by Jo Lauer
“Babe…” Wendy called as she stomped snow from her boots in the foyer before walking ploddingly and stocking-footed down the Italian-tiled hallway toward the kitchen. The strident chirp of a bird was the only response.
She stopped short and grinned at the profusion of red rose petals and brightly colored confetti that littered the entryway to the kitchen. “She remembered,” she said, her eyes moist with emotion. Wendy was a sucker for romance. Visions of chocolate-dipped strawberries, champagne, brie, paté, and her favorite crispy crackers danced in her mind as she stepped lightly over the confetti and into the kitchen.
A chirp and a twitter greeted her from the cage on the countertop. “Can you say, ‘Happy Birthday, my favorite person’?” she addressed Pesto, the green parakeet she’d inherited along with the apartment a little over a month ago.
Wendy cast a glance around the room. Not only was there no Xena, the current love of her life, and no strawberries—dipped or otherwise—the sink was still full of last night’s dishes abandoned in lieu of impulsive, hot sex followed by a shared bubble bath. Wendy grimaced at the marinara sauce tenaciously clinging to the white china plates. It almost canceled out the frisson of excitement at the memory of the preceding evening. Almost. She smiled.
“Xena?” she called into the emptiness of the rooms beyond the kitchen. Perplexed, she returned to the plethora of confetti and petals strewn about the hallway.
“Hunh,” she mumbled as she bent down for a closer look. There were letters on eight of the tiny squares of colored paper which she carefully extracted from the mass. She returned to the kitchen and laid them out on the table like Scrabble tiles. “She knows I love a good game,” she said over her shoulder to Pesto, who squawked his agreement.
Crossword puzzles came easily to her, and her mind, trained to see patterns, quickly picked out the word bitch. “Well,” she huffed, “that’s some birthday greeting.” There were three letters left. Her hand began to shake as she arranged them in front of bitch. Wendy gasped for breath as she read die bitch spelled out in colorful confetti in front of her. She glanced furtively around the kitchen. The shades were drawn, the door to the patio locked. An ominous feeling of dread and danger began to seep its way into her muscles, and she hunched her shoulders self protectively. She’d read in the tabloids about roommates who turn out to be serial killers.
It was true; she didn’t know Xena all that well. They’d only been officially dating for a couple of weeks. Xena had shown up last month to look at the apartment the same day as Wendy had; they quickly acknowledged a mutual spark over dinner at an intimate little Chinese restaurant in the neighborhood. In fact, they’d gotten on so famously that they had decided to share the two-bedroom apartment. In her head, she heard the exasperated responses by her straight friends when she told them she and Xena were moving in together. “You’ve known her how long?” was the now-familiar refrain, followed by snide references to the clichéd lesbian second date involving a U-Haul. Two weeks ago, the attraction between them had grown so intense, they’d waived the white flag and surrendered.
Wendy was deep in thought and didn’t hear the door at the end of the hall click shut, or the quiet footsteps approach.
“Happy Birthday!” Xena shouted, grinning broadly and waving a bouquet of iris in one hand and a dozen purple balloons in the other.
Wendy screamed. Pesto began flapping about wildly in his cage, squawking and screeching hysterically.
Startled, Xena lost her grip on the balloons; they floated up to the vaulted ceiling and clung there as if in fear for their lives.
“What the…” Xena stammered.
“Stay back,” Wendy hollered, grabbing a spatula from the sink. She held it in front of her like a weapon. A dried noodle clung comically to the handle.
“Wen, get a grip. What’s wrong with you?” Xena, hands up in surrender, backed carefully away from her spatula-wielding girlfriend. “You’re freaking out the damned parrot,” she added.
“He’s a parakeet, you psycho,” Wendy retorted. “Do you want to explain this?” she shouted, jabbing the spatula at the lettered squares on the table.
Xena came forward carefully, not taking her eyes off Wendy. She glanced down at the table. “Die bitch? If this is some new game of yours, I don’t think I want to play,” she said.
“Game of mine? You left this for me in the hallway,” Wendy accused.
“No, I didn’t,” she said with an exasperated sigh. “It’s so like you to go to the worst case scenario.”
“What do you mean, worst case scenario? How else would someone interpret ‘die bitch’?” Wendy exclaimed, slowly lowering the spatula.
Xena reached over and arranged the squares to spell ‘itch’ and ‘bide,’ then rearranged them to spell ‘bit’ and ‘chide.’ She raised her eyebrows and shot Wendy a look.
The phone rang and Wendy jumped. She backed up slowly, still keeping her eyes on Xena, and reached her arm out to lift the receiver from the wall-mounted phone.
“Happy Birthday to you,” her mother sang, “Happy Birthday, sweet daughter, Happy Birthday to you. Did you get my surprise?”
Wendy turned toward the wall and lowered her voice. “Did you leave it in the hallway?” she asked.
“Yes,” her mother said gleefully. “Wasn’t that fun? So when will you go?”
“Go where? What are you talking about?”
“The gift certificate for that five-star restaurant you and what’s-her-name have been wanting to visit. What did you think I was talking about?” Her mother sounded genuinely confused.
“Her name is Xena,” Wendy said, casting a quick glance back over her shoulder. “Hang on a minute, Mom,” Wendy said, and placed the phone on the counter. Xena looked at her quizzically as she rushed past her to the hallway. Wendy brushed aside the pile and retrieved a red envelop, camouflaged by the petals and confetti. She ripped it open, extracted the certificate, and squealed with delight as she ran back into the kitchen and grabbed the phone.
“Mom, this is wonderful! Thank you so much. But, I need to know – what’s with the lettered confetti?”
“The what?” her mother asked.
“The confetti – it has letters on it, and…” Wendy realized she couldn’t begin to explain what she’d just been through.
“Oh. I didn’t realize that. It was sold by the ounce at the Smarty Party Store; I guess they recycle it. Honey, Harriet is honking outside. I’ve got to go. There’s a sale at Macy’s. Love you. Happy Birthday.”
Chagrinned, Wendy hung up the phone and turned back to face Xena.
“I think you can put the spatula down now,” Xena said.
Jo Lauer is a psychotherapist in Sonoma County by day. Her publications include essays, stories, articles, and two online novellas.
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