Be My Valentine
Jess had the perfect day by herself – and it ended well, too!
Was Jess the only one struggling with the assignment her creative writing tutor had just handed out? Five hundred words on “What Valentine’s Day means to me,” and the clock was ticking. Around her, people began scribbling madly. Terrified she’d be left with a blank page if called upon to read something out, she quickly grabbed her pen.
“OK, time’s up. I can’t wait to see what you’ve all written. Chloe, why don’t you start us off?”
The creeping death began.
“What does Valentine’s Day mean to me?” read Chloe, a twenty something redhead. “More often than not it means gifts of expensive but utterly impractical underwear…”
Round the room it went. Jess grew more nervous as her turn approached. People had written light-hearted and touching slices of life.
She on the other hand…
Soon there was only Nick, a single father around her age who managed a local restaurant. “To be honest most of Valentine’s Day passes me by – too light-headed and dizzy from blowing up so many heart-shaped balloons.”
Then it was her turn. She fingered her pages. “I’m not really sure…”
“There’s no right or wrong,” encouraged the tutor. “Go on.”
Jess drew a breath. “On Valentine’s Day last year my husband of twenty-five years wrote two Valentine’s cards and mixed up the names on the envelopes. And that’s how I found out that he was having an affair…”
Later, she and Nick walked to the car park. “I kind of brought the mood down, didn’t I?” she said.
“No. Your piece was great,” he told her. “I take it what happened is one of the reasons you joined the class?”
Jess smiled. Nick was very perceptive; it came across in his writing.
“That’s me – a living cliché,” she agreed easily. “First, I was the last to know about his affair. Now I’m filling my evenings with creative writing and foreign languages, thus proving to my offspring that I have some kind of life and they don’t need to put me on Tinder.”
Nick cleared his throat. “Listen, would you like to meet for a drink sometime?”
Jess hesitated. There was no denying that she liked him, but was she ready for a relationship yet?
“Can I take a rain check?”
“Sure.” But he looked crestfallen.
Afew days later Jess pushed the restaurant door open. Balloons decorated with red hearts bobbed in the draught and mouth-watering aromas filled the air.
She smoothed her new dress and gave her name to the waitress who greeted her.
The girl frowned. “It says here that it’s table for one?”
“That’s right,” said Jess.
The waitress nibbled her lip. “It’s Valentine’s Day. It’ll all be couples,” she whispered.
“That’s OK,” Jess whispered back with a confidence she didn’t completely feel.
A man in a dark suit approached. “It’s OK, Janine,” he said. “Leave it with me.”
As the waitress melted away, Jess smiled at Nick. She’d never seen him in a suit before and he looked great. “If it’s a problem me being here on my own…”
“Why would it be a problem?” He showed her to a table and pulled out a chair for her.
Still Jess felt she owed him an explanation. “I’m being my own Valentine,” she confided. “After last year’s debacle I decided to treat myself to the best Valentine’s Day ever.”
“Excellent idea,” said Nick, apparently unfazed. “You won’t be stood up, the company will be great and the evening is unlikely to end in a fight.”
She burst out laughing. “That’s it? That’s all you have to say? I thought I’d have to give a long explanation about learning to love and appreciate myself before I could ever open my heart again. Wait?” she realised what he’d said. “You get a lot of fights on Valentine’s Day?”
“People put pressure on themselves to make the day perfect,” said Nick. “In my experience it rarely lives up to their expectations.”
“My day was perfect,” she said truthfully, thinking of the massage, the manicure, and the show she had already treated herself to.
Nick grinned. “So far. There’s still time. I mean, what if you want chips with dinner but your date orders you a salad instead? That’s always a flash point.”
She laughed again. She couldn’t help it. “That coffee invitation…” she said shyly, after he’d taken took her order. “Is it still open?”
“Why yes, it is.”
“Then would you like to join me later, if you get a chance?” she continued in a rush. “I know I said no before but I’d given myself one full year from last Valentine’s Day to figure out what I really want in life.”
Nick’s eyes twinkled. “And have you? Figured out what you want, that is?”
She met and held his eye. Smiled. “Do you know, I think I have.”
I thought I’ d have to explain about learning to love myself before I can open my heart
BY JACQUI COOPER