*Features adult language and themes.*
It had to be perfect.
Not too hot or it would cook too quickly. It needed to be evenly heated, soft in the middle with a little bite on the outside.
Evie loved french toast, or eggy bread, as she called it. It was her favourite breakfast. Over the course of their relationship Jon had always made Evie French toast as a treat. He was constantly searching for different recipes and new twists he could put on it to improve the dish. He was on a one man crusade to discover how to make the worlds best french toast for his wife’s enjoyment.
Recently he’d added flour to the egg mixture to give the toast a fluffier consistency, to counteract the bland taste he added sugar, cinnamon and vanilla extract.
Jon considered himself to be a good cook, not a chef, a cook. He had a respectable repertoire of meals he could make very well for his own, and Evie’s, taste. He had enough know-how and confidence to attempt unknown recipes and get them right. He would never win any awards, or be able to work in a proper commercial kitchen, but he could feed himself and his family. He was constantly surprised that this wasn’t generally the case with other men.
His Mum had never been a domestic goddess, preferring to limit her dominion to knowledge not practicality. She had worked as a librarian for as long as he could remember. The closest she had got to cooking was cross referencing Fanny Craddock. She still worked part-time but even when she was at home she lived her life in books. Early on in his parents relationship his Mum had commandeered a room to create a small personal library and reading room. It was a restricted area.
Jon’s dad had always been the cook. Otherwise he would have probably died of starvation. While his Mum locked herself away with her books, Jon spent time with his Dad and picked things up through watching and helping with meals and chores. Jon always joked with Evie that she was very lucky to have a domesticated husband.
He took the pan off the heat and flicked the kettle on to make a pot of tea. He poured some orange juice and laid a long stem rose onto the tray. Once everything was assembled he picked up the tray and made his way back to the bedroom. He was careful to tread lightly past Robbie’s room.
He wanted to enjoy breakfast with Evie alone if he could.
The bedroom was dark. He wobbled as his foot found something uneven on the floor, the plates and cups rattled and a wave of tea splashed over the tray onto Jon’s hand. It seared his skin and he had to bite his lip to stop himself crying out.
That wouldn’t be the nicest way to wake her up.
Jon placed the tray gently on his bedside table. He looked over at Evie sleeping. In the half light of the bedroom she was a vague shape of duvet and hair. A car went past splashing the window with its headlights. Evie’s face was illuminated for a few seconds. Jon stopped as he saw her face. She looked so peaceful and content. So beautiful. He always told her that she looked wonderful in the morning just after she woke up. Her hair in disarray, her eyes sleepy and soft.
I will never get bored of waking up next to her.
He leaned across the bed and stroked his hand over what he assumed was her arm beneath the blanket.
There was no reaction.
Jon knelt on the bed making Evie’s body bounce and sway on the mattress. She still didn’t stir.
He began to feel a stab of worry. Placed his finger to his wife’s neck to check her pulse.
Evie’s eyes snapped open, bleary and wary. “What are you doing?”
Jon moved his fingers up to Evie’s cheek in an attempt to turn his actions into a tender stroke.
“Where you checking my pulse?”
Jon smiled to himself. She always catches me out. “Yes I was. You didn’t move and I couldn’t see you breathing or anything. I was worried.”
“It’s a little scary to wake up with you looming over me checking if I’m alive, you know.”
“At least I cared enough to check.” Jon leaned over and kissed her softly on the forehead. She snuggled into her pillow. “I’ve made you breakfast. I know it’s a little early for you but I wanted to do something nice for Valentine’s day.” He reached over to the tray and held it up for Evie to see.
Evie sat up in bed, stifling a yawn and rubbing her eyes with her fists. “Oh, thank you, honey. That’s lovely.”
“OK if I turn the light on?” Evie nodded so Jon flicked the switch on the bedside lamp. The light made Evie flinch. Jon watched her face as she surveyed the tray. He felt a swell of joy when she smiled at what she saw.
“Mmmmm, French toast. My favourite.”
“Hopefully it’ll be worth waking up a little early.”
“It always is.” She leaned across and gave him a kiss.
“Robbie’s still asleep, I managed not to wake him. I thought it’d be nice to have a little time to ourselves before I have to go to work.”
Evie picked up a piece of toast and took a bite. She chewed thoughtfully before letting her eyes roll up into her head and giving a little moan. “You’ve made it better somehow,” she said through a mouth full of food.
“Can you guess what it is?”
Evie took another bite, chewing carefully and concentrating on the flavours in her mouth. “I can’t place it. All I know is that it’s the best you’ve ever made.”
“I put a bit of orange juice and zest in the mixture. Not too much, mind, but enough to give it a bit of bite.” Jon picked up a slice for himself and poured the tea. He grabbed an envelope from his bedside table and placed it on the bed next to Evie. “I know we don’t usually do much for Valentine’s but I’ve got you a little something this year. Don’t open this until I’m gone.”
A vague frown crossed Evie’s face. “Jon. I haven’t got you anything,” she said as she reached over to her bedside table and handed a card back.
“Thank you. It Doesn’t matter.”
“It does to me.”
“I don’t give you things to get something back.” He held up his left hand and wiggled his fourth finger. His wide silver wedding band reflected the dull light as it moved. “You’ve already given me the best gift. Why would I want or need anything more?”
* * *
Jon felt good as he left the flat. Evie was still in bed enjoying her breakfast. The morning was crisp and the sunlight clear. He experienced a sensation of calm. The general background noise of the world receded in his mind as a glowing blast of contentment enveloped him.
Everything feels right. My life is as good as it can be.
When he crossed the bridge over the river, Jon decided to stop for a moment and look down at the water. The tide was low, just a trickle down the middle of the slanted concrete banks. The silt and mess of the riverbed was exposed. He spotted the usual litter; food packages and cans as well as a dirty shopping trolley that must have been there for months because it was the same colour as the mud. There was also a lot of building materials, big rocks, pieces of masonry and a few scaffolding bars.
When I walk home this afternoon the river will have risen and covered the waste. The problem will still be there, but nobody will be able to tell.
Jon carried on. Halfway over the bridge sat a homeless man huddled under a filthy brown coat.
He held his hand out to people as they passed him and mumbled a request.
Jon dipped his hand into his backpack and fumbled around inside it. He pulled out a sandwich he’d made himself for lunch and gave it to the homeless man as he passed. The tramp didn’t say thank you. Usually that would have annoyed Jon, but he was in a good mood and decided to let it go.
After a few steps Jon felt something soft hit him on the back. He turned to find the sandwich on the ground, half unwrapped with a single bite taken out of it. He looked to the vagrant.
“I don’t like mayonnaise.”
Jon was stunned for an instant before stooping and picking the sandwich up with the intention of putting it in the next bin he passed, then walked on.
I guess beggars can be choosers after all.
The ingratitude was surprising and on any other day it would have been offensive. Today Jon simply smiled at the irony. He didn’t have any real love for Valentine’s day but it had become important to him because it acted as a keystone in his life. Important things happened on or around the 14th of February. This in itself was ironic. Jon had always vociferously opposed it as a
It’s just a money making exercise. Companies create a day when people must prove their love through shopping. If you refuse your partner believes you no longer love them. Ridiculous. I do my best to show Evie I love her every day of the year. I don’t need Valentine’s.
Jon embraced his own hypocrisy by always buying Evie something after complaining about Valentine’s Day for a full week beforehand.
He met Evie for the first time on Valentine’s day. They were both at College. Jon was studying graphic design, a venture that was doomed to fail from the very beginning. Evie was enrolled in the fine art programme. They were in separate classes in the same department.
Jon had never been very successful with women. He was an awkward teenager, never comfortable with his own appearance. Despite this, he had always formed close friendships with girls. These relationships never threatened to overspill into anything more. He was the stereotypical gay-best-friend but with the annoying complication of being straight. Jon was the guy that would become friends with the girls he fancied only to have them date other men. The girls would then run to
Jon to complain about the losers they had chosen over him.
He spotted Evie at college a few times. She stood out with her long red hair and milky skin. He never plucked up the courage to introduce himself, simply appreciating her from a distance as and when she appeared in his life.
The art department ran an exhibition in February that showcased chosen pieces by the students. Some of them took on a Valentine’s Day theme, others were simply general pieces. Jon had no aspirations to have any of his work displayed, but took the time to go to the show to see what his betters were producing.
Jon wandered around the show. A lot of the pieces were simply perplexing. He accepted that he didn’t understand what the artists were trying to do, but thought it much more likely that they had no idea either.
Jon spotted Evie. She was standing next to the piece she had contributed to. It was a collaboration from three or four students. They had made a huge sculpture of a winter tree. Its bark was rough and twisted, it bulged and curved like tensed muscles and sinews that had been bound together. The tree took up a large part of the exhibition floor, its branches reaching up to the ceiling and spreading out over the viewers. This sculpture in itself wasn’t the whole piece.
Jon approached Evie as an interested patron.
Evie locked eyes with him. “Hello, would you like to contribute to our piece?”
Jon was flustered for a moment. The words were having trouble travelling the short distance from his brain to his mouth. He just nodded.
Evie handed him a slip of green paper and a pen. “The idea is to write a message that will then be attached to our tree. It’s our representation of Spring, the season of rejuvenation and hope. You can write anything you like. A message to someone you love, a dream you would like to come true or just something you’ve observed that you think makes the world a better place.”
Jon took the paper and pen. He couldn’t take his eyes off of Evie and soon realised that his staring was beginning to make her uncomfortable. Through a huge effort of will he turned away to a nearby table to scribble his note making sure he added his phone number. He folded the paper and wrote, ‘please read before attaching,’ on the outside then handed it back to Evie.
She took it from him and looked down at the message. By the time she had read his words on the inside Jon had melted into the crowd. He watched from behind a nearby pillar as she looked around for him.
As a result of that note Evie contacted him and their relationship began. Within a few months they were living together in a cheap bed-sit.
It soon became clear to Jon that his studies were a dead end. He had no real talent for design. His creativity was limited and he began to resent the expense of an education that he would never use.
Evie, on the other hand, was finding some promising foot holds within the local artistic community. She had gained a few small commissions and received nothing but praise from her tutors.
Jon dropped out of college and got a job at a local supermarket. He wanted to support Evie in her career. They discussed it at length and agreed it would be a short-term arrangement. Evie was destined to find success, leaving the way clear for Jon to find something else he would be better suited for.
Then Robbie came along.
Jon was forced to stay at the supermarket to keep a stable income. The pregnancy hit Evie hard making her ill and lethargic for months at a time. In the end she too had to leave her course.
Jon found Robbie to be a constant joy, he saw him as the last piece of the puzzle. A year after they had met properly Jon decided to propose on Valentine’s day.
It had been the best day of his life when Evie said yes.
Jon found that he had wandered through town to the bus station. He loved that feeling. He had walked for ten minutes but had no memory of the journey. It made him feel as though he had left his body to let it get on with the pedestrian motions of his day while his mind was busy contemplating his memories.
Jon dropped the sandwich in a bin before getting on the bus. He paid, took his ticket and found his usual seat. As he looked out of the window his fingers found the edges of the paper to begin the well practised motions of making his origami crane.
Jon smiled out of the window at nothing in particular.
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