In a true testament to how lousy my timing in life often is, Remus had a birthday two weeks after we got together, saddling me with the responsibility of figuring out how to appropriately signify this event for someone I genuinely cared for, but didn't really know that intimately well yet. (And to add to the frustration, he missed out on my birthday by about a month, giving him almost a full year to figure out the perfect way to celebrate my day, which is ridiculously easy anyway since the answer is, "no party, no gifts, awesome cake.")
My first misstep was offering up a homemade birthday dinner, despite the facts that A. I don't really know how to cook things that aren't desserts, and B. it was winter in Chicago and hadn't stopped snowing in weeks, making a trip to a grocery store without a dogsled team nearly impossible.
My second misstep was directly asking what he would like for a gift, seeing how I could come up with no good ideas on my own. So...you wore a blue sweater that one time we went out...which leads me to believe you like blue sweaters...do you need another blue sweater? And also, what size should your blue sweater be?
Remus replied that he would love it if I would pick out a new men's cologne for him to wear, which of course he did, because if there's one thing I know less about than how to prepare a meal that involves actual ingredients and not just pre-made frozen things in bags, it's men's cologne. I always thought most men smelled just fine on their own, provided they showered fairly regularly and bothered to wash their clothes within the past month (and, fortunately, Remus does both of these things).
Cut to me in a Sephora, facing the wall of cologne options, with about half a dozen of those scent-tester paper strips in my hand, frantically sniffing each one multiple times, trying to decide if I liked any of them, if Remus would like any of them, and what I had done to find myself sniffing men's cologne in Sephora instead of playing with the tester pots of glittery eye shadow where I belonged.
This one smells like dryer sheets...which I guess is nice...who doesn't like clean laundry?
This one smells like fresh cut grass...I guess there are worse things than smelling like a lawn in June...
This one smells like the underside of a pirate ship...so...no...
When a salesgirl finally showed up to ask if she could help, I desperately waved my fistful of smelly paper strips at her, crying, "Why? Doesn't it look like I know what I'm doing?!"
I explained that I was looking for something that smelled clean and light; "Anything with 'brut' or 'musk' in the name is not going to work." She then proceeded to show me something that cost over $100 for less than two ounces (um, no), something that smelled like lemon cake (yes for me, no for him), and something that smelled worse than the underside of a pirate ship (ugh, god no, you aren't even trying to be helpful!).
I finally made a selection that I felt we could both live with, making sure to hang onto the receipt.
When birthday time rolled around I managed to dig my car out of the driveway in between snow days to get the makings for ziti and garlic bread (an idiot-proof meal if ever there was one), and presented my cologne gift with strict orders that Remus honestly tell me if he didn't like it so we could exchange it. "If I spent money on something you'll never use, I'm going to be way more annoyed than if you simply tell me upfront that you don't like it!" But it was deemed an acceptable scent, the meal was edible, and I managed to successfully win our first birthday together.
To this day I couldn't tell you which cologne I picked out, but it makes him smell like clean ocean air, and in wintertime in Chicago, there's no better scent to share the sofa with.
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