THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE MY YEAR.
There's something magical about hitting milestones. I wake up on the day of my twenty-first birthday with this feeling of bitter-sweetness.
I'm older. I can drink now. It's Spring Break. I've given myself two weeks of vacation from creating digital pieces for my art shop and taking freelance writing jobs online. This day and these next couple of weeks are about me.
And most importantly, I'm not spending my birthday alone.
Everything is going swell once I'm swarmed by Beverly Reyes and Calvin Moore. Gifts are shoved into my hands and I'm physically shaken before I can even undo the ribbon. The three of us - the Powell Posse - link elbows as we make our way down the university halls.
I glance between the two of my beaming ride-or-dies. Beverly is Marilyn Munroe if her hair was dark and skin sunkissed, with the classical fashion sense to boot, and Calvin Moore is what happens when you mix nerd chic and vintage styles together.
I'm a weird mix of the two with my maxi skirts, tanks and flowing curls.
We head over for brunch at a place near campus, cramming into the red booth of a diner. The brunch place, Green Kitchen, is bougie as hell - like, the folks that run it are two nutritionists who fell in love with expensive food and each other. The whole place is bright with a million different avocado designs on the walls, and I've eaten here maybe once in the three years I've been at this college.
My eyes widen at the prices of food options on this menu. Forty-five dollars for a salmon omelet? If my mother was here, she'd fall to her knees. If my father was here, he'd snort: "What? Do they coat the salmon in gold before selling it?"
If anything, it's even more expensive than the last time I was here, and then, it was still so pricey that I'd ordered a pancake from the goddamn kid's menu.
"Y'all, this is crazy," I glance between Beverly and Calvin. "I can't afford this at all."
Bev gives me a strange look. "Yeah, but you're not paying."
I shake my head. "Bev, I can't let you pay for me."
Bev snorts, nose scrunching up and nose piercing glinting underneath the lights. "Who said anything about letting?"
"In case you haven't noticed, it's your birthday." Calvin sides with her. I stare at him aghast.
"I don't believe in this," I say, rising to my feet. "Nope. Not happening."
"Girl," Bev eyes me.
At the same time, Calvin says, "Please sit down."
"We're splitting," Bev says to calm my nerves. "Cal and I. It's your birthday. Of course we'll pay for you."
I open my mouth to protest and Bev raises her index finger to her lips in a hushing gesture. "Nope. Don't want to hear it."
"This is ridiculous," I say, eyeing the menu. "These items better have diamonds embedded in the dish."
"Sorry to disappoint," A low tenor voice interrupts, "but that's not the case."
Bev and Calvin's eyes reflect my own expression as I whip in the direction of the voice. And sure enough, it's Xavier Jean. Xavier goddamn Jean. In the halls of the prestigious Powell University, Xavier Jean is a god amongst men. I'm not even kidding.
He's the type of guy anyone could fall for with curly hair and mahogany eyes and a jawline sharp enough to cut through steel. Naturally, he models part-time, meaning that he also has this ridiculous waist and height.
Everyone has fallen in love with him at some point. He's That Guy. Even the folks who grumble about him being overrated secretly gush over him with their friends.
Rumor has it he scored a GQ front cover fresh out of high school. He also belongs to the rock band of heartthrobs residing on campus, Sedimentary, and awes folks not only in his godlike appearance but in the silent way in which he moves. You'd expect a guy who runs an entire campus to be arrogant and talkative, but he's silent and smooth. Goddamn, you can't help but like him.
Even Powell Press — the school's notorious gossip blog — hasn't found dirt on him yet. And Powell Press has found dirt on most students. After all, Powell Press does get its gossip from student submissions.
On the blog, photos are leaked, audios are leaked, even entire diaries. Today is a Friday, and typically, there's a lengthy, juicy entry released on Fridays, often in diary format.
Students blasted by Powell Press are often humiliated publicly by the news, abandoned by their friends, and have their reputations permanently stained. If someone is hiding a secret, some incriminating evidence will be posted on the blog.
A girl got blasted last year for a series of love letters she wrote to the president of Powell's fraternity. She was embarrassed for weeks, and was publicly rejected by the guy she wrote the letter to. Last month, a highly-loved football player's spicy drafts for some romance novel he was writing got leaked and for the entirety of the month, his teammates clowned him, quoting lines to him on the daily. Last week, the head of sorority's burn book got exposed, and she'd apparently talked a lot of smack about her fellow sorority sisters, which resulted in drama and an essential civil war within the sorority.
And now the model, drummer, and Apollo amongst men Xavier Jean has heard me shit-talking the brunch place that he apparently works part-time at. Maybe, it truly is time for the universe to backspace me.
I blink, exchanging stricken glances with both Bev and Calvin.
Xavier, catching our expressions, exhales an easy laugh. "You guys look like I gave you a heart attack." He raises both hands in the air, eyes finding mine. "I was kidding, I swear." He leans forward and offers me a conspiratorial stage-whisper. "Between you and me, everything's a bit overpriced here."
He leans back so the three of us can catch a glimpse of the way the unflattering black apron of Green Kitchen flatters him. Even aprons are falling over themselves for his validation. "But that's because here at the Green Kitchen, we do things the right way! Farmers getting paid properly, fresh fruits brought locally, and all sorts of great organic ingredients," he recites it, all over-the-top with amusement in his tone.
Calvin, Bev and I simply stare at him, lips parted.
Xavier laughs, and it's a riveting sound. He clicks his pen and taps at a notepad. "Hi, I'm Xavier Jean and I'll be your waiter for today." Bless his heart. As if we wouldn't know his name. "What can I do for you?"
Bev and Calvin recover quicker than I do and give him their orders. The three of us order our drinks. My indecisiveness coupled with Xavier's unexpected presence has me taking longer than I would like to arriving at a meal order.
Xavier's lips quirk upward as he peers over my menu. He taps at one of the specials with his pen. "I like the avocado omelet." A dimple appears on his right cheek. "Spend all my coupons on it, if we're being honest."
"Alright," I nod, his hands brushing mine as he takes the menu. Luckily, I don't make any sort of embarrassing move. I've promised myself that I would never fall over anyone like that ever again. "Avocado omelet it is."
"Great," he takes both Bev and Calvin's menus.
As soon as he's out of sight, the three of us gape at each other.
"Holy smokes," Calvin says. "I didn't know he worked here."
"He clearly keeps it lowkey," Bev says. "But enough about him. As gorgeous as Xavier is, this day is about an equally gorgeous Eden Wiley."
I roll my eyes, but a grin slips onto my lips. "You know I'm no Aphrodite."
Bev blinks, gesturing between Calvin and herself. "As far as I'm concerned, you are a modern-day Aphrodite. Especially on your birthday."
"Speak on it," Calvin says.
Once our drinks arrive, the two raise their glasses and clink it against mine.
"An extremely happy birthday to Eden Wiley," Calvin says, eyes sparkling through his horn-rimmed glasses.
"Our very own Aphrodite," Bev says with all the class and elegance of an 80s Hollywood star.
Our cups clink, and with that, I am twenty-one.