The flame of the candle flickered as a gentle breeze blew through the back garden. The sweet smell of the flowers still in bloom wafted through the door, making Derek wrinkle his nose in an effort not to sneeze, as he wrestled the potatoes onto their roasting tray.
Everything has to be perfect, he thought, as he glanced at the book propped open against the toaster, his finger shaking slightly as he ran it down the list of ingredients.
“Now, I reckon that’s everything,” he whispered, breathing a sigh of relief, as he noticed the time.
If there was one thing forgotten or out of place, Mavis would be sure to notice, he thought, noticing that his apron was grubby where he’d been rubbing his hands. It was a good thing he’d worn it, otherwise his shirt would have been covered, and there wasn’t the time to change.
Slowly, Derek walked out to the garden, making sure to place his feet carefully so as not squash the daisies growing over the pathway. Mavis loved flowers. Especially when they were growing wild. All the flowerbeds were overflowing as well, dotted with tiny solar lights.
“Oh, I’d love to be a flower,” she’d always say, tossing her hair as she knelt in the mud. “To be free and wild.”
The slate across the yard was still wet from where he’d watered them earlier. He gripped the handles of his walking frame more tightly as he approached the table, it’s crisp white linen almost glowing under the starlight.
Derek looked anxiously at the cutlery, the silver handles glowing after he’d polished them. Nothing like a bit of elbow grease, he thought, Mavis would appreciate that.
The breeze blowing through the garden became stronger, extinguishing the tiny flame trying bravely to stay alight, and causing the linen to flap.
“Oh no you don’t,” Derek muttered, placing a hand in it’s center and holding firm. “It’s nearly time. She’ll be here in a minute.”
Feeling as if his bones were creaking, as well as the chair, he gingerly lowered himself onto the wooden surface, and felt his body slowly relax. There was only one cushion left intact after the cat had decided to scratch and fight the other during play, and that was ready for Mavis, already on the other chair.
“Bad Mittens,” he’d said to the cat, trying hard to frown as he looked down into the gingery, whiskery face. “Where am I going to sit now?”
But it had been impossible to be angry. Mittens had purred and rubbed his head against his hand, and he’d felt his heart melt. After all, Mittens had been like a baby to Mavis.
It was nearly time.
The stars were shining more brightly as the color of the sky deepened, and the breeze had become gentler again.
His hands shaking even more, Derek lit the candle.
It’s flame flickered gently.
Slightly worried, he looked at his watch. It wasn’t like Mavis to be late, he thought, I hope she’s okay otherwise the dinner will be spoiled.
The smells of the roast, cooking, drifted out of the kitchen and over to him. Derek heard his tummy rumble and groan. He’d forgotten lunch again, he realized, trying so hard to prepare the meal.
Where is she? he thought, nibbling his lower lip.
His eyes strayed to the bottle of champagne, sitting in the bucket of ice. It had taken him some time to get it to the table, balanced on his frame.
“I’m sure she won’t mind if I open it, and have a drink while I’m waiting,” he whispered.
He’d already loosened the cork, so he wouldn’t look to weak, and grinned as it popped.
The faces of the garden gnomes stared at him blankly.
“Cheers,” he said, raising his glass to them, and sipping.
The chirping of the crickets became quieter as the garden seemed to become still.
Derek felt fingertips run lightly down his neck, and his skin erupt in goosebumps as he shivered.
He smiled as he heard her whisper, and felt her kiss on the top of his head. If he closed his eyes, he’d almost be able to see…..
Sighing, he poured another glass, and topped his own.
“My love,” he whispered, holding his hand in the center of the table so she could place hers with his. “It’s been another year. I can hardly believe it.”
Derek paused as he felt a lump in his throat, and tears begin to well in his eyes.
He knew she was watching him, holding her breath, smiling in the gentle way she always did, ready to stroke his hand and comfort.
“Anyway,” he said, clearing his throat. “ Dinner’s nearly ready. You’re in for a treat! I used your own recipe. The one that your great aunt whoever, passed down to you.”
He smiled, sipping from his glass. The bubbles seemed to shoot straight up his nose.
Hurriedly he felt in his pockets, but his hankie was still in the apron. As subtly as he could, he sniffed, hoping she wouldn’t notice. Mavis hated sniffers.
The flame flickered gently, casting a shadow on a tarnished silver frame, it’s black and white photo staring up at him.
Smiling, Derek touched the photo with the tip of his finger, running it over their smiling faces, the veil draped over Mavis’s curls.
How young they both looked! And so full of hope.
“Oh my love,” Derek whispered, not bothering to hide the sniffs or the tears running down his face. “What am I doing here without you?”
He glanced at the empty seat opposite, the glass of champagne untouched.
It would always be empty now.
Derek scrunched his eyes tight as the pain washed over him like a wave.
“Mavis!” he groaned, his hands shaking wildly as he looked around, his vision blurred.
The breeze blew past him gently, dropping something on his lap.
Sobbing, Derek looked down and saw a daisy, it’s long stem curled over his leg, and felt a gentle touch on the top of his head.
“Oh, I love you too,” he whispered.