The Valentine's Day Illusion [Fiction]
Photo by Annerose Walz
"Kyle and I will be leaving for Amelia Island on Thursday night," Clarissa grinned, her cheeks a little flushed from excitement and probably the wine.
Valentine's Day was on Friday. The city was buzzing with preparations for the holiday.
Annalise listened with a smile as her friends rambled on about their romantic plans for the weekend.
"My kids will stay at my mom's place for the weekend," Lisa chimed in, sipping from her glass of Chardonnay. "Dave and I need this! It's going to be a wild weekend for us. What about you, Anna dear?"
Annalise cut into her medium rare steak and forked a juicy piece into her mouth. Her friends gazed at her intently.
"Annalise?" Lisa arched her perfectly shaped eyebrows.
"Sorry. This steak is so delicious," Anna replied, patting her red lips with a napkin. "Cole got us a reservation at Victoria & Albert's." She watched as their eyes bulged in surprise and most likely, envy.
"That is so sweet of him!" Clarissa gushed. "Their wait list is as long as a year! It's hard to get a table in that restaurant. How did Cole manage it?"
Annalise sipped her red wine. "Mmhm, he knows the owner and stuff like that. He has other things planned for Friday."
"I wish Dave would get us a reservation there too," Lisa mumbled.
The evening ended as the three friends hugged each other, got into their cars and drove away.
Annalise parked her car in front of her house and sat for a moment. She, Lisa, and Clarissa had been good friends from the university. They had dreams of achieving everything life offered including a successful career, money and love in marriage.
They served as bridesmaids at each others' weddings and met once every year for dinner to catch up. This was before the children came. It had been three years since they'd last dined together due to busy schedules and children.
Annalise and her husband, Cole, had no children.
On Valentine's Day….
The alarm clock by the bedside started to beep when Annalise shut it off. She sat up with a frown and glanced at the other side of the bed. A bulky form hid under the blanket and loud snores emanated from it.
She went into the kitchen and within thirty minutes prepared a tray of mouth-watering waffles with blueberries and strawberries by the side, and maple syrup drizzled on it. A tall glass of orange juice and a single rose flower in a decorative bottle stood beside the plate on the tray.
Annalise carried the tray carefully into another bedroom. She partially pulled back the white duvet and sat on the bed, placed the tray on her thighs, angled her smartphone and took a few pictures. She uploaded them to her Instagram account and titled them, "Breakfast in bed on Valentine's Day, thanks to my sweetheart! Love life, peeps! Xoxo"
She placed the tray on the bedside table, covered the waffles with a plate and hurried upstairs to prepare for work.
At work, she was scrolling through her Instagram feed. Lisa and Clarissa liked her photos and gushed about how beautiful her love life was. They also uploaded pictures and micro videos showing their romantic day with their husbands.
"Anna!" Her secretary shrieked, sliding into her office.
"A bouquet of red roses! Omg, Cole is so romantic," she said and waved the delivery man in.
Annalise smiled shyly, signed the delivery paper and watched as her colleagues admired the roses. There was a small card attached to a wrapped box of chocolate. She gently detached the card and read it out loud.
The ladies let out some "ooohs" and "aaahs". Annalise chuckled like a woman truly in love. "Cole is thoughtful like that," she added.
"Girl, you are blessed!" Her colleague remarked. "I can't imagine what your husband has planned for you both tonight."
Annalise passed the chocolate around while telling them about the dinner reservation at Victoria & Albert's. They exclaimed some more with delight.
Annalise made them stand together around the bouquet and took some selfies. She uploaded them on Instagram, titling them, "The world's romantic husband. I love you, Cole. Xoxo."
At seven pm, Annalise left her office and drove to Victoria & Albert's. She pulled out a transparent garment bag from the back seat. Inside it was a designer's red gown with the price tag on it. She hooked it on her arm, carried her handbag and walked around to the back of the five-star restaurant.
A staff member of the restaurant met her and they spoke for a few minutes. She opened her purse and gave the man some cash. She walked into the restaurant and within minutes, she'd changed into the gown and sat at an empty table. A man in a black suit sat down with her and they took pictures together.
Annalise drove back home. "Hey, Cole."
"You are late today," grumbled a fat man with a protruded belly snacking on greasy potato chips and beer. "I ordered pizza." He was stretched out on the sofa, holding a remote and changing channels on the TV without looking at his wife. An empty carton of pizza and empty cans of beer littered the floor beside him.
"Yea. Work, you know," Annalise mumbled and quickly went into the room downstairs. She shut the door and exhaled, pulled out her laptop and uploaded the pictures she took at the restaurant.
She photoshopped Cole's face from an old picture when he was younger and fit onto the face of the man in the restaurant. She uploaded the pictures to her Instagram, titling it, "Romantic dinner at Victoria & Albert's. I couldn't have asked for more. Love you, Cole. Xoxo."
Annalise slowly undressed and climbed into the bed, exhausted. She checked her bank app noting the transaction details for the bouquet of red roses and the chocolates she'd ordered the day before, the delivery fees, the gown she'd rented for a night and the cash she withdrew to pay the staff at Victoria & Albert's for a few minutes to use their table and a waiter to pose as her husband.
Her phone wouldn't stop pinging notifications of her friends' admiration of the pictures. Lisa and Clarissa sent her text messages remarking on her fairytale Valentine's Day celebration.
Lies! Her conscience voiced loudly.
Annalise huddled into the bed and sobbed quietly.