Who Said Dress-up Was Only for Girls?
By Gia, age 17, Florida
"Prince Charming, Happy Birthday!" I said loudly through the phone to overpower the noises of the offices inside the Biltmore Hotel. Prince Charming was my boyfriend John, and he was turning 22. We'd made plans the beginning of last week to order California rolls from Sushi Maki, break out the candlelight, and write love poems while sitting on his bed. "Maybe we can try to watch Donnie Darko again," I told him as we planned.
We never got through the opening scene. We were too caught up in each other. "Thank you, sweetheart. I miss you."
It was so sweet sounding that one of his coworkers who was walking by made a gagging sound, followed by "Get a room!" I crawled out from under my comforter, trying to smooth down my bed head.
"I'll call you when I'm leaving. I'm excited about seeing you in a matter of hours. I love you," John said, and before I hung up the phone, the chorus of awes got louder.
John lives in a chilly, gloomy, incense infused one bedroom apartment in Coral Gables that overlooks an overgrown vacant lot and Coral Way. It was the end of a not-so-busy day for me and a workday for him, and by the end of it our plans had been changed. My mother and sister wanted to celebrate with us.
"Mom! John and I already made plans. It's a bit rude for you to just cancel them without telling me."
"Gia, we're the only family he has here, and your father doesn't want you out late on Sunday night. You guys aren't in a relationship; he's just your friend. This wasn't a date."
The word "friend" made my stomach drop. All the signs were there. Last Christmas John bought me a Tiffany and Co. bracelet with the word "Promise" engraved on it. John's love notes were scattered around my not-so-clean room and my clothes were in his apartment. I always came home smelling of Polo Black and always had ice on my lips. We weren't the best at hiding. Was she in denial or just stupid? That b****, I thought.
John opened the front door dressed in jeans and my favorite shirt on him, a white button down shirt with small black horizontal stripes. I was pouting and he stepped closer to me and pulled me into a hug. From down the hallway you could hear two pairs of sandals, my mother's and sister's. I looked up at to see his expression - he didn't move.
"I tried to warn you, but you didn't answer your phone," I told him, and then squeezed his hand. My mother's voice - too loud, too annoying, and full of judgment - bounced off the walls inside his apartment. "It's your birthday! Come here, give me a hug. Stop eying my daughter - she isn't going anywhere - we just got here," she said, and I rolled my eyes.
They hugged him, and even though it was my mother and sister, I had this sense of jealously. Step away from the boyfriend, I thought. I sat on top of the granite kitchen counter, slipping and hitting the back of my foot on the cabinet. My sister and mother sat on John's futon, and John, well, he just stood by his drum set.
"It's your damn birthday!" I said finally, and it woke up the room. John's eyes lit up, and he cocked his head to direct my eyes to a place above his bed. A picture of Jesus hung above it, as if he were staring and judging me. "Sorry, Jesus," I said, and tried not to laugh.
Then the Holy Grail of words: "I'm going home. You guys go have some fun, but be back early," my mother said. It came out of left field; I wanted to rewind time to see if I heard her correctly. My sister groaned and complained about being left with us, John was eerily calm, and I was making sure she got out of there before she had some type of epiphany and decided to stay. However, she moved way too slow. "Mom, traffic always sucks at this time on US 1; you'd better get a move on," I said, practically kicking her out of the apartment.
I probably stabbed the down button on the elevator so many times that it went extra slow just to screw with me. She stood inside the elevator and looked at us. "Bye, mom!" we all said in unison and she smiled. "Be good," she said as the doors closed. Three reflections started back at us. I burrowed my body into John's, he kissed the top of my head, and my sister said, "Ew, you guys are disgusting," before going back to texting.
We decided on dinner at Coco Walk, which was only a few miles away from John's apartment. It was about 7:00 PM by then and we were all starving. John and I couldn't stop holding hands; we only could do this when my parents weren't around. While we sucked at hiding our relationship, the hiding was necessary. My dad, who couldn't hurt a fly, didn't dislike John as a person, but he didn't trust him with his teenager daughter. "I know how guys think. Gia, I'm a guy!" he would tell me.
When my parents and I would fight, I always wanted to tell them that I was going to live with John. However, my uncle owns rifles for hunting and would willingly give one to my dad so he could drive down to Coral Gables and threaten the life out of John. You know that scene from the Disney version of Pocahontas, where Pocahontas is hovering over John Smith to protect him from her father? That would be us. While I'm madly in love with John and everything that makes him who he is - his mannerisms, quirks, and looks - I'd think twice or maybe even three times before I'd step in front of my overprotective father holding a hunting rifle.
The normalcy of a relationship between a 17 year old and 22 year old came with practice. We'd try to be all grown up and act maturely, but mostly we acted like silly teenagers madly in love. "Can we leave already? I'm starving!" my sister had to state for the hundredth time while sifting through John's refrigerator. John was taking forever to get ready. It was almost 7:30 and even I was getting hungry. Then he walked out in the most ridiculous outfit. He was wearing his Halloween costume from last year - Willy Wonka. A dark Abraham Lincoln top hat, an ebony colored button down shirt, dark slacks, and a cape. I almost choked on my water and my sister was laughing.
"All right, baby, lets get out of here," he said and grabbed his keys off the counter. I lunged at the door and put my hand over the lock.
"What the f*** do you think you're wearing?"
"Clothes, sweetheart," he replied.
"From where? The set of Willy Wonka? No, get your ass back into that closet and choose something normal. It isn't Halloween, it's the end of January!" I told him.
I grabbed him by the shoulders and pushed him back towards his closet. "It's my birthday. I can wear whatever I want," he told me.
He wanted my sister and I to dress up too. My sister was having no part of this, and neither was I. "No, John, I'm not dressing up in some weird outfit," I told him and sat on his bed.
"Then go dressed as me - that isn't weird," he told me and kissed the top of my head.
I looked down at my outfit - a pair of jeans with just a shirt, nothing special. We aren't going anywhere special tonight, I told myself while getting dressed. I looked in his closet, everything hung up and nothing out of place. "Fine, but only because it's your birthday," I told him and grabbed the shirt he was just wearing and a pair of his jeans. I changed in his bathroom, and almost sprayed on some of his cologne before I came to my senses. "Only because I love you!" I yelled as I opened the door. The shirt was too long, but his jeans fit comfortably.
John smiled at me and my sister laughed a bit. "You guys look so stupid," she said, then looked back down at her phone. I turned around and looked in the mirror. John stood behind me - we did look stupid.
Now, as every faithful Boston Red Sox fan knows, you NEVER under any circumstances wear a New York Yankees anything. However, John was a faithful Yankees fan and loved his baseball hat. "You can't say you're me without the hat, babe," he said and handed it to me. I eyed it, and then looked to the picture of Jesus. "I'm so sorry, Varitek," I said, as if my patron saint were Jason Varitek of the Red Sox.
Outside it was a nice Sunday night; you could see the stars even with all the light pollution from the city. John agreed to leave the hat in the car, "but I have to drive with it on!" he said as we got into his Jetta.
We parked next to Coco Walk, my sister walking 20 paces behind us. I'm dressed like my boyfriend and he's dressed as Willy Wonka. Please lets just eat and get home, I told myself as John reached for my hand. Café Tu Tu Tango wasn't crowded which was great for me. Less people to see us dressed like this, I told myself. People did see us though, as we had to walk through the entire restaurant to get to our table. Families stared, teenagers laughed and pointed, and our waitress had this I don't want to know - just give me your order look on her face.
I turned the baseball hat backwards, but was tempted to throw it into oncoming traffic down below. No, control yourself, I had to keep repeating in my head. All the stares didn't even faze John. I was the only thing he looked at. My sister, for whom I felt the worst, took pictures of John. "Happy birthday, love. Only you could get me dressed like this," I said.
John smiled. "I love you." We paid the bill, and had to walk through the entire restaurant again, complete with all the stares, to get to the car. By the end of the night I didn't care. We skipped and laughed, and John kissed me when I got into the car.
"I love you even more because you put up with me," he said later.
"I love you because you're crazy," I told him.
We climbed the stairs to the 5th floor of his apartment building, with his Abraham Lincoln top hat under his arm and me holding his hand. My sister, falling behind, said, "No one else can be with either of you - you guys are just way too crazy."
John took the Yankees hat off my head and put it on his and gave me the top hat. "You're amazing," he said, and then kissed the top of my head and unlocked his apartment door.