He didn’t notice at first. Just went about his day with that little niggling feeling of déjà vu. But that was probably because this birthday, so far, had been remarkably similar to all of the ones in his past.
Usual check to ensure that he hadn’t mysteriously aged over night: All systems okay.
Obligatory obscene birthday threats from AJ: check.
Assorted greetings from friends and family, eager to remind him how much they cared (if only so they can be remembered kindly in his will, he thought sarcastically as he replaced the receiver in the phone handset): Right on schedule.
The regular car chase by some of his more outrageous fans who waved signs, or breasts: Yep.
It wasn’t until his windshield was hit, dead centre, by some pigeon dropping that his complacent, and jaded, demeanor was shaken. Just looking at it, as it dripped down the glass, in front of his face, blocking his view somewhat… It was as if he’d been through all of this before. It was something more than the déjà vu feeling he had: it was as if he could predict exactly what was going to happen next.
“Man on hip adductor machine will drop his water bottle…. Now!”
“Phone on reception desk will ring when that lady walks past that point right… there….”
It was like a game for a little while. But when he was taking his shower, and dropped the soap in the exact position and at the exact time he’d just finished predicting in his mind…
“Just an urban legend,” he reminded himself as he checked the lock on the shower stall door. “No real need to fear.”
And nothing happened when he bent over and picked up the slippery bar. “Told you,” he chuckled to himself as he started to work up a lather with his hands, then spread the creamy bubbles across his firm body.
When he got to his Corvette, he carefully wiped the grey streak off his windshield, and then climbed into the car. He glanced at the clock on the dashboard, and then swore as he realized that he was behind schedule. Very behind schedule. He shoved the key in the ignition; turning on the engine with a loud rev, then popped the car in gear and streaked for the exit.
He knew as soon as he turned the corner that something was about to happen. And it did. His front bumper came so close to hitting a woman on her bike that for all intents and purposes her had hit her. It did, after all, have the same effect: she fell over.
Shit! Okay, he hadn’t meant to do that.
“Are you okay?” he asked worriedly as he jumped out of the car. She was so busy swearing and dusting the dirt off her clothes that she didn’t hear him.
“What the fuck do you think you are doing?” she finally asked angrily.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t see you.”
She reached down to pick up her bike, shaking as her body tried to deal with the near-death shock it had just had. “I suppose this bright reflective suit didn’t catch your eye,” she said snidely.
“It did. But too late. I’m really sorry. Umm... I think...,” he pointed to the jacket she wore. There was a huge rip along the arm, and he could see scraped and bloody skin underneath.
“Oh great. Just great. I just bought that,” she replied faintly.
“Hey! Are you okay?” Her sudden switch from angry to quiet worried him. “You didn’t hit anything when you fell did you?”
She removed the bike helmet she wore, and her long auburn hair fell out. She wiped a hand across her chin, then looked at it and realized that her knuckles were bleeding and that she’d just spread it across her face. “I’m fine. Jesus, what is it with men and their damn sports cars? Is it that penis thing? Or is it just a testosterone thing?”
Okay, he had been having a bad day, a typical birthday. He didn’t need this.
“No, I just liked the car. You always such a grouch?”
“Only when some mutant tries to kill me with his car,” she shot back.
“What were you cycling for anyway? This isn’t a bike path,” he pointed out angrily.
“Not all of us can afford cars, okay? Not all of us…” she looked at him. Actually looked at him. And he could see the recognition cross her face. “Are rich famous singers who…” her voice drifted off.
“Who what? You going to make some more cracks about my penis or my car?”
She looked down then back up at him. “Actually I was going to say, happy birthday Howie, but something tells me I better not.”
“Yeah, happy birthday, me! Whoopie,” he replied mockingly. Yep, typical birthday. He meets an attractive woman -- by almost killing her. Lord knows what else could happen today.
“Look, I am honestly very sorry about almost hitting you. Is there something I can do to help? I admit I wasn’t paying enough attention. Is your bike okay? Should I take you to a hospital?”
She glanced down at the bike, noting that the front tire was slowly, but surely, deflating. “Oh fuck. Just what I need!” She knelt down to try and see if she could find the hole.
“Umm… Miss? I am really sorry, but I am in a big hurry. Do you want some help?”
She looked up at him. “Can you give my bike and I a ride to Orange Avenue? There is a bike shop I know there that can get this fixed up quickly.”
He frowned quickly. “A little out of my way, but I did almost hit you. I’m just not sure how we’ll…” he gestured from the bike to the car. A Corvette was not really build for lugging things.
“Does that roof pop off?”
He nodded, then smiled. “I hope you don’t mind wind in your hair. Not to mention bugs and stuff like that.”
She laughed. “You really do say ‘stuff like that.’ And I figure if I was afraid of wind or bugs I wouldn’t be cycling, would I?”
They managed, with a little twisting to get the bike into the car. Howie was wincing throughout the entire process, worried about his precious car, but other than a few derisive snorts at his behaviour the woman ignored him. She finally settled in the front seat, holding onto her bike frame, as he started the engine.
“Umm. Quick question. You know who I am. Who are you?” he asked as he pulled back onto the road.
“Helen. Nice to meet you. I’d shake your hand but I’m afraid the bike’d go flying. Probably scratch your finish as it went.” She said the last part teasingly and he laughed weakly.
“With the kind of day I’m having, it probably would.”
He was uncommunicative the entire drive. Except for when the tie on his hair snapped and his long curls flew wildly in the breeze. Then he had a lot to say, and none of it good. It was a relief for both of them when he pulled up in front of the bike shop that Helen frequented. The wincing and flinching process of removing her bike was undergone, and then finally she stood on the sidewalk, a little worse for wear, but a lot better than she had been before.
“Thanks for the ride.”
“Least I could do. I am really sorry about almost hitting you.”
“S’okay. I can get this fixed up and all will be okay.”
“There anything else I can do? An autograph or something?”
She shook her head. “How ‘bout I do something for you? A piece of advice. I know we didn’t meet under the best of circumstances, but the next time someone wishes you happy birthday, at least try to be gracious. And you might want to be a little less self-involved. Those damn “I’m gonna be late” asides the whole drive through weren’t a lot of fun.”
“I know, I know. I have no idea of the pressures you are under in your position, blah, blah, blah. That’s a two-way street, Howie. Try and get it right next time.” Then she turned and rolled her bike into the shop, shutting the door after her.
“But…” He honestly didn’t know what to say to that. And was saved from trying to formulate an answer by the chirping of his watch.
“Oh shit, really late now!” He hopped back into the car, checking very, very carefully before pulling away from the curb and headed home.
He was a mess once he got there: he hadn’t taken the time to pull the top back up and his hair had danced several dervishes in the wind. He stopped for another shower, not dropping any soap this time. As he brushed his rebellious, damp curls back into a ponytail he realized that that feeling of déjà vu was, well, not gone, but certainly lessened. As though something subtle had changed. He shrugged it off as his imagination and headed to the restaurant for his “I better act surprised because everyone expects me to” party.
As always AJ embarrassed him in public, though not as badly as the year before. Mama D was still chuckling as she waved goodbye, ‘leaving the children to their fun.’ Nick, however, was a dead man. Hiring a stripper was ha-ha funny. At least he had waited until after Mama had left before bringing “her” out. The fact that it was a she-male….
It was late, very late when he finally got to bed. His birthday was thankfully over. Not quiet as bad as some in the past, but still somewhat aggravating. He climbed into his large, empty bed, thankful that at least he hadn’t drunk enough to make the room spin. Tomorrow when he woke up at least all he’d have to deal with was the memory of his birthday. Not a hangover too.
He woke slowly. Hovering in that gray area between sleep and wake, his mind taking on several quick trips of fancy before bringing him back to reality. He stretched first, long arms pulling against the air, his neck twisting, straightening, and his legs kicking at the covers. Finally he let his eyelids slide open to reveal his milk chocolate dark eyes.
The sun streamed in, slightly diffused by the off-white sheer curtains that were flowing in the subtle breeze from coming in from the open windows. He could hear the call of the seagulls, and the answering crash of waves.
All in all, it looked and sounded like a great day.
But not for him.
It was his birthday.
“What the fuck?!”