In college, I decided that I wanted to learn more about other cultures. From that came all the Latin music and dance lessons and Indian sitar music and belly dancing lessons.

John cringes at the blast of loud music that the stereo speaker behind us emits, and I glare across the room at Domi. Almost instantly, I burst into laughter, because I realize that Dominique has popped in the soundtrack of "Grease". Domi is a self- proclaimed Grease-aholic. Sheíd belt out the lyrics to all the songs and do all the dances, all while walking on the street. Iíd fall out laughing and Iím pretty sure that there were a lot of people that thought we were completely nuts.

And with that said, I think I should take that CD out. Best friends donít let other best friends make fools of themselves. Before I get a chance to say anything to her, she takes it out and puts in a John Coltrane CD. I give her an approving glance. Later, when everyone has filled up on cake, we can all dance to burn the extra calories.

A few minutes later, my mom brings the cake out and I feel like Iím five years old again. I grin gleefully at the thought of digging into the rich, moist chocolate cake thatís spread with fluffy chocolate frosting. Written on the top in elegant pink letters is "Happy Birthday Evangeline" and itís decorated with tiny yellow and pink roses. I canít actually see the cake from where Iím standing, but itís the same kind of cake my grandmother and mother have been making for me since I was five years old. They always offer to make me a different kind of cake, but I always refuse. Iím a creature of habit, and besides, I canít resist the temptation of all of that chocolate.

After singing "Happy Birthday" to me, my mother cuts the cake into pieces and hands it out to everyone. The cake has everyone bursting with energy and we soon have music blaring and everyone dancing in the middle of the living room. Someone, probably my mother or Nora, took all the vases and carvings and put them in the guest bedroom before the party. And itís a good thing too, because some of my favourite carvings would have been broken.

All too soon, the partyís over and everyone is gone. Nana, Poppy, Allie, Jessie, Kali and Dominique all return to the hotel, with promises to meet us for brunch tomorrow before they leave. My mother has decided that she doesnít see enough of me and therefore has made up her mind to spend the next three weeks in Llanview. I think that sheíd stay a whole month, but then her visit would coincide with Valentineís Day, and she would probably feel like she was in the way. She offered to stay at the Palace so she wouldnít disturb my comings and goings, but I wouldnít hear of it.

So now, my mother, John and I are alone in my apartment cleaning up the debris left from the party. Mom and John tried to get me to sit down while they cleaned up, but I canít sit down while other people are working. Granted, most of the work I was doing was getting rid of the food by way of my stomach. I was too busy having fun to eat earlier. And there isnít that much to clean up since my guests were very considerate.

When weíre finished, my mother excuses herself to use the phone, leaving John and I alone in the living room.

"Did you enjoy your surprise?"

I look over my shoulder at him and grin. "I loved my surprise. In fact... I loved it so much that Iíve decided not to kill you."

"Well, thatís a good thing."

"Especially because I donít know what Iíd do without you."

"Likewise." He smiles and kisses me softly. After a few seconds, he pulls away and says, "Stay right here. Iím gonna go get your present."

"I thought that the party was my present."

"It was one of them."

He disappears for a minute and comes back with a large, slender gift-wrapped package.

"I donít always do so well with words, but I wanted to get you a gift that showed you how special you are and how important you are to me. So here. Happy birthday."

I take the package with some difficulty and give John an inquisitive look.

"What is it?"

"Open it and youíll find out."

I rip into the package with glee and am struck speechless when I see what it is. Itís a large framed photo of me, with the poem "Phenomenal Woman" by Maya Angelou written in beautiful calligraphy beside the picture. I gasp loudly and I can feel the tears welling up in my eyes.

"Oh my God. John this is...."

"So you like it?"

"JohnĖ

Every time I try to find the words to describe how I feel, I get tongue tied, so I quickly give up and kiss John instead. Weíre still kissing a few minutes later when my mother comes out of the guest bedroom and clears her throat. John and I look up guiltily at her.

"You two having fun?"

"My mother the comedian," I reply with a grin.

"I can see where you get it from," John whispers. Not so quietly that my mother doesnít hear and they both laugh conspiratorially.

I pick up the frame and hold it out so my mother can see what it says. "Mom, look at what John gave me for my birthday."

She studies it for a few seconds and then smiles. "Donít you remember this poem?"

Iím about to say no, when suddenly I remember that thereís a somewhat embarrassing story that sheís about to tell.

"Mom, please donít. Iím begging you."

"I think this is something Iíll probably want to hear," John says to my mother with a grin.

"And itís definitely something I want to tell. When Evangeline was in the second grade, her school had a talent show and she decided that she wanted to be in it. We thought that she was going to play the piano or sing or dance, but little Miss Evangeline decided she was going to recite "Phenomenal Woman" in itís entirety. She got up on that stage and said the whole poem, strutting around and twitching her non-existent hips. My baby got a standing ovation and won first prize for her overall talent and originality."

John has been cracking up since my momís "non-existent hips" comment and now he stops to smile at her and say, "Well, your daughter must have been able to see into the future. Because everything in that poem, save for the first two lines, describes Evangeline to a tee."

She smiles and hugs me around the shoulders and kisses the top of my head. "My baby has definitely grown into a phenomenal woman."

"Well you always were one Mom."

She smiles at me and says, "Well Iím going to leave you two to get back to whatever you were doing before I came out. Iíll see you two in the morning."

I shake my head and smile. "Goodnight Mom."

John smiles at her and says, "Goodnight Mrs. Williamson."

"John, call me Toni. And if you must be formal, then you can call me Antoinette. I thought I told you that when you came to Jessieís Sweet 16."

"Iíll be sure to try and remember that."

My mom disappears into the guest room and John and I sit in silence for a few minutes. I turn my head and gaze at John silently, until he notices and turns to look at me.

"What?"

"Youíre something else, you know that?"

"Something good?"

I shake my head. "No. Something so fantastic I canít put it into words. Not only did you organize a wonderful birthday party, but you also took special care to invite my family and Dominique, probably because youíve heard me always talking about how much I miss her. And on top of that, you got me this incredibly thoughtful and sentimental gift. You leave me at a complete and total loss for words."

"Well thereís another thing that we have in common. There is no way to describe how special you are, but this poem comes pretty close."

"Youíre so sweet."

"I know."

"... and soo humble."

"Last week you said I had a head as big as a hot air balloon and it was filled with as much air."

"I think Iím starting to remember the reason why."

John gets this devilish gleam in his eyes as he says, "Oh, you are, huh?," and starts to move towards me.

I slide out of the chair and start to back away, laughing. "You better not be getting any ideas."

"What ideas?," he asks with an innocent smile. All while slowly advancing towards me.

"Iím not falling for it."

I sprint backwards and John lunges towards me, laughing. Unfortunately for me, itís much harder to run backwards than forwards and John soon catches me, tickling me unmercifully.

"John, quit it!," I shriek loudly.

"Okay," he says quickly, his arms dropping to his sides. I study him suspiciously.

"Uh-uhn. You agreed way too quickly."

"You said to stop and I stopped. Wouldnít you prefer it that I listened to you?"

"Now I know youíre up to something. You donít listen to anyone."

"OK, so I wonít listen."

He resumes tickling me, causing me to laugh until I feel like Iím going to burst. "John, stop please!"

He shakes his head. "Not until you take it back."

"Take what back?"

"Saying that I have a head as big as a hot air balloon and that itís filled with as much air."

I pretend to consider it for a moment before shaking my head. "Being tickled isnít that bad. They say that laughing adds years to your life. And besides," I say, squirming away from him with a triumphant grin, "youíre not gonna catch me again."

Before he can fully register it, I take off towards my bedroom with John in close pursuit. I dive onto the bed and John dives in beside me, kissing me soundly. When we finally break away for air, John runs his fingers though my hair and says, "I love your laugh."

"Well thatís a good thing because you make me laugh a lot. Thatís one of the things I love about you."

John pulls me into a close embrace and I smile into his chest. Just when Iím beginning to get comfortable, John glances at my alarm clock and kisses my forehead, saying, "Itís getting late, Iíve gotta get going."

"Why donít you just stay? Like you said, itís late. I donít want you to be on the roads so late at night."

"Itís not that late yet. Thereís a few things that I have to care of. Besides, you should have some time to catch up with your mother without me here."

"Make sure you call me when you get in."

"I will."

He grins at me from the doorway of the room. I make a feeble attempt to get up and see him to the door, but he waves me away.

"Iíll let myself out."

"Okay."

He walks out of the room and halfway down the hall before he turns back and pokes his head into the room, grinning.

"I bet you thought I forgot."

No, I know he isnít scatterbrained enough to forget our nightly ritual. Especially since we do it every night.

"I know you didnít."

"Iím going to call you when I get home. Try not to fall asleep."

"Iíll try my hardest,"I call out as John walks back down the hall.

I listen for the sound of the door locking before I get up and take a quick shower and put on a nightgown. By the time Iím completely ready for bed, the phone on my nightstand rings.

"Hello?"

"Hey, I got here safely."

"Thatís good." Without my permission, I yawn loudly.

I can hear the smile in his voice as he says, "Go to sleep and have sweet dreams."

"They will be if Iím dreaming of you."

Heís silent for a few seconds before he says, "I love you."

"I love you too. ĎNight."

He says goodnight and then we both hang up the phone. I roll over to the side of the bed that John normally sleeps on, inhaling the spicy, intoxicating and undeniably male scent that is John. I can feel my eyes getting heavy, but Iím struggling to keep them open so that I can relive every moment of this day in my mind. As tired as I am, I donít want to go to sleep yet because I canít remember the last time when I felt this contented. John makes me very happy, as happy as he can, but I still need other people in my life for me to feel completely complete. John had the insight to see that and he planned a special day for me, where not only did I have him and our other friends from Llanview to celebrate with me, but I also had old friends and my family. And having my mother with me these next couple of weeks is going to be wonderful, a chance for us to reconnect and try to rebuild the relationship we had before the divorce. That in of itself makes me extremely happy, and itís all because of John McBain.

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