Theo let the barest crack of a smile slip, ignoring his wife’s plea.
“Please stop dancing like that.”
Theo smiled wider at the exasperation in her voice, shimmying even harder than before. “You know you like it,” he teased.
They were alone in the mirrored elevator, a late-night ride down from their suite.
“I don’t,” Pam said, trying hard not to smile. “I really don’t.”
“Liar,” Theo said as his hips began to get in on the action. “You love my dancing. My hips are the truth.”
Pam rolled her eyes, but she couldn’t help the smile that followed. “Your hips may have been the truth when we were first married, darling, but now they’re just noisy.”
“Rebuttal,” Theo said, raising his chin in imitation of her lawyer friends, before proceeding to salsa his way around her.
“Sustained,” Pam conceded, smiling wide. “And quite convincing.”
“Thank you, counselor,” he said, clearly amused with himself as he gave her a peck on the cheek.
Just then, the elevator doors opened to the lobby. Florescent lights decorated the open floor, the same light jazz music playing over their speakers. There were hardly any people around as they walked out of the lobby. It was late to go out for dinner. Late to go out at all, but Theo was determined to celebrate.
“Craig, my good man,” Theo said, clapping the valet on the shoulder. “Let me ask you a quick question… am I old?”
Craig’s eyes widened, obviously surprised by the question. Behind Theo, Pam nodded vigorously, attempting to give him the right answer.
“Older than me,” Craig said carefully, plastering on a polite smile.
“Fair enough,” Theo conceded jovially as Craig ran to retrieve their car.
Pam grabbed Theo’s hand while they waited. “You shouldn’t ask strangers those types of questions,” she said, her eyebrows raised in reproach.
“Craig is hardly a stranger, and asking uncomfortable questions is the only way to get to know people,” Theo said matter-of-factly.
“Now who’s the liar?” Pam said, nudging Theo playfully.
Theo shrugged, unabashed. “Well, it’s definitely the most interesting way to get to know someone.”
Pam rolled her eyes for the tenth time that evening, but Theo didn’t mind. He knew it was a sign of her love. It meant he was doing right by his job as her husband. And he took his job very seriously.
Craig avoided Theo as he exited their car, afraid eye contact might draw more questions.
“Thank you, Craig,” Pam said, embarrassed about Theo’s effect on the poor boy.
“Thanks, Craig!” Theo echoed before climbing in the car, a big smile on his face.
As soon as Pam closed her door, they took off.
“So where are we going?” Pam asked once she had settled in.
Theo eyed her, not wanting to ruin the surprise. “Somewhere super nice,” he said with a wink.
“You made reservations?”
“Well it is our anniversary,” Theo said, arching an eyebrow. “It seemed the thing to do.”
“Well, the day after our anniversary, technically,” Pam corrected, her voice guilt-laden.
Theo shrugged. “I wasn’t going there.”
“I know. But, again, I’m really sorry, honey,” Pam said, laying a hand on Theo’s arm.
“I totally understand,” Theo said with a smile, but not quite able to bring himself to look her in the eyes. “Work is unpredictable. I know you would have rescheduled if you could.”
Pam nodded, the smile slipping off her face. After a while, she tried again. “So where did you make the reservations?”
Theo glanced away from the road, offering an olive branch in the form of eye contact. “Guess.”
Pam snorted, squeezing his arm. “I’d rather not.”
“Come on, guess!”
Pam let out a sigh, not quite feeling the phone buzzing in her lap. “You can’t make me.”
Theo pouted his lips as he pulled to a stop sign, pulling out his A-plus pouty face, but it went unnoticed.
“Darn it all,” Pam said, digging into the purse in her lap.
It was Theo’s turn to sigh as pulled forward. “Work?”
Pam didn’t answer, only just having found her phone.
“Honey?” He said just as her phone began to buzz again.
“It’s work,” she said, already in the process of answering. “Hello?”
Theo purse his lips, his good mood dissipating into the stale air. He knew what was coming. His wife would be stolen by work. Another evening alone.
“Are you sure?” She asked the phone.
Theo took a series of deep breaths, daring to hope for the night he planned. For a night with his beloved, without responsibilities, without work.
“Okay,” Pam said, her voice resigned.
At that word, Theo exhaled, daring to hope no longer.
Pam stared at her phone after hanging up. Afraid to look at her husband.
“What did they want?” He asked, deciding to rip off the duck tape.
“They need me.”
Theo bit his bottom lip. “Tonight?”
Pam didn’t answer right away. “Yeah.”
Theo nodded, resigned. “I’ll take you there,” Theo offered, taking a left turn at the stop sign, away from their reservations.
Theo shrugged, his shoulders heavy. “We still have car time, at least.” A silver lining he didn’t feel.
“It’s a problem with my paperwork,” Pam said, still defending her work. Always defending her work.
“I’m not fighting you on it,” Theo said, the life gone from his voice. “You have to work. I get it.” He did. He understood, but that did nothing to ease the pain.
“You look mad,” Pam said, her voice gentle. She also understood. He had a right to be mad, but knowing that did little to ease her guilt.
Theo took a deep breath, tension visibly leaving his body. “I’ll be fine,” he said, turning to look her in the eyes. “I love you.”
Pam looked back into his. “I love you too, darling.” And her guilt was eased. And his pain was eased. And by all accounts, it was a good anniversary up until that moment.
Until the crash of their car. Until a truck rammed into their driver seat. And Theo’s body was crushed. And the life left his body.
Pam screamed. At first because she was scared. And then because she realized her husband was gone. Her rock. Her meaning. Then she couldn’t stop screaming.
Not until the hospital when they put her under. “I love you,” she sobbed between screams. But he was gone. That didn’t make sense. But she could still hear his voice. And that didn’t make sense either. And yet, all the same, he responds in that moment. And he still does today.
“I love you too.”
Short Story. The Enthusiast. (Enneagram 7)