• Bonnie Heather Bartos

Galentine’s Day

“Have you ever noticed how many of these shows involve tools that….um…are suggestive?” Jeanie asks.

We are watching one of those woodworking guys on PBS. He has a New England accent, an endless supply of plaid shirts, and nice biceps. One of the show’s mysteries is how he gets such a golden, glowing tan in New England.

“You would think that,” I say, squinting down at my embroidery. It is hard to search for your glasses when you need your glasses to find them in the first place.

“Seriously,” she says. “Lathes, chisels, drills…don’t you see a connection there?”

I hold up my project. “Would you call this needle suggestive?”

She grimaces. “Umm…not so much?”

Today, February 13th, is Galentine’s Day, when we get to celebrate our female friendships. This makes way more sense to me than sentimentalizing romance, hearts, and the greeting card industry. We ordered pizza since it’s all my teenaged son and her toddler will eat.

Even though Jeanie and I have each other to lean on, I’m worried about her. She ordered the pizza where the delivery guy, a gorgeous twenty-something year old studying philosophy, is the side order. Last time, they spent so much time talking, the cheese congealed into the consistency of a glue stick. She’s been ordering IKEA furniture so she can order the service where people build it for you.

Jeanie will only hire Ned. He has a New England accent and wears plaid shirts.

She has several boxes at her place, waiting for him. Because her living room is full, now she is shipping pieces of furniture to my place too.

She’s lonely. A cat would be cheaper.

A dog would even be cheaper.

But then she’d have to walk it, and she’d want to hire a dog walker, and she’d only want to hire one that looks like a male model or a movie star. She’d end up in the same position she’s in right now.

At least she’s not using those online dating places. I don’t trust those people.

“Oh, Mr. Darcy,” I say as my cat jumps up onto my embroidery. He’s warm and snuggly, which is more than I can say for anyone I’ve dated. Unlike a dog, he doesn’t just wag his tail and give affection to anyone, and neither do I. We are waiting for the New England woodworker guy to finish so we can watch Pride and Prejudice.

The front door slams. It doesn’t seem possible for Michael, my son, to enter or exit a room any other way. If I didn’t know any better, I’d wonder if he was upset, but I do know better.

“Hey, Mom,” he says with perfect composure. “What’s for dinner?”

“Pizza,” I tell him.

Michael lowers his voice and rolls his eyes towards Jeanie. “D’Angelo’s again?

I shrug.

“You can always heat up something else,” I say, but we both know he won’t.

He drops his soccer stuff and goes into his room with another meaningless slam. Nate, Jeanie’s two-year-old, toddles over to his backpack and fiddles with the zipper. Mr. Darcy strolls over to take a look.

“Oh, no, you don’t,” says Jeanie, and scoops up Nate into a helicopter. He laughs, light as a bubble in her arms. “Remember the six-hundred-dollar bill from shoving a peanut up your nose? We’re not getting another one of those, now, son, are we?”

I watch them snuggle and remember what two was like, board books and bath time. I don’t have my little Mikey anymore.

Michael materializes at my side. This surprises me since he has neglected to slam the door and I have become conditioned to expect it.

“When can I watch the TV?”

“After this ends,” I say. “But only until my show comes on.”

He flops down on the couch. The channel changes.

“Hey!” Jeanie says.

“Sorry,” he answers. “I sat on it.” He looks at me, wide-eyed in his innocence.

He has turned on the six o’clock news with his rear end. A reporter stands in front of a brick building surrounded by the red, white, and blue glare of police lights.

“Look,” he says. “Isn’t that D’Angelo’s?”

I squint at the large blur on the wall.

“Maybe?” I say.

“Yes,” says Jeanie. “They are late. I called it in forty-five minutes ago.”

There is a knock at the door.

“Oh, good,” says Jeanie. “Shoot, I forgot my cash.” She looks at me. “Can I pay you back?” She crosses the room to where Nate is playing under the table.

“Let me check in the diaper bag,” she shouts, “just in case.”

Michael is watching the screen.

“The suspect is around six feet tall, with dark hair and eyes,” the reporter states. “Police say he may be armed and dangerous. Please call 9-1-1 if you encounter him.”

Jeanie opens the front door, no cash in hand.

“Hello,” she says. “I was hoping we could talk more tonight!”

This man is also around six feet tall, with dark hair and eyes. It is not the usual delivery guy who lets the pizza go cold while he philosophizes. This one has a sharp and jagged smile. Nate looks up at him from the floor where he is making a Play-Doh pizza.

“Mom,” Michael whispers. “Shut the door.”

“That would be rude,” says Jeanie. She smiles. “Two pizzas, one cheese and one Hawaiian?”

The man looks down at the boxes. “Sure. If you say so.”

“Great,” she says. “I don’t suppose you’d like to join us?”

What?” I say. “Jeanie, I’m sure he has other deliveries to make.”

The man smiles back. “Wow. I’m touched. Nobody ever asks me if I’m hungry. It’s just all about them, you know? You are a very sweet lady.”

“Thank you,” says Jeanie. Her phone buzzes. “Excuse me a minute,” she says, and steps into the kitchen.

Michael comes up behind me.

“Mom,” he says. “Shut the door.”

My purse is on the table, out of reach. Michael pulls out his lawnmowing money.

“Here,” he says. “Keep the change.”

The man continues to stand there. The reporter on TV has moved on.

“Um,” I say. “Thank you for the pizza.”

He nods.

“I bet you’re hungry,” Jeanie says, emerging with some paper plates. She opens the first box. “Here you go. You can pick first!”

Of course, the guy chooses a chunk of the Hawaiian pizza, which is Michael’s favorite. At least he doesn’t sit down. We all stand with him just inside the front door, paper plates in hand.

“So, tell us about yourself,” Jeanie says. “Have you been in this business long?”

“Nope,” he says. “I just started today.”

“Do you know the guy who is studying philosophy? Joe? About twenty-five or so?”

“He was tied up this afternoon,” the man says. “That’s why I’m here.”

“I’m going to eat in the bedroom, Mom,” says Michael, loosely gesturing at his pocket, where his phone is.

“You’re going to eat right here,” the man answers. “Why don’t you have another slice?”

Jeanie takes a deep breath. She is cutting up a piece of pizza for Nate and her hands tremble. Michael is frozen in place.

I look around the room. Nothing that would make a very effective weapon, unless I could push the bookcase onto him. Because I am a vegetarian, and never remember to sharpen them, even my best knives are child- and criminal-friendly. One of us could run outside, but how far could we get? What if he has a gun?

There is another knock at the door.

“Jeanie? Jeanie, let me in.”

“It’s my ex-husband,” she tells the man.

The delivery guy gestures to the door. “Don’t let me stop you.”

She opens the door and Jacob stands there. He’s holding a vase of roses and a large gift bag decorated with pink hearts.

I have always had a soft spot for Jacob. He’s a forlorn surfer kid more at home on a skateboard than a boardroom, but I believe he still loves Jeanie.

Unfortunately, he loves a whole lot of other women, too.

“Here,” he says to Jeanie. “For you.”

“How sweet,” says the delivery man. “Aren’t you her ex?”

Jacob looks at him. “Who’s asking?”

“She’s a sweetheart,” says the delivery guy. “Offered me pizza.”

“Yeah,” Jacob says. “She’s got a good heart.”

Nate runs over. “Da!”

Jacob leans down and scoops him up. “Well, hello, little man,” he says. “Don’t you just look like your mama?”

“He doesn’t look like her,” says the delivery guy. “She’s way more gorgeous.”

“Umm…thanks?” says Jeanie.

There is another knock at the door.

“Hello?” I shout in a less than friendly tone. After all, this is my place, and I only invited the pizza.

“It’s Ned,” answers a voice with a heavy New England accent.

“Oh!” says Jeanie. “I asked him over to see if he can put that furniture kit together.”

“If he builds that kit here, how are you ever going to get it back to your house?” I ask.

“I don’t have room for it,” she says. “It can stay here for a while, right, Jackie?”

“No,” I said. More furniture will just send the wrong message. More people will think they are welcome to sit, stay, and eat.

I grab the last third of the Hawaiian and hold it out to Michael. I may be helpless to defend my son against unwanted dinner guests, including those who may have committed crimes, but I can defend his dinner.

“Here,” I say. “Eat this before someone else shows up.”

“I’ve been thinking about you. A lot. Can we have a moment of privacy?” Jacob asks Jeanie.

“No,” says the delivery guy.

Jacob takes a step closer to Jeanie. “Can we…can we try again?”

“You forgot I don’t eat dark chocolate. Only milk chocolate,” Jeanie says. “And I don’t like the cream-filled ones. You never remembered things like that. Whatever is on the shelf was always good enough, and I was supposed to just take it and be grateful.

“Where’s that kit?” says Ned. He’s wearing a plaid shirt just like his doppelganger does. I half expect someone to interrupt him and ask for a contribution to public TV. Mr. Darcy rubs against his legs and purrs. Ned sneezes.

“You didn’t tell me there was a cat here,” he tells Jeanie.

She extends the box of chocolates to both him and the delivery man. “Here. You might as well enjoy these.”

I like dark chocolate,” I say.

“Oh, yeah. Sorry,” she says, handing me the box.

“I’m sorry too,” says Jacob. “Guess it’s the same old story. Nothing is ever going to be good enough for you, Jeanie.”

“I need my inhaler,” says Ned. “I’m allergic to cats.”

“Actually, you won’t need your inhaler, since you won’t be staying,” I say.

“He needs to stay,” says the delivery man. “He can have a piece of pizza.”

Ned smiles. “Thank you for offering.” He grabs a paper plate and a slice of cheese pizza. He sits down on my embroidery project and yelps as he connects with the needle. Mr. Darcy jumps up onto his lap, flickering his tail close to his nose. Ned lets out another gigantic sneeze.

“Mr. Darcy,” I say. “Get down.” He has a magnetic attraction towards people who are allergic to cats.

Jeanie looks at Jacob. “Do the flowers and the candy have anything to do with the voice mail from your landlord I got this afternoon, Jake? The one saying your rent check is two weeks late?”

Jacob mumbles something and takes a slice of the cheese pizza. He can’t make lame excuses with his mouth full, so it is an improvement over what he could be doing.

“She says thanks for the box of chocolates, Jake,” Jeanie says, “but she’d prefer the thousand bucks instead. And she says she doesn’t eat milk chocolate. So let me guess. The ones you left for her were for me, right?”

Jacob offers something between a nod and a shrug.

“You’re better off without him,” says the delivery man to Jeanie. “He sounds like an emotional screw-up.”

“He is an emotional screw up,” says Jeanie.

“Like she’s less screwed up than he is?” whispers Michael.

“I heard that,” says the delivery guy. “Show some respect.”

Didn’t you just rob a pizza place? I think. How does that show respect?

There must be a website where you can search for reliable, sensible female friends who know how to order pizza that arrives without cute or criminal delivery men, who know how to assemble their own furniture, and who know how to send their exes packing for good.

As much as I love Jeanie and the crazy whirlwind that comes with her, I’m considering searching for that website tomorrow.

There is another knock at the door. The delivery guy looks at me.

“Go ahead, open it,” he says. “It’s your funeral.”

I wish his word choice was a little different. All I wanted was a quiet evening celebrating single sisterhood and the opposite of greeting-card romance. And my re-run of Pride and Prejudice.

I open the door.

“Jeanie?” the man at the door asks. Because of course it would not be for me, because I just happen to live here. He is good-looking in a chiseled, movie-star way, dark-haired and dark-eyed, around six feet tall. If you like that kind of thing.

He has a box of chocolates and another vase of roses.

“Right here!” says Jeanie. “I’m so glad you made it!”

“Me too!” says the man, looking around at the people clustered in my living room. “What a party!”

The delivery guy says, “Are those dark chocolates? She doesn’t like those.”

The new guy peers down at the box. “Oh, no. I think they are.”

“It’s the thought that counts,” says Jeanie. “And my friend really loves dark chocolate, right, Jackie?” She passes the box to me.

If I share this chocolate, will these people leave?

“And you are John Wayne Booth, right?” the new guy asks the delivery driver. “I’ve been wanting to make your acquaintance, too!”

Before Michael can even take another bite, the new guy whips out a set of handcuffs and slaps them onto the delivery guy. The delivery guy doesn’t even have time to react. As soon as I hear the click of the handcuffs, my jaw releases. Jeanie’s hands stop shaking. Michael’s shoulders relax.

“Gotcha!” says the new guy.

“This is Bill, my date for tonight,” Jeanie tells us. “He’s a cop!”

“You left their delivery truck parked right in front,” says Bill to the delivery guy. “D’Angelo’s was hit pretty bad. That poor philosophy major won’t be making it to class on Monday. The rest of those pizzas are probably cold by now. We’ve got a squad car waiting for you downstairs, my friend.”

“I don’t have to say nothing,” sneers the delivery guy. Then to Jeanie he said, “Thank you for everything. You are a really special lady.”

“Aww, thanks,” says Jeanie. “Have a chocolate for the road.”

Bill frog-marches the delivery guy down the stairs and into the night.

“Can we skip the drama and just order Domino’s next time?” mutters Michael.

“I saw him on TV and recognized him as soon as you opened the door,” says Jeanie. “I texted Bill to let him know.”

“What took him so long to get here?” I asked. “Didn’t catching a robber seem like an important priority?”

Jeanie shrugs. “Maybe he had to pick up my chocolates and flowers?”

Michael shakes his head a few more times than necessary.

“I knew right away,” she says. “My boyfriend is a cop. Can Nate stay with you until I get back? I can’t trust him with Jacob. How can I be sure he’s even going to get dinner?”

I don’t recall if Nate had dinner, either, but I don’t tell her that. All I can say is, “Sure. Okay.”

Ned is sneezing again and again.

“I’m so sorry,” he tells me. “I am really going to need to leave.”

“It’s okay,” I tell him. “Would you like to take the kit, too? Do you know someone who needs a solid birch bench?”

He smiles. “I just might! Tomorrow’s Valentine’s Day! Thank you so much!”

He lifts up the entire wooden kit—and it’s heavy—with one arm and rubs his streaming eyes and nose with the other one on the way out.

I straighten my embroidery from underneath where he was sitting. There’s a pint of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream in the fridge for later. My pleasant evening is still salvageable.

“Thanks for everything,” Jeanie tells me and Michael. “I’ll see you both later!” She grabs her purse—one of those impractical little ones, not a mom one filled with wipes and Band-Aids—and heads out.

“Thanks for the pizza,” Jacob tells me. “I owe you one.”

“Doesn’t sound like we’re the only ones you owe,” says Michael. There are times when having a teenager is more fun than having a toddler, and this is one of them.

Jacob shrugs, surfer hair flopping over one eye, and follows Jeanie and her new boyfriend outside.

“Did you get enough to eat?” I ask Michael.

“I ate after the game anyway,” he says. He gives me a hug. “I’m going into my room now, Mom. Love you.”

He slams the door, marking the return to normalcy.

I get up and lock the front door. Can’t be too careful.

Mr. Darcy is batting at something underneath the quilt that had covered the IKEA set.

“Hey!” I shout. “You found my glasses! Good work!”

I put them on, embroidery in hand, Mr. Darcy and Nate both sleepy on my lap, and watch the first two hours of Pride and Prejudice. When the folks running the pledge drive ask me to make a donation, I ignore them and eat all the chunks of cookie dough instead.


BIO


Heather Bartos lives near Portland, Oregon. Her essays have appeared in HerStry, Fatal Flaw, Stoneboat Literary Journal, and other publications. She is the 2022 winner of the Baltimore Review Micro Lit Contest, and her fiction has appeared in The Dillydoun Review, The Closed Eye Open, Ponder Review, and elsewhere.


















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