Loud voices and thumps filled the cramped compartment as she waited her turn to escape the uncomfortable seat. Switching her phone off airplane mode, she received her first message. Welcome home!
Her face warmed as she smiled. She couldn’t help herself. As the impatient queue surrounded her, she typed a response. Can’t wait to see you.
Get here as soon as possible, appeared on her screen right away. Be safe. LYL
She tucked the phone into the back pocket of her jeans and stood, head bowed beneath the overhead unit. An older woman motioned her into an open space in the aisle.
“Thank you.” Reaching up, she grabbed her bag from the luggage compartment, careful not to knock anyone in her vicinity unconscious. She stepped into the line.
The woman behind leaned close. “Heading home?”
She threw a quick smile over her shoulder. “Yeah. Been a while. I’m eager to get there.”
“You must have a hot date tonight.”
Why on earth would she say that? Am I so transparent?
The realization hit her like a ton of bricks. She’d been on the road since right after the holidays and hadn’t paid attention to the date. Her phone confirmed her fear. February 14th.
“Sure do,” she responded. “I hope you have fun plans.”
The woman laughed. “Got a date with my cat and my knitting. Been away from both for too long – though I always enjoy visiting the grandkids.”
They soon reached a flight attendant who ushered them out with a cheerful, “Thank you for flying Northwest Air.”
“Thank you,” she said, mind racing. Her love would be waiting at home, something special at the ready, while she’d forgotten.
As they entered the terminal, her companion wished her a wonderful Valentine’s Day.
“Have fun with kitty,” she replied.
“She’ll be all over my lap. Add a roaring fire and a nice cup of tea. A perfect night.”
“Sounds like heaven.”
They parted ways with a smile and a wave. As the older woman disappeared into the teeming throngs, she almost envied her. Not that she didn’t want to see her husband. They’d been apart much too long. Yet the thought of a hot bath and bed sounded divine. Especially since she’d forgotten to bring him a surprise.
She hurried into a shop to see if she might find a romantic gift. How could she have forgotten? Sure, she’d been caught up in endless meetings, trying to sell their big idea to angel investors. She still should have remembered the day. The love of her life awaited her at home. He’d been working just as hard as she had and deserved a token of her affection.
The display space beneath a heart-shaped sign sat empty, the advertised wrapped gifts for ‘someone special’ already long gone. Nothing else jumped out at her. She didn’t want a souvenir from their home city, for heaven’s sake, because that would just be tacky.
The displays in each shop she passed, at least the ones she could afford, were all cleaned out. No flowers, no chocolates, nothing except expensive electronics. No romance for sale.
She checked the time and found she’d lingered too long already. He’d be worried and waiting. Rushing out into the cold evening air, she hurried to a waiting taxi.
“Where to?” asked the cabbie as she climbed in.
“The Park Tower Apartments, please.”
The driver started the meter and drove into traffic.
Sitting back, she closed her eyes, trying to recall whether she’d bought anything fun during her time on the road. Nothing came to mind. She hadn’t even swiped hotel notepads and pens.
They passed a few florists and grocery stores. She pondered stopping for a quick bouquet…then realized she’d either have a running meter or the need to find another mode of transportation. Neither option seemed good.
Maybe she had a hostess gift left over from Christmas?
None that she could remember.
The taxi drew up in front of her building and she paid the driver before climbing out. After taking a deep breath of the chill air, she stepped into the lobby. Only five more flights to her love.
They’d both been busy. He wouldn’t mind…would he?
Her heart pounded and stomach fluttered as the elevator carried her upward. She dug out her keys while walking the hallway to the apartment.
The door opened.
“Babe!” Her husband reached out.
She melted into his arms. He smelled of Old Spice and hair gel with a touch of musk. A sigh of contentment escaped her. He wore jeans and a pullover sweater they’d bought on a trip to Ireland many years before, when they’d been younger and more impulsive. They had no money for expensive vacations until their dream launched. If they achieved financial success.
After several minutes he released her, reaching out to shut the door behind them.
She looked around to find he’d cleaned the place up. “Smells wonderful. Did you cook?”
He set her bag by the doorway to the bedroom and motioned at their small table. “Dinner courtesy of Pizza Heaven.”
On a red-and-white checked tablecloth he’d placed a couple plates topped with folded napkins. Wine glasses and a bottle of her favorite vintage reflected the light of battery-operated candles. The pizza sat in the center of the tableau, on one of their best serving plates. “Looks heavenly.”
He seated her and picked up her napkin. A ring box sat in the center of her plate. Trembling fingers went to her lips. He’d remembered!
“What’s wrong?” He knelt at her side.
She burst into tears.
He pulled her to the sofa and took her in his arms. “Whatever I did, I’m sorry.”
She ran her fingers through the curls at the nape of his neck as she sobbed into his shoulder.
“This isn’t like you. Did something happen on the road?”
Unable to speak, she shook her head. How could she tell him she’d forgotten Valentine’s Day when he’d done so much? He’d think she didn’t feel about him the way he felt about her.
He tilted her face and kissed the tears from her cheeks. “You must be exhausted.” He squeezed her tight. “I’m so glad you’re home. I’ve missed you, babe.”
The warmth of his embrace filled her with peace. As her sobs faded away, she took a shaky breath, dabbing at her eyes with the cuff of her shirt. “I’m sorry I didn’t get you anything…”
“Is that what’s bothering you?” He took her face in his hands and looked deep into her eyes. “I don’t care about stuff. You know that.” He again pulled her close. “This is all I need.” He kissed the top of her head and rested his cheek against her hair.
A wave of love washed over her. She snuggled closer.
Taking a deep breath, he murmured, “You’re the best gift of all.”