Heather sighed with exhaustion as she pulled into the driveway. It had been a long day at work, and she knew there was still plenty to do at home. Gathering her resolve, she grabbed her purse from the passenger’s seat and stepped out into the sweltering July heat.
She made her way up the steps to the front porch, picking up homework papers that had fallen from someone’s backpack on her way. An angry cry met her at the door, and her youngest daughter greeted her with tears.
“Mom! Dylan took the markers, and he won’t give them back!”
“She wasn’t even using them.” Dylan defended himself from his place at the cluttered dining room table. “I need them for my homework, and now she’s being so loud I can’t even concentrate.”
“Cassidy, there’s no reason why you can’t sit there quietly and share the markers.”
“But…” Cassidy’s rebuttal died as she beheld the stern look on Heather’s face, and she turned to comply, albeit grumbling quietly.
Heather kicked off her flats and carried them to the bedroom to change into more comfortable clothes before she headed for the kitchen, thankful for the text she’d received earlier in the day saying that Daniel was handling dinner tonight.
She immediately spotted the pile of school papers balanced precariously on the corner of the island and the breakfast dishes she’d left in the sink this morning still waiting for her, along with Max, their lab, looking wistfully at empty food and water dishes. What she didn’t see was Daniel or any signs of the promised dinner.
Before she had time to wonder where he was, the back door swung open and Emma, her eldest child, entered the kitchen, a burst of Georgia heat on her heels.
“Hey, Em. How was school today?”
“He’s out back, under the tree.”
“Under the tree? What’s he doing?” More importantly, why wasn’t he inside helping her?
Emma shrugged. “I don’t know.”
Heather bit back another sigh, opening the fridge to see what kind of meal she could put together. Husband or no, the show must go on.
At times like this it was tempting to remember the early days of their marriage, when they greeted each other with a lingering kiss after work and spent the evening talking, cooking, doing the dishes side by side. Daniel had been so attentive then, looking for any opportunity to touch her or make her smile. Where had the romance gone?
Glancing through the window above the sink, she could just make out Daniel’s silhouette under the tree, right where Emma had said. It looked like he was kneeling in the shade, working on something. What in the world was he doing?
Seeing him there reminded her briefly of high school and the afternoons when they would meet there after school, the Georgia pine almost exactly halfway between his parent’s house and hers. It had been practically a sapling then, although it seemed tall at the time.
When his parents had offered them a plot of land off the edge of their farm to build a house on as a wedding gift, she and Daniel had immediately known this was the location they wanted, and now their special tree shaded a large portion of their backyard.
What was he doing now? He was clearly fiddling with something on the far side of the tree, but she couldn’t see what at this distance.
“Mom, can you help me with my homework?” Dylan asked.
Heather looked up from the tomatoes she was washing. “Why don’t you go see if Dad can come inside and help you so I can keep cooking?”
Dylan dashed out the door as instructed but returned a moment later alone. “Dad says to come out to the tree.”
“Did you tell him I’m working on dinner?”
“Yeah, and he said to tell you to come outside.”
Heather struggled to hide her frustration. What was so important that he couldn’t just come inside so they could eat together and maybe get the kids in bed on time? She dried her hands. “I’ll be right back.”
Stepping outside, she set off towards the tree briskly despite the sweat that gathered on her skin at the exertion. She didn’t have time for this. Daniel should be helping her, and if he wasn’t, then at least he should let her alone to take care of things herself.
Rounding the tree, she stopped so quickly she nearly lost her balance. A picnic blanket was spread on the ground, dishes and take out food from her favorite barbecue place arranged on top of it. Beside the blanket, roses in hand, Daniel stood grinning at her, a lock of dark hair falling boyishly across his forehead.
“Do you know what today is?”
All at once the significance of the date flooded over her.
“We got engaged fourteen years ago today,” he said before she could respond.
Her irritation faded, replaced by chagrin that she had assumed the worst of her husband. Heather stepped forward to accept the bouquet he held out, and he pulled her into his arms.
“Happy anniversary, Heather,” Daniel whispered as he took her face in his hands and pressed a kiss to her lips that was equal parts tender and eager.
She slipped her free arm around his neck and rose up on her toes to kiss him back until she was pretty sure it wasn’t the summer heat flushing her face anymore.
A chorus of giggles made her pull back and turn.
“Did you guys know about this?” she asked the audience of three now gathered beside the blanket.
Sheepish smiles and more giggles confirmed their knowledge of the surprise.
Shaking her head with a smile, she leaned close to Daniel’s ear and whispered, “We’ll pick this back up later. Right now, let’s eat.”
He wiggled his eyebrows at her and winked as he motioned to the picnic. “After you, my bride.”
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