Everyday a Sun(day)

“BEEP BEEP BEEP!”

I groaned rolling over in bed and flopping my hand down on the snooze, silencing the unwelcome intrusion of the clock’s alarm on my dreams. I lay prone as sleep slowly released its hold on me, my mind drifting into a state of greater awareness. I was contemplating surrendering to the blanket of unconscious that threatened to envelop me, when I heard the electric clamor of the coffee machine starting up. The first tendrils of the bitter sweet aroma drifting in from the kitchen hit my senses, bringing a smile to my sleep weary face. The smile was only in small part due to the prospect of caffeine. Mostly it was the image of the figure preparing it. I pictured Annie moving about the kitchen readying the coffee grounds, humming quietly to herself. Every morning the coffee machine kicking up at 8:00 on the dot.

Throwing the covers back I sat up, rubbing the last hit of sleep from my eyes. I stumbled slightly to the bathroom, pausing by the door to fix a cramp in my leg, and set to brushing my teeth. Annie always complained about my morning breath. Usually I would make a joke of it, chase her down and force a kiss on her-smelly breath and all. She would pretend to be mad, quickly falling into hysterics of giggles. Of course she’d accept the kiss before slapping me playfully and demanding I go wash up. As much as I loved the exchange, today I would be nice. It was our special day after all, and everything would be perfect.

With my mouth burning cooly of mint, I made my way out to the kitchen. I paused in the entryway, taking in the sight that made my soul sing. Annie stood before the sink, gazing out as sunlight streamed in outlining her form in a golden aura. She busied herself drying dishes left over from dinner the night before. Shaking myself out of a trance, I padded quietly up behind her and wrapped my arms around her small frame, resting my chin on her shoulder. I kissed her cheek before saying in mock anger, “What are you doing? Housework? It’s our anniversary!” She laughed turning in my embrace and swatted me with the dish rag.

“Well, does that mean all the dishes magically do themselves?”

“No,” I said thoughtfully, “but it means you shouldn’t be worrying about them.” I then led her to the island counter, sitting her down. “Now sit and let me get you some coffee.” She sat primly, eager to accept my doting. I pulled down two cups, poured the thick liquid into each, and set one in front of her. “So,” I started, “would you like me to make you breakfast, or shall we go to our favorite spot?”

Annie snorted and rolled her eyes, “You? cook? let’s go to Greg’s Diner. I could go for some Eggs Benedict!” She then hopped up and kissed me lightly on the lips before disappearing into the bedroom to grab her things. I knew I was staring like a love struck fool after her. Married a year, and still as consumed by her as the day we said I Do. They said that would fade, but I couldn’t see myself ever being any less wrapped up in Annie. I threw back my coffee and put my empty cup along with her’s, untouched, in the sink. Then trailed after her to find something more appropriate to wear than my bed wrinkled PJs. I was anxious to get on with the morning’s agenda, and determined to carry out my plans to perfection.

I got dressed quickly while Annie could be heard readying herself behind the bathroom door. I smiled to myself, knowing she was perfecting every hair on her head. Supposedly the effort was for my benefit, but I thought she looked lovely just rolling out of bed. Women, there’s always something with them. Knowing it would be a good few minutes before she was satisfied, I made my way to the front room to find Jake. Passing through the kitchen I swiped his leash from the counter, whistling one quick staccato. The clamor of nails excitedly clacking against the wood floor indicative of my success, as I met the German Shepard in the living room. His tail wagging excitedly at the sight of his leash.

Jake was a present from Annie to me. Though I couldn’t place the specific occasion, her excitement in presenting him was fresh in my mind. She kept saying “now you’ll be able to do everything you want and won’t be lonely, even when I’m not here.” She was referring to my penchant for long day walks. Annie worked in an office downtown and was usually gone for the traditional 9–5 work day. This meant most days I was left to my own entertainment. Not that I could complain, I was the one that went away for months at a time while on deployment. But when I was home, most of my work for the government could be done at home on the computer.

Thinking of deployment my stomach tightened. No, we wouldn’t think. Not on our special day. There would be plenty of time to worry about the ramifications of my job tomorrow.

By the time I had Jake secured on his leash, and my shoes on, Annie had emerged from the room. Of course looking lovelier than I deserved. I told her as much, earning a blush and a wave of her hand, “Please, Mathew you flatter me too much.” I let the subject drop, though I would have liked to keep going, and held the door open for her. We stepped out into the fresh brisk autumn air. It really was lovely out, I couldn’t have asked for a better last day.

“Shall we take the scenic route through the park?” I asked hopefully, though anticipating her groan. Annie wasn’t the patient sort, I knew she’d prefer to beeline right to the diner.

After a playful sigh she rolled her eyes and said emphatically, “I suppose, but only because I know you won’t be able to for awhile.” At that I stopped short and put my arms around her, forcing her to face me while getting tangled in Jake’s leash.

“Hey, none of that. This is our day, let’s not worry about tomorrow.” She stared at me and puckered her lip in a frown, though with no sadness in her eyes only playful teasing.

“Fine,” she began, “we won’t talk about you going off to save the world tomorrow IF,” she paused narrowing her eye’s mischievously before continuing, “we take the shorter route past the duck pond. I’m positively starved!” She finished, her face melting into a smile. I rolled my eyes but nodded in agreement, taking her hand and gently untangling Ralf as we descended the front steps and headed toward the park.

Being a Sunday morning, it was no surprise the paths were sprinkled with a good number of folk even at this early hour. True to my promise, I led Annie on a straight course instead of along the winding paths I usually favor. I did however stop beside the old man selling the last of his summer flowers beside the visitor post. Annie’s eyes went straight to the daisies, as I knew they would. I reached deep in my pocket for my wallet but felt her hand stop mine. “No Mathew it’s okay, I don’t need anything really.”

I looked down into her eyes about to protest, before she continued leaning into me with a grin, “If I have to hold flowers, then I cant hold your hand.” I laughed at this shaking my head, and looked apologetically at the vendor with a shrug as if to say “What are you gonna do?” He just stared blankly back at me. I felt genuine regret as Annie tugged me forward, the poor man probably didn’t get much business this time of year.

The rest of the walk was just as I hoped. We held hands, leaning in close, and talked of all good things. No mention of my departure the next day. Just Annie, I, the beautiful morning, and Ralf obediently leading a step ahead as if he knew exactly where we planned on going before we did. We passed many people, who all stared abjectly at the two of us. I was used to that, ever since high school we were the couple to be watched. You would think the head cheer leader with the star foot ball player couple lust would fade along with the memory of graduation. However, it seemed increasingly that everywhere the two of us went people stared. It never seemed to bother Annie, but sometimes I wished we could glide by unnoticed. I looked at Annie with her long loose hair blowing in the wind, rosy cheeks bright from the chill, and couldn’t blame the gawkers. She was something to be noticed. I could only hope I did her justice, deserving of the place at her arm.

We reached the edge of the park, entering the busier part of our small town and waited to cross the two lane high way to Greg’s Diner across the way. Annie hopped from foot to foot blowing on her hands, anxious to get out of the cold and to our meal. If it weren’t for Jake tugging at his leash, I wouldn’t have noticed the lights change so mesmerized was I by my wife.

At their impatience we hurried to the diner’s front, where I paused to tie Jake to the post they had there beside a bowl of water painted with red with balls and biscuits. I patted him on the head before rising to hold the door open, beckoning Annie to enter before me with a sweep of my arm and a slight bow. “M’lady, shall we continue on to our feast?” I said in a playful accent. She returned with a curtsey and prim tilt of her head.

Again I smiled after her, thinking the day was going just as I had dreamt. When we approached the counter I said jovially to the waitress, “Good morning, beautiful Sunday we’re having. Table for two?”

“Booth or table?”

I turned to Annie, “Sweet heart, would you like to sit by the window?” I knew she would, Annie was nothing if not a people watcher, and enjoyed the staring out at the busy street while we ate. At her approving nod I turned back to the waitress expectantly, who cleared her throat before beckoning us over to an empty table with excellent street view.

As we sat the waitress handed me a menu but I raised my hand indicating I didn’t need one. “We actually know what we want thank you.” Looking unsurprised the waitress nodded and waited for me to continue, though she didn’t take out her pad to take down my order. “I’ll take the french toast, and Annie here,” I said gesturing in her direction, “will take an Eggs Benedict.” The waitress whose gaze remained fixed on me, gave a grimace and a quick nod before turning to leave. I leaned in quickly though and added conspiratorially, “and a hot chocolate for my wife. She’d never order it herself, but it’s our anniversary so I think she deserves to spoil herself, don’t you?”

The woman looked to Annie with a quick jerk of her eyes before settling back on me with a sigh. “Yes I would say so.” She then turned and left, promising our food would be up shortly.

I winked at Annie who smiled fondly back at me. We were never fazed by such reactions to the two of us. I recognized the girl vaguely from high school. Just like in the park, Annie and I tended to receive odd reactions. Either open amazement, or undercurrents of hostility. All from some petty jealousy I’m sure. But it didn’t bother me, just went to show how lucky I was to have captured such a special woman.

While we waited for our food we chatted about the usual subjects-family, work, town gossip. It were these seemingly mundane conversations, made alive and interesting by the person I shared them with, that proved to me how right we were. I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else, or with anyone else in that moment. I barely noticed when the waitress set our plates down, our eyes not breaking to even spare her a glance.

I finished my last bite of toast and leaned back, staring contentedly across at Annie who as always seemed to be playing with her food more than eating it. The sound of noisy feet slapping against the linoleum brought my attention to the left, just as a small weight crashed into the side of my chair. Staring up at me was a young boy, eyes wide. I chuckled at his childish antics, while on hands and knees he gazed beneath the table. His head jerked back to me, brow furrowed. He blurted “Where’d your leg go?” Just then a woman, clearly his mother from her reprimanding tone, caught up to him and quickly tugged him to standing saying, “Shush boy, don’t be rude.”

She pulled him towards the front counter, his head swiveling to remain fixed at a point below the table. I looked at Annie to remark on the child’s endearing nonsense, “Kids always say the funniest things.” She merely shook her head and laughed lightly in amusement. Reaching across the table she took my hand saying sweetly, “Just wait hun, soon we’ll have one of our own to chase around restaurants,” ending with a conciliatory smile. My heart lifted. Kids were not a topic we touched often, not with my job always threatening to pull me away. I would broach the subject later. What a perfect end to our anniversary, deciding to start a family.

I looked back to the child at the front, his mother struggling to heft her purse and pay the cashier while corralling a little girl along with the boy. While the woman was distracted signing the check the boy turned to his sister, tugging on her jacket, and proclaimed loudly “ Look Lilly, why is that ugly man talking to himself?”

****EPILOGUE****

As Victoria stood watching Mathew retrieve bills from his wallet, she spied again the picture kept there. It always amazed her, the image of the happy couple in an embrace smiling carefree towards the camera. Particularly the handsome man, almost unrecognizable as the one before her. Taking the bills from his outstretched hand, she flinched as his gnarled knuckles brushed her palm. “No change,” he said softly as his lips struggled to form the words clearly. Forcing a smile she grabbed the plates on his table, one wiped clean the other full with eggs benny, and hurried behind the waiters station. She rose from dumping the plates in the dish return just in time to survey Mathew as he stood with difficulty from the table. He placed his hat atop his bald head, woven with burns, its brim managing to shield some of his mangled face. Limping on his prosthetic leg he maneuvered around the table and pulled the chair out that sat empty across from his, recently vacated. He leaned over its back, whispering something that led to a chuckle. After a moment he made his way to the door, mumbling to an unseen specter by his side along the way.

He held the door open a moment, before exiting it himself, pausing to pick up the leash of the seeing-eye dog. Victoria stared sadly after the man as he made slow progress away from the diner. Mathew would be back tomorrow, just as joyous, mind trapped in his private world. She had heard the stories of the couple, notorious within the community, whom fell in love young. The boy sent off to war, only to return a portion of a man. The woman, still so full of youth, unable to reconcile a life confined to an invalid. Annie, she remembered the girl from high school, stuck around long enough to see Mathew to relative independence before hitting the road. Not that Mathew apparently knew the difference, in his mind Annie was still by his side. Reportedly unable to comprehend her disappearance, he had repeated the last day they spent together ever since.

With a shake of her head Victoria banished the image of the once beautiful couple and focused back on the Mathew’s retreating form, now making slow progress beneath the dark grey early morning fog. Turning away from the windows she brushed aside the sense of mourning she always felt upon seeing the man. Though she knew the pity would return the following morning when Mathew entered with the same line, “Good morning, Beautiful Sunday we’re having.” Before taking a seat at the same table and ordering the same food for the love he didn’t know he’d lost.

Prompt: “Write a short story where the first time read through is happy, and the second sad.”

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