It was Valentine's Day, and as it had been the last few years, I was lacking a valentine.
A friend had invited me to join her and her husband for dinner. The invite alone made me feel like a third wheel, but having nothing else to do, I accepted. I was late, as usual, and they were already in the dining room. I burst in, tossing my coat aside. I clumsily ran to the table, laughing, making excuses, apologizing. Immediately embarrassed by my lack of grace...
It was not just the three of us at the table. I took the last empty chair, seated directly across from a man I didn't recognize.
It was obvious that my girlfriend had arranged a blind date. I pulled up my chair and leaned over to her, whispering, “Did he know about this?” With an impish grin and a giggle muffled by a mouth full of spaghetti, she shook her head no.
I was silent and awkward, and then the room was as well, as if it was contagious. After a few moments of crickets, my friend launched into rapid-fire small talk. Thankfully relieving the discomfort, breaking the ice.
He ate quietly, not making much of me being there. I couldn’t tell if he was shy, or unimpressed.
I tried to be coy. I couldn't help but take in the sight of him... I realized I was staring, and quickly lowered my gaze, afraid his eyes would meet mine. He wore slightly faded jeans. A blue button-up over a dark heather gray t-shirt. I wanted to study his face, but just looking at him made me nervous.
And sitting across from him intensified my girlish anxiety.
As the night went on, the awkwardness subsided and we both began to relax. The conversation wasn't effortless, but it was comfortable. We chimed in, tenuously. Still, he was reserved, and I was hesitant. Coincidentally, we spoke more fluidly and with more enthusiasm when it was about music.
Now I'll have to fast forward a bit... Because, admittedly, the rest of the night was unclear. So blurry that I had a hard time recalling much detail of it. Probably too much wine at dinner... I peered out from the master bath and surveyed the surroundings. Ah, we were at a hotel. Music and laughter echoed through the halls from a brunch-time crowd in the lounge.
I looked out at him, once again trying hard not to stare. He was wearing those same faded jeans. I leaned against the frame of the door, brushing my teeth and watching him fasten the last few buttons of his shirt. Just the motion of it was enough to wake the lingering butterflies, make them multiply.
I swooned, but tried to be casual, aloof. It’s a good thing that doorway was there. My conscious scolding, Jesus, Crista, get ahold of yourself.
He wasn’t stunning, not model material. Not the kind of guy that turned heads as he walked down the street. A plain kind of handsome. Unremarkable. I think it's what made him so modest. And available. Most women wouldn’t see through to the handsome.
He was peculiar, but not in a bad way. He was cautious. Cynical, even. He had been burned; perhaps as much as I had been over the years. But underneath the cynicism was a dormant yet obvious sweetness.
We spoke as we were getting ready to leave. About what, I can’t remember specifically. My head hadn't completely cleared. We were kissing, too. But cautiously. Somehow I knew we hadn’t done anything more than that during our time together. And although the kiss was delicate and careful, it was still laced with power, temptation. An exhilarant spark. Was I the only one who noticed?
He apologetically had to rush off. To where I'm not sure. Work, home... I didn't ask. I couldn’t get a read on him, and that was more than frightening. Especially considering the way I felt when I looked at him, touched him... My steadfast intuition failing me.
As he was leaving, he grabbed me by the arms. Pulling me to him, almost forcefully. Not even an inch between us, I craned my neck so I could see his face. His eyes had gone dark, serious.
“Are you my in-the-way girl?” His voice was deep, his tone slightly harsh. I was puzzled. I considered it... In the way girl? What the hell does that mean? And as it donned on me, I was instantly offended. A familiar, reoccurring hurt. Like every other time I had felt a natural affinity that wasn't returned.
I pushed away from him, defensively. “What does that mean, exactly?” The injury simmering in my throat, apparent on my face.
I resisted as he drew me back into him. His voice softened, recognizing that I had misunderstood, and he explained. I don’t remember exactly what he said, or how he said it, but I remember the sentiment...
"In the way"... Temporary, inconsequential, casual. Not interested in a real connection. Not wanting a partner. Someone in the way of what the other truly desired, saught out. In the way of what might have been found, had the time not been wasted trying to make something from nothing.
Thankfully he still held me tightly; I had become weak with relief. I sighed, breathing easier.
His hands left my arms and cupped my face. His voice became soft... “So I’ll ask you again, are you, or are you not, my in-the-way girl?”
I smiled, trying to conceal the tear that fell to my cheek... I clung to him and kissed him through my grin and damp eyes.
And then I woke up.
I was smiling. And crying.
Comforted, full of warmth, eagerness, affection.
And overcome with sadness as I realized it had only been a dream.
Struggling to accept the illusion, desperately wanting not to.
I'd been hoodwinked. Subconsciously swindled.
A valentines-dreamt-up-never-realized love story.
P.S. I'm not sure who "he" was. Honestly, it could have been anyone. Someone I've known before. Or maybe someone I had loved. Or someone I've yet to meet.
Perhaps he didn't represent a person at all. Just an emotion. The void.
My apologies for this being so ridiculously opposite to my usual satire. It sounds like a romance novel. The dream was that way, too. That's just the way my brain made it. Disgusting! Damnit!
It's stupid and ironic, considering I prefer sci-fi and fantasy, and I loathe romance novels.
And because I'm a scorned, cynical, jaded, non-believer of love. Shut up. It's true.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go get ready to celebrate anti-valentine’s day with my girlfriends, my "galentines." We are headed to the greenhouse, where I will buy more plants that I'll most likely kill. And then we'll head to the bar for dinner and drinks.
I’m really not much of a drinker. But I might be today.