Preparing a birthday party is always difficult and it get even more difficult when the person you are organizing it for is the least of your concerns. Friends and family. They are the real targets, the ones to please. Jim knew that Ari would like anything for his birthday but as it was the first one they celebrated together, he wanted to make it special. That why he had decided to invite every single meaningful person in Ari’s life and, of course, that meant inviting the parents and childhood friends.
Now, they all knew about him being gay but some were surprised to know their friend was living already with a man. The phone conversations had been long and difficult but now everyone was invited and Jim just had to wait for them. They had to arrive just before Ari got from work in order to surprise him. Jim was a bit unsure about this, since it was likely that his boyfriend would not like the surprise. He was the kind of person that doesn’t like to mix business with personal, family with friends and so on. But being the special occasion it was, Jim thought that it was a good idea to have everyone be there for him, in one room, at least once.
Jim, being as organized as he had always been, decided to organize every detail from early morning. Just after kissing Ari goodbye in the morning, he jumped into the shower and then called to a Spanish restaurant, where he had asked to have paella for at least twenty people. They confirmed his order and then he decided to go and pick up the cake and accompanying cupcakes to a pastry shop Ari had loved when he was a boy. There, a very nice lady gave some extra cupcakes to Jim and even gave him a cookie an some milk, to eat right there. He did exactly that, in order to please the lady and left fast after that.
He then went to a wine store and bought six bottles of the same one but also some champagne, the same one they had taken at a recent new year’s party. He paid for that and returned home because it did not felt right to drive around with a load of bottles in the back seat, with the cake and at least fifty cupcakes. Jim organized everything in the dining table and was about to go out for some party supplies when the phone rang.
At first no one talked and Jim was to busy thinking so he hung up immediately but the phone rang again and he answered it. This time someone talked: it was Ari’s father. Jim went white and cold in a matter of seconds and wasn’t able to say anything. There was silence for a while until Ari’s father spoke again and told Jim he wasn’t going to be able to go to the party. He said he was busy that day, helping some friends with some handiwork. According to him, he had committed to it days earlier so it was going to be impossible to assist. Then, not even waiting for Jim to say anything, he hung up.
The sounds of the phone’s tone made Jim comeback to reality. He had always been afraid of Ari’s father and that’s why he hadn’t been able to say anything. Besides, it was obvious he was making up excuses, because he seemed to be coming up with things as he was speaking. Towards the end of the call, he wanted to say something, to demand for him to be there for his son, but he knew couldn’t just do that. He had tried to contact Ari’s father before but Ari himself had asked him not to do that. Ari’s parents were divorced and he had been estranged from his father since then.
Ari’s mother was much more fun to be around. She had had several boyfriends after leaving Ari’s father and that seemed to have given her a new way to look at life. She was now very open and often asked them about advice, even in very intimate areas. Jim always laughed at it but complied and advised her the best he could. Lena, that was her name, had told him once that she only felt like a housewife when living with her former husband. She never complained because she loved taken care of her son and her husband but she did want more from life. According to her, that was the real reason she left him. That and the affair she had discovered he was having with, as he put it, the “neighborhood’s whore”.
Jim was already in a store choosing plastic cups and plates when is cellphone rang. It was Ari. He was having lunch with his work buddies and had decided to call him in order to organize his birthday surprise. For a second, Jim thought Ari knew everything about the party but then he realized Ari was talking about their special time together that they always had in special occasions. Ari started telling Jim everything he was going to do with Jim on the phone. He only smiled and said nothing because in every aisle there was some other buyer and it would have been strange to start having “phone sex” right there.
After hanging up, Jim realized he still lacked napkins and the candle for the cake. He was looking at some funny candles when someone pushed him against the display area. Some candles fell to the floor and Jim rapidly turned to the man that had pushed him and told him to fuck off. The man turned around and Jim realized he had seen him before but couldn’t quite remember whom he was or where he had seen him.
The man got near and Jim was already clenching his fists. It was the man that hit first, right on Jim’s nose. Hurt and disoriented, Jim threw a punch and was lucky enough to hit the man’s stomach. He dropped his basked and started punching the guy and the guy punched him until some store clerks came in and stopped them. But of them had bloody noses and marks all over their faces. Jim had even ripped the guy’s shirt on the sleeve. Both men had no breath in them when they were stopped and separated. The police came and each one of them explained their version to the policeman who decided to let them go with a warning. Jim got to pay for his stuff and left right for home. He had no idea if he had anything else to do but he wasn’t in the mood.
Driving back home, he remembered why he knew that guy in the store. He had been Ari’s former boyfriend, the one before himself. Jim had met Ari first when he was still with him but nothing happened between them then. It was only when they met again in a party, when Ari had already ended the relationship that their relationship started.
He remembered the guy from that time so long ago and now they had gone into a fistfight in a party shop. The man had pushed him hard and Jim knew it was because he had recognized him. Apparently the guy knew about him and Ari and was jealous that someone was with his former boyfriend. Besides, it was obvious he had anger issues because who does that to another person in a public place? Jim knew he had thrown punches too but he felt nothing would have happened if the guy hadn’t turned around.
Putting all the party stuff on the table, he reminded himself of the crazy look in the guy’s face. At one point, he even thought he wanted to kill him and Jim thought he was ready to do exactly the same for him. It had been a very animal like fight. After putting everything on place, he looked at himself on a mirror and realized he had a black eye and his lips had cuts. Besides, his nose was bleeding a bit. He found some glasses in order to divert attention from his eye and put some toilet paper in his nose. On the lips, only lip balm to make them look less crooked.
Just then, people started pouring in and, luckily enough, no one noticed anything strange. He started hanging out wine glasses and just then the paella people arrived. The pan that they had brought was huge and it smelled delicious. They just had to put lemon on it and it would be ready. Most guests arrived early but Jim realized almost all of them were their friends or close relatives who they knew very well. All others, Ari’s college buddies and cousins were not there. The last person to arrive before Ari was his mother who had brought her best friend, a cute short blonde woman.
Then, after 7 PM, the doorbell rang. Jim turned off the lights and people hid behind the furniture or just crouched to the ground. Then, the door was opened and Ari was smiling like a small child, happy to see so many friendly faces in his home. The last person to greet him was Jim, who gave him a big kiss and a hug. Ari noticed is bruises but told him he wasn’t going to ask anything that night. They kissed again and the party formally started. From then on, everyone ate paella and rank wine and chatted their ears off for several hours until it was time for the birthday cake, which was shaped like a big planet Earth because of Ari’s passion for astronomy.
They were handing out pieces of cake when the doorbell rang again and it was one of the doormen. Jim gave him a piece of cake and the man thanked him but said he had come to give them a package a man had left earlier. He had being adamant about giving it later in the evening, so the doorman had complied. Jim received the package, a box and thanked the doorman. He went back to the table and gave the package to Ari. Everyone looked in silence as he took off the rapping paper. The box was a toolbox and inside was a toy, a Batman figurine. Ari’s eyes were watery but he laughed and kept opening presents.
That night, when everyone left, Ari confessed to Jim that that gift had been from his father. He knew it because he had given him that Batman when he was a boy, in order to protect him when coming from work. Jim kissed him to comfort him and Ari did the same, just by the black eye which hurt and made them both laugh in their bed.