We huddled by the frosted glass door just inside of the entrance to a man’s home we’d met only 15 minutes before. It had been Shawn’s idea to stash us two doors down. Our temporary host had been in the middle of cooking a spaghetti dinner when Shawn knocked on his door and asked if he would hide us. While waiting, we made small talk with Shawn’s new neighbor (“So, you just moved in? You like it here?”).
Once we received Shawn’s text: “3 minutes,” we left our host upstairs so we could go down and watch the door. We were listening for Shawn’s cough -- the signal that would tell us to open the door and surprise the birthday girl as she was walking by. Instead, we heard a man’s voice say, “What are you doing?” Katie, Jane, and I shared a confused look, but maintained our silence. We jumped at the sound of knocking – knocking wasn’t part of the plan.
I pulled the door open wide and our three heads bobbed forward in unison, faces beaming in anticipation of the big reveal. But instead of Kimberly and Shawn, we found a stunned guy clutching a baguette in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other. “Shhhh!” I ordered, grabbing the stranger and pulling him inside.
The guy recoiled as we cornered him and laughed in voiceless huffs. “I’m so scared, I don’t know what’s happening,” he said.
When I recovered enough to speak, I said, “We killed your boyfriend, he’s in the closet at the end of the hall… just kidding.”
His eyes widened, and his hand involuntarily crushed the midsection of the baguette. “He’s not my boyfriend,” he said.
Katie and Jane struggled to breathe through muffled hysterics. “Okay,” I whispered, though I fear it came out more like a hiss. “We’re waiting for our friend who lives two doors down who is about to walk by -- we’re surprising her for her birthday. Your friend’s upstairs, your dinner’s all ready, it smells great, enjoy.” His back hugged the wall as he climbed the stairs. The three of us caught our breath and returned to our post. Less than a minute later, we heard the cough.
When I opened the door, Kimberly turned her head toward the noise. While she was looking bewildered, I said, “Oh, hey, what are you doing here? We were just visiting our friend upstairs, what are you guys up to?” Katie and Jane flashed Cheshire cat grins.
Shawn grabbed Kimberly’s arm, and gushed the secret he’d been keeping from his wife for weeks. “Hon, our reservations aren’t at seven, they’re at eight. And I’m not even going to dinner with you! I’m driving you four to dinner, dropping you off, paying for the meal, and then, when you’re done eating and drinking, I’m picking you up and dropping everyone off at home.”
Kimberly, a bemused look on her face, followed us back to her place for the toast of champagne Shawn had planned. “To the Original Lady,” I said. “I’ll call you O.L. from now on.” While we sipped and chatted, Shawn dutifully filled each of the four “little lady flasks” (which Kimberly had procured for us with our initials engraved on the front). Throughout the evening, whenever someone said the word “lady,” we were each to take a small hit from our 1 oz. flasks that Shawn had filled with Hennessy.
“You guys need to finish my champagne, I can’t have another sip until I eat something,” I said.
“Oh, that’s right, I saw your Facebook post,” Katie said. The night before, I’d attended a party, at which I consistently refilled my wine glass at the open bar without once visiting the taco stand the hosts had provided. My status update, which I’d posted right before leaving to meet up with my fellow ladies, read, “Earlier today, David had to pull over so I could puke in some bushes off Convoy. #ProudMoment.”
“I’m feeling fine now, I just need to make sure I eat something if I’m going to drink anything,” I said. The ladies accommodated by divvying up my share of champagne, and then we were off to dine at Kimberly’s favorite restaurant, Piatti Ristorante & Bar in La Jolla.
Shawn had made arrangements to pay, and then left us to it. Once we had the first bottle uncorked, we toasted to Kimberly’s husband for being so thoughtful and generous. Her eyes welled with emotion, not for the first or last time that evening.
I had no intention of ending up as sick as I had been that morning, so I made sure to drink a glass of water for every few sips of wine. With a sober chauffeur at their disposal and no recent hangovers to hold them back, the rest of the ladies carried the Bacchanalian torch. I knew we had achieved full inebriation when Kimberly attempted to refill her little lady flask with wine left in the glasses on the table.
We were the second to last table to leave, just before 11 p.m., but the restaurant employees were all smiles, insisting we wait for our ride inside where it was warm.
I’m surprised Shawn was able to drive with all the noise in the car. At our request, he blasted everything from Exotica to Cypress Hill, while we sang along and danced as much as our seatbelts would allow. “I can’t believe you picked them all up,” Kimberly said to her husband through a lazy, appreciative smile. We were dropped at our homes, one by one, first Jane, then Katie (each taking their time getting into the house as they said long goodbyes to the birthday girl), and finally my place.
“So you’re sober, huh?” Shawn seemed to miss nothing.
I nodded. “Had to take it easy, I did not want to end up asking you to pull the car over. I think I ate an entire basket of bread.”
Kimberly turned in her seat, and waited until I met her eyes before she spoke. “I will never forget those three smiling faces all full of energy and happiness. I’m still stunned.”
“Yeah well,” I giggled at the image in my head, “I think your neighbor’s friend won’t be forgetting those faces anytime soon either.”