We drove around for a while longer enjoying the springtime afternoon warmth. I wouldn't possibly call any of the girls – they were meant to call me, and call me they did, to ask where we were at.
"Driving around," I said. "What about you?"
"I've just left the baby with my grandma," Esme replied. "Park somewhere and we'll be there in ten."
We bought sunflower seeds and chocolate and more Red Bull and waited for them in the car, spitting the shells out of the window. Esme and Malu turned up in the Mercedes alone, which suited us just fine. Four or five girls in a clique was a good number; any more and the crew broke up into factions, and that meant trouble. Besides, one couldn't just be seen with any old person.
"Happy birthday," Esme greeted, parking the Mercedes behind the Aixam. I looked them up and down so quickly nobody else would've noticed. Esme was clad in Hugo Boss, Afri in Adidas. Oh, if only I'd had a new tracksuit for today.
We all got out and exchanged a kiss on each cheek before sitting down on the promenade and gossiping. This was a perfect spot just in front of the new shisha lounge the Curros had opened, a prime place to see and be seen.
"What you get?" Esme asked. The question didn't phase me in the slightest now I knew the truth.
"My new Aixam was meant to be ready this morning," I bragged, absolutely convinced that it was. "But something happened and I've got to wait a few days. Clothes, money, you know."
We spent the afternoon showing off, saluting some of the girls who walked past and clowning around with the guys we knew who lingered on the edges. If it was another clique we didn't like, we smiled at them but didn't get up or make conversation, unless it was someone like the Varelas who were on our level. Raúl and his friends started off fifteen metres away and came closer and closer, like I knew they would.
"I meant what I said, Cazorla," Raúl reminded me in a low voice. "We're all going back to mine when Portobello closes."
I smiled; a pleasurable thrill coursed down my spine. "We'll see about that."
Of course I'd go with Steisy, but I didn't much fancy Esme and Afri tagging on. They were both too slutty for their own good. As for Saray…
It was an inopportune moment for Aaron to call me with all the fun I was having, but call he did. Why? I had no idea. He hadn't sent me so much as a happy birthday message, and here he was, turning up like a bad odor.
"What is it?" I snapped with my phone to my ear. He wasn't exactly in my good books at this moment in time.
"Happy birthday, babe," he said groggily. "Come round to mine, I've got something for you."
"I'm busy," I wrinkled my nose, hoping he could hear the noise and chatter on my end. "I'll call you later, okay?"
"I'm going out with Jairo after. We're all going to Kube -"
"I'll stop round before dinner. See you." I hung up, and amazingly enough in those thirty seconds I'd provided Esme with ample time to simper up to Raúl and make some stupid comment. My chest burned as I saw her stand up, whip his baseball cap off and stick it on her head.
That slut! She really dropped her poor infant off with her grandma just to try and snatch Raúl away from me. My fist clenched up.
But thankfully, Steisy always knew what I was thinking without me telling her. After Raúl wrestled the baseball cap back off Esme, she whipped her phone out and distracted them with some trivia. It was good to know she had my back, because clearly I couldn't trust anyone around me. It was each man for his own out here.
After a while Raúl and the others left in his car, an impressive Range Rover, and I got another call from my mother. The Aixam had arrived!
"What is it?"
"We're all at the house," she said flatly. "Come on and get your gifts."
I left Steisy and the rest there, bid my farewells, and drove off back home breaking the limit the whole way. Aaron would be miles away in Marbella tonight and Raúl was clearly interested in me. Kissing wasn't cheating, I reminded myself. That meant I needed to step my game up. I needed to whip out all the tricks I had up my sleeves.
It was half-five or six when I got home. That made sense, because it could've taken my parents a couple of hours to fetch my Aixan, and knowing my mother, she would've gone on a full-blown shopping spree.
Well, I didn't mind being left out just this once. My fingers itched with anticipation as I pushed the door open. My parents were watching the massive flat-screen in dead silence, and my brothers were smoking joints by the kitchen window. Admittedly, it wasn't a homely scene, but I smiled all the same.
"Happy birthday," my mother finally said. She signaled the dining room table. "There they are."
The build-up gifts before the big thing! I bounced over to the dining room table, full of shopping bags emblazoned with top brand names. Sadly, no Gucci shirt, but I opened them all and saw a matching Moschino set of hoodie, leggings and trainers, Sephora makeup, a new perfume, five hundred euros tucked into a Guess purse, a bottle of Beldevere vodka from Jona, a bottle of Gold Label whiskey from Darren, a Yamaha helmet for the dirt bike, the brand new Nike trainers which not even Esme had yet, some black Calvin Klein jeans and other small things not worth mentioning.
"Thanks Ma, thanks Pa," I offered, patting them on the arm after revealing the last gift. My heart sank slightly. It was taking them way too long to hand me the keys to the new Aixam.
And what was I meant to do now? I'd already told the girls.
"And your aunt Paula gave me this," my mother added, rummaging around in her Versace tote and handing me a keratin shampoo and conditioner set.
"Mmm," I mumbled, knowing Paula got everything dirt cheap from her beauty store suppliers. "Tell her thanks when you see her."
In the end there was a cake too, a store-bought affair from the bakery down the road. Chocolate sponge, chocolate icing, chocolate sprinkles, chocolate mousse on top and bits of Kinder Bueno. It made my fillings ache, but at least my mother hadn't tried to bake one herself or we'd all risk a case of food poisoning.
"What are you doing tonight?" my father asked conversationally. We were sat around the dining room table now, gifts all moved to one side.
"Going to Portobello with Steisy and that," I yawned. Come to think of it, there'd been no Rolex this year either. What a shit birthday.
"Have some more money then," he offered, slipping me a hundred. "And be careful."
There was clearly nothing else for me to do there. I lingered half an hour longer, but there was no big gift this year.