I spooned some classic orange marmalade from the Mason jar and heartily slathered the fruity jam on my homemade sourdough bread. Hmmn… Andrew’s favorite bite at his most favorite time of the day. The scent of tangy flavor permeating my kitchen’s air – ah – what would be a morning without the delightful taste of the pulpy citrus on my crispy bagel and a cup of black coffee to go with it?
With the cup in one hand and my heart on the other, I went out to the porch, tilting my head up to smile at the morning sun. I feel giddy like a teen. It’s just like the first day he asked me out – this feeling. I was sixteen in pigtails and horrible braces. He was my crush since grade school and I had to hold back my swooning or I’d wet my pants. A day after, I successfully swayed my mother, after a series of tossing on the bed and not eating my meals, of the swollen gums to ditch the braces and – oh well, cut my long brown hair stylish shoulder-length if I wanted to go steady with him. It was in midsummer when he kissed me, under Casamata’s mulberry tree, our love nest after school. I had my eyes open in awe the whole time that he had to laugh his own nervousness off and pinch my nose. His gesture turned me into a cat on a hot tin roof. “You taste like orange. Irresistible.” He whispered in my ear and these cheeks – scarlet tint against my bone cream skin and chestnut hair. And since then, we've never run out of oranges at home. That’s me contributing to the whole orange industry more than all the households in our village combined.
Orange became a staple ingredient in my kitchen – a must-have item to go fairly in recreating any run-of-the-mill kitchen relishes like chutneys and yogurt, to my very own version of holiday treats like my ultimate orange pie, orange dream bars, and winter salad handsomely squeezed with orange peel zest. That’s me full of the joys of spring for being Andrew’s housewife.
We married when I was nineteen and him, twenty-one. And today is our anniversary.
Last night I spent an hour painting my toenails red and shaving those strands of nasty hair off my legs. I must admit, they grow like hilo grass against the whiteness of my skin. Not that I’m whining. Even after sixteen years, I’m glad the goddess of beauty is still on my side.
I took a rather languorous bath after breakfast and spent another half an hour coiffing my hair into a really nice top knot bun. Andrew likes it when I put my hair up to expose the long, white side of my neck. And since I badly wanted to spruce up for the date, I decided to wear my red bodycon dress and I must say that it really cuts a dash. Looking in the mirror, I can say that I really pulled it off this time. Even after two kids, I surprisingly maintained my slim figure, thanks to my Chinese descent. I can imagine Andrew’s eyes shining their furtive tale when he sees me on this dress. His eyes, glued to mine. His lips brewing into a thin line with thoughts that I can only know of. He would stuff all his food into his mouth and swallow without chewing to drag the time. And I’d laugh out loud and wipe the crumbs off the corner of his tautened lips. And he would forget our tickets to the concert –oh – deliberately he would. We would head straight home early, lock the door in our room, and make sweet, sweet love like the first time.
Maya on the phone stopped in the middle of the conversation when she saw me. I gave her that “I know right” tip of my head and even pirouetted like a ballerina to give her a full view.
“Okay, you can close your mouth now. Toasts on the oven ready in three minutes. No coffee for you this time, sweetheart. And, oh - Kyle? No going out with the boys until your dad and I come home tonight, okay? Bye! Be back in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.”
Kyle averted his eyes from the TV and was up on his feet like he was struck by a lightning.
“Mom? Where are you going?” His brows - hidden by his fringe in surprise.
I rolled my eyes. “I’m not buying that look anymore, Kyle. This won’t do it this time.” How many times have they secretly planned to surprise me on special occasions but to no avail? I mean that is really sweet, father and children planning a surprise for the mom, but they always fail in the process. Kyle always gives away the unmistaken tipoff by either being too fidgety or asking a lot of questions. That kid can’t lie, nah.
I grabbed my purse and headed to the door.
“Mom, wait for a second!” Maya rushed to block my way out. “I think I need to tell you something – something important – uh, yes.” The way she stuttered her words was a bolt from the blue. But I have other things on my mind so…
“Can’t it wait, honey?” I pointed at my wristwatch, their dad’s gift. “I can’t keep your father waiting. You know, it’s only one day in a year that I get to wear my red dress and walk around on these high heels. Plus – I heard Annie’s are launching their beef tenderloins which I haven’t tasted for ages. So bye-bye, you two!”
“Yes! I mean – but I really need to speak with you for a while, Mom.” Maya was fidgeting her hands nervously. “Right, Kyle?”
I glanced at Kyle suspiciously but he only nodded.
“What did you do this time?” I shook my head at the two of them. “I guess it’s better if your dad hears it first tonight. I really have to go.”
“He can’t, Mom!” Kyle snapped.
“Stop it, Kyle.” Maya held her brother’s arm to stop him.
Suspicion began to rise like lava in my chest. “What do you mean he can’t, Kyle? And why did you stop him, Maya? What is it that you are keeping from me?”
“Mom, you can’t go---”
“You mean at Annie’s? Why?” I suddenly felt the urge to scream at these two. “Stop talking in circles and tell me what the hell is going on.”
“---on like this.”
“If this is one of your games again, Kyle I swear to God--” I warned him. I am disappointed that he wanted to mess up this important moment. He knows how much this day means to me, doesn’t he? And then I stopped when I saw the tears in his eyes. I froze. I’ve seen this before. I’ve felt this before. Suppressed images began to come back into the light now. Andrew…
“I- I need to go see your dad.”
“Mom, he’s gone, all right? He’s not coming back. He can’t.”