The words bounced between them, rising into a cluster of blazing hot orbs. The couple stood polarized
in their inflexible truth. The inflammatory words above their heads galvanized every cell in their
bodies. Whatever happened in this moment would define the nature of their future.
Breaking away from the deadlock stare, he bent down and picked up his socks, slouched on the
edge of the rumpled bed and focused on counting to ten. He only got to 3 before his arms shot
straight up, as he released his voice in controlled frustration.
“But, it’s tax season!”
She watched his hands punctuate each word with the flick of his limps socks. He looked like a
sailor flagging a helicopter down to the rolling deck of a naval carrier. Matching his
communication style, she grabbed her bra and a Winnie-the-Pooh slipper, dancing them in the
air.
“It’s my parents’ 40th anniversary!”
He leapt up from the bed. “Who gets married during tax season? And, why are you waving your
bra at me?”Exasperated, she stormed toward the bathroom.“I articulated with Pooh Bear!”
He rubbed the back of his neck. Glancing at the clock, he computed that he had 15 minutes
before he would have to leave for work. Side by side columns appeared in his mind. The left
column read “be late for work and resolve this argument”. The right column read “file an
extension”. He slid into his clothes and leaned against the bathroom door frame, uncertain of
what to say. With a toothbrush poised for dental action, she glanced sideways in his direction.
“Jeans?”
“It’s Casual Saturday.”
She made a non-committal sound as she diligently set to brushing her teeth.
“Holly, look, I realize we have been dating for six months and …”
She braced the toothbrush between her lips, grunting some elongated sound while holding up
seven fingers in the mirror. He withheld his disagreement.
“Seven months and this is the first time you have seen me in tax season mode. I get how
frustrating this can be for people in my life. I haven’t even been to the gym in 2 weeks.”
She spat into the sink, rolling her eyes.“Yeah, and boy is it beginning to show. I think you’re
down to a 5-pack.”Even with the edge of sarcasm, he appreciated her attempt at humor and took
hold of the lifeline. Pulling his unbuttoned shirt wide open like a hero’s cape, he stood behind her
facing the mirror,
“You’d make a terrible accountant. I’m looking at a 6-pack, baby.”
She traced his reflection in the mirror with a finger.“Ah, I don’t know. This line is kind of blurry
so I still count 5. ”Pushing her stomach out as far as she could, she lifted her t-shirt, exposing the
unremarkable dome of her belly.
“Now this is a perfect 0. No distracting lines at all. I call it my 1-pack. I’m kind of a living binary
code, ones and zeros.”
She turned toward him patting his midsection. “ But, don’t worry, I can look beyond your freaky
man-gut of oversized dimples. In fact, I think it’s rather cute.”
He was aware that this moment was not a truce but showed a choice being made to step away
from anger. He put his hands over hers, looking into her eyes with the sincerity that matched his
soft smile.
“I have to go to work now. I will be there tonight. I will very probably be late, but, I promise to
be there.” He stepped toward the bedroom, buttoning up his wrinkled white shirt in double time.
“Ivan.”
“Yeah.”
“I volunteered you for cleanup detail tonight.”
He smiled, “I have my Superman apron in the car.” Grabbing keys, wallet, and valise, he headed to the
door.
It was 7:00 am on the dot when Ivan sat in his chair. Fluid muscle memory went into high gear,
in under a minute his day of helping people file their taxes was in motion. This was his tenth year
with ‘Tasmanian Tax Service’ and in that time he’d come to know many people, families and
businesses. The term, accountant, had been less than sexy as an introduction, especially on the
dating circuit. Holly was the first woman he met that didn’t give a vacant stare when he presented
his job title. Just thinking of her usually made him smile, another dating first with Holly Page. He
hoped that this morning’s row wasn’t as big as it seemed but, he really wasn’t to sure. Time to
switch gears and dive into work.
The early years of filing taxes had been somewhat mechanical. Read the numbers, check the
numbers, read and re-read the latest regulations. Those skills had become background to
personally caring about what was going on with his annual clients. The numbers don’t lie. It hurt
to see the married filings become single because of death, or medical necessity, or a thousand
reasons people no longer choose to be together. There were families putting their children
through college, building hope, betterment, or family pride. Unemployment and disability
numbers tugged at his heart the whole time he worked on those files.
Ivan looked around the office that was moving at a high tempo of organized efficiency. Each of
his colleagues were people he was proud to know. Keena, animal rescuer, breast cancer survivor.
Trish, single mother of three and a master gardener. Laurence, newly married, Special Olympics
coordinator. Patty, rock climber and provider of many home-cooked meals dubbed ‘healthy crew
fuel’. Ben was still a mystery but showed up regularly for video game night. The lines between
colleague blurred into friend, and even family.
The clicking of keyboards had slowed down. The phone conversations had significantly dropped
off and the clock registered 8:00 pm. Ivan closed down his computer screen and felt his lungs
demanding deep breaths. Laurence called out from behind his computer.
“Calling it quits for tonight?”
“Yeah, I’ve got a thing to go to.”
“With Holly?”
“Her parents’ 40th anniversary.”
“Woah, 40 years? That’s impressive.”
Laurence suddenly stood up, “Wait, wait.” He rummaged through his pockets. “Amy and I got
tickets for you and Holly to the Renaissance Festival next month. We were hoping to double
date.”
Laurence handed Ivan the tickets, “Not to be nosy or anything, but how are things between you
and Holly?” The hesitant delivery of the question while trying not to smile told Ivan that a
positive response was being hoped for. Ivan laughed, “Holly Page and Ivan Stanislosky are still
dating. I can’t speak for her but I am smitten, charmed and smiling a lot.” Laurence grinned and
nodded. Ivan surprised himself as words fell out of his mouth.
“We had our first… uhmm…”
“Fight?”
“No, not fight. Nothing like Cynthia, my previous dating partner and I used to get caught up in.
Thank God! No, it’s more like a standoff.”
Laurence sucked in his lower lip. “Was it about how many hours you’ve been working?”
“Bingo! my friend.”
“Amy and I also still have our moments around that. When it comes up I throw out some job
titles that would probably take up much more of our time together, like professional athlete, tax
attorney, offshore installation manager.” Laurence saw the question on his friend’s face. “I look at
the Harvard Business Review site for extreme jobs, just to stay ahead of the discussion about
work time. It’s a very real issue for couples and all I can say is, when Amy and I can find some
humor, even dark humor, it helps.”
Ivan patted Laurence on the shoulder.“Thank you for the tickets and advice.”
“You’ll have to thank Amy for the tickets.” Laurence laughed “You will be required to put on
tights or wear a man dress or some shit. It will be fun though, because my wife is amazing like
that.”
Ivan looked at the time. 8:30. “ Well, thanks again, I’ve got to fly. See you on Monday.”
Holly had talked about how she wanted to decorate her parent’s home for their anniversary, but,
Ivan had no idea what a decorating genius he was dating. The simple story and a half bungalow
looked like a movie set for “Arabian Nights”.
Ivan tucked in his shirt and ran his fingers through his hair as he walked around the house to the back
yard. He spotted Holly immediately, standing next to her older sister, Veronica. He watched them
talking in that easy, comfortable manner that close family members exude. Even with the trees glowing
from hanging Turkish lanterns and cloth covered tables illuminated with candles, Holly held her own
radiance. This, he had noticed about her on the first day they met. Her smile guided him straight to her
side. Leaning toward her, he kissed her neck. Not a romantic choice, it was training from previous
dates who had admonished him not to mess with their make-up or smear their lipstick. From the sound
he heard her make when he placed his kiss, it had been the right choice.
He whispered in her ear, “You look stunning.” Turning towards Veronica he offered her a cursory
hug.
“Wow! You two did an amazing job! Your parents must be over the moon.”
The sisters smiled their satisfaction at how beautiful everything looked for this special night. Ivan
bowed his head between the siblings, “Uh, I really hate to ask but I need your decorating tips. I have a
present for your parents in my car, still in the mailing box. Would you happen to have any wrapping
paper and tape in your magic tool kit?” Holly took Ivan’s hand, “Unwrapped will be okay. My parents
don’t follow protocol and definitely don’t read “Miss Manners”. Let’s go to your car and then find Arlo
and Winnie.”
Veronica stuck out her arm and in a loud whisper asked, “Wait! What did you get for them?” Ivan
grinned. “Oh, it’s really cool! A 3-D puzzle of a skyscraper in Dubai! And, Arlo and Winnie will
receive another Dubai structure every other month for a whole year!” Holly and Veronica delighted in
Ivan’s endearing, geeky enthusiasm.
Holly tugged his hand. “Come on. I can’t wait to watch my parents open your gift. I think they will
love it!”
“Are you teasing me or do you really mean that?”
“Ivan, you’ve seen how many books my dad has on architecture. My mom watches travel
documentaries, a lot. You were here for Christmas and saw how many puzzles we put together.
Look at me, I’m being truthful, they will love it!”
The couple walked hand in hand to the front yard. Ivan stood still, taking in a quick breath.
“Holly?” Her face looked so soft in the artificial lights. “Are we OK? This morning got…a little
tense. Do we need to talk about it? I’ve been overly tired lately and…”
Holly put her hands around his arm, “Ivan, I’m so sorry. I knew you were really tired and I have
been so wound up about making everything perfect for tonight. I pushed too hard. I realize that I
released the flying monkeys in my mind straight at you. I’ve never done that before to anyone.
My dad picked me up after you left for work. We got coffee and donuts, sat in the car and talked
for quite awhile. There wasn’t any blaming or parental cheerleading. My dad was like a calm
breath of reality and had a lot of stories to make his point. He suggested that maybe I feel safe
enough with you to let all my colors fly, even the ugly ones. Lucky you!”. She took a step back
and looked him in the eyes. “ I apologize for creating the upset this morning. Right now, I am
just so happy to be with you.” Ivan cupped her face and kissed her on the lips. He took her hand
in his and whispered, “So, we are alright then?”
Holly’s response was drowned out by a man shouting from the front porch. “Holly! Are you kidnapping
that young man? Ivan laughed and replied, “No, Sir! I am in voluntary compliance with whatever this
beautiful woman has planned for me.” Ivan walked to the porch and extended his hand to Holly’s
father. “ Hi, Arlo. Happy anniversary to you and Winnie.” Arlo shook Ivan’s hand, “Thank you! Yeah,
it’s been a wonderful forty years of learning, love and laughter. I’m a fortunate man and I know it.
Winnie is in the house watching a belly-dancing YouTube video with her friends.” He shook his head
and chuckled,” You are coming inside to say hello aren’t you?” Self consciously, Ivan re-tucked in his
shirt, “Absolutely. We were just getting something from my car.” Arlo waved both of his hands in a
swooshing motion. “It will keep, whatever it is. Come on up here and join us.”
Holly hugged her father and then reached over and hugged the man standing next to Arlo. “Ivan let me
introduce you to my father’s dearest friend and my sweet Godfather, Pete Norton. Pete, this is Ivan
Stanislosky.” Pete looked Ivan up and down before offering his handshake.“So, it’s been seven months
of hearing about this Ivan fellow before I finally get to meet you.” Ivan glossed over the minor detail
of dating for just six months.”Yes, I met Holly seven months ago. It is very nice to meet you as well.”
Pete blinked, squinted, and blinked, “ No need for perfunctory platitudes. An accountant, right? A
good solid profession. How did you two meet?’ Holly attempted to redirect the conversation but,
Pete would not be dissuaded. “What, what? My Godchild thinks I don’t care about what is
happening in her life? That I can’t know how she met the accountant? Arlo, I understand that this
night is for honoring you and your bride of forty years, but, would it be such an inconvenience
for my beloved Godchild to tell me how she has become so happy?” Arlo slapped his friend on
the back.” Oh, this is a good story! I can’t believe you haven’t heard it yet! Come on, come on
let’s all sit down and get comfortable.”
Everyone found a place to sit. Holly looked at Ivan encouraging him to tell the tale and Ivan
offered the same look back to Holly. So, Holly took the lead. “Hmm, ok,” and then laughed. Pete
sat forward in his chair.” This story starts with laughter. I like it already.” He blinked and
squinted, cleared his throat then resumed his reclined position. “I was flipping through dating
sites and came across one called “Lucky Number Date”. All I had to do was enter my name, birth
date and go through an itemized check list about my overall physical health, no profile pictures
or life story required. The site computes your numerology and creates a group of eight people of
compatible numbers to go on a weekend outing. Easy Peasy! I know everyone here knows my
fascination with numerology, and it just seemed like a good choice.”
Pete stopped rubbing the backs of his hands and pointed at Ivan. “ And you Mr. Accountant, are
you a numerologist, as well?” Ivan shook his head, “I find it interesting, however, what caught
my attention was the lack of plural in the title. Not dates or dating, just ‘date’. After I read the
specialized activities offered I thought, “Yup, I can appreciate that this might be a one-date
wonder.”
Ivan and Holly roared with laughter. Between bursts of giggles, they itemized the weekend packages
offered by “Lucky Number Date” for their audience, “There were choices like a Flying Trapeze,
Viking Re-enactment Camp, Paranormal Ghost Hunt, Bungee-jumping back slash zip line and Skydiving.”
Ivan thought Pete looked worried and brought his laughter down a notch. “There were also more
pedestrian things to do, like, Re-live Prom Night and Habitat for Humanity.” Pete took a deep
breath and asked, “So, which group were you and Holly assigned?” Holly and Ivan smiled at
each other and simultaneously answered through another wave of giggles, “Storm chasing!”
Arlo and Holly realized that Pete was oddly quiet. Ivan noticed something else. Either the
lighting on the porch had cast a strange shadow on Pete’s complexion, or, he was turning
cyanotic. Calmly, Ivan knelt beside Ira and lifted the elderly man’s wrist to check his pulse.
“Pete, are you having chest pains?” Ira nodded.
“Are you taking medication for your heart, or blood thinners?” Pete shook his head no.
“Okay Pete, just breath in and out. That’s it. Good.”
In an authoritative, quiet voice, Ivan told Arlo and Holly to stay calm, call 911, and move the chairs out
of the way. Pete’s body twitched violently and then became slack.
“Arlo, help me lift him out of the chair and lower him to the ground. Okay, 1,2,3, lift, careful with his
head. Okay. Now hold his hand and keep talking to him.”
Ivan took a kneeling position next to Ira and began counting out 30 chest compressions, then tilted
Pete’s head back for mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
“Holly keep a clear path for the paramedics, okay?” Holly took up a guard position at the front door to
stop any party guest from entering the scene. While performing the next round of 30 compressions,
Ivan encouraged Arlo to keep talking to his friend, adding a few words himself, “Come on Pete stay
with us, buddy. You’re not alone, we’re right here with you.”
Ivan tugged his dress shirt off and used it to prop Pete’s head in a back tilt, then listened for a breath
before administering another round of mouth-to-mouth. 30 more compressions. The sound of sirens
approaching brought a mix of relief and heightened reality about the seriousness of the situation.
Moving out of the way to the far end of the porch, Ivan watched the swarm of uniformed emergency
responders move through the flashing lights. He heard a paramedic say “We’ve got a pulse. Let’s get
him on the stretcher.”
Tears streamed down Ivan’s face. Holly approached Ivan, her hand covering her mouth, choking back
tears. They stood together watching the stretcher being loaded in the ambulance. Holly sobbed out a
few short sentences, “Dad’s going in the ambulance. We are the only family Pete has. Oh God, he has to
be okay!” She wrapped her arms around Ivan, “I’m so grateful you were here!” Ivan held her close. The
warmth of her body was an immediate comfort. His rested his chin on the top of her head and
whispered, “Holly Page, you are like fireflies in the moonlight and the brilliance of dawn to me.” He
felt the surge of adrenaline shaking his spine and held her tighter.
“The reason I didn’t call you seven months ago, after the storm-chasing weekend, was because I was
finishing a Red Cross emergency training course. When you told me this morning that you thought I
was dating, Rebecca, from our group, before I asked you out, I was sad, crushed, and frankly, really
pissed that you had never even asked me if it was true.” He kissed the top of her head. “Let’s be in our
relationship and boot out the unnecessary baggage of people in our past.”
Holly placed her hands on Ivan’s chest, sealing the agreement with a kiss on his neck.

By Rachel McBride from the United States


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