By Kala Séraphin
Allan went over the table covered with trays of food. He wanted to confirm that all of Candice’s favorites were there. There was the cheese dip with crackers, deviled eggs, potato salad, chocolate covered nuts, tiramisu cake, cookies, vegetable and dill dip, salmon salad, black forest cake and a lot of alcohol. He had remembered all the foods she would have missed.
Candice was traveling for the last year as an intern to complete her degree in International studies. As her boyfriend, Allan missed her a lot and was very glad to have her back. He looked forward to doing all the things they use to do together. He planned to take her back to their favorite restaurant and sit at their usual table. He was already planning movie night, knowing that she’ll want the biggest serving of popcorn. Allan had researched the newest exhibit at the museum of civilization. He knew exactly what Candice would want to revisit upon her return.
For the first night, he had organized a surprise party with all of their friends from school.
“I got the flower cups, like you asked.” Bobby arrived, his arms full of paper cups, plates, cutlery and napkins. He was Allan and Candice’s best friend since childhood.
“Thanks, you can put them on the table,” Allan said as he adjusted some of the balloons.
“You look nervous.” Bobby exclaimed.
“Well, yeah. I haven’t seen Candice in a year. We sent each other some messages but you know her; she was completely absorbed by her work. I can’t wait to just hold her in my arms!” Allan smiled as he thought of his girlfriend, imagining her the way she was the last time he saw her.
“You know Allan; a lot has probably changed with Candice. A year traveling won’t leave a person unaffected.” Bobby warned.
Allan did not hear him. He went about getting the house ready for the party. The guests came in twos and threes, eager to be reunited with the guest of honor. When they saw the taxi stop in front of the house, everyone quickly found a hiding place and silence settled in the room. The energy of was electric and charged with expectation and excitement.
As the door slowly opened, everyone jumped out of their hiding place, screaming surprise! The wave of excitement quickly settled, being replaced by one of befuddlement. Standing in the entrance of Allan’s home was Candice with a giant bag of souvenirs and a tall dark Asian man. This was an unexpected addition to the night’s events. As she grasped the situation, Candice’s facial expression quickly changed to discomfort. She glanced over at Allan, then to her companion a few times.
“Hi guys! I’m so surprised to see you.” Her voice was strained and tired. She forced a smile and took the strange man’s hand.
“Who’s your friend?” Bobby asked, already finishing his third beer.
“His name is Batbayar. We met during my travels.” She explained, trying to sound casual. The man smiled nervously at the mention of his name.
“Candice, darling…I didn’t expect you to be bringing a friend.” Allan’s voice was nervous and confused. He couldn’t even hide this discomfort.
Candice, still holding Batbayar’s hand and leading him along, quickly went to the kitchen. Both Allan and Bobby followed, leaving behind a very confused crowd.
“Allan…Batbayar is not my friend in the normal sense of the term. He’s my husband.” She declared. Her stance was defensive. She was looking at the ground, keeping her voice steady and firm.
Bobby choked on his beer, spitting it all over Allan’s back. Allan’s eyes grew wide but he remained quiet. His face looked like a fish out of water trying to breathe.
“It’s not what you think. This isn’t about love. It’s more of a convenience issue.” Candice continued.
“Cause that makes a lot of sense.” Mumbled Bobby.
Candice gave him a dirty look as she replied with a cold voice:
“I didn’t come to talk about my husband or the choices I’ve made for myself. What I wanted was to talk to you, Allan. But not in front of all these people.”
“What did you expect? You were gone for a year. The man missed you. He wanted to celebrate your return.” Bobby quickly replied, his expression answering vehemence with aggression.
“Ok, fine. I should have said something. The point is, I can’t do this anymore!” She exclaimed. What she was keeping inside was about to explode. “I’m not coming back to be the sweet, convenient, predictable girlfriend you believe that I should be. I’m saying goodbye, for good.” Candice’s voice was flat. She held no emotional ties to what she was saying.
Allan, who was standing in quiet disbelief, blinked a few times. He heard her words yet could not comprehend the message.
“This is a bit odd. I understand if you’re trying to help this man out of poverty. I’m sure we can find him a job.” He stuttered.
Candice shook her head and sighed.
“It’s not about my need to help people either. I’m destroying who I was because I’m finally comfortable with who I am.” She revealed.
All of sudden, Batbayar raised his hand and said:
“Bathroom?” His heavy accent made it hard for even that simple word to come out clearly.
“Yeah, man. It’s upstairs to your right.” Bobby casually explained. Batbayar’s perplexed expression reminded Bobby of the guest’s difficulty with the English language and so he opted to guide him instead.
Allan reached out for Candice, wanting to find solace in her physical presence. He dared to hope that if he caressed her as he used to, that she’ll remember all their comfortable plans to live happily ever after. Candice took a step back. She was not willing to go back into his reality.
“When I was in China, the lights in my bathroom wouldn’t work,” she started, leaning back on the kitchen counter. “One night, I decided to take a shower, even if it was in the dark. Standing naked, the water blindly pouring over me, I went through my routine clumsily. I washed my hair when I found the shampoo; I brushed my teeth when it was both toothpaste and toothbrush in my hand. The point is, I couldn’t see, I wasn’t comfortable but I was ok.”
Silence followed the anecdote. Allan was too busy begging Candice with his eyes and so he didn’t grasp the story she was telling.
“I’m comfortable with not knowing about tomorrow. I don’t need you as a security blanket anymore.” She said as a final attempt to get him to understand.
Allan grabbed Candice by her waist as he fell to his knees.
“But I need you!” He declared loudly.
It was at the same moment that a guest decided to waltz into the kitchen, letting the other visitors witness his pathetic plea.
Candice pushed Allan off gently, whispering a curt goodbye. She found her husband and together they left the celebration.
Bobby helped his friend to his feet and said:
“Now THAT is a surprise party.”
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