David frowned when he looked at his phone and saw it was Joe. He'd told him that he'd find half an hour in the evening to be alone today, assuming Joe would choose that time to call. Or maybe this was his official, "just a friend wishing happy birthday" call.
"Hey," David said into the phone.
"Hey, baby. Happy birthday!" came Joe's enthusiastic, slightly slurred voice.
David's mouth stood open for a second, then he signaled his guests that he would take the call elsewhere for a moment. Once outside, he asked, "Are you drunk?"
There was a moment of silence before Joe said, "Noooooo."
David rolled his eyes.
"How are you doing? Are you having a good time? With your family?" Joe asked.
"Yeah, they're here. Well, not all of them, but..." David trailed off. He didn't think Joe really wanted an account of everyone who was present.
"I wish I was there," Joe said. "I wish I was your family," he added so quietly that David almost didn't hear it. Now he knew for sure that Joe was drunk. He'd never say that sober. It was a punch to the gut.
"So, do you have a cake? With candles and all?" Joe asked more loudly.
"Joe," David said, feeling pained, "I need to get back."
"Yeah, sure," Joe said. "Of course. Have fun." David could hear his voice cracking.
He was tempted to apologize, but he wasn't sure for what. "I will. Thank you. Bye."
"Bye," Joe said and hung up.
David took a deep breath and went back inside, smiling, and shaking his head in a "don't ask" manner when Jane looked questioningly at him.
David looked at the phone repeatedly for the half hour that he'd set aside in the evening, but Joe didn't call.
He was in his office the next day, when Joe called again.
"Hey." Joe sounded much more subdued than the day before. "I'm sorry about...yesterday."
David almost said, "It's fine," thought it wasn't really. So he said, "Yeah," instead.
"I hope you didn't get in trouble," Joe said.
"No," David said.
"I had a couple more beers than I should have," Joe explained. "I missed you. It's no excuse, but with things like birthdays..." He didn't say more.
David remembered his words from the day before. I wish I was your family. That was the reason even if Joe wouldn't admit it while sober. "I get it," David said.
Joe didn't say anything. There was a moment of silence, and David wished he was there and could take Joe in his arms. "I should let you enjoy your Sunday morning," Joe said eventually.
"Yes," David said. He had plans. "Thank you for calling." It sounded so banal that he cringed. But there was nothing he could say to really make it better. He wasn't going to give Joe false hope. Even if he wasn't entirely sure it would be false. Because he did want the same things Joe wanted. Being family.
"You're welcome," Joe said. "Bye."
"Joe," David quickly said before he could hang up. "I love you."
"I love you too," Joe said, and maybe David was imagining it, but it sounded as if he smiled.