* * *Every year my husband Paul’s best friend from high school, Nico Stephanapoulas, throws a birthday bash. This has been going on now for 30 years and they have both developed streaks of gray in their hair and a little paunch. You think time would mellow out Nico, but no, he’s become even more outrageous with age. Let me be clear: I detest this man and I thank the gods we are only able to see him at this annual birthday party. Nico lives in LA and we live in New Mexico. Our relative poverty and his wealth manage to keep us worlds apart for the whole year.
As always, it’s a lavish party with expensive wine and hor d’oeuvres—one of those dance-until-dawn affairs where Nico gets sloshed, makes passes at other men’s wives, and conducts a brag tour of his “estate.” On the last one of these birthday parties, Nico gives my husband a big Mediterranean hug while he looks over Paul’s shoulder and undresses me with his eyes. When it's my turn for a hug, I freeze.
“Come on, baby. How about a birthday kiss for ol’ Nico?”
Paul is drunk and has his silly face on. I feel like decking him for not coming to my aid.
I begin to search my purse. “Oh, gosh, Nico. I almost forgot. A little present for you. “
“Hey,” Paul said. “I thought we already gave him a present. I put it on the table over there.”
“This is something special,” I reply, handing over a tiny package wrapped in gold gift wrap with a white bow. “Not to be opened until later.”
Nico holds the gift in the palm of his big beefy hand and says “Oh.”
I give him a wink and let my grin widen.
“Ooooooh,” he says. “Must be something kinky.”
I have escaped. I smile innocently at him, knowing inside the box, nestled in fluffy white cotton, are two, long Tylenol tablets that I laboriously painted robin’s egg blue. I wonder which lucky lady he will share these with. Happy Birthday, Nico.