It was early Friday morning, my last day in Toronto before heading to Winnipeg, and I was sitting at a sidewalk table in Yorkville café, drinking a latte and thinking about Joni Mitchell. She was in Toronto now for a festival, and this was where she’d started her career. Though I knew it was unlikely she’d just walk by, part of me couldn’t help hoping. Though if I ran into her I’d probably just embarrass myself, where to even begin? As I hummed the opening bars of “Both Sides Now,” a red convertible braked at a stop sign, “22” blasting from the stereo. Four girls laughed inside, and I smiled — partially because I’m still thrilled when I catch people listening to my songs, and partially because it made me feel 22 again to hear it. Or maybe 22.5 …

***

I was curled up on my couch, Meredith slouched beside me, listening to the day’s rough mix of “Red,” when I heard someone pounding on the door. I sat up, suddenly alert. Then my phone chimed, and I saw a selfie of Claire, Ashley, and Jessica right outside my door.

I headed to the entryway, unlocked the door and swung it open to my three friends, who were dressed like … hipsters?

Ashley adjusted her fake thick-framed glasses, gave my pajama pants and Seattle Grace E.R. t-shirt a quick up and down, and laughed. “So … not a lot going on at the moment?”

“I was listening to the rough mix for a new song — I have to have notes to Nathan by tomorrow,” I said, waving them in.

“Well not tonight,” said Jessica. “No deadlines. It is the 13th of June, a very auspicious day — your half birthday! You’re not going to be 22 forever, so we’re going out to enjoy it.”

“What did you have in mind?” I asked as Meredith sniffed the strangers in her entryway.

“An adventure!” said Claire. “But first, you need to get dressed. You need something a little more … brunch and a silent film retrospective in Brooklyn.”

Ashley and Claire grabbed my hand and pulled me upstairs, while Jessica went to the stereo and put on “I Gotta Feeling” at full volume.

We ran into my room, already giggling, and I jumped on the bed, dancing it out and belting the words to into my hairbrush. “I gotta feeling, that tonight’s going to be a good night…”

Ashley danced with me, while Claire started ransacking my closet, tossing skinny jeans, stripey tops, and vintage dresses behind her. 

Once we’d all assembled outfits (I donned a slouchy top, short shorts, vintage loafers and a fedora), and were suitably hipster-fied, we ran out to Claire’s red convertible. (It was understood that this was the kind of night that required running everywhere.)

“Where are we headed?” I asked, as I applied a coat of red lipstick.

The girls looked at each other, grinning, then Ashley said, “It’s a surprise.”

Jessica leaned past me in the to plug in her iPhone, which had a playlist called “Taylor turns 22.5.” Destiny’s Child’s “Independent Women, Part 1” exploded out of the speakers, and I threw my hands in the air, letting the air run through my fingers, singing along with the song I hadn’t heard in forever.

We drove for about 10 minutes, seat dancing and singing along to Jess’s awesome playlist, before Claire slowed the car and ordered me to close my eyes.

I felt the car stop, and heard the girls start to get out. “Keep them closed!” ordered Ashley.

Then I felt someone take me by the hand and lead me out of the car. We started walking, hand-in-hand, across some grass. “Is this ever romantic,” I said.

I started to hear faint dance music, which was growing steadily louder as we kept walking. “Are we going to a club?”

 “Of a sort,” replied Jessica. “Okay … open.”

We were in a clearing surrounded by trees that had been strung with thousands of white twinkle lights, and above us the stars shone like thousands, millions, more. A DJ had set up off to the right, and there were probably a hundred people dancing in the clearing. “This is magical!” My hands flew to my face in disbelief.

“It’s the Midsummer Night’s Dance,” said Claire. “So let’s get dancing!”

“Wait,” I said, starting to unlace my shoes. “Bare feet are most definitely in order.”

We all ditched our footgear and joined the dance floor, drunk on just the music and each other. Even as I felt the cool grass between my toes, I felt like I was soaring, felt like there was nothing more important than this moment with my friends, the night air, and a song to dance to.

We danced until we absolutely had to sit, and we headed to the side, collapsing onto the ground. “So what should we do next?” I yelled over the music. This was a night I didn’t ever want to end.

“I could go for some waffles,” said Claire.

“Midnight waffles,” added Ashley.

I smiled. “The best kind.”

Just as I was contemplating whether I’d have waffles with strawberries or ice cream or both, I spotted a little wooden sign caught my eye to the side of the clearing. It read Magic and had an arrow pointing down a nearby path.

“Hey guys,” I said, then pointed. “Any takers?”

I took off down the path, the girls close behind, and we reached another small clearing. A small lantern revealed a handsome, dark-haired guy sitting at a wooden table. He had a sign that read, Magic $1.

The others seemed suddenly shy, but I approached the table. The dance music seemed distant now, and the cicadas in the trees were our new soundtrack. He looked up, brushing long bangs out of deep brown eyes, and smiled. “Hi.”

I pointed to the sign. “Seems like a great deal. I gotta have it.” But what I heard in my mind was you. Gotta have you. Good thing he couldn’t see me blushing in the dark.

I handed him a $5 bill, and he pulled out four extra long sparklers from a box beside his table. He flicked a lighter, and the first one sizzled to life. I lit Jessica’s, who lit Claire’s, who lit Ashley’s. It was almost perfectly dark in this clearing and I lifted my sparkler and painted three hearts in the air: one for each of the girls, one for each of the men I’d loved, and the three hearts that was always the sign off to my fans: love love love T.

As I watched my burnt ember hearts fade into the air, Jessica grabbed my hand. "Come on, Taylor. Waffles await!" And with a wave to the brown-eyed magic man, we took off at a run, and I followed my friends' laughter back through the trees.

***

Even though it was early, the June sun was warm on my skin, and as I took the last sip of my coffee, I started to feel hot. Too hot for this time in the morning. A bird flew by, and I watched it soar overhead and across the street, landing by a fountain that I noticed for the first time.  It was like a beaded curtain of fine streams of water falling into a rectangular pond. The waiter brought my bill: $5.22. I grinned. A little sign from the universe. I left cash on the table and jogged across the street, heading straight for then through the fountain, the cold water running down my hair, streaking my white dress. On the other side, I brushed my wet bangs out of my eyes and giggled. Sometimes 23 still felt a lot like 22.

Taylor Swift: Know You BetterRead this story for FREE!