I twisted in the chair. How will she react? Crumpling the silk tablecloth in my hand, I stared at the entrance. Am I waiting for her or blueprinting how to escape? Too late for that.
A black waterfall of hair crashed over her pallid-rock shoulders as she sashayed through the cherry-wood double doors. Her eyes locked on to me before I could consider slinking to the bathroom and attempting a stealthy retreat.
“Charlie!” she called, waving her arm; a small box was trapped in the hand of the other. She bounded across the restaurant to me.
“I’m so sorry I’m late. Work, you know?”
“Isn’t it always?”
“C’mon, Charlie. I planned a great date for us for Valentine’s Day. And I got you something special.” She pushed the box in front of me between the plate and forks. The long, scarlet candle centered on the table wobbled, puffing a thin trail of waxy smoke.
“Just open it.”
I peeled back the red wrapping to a white cardboard box. Tearing away the side, I found a golden ring, familiar but different. It couldn’t be. It was though.
“Beth, you…my dad’s ring…”
“I snuck it out of the safe a few weeks ago when you were out. I had it refinished and polished. I knew how much it means to you and… I want to do the same thing with us. I want to polish up and refinish our marriage. I’ve put work before you too much and it’s hurt us.”
“Beth, I don’t know what to say. But thank you.” Oh God. I still have to tell her about…
“I’m so sorry I haven’t been there for you, for us. You stayed despite it all and I want to start over.”
“Beth… I…” I couldn’t bring myself to look at her.
“Are you okay, hun?” She clasped her hand around mine, warm and soft.
“Beth, I cheated on you.” Her face went pale; mine went red. “I-It wasn’t supposed to happen. I mean you just haven’t been there and I went out for a drink and… and…” Her hand slipped from mine, cooling lava now.
Black ash burst from her eyes, streaming down her pallid cheeks. She sobbed quietly. “Why… I… I…” Her face sunk into the grooves of her hands.
“I’m sorry, Beth. I didn’t want to hurt you but… but I did. I had to tell you. I’m sorry.”
I waved off the waiter as he neared. Beth continued to whimper, her hands covered with the soot of her mascara. Suddenly, she pushed back her chair and surged up.
“I… I just can’t right now. Don’t come home tonight.” She strode to the exit, her hair bunched on upraised shoulders, hands swiping at tears.
I stood up to chase her. “Beth! Wait!” The cherry wood doors rattled as they closed behind her. Her perfume drifted about: I caught a faint breath of its rose and peony notes.
Into my chair, I slid once more and drank heavily from the glass of wine sitting in front of me. The waiter was prompt if nothing else, returning after she had left.
“I’ll take the check if you don’t mind.”