How many times had she asked? “What do you want for your birthday?”
“I don’t want anything. Nobody needs to make a big deal about it.”
“But we’re your friends. We gotta do something.”
“Really. It’s okay.”
She let it drop. Still, there was one thing he wanted. But he kept it to himself. Brave people ask for what they want, and he had learned long ago he wasn’t brave.
As the day approached, though, he thought about it more and more. Two days before, he saw her, and he took a chance. “There is one thing I want.”
“Yeah.” He mumbled, his resolve slipping.
“What?” She looked at him over her glasses.
“I like being in nature on my birthday. I like walking. Do you want to come to the park with me. Walk through the snow?”
She looked at him as though she didn’t quite believe him. “Is that all you want? To walk through the park?”
He nodded, what little courage he had was gone.
“Sure. Why not? When?”
“Ok. See you then.”
She walked away. He stared after her, wishing he was brave.
The day came, and she drove with him to the park. Despite the snow, the sun warmed the day. They walked, talking about pleasant things. She fell to the ground and made a snow angel. The park was small, and they covered most of it, ending up by the swing set.
He stood leaning on a wooden railing. She leaned on a matching railing across from him. They had gotten quiet, though they stared intently at one another. She had to know why they were there, she smiled as though she knew. But she wouldn’t say it. Wouldn’t do anything to help it. It was up to him. But he wasn’t brave.
Finally, after an agonizingly long time, he leaned forward and kissed her. It was tentative at first. He expected her to pull away at any moment. But she didn’t, and it became more insistent. He wrapped his arms around her and held her close. After awhile, he broke the kiss. Or perhaps she did. She looked at him over her glasses again. He couldn’t read her expression, but she wasn’t running away. They stood in the embrace for several moments more before she stepped back.
“So,” she said eventually. “Is that what you wanted?”
He nodded. “Yes. That kiss is what I really wanted for my birthday.” He wasn’t sure what more to say.
“Is that all you wanted?”
A brave man would say, no. What I really want is to take you back to my place and lead you into my bedroom. I want to undress you, slowly. To kiss every inch of skin as it is uncovered. To lie next to you and trace your body. I want to caress you, feel your skin. I want to learn every bit of you. And then, when we know each other’s bodies, I want to make love with you. To give voice to my passion. To tell you how I feel in a way words cannot hope to reach. That was what a brave man would say.
But he was not brave. So he simply said, “Yes. More than anything else in the world, that is what I wanted for my birthday.”
She smiled an unreadable smile and took his hand briefly. “Well then, happy birthday.” And she kissed him once more.
They walked back to his car quietly and then met up with others for dinner. Because of his lack of bravery, he did not get all he wanted that day.
But because he managed a little courage after all, he would get it one day.