A romantic story from our archives especially for February 14
By Jan Snook
Everything had to be perfect – but that seemed unlikely…
“Florence, please!” David said, not for the first time. “Look, it’s nearly eight o’clock, you’re supposed to be in bed. I’ve already tucked you in twice. Chloe will be here soon, and I’ve still got lots to do. Please! Go – to – bed. Now!”
“I’m just getting my colouring book,” five-year-old Florence said obstinately. “It’s on the dresser.”
“It’s not the only thing on the dresser,” David said. “A lot of your dolls’ house furniture is there too. And I want the house to look really tidy for Chloe. So get the things off the dresser and take them upstairs. Quickly.”
He looked at his small daughter and bent to kiss the top of her head. He shouldn’t get cross with her. She’d got used to having his attention all to herself since her mother died, and since that was over three years ago, the last few months of sharing him with Chloe had probably come as rather a shock.
“Why can’t I stay up to see Chloe?” Florence asked, with a final attempt at non-compliance.
David took a deep breath, glancing once again at his watch.
“You know why, sweetheart. It’s Valentine’s Day. It’s a very special day, and I need to talk to Chloe. About grown-up things. You can see Chloe tomorrow, OK?”
If everything went according to plan, that was. It didn’t bear thinking about.
“And now I’ve got to get the dinner and tidy the house, so you could help me a lot by tidying the dresser and going to bed, OK?”
“The smoke alarm went off as the doorbell rang”
Florence left the room reluctantly, and he could hear her picking things up off the dresser and taking herself upstairs. He breathed a sigh of relief and went into the sitting room to plump up cushions, glancing anxiously at the time every few seconds.
Champagne in fridge? Check. Roses in vase? Check. Well, check-ish. Not perhaps the best arranged flowers in the world, but he’d done his best. Casserole in oven? Check. Music? In the CD player, just needed turning on.
Hang on… David ran into the kitchen and opened the oven door. Smoke poured out, filling the small room. The recipe had said to turn down the temperature after the first hour… He grabbed the casserole dish with a handy tea towel, yelped as he burned himself, grabbed oven gloves and yanked the casserole out, spilling some of the sauce down his shirt and trousers and on to the floor… at which point, inevitably, the smoke alarm went off and the doorbell rang. Right on time.
It wasn’t the look he’d been after. Red in the face and tomato-spattered, he let Chloe in, apologising profusely. Great.
Candles were not softly lighting the sitting-room, and the carefully chosen music was not soothing the fevered brow. OK, so at least she would know what she was letting herself in for.
Chloe, on the other hand, was looking beautiful. As well as cool and serene. There couldn’t have been a greater contrast, David thought miserably.
“Would you like me to come back in a few minutes?” she asked, laughing.
“No. No, of course not. It’s great to see you,” David said. “But…”
“Don’t kiss me”
Chloe leaned forward and kissed him.
“I was going to say ‘don’t kiss me!’ I’m rather… hot,” he added.
Chloe laughed again. “Shall I put this in the fridge?” she asked, indicating the bottle of white wine she was holding.
“Yes, that would… No!” She didn’t need to see all his careful preparations. Or the champagne. “I’ll do it,” he said, taking the bottle from her. “Thank you.”
Chloe followed him into the kitchen, and they both gazed at the casserole. It was still bubbling angrily.
“I’m sure it just needs a stir,” Chloe said. “Casseroles are very good-tempered. And it smells delicious. What are we eating with it?”
He hadn’t done anything with the salad! He’d at least meant to get it out of the bag, for goodness’ sake.
David groaned, and Chloe laughed. There was a pattern here somewhere, David thought dolefully.
“Do you know, I think you should go into the sitting-room and I should go and get us both a drink. I’ll deal with
Chloe looked around assessingly.
“I, on the other hand, think you should go up and change your shirt and trousers.”
“Things were looking up”
When David came back downstairs, Chloe had returned the casserole to the oven, wiped the floor, and was calmly tossing a salad, wearing an apron that he didn’t even know he had. He couldn’t help reflecting that she looked extremely at home in his kitchen.
He smiled. Things were looking up.
By the time they were both sitting down with some olives and a glass of wine, David’s confidence was beginning to return. He had been meaning to wait until after dinner to ask her, but maybe he should strike while the iron was hot. Or the casserole. No time like the present. Please let her say yes.
“Will you excuse me just a moment?” he asked, smiling in anticipation.
He walked through to the dining-room and gazed at the beautifully tidy dresser top. Usually it had piles of bills and Florence’s belongings strewn over it. This evening, nothing.
Absolutely nothing. And this was, he now remembered bitterly, where he had put down the small blue velvet box. It was nowhere to be seen.
His heart began to race, then pound. Chloe would be able to see it beating through his clean shirt.
Take a deep breath.
The box couldn’t be far away. He heard an echo of himself telling Florence to clear the dresser. She must have taken him extremely literally.
But where would she have put it?
He went back into the sitting room, trying to smile. Unsuccessfully, evidently.
“David, what on earth’s wrong?” She sounded wonderfully concerned.
He wrung his hands, then winced, and Chloe got to her feet.
“David,” she said, taking his hands and looking at them, “that’s a nasty burn. You should put it under cold water.”
“Oh! Yes, I burned myself just as you arrived. I’ll… I’ll go up to the bathroom. I think there’s some stuff for burns in the medicine cabinet.”
“What did you do with the little blue box?”
David rushed up the stairs, and into Florence’s bedroom. She was, naturally, sound asleep. Just as he’d planned. He shook her gently, mentally cursing.
“Florence? Sweetheart?” he whispered.
She turned over grumpily, vaguely swatting at him with a sleepy arm.
“Florence? When you tidied the dresser, what did you do with the little blue box? Sweetheart?”
She opened one eye.
“Toppadadess,” she mumbled.
“What did you say?”
“On top of the desk,” she repeated.
“Thank you!” On top of the desk! Really a very sensible place after all.
David left the room and raced back down the stairs, conscious of sounds of stirring coming from Florence’s room. He let himself in to the study and hurried to the desk. The sound of a bump and a wail came from upstairs, followed by footsteps in the hall.
“Can I help?”
David turned round. Chloe was looking at him, puzzled.
“I… I was just looking for something,” he said unconvincingly. “The burn cream! I keep it in here. It’s a handy place…”
He tailed off. They looked upwards as the wails became more insistent.
“I’ll go and see her.” Chloe disappeared.
David was too flustered to argue. She’d said “on top of the desk”, but the desktop was totally clear. He opened the single small drawer. Inside were receipts, keys, ancient raffle tickets, a spare pair of glasses. If it was here, he’d see it. And anyway, it would be on the top. No little blue box.
“Did you find what you were looking for?”
Upstairs the wailing had stopped. He closed the drawer slowly. He would have to ask Florence again. He took a deep breath and went up the stairs.
Chloe was sitting on the floor in all her finery, while Florence showed her the dolls’ house.
“And it’s got a piano,” she was saying, lifting the lid so that Chloe could see the printed notes. “It doesn’t actually play.”
“Did you find what you were looking for?” Chloe asked him innocently.
David shook his head.
“That’s a shame,” she continued, and he had the distinct impression she was trying not to laugh. “Did you by any chance look,” she asked, standing up so that he got a quick glimpse of blue velvet inside the dolls’ house, “on top of the desk?”
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