Happy Valentine’s Day!
My book The Same Story is on sale beginning today and through the following week for $.99 per ebook copy. And there are planned upcoming promotions for Opening Doors, and likely a couple of other titles in the near future, as well as (yes), my plans to release new long-form, novel-length fiction in mid-March. But I promised some new, never before published fiction to celebrate this day of love, so here it is…a sweet, short love story for you. Hope you enjoy it. And as always, thank you for reading and encouraging my writing.
*********THIS IS A WORK OF ORIGINAL FICTION*********
Just A Card
Trent Kinman ended his shift stocking shelves at Barkley’s and stopped in the greeting card aisle between clocking out and taking off his apron. He couldn’t stop thinking of Chelsea.
Each Sunday, at St. Teresa’s Church, about ten pews ahead on the opposite side of the spot Trent’s family normally occupied, Chelsea sat with her parents and grandparents. Trent’s mother nagged his sisters and brother to get ready for mass on time every week, but Trent looked forward to Sunday service. He liked seeing Chelsea there, in her predictable seat, smiling her friendly smile, and singing hymns, slightly off-key. She always said a cheerful, ‘Hey, Trent!’ to him outside the front doors on the sidewalk, as several families mingled with one another, and he always bashfully offered her a silent smile and nod in return.
When they were children, he saw a lot more of her, as her grandparents cared for her after school every day, and during the summer breaks. They played kick the can and rode bikes together in the middle of the street he lived on; across and diagonal from her grandparents’ house; the houses staggered almost exactly the way the families were in church each week. But now that they were well into high school (nearly adults), his only shared time and space with her was fifty minutes of mass (slightly longer on high Holy Days), and that small, customary exchange outside of it.
Trent could set his watch by Chelsea’s grandparents’ normal routine; library and bank on Mondays, grocery store and farmer’s market on Tuesdays, nowhere Wednesdays or Thursdays, dinner out on Fridays, nowhere on Saturdays, Sunday mass with their son and his wife and daughter (Chelsea). But seven months ago, they began leaving the house every day, and were gone much longer than regular trips to the bank or grocery store. Five months ago, they began occasionally missing mass. Those Sundays, Chelsea and her parents didn’t linger outside on the sidewalk, and Trent didn’t get his weekly greeting. Eventually, ‘occasionally missing mass’ turned into ‘didn’t go to mass anymore.’ Two months ago, Chelsea stopped singing in church, and the light in her eyes dulled. She stopped making eye contact with the people around her when she shook hands for the sign of peace. Six weeks ago, Mrs. Phillips left her home across the street and diagonal from the Kinman home by ambulance, and she didn’t return. Trent’s mother told them to pray for her because she’d entered hospice care for pancreatic cancer. Two weeks ago, none of the Phillips family attended mass, and it was announced that Esther Phillips, Chelsea’s beloved ‘Nanna,’ had passed away. One week ago, the Phillips’ returned, without Bob Senior, Chelsea’s beloved ‘Pappa,’ whom Trent assumed was still in mourning over losing his wife of fifty-three years, and Chelsea quietly wept all the way through mass. It broke Trent’s heart to see her hurting. He terribly missed seeing her smiling face.
Chelsea was cute, but what stood out most about her was her intelligence and kindness. She talked about being a veterinarian almost daily for their entire childhood, and while they’d never attended school together, he knew from what classified as ‘gossip’ at their little, close-knit urban church that she was at the extreme top of her very large class. He had no doubt she would become a veterinarian. Unless she changed her mind, and decided to become a physician that took care of human beings instead. He always somewhat suspected her parents bought the house farther out in the county on several acres of land to enable her bad habit of taking in stray animals. Trent did alright in school; he made the honor roll and was certainly in the top half of his tiny class of one hundred. He’d probably attend a local college, having to work his way through, living at home, and wouldn’t graduate ‘on time.’ Then, he’d probably have a mundane career that paid the bills when he got older, but wouldn’t be anything to brag about at a high school reunion. His major attraction to Chelsea was her exemplary talent and her concern for less fortunate beings. He sort of felt like he was a less fortunate being she looked after with every ‘Hey, Trent!’ but didn’t feel patronized by it. She was never condescending, even though he felt she had a right to be (maybe he was also drawn to her sincerity). What unnerved him about her newfound switch to darkness from her historic light was that it just didn’t suit her. Not that she couldn’t have dark days. Everyone had those, and he knew that. He’d certainly had his fair share of them, and her grandmother (to whom she was incredibly close) had just died. She was understandably in a dark place. But Chelsea brightened his cloudiness without fail, and he ached to brighten hers. Were it left solely up to him, he would eliminate her dark days.
Now, he stood, staring at the limited selection of ‘sympathy’ cards his employer had to offer. None of them seemed right to send her. They all contained wording Trent couldn’t imagine would comfort a person after losing someone they loved. They were all too canned and disingenuous. He sighed heavily in frustration after reading seven of the eight choices, and finally settled on the last one standing; blank inside. He squinted at the flowers on the cover; Easter lilies. ‘Chelsea does love lilies. But she likes tiger lilies. I guess they don’t make grief cards with bright orange flowers on them, though…’ Trent knew her favorite flower because her grandparents planted tiger lilies along their front porch line. Chelsea used to stand and smell them and touch them almost every day they were in bloom when the two of them were little. His thoughts turned from why her favorite flower couldn’t be on the outside of the card to mild panic about what he’d write inside when he got it home. He momentarily rethought his pick, and considered instead switching it up to send her the trite words someone else had written; he understood it now, the overdone sentiment. It was easier to send along a gesture without any personal piece of yourself.
He walked to the express lane and laid the card on the conveyor. As Jason Sievers scanned his dollar fifty purchase, he asked, “Who died?”
“Old friend’s gramma.”
“Aw, that’s too bad.”
“Yeah.” Trent’s mind flooded with the images of Chelsea sobbing in church, and he sniffed loudly to prevent himself from beginning to cry. “Hey…um…can you open up the service desk for a second? I need a stamp.”
Trent drove home, the card in the passenger seat of his fifteen hundred dollar car exuding an almost-human intimidating presence. By the time he parked on the street in front of his house, he’d broken out in a cold, nervous sweat, and felt a bit sick. He thought of not sending it to her; maybe returning it to the store on his next shift, and trading it for a bottled Coke. “Feeling alright, pal?” his father asked him upon entering the front door. “Lookin’ a little peaked.”
“Just a long night.”
“Well, hit the shower and hit the sack. You’ll feel better in the a.m.”
“Yeah, Dad. G’night.”
“G’night…hey…whatcha got there?”
“Oh…um…just a card.”
“Shit, am I missing a birthday?!”
“It’s uh…for…uh…Chelsea Phillips. For her Nanna.”
“Oh. Oh, that’s real nice, kiddo. Prouda you.”
“Fathers hope their sons grow up to be good men. You see somebody hurting and you wanna make it better. That’s a good man, pal.”
“’Sjust a card…”
“It’s trying to make something hard easier. Even taking a small step that way’s a big deal.”
When Trent left the shower for his shared bedroom with his younger brother, he took a seat at the desk, and opened the card to compose.
I don’t want to invade your privacy. But I see you in church, and I see you crying, and I can’t just do nothing. I’m really sorry about your Nanna. She was a super nice lady, and I know you loved her very much. I know it’s hard, and I know you’re sad, but I miss seeing you smile. I know I never say anything back, but I miss my, ‘Hey, Trent!’ I want to help and make things better, but I really don’t know how, so I sent you this. I’m not very good at talking about stuff, but I’m a good listener. And I’m always here if you need a friend.
The next morning, on his way to school, he made a stop at the post office, and hesitated in front of the slot for outgoing mail, clutching the card in his right hand. “Do it, man. Don’t be a coward. Dad said this is a nice thing you’re doing. What are you afraid of?” he scolded himself. He took a deep breath, pulled the door down with his left hand and irretrievably dropped his heart in to be delivered to her in three days or less.
“Honey?” Bob Phillips cautiously approached his daughter’s bedroom door. She’d taken the loss of his mother extremely hard, and he was unsure each time he made contact with her for the past twelve days, if she’d be crying. He suspected his news would give her a bit of a pick me up, but just couldn’t tell for sure. Sometimes Chelsea was unpredictably emotional. Three dogs and two cats looked up at him along with her.
“You got some mail today.”
“Mail? College stuff already?”
“Nope. Greeting card.”
“Greeting card? ‘Snot my birthday or…you sure it’s mine?”
“Addressed to ‘Ms. Chelsea Phillips.’ Return address is 1489 Murphy Pike.”
“That’s where the Kinmans live. The Kinmans sent me a card in the mail?”
“I think one Kinman in particular did,” he mildly teased. He knew Chelsea had a bit of a crush on Trent Kinman, and she had since she was about twelve.
“Dad…” she sighed at him. “Kidding me about Trent is not gonna cheer me up any…”
“I’m not kidding.” He tossed the envelope onto her bed in front of her. The cats jumped down, and Schnitzel, her Yorkie-miniature dachshund mix, turned in a circle to adjust his positioning when the flying object landed. “Come on out for dinner soon. It’s ready in about twenty minutes. ‘Kay?” All three dogs’ ears perked at the word ‘dinner.’ They’d been getting extra treats at the dinner table for the past few weeks. Chelsea had lost some of her appetite and they reaped the spoils.
“I’ll be out.” She fingered the edge of the coarse stationary as her dad exited her doorway, then moved to trace over Trent’s handwriting: ‘Ms. Chelsea Phillips.’ Her cats returned to her side on the bed, Cece the gray tabby curling up against her back, and Rosco, her orange boy, sat up at attention beside her, opposing the dogs, as if he planned to read the card with her and harshly judge its contents. She slid her index finger into the tiny opening at the top to break the seal and pulled the card out. The front showed a picture of seven potted white lilies under the words ‘With Deepest Sorrow For Your Loss.’ She exhaled forcibly and felt her eyes get hot and moist with renewed grief. ‘Ugh. It’s a sympathy card. Stupid, Chels. Daydreaming he sent you a love letter or something. Now you’re sad again about Nanna and even sadder over a boy you can’t have. And even sadder than being sadder because you’re sadder about the boy you can’t have instead of only being sad about Nanna. Selfish. And pathetic.’ Roxy, her lab/shepherd mutt, laid her head down on Chelsea’s knee, waiting for the tears to fall, but they didn’t yet. They only brimmed. It was silly, but Chelsea raised the still unopened card to her face and touched it to her nose and lips. ‘His hands touched this card and wrote my name on the envelope. It is pretty nice that he thought of me. No one else sent a card just to me…’ She finally cracked the crisp spine and saw that the only words inside he’d authored himself. She reread them dozens of times, and memorized the contact number he’d left under his signature, and for the first time in a couple of months, felt genuinely happy. All three dogs stood up on the bed and began wagging their tails, and the cats made another exit. Cece looked bemused to have her nap interrupted twice and Rosco looked annoyed and disappointed that Chelsea had apparently deemed the card and its sender worthy and thus not to be destroyed. The two cats hunkered down together beneath her desk chair. Schnitzel jumped up to put his front paws on her elbow. She petted all of the dogs, and smiled, and went out to the dinner table still wearing the unmistakable grin. The dogs followed her, conditioned now to expect table scraps.
“What’d the card say?” her dad eagerly asked.
“Was a bereavement card for Nanna.” The smile stayed on her face, surprising her parents.
“So it was from the whole family then?” her mother queried.
“No. It was just from Trent. Just to me.” Chelsea’s eyes glazed over in a hazy state of reverie, and her parents exchanged a knowing, amused wordless glance. Chelsea ate her entire meal for the first time in three weeks, unmistakably letting down the dogs, especially YoYo, the greedy beagle, and scampered back to her bedroom instead of sulked. Her folks each said a silent prayer of thanksgiving for Trent Kinman and his amazing ability to pull their daughter out of her depressive funk.
Chelsea took her phone from her nightstand and entered the series of commands to enter a new contact and send a new text message.
CP: Hey, Trent! (See what I did there?) It’s Chelsea. Thank you so much for the card about Nanna. It really cheered me up. 🙂
Trent’s phone vibrated in his pocket, alerting him to a new text, and as always when he was hard at work at the grocery store, he ignored it. It was probably his mom, reminding him to bring something home with him at his shift’s end. But since it was Friday, it could be Jason or Caleb, wanting to make plans for later in the evening or the weekend. He continued loading cans of peas, creamed corn, and French-style green beans (with no added salt!) onto the shelves in aisle eight for another forty-five minutes before he clocked out and pulled his phone out to look, instantly sorry for his healthy work ethic. ‘Omigosh! It’s Chelsea! Why didn’t I check it right away?!’ He sat in his car with the engine off to write her back.
TK: Hi. I was working. Sorry I didn’t text back quicker. Glad you’re cheered up. 🙂
CP: Are you off work now? Don’t want you to get in trouble texting me.
TK: Off the clock. No worries. What are you up to?
CP: Just chatting with you. How about you?
TK: Thought some friends might want to play cards or something, but nothing going on. Sitting in my car texting you.
CP: DON’T TEXT AND DRIVE!!! OMG!!! Be careful with yourself. I am already super sad. 😦
TK: Oh no! Sitting parked. In Barkley’s lot. Keys aren’t even in the starter. I promise. I NEVER text and drive. I don’t even text and stock shelves, and I could probably do that in my sleep.
‘She…cares about me. Wow.’
CP: Well, that’s a relief. Sheesh! No more scaring me. Deal?
TK: Deal. 🙂 Will you be at church Sunday?
CP: Yeah. Guess you will be too. Right?
TK: Yeah. Will I get another ‘Hey, Trent!’ ??? I hope so. Probably sinful to admit this, but that’s my favorite part of going to church.
‘Oh, man. I wish you could ‘unsend’ a text message. I can’t believe I just told her that. It was weird. And dorky. And forward. And like…everything bad it could possibly be…ugh.’
‘He’s…flirting with me. He’s flirting with me! Trent Kinman is flirting with me!’
CP: Do you have plans with your family after mass?
‘At least she’s still talking to me…’
TK: Go home and eat lunch. Goof around. I dunno. What do YOU do after church?
CP: Same thing. Maybe this week we could go eat at Horizons together for lunch and goof around. You think?
TK: I’ll have to ask my folks if all of us can plan for that. Is your Pappa gonna come too? Or just your parents?
CP: I was kinda hoping it could just be you and me. Not that I don’t love your family! I do! But I meant go out together. Like a DATE. (Embarrassing. I’m sorry.) 😦
‘Holy smoke! She asked me out! Chelsea Phillips asked me out on a date!’
TK: Sorry?! No ‘sorry!’ NO SAD FACE. I definitely want to go just you and me. DEFINITELY. You really want to go on a date with ME?!
CP: Yes. That surprises you?
TK: YES. I mean, happy about it. VERY happy about it. Just surprised.
CP: Why? ????
TK: Because you’re…you. And I’m just me.
CP: ‘Just’ you? There’s nothing ‘just’ about you, Trent.
Trent stared at her last message, poring over it numerous times, waiting for the euphoric ego swell to fade, but it didn’t. ‘Buying that card is the smartest thing I ever did.’
Trent wiped his sweaty right palm on his pants leg before offering handshakes to the people sitting around him at Sunday mass, saying a shaky, ‘Peace,’ to all of them. He’d seen Chelsea look over her shoulder at him a few times during the readings, and the intensity of the eye contact and the triumphant return of her amiable smirk amplified his already deafening nervous inner monologue. ‘She asked you out. She keeps lookin’ back here. She’s into it. Quit with the nerves. Be a man, Trent.’
After the final blessing and closing hymn, the Kinman and Phillips families met up outside on the church walk for the first time in four months. All of them greeted each other, the Kinman clan offering condolences, and the Phillips family offering thanks. Then Chelsea and Trent casually split from the group, hanging back as their parents and Trent’s siblings made for the parking lot. “So…” she breathed.
“Yeah. So…” he echoed.
“Shall we?” she asked, and reached out for his hand. He felt her fingers close around his and responded by gently squeezing hers, fruitlessly trying to slow his racing pulse as he escorted her to his car. He opened the passenger side door for her and reluctantly let go of her hand so she could fold her legs inside and he could close the door. He took a deep breath and swallowed hard, rounding the trunk to open his own door, and she mirrored the action, sitting up unusually straight with her hands folded, waiting for him to slide into the driver’s seat next to her.
“Horizons, r-right?” he stammered as he started the car.
“Yep. You okay?”
“Don’t wanna mess up.”
“You sound pretty confident about that.”
“I am pretty confident about it.” They smiled at each other.
He reached across the space between the seats and pushed against the back of her headrest, bracing himself to back out of the parking spot, and felt imminently self-conscious about touching her seat. ‘I hope she doesn’t think this is a move. Just backing up. I always touch that seat. Shit. I’m already screwing up.’ “I just hafta…um…y’know, to see out when I’m in reverse…”
“Trent. It’s okay.” She placed her left hand on his right knee as a gesture of faith and encouragement, and despite his increasing excitement, it did soothe him. “This is a date. I wanna do…y’know…date things. You’re allowed to touch the back of my seat. You’re allowed to touch my actual back. Are you afraid to offend me? I’m not a pure, delicate flower. I’m just like you. I have the same thoughts and feelings as you.”
“Can I tell you something without you making funna me?”
“Of course! I’d never make fun of you.”
“I’ve never…um…done this before. G-gone out like this. This is…um…my first date.” His face flushed a deep shade of crimson with senseless disgrace.
“You said you wouldn’t make funna me…”
“I’m not! I’m not making fun. I’m just…stunned. I mean you’re so…” Her voice trailed off and her face pinked up with reigned in immodesty. “I’m um…honored to be this girl.”
“I’m honored that you’re this girl. I can’t even believe that you’re this girl.” He put the car in park in Horizons’ lot and prepared to exit the car to chivalrously open her door for her again, but she stopped him, placing her open hand on his forearm. He looked to her questioningly. “Something wrong?”
“Just…something I feel like I should do before we go in to eat.”
“Um…alright?” Chelsea moved her hand to the side of his face, prompting him to close his eyes, and she leaned in to kiss him. She pulled away and opened her own eyes to see him stupefied and silent, with his eyes still closed.
“I hope that was okay.”
“Seriously?! That was way better than ‘okay.’”
“Was good then?”
“Yeah! You k-kissed me! W-w-what made you decide to do that n-now?”
“You said this is your first date. So, I’m guessing that was your first kiss…”
“Y-yeah,” he huffed, needlessly embarrassed again at his inexperience.
“Figured you’d be thinking about it all the way through lunch and then after lunch, you’d be worried about it happening maybe…if it should happen…how it should happen…what you should do…and now you don’t have to. It’s already over. I just wanted to take all that insecurity away.”
“Mission accomplished,” he timorously chuckled.
“Satisfactory first kiss then?”
“’Satisfactory?’ Listen to you…”
“Chelsea…I couldn’t imagine a better first kiss.”
After a fun and informal lunch, the two sixteen-year-olds walked back to his car hand in hand, and Trent regained some apprehensive inhibition. He desperately wanted to kiss her again, but having no previous practical application under his belt, he tensed up. “’Srong?” she asked, feeling his grasp tighten on her hand.
“My squished fingers beg to differ.”
“Am I hurting you?! Shit. I’m sorry, Chels, I didn’t know I was…” He dropped her hand in horror at the thought he’d made a mistake…one that may be causing her pain.
“No!” She rushed to scoop his hand back to her, enclosing it in both of hers. “I’m not…nothing’s wrong with me. But your grip did change. Everything alright?”
“I’m ‘sposed to be…cooler than this. You’re making me…”
“Trent, I wanted to come out with you. I like being out with you. I don’t even wanna go home yet. Am I doing something that’s making you uncomfortable?”
“Existing…” he half-heartedly jested.
“My feelings would be hurt right now if you weren’t almost smiling. What’s that mean?”
“You know…and now you want me to say…I don’t like feeling weak, okay? That’s how I feel right now. Weak. And scared.”
“If you don’t like the way I make you feel, then maybe we should…I’m sorry, Trent. I thought things were going well…” She let go of his hand that time, and turned away from him, remiss to cry in front of him, but feeling tears forming behind her eyes.
“No! No, no, no! I do like it,” he hurried to correct her. “Don’t be upset with me. Please.” He carefully clutched her shoulder, willing her to face him again, and the pain on her face drove him to an irregular dose of bold honesty about his self-perceived vulnerability. “I’m no good at this. T-talking about…well, anything really. Admitting humiliating stuff to you is really hard. I’m sorry. But I can do it. I will do it. F-for you. I’ll do it for you.”
“You can’t say anything ‘humiliating’ to me. Even if it is something embarrassing, who cares? You can trust me. Y’know? I trust you.”
“But surely you don’t…I’m not your first date, right? I wasn’t your first kiss. So you don’t know…it’s embarrassing.”
“Okay…so you need the past? You got it. I’ve been on twelve dates before. They were all since I turned sixteen. One with Andy DeGraw and three with Anthony Lumiere. I didn’t kiss either of them. And the rest were with Chris Gunderson. He kissed me eight times. So I’m not…y’know…way ahead of you or anything, if that’s what you’re worried about…”
“Oh, no! That doesn’t matter. It’s just…I dunno. I feel terrified about s-starting…about you…liking kissing me…I mean, I certainly want ya to like it, and I don’t have any frame of reference to gimme any bravery about it.” He sighed.
“I was scared to death the first three times Chris kissed me. I started to relax enough to…um…like it…eventually. But none of those kisses were anything like kissing you. Kissing you was…p-pretty awesome.”
“You must be a better kisser than Chris. I liked the first one. Like…a lot.” She giggled, and his pride inflated that she complimented his kiss, and that he’d made her laugh when she looked like she’d cry a few moments before.
“He didn’t think so. He wanted to start…um…doing more than kissing me, and when I told him I wasn’t r-ready…that I wanted to go slower…h-he broke up with me.”
“He’s a bad kisser and a dumbass then. I’ll never rush you into anything.”
“I know you won’t.”
“Yeah, because I…obviously don’t rush.” His face rouged again, and he dropped his eyes to the ground.
“Hey.” She benevolently vocally demanded he look at her again, and he obeyed her. “I won’t rush you into anything either. I’m sorry about before. In the car. If I scared ya. That’s not what I meant when I…”
“Don’t apologize for kissing me, Chels! Just…don’t. I mean, it was…un-unpredictable…but you didn’t gimme any time to be afraid. It was amazing. G-genius, really.”
“You’re so sweet, Trent. I really shouldn’t have assumed it was okay with you that I… I mean you were concerned that touching my seat was alright with me, and… Amazing?! Isn’t that exaggerating just a little?” she kidded.
“No. No exaggerating. That’s kinda why I’m…um…a-a-a little afraid now.”
“If you’re feeling pressure to kiss me again, and that’s what all this angst is about, forget it. You don’t have to. Not til you’re ready to. I wanna go out with you again anyway. We could go out every Sunday afternoon. And m-more than that, maybe. When you’re not working or something. I kinda wish we went to school together.”
“Me too. I mean…me too on all of that. Wish we went to school together…” He clasped her hands in his and stepped fractionally toward her. “Wanna go out more often. Be able to tell people you’re my g-girl.”
“Call me your girl, Trent. I wanna be your girl.” She looked at him in a way that melted his icy lack of courage. It was as if her eyes said, ‘Kiss me now, Trent.’ He leaned in and touched his lips to hers, and felt her hands let go of his and move to his back, so he returned her embrace and didn’t pull back from the kiss, either, as it naturally became deeper and more involved than he envisioned at its spontaneous beginning. He ended the kiss, but kept holding her close, and looked at her. She looked serene and satiated, a soft smile on her lips.
“I do okay?” he asked, with a mixture of tenuous energy and impish arrogance.
“Mmm-hmm.” Her eyes remained closed until her next thought could be voiced. “You must be gifted. You learn fast.”
“Have a great teacher.”
Dr. Chelsea Kinman stared at the ‘silver anniversary’ cards in the specialty greeting card shop, and was unhappy with them. She looked over all twenty-two cards featuring ‘the number,’ but none of them felt right for her twenty-five years of happy marriage and thirty-five years of happy life together with Trent. She finally chose a generic anniversary card that was blank inside, to write her own sweet sentiment in.
She drove home thinking about their first date, their wedding day, their honeymoon, when each of their children were born, and when each of their children graduated high school; Grayson only left for college a year ago. She wondered how often Trent thought about her and their life together, or if he ever did. Perhaps he just lived it. He always seemed to be better at doing that than she was. She wrote a small, heartfelt blurb to him that encapsulated her nearly four decades of love for him, and began getting ready for their romantic anniversary trip out to Horizons. Some didn’t find that local dive romantic, but Trent and Chelsea had their rehearsal dinner there. It was part of their history, and each year, on the date they got married, they got dressed up and went out for chili-cheese dogs and crinkle fries instead of steak or lobster.
Trent pulled up to the house about an hour after her, from his work as the regional inventory manager at Barkley’s corporate. ‘Twenty-five years today I’ve been married to that girl. I can’t believe it. I gotta be the luckiest sonuvabitch in the universe,’ he thought. He sat in the driveway with the engine off, thinking of their long history together, and how even though it had been the vast majority of their lives, it still felt new. He still felt the same surge of adrenaline every time she touched him, or he leaned in to kiss her, as he did that first time he took her out to the chili parlor after church. When he came home to her after being apart, even now that it was only after a routine day spent at work, he had the same increased heart rate he had pulling into the student-apartment parking lot to visit her during the eight years she spent away at college and veterinary school.
When Chelsea got out of vet school, they got married and bought her parents’ old house; the one they had built when Chelsea was only five, and the area was still semi-rural. Now, it was a conventionally developed suburb, but their two acre square in it was so loaded with memories, Trent still saw it like he did thirty-three years ago, pulling up to the front porch to pick her up for the date that ended up being their ‘first time.’ When she stepped out onto the wood deck outside the front door to greet him, he immediately flashed back to that day, and tacitly smiled wide exiting his car. “Ready to go, babe?” he jovially asked.
“Gotta put make-up on. And shoes, obviously.”
“You need the shoes. Not the make up, though.”
“You’re sweet. But I think I need it.”
“Whatever makes you happy, Chels. But you don’t. In fact, you look just like…standing here on the porch like this…damn.”
“I look just like what?”
“Like the night of the lake fire the summer before you went away for school.”
Her face flushed, showcasing a coy grin. “You liar, Trent Kinman.”
“No, ma’am. No lie. You walked out when I pulled up…the way you’re standing and that look on your face…I love it when you look at me like that. Telling you…I turned eighteen again.”
“How do I look at you?”
“Like you think I’m kinda nuts, but you’re happy to see me anyway…just like that, baby. Keep lookin’ at me just like that.” She did, indeed, keep looking at him just like that.
“Well, I won’t put on much make-up. And I’ll be ready to go. Hungry?”
“Yep. A little for chili. A whole lot for Chelsea.”
“You’re a weirdo!”
“You are too. You love a weirdo. That makes you just as weird as me.”
“Guess you got me there. I gotcha something.”
“Don’t get that excited. It’s just a card.”
“Can I read it while you’re putting on your unnecessary make-up? Or should I wait?”
“You can read it now.” She pecked him on the lips three quick times and added, “I’ve loved you forever. And I’ll keep on loving you forever.”
“I love you always, baby. Always,” he replied and she practically skipped to the bathroom to complete putting herself together. He saw his gift lying out alone on the kitchen table, addressed to ‘Mr. Trent Kinman.’ He smirked as he opened it. The cover said in silver lettering, ‘Happy Anniversary to My Wonderful Husband.’ He unfolded it to find she’d written the interior herself.
To My Trent,
Forty years ago, I began having ‘more than friends’ feelings for this boy I grew up with. Twenty-five years ago, I married him. It was the best thing I ever did. We have two awesome sons and one extraordinary daughter, and a lifetime of memories together with our family and friends. You’ve supported me and given me so much over all these years…you gave me a fantasy…a fairy tale. A whole life with one man…the man of my dreams. But today, as I searched for a card with the right words for you, I couldn’t stop thinking of the very first thing you ever gave me, and how it shaped my life and our life together. Thirty-five years ago, you sent me a card in the mail when Nanna Phil died. No one else did that. The thoughtfulness and esteem in that small overture told me everything I imagined about you was right. It told me that you truly cared about me, and that you wanted to see me happy. That you’d help me through hard times. And you offered the help without being prodded, or even asked. You put yourself out there for me, and I hope over these many years we’ve spent together, I’ve returned that sincere effort and regard. I know you sometimes think that who you are and what you do is ordinary, but I have noticed all those ‘ordinary’ things you’ve always done for me, never even expecting credit, and I want you to know now…it was never ‘just a card.’
I love you so much, and I feel so blessed to be your wife.
I’ve loved you forever. And I’ll keep loving you forever.