Jeffrey, Je T'Aime
How could she look into Jeffrey’s sparkly, caring eyes and tell him, "I’m just not feeling as romantic these days?"
The scent of coffee wound its way to Ina Garten’s bedroom. In the watery light of February morning, she opened her eyes and reached an arm out to find Jeffrey’s side of the bed warm and rumpled, but empty. She squinted at the clock on her bedside table, but it was no use. She didn’t need her glasses to know she’d slept in.
A soft tinkling sound came from behind the door. When Jeffrey opened it, struggling to balance a tray and manage the knob, Ina was already up, berobed, and brushing her hair.
“You’re supposed to be in bed!” her husband protested, brandishing his handiwork as spurts of coffee leapt free of their cups.
Ina was touched. “Coffee? In bed?”
“A birthday treat,” Jeffrey said.
She hop-stepped back to the high mattress and pulled back the covers she’d already neatened.
“Voila!” Jeffrey crowed, depositing the tray on her lap. “Happy birthday, my love.” He leaned over for a kiss, nearly dipping his bathrobe tie in the spilled coffee. Ina swept up the flannel tie to pull her hubby closer. She moved the tray to the bedside table where the coffee cups rattled gently, and rattled… and rattled.
Later that afternoon, Ina found herself glum. Jeffrey had insisted she take a day off, allowing her only one Instagram post. She arranged the breakfast tray by the window for a photo, but no one needed to know the coffee had long gone cold, or why they’d never had a chance to drink it. Instagram versus reality, as Lidey would say.
It was true that Ina had been working harder than ever—a cookbook launch during a pandemic, a newfound skill for social media, interview after interview. But without a project to distract her, and on her birthday of all days, Ina Garten was down in the dumps.
“Don’t you miss traveling?” Ina had asked Jeffrey over roast chicken that weekend.
“We’ll travel next year.” He’d patted her hand. “A big trip! Par-ee, Mar-sigh.” His eyebrows had wiggled.
Now Ina was one year older—and no closer to Paris. Worse, Valentine’s Day was on the horizon and her heart just wasn’t in it this year.
What happened to the profuse Valentine’s spirit of her past? There was a time when she was known for going from zero to coq au vin. But all the profiteroles in the world couldn’t make up for the fact that she and Jeffrey had been hunkering down together for almost a year now. And as much as she loved him—how could she not?—the close quarters had her feeling far from romantic.
“I imagine it’d be tough when your entire brand is romance,” her friend Martha Stewart said during the happy hour they’d planned over Zoom. “I mean, Cooking for Jeffrey and all. Makes me glad that the only one I’ve been cooking for all these years has been Martha.”
Ina laughed into her cosmopolitan glass. “You mean aside from Anthony Hopkins.”
“That’s Sir Anthony to you,” Martha jabbed. “And you know why that didn’t work out. That fava bean line was just too spooky!”
But not even laughter with her dear friend and colleague could bring her out of her February slump. And as Cupid’s day neared, Jeffrey was beginning to take notice.
“What’s the matter, babka bun?” he asked one night as they crawled into bed after yet another roast chicken dinner. He reached to rub her shoulders, kneading right into her knotty back—that was another thing about this damn pandemic. It had been months since they’d booked their masseuse, who used to come to the house at least once a week. As a result, Ina was putty in her husband’s hands. It didn’t help her explain what was on her mind, though. How could she look into Jeffrey’s sparkly, caring eyes and tell him, I’m just not feeling as romantic these days?
But she didn’t have to say a word. It seemed he already knew. He sighed, hands pausing on her shoulder blades. “You know, I was worried this would happen.”
She brushed his hand with her own. Where could she begin? Wanting more alone time, ready for him to go back to teaching at Yale? She loved him still—she’d assure him of that—but she missed the days when she could actually look forward to seeing him. The days when he wasn’t just the next room over, day after day after day.
Perhaps sensing her emotional flip-flopping, Jeffrey sighed again, longer this time. Then, he asked, “You’re tired of chicken, aren’t you?”
She turned to face him. “Excuse me?”
“You’ve made me a chicken dinner at least once a week for over fifty years,” he said, squeezing his eyes shut. “I should’ve known you’d get tired of it eventually.”
Ina’s heart swelled. Was she tired of chicken? Of course not. Some called it the blandest of meats, but she knew much better. She knew how succulent and surprising a well-seasoned bird could be. Simple—easy, she’d even called it—but oh so satisfying.
Looking at Jeffrey’s cherubic face, which she’d seen so many times over the edge of a drumstick, Ina knew she’d never tire of chicken. But did she want to roast one for their weekly Sunday dinner when they should be across the Atlantic, clinking glasses at Chez l’Ami Louis? That was a different question.
“It’s not that,” she assured Jeffrey, and his relief was palpable. “But I guess I have had my fill of pandemic.”
“Haven’t we all?” Jeffrey murmured before clicking off his bedside lamp and falling fast to sleep.
The morning of the 14th dawned bright and clear, and Ina’s robe had been lain at the foot of the bed for her. She’d slept fitfully, dreaming scenes of the Champs-Elysees and boulangeries stuffed to the rafters with fresh bread. She scrambled eggs for breakfast—an omelet would have indulged her wanderlust—and plated them with toast and the last of the summer’s strawberry jam. Her spirits weren’t so low that she could resist a little holiday color.
“Youuuuu,” Jeffrey crooned off-key as she deposited his plate. “My sweet, embraceable you.” He hooked an arm around Ina’s waist and planted a kiss on her robed hip. Ina ruffled the curls on her funny Valentine’s head.
“What’s on the agenda today?” she asked, looking out the window to see the same old garden, frozen over.
“Oh.” Jeffrey gave an impish grin. “A little something special.”
Ina’s interest was piqued. “What do you have up your sleeve?”
Jeffrey shook the loose wrists of his flannel robe. “Who, me? All I can say is, dress warmly.” He crunched into his toast. “Delicious jam.”
Ina did dress warmly in her favorite cashmere sweater—what could Jeffrey possibly have in store?—and even swiped on lipstick, a rare event outside of her filming schedule. She slipped on her coat, went down to the kitchen, and… waited.
Then, she heard Jeffrey shuffling papers in his office. She peered around the corner to find him reclined in his leather armchair in his flannel pajamas, putting his slippered feet up on the hassock with a thick book in hand. Her heart sank. Had he really forgotten he’d promised a surprise? She could practically hear Martha’s guffaw. Ina wiped off the lipstick in the bathroom mirror and sighed.
No use wasting the afternoon, she said to her reflection and changed from her sweater to a long-sleeve chambray. Might as well cook.
Ina was halfway through her mousse recipe when she thought she heard “Embraceable You” again. She shook her head. If I’m going to imagine things, I’d rather imagine myself in Paris, she thought ruefully, and continued stirring her mousse.
But then—and she couldn’t be imagining this—Louis Armstrong’s voice came faintly to her ear. “I see la vie en rose.”
Ina put down her spoon. Beside her on the counter, she noticed, Louis’ lilt faintly spilled from the Sonos speaker.
She looked behind her, and lo and behold, there came Jeffrey from the study. Even more surprising than his sudden emergence is what he had on—he’d changed from his jammies into a tuxedo, the one he’d worn to the Emmys years ago.
“Thought I’d forgotten my surprise?” he asked. His hands were tucked behind him. Could it be a rose to go with the song?
Then, he came in closer. “Remember that last dinner we had in Paris? Chez l’Ami Louis?”
How could she forget? The evening was heavenly all the way down to the cheese cart.
“There was a quartet playing that night,” he said, “and you couldn’t get enough of them.”
It was true. She couldn’t get enough of that brass band, which was decidedly off-brand for her. She and Jeffrey always had so much to talk about—culture, business, global affairs. Why would they go to a restaurant to have their thoughts and conversation drowned out by some loud cover band? But this band was different. Atmospheric. They played all the French classics, and the trumpeter sounded fabulous every time he soloed.
“What are you getting at?” Ina asked. “What’s that behind your back?”
Suddenly, Jeffrey brandished a silvery trumpet. He wagged his eyebrows at her.
She cackled with laughter. “Where on Earth did you get that thing? And what, exactly are you going to do with it?”
Then, he put the trumpet to his lips. No. There was no way! She’d barely even heard Jeffrey sing before, let alone play a musical instrument.
But not a sound came from the horn. Just as Louis Armstrong began his solo, Jeffrey mimed over it. He could’ve fooled anyone that he was a trumpet virtuoso, pressing the bugle’s buttons with panache, back-bending in to the warbling notes. His eyebrows went wild with the beat.
When he finished “playing” his solo, Ina applauded and shouted, “Bravo!” She embraced him.
“How’s that for a Valentine surprise?” he asked.
“But you said to dress warmly,” she said with a chuckle. “Were you just trying to confuse me?”
“If you’ll accompany me to the beach,” he said, reaching out a tuxedo-ed arm, “there’s a bucket of bubbly waiting for us. It’s not Paris, but it’s close. Plus,” he fondled the buttons of her chambray, “undressing you is even more fun when you’re all bundled up.”
“Who knew my hubby was so romantic?” Ina asked. Just when her Valentine’s spirit had lagged, Jeffrey’s came out in full force. No, it wasn’t Paris, but it was more than enough.
“I am good for more than just coffee, you know,” Jeffrey smiled. He reached for Ina and dipped her the way he’d dipped his trumpet. They’d get to the champagne later. A little extra chill would do it good. For now, the kitchen was warm, and they had each other to enjoy.
By Rebecca Joy and Hurley Winkler
Listen to Ina’s favorite love songs on Spotify.