The familiar buildings drifting past were barely recognizable as the combination of raindrops and street lights blurred the view. It looked like an oil painting, some artist’s abstract depiction of a city at night. And, like a museum painting, she could only look and not touch.
Her sigh didn’t go unnoticed. From the driver’s seat, Gary glanced at her in concern.
“You okay over there? You’ve been really quiet today.”
“Tired and sore and feeling like I’m gonna puke on your nice upholstery,” she clarified bitterly.
He nodded calmly. “Right. Sorry.”
Immediately, Maggie felt a stab of guilt. Even though she felt she had a good excuse for being in such a bad mood, Gary had been going above and beyond to keep her happy today. She was frequently surprised how someone with such a bad temper could also possess as much patience as he exhibited towards her. It was a mystery not even her psychology degree could solve.
“Look, it’s been a really rough day,” she tried to explain.
He held up a hand to stop her. “I get it,” he said.
And that was one of the many things she appreciated about him. He really did get it. He’d been there before.
Her gaze returned to the oil painting outside her window. They were passing through a dining district now. Fancy restaurants, bakeries, and coffee shops lined the street. A few upscale clubs were interspersed here and there. People in nice outfits walked along the way, holding umbrellas over their significant others as they traversed the rain-slicked sidewalks.
The car pulled to a stop at an intersection. On the street corner sat an Italian restaurant Maggie had never visited, but used to dream about going to. The second floor terrace was covered, allowing the patrons to make full use of the dance floor in spite of the rain. Men in dark suits and women in fashionable dresses moved seamlessly around the terrace. Tiny white lights wrapped around the pillars and weaved through the rafters, twinkling like stars above the dancers. Even though the car windows were closed, Maggie could easily imagine the elegant music accompanying their movements.
“Okay, that’s the third sigh in ten minutes,” Gary said. “C'mon, what’s bothering you?”
Maggie waved a hand at the view through the window.
He glanced that direction, brow furrowing in confusion. “You’re that offended by Italian food? I mean, yeah, it’s no nachos, but—”
“No, it’s…” her voice trailed off as she tried to come up with the words to explain it. “I’ve always wanted to go to a place like that. Eat fancy foods, drink outrageously expensive wine, and dance on the terrace under the starlight.”
“Okay, I get the hint; we’ll try someplace nicer than Burger King next time,” he joked. Tone sobering a bit, he added, “Seriously, though, we can go there if you want. It’s not like we’re broke.”
“I don’t think I’m going to be feeling up to mingling with the socialites anytime soon,” she reminded him. “And dancing is definitely off the table for awhile.”
The light turned green and the car moved forward again, the restaurant being swallowed up by the rain-drenched night.
They weren’t even a block away before Gary was off on a completely different topic, her crushed dreams apparently already dismissed.
Maggie barely held in another sigh as they headed into her neighborhood. As much as she wanted to blame her mood on the long day of chemo she’d gone through, she knew it was more than that. Even though she wanted to get better and knew the treatments could help with that in the long run, hated how weak it made her feel in the meantime. She was tired of feeling tired. One night of dining and dancing and fancy music… such a simple wish, but completely out of her reach.
They pulled up in front of her building and Gary helped her up the stairs to her apartment. After getting her settled onto her couch with a blanket, plenty of water bottles, and the TV remote, he set out her medication for the morning. He kissed her on the forehead and slipped outside as she began drifting to sleep.
“You do realize you missed the turn two blocks ago, right?” she said as she sorted through her texts.
“Oh, really?” His mischievous smile had her instantly on the alert. “Must not be paying attention.”
Setting her phone aside, Maggie eyed him suspiciously. “What are you planning? We’re supposed to be at Rome and Regina’s place in twenty minutes.”
“Already taken care of. Incidentally, if you see them at any point in the next few days, pretend you have gout. I’m sure you can google the symptoms.”
“Since when do you willingly miss game night?”
Gary carefully avoided her gaze as he responded, “Since something more important came up.”
Knowing she wouldn’t get anything more out of him until he was ready, Maggie settled back in her seat. It didn’t take long for her to figure out where they were going. What she couldn’t figure out, though, was why.
The car slowed to a stop against the curb. Gary hopped out of his side and hurried around to open her door. With an amused smile, she let him hold her hand as she stepped out of the vehicle. He hooked her arm through his as he led her up the steps to the door.
Unlocking the front door, he ushered her inside as if it was the first time she was entering his house. Whatever teasing remark had been on the tip of her tongue died as soon as she stepped over the threshold.
The lights were off and several sets of candles cast a soft glow over the room. The table was covered in a lacy fabric and set with two place-settings. Dishes filled with various kinds of pastas, sauces, and breads covered the surface of the table. Wine glasses reflected the candlelight as they sat on either side of a foil-wrapped bottle.
She almost laughed at the sight of the little place cards on the table, and actually did laugh when Colin trotted into the room sporting a bowtie.
In the living room, the couch and coffee table had been pushed against the wall to open up the floor. Christmas lights were wrapped over and around every surface in sight. The multi-color strands didn’t exactly lend an air of elegance to the room, but they did get the point across. He had been listening yesterday.
“It’s probably not the same stuff they serve in those snobbish places,” Gary said, pointing to the wine bottle, “but I can attest to it being outrageously expensive.”
A smile lit her face as her eyes scanned the room again. “You set all of this up?”
“Well, Eddie may have helped a bit,” he admitted, giving Colin a scratch behind the ears. “He also agreed to spend the night at Rome and Regina’s. The cheapskate almost tried to stiff me for the cost of a hotel room.”
“How’d you talk him out of that one?”
“I may have not-so-subtly reminded him that he’s staying here rent free.”
His expression softened as he extended a hand to her. Maggie accepted it happily. Colin, apparently sensing he wouldn’t be getting much attention tonight, flopped out on the couch, content to ignore his crazy parents.
As Gary led her into the living room, Maggie felt the need to remind him, “I just had treatment yesterday. Not sure how energetic I’m feeling tonight.”
“That’s one of the perks of doing this at home instead of in a crowded restaurant,” he replied. He gently took her hands in his and placed his feet for her to step onto.
Grasping for something closer to their usual banter, she teased, “You sure you won’t complain about sore feet in the morning?”
“Are you kidding?” he teased back. “Even Theo weighs more than you. Now get that tiny body of yours over here.”
She kicked off her shoes and placed her own feet over his. The music played softly in the background as she let him guide her in gentle movements around the room. The song wasn’t quite the classical music she’d envisioned the night before, but somehow this soft rock matched them so much better than a concert pianist ever could. She melted into his hold as the music swelled, allowing herself to let go for just a few minutes and hand control over to him.
The song faded away, replaced with another, and they slowed their movements to match the calmer melody. Maggie felt hot tears slide down her cheeks and she buried her face against his shoulder to hide them.
Pulling back from her slightly, he glanced down at her. “Sweetheart, what’s wrong?”
She couldn’t answer right away, and his concern deepened. “I thought… Yesterday, it seemed so important to you, and I wanted to—”
Maggie shook her head, shooting him a watery smile. “No, it’s not that. All of this is… it’s perfect.”
“Then what’s wrong?”
Instead of answering, she stretched up on tiptoes and pulled him into a kiss. When they broke apart a few moments later, she whispered, “I love you. You’re completely crazy, and I love you.”
“And you’re a little weirdo, and I love you.”
Laughing as she wiped the tears away, Maggie reached for his hand again. “May I have this dance?”
He pulled her back in, wrapping his arms around her gently. "Always."