A/N: No matter how much two people may love each other, sometimes Valentine's Day just isn't what it's cracked up to be.
Brenda was riding high. That afternoon in staff meeting, she had been lavishly praised by DA Steve Corning for pulling together the additional evidence needed to win a conviction in the triple murders of three Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies. Since the press had been openly critical of the DA's Office's handling of the case, being able to silence them was so important that DA Corning had feverishly demanded that every resource in the DA's office be marshaled to successfully conclude this case.
I did it! Brenda smiled as she threaded her way home. And I'm done early so I'll be all ready to go out when Fritzi gets home. That'll be a first for me. He's gonna be so proud.
When she got home she set the vase of gorgeous roses which Fritz had sent to her office down on the dining room table. She stared at the large heart-shaped box of See's chocolates he'd also sent but decided that, since she'd filled up on pastries in the staff meeting and was sure to have a wonderful dessert, she would save them for later. She didn't feel at all rushed so she had the luxury of taking her time with her hair and makeup. When she finally shimmied into the little nothing of a black shantung dress that just drove Fritz wild, she smiled at her image in the mirror. He's gonna absolutely be smackin his lips. I'll be lucky if he doesn't drag me under the table. Who says the forties are over the hill? Then she added the final touch: the diamond choker Fritz had given her for their first wedding anniversary. I'm not so much into jewelry but he had the same look of love in his eyes when he gave it to me that he had when we said 'I do'. And I wanna see that look again tonight.
Brenda checked the time. It was almost 7:00. That morning at breakfast he had reminded her that their Valentine's Day dinner reservations were for 8:00. It's strange that he hasn't called to let me know he's runnin late, she thought as she checked both her cell phone and the land line for messages.
By 8:15 she was really annoyed. She tried calling him but her calls went directly to voice mail. When she had heard nothing from him by 8:30 her annoyance had matured to full-blown anger, and she called Jerry. She could hear the noises of a restaurant in the background. At least Annette is havin a nice Valentine's Day dinner, she thought.
"I don't know, Brenda. I haven't seen him since this morning. He talked about taking you out to dinner tonight, but he was gone by the time I got back to the office."
When she heard that Fritz had actually left work in plenty of time, she became frantic and began calling hospital ERs. But because she was caught up in her own anger, her relief was fleeting when she heard that his name wasn't on any of their lists. She checked the clock one more time.
She looked at the clock again. It was still 9:53. Just 20 seconds after she had looked at it the last time. She got up and walked toward the kitchen intending to get out her comfort food, Triple Chocolate Fudge ice cream, when she saw the card she had spent so much time picking out for Fritz and she tore it up. One piece for every stupid card I read standin in the aisle of that Hallmark store, she thought grimly as she watched the pieces falling into the waste basket. Then she saw the roses on the dining room table. She yanked them from their vase and threw them in the trash. Next she eyed the box of candy, picked it up, and only hesitating for a minute, threw it in the trash too before grabbing the ice cream carton and a spoon and walking back to their bedroom. She took the rhinestone barrette from her hair thinking about how Fritz always liked to remove it himself, and anger and sadness swirled within her as she remembered his look of desire when he'd slowly and lovingly removed it. If he thinks he's gonna get lucky anytime soon, I've got a newsflash for him, she thought as she hung her dress back up in the closet. After washing off her makeup she put on her red flannel kitty pajamas and got into bed with her melting ice cream. But her anger stole all the satisfaction she normally received from her cold, creamy treat.
Fritz's heart was pounding as he drove home. He knew he had screwed up big time. Valentine's Day, in Brenda's mind, was right up there with Christmas, their wedding anniversary, and her birthday. Oh, God. Brenda is going to be furious. How could I have forgotten all about Valentine's Day? How am I going to be able to fix this? He was beginning to speculate that he should turn around and drive to some remote destination so he wouldn't have to face her, but he knew that was the coward's way out. But still… How far would I have to drive to find a place remote enough?
Brenda heard the back door open so she quickly got up and locked the bedroom door. Then, to emphasize her anger, she shoved a chair up under the door knob and tiptoed back to bed. She heard his hand trying to turn the door knob.
"Brenda, honey, I'm so sorry. Please let me in so I can explain what happened." When there was no response he tried again. "Please let me in so I can apologize. I'm so sorry, sweetheart." Silence. Ice-encrusted silence. So, with his heart sinking even lower, he hung his head and headed for the guest room.
In the morning light, Fritz saw the roses in the trash. He knew he had to do something to make things right but was not sure what. Valentine's Day, after all, was a biggie. Then he saw the unopened box of her favorite chocolates tossed in the trash, as well, and he knew whatever he came up with would have to be epic. He walked back to their bedroom and saw that the door was still closed and decided that, since Brenda was never in her best frame of mind first thing in the morning, it would be folly to try to apologize now. But he couldn't get to his clothes so he trudged back to the guest room and stayed there until he heard Brenda leave for work.
"Good morning, Linda," he greeted Brenda's secretary.
"Good morning, Agent Howard. Your wife isn't here. She went down to Records about ten minutes ago."
"In that case I'd like to wait for her in her office."
"Oh, sure. I was just about to get myself some coffee. Can I get you a cup?"
"No, thanks. I had plenty earlier." Besides, he didn't want to take the chance that Brenda would throw it in his face. Hot coffee would hurt.
When he heard Brenda's footsteps he stood up and faced the door thanking whatever gods there might be that she was probably unarmed.
As she walked into her office and saw him, she stopped in the doorway. "Fritz, I do not want to talk to you. Go away."
"Don't you dare call me 'honey'."
"I'm so sorry, h… Please, let me explain."
"What part of 'go away' are you not understandin?"
Linda had never heard her boss and her husband fight, and she didn't want to hear it this time. The anger in Brenda's voice cinched her decision to make a hasty retreat to the ladies room.
"You have a perfect right to be angry. I should have called."
"How many times have you pointed out how inconsiderate it is when I haven't been able to call you when I was bein held up?"
"You're right. It was horribly inconsiderate of me, and I'm terribly sorry. But please let me explain what happened."
"You know I don't like repeatin myself. I'm busy. ."
"Not until you hear me out. Then I'll leave."
Brenda brushed past him, dropped her files on her desk with a thud, and then plunked herself down in her chair. She fished in her candy drawer for a piece of chocolate. Once she had unwrapped it and popped it into her mouth she said, "All right. You've got two minutes. Startin now."
Buoyed by the fact that Brenda had a piece of chocolate in her mouth, he began. "Yesterday afternoon I got a phone call from Roger. I could tell from the way he was talking that he was in terrible shape. He said his own sponsor was out of town and he was thinking of killing himself. Then he started to cry."
Brenda's eyes grew large. Roger was Fritz's AA sponsor and he had been Fritz's salvation many times when she had done something which had caused him to melt down, and Roger had helped him to keep from drinking again.
"I made him promise not to do anything stupid until I could get to him. He was crying and apologizing because sponsors are not supposed to lean on sponsees, but he was desperate. He was sobbing and it took him almost half an hour before he could calm down enough to tell me what had happened."
"So, what had happened?"
"He caught his wife in their bed with another man. And during their fight she told him that none of his kids are actually his. She told him that he wasn't half the man that any of the other men she'd slept with were, and that she wanted a divorce. And, because none of the kids were his, he would never see any of them again."
"Oh, God, Fritz. How horrible!"
"Yeah. I can't imagine. Anyway, I got him to a meeting and afterward we talked and talked."
"But why couldn't you have let me know?"
"I should have, I know. But the meeting was held in the basement of a church and there's no cell reception down there. And he was crying and talking about committing suicide. I couldn't just say 'Excuse me, but I have to step out for a minute to make a phone call'. So, like I said, I stayed with him through the meeting and then we talked some more. I stayed with him until the worst was over and he promised me that he wouldn't go to a bar or hurt himself. When he was finally calm he called a friend who came and got him for the night."
Although Brenda didn't speak, Fritz could see that her eyes had softened. He was beginning to have some hope so he admitted, "I completely forgot that it was Valentine's Day. I know I should have called. I am so sorry. Please forgive me."
Brenda stared out the window for a minute before answering with a question. "What are you gonna do now?"
Fritz wasn't sure whether she was referring to his Roger problem or his Valentine's Day problem so he gave the answer that was easier for him to figure out. "He could only spend one night with his friend so I promised him that I'd pick him up this morning and then we'd go to another meeting together. He's on the edge, Brenda. He's been there for me so many times when I thought I'd reached the end of my rope."
She continued to stare out the window and said, "No, I get it, Fritz. You have to be there for him." Then she added, "But what about your job?"
"I called the office on my way down here and took the day off."
"Do you think he can make it through the weekend by himself?"
"I don't know. To be honest, I'm in way over my head. I want to help him. I need to do all I can to help him, both for his sake and for mine, but I'm afraid he needs more than I can give him."
"It sounds like he needs mental health services."
"But this is Friday and the start of a holiday weekend, so he's not going to get in to see anyone today."
"Pastor Paul Hicks. He runs a church that has all kinds of support programs and he has apartments that he loans to people who need help gettin on their feet. He might be willin to give Roger emergency help."
"Do you have his number?"
Brenda looked it up and gave it to him.
"How do you know about him?"
"From an old LAPD case. He's a little unorthodox. As a matter of fact, his church is an old roller derby rink. But he might be able to help."
"I think he probably needs more help than a minister can provide."
"Probably. But Pastor Hicks might be willin to see him this weekend."
"True. I'll run this by Roger. Thanks."
"Do you want to invite him to spend the weekend with us?"
Fritz smiled for the first time in 24 hours. "Yes, that's exactly what I want to do. He's let me stay with him a few times and I would like to do the same for him. Are you sure it's all right?"
"Yes, Fritz, of course. I know that he's kept you from drinkin, and maybe even leavin me, many times. Bring him home after your meetin."
"Thank you, sweetheart. I'll take him to get something to eat and maybe we can pick up a few of his clothes too."
"Get his clothes if you can. But I'll stop at Moretti's on my way home tonight and pick up a pan of lasagna for dinner."
Fritz nodded and rose, "I'd better go pick him up. I'll see you later."
Brenda got up and, as Fritz put his arms around her, said, "Ok."
He kissed her, then said, "Thank you, sweetheart. And again, I'm so very, very sorry about Valentine's Day. I promise you that I'll find a way to make it up to you."
She smiled and said pointedly, "I promise you that you will too, if you know what's good for you."
Although he got her message, he grinned, kissed her again, and left with a much lighter heart than he'd brought with him. She's going to give me a second chance. This could have been a lot worse.
At dinner that night, Roger was very subdued and just picked at his food, prompting Brenda to ask, "Roger, can I fix you somethin else to eat?"
"No, thank you, Brenda. It's not the food. I just don't have much of an appetite right now. Listen, I want to apologize to you for ruining your Valentine's Day. I…"
"Oh, don't worry about that. I don't think much about Valentine's Day, anyway. It's just a silly kid's day."
"Well, I'm sorry, just the same."
"Don't worry about it, Roger. I got over Valentine's Day just as soon as we stopped makin those ridiculous shoe box Valentines boxes in third grade."
When Fritz heard that he had to struggle to keep from choking and to maintain a neutral expression.
The next morning, Brenda got up early and got ready for the day. Then she made the coffee while Fritz took his shower. Soon she heard Roger stirring so she started the pancakes. Fritz joined her and set the table before pouring the orange juice.
While they were eating Brenda asked, "What are you two gonna do today?"
"I'm taking Roger to meet with Pastor Hicks this morning. Maybe tonight we could catch a movie."
"Is there anythin good playin?"
"Probably. It's Oscar season. Why don't you check the movie listings and see if there's something that looks good to you?"
"Ok. Roger, is there anythin you want to see?"
"No. Anything you choose will be fine." His voice was flat.
As the men headed out the door Fritz stopped and whispered to Brenda, "Maybe it's not a good idea to pick a romantic comedy. I don't think he can handle any kind of a love story right now."
Brenda nodded and said, "If there's nothin good playin at the mall, maybe there's somethin on Netflix he'll like."
"Maybe, but I don't think it's a movie that he really wants. At this point I'm just hoping for a distraction."
After Roger had gone to bed, Brenda and Fritz sat in front of the fireplace talking softly. Fritz was happy and relieved that Brenda was once again snuggling up under his arm.
"How did it go today?" she asked.
"Good, I think. Pastor Hicks took a long time talking with Roger alone. The church has an apartment he can use so we went to see it. It's small, but nice, and he can move in on Monday. And Pastor Hicks called Roger's wife. She's going to pack up his things and allow Pastor Hicks to pick them up. We're hoping that he can talk her into getting involved in a counseling program for marriages in crisis that the church runs. Roger told me that Pastor Hicks asked him if he thought his wife had a sexual addiction. If so, he believes that it's treatable and apparently, he's got a program for that too. And he told him that since he is the only father the kids have ever known that he's sure that he can get visitation, if it comes down to that. But Pastor Hicks thinks that Roger's wife would benefit from therapy. And, she promised to think about it. So Roger is beginning to feel a glimmer of hope."
Tuesday morning Fritz found himself sitting in a staff meeting while their IT specialist droned on about security software upgrades. But Fritz wasn't really listening to the presentation. Instead he was listening to inspiration whispering to him, and he made a few notes in the margins of his handouts. Then, on his lunch hour, he looked up a few phone numbers and got out his calendar, then began making calls. By the end of the hour, his plan to redeem himself for the Valentine's Day fiasco was coming together nicely. He needed to go shopping one day after work and attend to a few more details, but he thought he had come up with something that Brenda would really like. A few days later, he called Andrea Hobbs in order to enlist her help.
On the morning of Big Plan Day, Fritz pretended to leave for work as usual. But he circled the block and parked down the street waiting for Brenda to leave. When her car disappeared at the end of the next block, he went back into the apartment to pack a small suitcase for both of them and grab the spare key to Brenda's car before going into work.
On their lunch hour, Jerry drove him to where Brenda's Prius was parked and followed Fritz as he drove it home. They headed back to work where Fritz gave Jerry the suitcase with written instructions.
Brenda was in her office when Linda buzzed her and said that there was a delivery for her. It was a bouquet of a dozen gorgeous red roses and a big box of See's chocolates. She smiled as she read the note.
My darling Brenda,
Valentine's Day might have been delayed, but my love for you has never been a slave to the calendar. And the best is yet to come.
All my love,
At the end of the day, Andrea called her. "I've got a problem and I'm wondering if you could come to my office for a few minutes."
"Certainly, I'll be right there." When she got to her office Andrea asked for updates on some of her DDAs' cases. Brenda thought this was strange as she'd met with her just a few days ago and had given her a full status briefing then. And she knew that, absent a crisis, Andrea usually tried to leave work early on Fridays. Nevertheless, she gave her a rundown on each of the investigations that her staff was conducting. Andrea listened politely, asked no questions, and complimented her on her solid grasp of her investigator's activities.
While Brenda was briefing Andrea, Fritz was waiting for her in her office. When she returned, he explained, "I'm here to kidnap you for a post Valentine's Day weekend you'll remember for the rest of your life."
He drove her to the airport where they boarded a plane for San Francisco. When they landed, Fritz whisked her away to the Foglight Harbor restaurant on Fisherman's Wharf for a spectacular seafood dinner. They were seated at an intimate little table overlooking the harbor where they watched the lights from the boats dancing on the water and then they began their dinner with Red Chili Garlic Shrimp. When their waiter set a plate of raw oysters on their table, Fritz put two oysters on each of their plates and then he immediately dug right in. Brenda raised an eyebrow at him and asked, "Are you gonna eat the rest of those thangs all by yourself?"
"They're for both of us. Eat up. We're going to need them," he winked.
"In that case, I guess I can figure out what this weekend's agenda is gonna be, and it's not sightseein." After the oysters she sank her fork into her Pan Seared Pacific Sole with a tarragon and caper butter. Reveling in the taste she said "Ooooh, Fritzi. This is divine."
He equally enjoyed his Surf and Turf. As they finished their meal with a Chocolate Pot de Crème, Fritz was overjoyed with the way his Valentine's Day delayed surprise was playing out. The location and the food had, indeed, worked their magic on Brenda.
They took another cab to their hotel where Fritz unlocked the door of the Honeymoon Suite and, as he carried her over the threshold said, "Welcome to our Valentine's Day love nest."
The entire suite was lit only by candles. And waiting in the room was a cart with a bottle of champagne on ice, Perrier, chocolate covered strawberries, and another big bouquet of red roses. After a toast to St. Valentine and another to their ongoing love affair, Brenda helped herself to a chocolate covered strawberry.
"Just like our weddin night. You're so romantic," she said as she fed him a strawberry.
"It's easy to be romantic when I'm so in love with you."
She gave him a kiss, then walked out onto the balcony, complete with its own hot tub. "Oh Fritzi! Look at that view. The lights on the bridge are gorgeous!" Then she turned and noticed the rose petals strewn over the bed, shimmering in the candlelight. "Wow!" she said as she just stared at everything.
Fritz moved to her and whispered, "A penny for your thoughts."
Brenda turned and put her arms around his neck and purred, "I'm thinkin that maybe Cupid didn't screw up, after all. That maybe he just needed a little more time to make somethin this perfect." Then reality crept in. "But I don't have any clothes with me."
"I packed a bag for us. It's in the closet." As he spoke he walked back into the bedroom and opened the closet door.
"How did you…"
"I had Jerry take it to the airport and ship it to the hotel."
"You've really planned this out," Brenda smiled. Then she looked at the single, small bag. "That's it? That small bag is for both of us?"
"I think I packed what we'll need. If I've forgotten anything we'll just call the concierge. There are lots of shops in the hotel. Besides, the room service here is great. And, this is going to be a dirty weekend so we won't really need a lot of clothes."
Brenda opened the suitcase and inspected Fritz's wardrobe selections. She picked up a new, very sheer black negligée complete with its tiny black lace thong. "What is this?"
"Oh, that? That's my Valentine's Day gift to myself."
Brenda held it up. "This is so sheer it's practically transparent." Then she turned and looked at Fritz, "You have to take this back."
"Why?" He was puzzled.
"You can't afford it."
"It didn't cost that much."
"Fritzi, if I wear this I'm gonna have to charge you by the hour, and you can't afford my rate."
He grinned, "Believe me, seeing you in it will be worth it. And just wait until you see the new bikini I bought you."
Brenda turned back to the suitcase and picked up the skimpy bikini, laughed and put her arms around his neck. "You think of everythin."
Fritz smiled and whispered, "Happy Valentine's Day, my love. And now, let's see if that bikini shrinks in the hot tub, shall we?"
"Oh, you have no idea how fervently I wish."
And now, please leave me a Valentine in the form of your review.