We stood in a clogged courtyard while we waited for midnight, laughing and drinking, getting shoved around by the throbbing crowd around us. We counted down from ten as New Years crashed down on us. We hugged and kissed and I wished him happy birthday, reaching up to kiss his face on the day that commemorates both a new chapter of my life, and another year of his. I exchanged kisses on the cheek with his family and their wives and girlfriends. And even though the gambling called out to him from all corners of the casino, he paid ten dollars to accompany me into a packed bar so that he could be with me to dance for just a little while before I lost him to cards and chips.
We stayed in the casino until six in the morning. He played poker in a room dedicated to it, while I dropped dirty quarters into a silver slot and bet, plink-plink-plink, on hands of Jacks or Better poker. And for the first time in my life, I didn't mind wandering a casino on my own. I knew right where he was, and occasionally, I shared his seat at the packed poker table and squeezed his hand when I thought he should stay in. But for most of the time, I played the safe hands on a glowing machine by myself, holding the cards that I knew were closer to sure winners. I played like I wanted to, passing the time in the midst of tinny slot machine chimes, disregarding all that I'd been begrudgingly taught long ago about video poker. I didn't hit max bet, I didn't hold out for the big hands. I played just to play. And I played for two hours on one twenty dollar bill, and walked away with ten more dollars than I'd put in. I guess my way wasn't so bad after all.
We landed in our room, tired and still a tad inebriated, at quarter after six on the morning of January first. We huddled together in the too small bed, wishing each other a happy new year in whispers before we plummeted into sleep. We woke up just in time to get ready and check out, climb in the van built for ten and make our way home. He stretched out across the last row seat we had chosen and fell asleep in my lap while I chatted with his cousins. His hand was always on me, touching my stomach or holding my hand in his sleep. I watched his face in the sunlight, jaw slackened and sleepy, eyes lightly closed as he dreamed on about whatever a newly 34 year old man dreams of. And I watched the shadows fall over his face as daytime bled into evening, his curls tickling my chest, his hand cradling mine. And, in the lulls of my conversations with his family about makeup and welfare and theft, I kissed his slumbering face.
We drove home, where his birthday gifts were waiting for him, wrapped and ready, in a corner in his room. He unwrapped the sweater he asked for, the four ties I painstakingly chose and we got to his third and final gift. I told him I was nervous about giving it to him, that I wasn't absolutely, 100% sure about how much he'd like it as he ripped the silver paper from the box. He came to the smaller box within the bigger one, noticing the ribbon around it that read Armani. "You shouldn't have spent this much," he said, before he even saw what was inside. I told him to let me worry about what I spent on his gift as he lifted the black lid and peered inside. He lifted the heavy silver ring from the box and smiled at me. He wrapped me in his arms. "I love it," he told me. "I love that you gave me a ring," he said. He put it on his hand, letting it join the rings he already wears. It was too wide for his lean fingers, but he smiled at me. "I'm glad," I said, "that you love that I gave you a ring." I had been nervous about giving him a ring in the first place, afraid that he'd think I was pushing a little too hard. But the shape of it suited him. He held up his long hand in front of him. "Each one of these rings means something, is a beacon in my life," he said, playing with the one he wears on his pointer finger. "That's why I'm glad you gave me one to wear, too." I had remembered him explaining the significance of each one he already wears when I bought this one. I had hoped something from me would be allowed to take up residence there one day. He hugged and kissed me and thanked me while I wished a happy birthday once again.
We fell asleep tangled together on the first day of the new year.