It is Valentine’s day. A Tuesday. Carolyn is at home, at the beach. I am at work, in Washington. Our plan is to skip the formalities and enjoy a romantic dinner the following weekend.
Correction; That is Carolyn’s plan. At 5 p.m. I am heading for Lewes. Riding shotgun are a blood-red Hallmark envelope and a spray of roses, wrapped in plastic that crackles gleefully with every bump.
I speed across the Bay Bridge, singing with Luther Vandross. At the Kent Island Dairy Queen. I pick up the heart-shaped ice cream cake I’ve ordered.
As planned, the house is dark. Carolyn is at Fish On for Writer’s Guild Night. I light every candle I can find, flick on the fireplace, and set up a three-candle candelabra on the front porch, where I lean suavely against a pillar. And wait.
Carolyn’s white suv pulls tentatively into the driveway. For a short eternity it just sits there, motor running, as if the driver might suddenly throw it into reverse. The window rolls down, revealing the expression of a woman who, oh, I don’t know, was expecting to come home to a nice, solitary evening but who now knows that is not going to happen.
“What are you doing here?” she asks, making no move to open the door.
“It’s Valentine’s Day,” I say, unnecessarily.
Carolyn slowly exits the car. She traverses the sidewalk with a crooked smile.
“This is a surprise,” she says. She does not say, “This is a wonderful surprise.”
Inside, my heart-shaped ice cream cake is melting. As we slow dance to At Last by Etta James on a romantic music mix I’ve prepared, Carolyn’s muscles are tight as bungee cords stretched around a crash test dummy.
In five years of marriage, I’ve somehow missed something. “You don’t like surprises, do you?” I whisper. She shakes her head.
I sigh. “This will never, ever happen again.”
Carolyn raises her head. She breathes in my ear, “I’m looking forward to that.”