I’ve always been a bit of a romantic at heart. You might not think it, considering my collection of distressed jeans and my preference for heavy metal music, but when it comes to loved ones, I’m a huge sap. I try to get everyone the perfect present for Christmas, throw myself into cooking during Thanksgiving, and I say enough “I love you’s during Mother’s and Father’s day that I could fill a whole Hallmark store. So needless to say, I was really looking forward to my first anniversary with Martin.
The two of us had met when we’d shared a basket on a hot air balloon. He was up there because he was a photographer getting shots for a magazine; I was up there because I’m in the habit of trying new things. Since we were up there for two hours, we had plenty of time to talk, and once we were back on solid ground, he asked me out for coffee. We got married two years later. He’s one of the sweetest, most thoughtful men I know, so when he told me to trust him and let him make the plans for our anniversary, I didn’t hesitate to say yes.
Of course, that didn’t mean that I wouldn’t do some planning of my own. I bought myself a nice dress, something flowing and elegant, and in Martin’s favorite color (a warm light brown). I also bought him an anniversary present, a pair of cufflinks in the shape of wolves. I wrapped it up nicely, then sat back and waited.
I woke up on the morning of our anniversary and found Martin already up, coming out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his waist. He caught me admiring the view and smiled, bending down to give me a kiss. “Morning, sweetheart. Happy anniversary.”
“Mmm, you too,” I said, running my hands down his chest, “Do I get to know what you have planned now?”
“Some of it,” he answered, pulling away and heading for the dresser, “I’m leaving some of it as a surprise. But I can tell you that I’ve made reservations at a lovely Greek restaurant for tonight, followed by some ballroom dancing.”
“Fantastic,” I said, getting out of bed, “It all sounds wonderful. I knew I could count on you to make it special.”
He was in the process of buttoning up his shirt, the light yellow one that clung to him just so and could leave me slack-jawed in the right light. “But that’s this evening. For now, get dressed in something nice but not fancy.” Curious, I obeyed, putting on one of my few skirts and a frilly top. When I turned away from the mirror, I saw Martin holding up a bandana. “Martin!” I mock scolded, “Did I go through all the trouble to get dressed just for you to undress me again?”
He laughed. “My my, what a dirty mind you have. No, this is just to keep up the suspense. Now close your eyes and trust me.” With a grin and a wink, I did as he asked. Once Martin was assured I couldn’t see anything, he took my hand and led me down the hall. I knew our house well enough to know we were at the front door. Before he opened it, he paused and pinned something to my shoulder, slipping something else around my wrist. “It’s not jewelry,” he said half-apologetically, “But I hope you’ll accept it as an anniversary present.”
“Why wouldn’t I?” I said, carefully tracing my fingers over the flower petals, “Two corsages. I’m a lucky girl.”
Martin took my hand and led me outside, into the car. Once I’d managed to blindly buckle myself in, we headed out for our mysterious destination. I drummed my fingers on my leg in excitement. What did he have planned?
My reverie was broken by a sniff from the driver’s seat. As I opened my mouth to ask what was up, Martin sneezed, his usual soft “Tchoo!”
“Bless you,” I said, smiling affectionately, “That photic thing of yours?”
“Something like that,” he answered, and I could hear the smile in his voice. I smiled back and stayed quiet, figuring I’d wait a few minutes before I started teasing him with the “are we there yet’s?”
But a minute or so later, Martin sneezed again, the sound a bit harsher. “Tchoo!” I frowned—I didn’t fully understand the “photic sneeze reflex”, but I was under the impression that it only caused sneezing upon immediate exposure. “Are you all right, Martin?” I asked.
“I’m fine.” His hand touched mine briefly. “Just trust me.”
I wanted to, but as the sneezing started to get more and more frequent, maybe one every thirty seconds, I have to admit that my anxiety started taking hold. “Martin, if something’s wrong, I don’t mind going back. Dinner and dancing is just fine for our anniversary.”
“D-don’t…tchoo!...worry about me. I’ll be…tchoo!...fine once we get outside.”
“You know what’s wrong with you, then?” I pressed.
“You’ll understand when…tchoo!...we get there. You’d promised that you’d…tchoo!...trust me.” I sighed and sat back in the seat, hoping Martin knew what he was doing.
When I heard the sound of Martin activating the parking brake, I sprang for my seatbelt immediately. “I was hoping to…tchoo!...keep the surprise until the last…tchoo!...second,” Martin said as he opened his door, “But you can take your…tchoo!...blindfold off once you get outside.” Wasting no time, I stepped out of the car before Martin could open the door for me and yanked the bandana off my face, wanting to know exactly what was making him sneeze.
All my concerns were driven out of my head when I recognized the place. It was the tarmac where we’d gone up in the hot air balloon. And unless my memory was faulty, that was the same balloon we’d been on that was now inflated and waiting for us to climb aboard. “Like it?” Martin asked beside me, “I thought it might be nice to remind ourselves of where it all began.”
“You’re amazing!” I answered, turning around and giving him a huge hug. I would have kissed him too, but he turned his head to the side. “Tchoo! Tchoo! Ah-tishoo!”
“All right, that’s it,” I said, “What exactly is making you…” my voice trailed off as I caught sight of the corsage around my wrist. It was beautifully done, a mixture of fern leaves, baby’s breath, bluebells, violets, some pansies for contrast…and right in the middle, two perfect, blue-purple morning glories. I disentangled myself from Martin and pulled out my compact mirror to look at the corsage on my shoulder. This one was more elaborate, with a white orchid and several smaller white flowers I didn’t recognize, but there were three morning glories strategically placed to make the whole thing look colorful.
“Oh, Martin…” I said softly, tears springing to my eyes as I touched the rounded petals, “You didn’t need to do this for me.”
“Of course I did,” he answered, rubbing his nose and smiling, “It’s our anniversary, and you deserve to be surrounded by the things you love.”
I blinked rapidly, trying to keep from crying. “But it’s your anniversary too. You shouldn’t need to expose yourself to allergens for my sake.”
He shrugged. “I took medication. Besides, it’s not so bad outside.”
I leaned forward and gave him a kiss, pulling away before the pollen could get to him. “I knew there was a reason I loved you.”
Martin reached out and wiped my eyes. “I love you too.” Then he gestured towards the balloon. “Shall we?”
This time, we spent the ride looking down at the ground, trying to pick out familiar landmarks (yes, there was a “I can see my house from here” joke). Martin kept his arm around my waist, and every so often, pecked me on the temple or cheek. He also sneezed once or twice, but he seemed to be right that the morning glories didn’t affect him in the open air.
Once we got back on the ground, he kissed my hand and led me back to the car. “I don’t have anything else planned until dinner. Anything in particular you want to do?”
“Just one thing,” I answered, “but it can wait until we get home.” Bemused, Martin opened the door for me, and we got back in the car and drove home, the windows open this time to mitigate the pollen.
Once we got home, I carefully removed the corsages and placed them into a book to preserve them. When Martin cocked his head at me, I smiled at him. “You were nice enough to do that for me…I’m nice enough to keep you from sneezing throughout dinner.” I pressed the book together carefully. “But I want to keep these around.”
Martin spun me around and gave me a proper kiss. “You know, I think I’ve had an idea of how to pass the time until dinner…”