Why didn't we make the big move in after Valentine's Day?" Jan asked their Golden Lab Neptune.
Neptune barked a short, staccato "I don't know."
"I don't either, Jan said.
Neptune barked another short comment.
"Ask Tim? I'll ask him when he comes home," she said.
She looked around. Home. This kitchen where she was cooking their first married Valentine's Day dinner together in the same house didn't feel like home yet. Tim had inherited the house from his folks and he had lived in it by himself after he and Gina had gotten divorced. Gina had moved out of state with their two children and Tim stayed in the house where he had grown up.
"I couldn't insist that he move out of his house," Jan told Neptune. "He belongs here. I'm just not sure that I do."
Jan sat the apple pie beside the pan of bread pudding that was baking in the oven of the 1960s stove and checked the pot of stew that bubbled on top. When she asked Tim what he wanted for their first Valentine's Day dinner he said, "Anything but a heart shaped cake." Then he told her that he wanted beef stew, biscuits, and bread pudding and apple pie-comfort food that she felt sure that his mother had made on this very same stove. Then they had a fight and she stormed out of the house to go bow hunting with Dave, his old hunting buddy.
She sat down in the rocking chair that stood beside the wood burning stove- yes, a wood burning stove. Tim had informed her that it burned coal as well as wood and that he used it in the winter to warm the downstairs rooms. Jan got up from the rocking chair and took some paper and kindling out of the box beside the stove. Some of the broken up kindling looked like a wooden bow that someone had chopped up, but no, she had to be imagining things. Jan put them in the stove and reached on the top shelf for a match,
After the fire took, she piled on a log to get the fire burning and then she put on a few lumps of coal from the bucket on the back porch. Tim was right. The heat from the wood stove flowed from the kitchen in waves and encouraged her to take off her sweater. She opened the oven door again and put in a pan of biscuits. Then she sat back down in the rocking chair to wait for the biscuits, bread pudding, and apple pie and the stew to finish cooking.
A warning bark from Neptune stopped Jan in mid rock. The rocker rungs were about to hit the edge of the braided rug where the table sat. She had rocked all of the way across the room. "I didn't know I was that nervous," she told Neptune. "This starting over is more stressful than my divorce, a new job, new children, and new whatever life throws at me! Can I do it, Neptune?" She buried her face in the soft fur around his neck and she felt him give her a warm, kiss on her hand.
"I love him, Neptune, but I don't know if I can compromise me enough at my age for us to stay together."
Neptune looked at her and barked a question.
"Take today, Neptune. It's Valentine's Day and he's out bow hunting. I know, I know. I made jokes about Cupid shooting arrows blindly and to be sure to duck, but I am really hurt because he's out hunting white tailed buck instead of spending Valentine's Day with me.
"Why didn't you tell him that?"
Jan jumped. "Neptune? "
"No silly, it's your daughter Susan."
"Oh, Susan. I thought your voice was a little high for Neptune."
Jan watched Susan take off her coat and boots and sit down at the round, drop leaf kitchen table. She handed Susan a cup of coffee and watched her sip it before she repeated her question. "Why didn't you tell Tim that you didn't want him to go hunting on Valentine's Day?"
"The same reason I don't tell him any of my doubts about us. I'm afraid he'll laugh at me and I'm afraid they will come true if I say them. Besides, we had a fight this morning before he left."
"What did you have a fight about?"
"I want to paint the kitchen yellow and he wants to repaint it with the same color of green that it is now."
"Who spends more time in the kitchen?" Susan asked.
"I do. When I'm not painting and drawing I'm cooking."
Susan shrugged. "Well then…"
"Your father says that my work drove him away."
Susan snorted. "My father cheated on you with the blonde bimbo."
"He calls her his blonde bombshell," Jan said, adding another layer to a healing scar.
"He was happy enough about your work when it earned money when he didn't," Susan said. "How can you take him seriously when he's just blaming you for his own behavior, Mom?"
Jan stared at her daughter. Had she really carried relationship baggage with her into Tim's house? Tim's house. That was part of the problem. The house was Tim's and she felt like a guest, not his wife. The other part was that she didn't trust Tim enough to tell him how she felt.
"I don't take what your father says seriously any longer," Jan said firmly. And she meant it.
"Mom, you deserve a huge red heart for Valentine's Day to match your heart, but you have to speak up for yourself."
I'm speaking up. Wait until my cooking's done and drop me off at the hardware store? I have to buy a few things."
"Sure, Mom," Susan said.
By the time Jan got home from the hardware store, the bread pudding and apple pie had cooled, the biscuits were still warm, and the stew gently simmered on the top of the wood burning stove.
She set the table and put her packages from the hardware store in Tim's chair. She sat in the rocking chair beside the stove to wait for Tim to come home. Neptune stretched out on the rug beside her and they both fell asleep.
Tim couldn't get comfortable in his deer blind. He thumped and rustled so loudly that Dave, his hunting partner of ten years, asked, "Are you sure you don't have Neptune stashed in your duffel bag?"
"No, he's home with Jan," Tim said. His tongue linger over the unfamiliar with the contours of the name Jan, it had said the name Gina for so many years. Jan's name felt good to say, though. He thought about her cooking in his mother's kitchen, her long brown hair tumbling around her face as she stirred pots and pans and he felt a wave of love for her as strong as the heat waves from the wood cook stove.
"How are you guys settling in? Dave asked.
Tim scowled. "We had a fight this morning.
"Let me guess. She wanted to change something in your house."
Tim stared at him. "She wanted to paint the kitchen yellow instead of green. How did you know?"
Gina used to have the same problem with you. Your Mom's kitchen has been the same for the last forty years."
"Gina didn't spend very much time cooking in my Mom's kitchen or anywhere else. She taught the kids to make macaroni and cheese and left the rest up to me."
"She also left you for another man."
Tim smiled. "That was almost a relief."
"Then what's the problem if you're not still hung up on Gina."
"The problem is I love Jan, but I don't know if I can compromise me enough at my age for us to stay together."
"Seems to me she's doing a lot of compromising for you. She's the one that moved here to Dexter and she's the one that has to live in your mother's house that you don't want to change.
"I'm old and set in my ways, Dave. You should know that. Look at how many years we've gone bow hunting on Valentine's Day."
Dave bent over and started to put his bow in its case. "I gotta break tradition today, Tim."
"Does that have something to do with Betty wanting you home for dinner on Valentine's Day?"
"It sure does. I want to sleep in my own bed tonight, not on the lumpy couch in the den."
"My heart's not really into hunting today either. I broke an old bow this morning and didn't even try to fix it. I just chopped it up and put it in the wood box. I thought if l told you I couldn't hunt today I could stay home. I knew it wouldn't work though. You know how many extras I have stashed away in the barn."
"Why don't you go home, Tim?"
I can't go home yet. I have to figure it out."
"You'll figure it out," Dave whispered as he climbed down the steps of their blind and disappeared into the woods.
Tim sat gazing out over the square of meadow that reminded him of a handkerchief hemmed on four sides by woods. He saw at least two deer grazing in the meadow, but he didn't even have the heart to raise his bow. He just sat staring and imaging Jan cooking his Valentine's Day dinner in his mother's old kitchen. That morning in that very kitchen he had shouted at her, his new wife, that he wouldn't be home for the special dinner that she had cooked for Valentine's Day.
"I'll bet she fixed all of my favorite things like stew and biscuits and bread pudding, and apple pie," he told the two does that were grazing at the foot of the oak tree that held his blind.
"I'll bet she would really like a heart shaped cake for dessert instead of apple pie like I wanted," Tim told the buck at the edge of the woods. For some strange reason women think Valentine's Day is romantic. For the life of me I can't figure out why they think a naked little boy with a bow and arrow named Cupid is romantic!"
Tim's voice must have been louder than he realized, because the buck disappeared into the woods and the does stopped eating grass and bounded across the meadow. The idea hit Tim. Cupid and bow and arrow. That was it! Maybe that was a way to tell Jan what he really wanted without getting all mushy about it. He shoved his bow and arrows into their bag and hastily clambered down the steps of the blind, not caring how much noise he made. If he hurried he could make it to the hardware store and the other store before they closed.
Ken Matlock at the hardware store was just putting the closed sign on his door when Tim rushed over from the other store. They were old friends from high school days so Ken opened back up and Tim bought what he needed. After he left the hardware store, Tim took his time getting home. He had to think this through. He had to have a Cupid aim with words instead of arrows at Jan's heart.
He turned off his truck in the garage and sat there for a few minutes, still thinking. Finally he had the words straight in his mind. He gathered up his packages, opened the back door and walked into the kitchen.
Neptune greeted him with welcoming barks.
"Where's Jan, Neptune," Tim said. "Find Jan."
Carefully, Tim set his packages on the table, shoving aside some packages that someone, probably Jan, had already put there. He spotted her sleeping in his mother's rocking chair beside the stove and he quietly eased out a kitchen chair and sat down.
Jan and Tim's Story
Jan woke with a start. Neptune's barking had chased away her dream of a romantic dinner with Tim, but at least she was still sitting in the kitchen rocker.
"What were you barking at, Neptune? Yawning and stretching, Jan looked at the clock above the stove. It was long past supper time and no Tim. She might have known he would stay out late hunting on Valentine's Day.
"Well, Neptune, want to have dinner with me?" she asked.
"I want to have dinner with you."
Jan whirled around. "What did you say, Neptune?"
"It isn't, Neptune. It's Tim. Late, but I'm here."
"Dinner's ready, Tim."
"First I want you to open your presents."
"Why presents? It's not Christmas."
"Didn't you remind me that it's Valentine's Day this morning during our fight?"
Jan smiled. "I reminded you that today is Valentine's Day."
Tim smiled back. "Sit down and open your presents."
"There's some presents on the table for you, too.”
"Open yours first," Tim said.
"Are you ordering me or asking me?" Jan demanded.
"I'm begging you, please open your Valentine's Day presents first."
Jan tore the wrappings off a can of yellow paint. She tore the wrappings off a bronze statue of cupid with a broken bow and arrow. She stared at Tim.
"Open the other one," he said.
Jan opened the other package and pulled out a heart shaped Valentine's Day cake from Norman's Bakery.
"I want to compromise with you," Tim said.
Jan smiled at him through her tears. "Now open my gifts," she said.
Tim tore the wrapping off a can of green paint.
"Open the other package," Jan said.
Tim opened the other package, a long, skinny one. It was a bow with its Browning logo etched on its polished surface.
"I want to compromise with you," Jan said.
They reached across the table and held hands.
From a long distance, Jan heard Neptune's barking.
"I think he's hungry," Tim said.
"I think we should feed Neptune and eat our Valentine's Day dinner," Jan said. "We have a lot to talk about."
"There's something I have to tell you," Tim said, pointing to his heart. "Cupid hit me with an arrow today when I was out hunting. I don't think I'll recover. And we have other things to do besides compromise."
Jan smiled at Tim. "Why Tim, you do have a romantic side."
"I meant we have to paint, Jan. What did you think I meant?"
She laughed and kissed him. "Happy Valentine's Day!"