It’s cute, I suppose. The living room is decked out with glistening fairy lights whilst the fire simmers quietly, breathing an amber glow for the room. There are leafy, pink plants here and there. Actually, grand is probably a better word than cute. The roses climbing the walls are a touch I wasn’t expecting. When you look up they’re crawling across the ceiling too. Looming. It makes the petals trailing from the front of the drive to the door make more sense. Josh’s Mother really didn’t need to smother the house in flora for me. She and Josh had wanted an arch of flowers the doorway as well. Thoughtful, that’s the word. It’s thoughtful.
“But Mary, it’s only my birthday there’s really no need to make a fuss,” I had said through a frozen smile.
“Oh, don’t be silly my love! It’s a special day,” she croaked “come on Josh, give me a hand with the water feature.”
Yes. Josh’s parents now have a water feature. It’s nestled between their rose bushes and directly visible from the garden patio.
“Josh, why are your parents buying me a bloody water feature?” I hissed as she dictated to the gardener precisely where she had wanted it.
He flashed an awkward smile and said “they’ve been wanting one for ages,” stubbornly refusing to meet my eye. I reminded him that I had never heard any mentions of water features until his Mother had insisted on hosting this party for me. Josh shrugged wordlessly. He agreed to tell his Mum to drop the flower arch, but only after I threatened pretending to be ill if he didn’t.
He took my hand as I walked in, kissing me on both cheeks. I waited a polite few seconds before wiping the damp saliva residue from my face. He pulled his hand from mine to brush a quivering bead of sweat from his forehead, smiling apologetically in a way that read ‘I promise I want to hold your hand but it’s really hot in here’, as if I would mind. I rubbed my icy hands together as goose bumps tickled my back. He snaked his arm around my waist, gripping me tightly as if to showcase quite how spectacularly in love we were. He was fiddling with the material of my dress between his fingers and his breaths were oddly short. I tugged the lace hem of the dress where he had twisted the material weirdly. I don’t much like pink, but Josh bought this for me last week.
“Look at you! It suits you so perfectly!” He chimed animatedly. I drudged up a smile and suggested a different colour. “But don’t you think it would be so pretty for Saturday?” He countered, clearly disagreeing that black would be better. I pursed my lips and kept smiling. Stood here now in a room of roses the same shade of blush as the dress, feeling more like a decorative ornament than the guest of honour, I begin to wonder if Josh’s Mother was behind it.
“Now Josh, I found this lovely dress and it matches the flower arrangements perfectly. She’s a ten, isn’t she? Tell her to wear it on Saturday.” I imagine her saying, thrusting the lace at him. The pink roses wouldn’t be my first choice to be honest, but Josh told me his Mum had been dying to hold a big party since they moved into the new house. And she doesn’t have a daughter of her own to do it for. And she really does like me, you know. And she’s already ordered the canapes. And what did I think of the first Saturday of next month? What do you mean you don’t like the water feature? Did I have any friends I wanted to invite? His Mother was going to invite both families, is that ok? Don’t be silly, of course it won’t be awkward.
Yet here I am, stood here now feeling very, very awkward. I can feel rose petals squashed beneath my feet as I am frozen to this spot as I wonder if the crimson will bleed into the new taupe carpet. A beaming lady in a mint green jumpsuit with freshly curled hair hands me a glass of prosecco. I thank her without being rude enough to ask who she is and why she is at my birthday party when we’ve never met before. She gives Josh’s shoulder an affectionate nudge before scurrying away. Who was she? Why are people I’ve never met here? Before I can take a much-needed sip of my drink Frank whisks it out of my hand and tells me he wants to say a few words.
“Josh, what are you doing? I told you I didn’t want to make a fuss,” I hiss with an increasingly burning frustration. Without responding, he takes my hand and pulls me into the centre of the room, dinging my glass with a spoon that seems to have suddenly appeared in his hands. Where did he get the spoon?
Silence falls and all I can hear is his Mother’s Chihuahua grumbling in the corner before Josh starts to speak. How do you stand when someone is giving a speech for you? I can’t stare back at every pair of eyes burning into me. I look down at my dress to ensure everything is in place and flick my hair behind my shoulders, leaving them naked. I flick it back in front of me. Am I meant to look at Josh? I’ll look at Josh. Why is he making a speech? Last year on my birthday all we did was stay in with a pizza and a bottle of chardonnay. One day I will have to tell him that I don’t actually like chardonnay. Maybe I’ll tell him later. Unless he has a bottle waiting at home again. Why are his Mother’s friends here? Why did no one check that with me? I hear a sharp intake of breath. Did I miss something? Why was I not listening now I’ve probably missed something sweet he said that he’ll bring up for another two years and I’ll have to smile and say ‘oh yes, that was so sweet of you’.
I turn to look at Josh so that I can grasp an idea of what he said that was so shocking. Only, Josh isn’t stood next to me. He’s on the floor. Why is he on the floor? He’s on one knee. He’s on one knee. Surely not. Not yet. Not today. Not in front of everyone. He pulls a small, velvet box from his pocket and all I can see is a glint of golden as the thudding of my heart suddenly accelerates. Josh holds out his hand, waiting for me to place mine on top and cry or smile or scream yes, yes, yes! He asks the question. The stillness is heavy. The silence is making my ears bleed. Everyone was staring at my cold, motionless hands clamped firmly by my sides. I don’t move.