“Let’s go out for dinner” he said,
“don’t worry about the kids – I’ve sorted childcare.”
I was thrilled he’d planned a night out together – he’d had back-to-back meetings the day of my birthday – and it was great to hear he’d taken care of the tricky part normally left to me, but I still had misgivings our good friend and neighbour might feel put upon after babysitting just a couple of weeks ago.
“Don’t worry” she joked, a few nights later, her eyes glinting mischievously as we headed out the door, “I already know your ten o’clock is everyone else’s one a.m.” “Not this time.” I vowed, and I meant it.
“How about a walk by the lake?” he said,
as we merged with the Friday evening traffic. At the next intersection he turned right onto the road that hugs the waterfront.
We pulled into a small parking lot where Jenny’s Chip Truck waited for queues that rarely materialised, and got out. I was touched he’d suggested something he knows I love just to make me happy. As we walked in the sultry, late afternoon haze we talked about how best to use our rare time alone.
“Shall we eat out or d’you wanna catch a film?”
I can’t remember the last time I saw the inside of a cinema.
Tossing ideas back and forth we strolled hand in hand along the boardwalk against the tide of roller-bladers and dog-walkers, marveling at how the mist blurred the boundary between water and sky.
There was one thing we both agreed on: we should definitely do something we wouldn’t normally be able to. But even as we got back into the car we were still undecided.
Or so I thought…
“Found a nicer table over here” he said,
jerking his head in the direction we came in from.
After much deliberation we’d settled on a restaurant but as I slid into the intimate semi-circle booth the waitress showed us to he seemed distracted.
“Back in a minute.”
He disappeared, only to return minutes later with his unexpected declaration. Funny. If he didn’t like the seating he usually asked if I felt the same before looking for alternatives.
I shrugged and let him guide me back across the room to an adjoining area I hadn’t noticed when we entered. A small group was finishing a meal to my left and as I turned to my right, wondering why he’d picked this open plan table arrangement over the privacy of a booth, a wall of expectant smiles shone out at me.
I’m pretty sure they shouted ‘SURPRISE!!!’ but it’s a little fuzzy because my split second horror at being the unsuspecting victim of a surprise party was immediately overwhelmed by a wave of love and gratitude for the friends who were beaming at my bamboozlement. I was trying to take in all the faces, those I hadn’t seen in a while, the ones grinning like Hannibal when a plan comes together, not to mention the one I’d left looking after my children.
Half an hour and a glass of champagne later I was still grinning like a loon every time I made another connection between earlier events and the one currently underway:
“Who d’you think would come to your funeral?” he said,
as we delayed getting up a little longer one lazy weekend morning. He’d noticed my friends’ contact details were scattered across devices, address books and random bits of paper. He didn’t know half of them, how would he know who to invite?
At least I can sleep at night now.
It was why he asked the kids at dinner one night, “Can you guys keep a secret?” J confessed she tended to forget them and T, with characteristic honesty, said “No.” “Pass the hot sauce” said K, and the conversation moved on.
And that was the reason my friend began furiously texting when I spent the afternoon of my birthday at her place, sipping wine and shooting the birthday breeze. K, unaware I was still there, was considering calling in on his way home to fine-tune some subterfugial details.
It was the reason behind his sudden suggestion of a stroll by the water – to allow time for the real babysitter to be installed and my friends to take their positions for the big reveal. Oh the deception, the duplicity, the drama!
“Now you know” he said
Because I was still absorbing the shock of the surprise, only bits and pieces of K’s speech took root in my memory but amidst all the things he said I recall mention of the rough few months I’d gone through, about how alone he knew I felt, and how he hoped this showed me that, no matter what it seemed to me, I wasn’t alone – I have friends who love me and who care, and he’d brought them here together so I’d know.
I can’t think of any better way to illustrate the point, can you?
Footnote: In the midst of all the party shenanigans I thought of friends abroad I knew would be there in a heartbeat if teleportation were viable. You might not be visible in the photos but I carry you all in my heart.