I’ve been hanging out with way too many nerds. When I got the invitation for Marty’s cat’s birthday party, I had no intention of going until I found out Stephanie would be there. I’ve been trying to get her attention for a month at work, but she never seems to take anyone seriously. Why she would care about a stupid cat was beyond me. Why was this party so significant, anyway?
“Hey, Freddie.” Sharon the secretary flagged me down. “You’re going to Bilbo’s party, aren’t you?”
The invitation said the cat was a tabby of twenty-three-and-a-half years named Bilbo Baggins. I had to laugh. Marty probably celebrated every ‘cat year’ for this thing.
“I wouldn’t miss it,” I said.
“See you there.”
When I arrived, I was amazed at how huge a deal it was. There were probably a hundred fifty people or so spilling into the back yard full of tents and games, some people in Lord of the Rings costumes, some not, but all of them clearly fans of the stories. They had a movie tent and a fireworks display for nightfall. Was this the usual fair for them, or was something else going on?
Now, I have a deep, dark secret. One that I would never, ever admit in public, because I’m just too cool. I’m a huge Lord of the Rings fan—but I’m not a nerd. Honest. So you can imagine the cognitive dissonance I was experiencing as I tried to balance my excitement with my chagrin at all the geekitude. But I was there for one reason—Stephanie Carpenter.
I found her and sat next to her at a beer tent where they learned and sang drinking songs.
“Nice faerie costume,” I said.
“I’m Galadriel, you doofus.”
“Well, in that case, can I get three strands of your hair?”
She bared her upper teeth in an are-you-kidding-me stare. “Gimley was a perv.”
I turned my head and sprayed beer laughing.
“Marty put together an amazing party,” I said.
“A whole bunch of us put it together.” She grabbed another pint off a passing tray. “We’ve been planning it for two years.”
What? This was way too weird for me. What the hell was the big deal about this cat? I was really starting to feel like I was missing something. Like that time everyone knew I had a Tootsie Pop stuck to my pants, but no one told me until my shift was over.
“Well, you’ve impressed me,” I said.
“Funny, I didn’t take you for the Tolkien type,” she said.
“More for the books than the movies.” I did my best to hold back my criticisms. There’s a time and place. This wasn’t it. “You want to catch the Fellowship with me?”
“You’re seriously a fan?” she said. “You’re not saying this to impress me?”
“I am saying it to impress you,” I said. “It just happens to be true.”
She clinked my pint with hers. “You obviously know today’s significance, so I guess you’re one of us.”
Great. A nerd for a day. But I had no idea what she was talking about, and if she figured out my ignorance, I didn’t know where that would leave us. I took a chance.
“Here’s to the cat,” I said.
“Here, here,” she said. She smiled, drank, and scooted a little closer.
I was getting more and more nervous that she’d figure me out when an announcement came over the speakers to assemble in the main pavilion. Stephanie grinned and hopped out of her seat, so I followed suit.
“This is the main event,” she said.
“Oh, yeah,” I said, no idea what was coming. “This is what it’s all about.”
“I’ll bet you ten bucks he makes the cat disappear,” said Stephanie.
“Why would—” I stopped myself from talking out loud, but the question remained. Why would he make his cat disappear?
When everyone was assembled, Marty took the stage set up in front and spoke.
“My dear friends,” he said. “As you know, my cat Bilbo is twenty-three and a half years old today.” There were gasps and cheers. I couldn’t help chuckling at the silliness of it. “In cat years, that’s one hundred and eleven years. Bilbo is eleventy-one!”
The crowd erupted in cheers, and a jubilant realization welled up in me making me laugh with a newfound abandon. I was suddenly ecstatic to be among the nerds, for I would have missed this without them.
Stephanie grabbed my arm and squeezed. “This is so cool!”
I took her hand and grinned. “Yes. Yes it is.”