Ed liked the way she was holding his hand. Kind of limp, because they had only known each other a few months, but holding it nonetheless. Maeve likely thought he was being rude, the way he was acting; eyes down, frown, his right hand a shy fish. At this idea he turned and smiled at her, missing her pupils in the rims of her glasses as she looked up at him for the moment.
He had already spoken to his parents, at 2pm when he woke up. He said he had been to the gym already when they phoned, which wasn’t true. He hadn’t been since Liam stopped going with him. Since Liam started going - sorry, this hand is too sweaty and gross I’m sorry I will set you free. They both laughed, Maeve was smiling.
Not at all. The pairs shoes made soft slapping sounds in the thin film of rain that covered the pavement. How are you feeling? Exciting right?
Yeah, I’m feeling. His mind was suddenly empty, as if instead of finding a sentence to put together he had to create whole words himself. I, didn’t, I usually don’t like my - no that’s not true - I mean, I am feeling fine of course, as in, I’m excited to have a nice dinner with you and you know?
You don’t normally like your birthday? She wasn’t looking at him, her jaw might have been clenched but he couldn’t properly look through the rain and his hood. I do, I love my birthday, it’s just another random day but it gives people a chance to engage with their happiness and - this sentence had gotten strange. She made a cheery sound and looked up at the billboards flashing through dark greens and golds. A chocolate ad? No, an album.
They were going to a buffet. Maeve had found it on Google Maps, despite Ed’s suggestions they would go to an Italian place he had heard of in September. I think we’ve walked past it, she brushed the wet off her screen with her coat sleeve, unsuccessfully. Ok, do you know where it -
Over here I think.
We can just go to this Italian because I do know that it’s just -
Right here, do you see that sign, what does it say?
That says ‘Beijing 8’, that’s it is it? Ed squinted.
Yes! Yes, thank God. Maeve shuffled ahead of him, she had put on a dress and was now holding her coat above her head as she moved towards the restaurant’s glass doors. Ed was in grey tracksuit bottoms, but had changed his top - as per Maeve’s request.
Droplets of sweat and rain threaded through the front of his hair as he blinked through the white lights in the front of the restaurant towards the large faux-rock counter. The room was cavernous, though largely empty, and there were pillars behind each buffet table obscuring the view of the back walls. Ed stood behind Maeve at the counter, shifting from foot to foot. Maybe now was a good time to count how many hairs he could pick out of his head easily? Apparently more than 60 daily is a cause for concern. Ed, can you, she waved her hands towards him without turning around while staff approached. Can I what? He was looking at one of the fish tanks, he was on 7 hairs. They had dumplings here on buffet, which was rare from what he was used to in Dublin. Usually dumplings come as an extra, isn’t that right?
Ed, can, look, what about you sit down and I will sort this out? She was fumbling with cash in her purse which she was holding inside her bag for some reason.
Ed bent his knees to see how that would feel while he made steps towards the buffet table. A frown was coming across his face again, shouldn’t he be doing something else right now? He turned towards Maeve again, who was definitely frowning, and heard a strangled sound come from the back of the restaurant. It almost sounded like water. Then he heard it. Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Ed, happy birthday to ~ you. The table was huge, and all the faces were looking at him: smiling, dressed well. The muscles one uses to smile were tightly engaged in Ed’s face now. He ran over to the table, the long table. Kat was there, Chevez was there, Olli was there, Ana, Lisa, Liam. More than thirty people. Ed was wiping his wet hands on his sweats and making lots of correct noises.
Liam stood up, as did a few others. Ed hugged him, wow, this is insane? You guys are all so kind, I had absolutely no idea. And there’s so many of you. They smiled at him, he waved at Ana and Lisa, Chevez winked at him. Maeve was coming over. Thank you guys, I mean I-
We saw you come in and -
You were over there -
Did you not see us -
Luigi was making so much noise -
No I didn’t!
Look at all this! Sweet isn’t it? Maeve was standing beside Liam now, smiling at Ed. This interaction had become self-indulgent, they were going to get food. Let’s eat no?
Niamh wasn’t there. Why isn’t Niamh here?
I, I, don’t know if Liam asked her?
Liam, asked, organised? He said this under his breath following Maeve towards the dumplings. Yeah, your dad asked him to.
Where is Stincia? Why is - this so nice! Don’t, I mean look at these noodles, have you tried these before? Ed’s tone was changing rapidly. Maeve wasn’t looking at him. Her black hair shone under the fluorescents in its bun.
Ed and Maeve sat opposite each other at the far end of the long table. Two more joined late and one sat next to each of them, Kai and Arjeep. Ed had met them once, they waved at Liam as they walked over and hugged Ed as they were sitting down. Luigi called Ed ‘Emilio’ twice during the dinner. Maeve tried to catch his eye both times. She failed. Luigi told the girls beside them that Ed was a great guy, that they should definitely get to know. Did you know you can swallow while smiling with your teeth exposed?
Ed wasn’t meant to notice this, but Maeve clearly didn’t have enough money to pay for all the buffets. He went up to where she was talking to the staff near one of the tanks. I’ll help you.
No, Liam has the - Ed please sit down.
What about Liam? He said this quickly, without aggression.
Nothing, he has the money, he gave me the money, it should be enough I just think there are a few more people here than we had, he. She trailed off, Ed made eye contact with the woman Maeve was talking to and gave her a kind expression. Sorry, how much is left over on the bill.
€200 sir, would you like to pay cash or card?
Card please. Maeve made a sound. Ed went over to the counter and propped himself against it with a cheery appearance. He tapped his card against the plastic granite, rotating it. Turning his head towards the table, people were largely chatting, but mostly towards Liam’s end of the table, the other half were eating and some were watching Ed. He waved at them with his fingers as if they were children staring at him in a public place.
So Liam invited too many people?
Not necessarily, I think that - well, yes - but I think that he didn’t realise prices increased after 8pm for the buffet.
And how were you guys going to pay?
Your mum sent over money. Ed’s head fell forward a bit.
How much? Maeve blinked and then put on a smile, Liam’s friends were coming over.
What’s the plan Ed -
Big night tonight -
It’s gonna be huge, tonight’s the night. This was something they liked to say, the night for what? That’s not the point. Outside the rain had thickened into light sleet, it fell on people’s faces and made their mouth muscles flinch. The repeated remark had turned into that it was a Tuesday. We can do something on Friday right -
I have an exam on Thursday to be fair -
We can go somewhere if you were planning on it Ed -
Is anywhere open -
The Irish bar is. No one thought Ed wanted to go to the Irish bar.
What about we go home and hang out in the basement and we can go out later in the week? Liam could have said this, but it also may have been Ana.
Maeve talked to Chevez and Liam on the way home. Ed walked next to Kai and Arjeep, though much of their conversation was blocked by Ed’s hood and the fast sleet. Do you know Portland? Kai asked politely.
Yes, I mean obviously no, but there is a song called Portland on Spinnin’ Records, do you know it?
No. She didn’t ask what that was, maybe she knew and didn’t like 2013 EDM.
Nice place I’m sure. Boats?
A lot of boats. She looked at Arjeep who was smiling to herself, they moved closer together on the pavement. Ed thought about seeing who was behind him, maybe they could chat? He took out his phone, he had already replied to his birthday messages. He texted Niamh:
Hey! Are you in yours? She took a moment to see the message, and then typed for a while.
Yes! I’m really sorry I wasn’t at your dinner ! How was it? You going out somewhere now?
No, he typed. Then in a new message he added: can I come up to you? :)
Of course. Kai and Arjeep were whispering to each other now. Arjeep laughed. Ed walked faster.
Niamh’s room was beside the basement; people didn’t notice that Ed hadn’t followed everyone towards the elevator. He was holding his phone across his chest with arms folded over each other. He knocked on the door, its colour reminded him of the city bins in Dublin. Niamh opened the door. Her eyes were bright and teal, they turned towards his tracksuit bottoms. Ah it’s so nice to see you, he hugged her. She put her arms around the top of his back. You too, how was it all? I’m sorry I couldn’t be there, I have the Ecology exam on Thursday and I haven’t done -
Was there a group chat or something?
Yeah! Yeah. The air was leaving her body slowly, Ed started to notice her pyjamas properly.
And Friedrich was in the group chat? Ed’s hands rested on the doorframe. She agreed, and moved her eyes between the floor and Ed’s face maybe three times. I know he was in the group chat, I actually don’t know why I asked, it’s just, I’m sorry, I didn’t know he was going to be, because -
I know you didn’t know, it’s Liam, but he had to invite -
He definitely didn’t have to invite Friedrich. It’s bullshit. After what he? Ed stopped himself, sorry I’m being a downer. Niamh would usually invite him in. Her fingernails made a tapping sound against the door she was holding open.
No, no you’re not at all, you’re ok. You’re great, you know that. The air between them was warm. Ed blinked. He wished ~ he needed to go back down.
Are you coming, you’re not, that’s fine, I’ll see you/ he wanted her to finish this sentence. She was nodding her head, she wasn’t going to. This week? He put a light smile on his lips.
Yes! And happy birthday again, come back up if you want, I’m going asleep but I don’t mind obviously.
Downstairs, they were playing Despacito. Ed came in to see Maeve disengaged from the dancing talking to Olli and Kat, who were both drinking Belgian beer. Ed! It’s the man of the hour! Where were you?
Thank you thank you, he leaned into the group organically and asked who was in charge of the music. They looked confused.
No I think it’s Friedrich or maybe Ch-
Chevez, yes, you can ask him I’m sure the guys wi’ll put on whatever. Ed thanked them and laughed with his face. Friedrich’s speaker was on top of the fire extinguisher box, it had just started playing Drake. Did you put this on? Ed asked Chevez.
No, Friedrich did, it’s fire bro, you know it? He spoke loudly, so that everyone in the room knew he knew the song.
Yeah, of course, this is the one that goes like; Thank you, next, Thank you, next, next! Thank you next - I’m so fucking grateful for my ex! Ed was much taller than Chevez. Bro, what the fuck, Chevez twisted his face. Liam overheard and knew the joke.
No Ed, this is the one that goes like; You’re such a fucking hoe, I love it, You’re such a fucking -
No. Ed said softly. Liam and Chevez were moving a lot. Liam’s hand was gripping his bottle of vodka loosely. It looked like it could fall. Can I put something on?
Of course, its your birthday, queue whatever.
Is there a queue? Can I skip the queue? This wasn’t really a question.
Obviously, just put something funny on. Something funny? Drake? Daddy Yankee? Ed glanced towards Maeve, who was dancing, she knew the words to the Drake song. Olli was pretending to know them, as was Kat. They were enjoying themselves. Kai and Arjeep were in the corner talking to Luigi, Ed heard him say ‘Niamh’, ‘Friedrich’, ‘nothing happened’ and ‘dramatic’. He felt his face flush. Ed felt his face twitch and opened his phone screen. It wasn’t even the 6th anymore: 00:54.
Friedrich’s phone burned in Ed’s hand. Ed picked some nail polish off his thumb and started typing into the search bar. Two months ago, he found strange song, involving horn shots, whistles and random-ish drums behind a voice repeating phrases wishing someone a happy birthday. Last week, the artist released 100 versions of that song, each version wishing one of the most popular names in America a happy birthday. Ed wasn’t on the list. Emilio was. Ed slid the song next in the queue. There were 32 seconds left of Drake.
I put on Mood Killer. Ed said to Liam.
Oh that’s brilliant, this is going to be so funny, he was talking to Friedrich and Chevez.
One other thing Liam, Ed turned his head to the side. Niamh isn’t here.
I know! She didn’t come because of the ecology exam! vroomp ~ it’s ya birthday, Emilio, vroomp, it’s ya birthday ~ wieeeee ~ vroomp ~ it’s ya, we gonna’ party like it’s ya birthday~ screeei ~ vroomp. Ed grinned. In between the horn blasts there was silence. Maeve’s jaw was clenched. Chevez was looking around trying to see what people thought of the change. Ana, Kat and Olli were no longer pretending to know the music. Luigi had stopped whispering to the girls. The sound of shoes squeaking against the basement’s lino floor was totally gone. Liam was half-laughing and put his arm on Ed’s shoulder; Emilio, he sung along, swigging his drink.
Everyone dance! Let’s get down! Ed shuffled over towards Maeve and called out to the room, every eye there followed him. Maeve looked up at him, her pupils were small. You can change the song obviously, he said after a moment. His tone said, you guys didn’t get it, I don’t care. Ed didn’t break eye contact with Maeve. Within a bar, the room was dancing to Pitbull. I think I’m going to go upstairs. Is that ok?
Obviously it is. Maeve’s eyebrows were furrowed. Are you ok? They stood alone in the room. That was funny wasn’t it? Maeve ignored his question and grabbed his hand. It was clammy.
I’m going to get some more drink from my room with Ed, that cool? She said loudly, and generally. Over the music, the pair didn’t hear a reply stepping into the elevator.
Maitiú Charleton (he/him/it) is a writer and journalist based in Dublin. He is published/forthcoming in Bullshit Lit, JAKE, Icarus Magazine, Sweet Tooth Poets, Neuro Mag Lit, An Áitiúil anthology and others. His first play, an adaptation of Siobhán Ní Shúibhleabháin's Dís is upcoming at Dublin University Players. Maitiú is the EIC of digi literary journal @thecczine.