WHAT KIND OF ANNIVERSARY present can you give the man who claims to have everything he wants in life, and then some? I’ve been asking myself that question for weeks.
I Googled, four year anniversary gift, and flowers were suggested, but they’re not really what I have in mind for the mercurial Mr. Stone. So, I’ve added a modern twist and gone for a burgundy silk tie with a simple flower design in the shape of B and A embroidered seamlessly together. It's perfectly matched to his navy blue blazer and this occasion; a memento of four years of marriage which have tested not only the depth of our love, but the lengths to which we have been willing to go to keep it—and each other—alive.
I told Ayden I didn’t want to pack a bag, jump into a helicopter or be jetted off to a distant shore. Why would we want to leave our beautiful chateau and our children for longer than a few hours?
He answered with, “Beats me.”
So here we are walking hand in hand into Le Grand Bistro, a thirty minute drive from our home, a formally, rustic restaurant, knowing Trinny and Freddie are bathed and tucked up in bed either side of their Mamie listening to a bedtime story.
For all the apparent simplicity of this venue, I suspect Ayden has gone to great lengths to oversee not only the food but every aspect pertaining to our visit. The reason I know that is because playing softly in the background is the music we fell in love to—the soundtrack to the story of us; the early days when love was no more than a spark that became an inextinguishable flame igniting passion and paternal desires lying dormant within us. There is also the scent of jasmine and bougainvillea, reminiscent of nights spent on a terrace in Rome where terracotta rooftops stretched out before us creating jagged shadows as the sun descended, leaving a inky black sky peppered with stars shaping our destiny.
Anyone unfamiliar with my husband’s modus operandi might be fooled into thinking we had stumbled upon a gem of a restaurant. Who would have thought that such a lovely place existed so far off the beaten track; so clean, so stylish with crystal glassware, expensive-looking crockery and crisp white linen?
There is nothing accidental here; Ayden will have had a team of painters, decorators, and God knows who else redesigning this innocuous looking venue from the ground up—no expense spared.
Because it’s our anniversary. This is his gift to me, and it couldn’t be more perfect. No half-baked, make-do-and-mend substitute for a restaurant would do, not for such an occasion.
We spread our napkins across our knees and watch the waiter pour a chilled pomegranate and champagne aperitif into fluted glasses. The bubbles fizz around the pieces of pomegranate making them dance in the glass like shards of red and orange topaz, casting a golden glow across Ayden’s handsome face—he’s radiant. It’s not yet Christmas but there’s a festive feel about this evening that warms my heart.
“You’ve certainly gone to a lot of trouble,” I state with a smile, noticing we are the only diners, appearing to have surfaced in this sea of white, understated elegance.
Ayden places down his glass. “Who? Me?”
I relax into our conversation. “Yes. You! You’ve turned this place into a Michelin style restaurant for our benefit. Don’t deny it.”
He holds up his hands surrendering. “Guilty as charged. You wouldn’t have liked it how it was. Believe me.”
“I do believe you. I just hope it’s money well-spent.”
He tilts down his head and looks at me as if I should know better than to even ask. “Seriously? This place will be a gold mine once word gets out.” He opens up the beautifully drawn menu. “Make your choice, Mrs. Stone. It’s all good here.”
He isn’t wrong. Whoever the chef is, he’s a real find. Everything from the steaming Bouillabaisse to the Crêpe Suzette was delicious. This is a place we will be visiting again, just for the hell of it.
Ayden sips his coffee, words hanging on his lips like berries about to burst. Without warning he asks, “By the way…” He pre-empts his seemingly innocent question with a casual introduction. “…are you going to tell me why you called your daredevil plan Operation Blue Moon? You’ve yet to tell me.”
It’s the one part of the plan I’ve not explained.
I shrug my shoulders. “I had to call it something.”
“No, I’m not buying it.” He takes hold of my free hand across the table. “You have many wonderful qualities, Beth, but spontaneity isn’t one of them.”
I feel his thumb stroking my knuckles. “You’ll laugh when I tell you…”
“”I won’t, hand on heart.” He puts my right hand on his heart and places his own over it. “Go ahead.”
“Well, when I heard that you had made a decision to accept…”
Oh shit! I have to be careful how I phrase this. I don’t want to implicate Jake.
“I say heard because I watched the news report on the BBC when you were announced as the last recipient to be awarded your honorary medal…”
“And I knew why you were doing it. I know how this heart of yours feels everything.” The cotton fabric of his shirt is warm against his skin. “You told me you were prepared to do whatever it takes and that was you keeping your promise—putting yourself in in the firing line in the process.”
He brushes his hand across my hair. “That’s old news, Beth. But it doesn’t explain why you named your counter plan what you did.”
“Okay, here goes.” I retrieve my hand and fiddle with my engagement ring, uncertain about how I should explain one of the most mystical experiences of my life—and that’s saying something. “One night, I went on deck and was trying to come up with a way to stop you doing it, to draw them out and away from you. I couldn’t think of anything and then an idea came to me … at that very moment the most spectacular moon appeared from behind the clouds, looking as if it had a sapphire coloured ribbon placed around it. I took it as a sign and Operation Blue Moon was born.”
He leans back, grinning. “Wow!”
“Crazy, right?” I’m smiling so wide, my face hurts.
He drags his hand across his chin, clearly troubled by something. “No. No crazier than me having these wild dreams about places I’ve never been to…”
This is the first I’ve heard of it.
“Yes, sometimes they’re so vivid I wake up and I’m not sure if I’ve actually been to the place or just imagined it … in my dream.”
I’m almost afraid to ask, but I know I have to. “What kind of places?”
He lifts his eyes to the ceiling recalling fragments of dreams or maybe memories, or a combination of both. “In one dream I’ve had a couple of times, we’re in the mountains somewhere… I don’t know where. We’re really high and the sun is rising…”
“Just us?” I ask tentatively?
“Yeah,” he laughs. “God knows how we got there…”
I could tell you but you wouldn’t believe me.
“I shit you not.” There’s no stopping him now. “Another time, we’re on a beach, lying on a bed, looking at the stars and there’s some kind of meteor shower.”
Feigning surprise is so hard. “Wow! When you dream you dream big!”
“Tell me about it! The thing is, Beth. It felt real like … like we were there, together. I wish you could have experienced it with me.”
It kills me that he looks so forlorn, believing I have no concept of just how spectacular a meteor shower could be; the magnificent finale to what was, I realise, seduction on a grand scale, universally contrived to impress.
He can’t ever know that.
“Me too, Ayden. It sounds amazing.” I gaze longingly into sapphire eyes now sparkling with the brilliance of a thousand meteors into which I see myself reflected. “Maybe we can do something similar one day. Just us. Like in your dreams.”
“I’d like that.” He finds my left hand and, as if transported into a world beyond our terrestrial kingdom appears to leave me, awestruck by the profound nature of the universe and our place within it.
I bring him down to earth and back to me with talk of earthly things. “But for now, we have to think of our life right here. Like what we’re going to do for Christmas this year. I hold up my glass to toast. “Here’s to stargazing and the coming together of friends and family.”
He raises his glass, tips it onto mine. “I’ll drink to that. You know what. Let’s take your blue moon as a sign…”
I tip my head, looking curious, in need of an explanation. “A sign?”
“Yeah. Everyone loves the sun but I think the stars and moon are underrated.” He takes a mouthful of wine, looking proud of himself.
“You do?” I know exactly what he means, and that he should be saying this now on our four year anniversary, is nothing short of miraculous.
“Yeah. People look up at the stars and make a wish, hoping for some kind of sign or divine intervention…”
I did that.
“But a blue moon doesn’t come along often, and when it does, it usually signals something special: the tides change, the earth responds and it’s never forgotten. That’s what happened when we met.”
He’s so right.
“Our worlds collided…” I whisper, afraid to break the spell we are both under.
“Yes. The way they were meant to and, Beth, that kind of thing only happens once in a blue moon.” He takes hold of both my hands across the table.
I’m transfixed, hanging on his every word, like a teenager on a first date. “Yes it does, Ayden. I hadn’t realised the significance of it until now. Thank you for pointing it out.” I caress his handsome face with my eyes, willing my mind to memorise this moment, to lock it away for safe-keeping; to calculate the kisses we have collected over the years like stars—too many to count, but never enough.
I love this husband of mine; a little more with every year that passes.
He takes hold of my fingers and plants a kiss on them. “It’s just an idea.”
“It’s the best idea I’ve heard in ages and no less than I would expect from a romantic like you on a night like this.”
“Me? Romantic?” He winks and pulls me to my feet. “All this talk of blue reminds me of my balls.” He signals to the waiter that we are leaving and pulls me in for a tight hug
I giggle into his ear. “Oh really? Do they still get blue after all these years?”
“Not so much blue … more of a kind of purple colour.” He screws up his face.
“Ouch! Sounds painful,” I reply, trying not to laugh. “Should I call a doctor?”
“No need. I have my very own night nurse right here.” Arm in arm we make our way to the car, him pretending to limp and me offering sympathetic words and possible cures that are more sensual than surgical. “Besides, you have an anniversary present waiting at home.”
“Oh! Really?” I feel his hand tightening around mine, reaffirming our connection. “I can't wait to unwrap it."
This is one anniversary dinner that I will recall fondly—the night two worlds collided; one in which we exist and the other I once inhabited, now visited through dreams by both of us.
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