Beyond the "happily ever after."
So exasperating. Who needs a cactus when you have the bumbling botanist for a cousin? The lingering three dots confirm my suspicions. Babita is in cahoots with Brendon. I stuff my towel in the training bag, close the zipper, and stomp out of the badminton court to the waiting cab. Once Brendon made the request snuffling my protests with pecks, I didn’t even try to sneak a peek, but Babita’s slip piqued my curiosity. Time to poke the bear.
Me: Home soon. 😘 Blue: See ya
Me: So, do I get my surprise today?
Brendon keeps me waiting. Come on. Please. My whining makes no difference.
Blue: What surprise?
Me: The one in the shed.
Blue: There is no surprise.
Me: Huh! 😠
Sneaky bear. Kiss and scoot after scrambling my brain cells. This is Brendon’s standard cryptic response when I prod him on his secret trips to the backyard. Even though he makes my toes curl, the fleeting smooches are poor compensation for the unhurried caresses of our snog sessions on the couch.
Me: Your covert operation is getting on my nerves.
Blue: Relax. The season is about to begin. I am trying to up my game. Surprise the team with 💪 and 🏃♂️
Hmm, is he bluffing me? Brendon’s Super Rugby matches start this week, but why this hush-hush? We do all our home gym routines together.
Me: In secret!! 😯
Blue: You will see the results soon. 😉
I shudder and clasp my phone. The ride from the courts at Carrum Downs to our home will take another fifteen minutes. ‘Our home.’ The words wrap around me like a comforter on a cold winter morn. Made cozy and warm by the guy I call mine. But in the past few weeks. Uff, I sigh and stare at the twinkling string of lights along the road.
Work, practice, and tournament schedules eat away all our time. Now, these shed escapades are nibbling away whatever is left. The hum of his ‘I am home’ has become scarce. My ‘Yogi bear’ echoes into the emptiness. The holler withers and dies, deprived of Brendon’s sunshine, longing for a hug. Will I get one tonight?
“We have arrived.” The driver wakes me out of my sad song. I pay the fare and plod my way from the main street, lugging the training bag up the slight elevation. On turning towards our driveway, I stop in my tracks. Am I at the right house? Glimmering white tea lights line the path leading to the porch. The number 47 emblazoned in big steel letters on the stone fence relieves the momentary panic, but I shift through my memory at each step. Did I forget an occasion?
Before I can take out the keys, the door creaks. Ah, so Brendon found my gifts. I had left flashcards with clues, sending him on a three-day gift hunt. An act of petulant revenge for the hanky-panky business he has been up to. Brendon stands before me, beaming with the power of thousand suns, dressed in the dark teal Henley over slim-fit jeans. The sky-blue denim fabric contours the hard lines of his rugby-toned legs. Brendon’s brown hair is tucked into neat waves, and the fresh trim on the beard sets off the flutters.
“Missed me?” Brendon smirks. I pout and give him my best puppy eyes. He gathers me in his arms and whispers into my ear. “I will make it up to you.”
“Missed you too.” My voice breaks. I trace a heart on his chest and nuzzle his neck to sniff the woodsy Brendon fragrance. The familiar soothing sensation settles into my soul, shooing the scary cawing ravens of doubt.
“Ready for your surprise?” Brendon untangles us.
I stare at his extended hand in confusion. “A red scarf?”
“No, babe, the scarf is to blindfold you.” Brendon’s eyes twinkle.
Oh, my. Has he planned a wild night? “What are you up to? Are we going somewhere? Should I? Mhmph.”
Brendon derails the train of my questions by crashing his lips on mine. “Shh. Give me this moment.” He covers my eyes with the scarf, testing the knot on the silk with a gentle tug. “No cheating.” Brendon takes the bag from my shoulder, grabs my hand, and walks us inside, one slow step at a time.
The thud of the bag on the wooden floor startles me, but Brendon’s grip tightens. He guides me around the couch in the drawing room. Holding my shoulders, he steers me in the direction he wants before moving away. For a few seconds, an eerie silence descends. “Blue. Are you?”
A soft, warm whiff of air tickles my ear. “I am here, babe.” Brendon’s whispered words make me shiver. The silk scarf loosens and slips to the floor. I blink a few times to adjust to the white lights. The sight before me leaves me speechless.
A stunning life-size mural of my winning shot at the London Olympics adorns the white wall. On both sides is a showcase with multiple wooden shelves. Each has a medal and a framed photograph of me on the podium—England open, China masters, World championship. I can go on. All my medals shimmer under concealed light, breathing again, unlocked from my drawer.
“These are symbols of your resilience.” Sturdy arms engulf me, aligning our chests. The hum of Brendon’s heartbeats is my life’s hymn. My safe place and my love.
“Blue, did you?” His nod answers me before I finish.
Brendon wipes the wetness on my cheeks, pouring his love into his gaze. “Happy first Valentine’s Day, Shy.”
Want to know what happened before?