Chapter Two: John’s Birthday

John sat in the chair in his apartment all night running his last conversation with Evangeline over and over in his head. How much of an idiot am I, he thought.

When he realized that he couldn’t answer that question for himself, he decided to take a shower to get the cob webs out. As he headed for the bathroom, it hit him like a ton of bricks. Not only had he lost Evangeline the night before, but today was his stupid birthday. John really hated his birthday. He didn’t feel like he was worthy of any celebration and always hoped that it would just pass by unnoticed. John dreaded the obligatory visit that he’d be getting from Mikey later and he hoped that Mikey would let it go this year and just let him be. The good news was he had the day off, so maybe he could make it through in complete anonymity.

As he was pulling a blue t-shirt over his freshly washed hair, he heard a timid knock on his apartment door. Damn it! Mikey is here a lot earlier this year than I expected.

John decided to keep quiet and hope that Mike would just go away. As he stood in silence by his chest of drawers, hair dripping, damp bare feet sticking to the floor, he heard a soft voice say, “John, are you in there?”

John’s heart skipped a beat at the sound of the voice. It was like his soul was saying that his other half was there. He quickly crossed the room to open the door and come face to face with Evangeline.

The sight of her made him catch his breath. She looked so beautiful standing there in one of her wrap around dresses. Maybe she’s changed her mind, he hopefully, desperately thought.

As John stood back to give Evangeline entry into his apartment, she managed a faint smile while not looking him directly in the eyes. She had worked up her courage to come over and give him his birthday gift as any friend would do. Evangeline also wanted to return his Mother’s pearls. She had decided that the sooner she did this, the faster she could get on with her first day of not being John McBain’s girlfriend, but his friend.

John turned to face her as he shut the door. He took a step toward her as she in turn took one step back. John looked at her with a puzzled look. She read the question in his eyes. He wanted to know why she was here.

Evangeline broke the silence by saying, “Happy Birthday, John,” as she handed him a small square box.

A frown came over his face as he said, “How did you know it was my birthday? Has Mikey been running his big flap again?”

“No, it wasn’t Mike,” she responded. “I’ll tell you how I knew in a minute, but first, open your gift.”

Mike was right, Evangeline thought. John really hates celebrating his birthday. How strange is that?

John hesitantly took the gift from her, but he said, “Are you sure you want to give me anything? I’m not big on birthdays. I don’t really think they are that big of a deal for me at least.”

“Yes, I’m sure I want to give you this,” she replied. “After all, what are friends for?” She gave a half hearted laugh after her statement.

John slowly opened the box to reveal an official Major League baseball. On further scrutiny of the ball, John realized that it was autographed by the Philadelphia Phillies newest rookie pitching sensation. With amazement in his eyes, he looked at her and said, “Thank You. How did you get this?”

Evangeline told John she had represented one of the Phillie’s pitching trainers in a civil action case and they had become friends. She went on to say that she’d gotten him the official baseball and the trainer had the first pitcher sign it. Whenever he went to a Phillie’s game, he could take the ball back after the game and the trainer would get another team member to sign it until he had all the autographs he wanted.

John stood in front of Evangeline marveling at how much thought and effort she put into making him happy and doing special things for him. Once again, he said, “Thank You. Thank You so much.”

“You’re welcome,” she replied. At this point, she wasn’t quite sure how to broach the next subject she needed to address with him.

John’s left eyebrow arched as he inquisitively said, “So, if Mike didn’t tell you it was my birthday, who did?”

Evangeline was glad he asked that question because it led right into the other reason she had stopped by this morning.

“Actually,” she said, “it was your Mother who told me.” She could tell by the alert position John’s posture adopted, he hadn’t expected her to say what she just had.

“My Mom told you?” he asked. “When did you talk to my Mom?”

She was starting to feel a little uneasy, but she knew she had to finish what she started. Evangeline took the box with his Mother’s pearls in them and placed it in his free hand as she said, “I got your Mom’s number from Mike after you gave me her pearls so that I could thank her personally. While we were talking, I asked her when your birthday was because I wanted to do something as special for you as you had done for me.”

John stood there with his mouth open and his brow furrowed. She could tell that he was wondering why she had placed the pearls in his hand.

“I have to give you these pearls back,” she continued, “because I don’t feel right keeping a family heirloom this way when we are just friends now. You should give these to someone that you can fully love without hesitation. I told you when you gave them to me what they represented and now, we aren’t at that place any more.”

“No, I don’t want them back,” John protested. “I want you to have them. I could never give them to anyone else.”

“I’m sorry John, I can’t keep them. They’ll just be a reminder to me of what we almost had and I can’t handle that right now.” With that finally out in the open, Evangeline headed for the door.

As she moved to pass John, he dropped the pearls and baseball on the couch. He reached for her hand and put his face in her hair, right over her ear. He huskily said while trying to keep a lone teardrop from falling from his eye, “You are the person that should have these pearls and I’m sorry I can’t seem to get over whatever roadblock this is. I never wanted to hurt you. Never.”

As Evangeline reached to open the apartment door, she said with a resigned tone in her voice, “I know.”

She walked into the hall and closed the door behind her. As she sniffed to keep her own tears from falling and turned the corner in the hallway, she came face to face with Michael.

Michael spotted right away that Evangeline was upset and he said with concern in his voice, “What’s wrong? What did my imbecile brother do now?”

Evangeline smiled at his comment with the remnants of almost fallen tears in her eyes and said, “Nothing. He didn’t do anything. That’s the problem. Take care of him, okay?”

Michael wasn’t quite sure what had happened, but he cared about Evangeline and didn’t want to see her hurt. He agreed to watch out for his stupid brother for her before she turned and left the building.

John stood in his apartment dazed. He took the back of his left hand and wiped his lonely tear away. John was rubbing his hand on his jeans to dry it off when he heard another knock on his door. He threw the door open with anticipation and was sorely disappointed when he realized that it was his brother standing there. John despondently said, “What do you want?”

In his usual sarcastic way, Mike said, “I’m happy to see you too brother. By the way, Happy Birthday.”

“I’m not in the mood Mike. Can you come back later? No, I mean, can we skip this all together this year?”

Mike pushed his way in and said, “No chance big brother. I have a couple of gifts for you here and a nice coffee flavored cupcake. Plus, I just saw Evangeline outside and she told me to take care of you. You know I always do what she says. Tell me what happened and don’t give me that I don’t want to talk about it look.”

John was going to protest, but he knew it would be futile. He shrugged and gestured for Mike to have a seat on the couch. He brought Mike up to speed on what had transpired the night before and a few minutes ago.

Mike shook his head and said, “I knew this was going to happen sooner or later, if you kept acting the way you were. I told you way back at Thanksgiving and Christmas that if you were trying to push her away, you were doing a great job of it. I have to hand it to her; she really stuck in there for a long time.”

“Thanks for the support little brother,” John snarkily replied. “I’m glad you’re on my side with this.” John didn’t want to admit it, but he knew that Mike was right. He had to figure out why he was subconsciously holding Evangeline close and then pushing her away when she asked for more.

Mikey let John sulk for a little while and then forced him to open his birthday gifts and blow out the candle on his birthday cupcake. Mike explained to him how Evangeline had conspired with him about the autographed baseball and how he had gotten him tickets to a couple of the Phillie’s home games. Mike gave him the picture of them as kids because he’d hoped it would remind John of happier times before John became the caregiver and protector of all.

John begrudgingly thanked Mike for the gifts and the sentiment. He had to admit that his little brother did have his best interests at heart.

Mike stood to leave while saying, “I have to get to the hospital, but I didn’t want to let this day go by. I’m sorry about Evangeline, but if she’s willing to still be your friend, I think that’s great. She’s the best friend you’ve ever had besides me, of course.”

John laughed as he said, “Dream on Mikey, dream on.”

Mike punched John in the shoulder and walked out. John’s phone rang and he answered it to hear the melodic tones of his Mom singing happy birthday.