Shaun hated grocery shopping, especially this close to a holiday. That was if you considered Valentine’s Day a real holiday, like Christmas. For years, Shaun had hated the day, first when he was single, as it seemed like there was nothing sadder than being single, that you were a loser if you didn’t have someone to be with on Valentine's Day. Then during the years he had been with Charlie hadn’t been much better as his ex firmly believed that Valentine’s Day was a commercial holiday and refused to acknowledge it.
Things with Zach though were very different; their first Valentine’s Day together had been a revelation for Shaun. Zach loved the day; he embraced it with both arms and refused to let Shaun get out of celebrating it. This was their third Valentine’s Day together and Shaun couldn’t wait to share it with Zach. He had been planning the night for weeks; he even had a back plan just in case. Shaun remembered last year and shuddered, what a disaster that night had been. He was determined to make this the best Valentine’s Day ever and he hoped that it would be a night either of them forgot.
Shaun looked around as he and Cody navigated the congested aisles all Shaun seemed to see were frazzled, dazed men who stared blankly at the aisles of cards, candy and other cheesy Valentine’s Day merchandise. As the two passed the candy aisle Shaun noticed that Cody stopped and stared at the shelves, deep in thought.
“What’s up buddy?” Shaun asked the little boy. “Do we need to get some candy for your class or something?”
Cody shook his head, “No Uncle Shaun, we handed out everything yesterday and Ms. Taylor said thank you for the chocolates.” He paused for a moment, “There was something Uncle Zach told me to remember to get when we went to the store the next time.”
Shaun looked at him, “How about we finish up the grocery shopping, you think about what you were supposed to get and we’ll stop back by here before we leave?”
The little boy nodded, followed Shaun as they went around the store as they finished the list Shaun had made before they left. Before they headed to the checkouts, they made a stop back at the Valentine’s candy. Shaun laid a hand on Cody’s shoulder, “Go take a closer look and see if that helps you remember.”
Cody walked over to the candy and moved up and down the aisle as he stared at bag after bag. Finally, he grabbed a bag of something Shaun couldn’t see and threw it in the cart. “Found it Uncle Shaun, it was candy hearts. We borrowed the bag in your office for my cards and Uncle Zach said we had to remember to get more.”
Shaun could feel himself blanch as he tried not to freak out. “You mean the bag that was in my desk?”
“Uh yeah,” Cody said nervously. “It’s okay that we used them isn’t it? Uncle Zack said it would be okay.”
Shaun knelt down to look Cody in the eye, “it's okay kiddo. Now let’s get out of here and get home.”
For the entire trip home, one thought circulated through Shaun’s mind and it went along the lines of “Shit... now how am I going to propose to Zach?” He had purchased custom-made candy hearts, which he knew Zach loved and each color had a different word of his proposal, now in the hands of eight year olds.
When they got home, Shaun was surprised that Zach was already there. “Hey babe you’re home early.”
Zach smiled, kissed Shaun and ruffled Cody’s hair. “Yeah my professor came to me today and moved up the date for my show. I have three days to pick out all the pieces for the show.”
“Three days? So when is the new date of the show?” Shaun asked him.
Zach blushed and lowered his head, “Ummm it’s on Valentine’s Day.”
Shaun felt his heart sink deeper, first the candy hearts and now all the plans he had made for Valentine’s Day are falling apart. “That’s great Zach, do you need some help?”
“Yeah that would be great. Thanks Shaun.” Zach said as he kissed him. The two of them spent the rest of the night going through the collection of Zach’s artwork. In bed that night, the two were cuddled in bed when Zach turned to Shaun. “You’re not mad about Valentine’s Day are you? I know you had something planned...” Zach trailed off.
“I can’t say I’m not a little disappointed Zach, but I know how important this show is to you,” Shaun replied.
The next few days were a whirlwind of activity as everyone pitched in to help Zach get ready for his big debut. Zach spent as much time as he could in the studio as he worked on a new piece to be debuted at the show. Meanwhile Shaun continued to try to find a creative way to propose to Zach. He had thought about changing his book dedication but they didn’t have enough time and he was running out of ideas.
Shaun’s whole family had plans to come to the opening and Tori as well. He could tell that Zach was disappointed that neither of Zach’s relatives planned to come to what was going to be one of the biggest days of his life.
Finally the night of the show arrived, Zach had left a few hours earlier to oversee the set up and had left Shaun to get himself and Cody ready. He looked down at Cody, smiled and reached down to straighten his tie. “You look very nice Cody. Your Uncle Zach is going to be surprised to see you so dressed up. Now we have a few stops to make before we get there so we better get going. You have the list of what we need to pick up right Cody?”
Cody nodded excitedly, “Yup Uncle Shaun, I got it in my pocket.”
Shaun couldn’t help but chuckle, “You have it in your pocket you mean.”
The little boy rolled his eyes, “Yes Uncle Shaun, I have it in my pocket. Geesh.”
The two got in Shaun’s Prius and headed out for the first of the stops they needed to make before they headed to the opening. An hour later, the backseat next to Cody held the contents of their stops and Cody bounced in his car seat. “So do you think your Uncle Zach will like everything?” Shaun asked him.
“Probably, if he was a girl he would probably cry.” Cody replied.
“Well we don’t want that do we?” Shaun asked him.
Cody was silent for a minute, “But if they’re happy tears it's okay, no sad tears.”
“Good point, little man.”
Finally, they arrived at the opening, Shaun helped Cody out of his seat and they spotted Larry, Barbara, Gabe and Tori near the entrance.
Cody tugged on his sleeve, “Shaun look, Tori and Gabe and Grandpa and Grandma are here.”
“Of course they are, they love Zach just as much as we do and they wanted to celebrate this with him and us. Go say hi to everyone but don’t tell them what I got for your Uncle Zack okay?”
He nodded and raced over to the waiting crowd, who after a round of hugs and kisses received many compliments on his tuxedo. Shaun laughed as he watched the little boy model his outfit, he knew that Cody loved the attention and was soaking it up.
Arms loaded down with his purchases, the most important one in his jacket pocket, Shaun headed over to the crowd. “Hey everyone, glad you could make it. I know it means alot to Zach.”
Gabe spoke up first, “Duh like we would miss this. It’s about time Zach got his own show.”
The whole group headed inside and mouths dropped open as they saw Zach’s art displayed on the walls. Shaun heard Zach called out his name as he turned and saw his lover his heart almost stopped. He knew Zach was beautiful, he had told the younger man repeatedly how amazing he thought he looked, but nothing could have prepared him for how Zach looked tonight.
Zach stopped in front of him, “Hey how do I look?”
Shaun couldn’t find the words, he just stared at Zach for a few minutes. “Shaun, is everything okay? I look alright don’t I?”
The older man sputtered, “If you were anymore stunning I think I would have passed out. As it is I’m not leaving your side tonight.”
Zach smiled, “And why is that Mr. Andrews?”
Shaun’s mouth gaped open, “ Have you looked at yourself? I’m going to have to fight off every gay man, straight woman and he’ll probably the straight guys too.”
He could see Zach blush a then looked at all of the stuff in Shaun’s hands. “Is that all for me?”
Shaun nodded, blushed and handed Zach the flowers, chocolate truffles and balloons. Zach shook his head, “Wow this is... wow.”
“Sorry it’s a bit much but well it’s a big night and with it being Valentine’s Day too it’s even a bigger deal.” Shaun replied.
Zach laughed, “Let me go put these in back real quick and I’ll be out to thank you properly.”
He returned a few minutes later and laid a scorching kiss on Shaun. When they broke apart, they heard a wolf whistle from the other side of the gallery. “Nice one bro,” Gabe called out.
Shaun shook his head and Zach laughed, “He’s your brother.”
“Don’t I know it, you wanna share?” Shaun asked him.
Just then, Shaun felt a tug on his jacket, “Don’t you mean you want to share Uncle Shaun?” Cody asked.
Shaun looked down at the little boy, “Yes Cody, thank you for the correction. Did you show Uncle Zach your special clothes?”
Zach looked down and whistled, “Wow Cody that is one styling tuxedo. Speaking of which I better go get changed before they open the doors.”
A few hours later Shaun was right where he said he would be, next to Zach, one hand on his lover and the other on Cody’ shoulder. There had been nothing but praise and accolades for Zach’s work. “So when are you going to let us see what you’ve been working on this week?” Zach’s advisor asked him.
“Actually I need to show Shaun first, then we can let others see it.” Zach replied. “Cody can you go over with Grandma and Grandpa, I need to show something special to Shaun?”
“Can I see it after you show him? I promise not to touch.” Cody asked.
Zach ruffled his hair,” Of course you can, we’ll come find you when we’re done.”
As they watched Cody head over to where Barbara and Larry were standing, Zach reached out and grabbed Shaun’s hand to take him into a separate room. They stopped and stood in front of a covered piece on the wall.
Zach cleared his throat, obviously nervous, “I’ve rehearsed this a million time Shaun, how to say it, when to say it but when it comes down to it the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words is true.” He reached over and pulled off the fabric to reveal the art below. Shaun’s breath caught in his throat, “Zach it looks just like the original one, the one you painted on the wall of that liquor store.”
The two men looked at the piece, “ Yeah it’s almost exactly like the original, but I made some changes. Do you see them?”
Shaun walked up to the piece, he wanted to reach out and touch it, just as he had when he had seen it during the beginning of their relationship. Zach had worked in not only Shaun but Cody as well, he had made his tree of love not only include the two of them but Cody as well, and that they were and always would be a family.
“I love you Shaun, I don’t say it enough, and I could never say it enough.” Zach paused and wiped moisture from his eyes. “You saved me that summer Shaun, not just me but Cody too. I might have taught him what a family was but through you, he has to have an actual family. I will love you forever and I wanted to know if you would do me the honor of marrying me?”
Shaun gaped at Zach, he couldn’t believe this has happened, it wasn’t supposed to be like this. He wasn’t able to stop the laugh that escaped his lips. When he saw Zach’s face fall, he reached out to his lover. “Wait Zach wasn’t laughing at you, just the situation.” He started to pace, back and forth as he continued, “This was the year, I had everything planned down to the smallest detail. Then my candy hearts are given out to Cody’s classmates, which was fine but I had a backup plan. That was until the date of your show was changed and then my backup plan wouldn’t work either. Then my back up back up plan to ask you fell through as I couldn’t get them to change the dedication in time.”
Zach spoke up, “What does this have to do with me asking you to marry me Shaun?”
Shaun reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the jeweler’s box that contained the rings he had noticed the way. “I had the perfect plan Zach, but you know it really doesn’t matter. I love you, you love me and were going to get married and be a family, forever.”
Zach smiled, “So is that a yes?”
Shaun blanched, “Oh god of course it is. I would love to marry you and it looks like we already have the rings taken care of.”
The two lovers kissed then, when they broke away Zach looked at Shaun, “So what’s this about candy hearts and dedications?”
Shaun smiled as he laced his fingers with Zach, “It’s a long story. I hope you have the time.”
Zach returned his fiancé’s smile, “We have all the time in the world.”