“Happy Valentine’s Day.” She wasn’t smiling.
I looked up from the computer. “What? Yes, same to you.”
I pointed to the package she had set next to my elbow; a red heartbox tied with a thick cream-colored bow.
“What is this?”
“It’s your Valentine’s present. Open it.”
Shit. I didn’t get her anything. Again. Bella had always been tolerant and forgiving but for the past year or so I felt as though she was placing minefields and hazards in my life. I couldn’t get through a whole week without disappointing her and I was always guilty. Had she found out about Connie? No, impossible. I’d worked that out; never call Connie from home, immediately delete all emails and texts; our assignations were successfully accomplished while Bella was at work or away on business. No, this new failure was simply a result of Bella’s expectations and what she referred to as my pathological self-esteem.
Too bad I couldn’t just reach in my wallet and give her a couple hundred-dollar bills. A few years ago that may have worked.
I pulled the ribbon on the box and the top came away easily. Inside were several rows of chocolates with a different calligraphic ornament on each one. I think these symbols were supposed to communicate what flavors were contained within each piece of candy; orange, coconut, fudge.
I didn’t care.
I didn’t care because I now remembered that I had not bought anything for Connie, either. And if anyone was going to be disappointed about being forgotten on Valentines Day, it was Connie.
She called it “Valentime’s Day.” With an “M”. Jesus.
Bella shifted, waited for my response. “Thanks. Nice. Candy. How sweet. Ha.”
Another stupid holiday and I felt like a fucking moron.
Bella looked at me, her eyes flat, a slight smile.
“Hang on, I have to go down to the car. I have something for you, too. Really. Happy Valentine’s day.” I didn’t try to kiss her.
Excited, big smile, I dashed out the front door and down the stairs to the carport. I made a lot of noise opening and slamming doors, rummaging in the trunk. I swore loudly.
When I came back in the house I was empty-handed and breathing hard. Bella lounged on the sofa with a copy of Vanity Faire.
“Goddamn, you know what? I forgot your present at work. No, don’t look at me like that, I remembered, bought a nice present last night, but I forgot it on my way home.”
“Look, I’ll be right back. I’ll go by the office and pick it up and come right back. Hang on. No problems. Happy Valentine’s day.”
Before she could speak I was backing the car down the driveway. Shit.
I knew what I had to do. Find a place that sold flowers, of course, perhaps something else like candy and a big stupid card. Then I’d have to buy two of each and drive like a madman fifteen miles to Connie’s house and drop off her presents, candy, flowers, card, big kiss, a little groping, no, no, I have to get back, love you; turn around and make it home before dinner to present Bella with my token of appreciation and respect.
This was going to kill me.