Author : Chris Lee Jones

My twenty-first birthday, and I’ve got him a gift he can’t refuse.

He’s older than me and I know that bothers him. He hasn’t expressed as much in words, of course; he’s not that kind of guy. But he’s my kind of guy.

“Wait a few minutes,” I chirp, “I’m getting dressed.”

I’m putting on the blue dress that he likes, the one I wore on the eve of my graduation, the one that swept him away.

Three months we’ve been going out, and I can tell he’s the one. I mean, a girl just knows, doesn’t she?

“Hurry up!” he chirps back, and I’ve got a fix on him now; he’s just two blocks away, heading towards my apartment on his sweeper.

I make sure I’ve got his gift in my hand when I open the door.

“Surprise!” he says, giving me a cheeky up and down, holding his sweeper aloft like a prize kill. “It’s even faster than mine โ€“ I clocked up ninety on the McGovern road, and it didn’t even wobble.”

I don’t know what to say. A new sweeper – it must have cost him a fortune.

“Thank you will do,” he says, chirping a big smiley which fills my entire field. “And what’s this you were saying about a gift for me?”

I wait until he collapses into the sofa before I show him the ticket.

“This is it?” he says, eyes closed, scanning the words.

I was hoping for a more immediate reaction. Surely he recognizes the logo?

“Futurebreaks?” he says at last. “I don’t understand…why would we?”

I sit down beside him, snuggling up. “It’s not for us, silly, it’s for you. You’ll only be gone a few months, and when you return, I’ll be…”

I can tell by his eyes, the way they’re flickering and scanning, that he’s free-searching. I give him a few seconds, let him do the calculations himself.

“A three month round trip at a hundred gamma? Louise, you’ll be nearly fifty…”

“Exactly! The same age as you. Won’t that be fantastic? And before you ask, I want to make you a promise…”

He looks concerned, confused.

“OK, I’ll spell it out. I love you, and I want you to know that there won’t be anybody else. For all the time I’m gone.”

And I mean it. I’ll miss him like mad, but I can throw myself into my career. Twenty eight years is a long time โ€“ I might even make professor.

A sadness has come over him, a sadness that I don’t understand. He’s told me that he’s got no close family to speak of, and that he’s nearing the end of his earning phase. Now is the perfect time. So what’s bugging him?

I try to think of something to lighten his thoughts. “By the time you get back, I’ll be a whizz on this sweeper…”

“No, Louise. I can’t do this. I mean, fifty…”

There are tears in his eyes as he gets up and leaves.

I try to chirp him a lover’s heart, but his core has blocked me out.