Kevin came home from work at five o’clock like he always did. After walking through the door, he hung his coat up neatly on the rack, set down his briefcase, and loosened his tie. He glanced in the mirror nearby and ruffled his thick, brown hair. He rubbed a hand over his sandpapery chin and wondered if he could get away with not shaving tomorrow.
The house seemed quiet, but he knew Lily was around somewhere. He was hoping he would find her making dinner. It had been a stressful day, and all he wanted was a good meal and some relaxation. He strode off in the general direction of the kitchen, but there was a distinct lack of cooking sounds and smells coming from there. He tried to stifle his disappointment.
He turned and went to their bedroom instead so he could change out of his work clothes into something more comfortable. He opened the door and there she was, sitting on the end of the bed, wearing a nice dress, with her long blond hair twisted up. Confused, he asked, “Going somewhere?”
With a twinkle in her blue eyes, she replied, “I don’t know, you tell me.”
He tried to keep his voice light even though he was slightly irritated that she hadn’t told him about this before now. He took a guess. “Girl’s night?” He really didn’t feel like playing these guessing games.
Her expression changed, very subtly. “No,” she said, standing up, her smile enigmatical. She watched him pull on some sweat pants. “What are you doing?” She began to fidget.
“What does it look like? I’m changing my clothes. I’m tired. I guess I have to make my own dinner, then?” He tried not to sound angry, but he had a feeling he wasn’t quite pulling it off judging by the expression dawning on her face.
“Um,” she said, turning away. “Um, I’ll just be right back.” She crossed the room and slipped into their bathroom.
They had only been married for about a month, but he really thought he knew her pretty well. At least, he had thought that until this moment. Now he was having trouble deciphering her at all. How was saying “um” and running off to the bathroom an answer? Women.
He began to consider his dinner options. Frozen pizza? Chinese takeout? Turkey sandwich? He would really have liked to have eaten dinner tonight with Lily. After the day he had, it would have been nice to have a relaxing evening with his wife. But no, she had to run off to some mysterious thing that called for her to wear a nice dress.
He was just putting on his shoes when she finally came out. He looked up. Her eye makeup looked oddly smudged. She must’ve known he was angry. Now he felt bad.
“Honey, I’m sorry,” he told her, and walked over to take her hands in his. She looked relieved.
“Really?” she asked. “I thought you had forgotten.”
He felt that this was an odd thing for her to say, and admitted, “Well, I kinda did forget. But listen, I want you to have a good time tonight, okay? I’ll figure something out.” He would try to reconcile with the idea of a night alone with sub-par food, is what he meant.
She smiled at him happily and teary eyed, “Thanks, sweetie,” and she kissed him. She released him and then stood back as though she was waiting for something. He just looked back at her.
“Why don’t I help you?” she said going into the closet. His eyebrows went up a notch. What was this about?
“Lily, hey, I’ll be fine really. You just go ahead.”
She poked her head out of the closet. “Stop being silly,” she giggled. He had no idea what she was doing. She was throwing things out onto the bed. Nice pants. Nice shirt. He had a strange feeling that he was missing something here.
She poked her head out again and smiled, “Hmmm?”
“Are you going to be giving these clothes away? I mean, is this a charity event or something? Because some of those clothes I’d really rather keep. I mean, I still wear them and everything.”
“Why would I give your clothes away?”
“What…why are you getting them all out of the closet then?”
“So you can wear them,” she had a semi-exasperated tone now, like she was stating something that should be very obvious.
“Honey, I’m not wearing those. I’ve been dressed up all day, I just want to wear something comfortable.”
“Well you can’t wear those old sweats,” she declared, disappearing once more into the closet.
He shook his head in frustration. “Why not?”
“Kevin, don’t be ridiculous. Here, put these on.” She emerged and handed him a nice pair of dark blue jeans and a sweater that he had worn for their engagment photos.
He stood there, holding the clothing, and said without masking his annoyance, “Lily! I am NOT wearing these, okay? Just leave me alone and go already.”
She looked stricken. “What do you mean?”
He was reminded of a time when he had gone to Mexico and tried to ask a local for directions. He didn’t speak Spanish and the man barely spoke English. This was beginning to feel very similar to that situation. He closed his eyes, took a breath, and started over. Very calmly and slowly, he said, “Lily. I’ll be fine. You can go. Don’t worry about me.”
“I can’t do that!” she began to tear up.
“What? Why not?”
“Well, I’m not going to go celebrate my birthday alone, now am I?” Now she looked angry. And he felt like a baby grand had just fallen on him. To himself, he denied that it was true, but his determination to deny it only pushed him closer and closer to believing that it was actually true. He had forgotten her birthday. They had known each other, dated and been engaged for a total of five years, and he had never once forgotten before.
His mind raced for a way to recover this without her knowing he had completely forgotten that it was her birthday. In the past, they had always gone somewhere nice to eat together, and afterward he had always had a special surprise for her. He wasn’t sure how angry she would be now. She was looking worse and worse by the second, like she might explode at any time.
He opened his mouth, but she cut in.
“You forgot, didn’t you!” she accused him.
“You did! Admit it!”
“Okay…” there was no way out, “I did.”
“I can’t believe this,”she glared at him silently, daring him to say something that would make it okay.
Frantically, he grabbed the clothes she had brought to him and started ripping off his old ones, putting on the new.
“Here, I’ll just get ready now and we can go, it’ll be fine.”
“Fine,” she said walking past him. He sensed that this did not really mean “fine”. He finished dressing and then caught up with her in the front hall where she was wearing her coat and an impatient expression.
They walked out to the car in a weighty silence. As they drove, he tried to lighten the air by asking where she wanted to go.
“I don’t care.”
“Sure you do, honey, just tell me where you want to go and we’ll go.”
“You decide. Surprise me.” Normally this would have been said with an adoring smile, but now her face looked like it was carved from stone.
“Okay…how about Takamoto?”
“You know I hate sushi!” she said furiously.
“Uh, no I didn’t know that,” he told her. This was a bad thing to say.
“Oh great. You don’t really know me at all, do you!?”
“Lily, honey, of course I know you, you’re my wife.”
“Just because we’re married, doesn’t mean you know me,” she spat at him.
“What does that mean?”
“Nothing,” she grumbled.
“Well, obviously it doesn’t mean nothing. Lily, if I didn’t think I knew you, I wouldn’t have married you.”
“Oh, so now you wish you never married me!” she half shouted, half wailed at him.
She seemed dangerously close to a meltdown. This had never happened before. In fact, he had heard about this happening to other people, and he had been certain that it would never happen to Lily and him. He had to save this situation from utter disaster. His natural response was to say something angry back to her, like pointing out how ridiculous her last statement was, but he knew it would just make things worse. They sat in silence, Kevin trying remember that this was his beloved wife while tears streamed down that same wife’s cheeks.
“Lily,” he spoke quietly into the darkness of the car.
“What?” He could tell she was curious about what he had to say, but not quite ready to stop being angry at him.
“Lily, I love you. I’m sorry I forgot your birthday.”
She sniffled. He took that as a sign he should keep going.
“I’ve been stressed out about work. There have been layoffs, and I’ve been having to shoulder the extra work.”
She started to say something, but he cut her off. “But that’s no excuse. You’re important to me, and I should have made you a higher priority,” he paused. “Will you forgive me, Lil? Please?”
He wasn’t sure at first if she was going to forgive him, or if she was going to say anything at all. Then suddenly she said through tears, “Yes!” and threw her arms around his neck. The car swerved.
“Lil!” he shouted, tugging her away, “Lil! Lily, I’m driving!”
“Oh, sorry!”she said, releasing him to wipe the tears from her eyes.
They both settled into their seats. He reached over and held her hand. She smiled at him, and he knew he really was forgiven.
After a few more moments, he asked, “So where do you want to go?”
“I don’t know,” she said winking at him, “surprise me.”