Filed under: Chapter 10 | Tags: Carrie Rollwagen, Extras, Happy Birthday, hot topic, June, junior mint, Rob Pattinson, Scott Westerfeld, Some New Trend
HAPPY BIRTHDAY JUNE :: BY CARRIE ROLLWAGEN
STEPHANIE AND I ARE IN LINE at Cinnabon—why is there ALWAYS a long line at Cinnabon?—and she’s playing with my new iPod Touch.
My parents bought me an iPod Touch for my birthday. That was, like, really cool of them and everything, except that I can already tell I’m going to break it in about five minutes, and I don’t really know what the point of it is. Why not just get me an iPhone? It’s so like them to get close to the mark while still missing it completely.
I’ve been playing with it all morning, figuring out apps and Internet connections. I tried to do this mostly at the kitchen table, and tried to look really happy about it. It’s not that I’m not happy about it, exactly, but I’m working to make sure Mom and Dad have no doubt that they’ve bought me the perfect present. Even though they haven’t. But there’s no reason for us all to be disappointed.
So, after my traditional birthday morning silver dollar pancakes (piled up in a little stack with a candle on top, just like every year), I’ve been dropped off at the mall to meet Stephanie. It’s just like any other day, except Stephanie actually took the day off work, and I have extra spending money and movie passes in my messenger bag. Our plan is to overdose on Cinnabon, then catch a double feature at the movies and split a large popcorn with Junior Mints poured into it, just the way I like it. It now occurs to me that our entire day revolves around sugar, but luckily I have a brand new 16-year-old metabolism to take care of that.
The line moves unusually quickly, and when we get to the front, I order two Mochalatta Chills and two orders of Cinnastix for Steph and I.
Jenn actually smiles at me, a move I haven’t seen from her since about second grade. Then again, she’s usually doing a lot of hair flipping, so maybe I’ve just missed it.
“OMG June, isn’t today your birthday?”
Whoa. How does she know that? Is there some way that Jenny Claire—now just Jenn-with-two-N’s—somehow remembers the date of my birthday from all those grade school cupcake parties?
“Uh, yeah,” I say, trying to recover and be nice.
“How do you know that?” Stephanie asks, looking up from the iPod for long enough to give Jenn a look of distain and distrust. All the disses, really.
“Facebook, duh,” Jenn says. Oh yeah. It’s easy to forget that real life enemies can still be your Facebook friends, and thus up to date on your birthdays and events (as I ever had any events).
“That’ll be ten eighty-nine,” Jenn says, holding out her hand for the money.
“Thanks,” I say, while Steph stands there mute. She’s still staring, and I actually have to grab her arm to pull her away from the counter.
“That was weird,” she says, sipping her drink.
“Tell me about it,” I agree. “I guess even the Cinnasluts are nice on your birthday.”
“You and your fairy tale complex,” Steph says. “Don’t let MTV fool you, June. There’s nothing especially sweet about your sixteenth.”
“On the contrary,” I say. “This cinnamon roll is sweet. An entire day hanging out with my best friend is pretty sweet.”
“Okay, okay,” she says. “Let’s not get sappy.”
We grab a table in the food court, and Steph makes a big deal out of pulling a small package out of her bag. It’s wrapped in specially-made paper that Stephanie has taped together from magazines and written little messages on. On top is a card written with multi-colored marker, intricately designed and, I can already tell, filled with inside jokes.
“Happy birthday to you!” she says. As if on cue, her cell phone starts singing. She pretends to ignore it.
“Go ahead, answer it,” I say.
She looks at the screen and her face goes dark. “It’s work,” she says, sounding confused. Obviously, I can only hear her side of the conversation, but it’s not difficult to pick up on what’s going on.
“No, I can’t, I asked off,” she’s saying. “Miranda, I really, really can’t … no, it’s important. No, not even for a couple of hours … look, I’m sorry, but … you know I’m a team player,” she cringes as she says this. “Really, I am, I just have commitments today … yes, I know there are plenty of people who want my job.”
I wave for Steph’s attention. She looks seriously upset.
“Hold on, Miranda,” she says.
“Steph,” I whisper, “Don’t worry about it.”
“No, June it’s your birth…” I interrupt her.
“I know what day it is,” I say. “What’d she say, two hours? Our movie doesn’t start until 3:00 anyway. We’ll have plenty of time. For real.”
Steph gets back on the phone with a sigh. “Okay, Miranda,” she says. “But just until Esther can come in, just for two hours, tops.”
Stephanie leaves me full of apologies, and I’m sitting alone in the Food Court with an oddly wrapped gift. On my sixteenth birthday. I can recognize the pathetic quality of all this, but I don’t feel pathetic. I don’t mind having time by myself.
Jenn-islut reminded me to check my Facebook, and I remember that my new birthday gift makes that possible. I pull up my screen to twenty “happy birthday” messages, and it’s only noon. It seems like an odd juxtaposition of the technological versus the real. Like all those social media critics are always saying, virtual friends and real friends have no comparison. According to this screen, I have 150 friends, 20 of whom want to wish me a happy birthday. According to the empty seat across from me, this isn’t exactly true.
I’m ruminating about the nature of existence in a technological world when I feel a buzzing in my pocket. My cell phone looks old and worn compared to the new iPod, like creatures from completely different eras. In reality, they were probably only made months apart.
on my way to the mall. wanna hang?
I look at my iPod, sitting quietly on the table and silently mocking my lack of human companionship.
I text back:
sure. no plans until 3.
cool. where u?
Our messages get shorter and shorter until they’re almost morse code, until they fizzle out completely.
I still think the fact that I’m friends with Bryanna Summerson is unreal. She’s, like, a legend. Or an archetype, at least. To be honest, I can’t really be comfortable with her. What if she suddenly thinks I’m stupid, or finds something better to do? I think we’re friends because she thinks I’m funny—in a laughing with you, not a laughing at you way, at least I hope.
I see her walking, holding her phone and texting without watching where she’s going, but still managing to look graceful, not bumping into anything or falling over like I would be. Her blonde hair is almost impossibly shiny, her clothes are put together perfectly in a way I can’t even start to imagine how to do. Stephanie thinks I’m hanging out with Bryanna so I can get tips on how to be like her. Besides being hella condescending, she’s also wrong. I couldn’t even begin to be as perfect as Bryanna Summerson. I don’t even know how to apply eyeliner.
“Hey June,” she says, sliding into her seat. “OMG, I’m so bored today. My stepdad kept popping his head out of his office to, like, give me chores or something. I’m like, ‘Dude, it’s summer. I do not do chores during summer.’ I had to get out of there.”
“You were at his job?”
“Oh, no,” she said. “He has an office at home. Something about the greening of America or whatever. Fewer emissions, I don’t know. Personally I just think he’s lazy and wants to work in his ugly Packers pants and gross t-shirts all day.” While she’s talking, Bryanna’s still texting. It occurs to me I’d love to have that many people to text. Stephanie and I text a lot, obviously, but about the middle of every month we have to stop because our plans reach their limit. I’ve been through the wrath of my parents when they have to pay .99 cents apiece for 30 texts about Rob Pattinson before, and I don’t really want to be there again.
Bryanna shuts her phone with a snap.
“I’m totally thirsty,” she says. “Come with me while I grab a Diet Coke, ‘kay? Oh, and I really want to look at shoes today. And maybe jackets, you know, something light for summer. Oh, and I texted Josh and told him to come along, I hope that’s cool.”
“Sure,” I say. Bryanna Summerson texted Josh and invited him to hang out with us all day. She’s made my birthday wish come true. Maybe the cell phone is the new fairy godmother. You know, if your fairy godmother is constantly hanging all over your Prince Charming.
“Is there anywhere you want to go?” Bryanna asks.
“Actually, I was thinking of getting a CD at Hot Topic.”
“They have CDs there?” she asks, surprised.
“Yeah, of course,” I say. “Like a whole wall of them. You’ve never noticed them?”
“Well, no,” she says. “But that’s probably cause I’ve never been there.”
I can’t help it. I stop in my tracks. “You’ve never been to Hot Topic?” I say. “For real?”
“Don’t act so surprised,” she says, playfully bumping into me. “It looks all spooky, with that oversized red and black terrible entranceway. Besides, shoes are really more my thing. It’s not like they have shoes at Hot Topic.”
“Bryanna,” I say, “They do have shoes at Hot Topic.”
“Really?” she says.
“True,” I reply.
“Okay,” she says with a sigh. “Lead the way.”
We’re right across from it, so leading the way isn’t really necessary, but I do it anyway.
“I always thought it was more like a Disney Haunted House,” I say as we step through the entrance. “Not really creepy, just overdone and a little silly.”
“If you think that entrance was overdone, I’m surprised you like any of this stuff,” Bryanna says, holding up a black corset studded with little red skull buttons.
“Like I said, just a little silly.”
We spend a few minutes laughing over the crazy t-shirt slogans and looking at hair ties and nail polishes. Skulls are pretty mainstream now, so I figured Bryanna would find something she liked, and I was right. She found a little pink purse with tiny skulls on one side that she said she “had to have” and was just paying for it when Josh came in.
I saw him first, walking in through that ridiculous gothic archway. It’s amazing how I feel when he walks in a room, like I can suddenly breathe, like there’s a light coming out of him. I know how screwed up that sounds, but it’s true. I stare at him for a second longer than I should, probably, but no one notices me anyway. Then I stand next Bryanna and pretend that I haven’t seen Josh.
Josh reaches around Bryanna and sort of tickles her or something, and she kind of overreacts, if you ask me, but he seems to like it. He’s still holding onto her as the cashier hands her the purse, which is inside another bag, which doesn’t make much sense to me. Finally, Josh and Bryanna seem to notice that I’m alive and still standing here.
“Hey June,” Josh says as we walk out of the store, heading to get Bryanna a chai since, apparently, her coke wasn’t enough. “I thought you were hanging out with Steph all day. She’s been talking about your birthday for weeks.”
“Yeah, she got called into work,” I barely get out before Bryanna interrupts.
“June, it’s your birthday?” Bryanna says.
“Well, yeah,” I admit.
“Why didn’t you say anything?!” she asks.
I cough to buy time before I answer, then say the words quietly, “I didn’t want to admit I’m this pathetic.” Luckily, my words are lost as we walk into the coffee shop.
My phone buzzes with a text from Will. He’s been texting me every once in awhile ever since our odd watermelon adventure. I freaked out a little at first, but then I realized he doesn’t seem to care if I actually respond or not, so now it’s just kind of funny.
Junebug Happy Birthdayyyy! What are you doing?
it reads. I think the “Junebug” part is a little weird, but it’s a nice gesture anyway. I figure I have Facebook to thank for Will’s “remembering” my birthday too.
I text him back and tell him where we are and what we’re doing, and I’m about to close my phone when I realize I should really text Stephanie and tell her where we are, just in case she gets out early.
I sit down, awkwardly. I’ve already had coffee, and I don’t really know what else to do with myself. Josh and Bryanna are at the counter having some secret conference with Dylan, which seems weird since I thought Bryanna hated him.
They come back to the table with their own drinks, plus a mocha for me.
“Happy Birthday, June!” Bryanna says. “I asked Dylan what your favorite was.”
“So, how’s your birthday going?” Josh asks.
“Pretty good so far,” I say. “I kind of love my birthday no matter what happens. It’s like one day when everyone is nice to you, and you know you’ll get good stuff. The best holiday ever.”
Josh smiles. Bryanna just says, “My birthday is so not a big deal. I mean, there’s no need to make a big fuss just over me.” I really want to say that’s not what I heard, that I heard she actually threw a huge tantrum at school last year because her friends didn’t plan a big party for her birthday, until they finally caved and pretended to have already planned a surprise party. I could bring this up, but I don’t. It was all over school, anyway, so Josh had to know about it. What’s the point?
“Hot Topic is, like, weirder than I even thought,” Bryanna says. “It’s like another weird world in there, where people like black and spikes and ugly t-shirts.”
“I think that’s why I like it,” I say, clearly overcaffeinated by my Cinnabun chased with mocha, since I’m standing up for myself. “It’s like another world.”
“Didn’t you and Steph try to get jobs there?” Josh asks.
“Stephanie did,” I say. “I didn’t.”
“Why not you?” Bryanna asks.
“I don’t know,” I say. “It’s weird, because I’ve always had this little dream about working there. I think it would be fun, you know, to like wear a plaid skirt and combat boots and a Flogging Molly t-shirt or something. It’d be like wearing a costume to work every day. Plus I could learn about all that crazy music that Stephanie and Josh love so much,” I say, giving Josh a small smile.
“Actually Hot Topic has a pretty limited music selection, but you could find some punk standards, I guess,” Josh answers. When he says this, he smiles back at me, and that’s really all the birthday present I need.
“So why didn’t you apply?” Bryanna asks again.
“I guess I was scared,” I say. “Plus, I wasn’t sixteen.”
“Well now you are!” Bryanna says. “Let’s go get an application. She totally should, right Josh?”
“Totally,” he says, but he doesn’t seem as into it.
“Oh, they’re not hiring,” I say. “Steph checked.”
“Actually,” Josh says, “I think they are hiring. I hear Heavy Metal George just got laid off for stealing some of those little blue energy drinks.”
“No way,” Bryanna says.
“Yeah,” Josh says. “But, to be fair, I don’t think it was his fault. When you ask a guy to pull that many double shifts, shouldn’t you comp his energy drinks?”
“Whatever,” Bryanna replies.
“Well, anyway, I think it might … you know … bother Stephanie. You know, if I worked there. She really wanted that job.”
Speaking of Stephanie, I decide to check my phone.
maybe getting out early.
give me 15.
“That’s ridiculous,” Bryanna says. “If Stephanie is really your friend, she’ll be glad you got the job you wanted.”
“Clearly, you don’t know my sister,” Josh says, and we share another smile. (Happy birthday!)
Josh’s smile disappears though, and I follow his gaze out the big window where Will is struggling with a paper bag that’s just ripped in half. I can’t really see what’s fallen out of it, but it looks big and awkward. We watch as Will packs everything back in the ripped bag, balances the whole thing on his knee, then pulls the drawstring out of his shorts and ties it around the entire package to hold it together.
Satisfied, he finally walks into the shop, puts the strange bundle on our table, and sits down, oblivious to Josh’s stare.
“Happy Birthday, Junebug!” Will says, using the new nickname he’s cooked up for me. “How many spankings should I give you?”
“What’s wrong with you?” Josh says to Will, obviously pissed. Bryanna grabs Josh’s arm and whispers something to him.
“Yeah, okay,” he says to Bryanna. He looks at her for a minute, then back at me and Will.
“I have to do something. I’ll be back in a minute.” Then he walks out the door. Suddenly this little party seems a lot less fun. Not to mention a lot more awkward.
“So, is it present time? Mine first!” Will says, still acting like nothing’s wrong. At a time like this, I kind of love that about him.
“I, um … I’d really like to wait for Stephanie to open presents,” I say, and pull out the package she worked on.
“Oh, mother, what’s this?” Will says, picking up the package and examining the wrapping.
“Skulls, check. Lots of black, check. Pictures of Hollywood vampires, check. This is like some kind of Goth Prize Pack.”
“Don’t be mean,” I say, but I’m smiling. “I like the wrapping.”
“I’m not being mean,” Will says. “I love Goths. Especially the pale and skinny ones.”
Stephanie walks in the door out of breath. She’s obviously mad to see Bryanna. I probably should have explained the situation to her before, I realize now. I start to text her anyway, “sorry! they all just showed up!” But I delete it before I even hit send when I realize that I’m not sorry Will and Bryanna are here, and they actually didn’t just show up—I invited them.
“Hey,” Steph says, sinking into the empty chair. She turns to Bryanna. “Where’s my brother? I thought you guys were joined at the hip.”
You know how you hear in movies that someone kicks someone else under the table because they’ve said something awkward or awful? I’ve never wanted to do that before, but now I do.
“He’s picking something up for me,” Bryanna says. “He’ll be back in a second.”
“Oh, now he’s your errand boy?” Stephanie says.
“Stephanie!” I say.
“Whatever,” she replies. “I’m getting a drink.”
“I’m really sorry,” I say to Bryanna as Stephanie walks up to the counter.
“Hey, it’s no problem,” Bryanna says. “Not your fault.”
I get up to stand in line with Stephanie and not so casually mention that it’s my birthday, and it would be really awesome if she could be nice about Bryanna.
“But I thought you and I were going to spend your birthday together,” she says. I can’t believe this. I really want to say, “So did I, but you went to work.”
Instead, I say, “Yeah, and we will. The movie isn’t for another hour, and we’ll spend the rest of the day together.”
My brilliant argument along with a few sips of coffee put Stephanie in a marginally better mood. Then Josh shows up again and we all sit together and we’re actually having fun, sort of. Steph is stealing sips from Will’s frappuccino, and Josh and Bryanna are managing to keep their hands off each other for a few minutes. Then conversation turns to Twilight—usually a good topic for Stephanie, but it’s turning ugly as she realizes that Bryanna is just as devoted to lovesick vampires as she is. Time for damage control.
“Hey, isn’t it time for presents?” I say. It’s a good change of subject, and I really do want to know what my gifts are.
“No, it’s time for cake!” Bryanna says, almost shouting the last part as she waves frantically to Dylan.
He walks over with a white cupcake with sparkly sugar on top, putting it in front of me on the table. Then he whips a plastic lighter out of his pocket and holds it, lit, above the cupcake.
“Okay,” he says, and I can smell the cigarette smoke on his clothes as he leans in. “Sing.”
Everyone sings happy birthday—in the middle of the coffee shop! And I blow out the lighter.
“Time for spankings!” WIll says, but he shuts up when Josh gives him an evil look.
Dylan leaves to help customers, and I open my presents. Steph gives me five burned CDs, skull knee socks, and Scott Westerfeld’s Extras—it’s still in hardcover, so I wouldn’t have bought it for myself yet.
Bryanna, as it turns out, had sent Josh on an errand back to Macy’s to buy me some Black Honey lipgloss.
“It’s great for every skin type,” she says.
When I finally get the double-knotted drawstring off Will’s bag, I find a four-pack of Red Bull with one missing—“I got thirsty,” he explains—some gum, and an entire watermelon. I can’t help but laugh.
“I know I already gave you one, but I always think watermelon is a great gift,” he says.
Even Dylan comes over and throws a few coupons on the table. “They’re for free drinks,” he says. “Don’t use them all at once or I’ll get fired.”
Eventually, the party breaks up. Josh and Bryanna are going to Ruby Tuesdays for a late lunch, Will wants to get to the beach in time to surf before dinner, and Stephanie and I decide to leave for our movie.
“I have to hit the bathroom first,” she says.
“Okay, I’ll wait for you by the fountain,” I reply. When I get there, I fish a couple of pennies out of my pocket and toss them into the fountain, making a wish. Stephanie hates when I do this, but I still believe in magic, at least a little. And I figure on your birthday the magic works even better.
Apparently, it does, because I hear Josh’s voice behind me.
“June,” he says. I turn and look at him, and for a second we just stare at each other. I know I’ve felt a lot for him before, but this feels different. Like it’s actually a kind of connection, like he feels it too.
He takes a step forward, and although it brings him closer to me, it also breaks the spell. He pulls a folded piece of paper from his wallet.
“It’s my present,” he says. “A Hot Topic application. I think you should apply, for real.”
I take it, and as soon as I do, I know I’ll at least turn it in. I mean, it’s Josh. I can’t not.
“Your sister’s going to kill me,” I say.
“Yeah,” he says. “She probably will.” He smiles. I love his smile. And then he leaves, to go meet Bryanna.
I slip the application in my bag so Stephanie won’t see it. But I know I’ll fill it out, and turn it in, and I’ll do it today. Maybe I won’t even get the job. Or maybe I will, and Stephanie will hate me a little. Or maybe it’ll all work out.
After all, it’s my birthday. Maybe my luck will hold.
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