The Empty Jar - M. Leighton
Bed of Roses
“Welcome to the next three months,” I announce with a flourish as I walk through the door. From behind my back, I produce a pair of plane tickets in one hand and a bottle of champagne in the other. My jacket is unbuttoned, my tie loosened and I’ve worked on schooling my smile into “casually relaxed” since I turned onto our street five minutes ago.
I knew that’s what my wife would need.
Helena crosses the kitchen toward me, pulling her robe tighter around her waist. I recognize the gesture for what it is—insecurity about her weight gain. She is deeply bothered by it. But me? I’ve hardly noticed. I love her every curve whether she does or not.
Over the years, I’ve watched her transform from a young woman coming into her own into a real woman who knows exactly who she is and what she wants. The changes have been both emotional and physical. She hasn’t been as fond of the physical ones as I have. I’ve loved the rounding of her hips and breasts, and I’ve appreciated the graceful aging of her oval face. Lena is one of the few who is actually getting better with time. Its passage is only enhancing the incredible beauty she’s always had. Or at least that’s how I see it.
Her cheeks have slimmed as the fullness of youth gave way to the leanness of maturity. Her lips spread more readily into a smile as the shyness of her younger years waned. And now the smooth skin around her eyes is crinkled with the lines of a thousand laughs, a sure sign of the life she’s lived. She calls them “badges of courage”. She even laughs when she says it. I think every one of them make her even more beautiful.
“Nate, are you sure this is what you want? We don’t have to…”
As she approaches, I see the uncertainty etched on her features. It’s there in the concerned pleat of her brow, the worried redness of her lips and the woeful brown of her eyes. My gorgeous wife is troubled.
I know every subtle nuance of her thoughts and her moods. They shine on the landscape of her face like a movie projected onto a blank white canvas.
I know that face.
I know it and all its hundreds of expressions like I know the vein work on the back of my hand. She’s never been able to hide what she was thinking or feeling.
Not from me.
I set the tickets and the champagne onto the corner of the spotless black granite island and take Lena gently by the shoulders.
“I swear it,” I pronounce firmly before she can rehash her million reasons why this isn’t a good idea. “They’ll be the best three months of our lives.”
“Well, maybe not yours,” she clarifies.
“Yes. Of mine, too. Promise me you’ll stop worrying about this.”
Lena drops her eyes and turns her expressive face to the side, no doubt in hopes she can hide the lie from me. Which she can’t. “Okay.”
With a curved finger hooked under her chin, I urge her face back toward mine and I lean in until we are forehead to forehead, nose to nose. “Liar,” I whisper, brushing her lips with my own.
I know my battle is just beginning. It will take time and a lot of distraction to convince my wife not to fret about our trip. I’m determined to make it the best it can possibly be, though, even if it means wearing myself out reminding her that this is what I want. In the end, it’ll be worth it. There is no question of that. If I can give her nothing else, I will give her this.
“My heart,” I murmur, rubbing the tip of my nose back and forth over hers, wishing I could make things right, make things better. Change them.
But knowing I can’t.
“For yours,” she replies, as she has since the night I proposed to her just over sixteen years ago. One of the best nights of my life, and they’ve only gotten better with time.
I squelch the thought that erupts like an acidic volcano, spewing destructive lava through my mind. There are some things I won’t allow myself to dwell on. Not until I absolutely have to.
“We’ll celebrate our anniversary on the banks of the River Thames and we’ll celebrate every day after that someplace new. The French Riviera, Rome, Prague, Vienna, Belgium. Everywhere we’ve ever wanted to go, we’ll go.”
“What if the only place I’ve ever really wanted to be