SATURDAY, AUGUST 3, 2019: 6:30PM
The peak hour traffic took the trio longer than anticipated to arrive at the final destination.
But alas, the car slowed to a still.
Terese stepped out into … the driveway of No. 22, Ramsay Street.
She had suspected they were making their way home towards the end of the route, when Ned had taken a very distinct shortcut through Eden Hills.
“Here we are!” Harlow said enthusiastically.
“Home sweet home”, Ned chimed in.
Terese was both surprised and slightly confused that this was the final destination. Not a disappointed-confused, but a curious-confused.
“Ah, Grandad just texted – everything’s good to go!”
“So, I guess this is our cue to get going”
“Wait, where are you two going to be?”
“I’m staying the night at Yashvi’s”, Harlow replied.
“And I’ve got the night shift. So don’t worry about us”.
“Have fun!” Harlow beamed as she and Ned proceeded down the driveway towards the Rebecchi house. Terese noticed them give each other a proud high five.
Terese was just about to make her way to the front door when she spotted a rose on the floor. At first glance, she figured it had been dropped without notice, but when she observed it a bit longer it seemed too specifically placed, right at the corner of the garage as if it was alluring her to take the side path to the backyard. Paul.
As she approached closer, her suspicions were confirmed. Not too far in front of the rose was a DVD case placed on one of the pathway tiles – 10 Things I Hate About You – Terese smiled to herself, it was one of her all-time favourites. Once she had scooped up the flower and DVD, she noticed another DVD … and another … and another … one placed on every tile. She excitedly went to pick them up – The Devil Wears Prada, Pride and Prejudice, Just Go With It, Titanic, Hidden Figures, The Notebook – all of her favourites, from classics to comedies and ones from more recent years!
Once she turned the corner to the backyard, she stopped in her tracks. In front of her was Paul, surrounded by an intimate but perfectly romantic set up. A plethora of twinkly lights and a myriad of candles provided warm, ambient lighting on this Winter night.
“Welcome Home”, Paul said.
“What's this?” Terese asked enthusiastically.
“Just a little something”, he replied modestly.
Terese had an ecstatic smile across her face as she continued to take in the decorated backyard. There was a DIY projection screen, made from a white sheet, that was fastened onto the roof of the patio and in front of it, a blanket set up on the grass with matching pillows.
The mingling of Paul’s cologne and luscious candles scented the air, along with the scent of … buttery cinema popcorn?! This was coming from the miniature popcorn machine on the blanket, next to the basket of all her favourite snacks. The cutest.
“Aww! It’s a backyard cinema!” Terese gushed, as she pieced together what was before her, “… And you got all of my favourite movies!”
Paul’s face lit up at her excitement.
“It’s … beautiful” she said sincerely, as she crossed to the blanket to place down the pile of movies she was carrying. She loved the prospect of having a moonlit marathon of all her favourite movies, with her favourite person.
“You are beautiful”.
Terese blushed and tilted her head slightly to the side, as she did whenever something touched her heart, but she didn’t know what to say.
Paul extended his hand and twirled Terese around before wrapping his other arm around her waist. “May I have this dance?”
“I’d love to” Terese said with a grin. She curved her arms behind her fiancée’s neck, but not before lovingly fixing up the collar of his pale blue shirt. She was really touched by the fact that he was wearing the shirt that was her favourite. It really is the little things.
“Are you surprised that I’ve brought you back here?” Paul asked as they began shuffling around.
“I was at first, but now that I think about it … it makes perfect sense”
“We’ve certainly had a lot of milestones and great memories here.”
There was a moment of silence as Terese sorted her thoughts.
“You know, I was about to say it’s our home … but then I realised, my home is you.”
An intense yet comfortable silence fell over them. It was one of those moments where neither of them wanted or needed anything more but just to gaze deeply and ardently into each other’s eyes … there could’ve been flying horses, a helicopter landing or total chaos around them and neither of them would’ve noticed. It was one of those moments where Terese felt they were the only two humans in the world and the concept of time was eradicated. It was those moments where Terese knew Paul Robinson was ‘the one’.
“So how was the rest of your afternoon” Paul asked, some moments later.
“Really nice! Ned’s always at work lately so it was great to have some quality time. And with Harlow too. We actually went on the Star! It was so funny though, there was …”
Terese continued to talk about her afternoon, going on several tangents. She often did this, when she was blissfully cheerful. Like usual, Paul didn’t mind and listened contently to her ramblings.
“I’m glad you all had a good time” he said earnestly, once she had reached a full stop.
It was surreal to think they weren’t together just a year ago. Things were so comfortable between them that it felt like they had been together for years and years.
“I missed you though” Terese said as she cupped his cheek in her hand and leaned in to his lips, “—Have you taken your medication?” She asked, abruptly interrupting their kiss.
Paul chuckled in amusement, “I spend hours setting up this romantic setting and that’s what you’re thinking about when we kiss?”
“Well, you’ve spent all day fussing over me, I just wanted to make sure you haven’t forgotten!”
“Don’t worry, I haven’t” he said, before their lips collided in the space between. Terese could feel Paul smiling through the kiss, just like she was.
Under the moonlight in their backyard, the couple continued to slow dance. At times their foreheads nuzzled against each other’s. Other times, Terese’s head rested on Paul’s shoulder while he snuggled his into her neck. Terese knew that was his favourite spot.
All the while, they smiled contently and revelled in the closeness and presence of each other, while a playlist of Terese’s favourite songs played softly in the background through a purple Bluetooth speaker Paul had borrowed from Harlow.
You & I by John Legend was the song that stood out to Terese …
And this evening I, won't let the feeling die
I never wanna leave your side
Out of all the girls
You’re my one and only girl
Ain't nobody in the world tonight
All of the stars, you make them shine like they were ours
Ain't nobody in the world but you and I
You and I
Later that evening, after they had finished dancing and eating dinner, Paul and Terese were relaxed on the blanket in front of the projection screen. Terese had Paul’s blazer draped over her shoulders and held a cup of that delicious buttery popcorn.
“So … around this time last year, I wanted to do something thoughtful, but I didn’t put in the effort I should have to make it all perfect for you. It's one of the things I regret most. So, this year, I wanted to do something thoughtful but I thought I would actually do it all myself”, Paul said nervously.
“You know I don’t hold it against you” Terese said calmly. “And the present you gave me this morning already means so much to me …”
“I know. But I wanted to. And I’m not in any way trying to replace that beautiful Josh video that Leo put together, as I know how important it is to you. But I just want you to know how important you are to me”.
The smile on Terese’s face widened and Paul couldn’t help but return it.
“So, which are we going to watch first”, Terese asked herself as she began sorting through the DVDs and lining them up methodically.
Paul watched on fondly. The way she always lined things up in order, whether that was her makeup, the cooking ingredients or these DVDs, was one of the habits that made Terese, so perfectly Terese.
“Actually … I was thinking we could watch this one first” Paul said a few moments later, as he pulled out a disk in a clear case from under a pillow.
Terese recognised Paul’s handwriting on the disk, ‘10 Things I Love About Terese Willis’.
She did that thing again, the one when her heart felt so full that she didn’t know what to say, tilting her head slightly to side as her eyes gleamed.
“What do you reckon?” Paul asked softly.
Terese shoved the lined-up DVDs to the side, “I think, Miranda Priestly will have to wait!”
With that, Paul placed the disk in the DVD player, before returning to the blanket to join Terese, whose eyes were fixed on the projection screen with anticipation. He took out a remote, from underneath a cushion yet again, pressing the play button.
He pressed the button again.
“Um … hold on, just give it a minute”.
As the screen remained blank, Paul went back to the projector, fiddling with the cords and cables, frantically switching buttons on and off.
“Why isn’t it working … it was working before … the manual said …” he mumbled to himself.
Meanwhile, Terese couldn’t help but giggle a bit as she watched on with adoration. This was her soon-to-be husband … slightly hopeless with technology and gift wrapping ... but the love of her life. Terese knew Paul had wanted to make this day perfect for her and she could see he was getting more and more agitated by the minute, as the computer stubbornly refused to sync up with the projector.
“I’m not sure why it isn’t working now, I made sure it was all connected correctly—” Paul said after fifteen minutes.
“Sweetie—” Terese said, but Paul was too focused.
“Maybe I should call—”
“Sweetie, sweetie … it’s okay” Terese said, finally managing to grab his attention as she extended out her hand towards him.
Paul let out a defeated sigh and took her hand in his, “It’s not really though, is it? When I want to do something thoughtful, on today of all days, I can’t even get it right”.
Terese smiled at him, “Thank you”.
“What for?” Paul asked discouraged, he didn’t feel like he deserved this appreciation.
Terese looked at him lovingly, “I know you wanted this day to be perfect for me. But it has been”
Paul tilted his head curiously.
“All the effort you’ve gone to … the thoughtful photo, making sure I had time to spend with everyone and just- just caring so much is all I could’ve asked for … and more”.
Terese noticed the anguish on Paul’s face begin to fade.
She continued, “You ... your hopelessness with technology and shabby present wrapping included”
Paul was about to interrupt on that point but stopped himself when he realised it was indeed true …
“It’s you. You being here, with me, is perfect. I wouldn’t want to change a thing. And after today, I’m even more excited to marry you. This is our life. Our future together and it’s so perfectly … imperfectly perfect”
At that, Terese realised the disappointment on Paul’s face had vanished completely. His smile made her smile.
“I’m pretty sure you’re the one meant to be receiving the appreciation speeches on your birthday”, Paul replied. “It’s just a shame you won’t get to watch the one—”
Terese spotted the laptop. “Well, why don’t we just watch it on the laptop? That seems to be working” she suggested optimistically.
“I don’t know, it wouldn’t be—”
Terese raised her eyebrows at him, reminding Paul of what she had just said.
“—But … if you’re happy with it, then I am too”.
They both smiled as he brought over the laptop.
Navigating Paul’s sore ribs, they eventually found a comfortable cuddling position beneath the stars.
“Alright, take two” Paul said excitedly, as Terese pressed play on the laptop.
Paul popped up on the laptop screen, “My darling Terese … Happy Birthday. I love you so much. I’m so honoured I get to celebrate your birthday with you today”
“I love you too” Terese whispered as she planted a kiss on the corner of his lips.
“I know 10 Things I Hate About You is one of your favourite movies of all times … even though you always fall asleep before it finishes!”
“Hey!” Terese said, feigning offence. They both laughed.
“I feel so, so lucky that I get to wake up next to you every day and I want to let you know not only how amazing I think you are, but also how amazing you are. So … here are 10 things, well more than 10 things, that some of your dearest ones from afar, LOVE about you”.
“Oh my goodness!” Terese said astonished and grateful. She hugged Paul a little bit tighter, but not too tight that it aggravated his sore ribs. He planted a soft but lingering kiss on her hairline.
One by one, Piper; Imogen and Daniel; Paige, Gabe and Jack; her granddaughter Matilda; and even Terese’s brother Nick appeared on the screen sharing their birthday messages for Terese and all things they loved and admired about her. She laughed, teared up and smiled at the different comments. I can’t believe Paul got all of these people together.
Paul had spent months collecting these, Nick was by far the toughest to reach out to. Though he wasn’t planning on forgiving or forgetting any time soon, Paul knew how much Terese’s brother meant to her and had momentarily set aside his personal feelings.
Seeing Terese light up as each one appeared on screen reconfirmed it was worth all the effort and warmed his heart completely.
Twenty minutes had passed, until Paul reappeared on the screen.
“Now it’s my turn! There are so many things I love about you …”
With that, the screen turned black.
Terese faced Paul. She knew he would be upset about the video blacking out, but she was ready to compliment him on its many good qualities and reassure him that he had done an amazing job! It had been such an incredible, considerate, thoughtful present. Along with the photo this morning, it was one of the best presents she had ever received.
However, Paul surprised her yet again.
“This time, it isn’t actually a technical interruption”, he said as a cheeky smile formed across his face.
“I wanted to say mine to you in person”.
At that, Terese lit up (somehow, even more) and her eyes glistened greater than the stars in the sky. This birthday just keeps getting more and more perfect.
However, amongst all of Terese’s feelings of adoration, love and gratitude … She also felt slightly concerned …
How on earth am I meant to out-do this for his birthday?!