The best part of the night is setting the dinner table, arranging the foil hearts between the vanilla and cinnamon candles. Cooking is not my favorite thing. I just made pasta, with a fancy sauce that my roommate Lauren gave me.
Lauren sang the recipe by heart, dancing around the kitchen in her purple lingerie swinging her mascara brush around like a magic wand so I could hardly write the recipe down. By the time I finished writing “and simmer,” Lauren was already clad into her favorite jeans, had her fluffy white scarf and gloves on and ran out the door, sending me air kisses, “Cook the fuck out of it and have a smokin’ Valentine’s, Socks!” She always calls me Socks because I keep leaving my socks by the sofa in the living room. I take them off to massage my feet when I watch TV and then always leave them there. I call her Pots because she always cooks and leaves her greasy pots in the sink, driving me nuts. We get along, though. I will miss her when I move in with Chris. I know he is going to ask me to move in with him tonight.
It’s time. We clicked from the moment my eyes met his eyes, black and burning. I was buying an espresso in the coffee shop across the street and dropped my purse in the mud on the floor. He reached to pick it up. His fingers touched mine and then there was this long gaze–when eyes are locked–and this endless sweet silence, and then his eyes slid to my lips–for a second, but long enough to make my insides go in knots and my breath stop–and then back to my eyes, with a short reassuring blink and a whisper, “Hi.”
We had three lime iced teas each that afternoon–it turned out we both were crazy about lime iced tea–and then went to grab lunch at a Thai place next door and shared green pumpkin curry that we both loved. I came home after midnight and told Lauren, “I met THE guy. We are soul mates, Pots, he loves peanut butter and honey sandwiches, Marilyn Monroe movies and tennis.”
“He probably just wants to get into your pants,” said Lauren. “Did you kiss?”
“No,” I lied. “He’s not like that.”
Of course, we kissed. It was the longest, the sweetest and the most-I-belong-here kiss I’ve ever had. I couldn’t believe I’d never met him before. We grew up twenty blocks away from each other and never knew each other, but that’s Queens for you. It felt like I always knew him. Always.
It was last May and since then we spent practically every day together. We even discussed the names of our future children, Carolina after his grandmother for a girl, and James for a boy, just because we both liked it. Chris wanted to be a really good father because his father had left him when he was five.
“You guys even look alike,” said Lauren last night. “Seriously, you have the same squirrel chins and you wrinkle your noses the same way when you laugh. And you howl like a ghost during sex so I take it it’s good. One part I won’t miss when he pops the question and you get the hell out of here. I’m totally a bridesmaid.”
I dice tomatoes, imagining Chris popping the question tonight, and decide against garlic or onions. Parsley, pepper–
The door bell rings and I fly to the door.
First I see a hot pink teddy bear, sitting in the doorway, red balloons floating over its head, and when I reach to pick it up, Chris storms in with roses in one hand and plastic bags in the other. He picks me up in the air along with the teddy bear which is almost as big as me and waltzes us through the hallway and into the warm kitchen, smooching me all over my cheeks, chin and nose.
“You’ll ruin my hair,” I say, laughing, “Put me down, put me down.”
I lit on a candle and he pours the champagne, “To a surprise!”
The champagne hits me in my head right away. Chris takes pictures with his phone: we are slurping the spaghetti like Lady and the Tramp. We are feeding each other black slippery olives, tongue to tongue. We are licking the raspberries off the velvet chocolate cake. We are kissing. All the sweet and salty tastes mix in our mouths and my head is like a helium balloon in the sky.
Then Chris pushes me in the chair, stands up and pours two glasses of champagne, gives one to me, puts the other one on the table and says, “Teddy Bear wants to tell you something. Pick him up, look, he’s lonely.”
I take the teddy bear from the kitchen counter and give it a kiss on its cold plastic nose.
“He wants a tickle,” says Chris. “On his tummy.”
I push my hand under the bear’s paws and feel a little pocket with something small and square in it–a red velvet box in the shape of a heart. I open it. It’s a ring. A rectangular, shining like a thousand suns, diamond ring.
Chris is by my side, on his knees, looking into my eyes, his eyes black, burning, just like when I first saw him.
“Will you marry me?” he asks–like in my dreams.
I throw my hands around his neck, and, sing, “Yes, yes, yes!”
He puts the ring on my middle finger–it is a bit too large–and carries me to the bedroom. We fall on the bed and make love like we have never made love before. Tears are rolling down my cheeks. He kisses my wet hair. I have never been that happy.
“The ring is beautiful,” I say extending my arm up and turning my hand this way and that way admiring the sparkles in the semi-darkness of the bedroom. “Meet Mr. and Mrs. Chris Bradley.”
“It’s my mom’s,” says Chris. “She said, take the ring, and I hope you have the happiness that was out there for me. I first didn’t want to because you know, my father left us, but it really was her grandmother’s ring in the first place, and those guys, the original Mr. and Mrs. Chris Bradley, they lived together for fifty six years. They were so happy. And this way we have money for a honeymoon in Paris like we wanted.”
“It’s gorgeous,” I say, kissing him and turning on the light to see it better.
“What is this?” he asks, sitting up in the bed.
“Where did you get this lamp?” he says, his voice different.
“Oh, I helped my mom clear the attic,” I say. “I know it’s not exactly classy, with this stupid fringe and the mother of pearl, but you know it actually is the only thing that I have left from my bio dad. My mom threw away everything else before I was born, two weeks after he left her, and she was going to get rid of this one as well, you know she hates his guts and wants me to think that my step dad is my bio dad. And I kind of do, but I just thought I’d have it… What’s wrong?”
Chris is standing up, naked, his finger almost touching the purple fringe of the lamp but not really touching it. I notice that it shakes. It’s not cold in the room. He twists his head and looks all around the lamp. Then he sits back down on the bed. He looks into my eyes. His eyes are wide open and blacker than I had ever seen them. He opens his mouth and then he closes it, then looks away.
“This,” he says, “this.”
I kneel down next to him, place my palms on his cheeks and turn his face towards me. He reaches forward again and points at a burnt stain on the side of the lamp.
“I remember this lamp,” he says. “We had this lamp. It was my father’s lamp. This cigarette burn. See the golden thread tied to the bottom? It was my father’s lamp.”
I look at him, and shrug, “So?”
“Lynn,” says Chris. “What was your bio dad’s name?”
Suddenly I feel churning in my stomach. I feel like I’m going to throw up.
“Bob,” I say. “Robert. Robert Martins.”
He doesn’t move but his lips move in a strange way.
“Robert Jacob Martins?” he asks, or rather says.
“Robert Jacob Martins.”
Then we just sit there. We are looking at the lamp. I never felt that cold before. I see Chris’s socks on the carpet. They look like dead bunnies. Then I reach my left hand–the ring sparkles in the rosy lamplight–and pull on the chain, switching the light off.