“Ughhh…” Zayne groaned as his alarm went off for the second time. Damn it. Part of him was so tempted to hit the snooze button yet again, but he knew he had to start getting ready if he wanted to make it to the restaurant on time.
He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed with great reluctance. As a heavy yawn passed his lips, he made a mental note to never work the opening shift the morning after he closed ever again.
This time though, he’d had no choice. Victoria was back in the US for a wedding and would not return until Monday. So for the past week, it had been up to him and Simon to run the kitchen on their own. Taking a Saturday off when it was just the two of them was out of the question. If he wanted to spend his evening with Abigail, the opening shift had been his only option.
Zayne reached over to finally turn off his alarm, and immediately noticed a flood of notifications popping up on his screen. He furrowed his brow curiously. He’d been expecting to wake up to a handful of birthday wishes, but this seemed a little extreme.
It wasn’t until he began reading them that he understood.
Holy shit… Poor Simon!
Despite his sympathy for his coworker, Zayne felt almost guilty for how frustrated he felt too. His six-hour opening shift had just turned into a fourteen-hour double. Ugh… Happy Birthday to me.
He’d nearly made it into the shower before he realized that there was a much bigger problem he’d nearly forgotten about. Fuck. Abigail.
How the hell was he supposed to tell her that they had to cancel their plans? Abigail seemed so excited about celebrating Zayne’s birthday with him. She’d gotten them tickets to see Cardinal Sin headlining at Windenburg Stadium that evening, and they’d been looking forward to the concert for weeks. But now…
God, she’s gonna kill me. Zayne told himself miserably. Abigail always took everything so personally! But it’s not like it’s my fault or anything… What choice do I have?
He spent his entire shower rehearsing how he’d break the news to her, but when the time came to make the call, his mind went completely blank. His heart pounded violently in his chest, and his mouth had gone so dry. Maybe it won’t be so bad? Zayne mentally crossed his fingers as Abigail finally picked up. He hoped he hadn’t woken her.
“Hey, Happy Birthday!” He could almost hear the smile in her voice.
“Thanks.” He croaked back. Zayne swallowed nervously.
“This was a nice surprise… I thought you’d be headed in to work by now.” Abigail continued.
Zayne nodded, forgetting for a moment that she could not see him. “Yeah, I’m just about to head out. I just needed to talk to you about something first… It’s kinda important.”
“Sure. What’s up?”
He took a deep breath. This is it. “Look, I’m so sorry, Abs… But I can’t go to the concert tonight.”
“I know. It fucking sucks.” Zayne sighed. “But I have to work a double tonight… Simon’s mom’s in the hospital. It sounds really bad.”
“What about Victoria? Can’t she cover it?” It was clear from the tone of her voice that this was going to go just as badly as he was expecting. Shit.
“She’s still in the US til Monday. I’m the only one who can run the kitchen today.” His voice was almost pleading as he continued. “Believe me, I’m upset too. And I promise I’ll make this up to you. I just really don’t have a choice right now.”
“No choice. Right.” Abigail replied softly. “I guess I just don’t see why you can’t work something out… I mean, you’re the owner! Couldn’t you like, close early or something? Just for today?”
God, this shit again. Why couldn’t she ever understand? “I can’t. You know I wish I could, but I can’t.”
“You can… But you won’t.”
It was getting harder and harder to keep his cool. “Can we NOT do this right now? Come on, Abs… It’s my birthday.”
“Yeah, and you’re choosing to spend it working all day instead of spending time with your girlfriend.”
“Christ, are you for real right now?!”
Abigail did not answer his question. “I guess I should let you go. Don’t wanna be late, right?” She asked sadly. “Have a nice birthday, Zayne.”
She hung up before he had a chance to reply.
Worst birthday EVER… Just kill me now. Zayne slumped down in the chair, holding his face in his hands.
He’d already been dreading this particular birthday for years now. It was such a strange feeling, knowing he was officially older than either of his parents ever were. For the rest of his life, Zayne would look at pictures of their smooth, youthful faces while he looked in the mirror and watched his own grow old and wrinkled. He’d experience things they never felt. He’d see things they never got to see. It was so painful to think of.
Zayne had been looking forward to spending his birthday at the concert with Abigail — Relaxing, having fun, and being able to take his mind off the pain the day would bring.
Instead, the entire day had been a disaster.
He was sick with worry about Simon and his mother. He was sorry for hurting Abigail. He was angry that she hadn’t been more understanding. He was exhausted and stressed from his hours of work. He was frustrated with all the mistakes the new waitress had made during the dinner rush. He was sad he hadn’t had time to say more than a brief ‘hello’ to his family when they’d come to visit him that afternoon. He was overwhelmed and miserable. He was ready to go home.
And thankfully, he finally could.
Zayne bid one last goodbye to the staff who’d stayed to help clean up, let them out the back door, then headed to the front to finally lock up and go back to his apartment.
When he finally stepped out into the cool night air, he was not expecting to find someone waiting for him.
“Happy Birthday!” Hope smiled warmly at him, rising to her feet as he drew closer.
His eyes widened slightly in surprise. Zayne hadn’t seen Hope at the restaurant since her date with that guy from the gym a few weeks ago. In fact, he’d barely seen her at all since then. Their paths usually crossed a few times a week — at the gym or the grocery store or on the street… But not nearly as often anymore. Just like what Abigail wanted. What had changed?
“Hope?” At last he found his voice. “What are you doing here?”
She just shrugged. “A little bird told me you were stuck working all day, so I decided to try and make sure your birthday doesn’t completely suck. I know Abigail didn’t want us hanging out anymore…” Hope bit her lip guiltily as she spoke. “But I thought maybe it would be okay to make an exception on your birthday?”
“It’s fine.” Zayne assured her, though he had a sinking feeling that wasn’t entirely true. He did his best to shake the thought away. “So… A little bird, huh?” He smiled playfully at her as he drew closer.
“Maybe more like a little Facebook stalking.” Hope confessed with a laugh. “I saw your post about missing the concert, and then the message your aunt left on your wall. Plus, you hadn’t been answering any of my texts. It wasn’t too hard to put the pieces together.”
“Yeah, my phone died like halfway through my first shift. Sorry.” Zayne smiled warmly at her. “But I’m really glad you came. Thank you.”
“I would have come sooner, but I had a feeling you’d be too busy. Luckily it’s still your birthday for…” Hope paused and checked her cellphone. “Seventeen more minutes. Just enough time to celebrate!”
“Celebrate?” He raised an eyebrow, finally noticing the bottle and paper bag sitting on the table. A warmth washed over him at the sight. Hope still knew him all too well. “With wine and cheap Chinese food?”
She smiled. “Is there any other way?”
After the hours he’d spent there that day, Zayne felt sick and tired of being at the restaurant, so they decided to share their meal at the park down the street. They didn’t say much to each other while they ate. Zayne gave her a quick rundown of how his day had gone, and Hope nodded in sympathy. But other than that, they just giggled as they struggled with their chopsticks and passed the wine bottle back and forth, amused that Hope had forgotten to bring glasses with her.
It wasn’t until they’d both finished eating that they finally addressed the elephant in the room. “So… I guess Abigail must have gone to the concert without you?” Hope asked softly.
Zayne simply shrugged. “No clue.” He sighed softly. “I tried texting her before my phone died, but I never heard back. I haven’t talked to her since this morning.” A strange mixture of sadness and anger stirred within him. “God, she was so pissed at me. And I mean, I get she was disappointed, but did she have to make me feel like shit about it?”
“Mmm… Sucks, doesn’t it?” Hope looked at him significantly as she spoke.
It only took a moment for Zayne to realize what she meant. He couldn’t help but laugh. “I know, I know… I’m a total hypocrite, right?” He shook his head slowly.
Even years later, it was still painful to remember what a jealous jerk he’d been when Hope had scheduled a photoshoot on his birthday. But only now did Zayne truly realize just how deeply he must have hurt her back then. It was so strange looking back on it, now that he was on the other side of things.
“I mean, I get where she’s coming from.” Zayne continued. “I’ve been there… As you know.” For a moment, the corner of his mouth twitched into a smile. “But I wish she could understand my side of things too… I dunno.” He shrugged helplessly. “I just hope we can talk it out and fix this…”
“You can. I know it.” Hope assured him with a smile. “Especially since you’ve been in her shoes before…” She paused for a moment before continuing. Her face glowed softly in the moonlight, and her expression was so thoughtful and beautiful… Zayne couldn’t help but marvel at the sight.
“It’s amazing what a little perspective can do, huh?” She asked at last, lifting her gaze to meet his.
Zayne nodded, saying nothing. For a moment, it was so tempting to continue holding her gaze and allow himself to get lost in her beautiful eyes… But he couldn’t.
With a bit of reluctance, he tore his eyes away from her to instead stare up at the thousands of twinkling stars above them. It had been so long since he’d taken the time to truly enjoy the calm beauty of the night sky. It was breathtaking.
He rose to his feet and took a few steps forward, his eyes drinking in the incredible sight. Beside him, he could hear Hope do the same. For the first time all day, he felt so relaxed. So at peace. Maybe his birthday hadn’t turned out to be so shitty after all.
“Look at those stars…” He whispered. “It’s a beautiful night.”
“Yeah… It really is.” Hope replied softly. “Happy Birthday, Zayne.”