Here is the truth of the situation — she purchased coffee liqueur made with Tequila because she was drawn to the pale lavender box. The color she now realizes suggested that this Tequila would never exact a hangover as penance for a night of over-indulgence.
She gave it to him as an anniversary gift on the rare night they were together. They actually had to coordinate their calendars, which required far too many texts and emails to be called smooth or natural or an easy evening out. As she waited for him under the awning of the famous restaurant, she felt that they had miraculously triumphed over the primal forces pulling them apart. Standing there, watching the stray juice boxes and beer cans circle in the eddies around the sewer grate, she wondered how did they become that couple, the sort with private bank accounts and schedules.
There was no malice as far as she could tell on his part or hers. In other words, he didn’t willingly take on cases simply to be away from her. Nor did she accept job assignments with demanding and nutty clients that required that she wine and dine them just to eat dinner apart. Midway through a business dinner while searching for threads of commonality to help secure the partnership, the client, the job, she found herself missing him, his thoughtful silences, the lengthy pauses he took to chew and swallow before continuing to share the tale, the anecdote, the little nugget of observations that he had saved just for her. Invariably when her thoughts turned to him, the flow of the evening with the client that she worked so hard to maintain would grind to a halt. The ordering of dessert, perusing the post-dinner liqueur options, hailing a cab would stretch before her. Each step an ordeal.
He chose the restaurant; she chose the day of the week. They worked from there, comparing schedules, reservation possibilities and last minute accommodations. A week before their anniversary celebration dinner, he had to muscle his way past demands that he fly to Paris to meet with a possible client. Instead he conducted the meeting via Skype. Over dinner he confessed to hving brushed his teeth before initiating the Skype call. They laughed over that.
Service was slow but attentive and so he was calmed by the hovering waiters, the warm toasty bread, the French butter that melted not too quickly so as to remind him of margarine nor too slowly which would bring to mind his Mother’s dislike of butter and how she hid it in the freezer until someone insisted that it be brought out. As he directed the butter perfectly across his bread, she felt a sudden rush of love. It surprised her. She said nothing. She neither gripped his hand tenderly, nor teared up. Instead she quietly watched his exacting temperament work through the challenge of buttering his bread with care.
She knows now that he’s at the mercy of his strong opinions which come out of nowhere like a storm brewing in the ocean. He despised the perfectly fine pink tiles in the bathroom of their most recent co-op. His hands flew helplessly between his hair and the air as he begged, almost pleaded with her to agree to a gut renovation of the bathroom.
She hates chaos. For months they lived in a cramped studio apartment in the 30’s near the sooty mouth of the Lincoln Tunnel as their bathroom renovation wound through its inevitable delays.
Now their bathroom is serene, serving as a welcome refuge from a trying day with demanding and dull clients. He crunches the bread, sighs with relief, then squeezes her hand. He must have seen something in her that similarly inspired a warm rush of love or gratitude or ease.
Before dessert they exchange gifts. Agreeing to a price limit so as not to incur ill-will or a lack of mutuality, she opens his gift first. It is a lovely and modest pendant that sits beautifully in the hallow above her sternum.
Then it is her turn. She hands the box with the name of his favorite liquor store embossed on the ribbon.
He opens it. Simultaneously they both registered her mistake. She forgives herself instantly, understanding that the bewitching lavender of the box lured her past the words.
And in that frown their agreement to stay together and present themselves to the world as a couple pivots slightly away from friendly acceptance.
A cool wind blows across the table.
Silence prevails as he pays the bill.