"Hey there, birthday boy," Dan walked into the office with a current of chilly air clinging to his heels. It was cold, too cold for Casey's birthday. It was just before Labor Day, less than a week out of August, but it was cold.
"Hey," Casey looked up from the newspaper, where he was double-checking the previous night's box scores against the wire's and making notes on his script. "What are you going to sing this year?"
Danny pulled a small wrapped package from the pocket of his sweatshirt and tossed it down on Casey's desk.
"No singing this year - that just always seems to end ... badly."
"You're still stung over the Frere Jacques backlash?"
"I've said it before, and I'll say it one last time: I have never claimed to actually know French, and I learned the song in Kindergarten ... in Kindergarten I didn't even know in English what those crazy Quebecois are accusing me of saying in French."
"You did, you know. Say-"
"Well, remind me to dry run all my foreign-tongued musical performances in front of you from here on in."
"Deal. So, can I open this?" Casey picked up the present; it was a book, that much was obvious by shape and weight. Dan had wrapped it though, forgoing his usual tendency to charm the store clerks into wrapping it no matter how busy they were, how much of a line was forming behind him. It was one of his many talents.
But no, there in Casey's hands was a blue and white checked paper wrapped monstrosity of Danny's own hand. The graceless corners, the yardage of fingerprint-smudged Scotch tape, the near-afterthought label made from a scrap of paper taped onto the front, "To: Casey, From: Dan." It was all very junior high school Secret Santa.
"I'd really like it if you did, mostly just to get you to stop grinning like an idiot at my shitty wrapping job." He was leaning on the edge of his desk, his arms crossed and his legs spread for balance.
"I think it's charming." Casey smirked up at him.
Dan flipped him off; Casey laughed and began working on disarming the elaborate chastity belt created by Danny's fondness for tape. He struggled for a minute before he grabbed his letter opener and, figuring there was a 75% chance of not poking the spine, stabbed gently at an edge to get some leeway.
He pulled the paper off in two jagged halves, revealing the compact hardcover within.
"The ... Highly Selective Thesaurus for the Extraordinarily Literate?" Casey looked smiling at Dan.
"I think, thank you? Yeah," he flipped through and chuckled at what he could see of the words it contained, "thanks. This is awesome."
He got up, walked around and pulled Danny up into a hug, still holding onto the book with one hand. He could have sworn that Danny sighed as he hugged him.
"I couldn't figure out what to get you, and then I saw that, and ... yeah. Thought of you." Dan was looking down, rubbing an eyebrow as Casey backed away, flipping again through the thesaurus.
"It's cool. It's very cool, Danny. Oh, actually," he grinned and thumbed the pages wildly, "it's ... the pinnacle of ... okay, so there's a lot of really big words in here and I'm gonna' need some time to get acquainted with them, so I'll just stick with cool. This is cool. Thanks, man."
After the show that night they retreated to Anthony's, as per tradition since their luck had truly turned around. Dana had gotten Casey a cake: chocolate with chocolate icing and the birthday message in white chocolate. As expected, it was perfect, and with Casey and Natalie leading the charge, the small group had devoured all but a tiny square within ten minutes of the extinguishing of the candles.
Jack comped Casey's first three beers, then started pouring pitchers after it took two waitstaff to clear a half hour's collection of bottles from the table. Casey was drunk, Dana was halfway there, and everyone else was just happy. Someone had placed a sombrero on Casey's head, from where it came no one really knew. The hat was off-center, balanced comically back on his head. Danny thought it fit pretty well; Casey's cheeks were flushed, red with alcohol and stretched in laughter. His polo shirt had come un-tucked from his khakis, and his hair was mussed from the cheap, brightly colored straw hat. He was the very picture of the frat boy he'd been in college, or at least how Dan always imagined he must have been. He shook his head, pulled his eyes away from his inebriated friend, and got up to get himself another drink.
Happy birthday, Casey. I hope you're having fun and hey, by the way? I'm kind of in love with you. No, see, Dan thought on the way to the bar, that just won't work. The problem, as he saw it, was that the whole thing - the way Casey made him feel, the way he caught himself lost in staring at his best friend ... it was all unsettlingly high schoolish of him. These days, when he was around Casey, Dan couldn't help comparing himself to a thirteen year old girl. Some nights they'd go out, and Dan would have to flirt extra hard with every woman in the room, just to make himself feel better.
As Dan walked away from the table, Casey's heavy eyes followed him. He watched him amble up to the bar, thin and smooth inside jeans and a worn-soft t-shirt. Maybe it was the drunk talking, but he'd never noticed the way Danny moved before. Well, actually he had (and now it was the drunk, admitting things), but it just never came up in conversation. Say, Dan, did you watch the Valpo/Lake Forest preshow last night? Oh, and by the way? I really enjoy watching you move. Stuff like that ... never just slid into the banter. Casey thanked god for that. Still, no one moved like Danny. No one did anything like Danny, which was a big part of why Casey loved him so much.
When Jack shouted "Closing!" a fifth time, Danny got up on a stool and whistled.
"Kids. Go home. We have work in less than a dozen hours. This extended playoff coverage is important, and I have a feeling Bud Selig won't be happy if everyone covering his sport is vomiting on air. Go home. Go home now."
Dana booed him, and Casey raised his glass.
They trickled out onto the street, shivering as the sweat from the steamy crowd chilled on their skin in the too cold air.
Dan poured Casey into a cab, then after a thought got in himself. He gave the driver Casey's address, and over-tipped at the door when Casey almost stumbled out into oncoming traffic.
"Okay buddy, up we go." He threw Casey's arm over his shoulders and loped his own arm around Casey's waist. They walked, Danny trying to even out Casey's sway, through the front door. Waiting for the elevator, Casey ruffled Danny's hair and then appeared to fall asleep standing up. Dan was pretty sure the doormen would be talking about this one for awhile.
In the doorway of Casey's apartment, he stopped and leaned against the wall. Dan stopped with him.
"You okay?" he tugged Casey's jacket off and rested a hand on his back.
"I'm a kinda' little nauseous." His eyes were clenched shut and he spread his fingers out to better hold the wall still.
"That's not surprising, man. You're at the start of the unpleasant end to what was a truly spectacular birthday bender." Dan sat him on the couch and ran to grab a towel and the garbage can from the bathroom. Just in case. He sat down next to Casey and tried to read the shade of white green creeping up his neck. "Let's sit here for a minute or two."
"You got me the best birthday present this year." Casey breathed heavily, in through the nose and out his mouth.
"I'm glad you like it." Later Dan would feel guilty about the way he let his hand, rubbing small circles at the base of Casey's neck in an anti-nausea tactic, slip inside the collar of his shirt. The soft blonde hair there, the heat of his skin and the sheen of sweat, Danny knew he shouldn't be touching.
"I do like it. And I think you did it on purpose." Casey slowly, very slowly, turned his head and smirked at Danny.
"Kinda' yeah." He smiled and most certainly did not trace a finger across Casey's hairline, freshly trimmed that morning, as per McCall tradition. "It wasn't one of those accidental book purchases."
"No, I think you like it when I use big words." Casey looked back, straight ahead, his eyes shifting and making note of the trashcan, the towel. He was gathering information that would soon be coming in handy. "I think you bought me this so I could learn more. And thereby say more."
"Casey, the last thing I want is for you to talk more. But sure. I like your big words." More importantly, he thought, you like them, and they make you happy. And oh, he admits freely, a happy Casey is one of his favorite things in the world, right up there with the classic Greek key pattern coffee cups and wandering around Monument Park with the rest of Yankee Stadium close to empty.
"I'm going to go ahead and chalk that up to the fact that you single handedly drank the entire sound and light crew under the table tonight."
Casey giggled. There was no other word, nothing in The Highly Selective Thesaurus for the Extraordinarily Literate, to manly up the sound that came out of Casey.
"Seriously." He yawned. "Best present this year. You win the prize."
"What's the prize?"
Casey yawned again and slumped down, let his head loll down onto Danny's shoulder. Dan froze.
"Being my friend isn't enough?" Casey had lost all his powers of enunciation.
"Oh, some days it's more than enough." But most of the time, it doesn't come close.
"Iím going to close my eyes for a few minutes. You going to stay here?"
"Sure. I'll take care of you, man."
"You're the best, Danny. I could kiss you right now."
Casey was asleep even before Danny spoke, snoring the gargle-snore of a man whose throat muscles were just as alcohol slackened as the rest of him.
"I wish you would." Dan brought his hand up and pushed the hair back from his forehead. His arm was trapped, pinned back by his friend's head heavy on his shoulder. Casey wouldn't be asleep for long. His liver was undoubtedly plotting a revolt at that moment, in conjunction with his stomach and most of the other inflamed soft pink places inside him. Danny sighed and tried to get comfortable on the couch, half knotted together with his best friend, altogether far too sober, with another year's worth of things left unsaid holding him down.
© scrunchy 2004