“You realize Valentine’s Day is in a week?” Bobby plopped his school backpack on the island and jumped up on one of the stools. Renee was swiping a cloth over the counter.
“For real?!” She paused and looked at her brother. “I completely forgot about it.”
“Yep, for real!” Bobby grinned. “My art teacher was talking about us making crafts for our families this week.” He pulled a face.
“You’re a ham, you know it?” Renee smiled as she finished the counter, then headed towards the living area. She pulled her phone from her pocket and settled on the couch. So, my brother just reminded me of a special event happening soon. She typed out the words and hit send. She wondered if David had forgotten as well. Her phone buzzed. Yep. Valentines Day. I was planning on surprising you. Warmth spread through her as she smiled to herself. She typed out another reply.
“What are you smiling about?” Lucy, her mom, walked into the room.
“David has a surprise for me next week.” She grinned.
“Valentines Day!” Mama winked.
“Yeah! Now I’m getting two surprises because he has one planned for my birthday on the 18th too.” She took a breath after saying so many words at once. Mama’s eyes glittered as she gave Renee a look of knowledge.
“Wait!” Renee jumped up. “You know what they are?”
“My lips are sealed.” Mama winked again and headed to the kitchen to start supper. “Bobby! Take care of your school things.” She called.
Renee tapped her fingers on her knees. She could hardly keep still. The scenery whizzed past as they headed for the city. Fingers grasped hers.
“You must be quite excited for this surprise.” David laughed.
“Yeah!” She glanced at him. “You said it was going to be amazing!”
David directed his Forrester onto the exit ramp and drew to a stop. He deftly pulled out onto the busy road in Muskegon. Renee felt like she was on the edge of her seat, though the seatbelt kept her strapped in safely. The car began to slow, and Renee realized where David was going.
“Wait!” She almost felt like jumping in her seat. “We’re going to Olive Garden?!”
“Yep!” David grinned. “They have gluten-free noodles.”
Renee tucked her fingers in David’s as they walked into the restaurant. The nearly overwhelming aromas of oregano and garlic filled her senses. A waitress grabbed two menus and led them to a small booth near a window. They each took a side and thanked the girl. Renee opened her menu and perused her options. She hesitated over two different dishes and then picked one.
“You ready to order?” David looked into her eyes over his menu. The azure depths drew her in.
“Yes.” She smiled gently.
She twisted her fork through the last strands of gluten-free pasta and lifted the marina dripping noodles to her mouth. The Italian flavor burst across her tongue.
“Do you mind if I wipe up your sauce with the last piece of bread?” David queried, his eyes kind.
“Sure, go ahead!” She pushed her plate across the table. “Thanks for bringing me here. It was really delicious!”
They called the waitress to the table and paid. Renee smiled at David as they waited for her to return with his card. He was really an amazing guy. Her family liked him. Her brothers treated him like as if David was one of them. She was ready to say it. As she gazed into his blue eyes, Renee wondered if he was ready to say it too.
“Did you enjoy it?” David walked with her to the door, their fingers intertwined.
“Yes, very much.” She could not believe how nice this man was. “You’re so sweet, kind, and giving.”
David looked down at her with such warmth, then pulled her into a hug. “So are you.” He whispered against her hair. She pulled back gently and looked up into his face. She was ready to say it, but he beat her to it.
“I love you, Renee.” He brushed the back of her hand with his thumb.
“I love you too.” She smiled up at him. After giving her hand one last gentle squeeze, he pulled open the door and they said their goodnights.
The next couple days passed by in a blur and very slowly at the same time. Renee walked around on a cloud. After Thursday’s amazing night, she wasn’t sure how her birthday surprise could even come close to that. She carefully hung her dress and then crawled underneath her covers. Her birthday was just the following day. She closed her eyes and just before she was asleep, she heard her phone ping. She wondered who that could be. She slipped to a slight sitting position and flicked on her bedside lamp. A message from her mom lit her phone screen. Puzzled, she unlocked her phone. Might want to warn David about the weather. Just saw that there is supposed to be an ice storm tonight and tomorrow. Disappointment settled in the pit of her stomach like a rock at the bottom of a cold lake. She pulled up her weather app and groaned. Would David even be able to come at all tomorrow? She quickly texted David about the situation. He tried to reassure her. Renee bit her lip and typed a reply. You know we want to see each other tomorrow, but I don’t want you to come if it’s too dangerous. He responded that he would not drive if the roads were icy. She slid back down under her covers and switched off the light.
Sunlight streamed through the window when Renee awoke the next morning. She quickly scrambled out from under her tangled covers and rushed to the window. Pooh Bear startled jumped off the bed. The trees and ground sparkled with a smooth coating of frozen water. The disappointment from the night before turned into a solid, permanent knot in her gut. She swiped at a tear that slipped out and pulled on a pair of skinny jeans and a pink tunic shirt. Grabbing her striped pink socks, she hurried up the carpeted stairs, her little dog bounding ahead of her.
“He probably can’t come today.” Renee flopped onto the couch with her gluten-free donut in one hand, a piece of organic bacon in the other. The golden Chihuahua sat at her feet, eyes glued to the food.
“Well, maybe he can come another day and we’ll do your party then.” Mama looked up from the book she was reading.
“I guess.” She picked up her phone from the arm of the couch and opened her text messages. She read again the text she had gotten while her mom was making the bacon. I’m not sure if I can make it today or not. I’ll wait to see if the snowplows get out before lunch, but I doubt it. I’m sorry honey. She finished her breakfast, then called to her brothers. Bobby, George, and Jay all came into the room. There was no work or school today because of the ice.
“Do you want to play a game?” She grabbed one of the game console remotes and switched it on. They agreed and each took a remote from the cabinet under the large flatscreen TV. She put in the cart racing disc and settled on a cushion on the floor, tucking her feet underneath herself. They played several races. Renee won almost none of them, though she still had fun.
“Can I join in?” Dad sat on a chair behind them.
“There are only four remotes, Dad.” Bobby groaned and laughed at the same time.
“I have some paperwork to finish for work tomorrow.” Jay stood and handed his remote to Dad.
“Okay, but only if you’re sure.” Their father hesitated.
“It’s fine.” Jay smiled and then headed up the stairs to his room. Dad sat in his place. They played most of the morning. Bobby sat up from his sprawled position on the floor. He announced that he was going to get something to eat for lunch. Dad figured he would join him. Renee looked at George. The skinny young man grinned apologetically back at her.
“I should go do paperwork too.” He placed his remote back in the cabinet. Renee reached for her phone on the couch and opened her messages. A single message had come in forty-five minutes earlier. I’ll be there in an hour. Renee felt a grin spread across her face. That meant he would be there in just fifteen minutes! She jumped to her feet and ran down to her bathroom. After running a brush through her hair, she applied a small amount of makeup and hurried back upstairs. The doorbell soon sounded throughout the house. Sharp barks accompanied the sound as tiny nails clicked across floor to the door. Renee rushed to open it and gave David a giant hug.
“Thanks for bringing me back to this place.” Renee wiped her mouth with a napkin. “They really do have the best pizza.”
“Well, you were the one who introduced me to this wonderful place.” David grinned at her. “This wasn’t your birthday surprise, though.” He grinned mysteriously. Renee laughed.
“I can’t wait.” She grinned back at him. She had seen him carry a giant box in while she was getting her purse before they left. The surprise must be that. The tall young man placed his cowboy hat on his head and they headed out to his vehicle. David’s fingers hesitated on the gear shifter.
“Hey, Renee…” A seriousness and disappointment had seeped into his demeanor and tone, though he remained calm.
“Is there something wrong?” She looked up into his face.
“I just can’t stay as long tonight as I wanted.” He explained. “My mom is nervous about the weather.” He hesitated again. There was more.
“What else?” Renee hoped her voice and face conveyed reassurance.
“My mom sometimes has days where she feels down. I’m usually the one to comfort her since my dad does not have the mental capability for it.” He paused. “She also likes me to do certain things around the house, but I’m not there to do them today. She’ll probably be upset with me if I get home too late to do it. I have to avoid her if she’s mad. Do you think you can handle when someone is down? I have days like that too, sometimes.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry.” Renee reached up at brushed a finger against his cheek, his goatee tickling her thumb. “We’ll make sure you get home on time. Yes, I can handle it. I’m glad you told me.”
After doing some sightseeing, which was hampered by which roads were salted, they pulled into Renee’s driveway. She stepped from the vehicle and headed into the house. She removed her wet boots and walked in her socks across the smooth hardwood. Pink and silver banners graced the beige walls of the dining room. The largest one hung over the picture window and said, Happy Birthday Renee!
“Do you like our decorating?” Bobby bounced into the room.
“I love it!” Renee gave him a one-armed hug around the shoulders. The family gathered around, including Carol and Edward, and led the way to the living room. Gifts were piled on the coffee table. Anne, her eleven-month old niece, toddled into the room, headed straight for the shiny wrapping paper.
“Oh, no you don’t!” Carol grabbed her daughter and carried her to the dining room. The little girl tried to throw herself backwards and screamed at the top of her lungs.
“Oh, my.” Renee hid her grin. “Mama!” She called, “I think it’s time to eat.” She grabbed the stack of pink party plates and placed them around the table. The table was set quickly, and everyone sat down.
Carol dished a few juicy strawberries onto Anne’s plate and passed the bowl. She sliced them up into bite-sized pieces. Renee piled some gluten-free macaroni and cheese onto her own plate. After everyone had full plates, Dad hushed the table and bowed his head. Chatter commenced as soon as prayer was over. Renee dug into her food.
Renee smiled at the baby’s food smeared face and wiped her fingers on her napkin. Chairs began to scrape back from the table. At a knowing look from David, she pushed back her chair as well and headed for the living room. She settled onto the couch and her boyfriend sat next to her. They intertwined fingers as her Dad lifted the first gift off the table and handed it to her.
Pink and gold paper were tucked into the trash bag next to the couch. Renee reached for the large box, her last present. This one was from David, her surprise. She grinned at him before slipping a finger beneath the tape and tore the wrapping off. She reached between the flaps and touched something soft. Grasping it, she pulled it out of the box. She had to lift it high in the air to get it all the way out. Browns and greens covered the fleece blanket. As she examined it closer, she realized it was horse print fabric. She grinned from ear to ear as she lifted her face to look into David’s gentle face.
“I made this for you.” He said softly. “I know how much you love blankets and horses.”
“Thank you so so much!” Renee flung her arms around his thin middle and squeezed him in a hug.
The stars twinkled in the dark sky outside the entry window. Goodbyes were always hard. She looked up into his sparkling blue eyes. David smiled down at her.
“I’m glad you had a good birthday.” He squeezed her fingers.
“Yeah, I did.” She leaned in for a hug. Love for him spread through her middle.
“So, I want to say something.” He began. He continued at her curious look. “I know it’s still early, but I have come to realize that I want to marry you.”
“Me too.” She grinned up at him.
“It won’t happen this month. I think it’s too early yet to propose.” He hesitated again. “But it could be sooner than you think.” He smiled at her fondly.
“I’d like that.” She grinned.
Expectation thrilled through her as she descended the stairs to the finished basement. Pooh Bear danced around, sensing her mood. She felt like she was on her toes. Would he propose in a month or longer than three months?