He opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling. After a quick weekend at his flat, he had done the short flight back to finish the shoot.
“Valentine”s Day,” he sighed.
It always came around so fast and he was always alone. How had that happened? There had been some promising relationships when he was younger, but now that 50 was looming not so far ahead, finding the right person seemed less and less likely. “Oh come on! Get a grip on yourself!” (Sometimes he thought he had a bit of a fixation about his age.)
Really, he shouldn’t complain. He enjoyed his life — he had enough money, good friends, and work he loved. He kept himself so busy and moved around so much that a romantic partner (at least one for more than a night!) just wouldn’t work. And yet… And yet…
Oh, why was he torturing himself! He’d never been one to dwell on what he couldn’t have. “Get yourself out of bed! Carpe diem and all that!” And with that, he swung his long legs over the side and headed for the shower, thinking that if this were one of his projects, the story would insist on following him, even there!
This would be the perfect place, he thought. With a late call time and nothing else planned, he had thrown some books into his bag, put on his warm knit cap, and headed out for a walk around town. Adding the usual sunglasses not only gave him a feeling of anonymity, but also protected against the surprising glare of the sun on the snow. Not too long into his walk, though, the cold started to seep through to his bones — something he wouldn’t have noticed if he were skiing, which with luck he could do before he left town again.
And so he had found himself taking refuge in a small café in the old part of the city. Scanning the display, he smirked when he saw something that reminded him of his last project. “Bonjour,” he began. “Pain au chocolat, s’il vous plaît, et un café au lait.” His delivery must have been a little off, he thought, because the server smiled and then answered in English, waving him towards a table near the window.
That last project had been a bit of a surprise! His agent had encouraged him, with the promise that working with a best-selling author and a well-known narrator would bring him a wider audience. And once the publicity had started, he was committed, even though he could feel himself almost blushing as he first read through the pages. He had hemmed and hawed, but in the end, he had decided to just enjoy himself, and not think about what his fans (or his mum!) might think.
He really should be going over the script, but a horror story was not what he was in the mood for this morning. He wanted to indulge in some of his favourite poems, while enjoying his latte and croissant. Out came the well-thumbed volume. He turned to a page at random and began to read silently,
“i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart) i am never without it (anywhere i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done by only me is your doing, my darling)”
He stopped, staring into space. He remembered (such a long time ago now) squeezing her hand in the movie, while up on the screen, the once-illiterate sister recited the E. E. Cummings poem as a gift at her older sister’s wedding. He should have held on to that relationship, but the career took over and many things fell by the wayside. “Maybe not the best poem to read, after all!” he thought, shaking his head at himself. What was wrong with him today?! Reviewing the script was looking like the better option!
As he leaned down to his bag, intending to exchange the poetry for the script, he noticed that a woman around his age had just settled comfortably into a seat at the table next to his. He nodded politely, but she jumped up in almost guilty embarrassment, inadvertently yanking the cord of her earbuds from her phone and somehow pressing “play” again as she tried to recover. To his astonishment, he heard his own voice reciting from the small speaker, “i carry your heart with me…”
What were the chances! How was it possible that she could be listening to the recording he made three years ago, and that he would be sitting at the very next table?
She flushed and quickly tried to turn it off, knocking her coffee onto the floor in her haste. He really must do something to help her!
“Hello, bonjour,” he said, introducing himself. Unfortunately, this only served to make her more flustered, and she made the most peculiar sputtering sound, reminiscent of that scene with Emma Thompson at the end of Sense and Sensibility! He couldn’t help himself! He laughed out loud and immediately felt even worse!
So much for anonymity! What could he possibly do to rectify the situation? He thought quickly, grabbing the ever-present Sharpie from his bag. Opening the book of poems, he scribbled a message on the flyleaf. In a spontaneous gesture, he plucked the rose from the vase on the table and placed the flower and the book in front of her. Then, leaving her to compose herself, with a small smile he went quickly out onto the street, wondering whether she would take him up on it.
Once her heart had returned to a slightly more normal rate, she lifted the rose gently to her nose and inhaled deeply. Picking up the book, she opened the cover to a possibility.
“Je suis désolé. Que puis-je faire? Laissez-moi vous inviter à dîner ce soir?”
An invitation to dinner this evening — by way of apology — at a lovely restaurant in the old city. It would be rude not to go… wouldn’t it?
Valentine’s Day might have a happy ending after all.