All photographs by the amazing Sandra Markovic. See her website or her blog.
It was her birthday, and it had been a long time since she’d moved in with him from Ohio, and without her mom around he knew she’d likely be a little down. He had to come up with the plan of all plans. How could he make her feel as special as she made him feel? She reminded him on a regular basis, with her fake French accent that he adored, how she sometimes wore her hair in two perfect ponytails because he once told her it was so cute, how she always bought him kalamata olive hummus even though she was more of a fan of roasted red pepper…this list could go on and on. This had to be perfect.
He could go on a quest for the perfect gift. But she was better than that. A perfect night of romance? No, too simple.
This was going to be tough, and he knew it. He easily and nonchalantly reminded her he loved her on a daily basis, which now made a perfect birthday near impossible. He’d outdone himself on so many occasions so naturally, without even trying, that now when it really counted he was drawing a blank. Coming up empty. <insert another cheesy cliché here>.
When she came home from the studio she had a feeling something big would happen. She opened the door slowly, expecting any number of possibilities but found nothing. She looked in the living room, dining room, he didn’t even seem to be home. Where was he?
She went to the kitchen, and there was a pot on the stove. She opened it, an automatic response since he often left her meals, and in it was a simple yellow post-it.
“Our first kiss.”
She put the post-it down and started to go upstairs, then suddenly stopped halfway up, ran back down, quickly grabbed her coat and rushed out the front door.
She practically ran to the nearby park, past the children playing on the merry-go-round, past the slide, the sandbox, the see saws, to the swing set, to the second swing, and sat down. What next?
A little girl walked up to her. She was in the cutest little dress, pigtails, huge, innocent eyes, and asked, “Are you Alexandra?” She looked at the little girl and nodded, smiling, as the little girl search her pockets and pulled out a post-it. “He says this is for you.” At this the little girl ran back to her mother, embarrassed, and her mother gave her a hug, then looked at Alexandra and smiled.
Shaking, Alexandra unfolded the post-it and read. “The place where you wrote that song I love.”
And off Alexandra went.
And so Alexandra found herself jumping into her car, the Volkswagon bus she’d bought right before they drove cross-country. She turned the ignition and it chugged, chugged, started, stalled. She tried again. And again. That’s when she noticed the post-it on the seat next to her.
“Put on your best.”
For once she appreciated the stalling car and ran inside. She quickly found an old fifties dress, her favorite, practically tore off her clothing, threw it on and ran out the door, hoping the old bus would be friendlier to her.
She tore out of the parking spot and headed in the direction of the diner where she wrote the song 1900 Miles and pulled into the parking lot. She took quick notice that his car wasn’t there so knew there would be another post-it.
Upon entering the diner, she looked towards their favorite booth, saw it was marked RESERVED and sat there, panting a bit. Their usual waitress walked up.
“Hey there. How’s it going so far?” she said with a knowing smirk.
“Fine.” She couldn’t contain her smile. “Do you have something for me?”
“Yup. Wait here.”
As Alexandra sat, impatiently, curious and overwhelmed with feelings, she was having the time of her life.
That’s when the waitress returned with a cup of hot Earl Grey tea with a little milk.
“He said you’d figure it out. He said there was no note this time.”
Alexandra looked at the tea she’d just set before her and really had to think. No note. That meant the clue had to be…
Alexandra had the tea switched to a to go cup, tried to pay, found out he’d paid in advance, and ran out the door on yet another adventure.
She knew he loved a certain store, one of those barrel places that has bins and bins of food purchased by the pound, and there was a whole tea room. They’d spent hours of time together in there, searching for different teas they’d yet to try. That had to be it.
She raced into the parking lot, and as she ran in pulled the door too hard and let it slam against the wall.
“Oops sorry Mister Hansel. But I’m in a hurry.”
He looked upset but when he realized it was Alexandra a warm smile came over his face.
“So you figured it out. I wasn’t sure you would, but he assured me you’d get it.”
She smiled. “Yup!” and she ran off to the tea room.
She ran in, startling the new girl who was in there, and frantically started searching the giant jars and containers of tea looking for the right one.
“Can I help you with something?”
“No. Yes! I am looking for the Earl Grey Crème. It’s our favorite.”
They both started looking, and the girl became as frantic as Alexandra, without really knowing why.
“Got it!” the girl yelled triumphantly, as Mister Hansel sauntered in, smiling. Alexandra grabbed it, turned it around, and sure enough there it was, a post-it.
She started to run out the door when Mister Hansel stopped her.
“Alexandra,” he said. “Take this.” He handed her an old thermos, red plaid, and she felt it was still warm. “Tell him this one’s on me.”
She sat in the car and looked at the post-it.
It was a drawing of a record.
And so now she was headed to their record store. Alexandra pulled into the lot and was already heading to the record store, a place where they’d spent hours upon hours looking, listening, and experiencing all kinds of music.
Now the question Alexandra had to ask was, where, in the millions of records and cds did he hide the post-it? She had to think.
Bridgette Bardot. Nope. Belle and Sebastian. No. Maurice Chevalier, Shins, Decemberists, Frank Sinatra, still nothing. She really had to think. But while she was there, she should check for that one that she ALWAYS checked for, in every store, since she’d started collecting records. Claudine Longet. You never know, maybe it would be there.
And it was. With a post-it. She ran up to the counter, and the clerk gave a smile.
“I wasn’t sure you’d find it. He said you would. But I’ve never even seen that record in print before. He must have spent a pretty penny on it.”
“So wait, this isn’t yours?”
“No honey, it’s yours.” The elderly clerk smiled, and Alexandra walked towards the door, checking the post-it as she walked, wondering where else her birthday would take her.
She opened the next post-it.
“Our favorite meal.”
And so she was off again.
Kenny was working, and she was glad because the last thing she needed was to ask a stranger for her note.
She ran up to the counter.
“Now I know you’re not here for food, are you.”
She was out of breath and panting. He laughed.
“It’s over there.”
She ran in the direction he was pointing but didn’t see a note. She kept looking around and lifted a blanket that was sitting on a chair. The post-it fell out.
She grabbed it and started walking when Kenny stopped her.
“Hey, don’t forget that. It’s yours.”
She looked back at the blanket, and realized that it was one she’d been wanting for a while from her favorite store, the one he called the hippie store because it always smelled like incense. Alexandra couldn’t help but love that place, it reminded her of her mom, and she missed her mom.
She ran back and grabbed it, took a big whiff, and ran off.
She waved and ran out, reading the next note.
“I love you.”
This one was easy. And it was one of her favorite places.
She pulled into the state park, the place where they went anytime it was nice out. They’d played Frisbee, hiked, flown kites, taken nice strolls along the river, it was a beautiful place. She went right to their favorite path. The next note had to be there.
She grabbed her backpack in case it was a long walk, the thermos Mr. Hensley had given her, and the blanket because she loved the smell and was really missing her mom. She started walking along the river, thinking it was a beautiful day and the next note was probably near this tree where he’d started babbling incoherently, eventually leading up to the best “I love you” she’d ever heard.
She strolled down the path now, relaxed, taking in the beauty of the park, the woods, the trees, the sound of the nearby river so relaxing, and she found the tree with the note stuck to it. She opened it. It said, “I love you,” and she jumped a little, as if the note had spoken, and then realized he was behind her.
She spun around and he grabbed her, she grabbed him, and they held each other as if they’d been apart for years. She backed away and he pushed her hair behind her ear, looked at her, and covered her with small, romantic kisses.
Her knees gave out a little and he was forced to hold on a little tighter, and they both laughed. He took the blanket and started walking. She followed.
He walked up to the huge rock where they’d talked after he admitted his love, requited of course, and he laid out the blanket next to the rock and pulled a picnic basket from the cracks in the boulders. She smiled.
Then he cranked an antique record player they’d found at a yard sale and put out his hand. She reached into her bag and grabbed the record, handing it to him. He started the music and then reached his hand out again for her hand, knowing full well she didn’t need help, but hell, he was a gentleman.
And so they picnicked, sitting on a giant boulder alongside a picturesque river, warm tea from the thermos, and talked until sunset, when they just cuddled on the blanket, stargazed, and he couldn’t help but wonder what the hell he was going to do to top this next year.
Special thanks to Sandra, who took the essence of this story and depicted it with perfection and a professionalism that I find both impressive and admirable. Please check out her blog and website which I posted links to at the beginning of the story. Sandra will also be posting many related photographs that I was unable to work into the post, but are beautiful and should be viewed by all.