When he proposed she hesitated. Not because the answer wasn’t yes but because she had a request. Before she lost her courage or he thought she might say no, she asked him if he would be willing to allow her a secret, one that he promised never to inquire about throughout their marriage. Now it was his turn to hesitate. He didn’t like the idea of starting a marriage with a secret but he also knew her. If he didn’t trust her then he couldn’t build a life with her and he never would have proposed. So he said yes, he would allow her one secret, just one.
It’s Sunday night, one week until their wedding anniversary. They had just settled on the sofa together, snuggled the way she liked; wrapped in his arms, leaning against his chest. It was his favorite way to end the day as well. He loved resting his head against hers and taking in the scent of her. It occurs to him it’s a million little memories that build a marriage. He says as much to her. She smiles and murmurs in agreement.
“How would you like to celebrate this year? Would you like a private night for just the two of us, dinner with the family or something altogether different?” he asks.
“Actually,” she responds, “I’ve got a surprise planned for us and a request.”
“I love surprises! I’ll always do whatever is within my power to make you happy. What is your request?” She knew this to be true because in twenty-five years of marriage he had kept no secrets from her nor had she from him except one. “Will you spend Valentine’s Day with me this year?” He was almost too stunned to speak, but managed to stammer, “But, my promise.” She replied, “I release you from it once you’ve shared this Valentine’s Day with me. Will you?”
They had never spent Valentine’s Day together. Each year she had left before the sun came up and returned at sunrise the following morning, their wedding anniversary. Each time he had wondered where and how she spent the day but he never asked. He had made a promise to her on the day he proposed to allow her one secret without inquiry and he had kept it. Neither of them had known if or when she would ever tell him the secret. “There is nothing I would like more,” he finally replied.
The first few years as newlyweds it had been difficult not to ask about her secret. He had often wondered what it had to do with Valentine’s Day; why she disappeared on a day set aside to celebrate love. But it was a question that quickly faded every time she returned with the sunrise on their anniversary. She always looked so happy and vibrant lying next to him when he awoke that his mind would quickly fill with more pleasant thoughts. This year he would be joining her and he had a surprise of his own.
His wife prefers love letters and kisses to jewelry. She owns only one genuine piece of jewelry which she cherishes; her engagement ring, a gift from his mother given by her mother. His mother had replaced the center stone with a larger one so that it was tiered like a wedding cake with hearts of gold carved in the ring just below the center stone. He had presented it to his future bride with his mother’s request that it be passed to their oldest daughter for her own marriage someday. Someday was here. Their oldest daughter has plans to marry in April. Her fiancée is a fine young man of whom they both approve. So this year, he would replace his wife’s treasured engagement ring with an anniversary ring he had designed with the jeweler’s help.
He felt as though the week passed at a snail’s pace. Finally, Valentine’s Day arrived and there she lay sleeping. Three hundred sixty four days multiplied by twenty-five, good as well as bad, he wouldn’t change any of them. But still he wondered how had she spent those missing days?
She could feel his excitement as his weight shifted on the bed. Normally, she was the early riser but today was a bittersweet day that she both anticipated and feared. For twenty-five years she had kept a secret from him that would be revealed today. She opened her eyes, smiling lovingly at him. She often wondered how the stars had aligned to allow such a wonderful, generous man to be her life’s partner.
He was grinning like a schoolboy with a crush as he pushed a tiny, velvet box toward her. Since she always told him all other jewelry would only dull in comparison, their engagement ring was the only jewelry he had ever given her. That ring drew many compliments over the years and a few greedy stares. Despite her enchantment with it, she was more than happy to pass it on to her oldest daughter on the occasion of her engagement.
“I designed it myself” he beamed proudly. Sitting boldly and brilliantly in a lover’s knot made of platinum ran a band of sapphire against a band of diamonds. His birthstone and hers intertwined for all eternity. Joyful tears streamed down her face as he placed it on her hand and whispered, “I love you.” Another hour would pass before they showered and dressed for the day.
It was nearly lunchtime when they arrived at the lake. She had packed a picnic basket for them and started toward the beach with it. She spread a blanket, set out lunch and he joined her. They ate side by side in silence as the waves crashed on the shore just enjoying the tenderness of a beautiful day and each lost in their own thoughts. When she finally spoke, it was so soft he almost didn’t hear her. “Would you like to go inside now?”
“Inside? Where?” he asked. “The Missing Daze” she responded with a nervous but mischievous smile. He was confused. Was she trying to tell her secret now? Was it code? He must have overlooked something or perhaps misheard her. “Are you trying to tell me about the days you’ve missed? The Valentine’s Days?”
She got up taking him by the hand and led him toward a staircase leading upward. He followed her to the top and into a small courtyard. “We can’t go in there. It doesn’t look like anyone is home.” But she surprised him when she reached into her pocket and pulled out a key. “It’s ours,” she said.
“What do you mean it’s ours?What are you talking about?” he asked.
She didn’t answer. Instead, she opened the door and stepped inside motioning for him to follow. He did and was immediately captivated by the most beautiful sweeping view of the lake and all its surrounding properties. But something else caught his attention also. Lining a small shelf where a series of leather bound journals whose letters on the spine spelled out M-I-S-S-I-N-G-D-A-Z-E. He reached toward them and she began to speak.
“My mother gave me a small sum of money just before we became engaged. It was like she had her own crystal ball sometimes. She said it was for those days when I just needed to get away. She knew that I loved you wholly nonetheless she said once children came there would be days when I would just need a break to re-energize for all the other days that I gave my all to my family. She also gave me a piece of advice. That advice was to keep one secret from you, just one and no other. If you let me keep it, without question, then your loyalty was true, your love pure and our trust in one another complete. The secret would be to disappear for the entire day on Valentine’s Day for two reasons. The first was to remind myself of what a sweetheart’s day was like without one so I would never take for granted the greatness of a life well-loved even on our bad days. The second reason was for you, so that there was always a bit of mystery between us because as Mother said, “Men need an adventure.” That first year was so difficult to be away from you. I spent the day in my room at the Lake Motel mostly crying, missing you. But, mother’s counsel had always been wise so I forced myself to get a good night’s rest, wake early to make myself as fresh and beautiful as I could when I got home to you. You were so wonderful. You never asked anything.”
She paused to see what he would say but he stayed silent so she continued. “The next year, I knew I must stay busy if I were going to continue to heed Mother’s advice. So I found a project. Did you notice the little cottage we passed where we parked?”
“Umm…yeah” he mumbled, he seemed lost in thought but was looking at her expectantly so she continued. “Well I used Mother’s money to buy that cottage. It was just neglected enough that I could afford it. Once the children got older and whenever you traveled for work, I used my free time here updating it. I also spent every Valentine’s Day there reflecting on our year together. Eventually, I started writing it all down. Once I started I couldn’t stop. I just had to get it all out of my head and on paper. I wrote all of my memories from childhood, and adulthood, our memories as a couple and as parents. But as I wrote, more stories came flooding forward so I wrote those too.” She paused again for him to speak but he just nodded for her to continue.
“When the kids were little and money was tight, I thought of selling the little cottage but I couldn’t bear the thought of parting with my last connection with Mom. It was her advice that started it all. So I decided to try to sell some of my stories. I know I’m not a real writer but I thought maybe my writing would resonate with other women. Somehow, some of it did because I managed to sell a few of them. Eventually, I got a letter from a publisher who, because she liked my style, got my name from an editor friend. She asked if I had any other ideas or had thought of writing a book. So I wrote an outline for her based, in part, on my journals there. I sent in the first few chapters of a book I titled The Missing Daze. She loved it and her company bought and published it. Apparently, it has become “all the rage” to quote the publisher. Therefore, they have asked me to write a series. I received my first royalty check and a bonus for the next book. I used it to buy this house for us as a surprise for you. I was able to write those journals because you trusted me enough to allow me a secret. You’ve been so understanding and quiet. Are you angry? Say something please.”
“Your mother was a fortune telling genius.”
“Does this mean you’ll spend Valentine’s Day with me again?”
“What about your mother’s advice? I mean I do love a good adventure.”
“Didn’t you notice the boat in the marina named Missing Daze? Happy early anniversary dear; welcome to our next adventure!”