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Romance

“It’s red,” Henry said pointing to the sweater his wife purchased for him. His facial expression was candid, he didn’t even try to hide his dismay.

“It’s really more of a magenta,” she pointed out matching his expression.

“Why can’t you ever just acknowledge what I say, why do you have point out the inaccuracies or top it with something you know better?”

To the world, Henry and Rita were always in sync, they were perfectly fitted like the words to a favorite song. They’d met by accident, Henry had been set up on a date with Rita’s sister, Margo. On the night they were to meet, Margo had an earache, in her words it was not just unbearable, it almost killed her. For that reason, Rita went to Milly’s Café where Henry and Margo were to meet. She was instructed to reschedule their date. 

Upon entering the café, she heard a voice from a table at the entrance, “Are you Margo?” the voice asked.

Without even looking at the person asking, Rita kindly answered, “no” and kept walking, completely forgetting that she was supposed to meet someone who was expecting Margo.

She looked around the café for a man wearing a dark blue handkerchief in his top shirt pocket. When Margo’s date was nowhere to be seen, she started walking past the man who asked if she was Margo. That’s when it happened, a feeling stronger than an ocean’s wave; it blanketed her like syrup on a stack of warm pancakes. Henry took one look at Rita and was taken with her at first glance. Rita finally found the words, “Oh, wait, you asked me if I was Margo?” He had eyes that were a serene blue with just a fleck of green and if there was such a thing as loving eyes, he had them. Her eyes fell to the pocket of his shirt and there it was, the dark blue handkerchief, just a triangular shape laid flat against his chest. “You’re Henry,” she smiled.

“Yes,” his eyes rested on her face and for once he felt that his luck was the kind people hoped for.

Rita felt the need to immediately confess, “Let me clarify, I’m not Margo, I’m her sister.”

Henry offered Rita a seat by gesturing towards the chair across from him. When she started to pull out the chair, he immediately jumped, almost leapt across the table to help her sit. She was completely taken with his old-world gallantry. It had been a long time since any man had pulled out a chair, opened a door or even helped her with her coat. Rita sat down and wondered how mad her sister would be if she stole her date.

When Henry knew he wanted to marry Rita, he asked her father for her hand. On the night he proposed, he got down on one knee and swore his love, loyalty and affection for the rest of their lives and beyond. Almost six months to the day they met in Milly’s Café, the two were wed in a small ceremony with Margo as Rita’s maid-of-honor.

***

“Where is my tablet, have you seen it?” Henry asked picking up magazines on the coffee table.

“I put it on the charger in the bedroom. You forgot to charge it…again” she sounded annoyed.

“Again, well it’s my tablet. If it dies, let it. By the way, what time did you leave work yesterday?” he said completely changing the topic of conversation.

“I don’t remember,” still sounding annoyed. After 21 years together, he can still get her angry in less than two minutes.

“You never remember,” Henry replied.

“Are you saying that I’m hiding something or lying?” she stood her ground, “You have my location, you know exactly where I am at any time.”

“I’m just wondering why you never remember,” now Henry sounded annoyed.

“I think it was 5:30, but I don’t want to say, because then…”

Henry interrupts, “If it was 5:30, then why did you come home so late?”

“That’s why I said, I don’t know. I came home at what, 6:15? I was talking to Jill as we walked to our cars and I don’t know, I didn’t know I had to report to anyone!” Rita was past annoyed and venturing into anger.

***

The happiest day of Henry and Rita’s life was the day they brought their son into the word. He had his dad’s loving eyes and only cried when he needed something. Growing up he was even tempered, happy and rarely caused his parents any worry.

“Mom, I’m going to Jeremy’s house,” just like his father, so polite.

“Okay, Ben, don’t forget about curfew and take your phone,” reminding her 15-year-old-son to be home on time and to take his phone when he leaves is Rita’s second job.

“I think your dad and I are going out to dinner tonight,” another reminder for her son.

“I know, it’s Friday night, date night” they give a knowing look. She and Henry have told Ben 100 times how she and his dad met.

“You two are so in love, even after 17 years of marriage, aren’t you?”

“I like to think so,” Rita answers knowing full well that they are still very much in love, but not wanting to tempt the fates. Humble has always been her mantra.

“I hope when I find someone to love and marry, that we’re as happy as you and dad,” he looks at her, deep into her eyes, maybe in hopes of garnering some of that magic that keeps his parents in love.

***

“Hi, how was your day?” Rita asks Henry as he walks in the door from work.

“What’s for dinner?” he says ignoring her question.

“I didn’t make dinner, I was hoping you’d brought something,” she laughs. “We can go get something, maybe?”

“I just worked 9 hours, you were home today, why couldn’t you make something? We’ve been married 22 years, you know I’m hungry when I get home” he sounds irritated and ready to explode.

“I took the day off to take care of things I never have time for, not to make dinner,” she wonders why she has to defend herself. “I’ll go make something, or pick something up if you’d like?”

“It’s too late now, and this counter is so dirty. You don’t clean either?” he says as he’s rifling through the refrigerator, “there’s nothing here, I haven’t eaten all day.”

“More of a reason you should have stopped to pick something up, for both of us. I’m hungry too,” Rita answers.

He slams the refrigerator door and walks into the bedroom, another door slams. She sits on the couch, stunned. Rita can’t help but wonder, how did my housekeeping skills find its way into this discussion?

***

“Our one-year anniversary, I know people always say it, but where did the time go?” Henry says as he lifts his glass of champagne towards Rita.

“I don’t know, but I’ve never been happier,” their champagne flutes meet and anyone within ten feet can hear a celebratory clink.

“I thank all the powers above for giving your sister an earache,” they both laugh.

“We really shouldn’t laugh, she ended up going to the emergency room that night,” they become quiet.

“She can still hear, right?” Henry asks.

“Yes.”

“Then, I’ll say it again, thank you to all the powers above,” another clink is heard, and the happy couple continue to laugh.

***

“Why don’t you smile anymore? Henry asks Rita.

“I do smile, just not with you,” Rita is aware the answer sounds mean, but it’s the truth. After 23 years married, things are not the same.

“What happened to us?” Henry sounds defeated. “We were that couple, you know that couple that everyone wanted to be.”

“Did we use up our happiness?” Rita asks remembering when she was a little girl, she thought everyone was only allowed an allotted amount of happiness. She was convinced we all had a cap on happiness, because too much or too little wasn’t fair to everyone.

“What?” Henry wonders if he heard her question correctly.

“Nothing,” she silently reminds herself to not say everything out loud, some things are meant to stay inside a person’s head. “Do you think we need a break?”

“I don’t know” Henry says slowly.

Rita knows in her head that if he could just be that guy, the guy she fell in love with, then maybe she can find her way back to who they were together. She remembers back to their first years together. He protected her, made her feel valuable, even when she didn’t think she was. Henry used to listen to her and not only treated her like a lady, but showed her respect for her thoughts, ideas and even her crazy family. Now, most words that come between them are harsh, unkind and thoughtless.

“I need some space, I’ll leave,” Rita turns to walk out of the room.

 “What do you want Rita?” Henry is in his own way fighting for them and Rita can feel that, but it’s not hard enough.

“If I have to tell you, then what’s the point? It’s like giving the answers to something you should know,” she realizes he may think she’s talking in riddles, but it’s so easy. Just be the man I need, the man I fell in love with, she thinks.

“I’ll leave,” Henry says, “But not for a few weeks, it’ll be longer.”

Rita could feel the warmth of tears welling up in her eyes. If she cries now, it will make him feel guilty, that’s not what she wants. “I think that’s best,” four words, is that all it takes to end a marriage she wonders.

***

At 6am, noises coming from the hall closet abruptly awaken her, it sounds like boxes falling on top of each other. She rises and grapples with the sheets which have managed to become entwined through her legs. Rita manages to free herself and place her feet firmly on the floor. The room is still dark, she attributes this to the darkening shades she bought to help her sleep even on the brightest mornings. She feels like a sightless person as she taps her feet around the bed to feel for her slippers. When she detects them, her feet find their way into the proper slipper. “Henry!” she raises her voice to ensure it carries down the hallway.

“I’m in the kitchen,” she imagines him sitting at the dining room table, yet his reply was so calm.

Rita pads down the hall being careful not to step on the dog, who for whatever reason likes to sleep across the hallway. He’s been stepped on countless times, but still continues to make the middle of the hallway his bedroom.

“What was all that noise I heard, it woke me up?” she asked

“I was in the closet in the hallway, looking for my suitcases,” he didn’t even look at Rita, he was only staring at his coffee cup.

“Are you leaving today?” Rita asked her husband of 22 years.

He didn’t answer.

“Henry?”

“Is this” his words faltered, “…what we want?” he was still staring at his coffee cup.

“Yesterday I thought it was,” Rita stated very matter-of-factly. “Now, I’m not sure what I want, but I know it’s not what we have now,” she said standing at the table, not sure if she should sit or leave.

“I’m not happy, and either are you, but do you think giving up is the answer?” he finally looked away from his coffee cup and watched for Rita’s expression.

She locked eyes with the man she’s been in love with for over two decades.

Henry stood up and pulled out a chair for Rita to take.

Rita couldn’t help feeling that same feeling she felt many years ago, the night she fell in love with Henry. Her heart felt hopeful, and she didn’t know what would come of their words, but she knew they were in it together.

Rita sat in the chair and Henry took her hand.

March 25, 2022 04:05

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