We’re celebrating my birthday at a bar near where Jason works in the financial district. It was my idea to be closer to his work because me and my teacher friends get out of work at 3PM, while he and his i-banker friends get out of work much later. I want the i-bankers to be there because they’re young and cute and available. I’m never going to get a boyfriend at a bar full of teachers.

Yes, I’m single on this particular birthday. I’m not feeling terribly great about it either, especially since two weeks ago, I caught my handsome doctor boyfriend cheating on me with a nurse. No doctors. Never again. They are way too full of themselves.

So far, I’m not having that much fun. I’m sipping a Daiquiri, sharing a table with Patti, a second grade teacher at my school. Patti keeps looking at her watch because she promised her husband she’d be home by ten, and it’s pissing me off. She’s 35 years old… why does she have a curfew? I feel like she’s rubbing my nose in the fact that she’s married and I’m not.

I teach music at an elementary school. It’s not my dream job, but it’s okay work. I have to thank Jason for it actually, because he’s the one who encouraged (i.e. pushed) me to go to Baruch and get a teaching degree. If not for him, I’d probably still be waiting tables.

The Katy Perry song Teenage Dream comes on the radio for what feels like the tenth time since I’ve been here. I hate this song and I hate Katy Perry. She’s like 25 and pretty much everything I wanted to be when I was 25: pretty, rich, and a famous recording artist. I guess I still sort of wish for all those things, but it seems far less likely now than back when I was in my early twenties and actually in a band. Back then, I had hopes of being another Katy Perry. Now it’s pretty damn obvious that will never happen. Therefore, I hate her. Plus her music sucks.

I look up from my drink and see Jason throwing darts across the room. He seems to be winning and I hear a cheer as he throws a bull’s-eye. I can tell by the sounds of the squeal that it’s his girlfriend Melissa. Jason and Melissa have been going out for just over a year now. I’ll withhold sharing my opinions about Melissa for the moment.

As for Jason, he looks good tonight. Every year I seem to look older, while Jason somehow just gets better looking. I’m not sure how that works but it seems to be true. We both have early crow’s feet around our eyes, but while his make him look sexier, mine just age me. And unlike me, he hasn’t been yanking out the few gray hairs that have emerged from his scalp, and once again, the effect is sexy. No wonder he has a significant other while I don’t. He even manages to look good in his stiff, button down shirt from work, that’s now rolled up at the sleeves to reveal his tight forearm muscles from years of wheeling himself around.

When the game is over, Jason navigates his wheelchair through the bar. His latest wheelchair was acquired roughly a year ago, and it’s a much more streamlined and sporty version of the sometimes awkward wheelchairs he had as a kid. He always opts for plain gray and steel, as opposed to the brighter colors in his childhood (the worst was bright yellow once). Back then, the backrest of his chair used to rise up to his shoulder level with large handlebars sticking out so that his parents could push him if need be. Now the back rises only up to the blades of his scapula, which I think is the minimal back support he can tolerate, and there are definitely no handlebars.

If you or me were trying to get across a crowded bar like this in a wheelchair, it would probably take like an hour of bumping into people, tables, and chairs. But Jason’s been doing this a long time and has expert control of his wheels, and knows when to grab onto furniture to help propel himself, so roughly a minute later, Jason joins me at our table. Melissa doesn’t follow him, which doesn’t surprise me at all. When he gets to our table, he kisses me on the cheek. “How’s the birthday girl?” he says, as Patti gets up to call her husband for the millionth time.

“Lousy,” I say, taking a big swig of my drink. Although it doesn’t look especially tough swigging from a lime flavored cocktail.

“Poor Tasha,” he says, gently rubbing my shoulder. “I hope you’re not thinking too much about that asshole Doug.”

I wince at the name of Dr. Two-Timer. “Please don’t remind me.”

“Sorry,” Jason says quickly. “But look, there are tons of great guys here. I told them how hot the birthday girl is and they were tripping over each other to get here.”

“That’s a start,” I say, allowing a smile to touch my lips. “So give me the L.D. on the guys.”

Jason’s forehead scrunches up. “The L.D.?”


He laughs. “I think you’re spending too much time around grade-schoolers.”

“God, I know,” I murmur. “So what about that guy at the pool table? With the blond hair?”

Jason shakes his head. “Nuh uh. He’ll say he’s not married, but he is. Very married. Three kids.”

“Okay, okay,” I say. “Well, what about the guy at the dart board? He’s really hot.”

“Yeah, and he knows it,” Jason says. “Total player. Steer clear. Unless you want a one night stand and a scorching case of herpes.”

I make a face at Jason. “Tempting as that is, I’ll pass. Okay, what about that guy standing by the bar? The one in the brown suit. What’s wrong with that one? Serial killer? Robot in human body?”

“No, actually,” Jason says. “That’s Larry Gold. He’s… a pretty nice guy.”

“Really?” I look at this Larry guy a little closer. He’s no heartthrob, but he’s not ugly. He’s maybe in his mid thirties. A nice, normal, single guy in his mid thirties? I’m very suspicious. Yes, Jason is nice and he’s single in his mid (almost) thirties, but he’s a paraplegic, so not entirely normal. “What’s wrong with him?”

“Well,” Jason says slowly. I knew it. “The only thing is, he’s kind of…”

“Kind of what? Spit it out, Fox.”

“Kind of boring.”

“Boring?” Right now, “boring” doesn’t sound like a bad thing at all. Actually, it kind of sounds like a blessing. “That doesn’t sound so bad.”

Jason shrugs. “Yeah, it’s not, I guess. Just that sometimes when I’m talking to him, I sort of…”

“Sort of what?”

“Want to shoot myself in the head.” Jason flashes me a half-smile. “But hey, that’s just me. And he’s really nice. I don’t think he’d ever cheat.”

I think about it for a minute. “Okay, introduce me.”

I can’t help but think that 25 year old Tasha never would have allowed herself to be introduced to a man who someone else said made him want to shoot himself in the head. But 32 year old Tasha has different priorities.

Up close, Larry Gold has a very disarming appearance. His hair is slightly thinning and his hairline pushed back but not unattractively. His mild blue eyes aren’t the kind that would make a girl’s heart thud in her chest, but are, again, not unattractive. He’s in decent shape—clearly not someone who goes to the gym with any regularity, but also someone who watches his waistline.

Larry seems pleased when I approach him. Well, why shouldn’t he be? Despite my crow’s feet, for 32, I look great. I go to the gym regularly and I pay a fortune (that I don’t have) to get my hair highlighted and cut in a flattering layered fashion.

“Hi, Larry,” Jason says. “I wanted to introduce you to Tasha Moran. She’s the one having a birthday today. Tasha, this is Larry Gold.”

“Hi, Tasha,” Larry says, sticking out his hand, which I shake. His palm is kind of dry. “It’s very nice to meet you. I’ve heard Jason talk about you before.”

This statement makes Jason color a bit. “Well, anyway,” he says, “I’m going to see how Melissa is doing. I’ll catch up with you later, Tash.”

For a moment, I want to cry for Jason not to leave us alone. But before I can say anything, he’s wheeling away. Probably not a moment too soon, because Melissa has that look on her face that she always gets when Jason is talking to me. I get the feeling I’m not Melissa’s favorite person in the world.

“So how do you know Jason?” Larry asks.

“We were next door neighbors as kids,” I say. “So we’ve known each other… forever, I guess.”

Larry nods and there’s a long awkward silence.

Finally, Larry said, “I suppose I should buy you a drink, then? Since it’s your birthday.”

“Um, you don’t have to,” I say.

“No, I would like to,” he says.

With that charming offer, Larry purchases me a Midori Sour and himself a beer. I wait for the drinks eagerly, hoping it will spark more free-flowing conversation. Like I said, if I were 25 years old, I wouldn’t be waiting my time on this guy. But right now, boring equals safe. Boring means he won’t break my heart.

“So where are you from?” Larry asks me. Ah, conversation staples.

“Pittsburgh,” I reply.

“Oh, like Jason.”

“Right,” I say. “Um, how about you?”

“Baltimore,” he says. For a moment, I’m hopeful he’ll expand on this information, but he doesn’t. Baltimore, that’s it.

For a minute, I try to think of a follow up question, but I don’t know anything about Baltimore. Wait, Baltimore’s in Maryland, right? Don’t they have, like, a lot of crabs there? Maybe I should ask about crabs. Or maybe “crabs” isn’t the best word to say when you’re trying to get to know a guy.

“So, how is it being an investment banker?” I finally ask him.

Larry shrugs. “Oh, it’s fine.”

God, this is like pulling teeth. “I’m a teacher.”

“Yeah, I think Jason mentioned that once.”

For a moment, I’m thrown off that Jason has been talking about me enough for random people from his work to know that I’m a teacher.

“Music, right?” he says.

“Oh, um, yeah.” I clear my throat. “It’s a lot of, you know, getting kids to sing songs and stuff. Nothing too hardcore.”

“Oh,” Larry says.

“But it’s important,” I say. “It’s sort of a release for kids, to get to express themselves, you know, musically.”

“Right,” he says.

Oh god, I am going to shoot myself in the head. “So what kind of music do you like?”

“Oh, whatever’s playing,” Larry says.

“Like, any particular bands?”

Larry thinks for a second. “I like Michael Bolton.”

Okay, I can’t stand this for another second. I’m about to make up an excuse and leave, but then I see Jason across the room, giving me an enthusiastic thumbs up. Then a second later, I see Melissa put her hands on his shoulders, then slide into his lap.

I am so sick of being single. And dating jerks.

“Listen, Tasha,” Larry is saying. “Do you think maybe I could have your phone number?”

Oh, what the hell. I’m not getting any younger.


When I walk in the door that night, my phone is ringing. I nearly trip over the cord of my lamp racing to answer it on time. The only reason I have a home phone is that it doubles as an intercom. Mostly I just get calls from telemarkers on the phone, yet for some reason, I still run to answer it.

“Hello?” I answer breathlessly, as I toss my light jacket onto my futon sofa. I hate the fact that I live in a studio apartment, but it’s better than having a roommate or living in Brooklyn (or god forbid, Jersey). Like all studios, it’s one room but with little alcoves. It’s got a little alcove that’s the kitchen, a little alcove that’s my living room and bedroom and foyer and whatever else. Also, there’s a bathroom, thank god. It’s small and horrible, but I’ve done my best to decorate it in the time I’ve been here. At first, I was going to go for a flower theme, but then I decided solid colors would make it look more spacious.

Of course, there’s not a whole lot you can do to “decorate” a tiny studio. It involves mostly bedspreads and curtains.

“What are you doing home so early, Natasha?” The scratchy voice on the other line belongs to my grandmother, who is pushing 90 yet still as interested in my love life as she’s ever been.

“It’s 11 o’clock,” I say with a sigh. I kick off my heels and breathe a sigh of glorious relief. Walking on the hardwood floor in my bare feet feels like I’m stepping on pillows. “It’s Monday night and I have work tomorrow.”

“You’re a young woman and you should be staying out late on your birthday,” Nana says firmly.

“Thanks for the birthday wishes, Nana.” I sigh. “Why don’t you call me on my cell phone?”

“Those things cause brain tumors,” Nana says. “Besides, if you were on your cellular phone, you could still pretend you were out even if you weren’t.”

That’s probably exactly what I would have done. She knows me pretty well. “So,” Nana says, “did you meet someone, at least?”

“Sort of,” I say, thinking of the number I scribbled down for Larry Gold. It’s even my correct number.

“Don’t be too picky,” Nana says. “I know you like the guys who are drop dead handsome, but you know those guys are all a bunch of pricks.”

“Nana!” I cry. “Where did you learn that word?”

“I don’t know, probably picked it up on TV or something,” Nana says. “Anyway, Tasha, next time you need to pick an ugly one. The uglier the better.”

“Okay, Nana.”

“But not as ugly as your sister Lydia’s boyfriend,” she says. “Yeesh, that one is hard on the eyes…”

Nana spends a few more minutes ranting about how ugly Lydia’s boyfriend is (he is pretty ugly) before I manage to get her off the phone. While I’m relieved to have ended the conversation, my apartment seems strangely empty. I go to the window and look outside and think how much it sucks to be spending another birthday essentially alone.

The phone rings again and this time I’m ready for it. I grab it off the couch and say, “Nana, I’m exhausted.”

“It’s not your grandmother,” a tinny voice says, which I realize must be coming from my intercom. “It’s Jason. Can you buzz me up?”

Despite how exhausted I am, I feel my face lighting up in a smile. I press 9 to buzz him up. Although I’m not in the nicest building ever, I purposely picked a place with a decent elevator so that Jason wouldn’t have any trouble getting up to see me. After all, he spends enough time here, even now that he’s dating Melissa kind of seriously.

I hear a knock at the door and throw it open to see Jason sitting in front of me with a cake on his lap. I know he wakes up really early for work, and I can tell he’s had a long day judging by the way his hair and clothes are slightly rumpled, which is all the more reason I’m touched he showed up here with a cake. Then again, he always does. Every year.

There are six candles on the cake, not 32 (thank god), and they’re lit. I’m touched by the gesture, considering there was a noticeable lack of cake at the bar. “You weren’t wheeling down the street with the candles lit like that, were you?” I ask him.

Jason grins. “Yeah, I even took it on the subway. Wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.” When I stick out my tongue at him, he says, “Okay, I lit it just now.”

I step back and he wheels inside to place the cake on my dining/coffee/everything table. “I got your favorite,” he says. “Carrot cake.”

“You liar,” I say. I hate carrot cake and he knows it. For some reason, my mother couldn’t get it through her head that I hated it and made it for me for like four birthdays in a row. I want to vomit at the thought of carrot cake. Or any cake that might be make from a vegetable.

“Okay, it’s chocolate,” he admits.

“And where’s my gift?” I say.

“Wow, you’re demanding,” Jason says. He reaches into the backpack on the back of his wheelchair and pulls out a wrapped gift with a red bow on it. He hands it to me.

I eye the rectangular present. “What is it?”

“Uh, that’s why you’re supposed to open it.”

At first I’m worried it’s a really thick book, but then I get it open and see that it’s the entire Back to the Future trilogy. Jason and I probably watched this trilogy five thousand times as kids. I can still hear his mom screaming at us, “Don’t you kids ever get sick of that stupid movie?”

“This is awesome,” I breathe.

“We’re going to watch it this weekend, right?” he says. “I mean, I mostly bought it for you so that I could see it.”



I smile wryly. “Don’t you need to check with Melissa?”

“Why?” he asks blankly. I feel a flash of relief that he’d say something like that. He’s been with Melissa for over a year, which is one of the longest relationships he’s had since we reconnected. He seems to like her a lot and I get the feeling that at some point, they’re going to decide to move in together or even get married, and at that point, I don’t know what will become of my friendship with Jason. Melissa’s made it no secret that I’m not her favorite person. But I guess if he’s agreeing to hang out with me on a Saturday without even checking with Melissa, things can’t be too serious. Also, she’s obviously not spending tonight at his apartment, so that’s another good sign.

“So are you going to blow out the candles?” Jason asks me. “In another two minutes, you’re going to have a wax cake.”

“Right,” I say, sliding into the chair next to the table.

“Don’t forget to make a wish,” he says.

A wish. I close my eyes and wish for the most clichéd thing a 32 year old woman could possibly wish for, something I would never admit, even to Jason: I wish to get married by my next birthday.

To be continued....