That Damned Valentine's Day CardbyTx Tall Tales©
He made her an offer, 7 years later she took him up on it.
This is an entry in the VALENTINES DAY STORY CONTEST 2013.
I was lying back in exhausted post-coital bliss. A smile affixed to my face unlikely to be removed by anything short of the apocalypse.
My sexy wife of six years had placed it there. It was a tradition. Every Valentine's day since we first met, I tried my best to spoil her as much as humanly possible, and she worked her damnedest to kill me with sex. It had been close this year. I was convinced she'd stopped my heart at least three times.
"You win," I murmured sleepily, reaching out for her.
She seemed about as done in as I was, yet still managed to roll onto her side and cuddle up to me. "No way. That balloon ride? Ankle deep in rose petals, and the pilot behind the gauze curtain, allowing us our privacy? How did you ever come up with that?"
"You inspire me."
She chuckled, and kissed my shoulder. "Alex?"
"Yes, darling, love of my life," I said softly, my eyes closed, the siren call of sleep stealing me away.
"I...I've been thinking of using my 'card'."
At first I wasn't sure I'd heard her right. Her 'card'? Wait. Not the card! That woke me up.
Shit. The card? She would spring it on me now? Seven years without a word, then tonight?
"Did you hear me?" she asked nervously.
"Yes, Sheri. I heard you." I tried to keep my voice calm and even.
"What do you think?" she was tensing up, and I figured it might well be in response to my own reactions. My heart was beating a mile a minute. I couldn't even think straight.
"Now?" I asked, trying to mask my anger. "You would suggest that now? Tonight of all nights?"
She moved away slowly, until only her hand was touching me softly. "I'm sorry, but if I do, it has to be soon," she answered quietly.
I sat up, my stomach roiling. "Happy fucking Valentine's Day," I murmured, as I climbed off the bed, and made my way to the bedroom door.
I walked out to the living room, and headed for the refrigerator. I grabbed a beer, then changed my mind and took the whole six-pack. I had the first one half-finished before I sat down on the couch.
The Card. Her Get-out-of-jail free card. She actually wanted to use it.
Seven years ago tonight. Valentine's Day. I'd proposed several days earlier, and she'd waffled. She wasn't sure she was ready. I was 25, but she was only 21, still in college. We'd met over the summer, 9 months earlier, and it had seemed perfect. From the first time I met her, to our first time having sex three months later, she was all I could think about.
She seemed to have it just as bad; the looks she gave me were nothing short of adoring. We were teased by both our families incessantly, about being love-struck teenagers. I didn't care. She was the one.
Perhaps that's why I was so surprised at the results when I got on my knee and proposed, holding out the ring I'd bought. She seemed overjoyed, looking around the room at our family, who I'd gathered together for the occasion.
She laughed, smiling, and took the box. "God, Alex. I love you so much, it's beautiful." I was grinning from ear to ear when she leaned down and kissed my cheek. She brought her lips to my ears, and said those frightening four words.
"We need to talk."
I forced a smile on my face, and everyone cheered and toasted us. Congratulating us. Falsely, it turned out. She never said yes.
Sure, she put on a beautiful front, proclaiming her love, hugging me kissing me. I guess she didn't want to embarrass me. But she closed the box, without taking the ring out, and whispered those four little words, shattering my world.
I kept up appearances as best as I could, then when I had a chance, I went outside, got in my car and drove home, without saying goodbye. I could feel the hot tears finally escaping. How could I have been so wrong?
I turned off my cell-phone, bolted the door when I got home, and unplugged the phone. I drank a half-bottle of scotch, and collapsed in the bed, wondering what I was going to do with the rest of my life. She was the one. She was. There had been nobody before her that attracted me half as powerfully as she did. Everything about 'us' was perfect.
For three days I didn't move. Didn't turn on my phone, ignored the intermittent pounding on my door. Wallowed in hurt, self-pity, and anguish. Drank my meager liquor cabinet dry. Didn't go to work. Didn't call in.
I woke up the fourth day, my head splitting, sick to my stomach. I'd run out of booze sometime the night before. I got off my living room floor and staggered to the bathroom, eating a handful of aspirin dry, and climbing in the shower until the water ran cold.
I didn't feel like trying to prepare anything to eat, so I threw on some clothes, haphazardly, and decided that Denny's might do the trick.
I opened the door, and was surprised to see Sheri curled up in a ball, on my doorstep. The sight of her pained me more than I thought possible. I carefully stepped over her, and didn't even bother to pull the door closed behind me. Walked down the apartment steps to the first floor, got in my car and went to eat.
I was half-way through the Grand-Slam when she sat down in the booth opposite me. Not much of a surprise that she found me. She knew my habits, my taste. She looked sort of like I felt. I didn't understand that. She's the one that turned me down.
She could barely look at me. "I'm sorry," she said, barely above a whisper. "I didn't handle that well. You surprised me."
I finished chewing on my pancakes, and started cutting another bite. "No, you handled that perfectly. I got your message."
"Please, Alex, talk to me. I love you. I've never loved anyone like you."
I laughed, stuffing my face with too much pancake, and washing it down with some coke.
"I didn't mean to hurt you. I only wanted to talk about it."
I set my cutlery aside. "Talk? It was a simple question. Two possible answers. Yes or no. You didn't answer yes. I understand. I'm sorry if I embarrassed you."
"Embarrass me? It was the sweetest, most romantic thing in the world."
"What do you want, Sheri? Can't you see I want to be alone right now?"
"I want to talk with you, like we always do. We can talk about anything. It's one of the things that's so great about being with you. I love you, Alex. I'm just not sure I'm ready to get married. Can't we go somewhere and talk?"
I was having a hard time holding it together. The combination of pancakes, eggs, bacon and coke was suddenly a very bad idea. I scrambled out of the booth and barely made it to the bathroom before I lost my breakfast, which I hadn't even paid for. I stayed in there a long time, head over the bowl, emptying my stomach. When I had nothing left to offer the porcelain gods, I rinsed my mouth out in the sink, and prepared myself to face her again. Maybe if I was lucky she'd left.
I left the bathroom and she was standing in the little hallway. She took one look at me, then dropped to her knees crying. "What have I done?" she whined.
I stepped around her, left a $20 on the table, and headed out the door.
She caught me as I was unlocking the car and almost knocked me down, throwing her arms around my waist and clinging to me. "Please, Alex! I'm begging you. Don't do this. I'll marry you. I love you. I'll do whatever it takes. Don't leave me."
What can I say? I loved her. With all my heart and soul. I lifted her into my arms and hugged her, broken heart and all. "No, I won't make you marry me. I'll take whatever I can have, but I won't do that to you. Let's go, Sheri."
She cried all the way back to the apartment. The door was still open, but miraculously the place looked just as bad as when I left. I was holding her by the hand, and she followed forlornly, a step behind.
We laid down on my bed, fully clothed, and held each other. We both cried, my tears streaming down my face, while I held it back as well as I could. She let it all out, sobbing.
"Why?" I finally asked, once we were both cried out, lying there silently.
"I don't know. You surprised me, and all of a sudden I was scared. I've done so little with my life. I have all these ideas, these dreams, things I've wanted to do, and I was seeing myself married, tied down with children, my freedom lost."
"I have dreams too, Sheri. Goals, a long list of things I'm determined to do some day. I want to do them with you. I can't imagine doing them without you."
Sheri looked pitiful. "Maybe I'm an idiot. Ruining the best moment of my life. I love you so much. I dream of a life with you, having my babies with you. I don't know what happened. I...I'm afraid. What if there's something I want to do, and you don't want to? Do I just give it up? Will I regret getting married before I'd done more with my life?"
I was nervous about what she was saying. Of one thing in particular.
"Is it sex?" I asked softly.
She was quiet for a while. "I don't know. Maybe. That's part of it I guess. You've been around, done so much more. I've had two miserable lovers in my life. I didn't know how to enjoy sex until you. You were so good with me, so patient. You taught me so well."
"But sometimes I get jealous. I wonder. How many were there before me? How did you learn to be so amazing? Am I enough for you? Will you get tired of me? Worse, will I someday feel I missed out? Will I succumb to temptation someday?"
"Temptation? Aren't I enough for you? Don't I satisfy you?"
"You destroy me. You are wonderful in bed. You can leave me a shivering mess." She moved closer to me, hugging me. "I had no idea love could be like it is with you."
"And still it's not enough," I said softly.
"It's not that, Alex. I swear." She shuddered. "You know I get hit on all the time. All the time. I have no interest in them, none whatsoever, but every now and then, afterward, I wonder. Don't you ever see a beautiful woman and wonder what it would be like?"
"Sometimes I think about it. I would guess all men do. Not seriously, more of a fantasy. Nothing I would consider acting on. Why would I when I have you?"
"But what if one day it's different? Maybe you're mad at me. Maybe you're drunk. Perhaps some woman will come on to you so hard, you'll start wondering. More than wonder." She tilted her head back looking at me. "I'm only going to get married once, Alex. It would destroy me if you cheated on me. Probably worse if I cheated on you. If I wonder now, when everything is so new, so perfect, what might happen 10 years down the road? Why do I even wonder about other lovers?"
"I'll never cheat on you, Sheri. I hate cheating."
"I hate it too."
But it didn't end there. We talked about her thoughts. Her concerns. We eventually got naked together and made love. We tiptoed around the subject a little. We slept together, nothing resolved. The next morning I got up to go to work, if I still had a job. Sheri told me she'd called the office when I wouldn't answer the door, my car parked out front. She told them I was deathly ill, and didn't know when I'd be back. She'd called in sick herself.
I thanked her, and told her I'd see her after work. It wasn't until I was in the office, and saw the flowers, balloons and cards on people's desks that I realized it was Valentine's day. Our first together. Barely. We almost hadn't made it. I still wasn't sure we would.
I got sympathetic nods and comments from a few people, hoping I felt better. I'd never missed a day of work in three years, except for taking two weeks off last summer, after meeting Sheri.
Before the end of the day, I went to my boss, and told her I still wasn't feeling well.
"You look terrible, Alex. You didn't have to come in. Get well, Ok? We'll survive until you're back to 100%. You looked like you were in a daze all day."
"I'm sorry. I hope to get over it soon." That much was true.
I left early, with my boss's blessing. I bought the biggest card I could find, nearly three feet tall, and plastered the back with a dozen more cards, glued to it. I wrote a message in each one, telling her I'd wait until she was ready, I didn't mean to rush her, I loved her and always would. I got two dozen long stemmed roses, Godiva chocolate truffles, a gift certificate to the spa.
And in a moment of temporary insanity I made out that handwritten, God-damned stupid card.
"Get Out of Jail Free" it said on one side. On the reverse I'd written these simple words. "Whatever you want. One Time. I won't say no."
I stopped at the jewelry store, and bought a stupidly overpriced box. A hard case, navy blue velvet covering. I placed the card inside. Big romantic gesture.
I know. I'm an idiot.
I called her and told her to go home and get dressed up. I had to phone almost a dozen restaurants to find one that we could get in on Valentine's Day, at the last minute.
I picked her up, and once more was amazed at how beautiful she was, and how she could possibly be with me. I really didn't deserve her. I wined and dined her, then took her back to my place.
Rose petals on the floor, leading to the table where her card was. "Happy Valentine's Day, Sheri," I told her, giving her a hug. She read her card, alternately laughing and crying. When she finished the last of the smaller cards, telling me how much she loved me, I gave her the box. She undid the ribbon holding it closed, and opened it, a look of curiosity scoring her face. She took the card, and read it carefully. Turned it over twice, re-reading it.
"You...I mean...I would never," she stumbled over her words.
"But if you ever do, once, you're forgiven. I love you Sheri. I don't want you to have to wonder."
She closed the box reverently. "How? How could you love me that much? Forgive me even before I did something?"
"How could I not? You're everything to me. My entire world. I know that now, having thought I'd lost you. I can't let that happen. I don't think I could survive it."
She took me by the hand, and quietly brought me back to our bedroom. She took off her dress, and stood before me, wearing the sexiest bra and panties I'd ever seen. I didn't know she owned anything like that. She blushed prettily. "Happy Valentine's Day, Alex. I'm yours, whatever you want. Anything you can imagine. I'll never say no."
We made love four times. Nothing crazy, no water sports, no bondage, no anal. I did ask her to suck me before each time, and we covered every inch of my queen sized bed. She wore me out, then woke me in the night to continue our play. The morning was a continuation of the night before, and I couldn't get enough of her. I called in sick. It was a Friday, and I told them I thought I'd be better by Monday. Better if I was still alive.
We were laying together, pleasantly exhausted, when she reached beside the bed. She pulled out the little box which I'd given her a scant six days earlier. "May I?" she asked.
"I'd be honored," I answered.
She opened it and took out the ring. "Put it on me?"
I took it from her hands, and slipped the ring on her finger. "Are you sure?" I asked nervously.
"I've never been more sure of anything in my life. Does the offer still stand?"
"No," I told her.
She caught her breath, looking at me in surprise. "No?"
I scrambled off the bed, onto my knees. "Sheri, the first time you agreed to go out with me, I knew I was the luckiest man alive. I'd do whatever it took to win your heart. As I grew to know you, and saw how perfectly our dreams and aspirations matched, I knew you were placed on this earth to complete me. When I took you to the movies, and three times in a row, you chose the one I wanted so desperately to see, without even knowing, I accepted it was fate. Before I met you, I was content, wandering through life, but without any passion. Now, everything I do reminds me of you, and makes me want to be a man worthy of your love. Please, I beg you, make me the happiest man in the world. Tell me you'll marry me."
"I will. I'll marry you, and spend the rest of my life making you glad you asked me. I love you more than you'll ever know. Thank you for helping me understand how badly I need and want you." She got down on the floor with me, hugging me. "I'm the lucky one, Alex. I don't deserve you, but I swear I'll do my damnedest to change that."
That was the beginning of our Valentine's Day tradition. Every year I was hard pressed to ratchet the romantic gestures up one more notch, and every year she made my dreams and fantasies come true. The best day of the year. For six more years after that, our first Valentine's Day.
Until that night.
* * *
When she came out to find me, after I hadn't returned to our bed, I had killed the six pack, the empties arrayed beside me, and I was working on a bottle of single malt. I was determined to drink until I didn't hurt any more. I was getting close.
I could see she'd been crying. She sat down next to me, quietly. I ignored her, taking a long swig from the bottle, feeling that delightful soothing burn down my throat.
"Never mind. Please forget I ever said anything," she whispered.
I stared out the glass doors into our backyard. Had I missed something? I thought we were happy. Deliriously happy to be honest. Where had I gone wrong? How the fuck could she want to use the card.
"Alex, please, put that away and come to bed. Let's pretend this never happened, Ok? I'm sorry."
"Use your damn card," I muttered.
"W...what?" she stammered.
I stood, and screamed at her. "USE YOUR GOD-DAMNED FUCKING CARD!" I took the bottle in my hand and threw it at the wall. It didn't break, it made a hole in the drywall, stuck, the neck sticking out, and the half bottle of Laphroaig draining onto the floor. I stomped out of the room and locked myself in the guest room.
She knocked a few minutes later, calling out for me. "Alex?"
I ignored her. She tried the handle, knocked a few more times before giving up.
I don't know how, but I slept like a rock.
Apparently she didn't. She had put on a t-shirt, and was standing in front of my door when I opened it.
"It's not what you think, Alex. Will you listen to me? Please?"
My head was aching, and my mouth was as dry as the Sahara. I walked past her to the master bedroom, and headed for the bathroom. I turned on the shower, dumped several aspirin in my hand, and stood under the cool water as it warmed up. I opened my mouth below the shower-head, and drank in the water to wash down the aspirin, washing the sand out of my mouth. The water got hot, then cooled down again before I left. The pounding in my head had settled to a gentle thumping.
She was waiting for me, a towel in my hand. "Please, baby? Don't do this again. You have to listen, try to understand."
"I understand. I'm not enough for you. Fine. Use your card. You have my blessing. I don't want to know why, or how, or with who. No gory details. I couldn't take that. Never talk to me about it. Do whatever the fuck you have to do, and leave me out of it."
"It's John. He leaves for Afghanistan on Tuesday. That's why it couldn't wait," she told me.
"Damn it, Sheri! I don't want to know!"
"Please, baby, I need you to understand. It's not about me or you. I swear, you're everything I need. The only man I ever want."
I laughed brushing past her, ignoring her hand clinging to me. She grabbed me tighter. "No, Alex! You have to listen to me. I've earned this much."
"Right. I thought I'd earned love and faithfulness."
"You have. I've never cheated on you, and I never will. John's devastated, Alex. First that horrible divorce, losing his kids, and then getting called up to the reserves barely a month after his divorce is final. He's dying. If he goes over there like that, I don't think he'll ever come back."