2006 Valentine’s Day Challenge Story
Thanks so much to A and K for their quick beta. All remaining mistakes are mine :-)
You know, when I woke up on Tuesday morning, I had no idea that it was going to be one of the most humbling, humiliating, yet wonderful, days of my life. It was a normal Tuesday, albeit Valentine’s Day. But really, on a Tuesday, the day devoted to love and romance, soaring feelings and bright red and pink hearts and long romantic dinners either at a fancy restaurant or at home by candlelight, tends to lend itself more to a slightly better than normal Tuesday evening. The trash still needs to be taken out, the cat’s box still needs to be cleaned and long leisurely mornings spent in bed together are interrupted by the alarm going off .. for the second time … announcing that it really is 6:30 and you have to be on the road by 7:00 if you’re not going to be late.
So, as I was saying – it was a middle of the week Valentine’s Day and my partner for the last seven years and I were going through our normal routine in the morning. Except for wishing each other Happy Valentine’s Day, it was a normal morning. Maybe he was a bit more snugly than normal, but that could also be chalked up to the fact that when I told him I had a card for him, he got a funny look on his face that seemed to say Duh! Forgot the card! and suggested that we wait until tonight when we got home.
I kissed him again, “OK babe, that sounds good to me too.”
“More time to enjoy the fun side effects of sappy romantic cards and too much chocolate,” he agreed with a grin.
Chris’s forgetting the card didn’t faze me a bit and I didn’t take it as any great sign of the healthiness of our relationship, his love for me or any other great meaning. He’s a guy, it’s an almost made up holiday and since I’m a guy too, we tend to be rather forgiving of those little things that seem to mean so much to many other couples, especially het ones. Even though I’ve occasionally had regrets about being gay, the occasional wish to be what society considers "normal," there is a lot of freedom too in being gay. It’s nice to be able to make your own relationship rules and not have any predetermined roles or expectations in the relationship. Chris and I have certainly made our own rules and our relationship and our roles fit us wonderfully. It’s a wonderful relationship and until that day, I really had never experienced true humiliation at Chris’s hand.
After kissing goodbye in the garage, we followed each other as usual until we got to the interstate. We each had a different philosophy when it came to dealing with traffic. I tended to judge what route I’d take by how the traffic was moving on the overhead ramp and how backed up it was on the on-ramp. If it was slow or backed up, I took the side streets. Chris on the other hand went the same route virtually every day. It took an actual closing of four or more lanes for him to retreat onto the side streets.
He honked his horn as I sped past and gave me a small wave. That little sign alone spoke more love to me than any card Hallmark could write. Of course, his Hallmark card was sitting in my t-shirt drawer, screaming LOVE in its bright red envelope and sitting next to a bright red and gold heart candy box from Godiva. No little, subtle signs from me. But I too had my own little, non-commercial ways of saying I loved him. Instead of just buying a box of chocolates, I paid extra and had the store clerk hand pack the pound with the specific kinds I knew he loved. Of course, since I was going through the extra trouble, I made sure she included some of my favorites too. Love doesn’t have to be selfless, after all.
I stretched at my desk, looked up from the spreadsheet and report I had been editing all afternoon and glanced at the clock. The afternoon was dragging by and I was ready to go home. It had been a boring day and I was a bit annoyed that Chris had been stuck at work and we weren’t even able to have lunch together. We only worked fifteen minutes from each other and usually had lunch together several times a month. So missing today wasn’t a big deal, but it did make the day drag. While everyone else in the office seemed to be going out to lunch with their significant others, my lunch was spent at my desk with a quarter pounder with cheese, large fries and a coke. I had just stood up to hit the vending machine for a Snickers bar that would see me through the last ninety minutes of work when my phone rang.
“Jessie,” the front desk receptionist said on the other end, “you have a …”
Her pause should have been my first clue, but I was still thinking about my Snickers bar and really didn’t think anything about it.
“A delivery at the front desk.”
“Oh, OK, I’ll be right down.” Walking out of my office, I swiped a couple of the chocolate hearts my secretary kept in a small glass bowl at the corner of her desk, figuring they would hold me over until I could get my Snickers bar. I walked down the steps and was just popping the first of the chocolates into my mouth when I stepped into the reception area and stopped dead.
The receptionist's eyes met my eyes and I knew she could see the silent, heart felt plea in my eyes. Unfortunately, she couldn’t help me and could only smile weakly at me.
“Ummm…” I stammered out, still stunned and hoping it wasn’t true.
“I think it’s pretty,” she said in an upbeat and chipper voice that only hinted at her true feelings. “It’s a little big but that just means it’ll last a while and it'll look smaller once it’s up in your office.”
At that, I had to laugh and look around the large, open, two-story reception area. “Yeah, because your area is so much smaller compared to my office.”
Luckily she laughed, relieving the awkwardness of the situation.
“Let me get the door for you,” she said, standing up as I eyed the delivery.
Bending at my knees as I was taught in school and lifting with my legs, not my back, I picked up the large bouquet of flowers, the large, very pink bouquet of flowers. I grunted slightly as I lifted it and wondered how many delivery men it took to haul this monstrosity into the office. Side stepping and angling through the doorway, I wondered how I was going to fit this atrocity of red, pink and white petals into the backseat of my two-door Civic.
“Whoa,” Julie from Accounting said as she plastered herself against the stairwell wall, trying to give me and the bouquet as much room as possible as I struggled up the stairs. “Someone must really love you,” she added in an upbeat voice.
Struggling to breathe through the exertion of the weight and trying to walk almost backwards so I could bend my neck at an 120 degree angle, the only way I could see around the blooms, I could only grunt. It was a good thing because I honestly had no idea how to respond.
“Wow!” my secretary gasped as I angled into her office.
“Don’t just sit there,” I ordered, “get up and help me!” Then hastily added, “Please.” My secretary was not one of those docile 1950’s assistants who would fetch coffee and dry cleaning and whose only response to snappy orders from the boss was a polite and quiet "Yes, sir." She must have been too stunned at the sight of the bouquet to notice my tone, because she immediately jumped up and helped me carry the container into my office.
After catching my breath, I sat at my desk and studied the bouquet. It was huge, over the top and extremely feminine in the worst possible ways; there was no other way to describe it. Just from my seat, I could count over a dozen red and white striped roses, massive heads of white frilly hydrangeas and huge frilly pink blooms that some deep recess of my mind told me were peonies. Wherever the florist had seen a fraction of air or light between any of the flowers, he had jammed stems of baby’s breath and ferns. The final insult though was attached to the gallon size container and had gone unnoticed by me until my secretary helpfully pointed it out. A bright red stuffed bear had been tied, unfortunately not by the neck, to the container and now sat on my conference table grinning at me. The message on its shirt gleamed like a mocking neon sign.
In gold lettering, bright against the pink shirt, it said “I <heart> You.”
“I <heart> you indeed,” I thought, making a face. I picked up the small florist's card to read it … for the fifth time...and again saw the same message that erased any hope that it had been a miss-delivery.
In an unfamiliar handwriting, the outside envelope read, To Jessie Williamson, with the inside message simply, “I know.”
Now, to some people that message would strike fear into their hearts with the thought of their deepest secrets coming to light; to other people it would be nothing but puzzlement. To me though, it was a wonderful secret code; loving and exciting and hot and a reminder of Chris and mine's wonderful fourth date.
There was no denying it, these flowers, this huge, overdone bouquet complete with stuffed bear, were mine and were sent to me by my partner who was supposed to know me better than anyone in the world. I could barely look at them. What I would say to Chris when I got home with them, if I managed to get them into my car, was something I couldn’t even contemplate.
My phone rang, pulling me out of my thoughts and I glanced at the caller id that flashed across the screen. It was Chris’s number and my breath caught in my throat and my hand hovered over the ringing receiver. I wanted to pick it up, wanted to talk to him. But at the same time, I had no idea what I would say to him. I was a horrible poker player and could rarely fool him with a lie about what I thought or was feeling. With that in mind and no idea what to say about the flowers, I pulled back my hand and allowed the call to roll into voice mail.
As the afternoon dragged on, the more office mates who stopped by with various excuses, all of whom commented on the flowers, the more uncomfortable I got. I’ve always been fairly private and while I never hid the fact I was gay, I certainly never advertised the fact. I would be willing to bet that only a handful of my co-workers knew Chris’s name and I was happy with that fact. The more uncomfortable I got, the more I was sure people were talking about me and what these very feminine flowers meant. The more I thought that, the more embarrassed I became. My mind instantly flashed to this morning in bed, with Chris looming over me and thrusting deeply inside, the countless times I had begged him to do the same thing to me, the countless times he had simply done it without my permission because he knew it wasn’t needed. I refused to contemplate the other actions he and I engaged in that he didn’t need my permission for but left me at his mercy and in a weak position.
I had gotten comfortable with my preferences and the roles I had chosen for myself years ago and self-doubt about those choices rarely entered my mind. Chris and I complemented each other wonderfully; we fit together as neatly as Ying and Yang and were both equals, filling in and strengthening the other’s weaknesses. But now, those years of self-confidence and sureness over choices were quickly being overpowered by the sickening scent of roses, hydrangeas, peonies and baby’s breath.
By 4:10, I couldn’t take it any more and threw on my coat. Sticking my head out my office door, I said to my secretary, “You can leave early if you walk out with me and help me with these flowers.”
Never one to turn down a chance to leave twenty minutes early, she gathered up her coat and bag and between the two of us, we managed to maneuver the monstrosity out to the parking lot and into the front seat of my car. It only took a quick assessment to know that there was no way we were going to be able to squeeze it between the flipped down seat and the frame of the car. Instead, we sat it on the passenger seat and then, stretching the seatbelt to its limit, put the strap around the container to hold it as steady as possible.
“Thanks,” I said, giving her a small smile.
She smiled back and patted my arm. “The execution might have been a bit off, but remember that it’s the thought and the love behind the gesture that counts. I bet Chris just gave them a dollar amount and they went crazy.”
I nodded, knowing she meant well, but I also knew Chris. My lover would have directed the florist down to the smallest detail and would never have given such control over something so important to someone else. He knew exactly what he ordered and that order was now sitting in the passenger seat of my car.
Sliding into the driver’s seat, careful not to crush the blooms that were spilling out of the passenger space, I took a deep breath and started the car. I had approximately thirty minutes to come to terms with Chris’s flowers and the message he was sending me. Not surprisingly, I failed miserably.
I pulled into the driveway, hurt, humiliated and also more than a bit angry. Chris wasn’t home when I got there and I struggled to pull the bouquet from the car myself and angle it into the house. I couldn’t stand to have the scent of the flowers filling my car a moment longer. Cracking open a can of coke, I leaned against the kitchen counter and stared at the flowers. The bear and his t-shirt’s message both mocked me and made me feel immensely sad. Swallowing some coke, I took a deep breath and tried to calm my anger and humiliation. Now that I had put some distance between myself and the flowers, it was easier than in the car.
I was hurt, I was embarrassed, there was no denying that. But also, in my heart of hearts, I knew that Chris had not sent the flowers to work to evoke either one of those emotions or send any of the messages I was getting from them. The only message he was sending me was written plainly on the bear’s t-shirt. He <heart>’ed me and I <heart>’ed him. Any other message I was reading was simply a guess and an assumption. I wouldn’t know what he was really thinking until I asked him. If he truly thought I would love having a massive display of frilly, feminine flowers presented to me publicly at work, we would have some work to do on our relationship, to figure out how he could be so wrong after so long together. If he truly was sending the message I thought he was, we would have some work to do on our relationship, to figure out our perceptions of the choices we made. But regardless, we would work on it together and get through this humiliating mistake of his. I sipped my coke and started to see some beauty in the overdone display and clashing colors of red, white and pink.
The garage door opened and for the first time since the delivery, I smiled. Standing up straight, I concentrated on smiling as the door opened and Chris stepped inside the kitchen.
“Hi, honey,” I said.
“Hey!” he said in a happy voice and then stopped dead in his tracks, staring at the table overflowing with flowers. In a stunned, quiet voice, he asked, “What the fuck is that?”
Across town, Jessie Williamsen sobbed into the phone at her fiancé. “If this is what you think I’d want for flowers, if this is all you think I’m worth, then you can forget it! I refuse to marry anyone who doesn’t know me at all!”
A simple, masculine arrangement of two irises in a contemporary low cut slate vase stood serenely on the coffee table.