happy birthday, happy birthday... Who: Fiona and Karin What: Fee's birthday! In which wine is drunk, horror movies discussed, a gift given, and Fee tells her sister she loves her without knowing it'll be the last time. Where: Karin's apartment! When: Saturday, October 29, about 9:30 PM or so Warnings: No idea! Knowing Fee, probably language. Notes: Complete!
Fiona was pleasantly buzzed.
The fact was, she secretly loved her birthday. She tried to play it off every year, since it was maybe a little douchey to make SUCH a big deal over her birthday, but it felt pretty exciting, anyway. It was weird here, because she didn’t know that many people yet, but this year, it felt good just to spend the day with Karin. It felt right, and more like home than Fee’d felt in a very long time. The day started with Karin seeming a little out of sorts, and that still happened a lot. But as they’d hung out more, she’d gotten better, and even blushed a little and grinned when they talked about Sean. They’d had an awesome fatty breakfast, gone to see a matinee of Child’s Play (one of Fee’s favorites) being featured at the local independent movie theater, and then had an amazing steak dinner, where Fee had stuffed herself obscenely with stuffed mushrooms and steak and potatoes and even some asparagus, and had picked two desserts to take home because there was no way on God’s natural earth that any more food was going to fit in her body for another few hours, but she’d be damned if she missed out on whatever crazy chocolate nonsense and fatty-fat torte were sitting in the fridge now.
But of course, there was room for wine.
Now, still all done up from dinner, the Shepherd sisters sat on Karin’s couch, each barefoot with a glass of wine, laughing.
“Today was awesome, Kar. Seriously. It kicked so much ass.” She grinned and leaned over, her wine sloshing in her glass as she gave her sister a tight squeeze.
Karin smiled, swallowing hard against a far too generous gulp of Cabernet Sauvignon. “I’m really glad,” she said. “I’ve been planning this for a while. I just...” She shrugged, a slow and sloppy motion. “I wanted to spend some time with you. It’s been really nice.” She smiled, girlish and bright, an expression for once blissfully untainted by all that she had carried for so long. Between the wine and the unstudied brilliance of the night, she was finally, blissfully, feeling something like herself. It was a rare thing, more beautiful than Karin might ever have guessed, and she knew she had Fiona to thank for it.
“Child’s Play, though,” she said, laughing. “I don’t know what you see in that creepy-ass movie.”
“What?!” Fee gasped in outrage, poking at Karin’s leg with her foot. “I’ll have you know that Child’s Play is a film classic, and that Chucky is one of the best horror villains EVER. I swear, horror takes itself so seriously these days. Child’s Play is a movie that reminds you that stabbing people can be cheesy and funny!”
She took a long sip of wine and sighed, leaning back against the cushions as a mischievous smile overtook her face.
“I know you probably would have liked The Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood or some other movie where a bunch of chicks dance around the table and talk about their feelings...”
“Oh shut up,” Karin said, a mock grimace twisting her lips. “I’m just saying if you wanted scary, there were better options. What was wrong with Contagion?” She shook her head, looking down into the swirling vortex of her drink. “That could actually happen. Much scarier than an ugly thrift store-looking doll.” She looked up, her expression turning back to a far more teasing grin. “The worst that doll could really do would be to give you bedbugs. Or lice.”
“Hey, you don’t know that. The soul of a serial killer could inhabit anything. You better watch that wine glass, it could come for you in the night?” She poked at her again. “Besides, how is Gwenyth Paltrow dying of some nasty disease scary? That sounds like a comedy to me!”
“So cruel,” Karin laughed, entirely insincere.
She took another sip of her drink and continued, “Besides, Chucky is funny. This is important. Like Freddy before him, he continues the tradition of bad puns and one-liners in a horror movie. Now it’s no Dawn of the Dead, but I was in the mood for something a little more light-hearted.” She grinned at her sister.
“Fine, fine.” Karin’s free hand lifted, giving a vague little wave. Years before she had watched the film in question - under intense duress, she had no compunction about admitting - and had found it more than a little amusing. But now, of course, to admit such a thing would be to lose the mock argument, and that would simply not do.
“I guess since I sat through that fiasco with you,” Karin said, slurring a bit more than she would later recall, “and watched you eat like a positively uncivilized little animal, you don’t deserve your other present.”
Fee’s jaw dropped as she gasped in outrage.
“What?” Her wine sloshed in her glass as she flailed, her balance impeded by drink, to set it down on the coffee table. Once it was (mostly) safely out of her hands, she pounced on her sister, throwing herself at Karin with only the slightest regard for the very red wine in the elder Shepherd’s glass.
“How dare you, madam!” she said, poking at Karin’s sides reaching for her pockets or behind her, as though the gift might be hidden in either place. “First of all, there was no other way to eat that meal -- you don’t nibble a steak!”
She poked and tickled at her again.
Under ordinary circumstances Karin prided herself on composure, but these were no ordinary circumstances. Fiona knew well precisely where Karin was most vulnerable; they had long ago learned just the right spots to prod or slap or outright punch, and tickling, though at the less aggressive end of the spectrum of provocation, was no exception. Wine sloshed mightily against the sides of the glass, spilling free, out onto the sofa.
“Fee,” Karin yelped, with a hard kicking of feet pushing herself to the far end of the sofa. With an expression of utterly exaggerated concern Karin regarded the stained sofa, sighing audibly as she regarded the mark. “You’re unbelievable. I guess the other part of your present is I pay to have this goddamned thing steam cleaned.”
Fee looked at her guiltily, having the decency to (mostly) suppress her sheepish, slightly drunken grin. “I’ll pay for it!” she protested. To herself she added that it might be in installments.
But for all her lecturing Karin rose from the couch, setting the glass neatly aside as she went to fetch the gift. “I’d make you look for it,” she said, crossing the room, walking in a less than straight line toward a particularly tall and heavy bookshelf. “But I know you well enough to know you’d tear the place apart and not do a damn thing to put it back to rights...”
“You’re damn right,” Fee said with a laugh. Even so, as she watched Karin cross the room, Fiona’s eyes lit up with glee. She sat up straighter on the couch and gulped down the rest of her wine, then got up herself, bumping into the couch on her way to the kitchen to get some paper towels. While Karin messed around with the bookshelf, Fee tried to be a helper by blotting at the wine, and... well, at least she didn’t spread it around more? She watched Karin almost the whole time, which may have made her less than efficient in her attempt to clean.
“What is it, what is it?” Fee asked, as eagerly as a somewhat drunken child.
“You know, I have OxyClean in the laundry room,” Karin said, shaking her head. “You could actually fix that while I find this...”
Fee rolled her eyes but laughed, running crookedly to the laundry room before the stain set, laughing again when she bumped into the door frame. In no time, she was back, having found some kind of stain removing spray that said “Oxy” on the bottle. Whatever. Merrily, Fee went about removing the purple stain from the couch.
Karin had turned away, her attention elsewhere. The gift had been languishing for days now, hiding in plain sight behind a stack of medical reference books. Karin, typically methodical in all things, had bought the piece the moment she had seen it. It had spoken to her in a way she could not explain. From the instant her eyes had alighted on the piece, she had known it belonged to none but her sister. A local artisan had crafted the pendant, taking months to recreate in meticulous detail the lush scenes of ancient cylinder seals. Worked in bronze, its raised designs artfully dusted with green-hued tarnish, it hung from the wide necklace with a simple elegance to which Karin had been immediately drawn. Now it rested inside an equally understated black box, nestled atop a swatch of black cloth. She reached behind the thickest of the books, stretching a bit to pull the box from its hiding place.
“Alright,” she said, turning back to her sister. The package rested neatly on her palm, holding it out to her. “Happy birthday, Fee.”
The younger Shepherd’s eyes lit up, and in no time, spray and paper towels were abandoned to run over to Karin and take the box. When she opened the box, her lips parted, and she looked up at Karin, then back at the box.
“Fuck, Karin,” she said softly. “It’s... it’s perfect. It’s beautiful.”
Then, she smiled hugely.
“This is fucking awesome!” she said, throwing her arms around her. “I know I’m supposed to say you shouldn’t have, and it’s too much, but fuck that, it’s so amazing, and I love it, and thank you!”
With that, she started pressing dozens of brief, tiny, adamant kisses on her sister’s cheek, squeezing her tight around the neck. “Best... sister... ever!” She laughed against Karin’s face, then continued giving her kisses as much out of genuine affection as out of impish amusement at how obnoxious it was.
“I looooooove yoooooou,” she sang to her in her warbled, drunk voice.
Karin laughed aloud, stretching out one arm to half-heartedly push her away. Just as she had expected, the gesture proved a futile one. “I love you, too,” she said. “I’m really glad you like it.” Her eyes flicked from sibling to gift, seeing all the more plainly now how well the two went together. Truly the piece had been made for her. “C’mon now. Why don’t you try it on?” she asked, prodding her sister in her narrow ribs. “Make sure it hangs right. If not, the jeweler said she could alter the necklace...”
A yelp/laugh escaped Fiona as Karin poked at her, and she tried to dodge without releasing her hold, but it was exceedingly difficult to manage at this point.
“OK, OK!” she said, still laughing. “But you have to do the clasp, because my fingers are not working.”
She pulled away only to show Karin one of her hands, which she shook, making it flop around, apparently uselessly.
“See?” She looked at Karin and pecked her cheek quickly with another kiss.
“So will you help me?” Fee smiled at her sister, blinking wide, “innocent” eyes.
Karin sighed, but shifted behind her sister all the same. “I think somebody’s had enough for the night,” she said, placing her hands just above her sister’s shoulders. Fee looked up at her, an utterly scandalized expression on her face, before Karin prompted her. “C’mon, give me the clasp, at least, Useless.”
Though it took a great deal more time than was necessary, after a bit the work had been done. Karin affixed the clasp, then settled it just at the nape of her sister’s neck. She circled her again, a smile already spreading across her face as she imagined just how it would look. As it turned out, her expectations had not even come close.
“Oh, Fiona,” she breathed.
To say it aloud it would have seemed ridiculous, but it made the truth no less real. Karin was earnestly awestruck to see her sister in the necklace. It had been beautiful in the shop, and beautiful in its packaging, but this was something else entirely. It looked as if it had always been hers, imprinted on the very fabric of her being since even before its creation.
First, Fee looked down at the necklace, which immediately felt perfect; weighed perfectly around her neck, fit her throat like a glove. Then, she looked up, smiling at Karin, just the expression on her sister’s face telling her a whole lot.
“How’s it look?” she asked, excited and nearly nervous. Without waiting for an answer, she darted to the mirror by the front door, and exhaled softly.
“Kar... Kar, it’s... goddamn, I love it so much!”
She turned around and ran back to Karin, throwing her arms around her again, though this time, just hugging her tightly. “Thank you, Kar -- thank you so much.”
Pulling back a little bit, she looked at her sister and said,
“Listen. You’re fucking awesome. This birthday has been awesome. Thank you.”
Fee didn’t know how to say how much it meant, how to say that living at Pax near Karin, then with Karin, made her feel, finally, something like home for the first time since she’d left Chicago. She didn’t know how to say how, despite everything, she wouldn’t trade this time for anything. So instead she said,
“And I’m not saying that because I’m drunk.”
Karin gave her sister a tight little squeeze, keeping her close, as if suddenly unwilling to let her go at all. “You’re welcome, honey. You deserve it.” Her smile twitched a bit, but she fought to keep it from faltering. Fiona was not alone in holding back; the night had gone so well, had been so wonderfully light after such long weeks of distress and drudgery, and Karin was loath to ruin that. But some things could not go unsaid. She pulled away, swallowing hard before she began.
“It’s meant a lot to me, having you here. Thank you.”
Putting her hands on Karin’s arms, Fee gave her a squeeze, nodding as she looked at her for a moment. The words knotted up in her throat, for a second, and it seemed to take ages to untangle them.
“Kar... I like being here. I... All this sister bonding stuff, and hanging out, and just... you know, being around and having you around, it’s...” she smiled. “Jesus, I’m really shitty at this, right?”
She took another breath and said, “You don’t have to thank me. I’ll always be here when you need me.” Her smile turned wry remembering a night some years ago when she’d come to Karin convinced nothing would be OK again. “God knows you’ve pulled my ass out of the fire enough times.”
Shaking her head, she felt the frustration of not being able to put things together the right way. “Fuck, it’s not -- it’s not even because I owe you. Even though I do, but that’s not the point. I’d do it no matter what. I do it because, you know. I love you. You’re my sister, my family. It’s nice to remember what that means, you know?”
“I do.” Karin nodded, feeling the truth of her sister’s assertion down to her very bones. Not for the first time she found herself wishing their sister was with them, that this could have been the three of them, building on their old bonds, forging new ones as they established new lives here, so far from home and all they’d known. But it was enough that Fiona was here, that they had found a new depth to a relationship already fraught with a rich - and yes, often troubled - history. She drew a deep breath, sighing as she exhaled.
“Enough of this sappy bullshit,” Karin said, shifting uncomfortably on her feet. Smiling more brightly now, a faint flush coloring her high cheekbones, she tucked a lock of hair behind her pink-tinged ear. “How about we get more wine and you tell me where you’re going to wear your birthday present out to first?”
Fee laughed and nodded.
“Yeah, that sounds like a plan to me. But I’ll try to fix your couch first.” With that, Fee moved back to the couch, picking up the OxyClean solution and the paper towels she’d grabbed, blotting with considerably more success now that she’d regained a little focus, leaving the wine refills to Karin as she got to work with a little hum.