The day had come and Jenna could tell. Mark was a mess. He wasn’t actively acting like it but she knew it was bugging him, sitting on his shoulders and no matter what she told him to dissuade him or convince him otherwise the idea was planted firmly in his head and he walked through the day like he was crossing a minefield. It was their tenth anniversary but Mark had been dreading it since they got married.
Mark’s parents had split on the night of their tenth anniversary. Both sets of his grandparents had split up on the night of their tenth anniversary. Even his sister had split from her husband on their tenth. It was laughed about in the family but Mark hated it. For the last several months, every time he saw his mother or father they would ask him how things were going, their eyebrows raised and a smirk on their face. It was annoying, he knew what they were implying and he would always tell them that Jenna and he were fine and happy. Every once in a while one of them would bemoan “Yeah, that’s what I thought too”
They hadn’t celebrated last year and Jenna knew too well that they wouldn’t be doing anything tonight. It wasn’t as though they were unhappy, quite the opposite. They just didn’t see the need for fancy dates to celebrate their love. They would go out on a random Tuesday before they would celebrate Valentine’s Day or one of their birthdays. She had feared that his paranoia would consume him and make him do something stupid but so far he had been relatively normal.
By some great cosmic alignment they had both been scheduled off on their anniversary which was a blessing and a curse. It was nice that they were going to be together but it would mean they would be together all day and she had the feeling it would mess with him too much. Nobody liked walking on eggshells all day and she wasn’t looking forward to it. If the day played out like other similar days when they were both off they would both be preoccupied with something and would barely notice each other. Not the ideal situation for an anniversary but considering the alternative she was happy so it threw her for a loop when, early in the afternoon, he asked if she wanted to go to dinner.
“Really?” she asked.
His face was worried and that worried her.
“Yea of course I just…I know today is…”
“Yea. I mean we have the night off so I figured why not.”
“Okay great. Do you have some place in mind?”
She smiled as he stood there in the silence maintaining awkward
eye contact with her.
“Are you gonna tell me where?” she laughed
“Sorry I just…” he was laughing too “I thought I would surprise you.”
“Okay do I need to dress fancy?” she was trying to figure out where
he was taking her
“Eh. I wouldn’t but you would probably want to.”
She smiled wide and sighed “That. Is. Vague.”
“Sorry but you’ll like it I promise.”
When they were in the car she was still trying to guess as they made their way. And he could tell.
“You’re trying to guess aren’t you?”
She said nothing but turned towards him with a smile.
The smile turned to smirk as he pulled the car into Big Iron. Her favorite barbecue joint. It was not nearly as fancy as she was dressed and they both new that. He had tricked her and his refusal to look her in the eye as they parked confirmed it. But she saw his smile as they got out. She looked down at her dress and decided she didn’t care if it got BBQ sauce on it.
They walked in and saw the usual hostess.
“Howdy, welcome to Big Iron how many tonight?”
“Just two.” Mark said
“Oh hi y’all!” she said recognizing them “O you look cute hun, it’s y’alls anniversary or somethin’”
“No,” Mark answered quickly “Just a night out.”
“Well wonderful, I’ll get y’all seated.”
She grabbed two menus out of habit. They had both been there enough times they knew what they wanted which was another reason she kept eyeing him as they made their way to the table. She ate like a man starved every time they came there. She polished off ribs like a teenage boy.
They got a few eyes from the other patrons as they walked to their table but it was fine. She knew she looked good and she was interested in if their sweet looks at her would change when they saw her chewing on bones like an old dog.
They got to the table and sat across from each other both smiling. Both waiting for the other one to start.
“So it’s not…that day?” she asked motioning the hostess.
“No I just. You know I hate places that do stuff I have a feeling they do stuff ya know?” his eyes narrowed
Her eyes narrowed to match his, “Yea they DO do stuff.”
“They doodoo stuff?” he asked grinning.
“Yep! But you on an extra wide saddle and sing a song.” She said her eyes widening as she spoke.
“Ugh, bet it’s a dumb song too.”
They gave a quick laugh as they settled in for dinner.
After the waitress brought their drinks and took their order. They spoke again.
“You know this is one of the places we went to when we were first dating.”
“I know, that’s because we’re both secretly fatboys.”
“Imma fatboy when it comes to dem ribs.”
He laughed and she began to forget about the tension connected to today and was hoping he was.
The conversation stayed light and topical. The kind of conversation they’d had every day for the last ten years: who was being a bitch a work, what childhood cartoons were lined up for a reboot, weird body pains that had no scientific basis besides the fact that they were getting old, the same old stuff.
When the food arrived, talking ceased. Universally it was true but more so at Big Iron. She always ate ribs like no one was watching, chewing on the bones to get all the meat off, licking her fingers and around her mouth and anywhere else the sauce might fall while Mark pushed his pulled pork sandwich into his mouth like someone was gonna take it from him the moment he paused.
When all was done and the complimentary wet wipes were opened and destroyed, the both sat back patting their bellies like proud little fatboys. She had gotten comfortable in the night to bring up the elephant in the room.
She looked down but spoke “You know I love you right.”
He had been looking elsewhere but snapped right to her in that moment. His eyes worried. “Yeah.”
“What’s with the face?” she asked with a gentle smile
“I just...that sounds like there’s a big but coming after that.”
“The only big butt I have is the one in the back of this dress.”
He gave a soft laugh with her but she could still see he was uneasy.
“But seriously, I know” she paused and wondered how best to continue “I know the whole thing with your parents and your sister have you spooked but I just…I wanted you to know that I love you and I’m happy we’re married and nothing is gonna change that tonight.”
He was easing.
“Unless you walk in on me passing a massive poo baby when we get home.”
He laughed hard with that one and she felt better.
He gave a deep sigh and spoke.
“I’m sorry if I’ve been a grumpy butt lately I just…it is on my mind and it has been a lot. I kept thinking it was like a curse or something or like some dumb tradition they felt like they had to keep up with and I just…it was a lot. And I was scared and I just didn’t wanna do that.”
“I understand. And yes your parents are dumb.”
He laughed. “I mean I know we fight but it’s like normal stuff I think, like money and stuff like that ya know.”
“All couples fight. I mean not like baaah…” as she made the noise she did slow motion boxing moves “but you know…arguing and stuff that’s normal. I mean if all couples agreed with each other it’d be like a weird Stepford Wives thing or something.”
“Yea I just…I like being married to you.”
“And I like being married to you.”
“Y’all save any room for desert?” bright and chipper asked as she popped up outta nowhere.
“How DARE you ask me that?” Jenna said with disgust.
The girl looked worried at first and then.
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to walk to the car after that meal.”
The chipper returned to the girl, “Well I’m glad you enjoyed it.”
“Always do.” Mark chimed in.
The drive home was uneventful. Jenna took some relief in the fact that it was due to the fact that the issue of the night was no longer an issue. Or least she hoped it was like that.
They got home late and did their nightly rituals. Side by side in the bathroom mirror as they brushed their teeth Mark decided that was the time for talking.
“BIDYOU WANNA…YA KNOW” he mumbled as he tilted his head towards the bedroom.
Unlike the heathen, she waited till she spit.
“You mean…” she wiggled her eyebrows
He nodded back.
“If you want to.” She said confused.
“Why don’t you wait until your done with your teeth first.”
His eyes furrowed as he bent down to spit.
He popped back up “I just figured you might want to.”
He didn’t say anything so she continued.
“I got the pork sweats bad. And I’m not promising a star performance.”
“We can just do it later. No big.”
They got into bed and she read while he played on his phone.
“Stop that. It makes it harder to go to sleep.”
“What about you that’s doing something.”
“Yeah but that bright light is not helping you.”
He sighed extra loud “Fine. Good night.”
He rolled over and went out while she finished up her chapter. She sat there and thought about it. He had to still be happy. He was so dedicated to keeping their marriage alive she had previously wondered if it was out of spite. But in little ways he made her know that it wasn’t spite that kept them together and she was grateful for that.
Her parents were divorced too but they didn’t have a system behind it they just plain didn’t like each other and didn’t make it to five years. Her whole childhood was spent in two different homes and while that was her norm she didn’t like it. Of course she was happy her parents hadn’t subjected her to living in a house with two people who hated each other. She was just happy that Mark and she were seemingly in love and they were set up to stay that way for a while.
She finished her chapter turned out the light and went off quick with a nice full belly lulling her to sleep.
In the middle of the night she was awakened. Her eyes opened to darkness and knew it was entirely too early.
“It’s four o clock on the day after and I’m still in love with your”
It was Mark. Of course. No stranger would wake her up in the middle of the night with such a message.
“I love you too.” She managed to get out.
He leaned over and kissed her cheek.
She made the kiss noise to reciprocate “Now shut up and let me get back to sleep.”