“You’re supposed to return it to the thrower,” I tell him, walking over to her. She throws the ball and he runs after it and returns it to her. She turns and laughs then hands me the ball and every time he returns it to her.
“He likes you way better than me.” I wrap my arm around her as we’re waiting for him to return with the ball again.
“It’s because you keep trying to kick him out of his bed.”
I grab the ball from his mouth when he returns and give Courtney a smirk before I lace my fingers with hers. Instead of continuing to play fetch, we take a few laps on the trail that goes around the park. Buddy is panting and we stop at a watering spot for him and after he drinks, he takes off running.
“I love you.” I turn and look at her as Buddy comes running back with a stick in his mouth.
“I love you, too, Deputy. Hope you’re having a good birthday.”
“Best one yet.”
We finish playing with Buddy and take another lap around the park. Once Buddy is worn out, Courtney puts the leash back on him and we walk back to the Jeep. She’s so sweet and already loves him so much. She opens the back door and waits for him to jump inside. He looks like a big shaggy ball of fur as he lies down.
“Do you want to grab something to eat before heading home?” I ask as she starts up the Jeep.
“Nope, I’m good.” She smiles, but doesn’t make eye contact with me. “Let’s take Buddy home before we do anything else,” she suggests.
“Sounds good as long as lunch is on the agenda. I’m starving. I think there’s some tofu and broccoli leftovers in the fridge.”
She lifts her hand and stops me. “I’m not eating another bite of tofu. I’ll leave that rubber junk to you.”
I’ve tried to get her to like it as much as I do, but I suppose it’s a lost cause. Courtney’s laughing and smiling, and I feel so comfortable around her. It’s hard for me to remember what life was like before her and it makes me so happy how carefree we are with each other.
As we drive across town, I look over at her, trying to memorize the way she looks in this very moment as the wind blows through her hair. She turns and smiles at me, and it’s a look I always want to see on her.
Even though Mia tried hard to break us apart, I’m relieved Courtney wasn’t scared away. I can’t help but think of all the emotions she’s going through because of all of this. Although the temporary restraining order is still in effect, we really haven’t been able to breathe any easier. If I could go back in time and redo my past, dating Mia would be the first thing I’d change. While I believe she loved me, I realize now it was all a smoke screen. I was nothing but a superficial toy. Mia loved controlling me. Years of my life were wasted on something that wasn’t real, and I can’t help but feel regret.
We pull up to the house and Courtney is laughing at how tired Buddy is as he lazily jumps out of the Jeep.
We all walk up to the front door and as I start to unlock it, I notice Courtney fidgeting. “So, what are you hungry for?”
“Whatever you want. It’s your birthday,” she says.
I walk through the front door and the house is exactly how we left it, yet it feels different. Buddy moseys inside and starts barking and wagging his tail.
“What is it, boy? Is Timmy stuck in the well again?” I laugh at my own joke and flick on the lights. People start jumping out from behind the couch, out of the kitchen, and from under the table yelling, ‘surprise!’ It takes me a moment to understand what’s happening. I turn and look at Courtney who has a huge smile on her face. She walks to me, kisses me, and whispers ‘happy birthday’ against my mouth. Laughter and chatter fills the room as our lips separate and Viola hands me a glass of champagne.
I’ve never had a surprise birthday party before because I always seemed to ruin it when my friends would try to plan one. Someone would slip up, or I’d arrive to the party early as everyone was trying to get ready.
“I’m not sure how you pulled this off,” I whisper in her ear, placing my hands on the small of her back.
She shoots me a wink. God, I love her.
Viola interrupts and just as I’m about to scold her for lying to me about having other plans today, she gives me a big hug.
“You’re all so sneaky.” I smile at Viola.