Monday, February 10, 2014

A Date for Valentine's Day

I tossed the red dress on the bed and reached in the closet for the black one. Suddenly, my fourteen-year-old daughter, Emily, inched my bedroom door open. "He'll be here in ten minutes, Mom."
I felt flustered. "I need you a sec."
The door swung open.
"What do you think of this dress?" I held it front of me.
"Wear the red dress.
It's Valentine's Day."
"But the red is so—flashy. And this black one is simple, elegant."
"Red equals love, Mom."
I smiled at my daughter. "Ben's a great guy, Emily. We've been seeing each other quite often, I like him a lot, but love...that's a scary thought."
"You're not seeing each other, Mom. You're dating! Admit it."
"Ben and I are simply friends who enjoy each other's company."
 Emily rolled her eyes. "The red dress, Mom. You've got eight minutes before he's here. Max."
I'd met Ben Cunningham on a warm Saturday afternoon in October last year, when I attended the Halloween Parade to watch Emily, a flute player, march in the high school band. Youngsters riding the scarecrow float threw hard candies at the crowd. Kids rushing to snatch the pieces off the pavement accidentally shoved me. I slipped off the curb and Ben, who had been standing next to me, caught me before I toppled over.
He'd been watching his nephew, a trombone player in the band. Later, we sat on a park bench and talked and talked. He managed the Ace Hardware franchise in town. I owned a craft shop. Both small business people, we've been friends ever since—a widow and widower.
I eyed the two dresses now, the black one and the red one. To me, seeing someone seemed to imply a casual relationship. Dating seemed to imply romance.  My husband had died five years ago—I wasn’t sure I could deal with romance again. I was positive I'd forgotten how.
But I wore the red dress.
We had made reservations for a table for two at the Starlight Supper Club. Ben, tall and handsome with a bit of gray in his wavy brown hair, wore a dark suit and tie. "You look beautiful," he said as he seated himself across from me at the table. "But of course, I told you that earlier, didn't I?"
I felt myself blushing, wondering if my face were the color of my dress and of the red table cloth. "And you're quite handsome."
A waiter appeared. Bowed. Introduced himself. Left menus.
I ordered lobster. Ben ordered steak. We ate.  We talked about our businesses. We talked about city taxes and politics.  New movies. The February weather: sleet, snow, ice. We hoped spring would arrive soon. We talked like casual friends do, but all the while I felt a warm glow between us.
Suddenly I asked, "Are we seeing each other or are we dating?"
Ben's head tilted. "Umm...I haven’t thought about the difference," he said. "But I don't know what I'd do without the wonderful moments we spend together."
I didn't know what to say. I especially didn't want to say anything foolish, so I reached into my handbag sitting on the floor next to my chair and plucked out a tissue-wrapped package. The white paper was crinkly, and the red bow stuck to the top was squished from being stuffed into my bag.
I handed the gift to Ben, surprising him.
"For me?" he said, his eyebrows lifting.
"A little Valentine to let you know I appreciate our times together, too."
He unwrapped the package. His eyes grew big. "Oh, wow! It's beautiful." I'd knitted him a scarlet-and-gold scarf. Scarlet and gold are the colors of the university he'd gradated from. He wrapped the scarf around his neck. "I can't thank you enough."
He beamed, and my heart swelled.
I said, "I thought something personal would let you know—well, you're a friendly breath of fresh air in my life."
"I feel the same way," he said.
Ben tugged the scarf from his neck, folded it, and laid it carefully on the table. Reaching into his suit-coat pocket, he pulled out a small box wrapped in red tissue with a white ribbon and bow.
My heart skipped. He handed me the gift. When I opened the box, I saw a beautiful silver bracelet. I felt breathless. "I can't accept—"
"Yes, you can. I only wish my gift could've been more personal. Like yours."
"But, Ben..."
His hands reached across the table and gripped mine.
"How many times have we gone out?"
"Um...I'm not sure. A few..."
"More than a few, Kathleen." His look was tender, his grip on my hands firm. "I'd say we're dating."
I swallowed. Was it my red dress making me feel so warm? I didn't think so. Was I actually falling in love again? "You're right," I said, squeezing his hands. "We're dating."

The End
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