When I turned 20, I decided to leave Julliard to pursue law. I went to my classes every single day and felt like I didn’t belong. There were better dancers than me, and there were dancers that wanted it more than me. In a way, I felt like I was taking a spot away from another dancer that lives and breathes that shit. My father, who was now living in New York after transferring from his job, was excited about my career change. He questioned where this interest for the justice system came from, but nevertheless, he was happy that his only child would follow the path he took. My mother; not so much.
My mother was disappointed. She didn’t voice out that she was disappointed, but she definitely felt different when I came home from my classes and told her that I have to study judicial cases and not new ballet positions. She only warmed up to be becoming a lawyer when I was working on my first intern case, where I met Max. I wonder if she only warmed up to it because I was happy for that period of time. Maybe she thought that I had gotten my life together and if it would be different for me.
Instead, I am sitting in Max’s house, about to be 30, and sitting directly from his soon-to-be wife as my daughter runs from upstairs with Max, happy to see me after a long time.
“Mommy!” Willow happily calls out as she runs towards me. I put on the biggest smile and give her a hug.
“Willie!” I called out in response. Maybe it was because Willow was still a young child, but she hands down gives the best hugs I ever had gotten. They make me feel the warmest, and for a split second all of my doubts and worries vanish. Willow steps back from the hug and reveals what she was hiding behind her back.
“I made this for you, Mommy,” Willow said as she held out a piece of paper folded in half, resembling a birthday card. I take the card and look at it; it was a “Happy Birthday” card that she had made out of construction paper and tons of glitter. I smile, looking at the stick figures on the page. Willow points at them, naming who is who. “That’s Daddy, Mariam, me, and you!” I look up at Max and Mariam and smile. Max smiles back, but Mariam begins to speak.
“I told her she didn’t need to put me on there–“
“It’s fine,” I cut off Mariam. “You are a part of her family.” Mariam smiles, and for once I smile back at Mariam. She’s been amazing with Willow, and I’m thankful that she still feels the need to include me in holiday gatherings with her, Max, and Willow. I think Max truly found his soulmate with Mariam. She balances him out perfectly, and that’s what Max always wanted; was to have balance.
“Do you have any plans for your birthday tomorrow?” Max asked.
“Emerson and Cami invited me over for a game night,” I answered.
“That should be fun,” Mariam chimed in. “It would be fun to go out with your friends and have a couple of drinks!” I looked at her, now uncomfortable with the conversation. I don’t know why I expect everyone to know that I’m sober. No one knows besides Skylar. And Jamie.
Skylar took my sobriety seriously until it began to hinder her young and carefree lifestyle. I still remember having arguments with her about it; she wanted to have alcohol in the house for the people she would bring over. She swore she was aware of my feelings and my struggles with alcohol, yet she would always include me in things that contradicted all of that, like that one night at The Voyage.
Once I told Jamie, it was like it was embedded in his memory that I was now sober. He made sure that anything he took me out to did not have alcohol involved. He always voiced out that we didn’t need any alcohol, especially in places where it was only appropriate to drink alcohol with your meals, like those fancy restaurants. I get sad thinking about Jamie, so I looked back at Mariam and smiled back.
“Yeah,” I simply answered.
“Emerson and his last-minute requests,” Cami said to herself, annoyed. “Like I told him to get the fucking cake after work yesterday, and what does he do? Fucking forget.”
“This is your sign that you should marry him,” I playfully say. Cami rolls her eyes as we walk down a block in Brooklyn. “I mean, you guys are already raising a tiny human together.”
“That is becoming like his dad every single day,” Cami emphasized. “But tonight’s not about me and Em’s fear of marriage; this is about your 30th birthday!” I scoffed and shook my head. Here I was in high heels, a dress, and my hair straightened by Cami since it’s her biggest wish to see me with straight hair… Cami was eccentric, to say it nicely.
We stop at this random place, not really knowing where we were. Cami turns around and looks at me.
“Okay, so Em doesn’t know this, but I typically stop here to… y’know,” Cami said in a cryptic way. My eyes widen, a little worried in what she will say next. “I figured we can have some drinks with my friend before we go to our place.”
“What the fuck?” I spat out, grabbing Cami’s shoulder. “Cami, are you cheating on Emerson?” Cami rolled her eyes at me, which only got me angrier.
“Girl, he’s a friend–“
“He?!” I emphasized. “This friend is a dude?”
“Grace, relax! For God’s sake, I’m allowed to have guy friends and be in a relationship,” Cami explained. “Scott’s been a cool friend to me–“
“Scott?!” I said even louder. If it is who she’s talking about, it’s Scott Campbell; longtime friend of Emerson’s and my ex-boyfriend from high school. “How fucking stupid do you gotta be to secretly see one of Emerson’s friends?!”
Cami knocks on the random door, in which I immediately panic.
“Cami! What the–“
The door opens and a crowd of people jumped out from various places in the room, yelling out surprise. I look around and see almost everyone I know here in New York; Emerson laughs and stands in one corner, a couple of our mutual friends from over the years cheer with excitement, and even Scott is on one side of the room, smiling and clapping his hands as his girlfriend stands next to him.
Emerson comes running in my direction and wraps his arm around Cami.
“Yo, Cami is a fucking actress,” I said and laughed. “I really was about to slap the shit out of you!”
“Funny thing is that it was Em’s idea,” Cami said as she looked up at Emerson. “He really knows how to grind your gears.” I punched Emerson on his arm, in which he winced in pain.
“What was that for?” Emerson genuinely asked.
“For literally being the best asshole of a friend,” I teased as more of our friends began to come up to me to wish me a happy birthday.